A Short History
The fisherman's sweater known as a Guernsey sweater (or in dialect - gansey), was developed over 400 years ago during the reign of Elizabeth I when wool was first imported from England. It can be traced along Britain's coastlines, from the Channel Islands to the north of Scotland. Traditional Guernsey sweaters are hand knitted in five ply yarn and in blue (using indigo, the natural dye), to imitate the fishermen's natural working environment of the sea and sky.
They are seamless, having been knitted 'in the round', using four or five double-ended steel wires or pins. Some Guernsey sweaters are plainly knitted, but others incorporate sea-related patterns, with cable or motif designs. These differ from knitter to knitter, and area to area. Sadly, it was these unique designs which were used to identify fishermen who had been washed overboard, so they could be returned home to their families for burial.
Because the Guernsey sweater is so tightly knitted, the garment's design and patterns provide insulation, as well as water and wind resistance. Wool is also highly absorbent and, because it releases water slowly, cannot easily be washed off the wearer's back. A Guernsey sweater is designed for longevity, with identical patterns on the front and back of the sweater. This means the sweater can be worn both ways if excessive wear occurs, such as on the elbows. When families were so poor that clothes were repaired and routinely passed from generation to generation, the cuffs and sleeves would also be unravelled and re-knitted, often in a different shade of yarn.
Some fishermen were lucky enough to own a 'Sunday best' sweater for special occasions, and a lighter-weight Guernsey sweater for the summer. These would be knitted in three or four ply yarn, in a different colour of pale grey or fawn. At Wool Overs, we create a unique look by the simple addition of a triangular gusset in the armhole. This ensures a straight fabric which fits smartly at the welt, and is left open at each side.