Woolly Words of Wisdom …Charlie Spark and his sidekick Dapper Dennis


“Wotcha Dennis have you seen all the talk about our Ganseys…”

“Seems a lot of fuss Charlie what can you tell me that I don’t know already ??”

“Well have you ever wondered about the *real* origin of the Gansey ( Guernsey) sweaters. It has in fact been part of Irish ancestry: some patterns are even identified with specific clans and families.

But just where did these jumpers come from, and how long have they been around?

To find the ancestor of the Aran jumper, we travel not to the windswept Aran islands of Galway Bay, but 400 miles South-East… to the Channel Islands, and Guernsey in particular. The history of knitting in Guernsey is rich: it is mentioned as early as the 15th century, and Mary Queen of Scots, on her execution in 1587, is said to have been wearing knitted stockings from Guernsey. As you would expect, much of the trade of the island, historically, relied on fishing – and fishermen had quite specific and demanding clothing requirements. The clothes they wore had to be durable and easy to repair; resist staining; allow for ease of movement; keep the wearer warm – and keep out as much water as possible! So the Guernsey (Gansey) sweater was born.

The Gansey is an eminently practical garment: gussets in the neck and underarms allow the wearer free movement, as does the divided hem; the dark navy colour can absorb a number of liquids without staining. The wool had the protective oils left in, was particularly tightly twisted, and the knitting is very tight: together these help the garment to repel drizzle and spray, keeping the wearer dry. Ganseys ( Guernseys) were designed to be as durable as possible, and were often handed down through generations: they are identical front-to-back, making them reversible, and where stitch texture patterns are used, they are usually restricted to the yoke, leaving the lower body and especially the lower arms – the parts likely to experience the most wear – in plain stocking-stitch that can easily be repaired. Cuffs were tight, and usually stopped short of the wrist, to be out of the way and avoid getting wet.

The jumpers were often knitted for fishermen by their wives and mothers: naturally, of course, these creative ladies soon devised ways of making their men look as good as possible! As well as the plainer ‘working’ Gansey, a ‘Sunday best’ version evolved, which could be every bit as beautiful as its Aran descendants.”

“Cor Damme Charlie you are like one of those fountains of knowledge .”

“Yers one of them magic lantern thingies. It’s all about the Retro Guernseys eh and did you know they’re givin’ 25 quid to the Men’s Shed charity for every one what gets sold !”

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