studio blog

ganseys – of the channel island kind


hero in a ganseyMy mother and I are both knitters. For us the bug bit early and deep. We have gone to knitting camp together. We share techniques and ideas. Every phone call includes something about knitting. We even knit at the same tension. I recall one day getting a call about ganseys. You see, my brother, Rob, had gone to England to pursue a PhD in Engineering. He would write back with requests. “Mom, please send my hockey equipment”. Ice hockey in England? Let’s get serious here. Mom carried out all the requests. But this one had her stumped. “Mom, please knit me a Channel Island Guernsey”. What on earth was a Channel Island Guernsey? So she phoned me.

This was in the days when neither of us had a lot of knowledge around the history and traditions of knitting (both of us know a lot more now). As luck would have it, I had recently read a McCall’s knitting magazine article which included a pattern for a Channel Island Guernsey sweater. “Oh mother, don’t you know? I will send you the pattern.” Hah! one for me. I’m almost never ahead in this game.

I was lucky – she knit me one too. Pretty good when a knitter doesn’t have to knit their own sweater. That started a lifelong interest in ganseys. And, being of Scottish background, I relate to this genre pretty easily (again hah! our family were farmers not fishers).

so what is a gansey?

Guernseys (or, more often, “ganseys”) were originally knit in fishing posts up and down the coasts of England and Scotland. The gansey was the utility garment of the fishing workforce. A gansey is usually knit with a hard-wearing dark blue yarn with a very tight twist. The yarn contributed to the long life of the sweater and made the sweater more wind and water-resistant, but it sure didn’t add to the wearer’s comfort!

channel island guernsey shoulder and underarm gussetOther pieces of the design contribute to its warmth: a tight-fitting neck and body hugging dimensions with maybe an inch or ease, not much more than that. Gansey sweaters usually have diamond-shaped gussets in the underarms: when the wearer lifts an arm, the sweater doesn’t ride up.

channel island guernsey neck gussetTriangular gussets give ease at the neck while keeping the neck of the sweater closed against the wind. The bottom of the sweater is more varied: it could be a two by two rib or to rectangles of garter stitch called “welts”, one for the front and one for the back. These separate with the wearer’s movement. These sweaters were definitely designed for active use.

whitby, filey, staithes, channel islands…

There is a distinctive style to ganseys, depending on which fishing port the ganseys come from. It makes sense: when a knitter sees something she likes she copies. Gansey patterns use combinations of knit and purl stitches and some use cables, typically simple rope-like 6 stitch cables. The patterns evoke the fishing industry: seed stitch for nets, anchors and rope. My personal favourite is the Staithes which uses horizontal bands of seed stitch with a couple of garter ridges between each band.

types of ganseys

The Channel Island Guernsey is the simplest of all the ganseys: garter stitch welts, a bit of ribbing, plain stocking stitch to the armhole, two columns of garter stitch up the chest and a simple ribbed neck. The top of the sleeves is border with some more rib, then the sleeves taper to 2 x 2 ribbed cuffs.

channel island guernsey

cast ons

channel island castonThe knitters used techniques that helped the sweater last longer. After all, who wants to knit a new sweater for a family member every couple of years where the sweater is knit at 8 or 9 stitches to the inch? These knitters employed special cast ons which were thicker. Most of the historical examples use either the channel island cast on (and bind off) knotted cast on or the knotted cast on (I’ll post a trick on this soon). The knotted cast on is pretty and is a great addition to your repertoire.

how is a gansey constructed?

The original ganseys were knit by busy women. Men did the fishing – women worked on the docks, cleaning and packing the catch when the boats came in. In the times between arrivals, the women sat on the dock and knitted. There was no time for idle hands! Because it was “pick up and drop” sort of work ganseys are simply constructed with an easily memorized pattern. The body is knit in the round to the armhole without any shaping, except for the gussets under the arms. Then the knitter works back and forth, first on the front, then back and knits the shoulders together. finally, the sleeves are picked up and knit to the wrist. The sleeves taper and the gussets are closed along the way. There are no seams, only ends to darn in. When the bottoms of the sleeves wore out, the knitter ripped back to the last intact part and then re-knit the sleeve back down to the wrist. Frugal , but the patched sweater was a sight!

The construction method makes a gansey the perfect sweater for a beginning knitter to use to develop their chops. I can post a coming soon for Rob’s Channel Island Guernsey in my pattern shop. I’m editing the basic pattern and calculating other sizes. I’ll put a quick post in as soon as it is ready to go.


There are two definitive books about ganseys that are well worth a look. The original history is found in Gladys Thomson’s Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys and Arans. This is an older book and the patterns were written for experienced knitters. But the stories and pictures are terrific.

Beth Brown-Reinsel is the queen of gansey knitting. Her book takes you step by step through knitting a gansey by having you knit a miniature first. Beth often teaches workshops and has created a lot of patterns. Her website is found here: Knitting Traditions. I urge you to have a look. Beth bases her patterns on the EPS system (Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Percentage System) for calculating the stitches and rows needed for any size sweater. I’ve also used EPS to calculate the sizes for the Channel Island Guernsey. This deserves its own full post at a later date.

I’ll do a more in-depth review of these two books and others later this month.

You can still get the original yarn, although it is now marketed under the Wendy brand. I knew it as Richard Poppleton’s Guernsey yarn. You can buy it though Loveknitting. If you would prefer to support a local yarn source but still use the original wool try Frangipani. They ship worldwide. These are the original yarns which knit at a very fine tension and are not soft, to say the least.

I based my pattern on Knitpicks’ Wool of the Andes Superwash. It’s a worsted weight so it knits more quickly than the original wool. However I’ve used 3.5mm needles so it’s pretty windproof.

