I first heard about ganseys - knitted jumpers (usually navy blue) traditionally worn by fisherman - when I was looking through a book of photographs of Whitby in Yorkshire, taken by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe a century ago. A little Googling threw up the website of Flamborough Marine, who still handknit ganseys to order, as well as patterns and yarns to enable you to knit your own gansey.
Ganseys (or guernseys) were knitted in the round, so they were seamless and more durable, and had distinctive patterns knitted into them:
"Many of the stitch motifs used to decorate the ganseys were inspired by the everyday objects in the lives of fishing families. Some of the best-known designs represent ropes, nets, anchors and herringbone. Other patterns are based on the weather, echoing the shapes made by waves, hail or flashes of lighting. Some patterns had more complex symbolic meanings. One of the traditional Filey patterns, for example, is a zigzag design called 'marriage lines' which represents the ups and downs of married life.I found more info and some wonderful photographs of gansey knitters and wearers in the online archives of UK museums:
It was even possible for fishing families to recognize from the pattern of a gansey, which fishing village, or even which family, the wearer came from. At a time when the loss of a boat was a frequent occurrence, deliberate mistakes or the wearer’s initials were often incorporated into the design in order to help to identify a body recovered from the sea. As the gansey was was traditionally worn tight-fitting and close to the skin, and with no seams to come apart, it could not be washed off in the water."
Flamborough Marine: Gansey History
*The David Morgan Rees collection at Sheffield Hallam University: Mrs Ethel Richardson of Old Whitby, a fisherman's wife, using the traditional four needles to knit a 'gansey'
* University of St. Andrews's Library Photographic Archive:
- Cox[swain] David Fenton, RNLI, St Andrews (larger version)
- Lowestoft fisherman (larger version)
- Fisher Lad (larger version)
* Tyne & Wear Museums - Memorynet: Dave Graham talks about his gansey
* Tyne & Wear Museums - Fish Tales: The Fishermen's Ganseys
* Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service: Ganseys
* National Museum of Photography, Film and Television: Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (image gallery)