September is almost upon us; time to think of the cool crisp days before us. Autumn is such a lovely time of year, the light softens and the earth prepares itself for the nice sleep of winter. It sheds off the old and readies it’s self for the rebirth of spring, with the mediation of winter in-between.
I was reading the other day about the lives of villages associated with the sea, the men that made their living from the sea and about their women and knitting. I was mostly interested in the women and their harsh lives.
Women who rose before first light to start her day’s work, work that included taking care of the household needs, which seem very daunting without out our modern conveniences. They had to clothe their families. For fisherman that meant Gansey or Guernsey sweaters, the name depending on the area of the British Isle you hale from.
The Gansey sweater is recognizable by their color and shape. The style of the garment is boxy with no shaping at all. Knit in the round, traditionally knit with five very long double pointed needles to accommodate the stitches. This sweater was a working garment traditionally made from a 5 ply woolen spun yarn, usually a dark navy color. With the tightly spun yarn and a closely knitted fabric, giving these sweaters wonderful weatherproof qualities.
Many women folk supplemented the income of the family by not only knitting for their own family but also taking on contract knitting. Young girls where introduced to knitting as soon as they where able to hold the needles. A young, less experienced knitter might start with “trails”. The more experienced knitter was working on the plain area and the Mother working on the intricate design of the sweater. “ Trails” being what we refer to as ribbing.
Knitting sweaters for the family was a labor of love. The gansey took many hours to knit and often contained the motif specific to their family or region. Initials’ were often worked into the garment in the plain section at the bottom or sometimes worked into the underarm gusset. These sweaters where meant to last twenty years or more. They faded to a wonder light navy color with the exposure to the salty sea air and water. Due to the constructions the sweater was easy to repair. The sleeves are worked from the armhole down so the cuff could be unraveled and knit again to lengthen the life of the garment.
These sweaters are infused with so much history and tradition. It is a sweater worth exploring and knitting. It’s classic design means you can have it in your closet and take it out twenty years from now and it will still be relevant, I love that tradition and longevity wrapped into one. Start your own tradition for your family today.