For kits and lot more history, try Flamborough Marine. Like Frangipani, they are a pretty complete source of information on ganseys and they offer knitting kits as well as finished sweaters.

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easy two needle mitten pattern available

stack of easy two needle mitten in lots of sizes

Okay, I admit it: as I child I always lost my mittens. I think it was even written into my Grade 2 report card: “good student, but why does she always lose her mittens?” So my mother had to knit a LOT of mittens quickly. She thinks my easy two needle mitten pattern would have been the perfect solution for dealing with me.

easy two needle mitten pattern – no right or left hand

These mittens have no left or right hand as the thumb has been placed in the center of the mitten. So you can make make three identical mittens and when one is lost, voila! pull out the spare. They knit quickly too, because the pattern can be easily memorized.

lots of sizes – neat pattern

assortment of mittensI’ve included seven different sizes in this pattern which cover the range from baby to large adult. You could increase the warmth level and wind resistance by making two pair and tucking one inside the other.

I wrote the pattern in the form of a table to make it easy to use. Just find the column for your size and work your way down it – piece of cake to do!

two needle mitten pattern cuff variationAs usual variations on a theme are included: a simple rolled cuff to replace the 2 x 2 rib for the cuff, a graphic chart to make a lattice pattern, two colour mitten. two needle mitten pattern lattice chartAnd there is a blank copy of the mitten chart so you can create your own unique mittens. Just print out the blank chart and get out your colouring pencils!

worsted weight wool

One of my earliest memories is that of wet woolen mittens drying on the classroom radiator after recess on a cold winter day. Real wool yarn is the only way to go for these mitts. We have all forgotten that wool will retain warmth even when it’s wet. I would not get too fussed about the yarn being superwash either. You want these mitts to mat a bit, in order to improve the wind resistance. And, speaking of wind resistance, although the yarn specified is worsted, the needles are smaller than usual – I’m suggesting 3.5mms

cable cast on

The technique featured in the pattern is the cable cast on – my go to CO. I’ve included links to how to do this cast on in the pattern, but you can also find them here.

Mitten makers will probably tell you that making mittens on four needles is THE way to go, but really, who wants to do an itty bitty thumb on 4 needles?

suggested books

There are some really cool books out there. Here are some suggestions for good mitten books. The ones that have been reviewed on this site are shown as links. All of these books are worth looking at:

solveig larsson knitted mittens book coverLarsson, Solveig, Knitted Mittens: Traditional northern Swedish mitten designs.




Khegay, Nuriya, More Monster Knits for Little Monsters, really cute animal hats and mittens for toddlers.

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stranded knitting is easier than you think

chart of nursery block animal graphicsI am continuing to work on the Nursery Block sweater and it’s coming along nicely. The band shown above features on the front and the back of the sweater. To help with the spacing of the animal blocks I’ve added some eccentric letter blocks. The blocks are not centered on the band – makes for more interest that way. Here’s the band for another size to show you how this is cooking up:

animal and letter nursery block graphic

making stranded knitting not scary

Whether you decide to knit the band in a single colour or the multiple colours shown above, it will use a technique called “stranded knitting”. You use stranded knitting when you need to knit with two colours in the same row. It’s not the same as fair isle (I’ll explain that in another post).

Knitting a set of motifs like the nursery block could be quite intimidating but if you use shorter lengths of yarn, say four or five yards and untangle them every so often as you go it’s really not too tough and the result is really worth it.

stranded knitting video

Ruth Herring explains this really well in her youtube video which is found here:

Also check out our new tip which shows you some easy techniques for the right and the wrong side of the work: stranded knitting tip

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animal and letter nursery block graphic

nursery block sweater coming along

My favourite kid is back in school. I’m going to school soon. All the family birthdays have been celebrated. My Dad was pleased with the vest. So down to business on the Nursery Block sweater. The size 4 is knit and are ready to be assembled. Now I am planning out the graphics. On my sweater I’ve knit the band plain and I’ll duplicate stitch the nursery blocks. When you get the pattern you’ll be able to choose to do the blocks in intarsia or duplicate stitch.

duplicate stitch

17 x 17 graph of bunnyDuplicate stitch is embroidery on top of knitting. It’s called duplicate stitch because you stitch, using a tapestry needle, another “knit” stitch on top of the stitch you knit already. Check out the tip on the tips page, which includes a video on how to do this. If you would like to practice before the sweater comes out, try knitting a 30 stitch by 30 row stocking stitch square and duplicate stitch the bunny.

stranded knitting and intarsia

Intarsia is an alternate technique for adding motifs to your knitting. You knit the stitches on the graph using a contrast yarn and carrying the background yarn along as needed. It’s not difficult to do as long as you follow some basic tips:

    When changing colours, twist the yarns around each other to prevent a hole.
    When carrying the unused yarn across more than 3 or 4 stitches, carry it over the working yarn so you don’t jhve a huge big horizontal strand running across the back of the work. This is especially important in kids sweaters. You don’t want to get their hands stuck in the strands when pulling the sweater over their heads. Howling will ensue!

For a good video on intarsia head over here:

I also ran across these two terrifc videos (one for the right side, one for the wrong side) ti help you strand the unused colour across the back of the work. Check out the pretty strawberry hat too!

I’ll include these one in the pattern and on the tips page too.

nursery block graphs

One of the design challenges has been to have the nursery block band come out every for every size. In children’s sizes you have relatively few stitches that you can use to adjust the pattern nicely. I’ve added some nursery block letters (do you remember? They were at the opposite end to the animals.) The letters are of different sizes than the animals and will help to space things out. The band shown at the top of the page is the resulting chart for the size 4 sweater. It’s deliberately asymmetric and I really like it. Do you? Send me a comment either way.

More charts coming along with the pattern…soon I promise.

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