Monday, March 14, 2011

A gansey by any other name

I have been going through old sources on knitting, looking at what they made, what the material was, and what they called it. The results have been eye opening.

I started with Weldon's Practical Knitter, The Delineator, and the resources of the Rutt library ( ).  This does not go back as far as I would like as some of the resources in Rutt are more recent than the dates on the homepage suggest.

The first thing I noticed was how many things were knitted from wool.  Convention is to assume that undergarments named in old inventories and wills were woven linen. This may have been the general rule, but Weldon in particular makes it clear that "gents drawers",  gent's and lady's under vests, knickerbockers, gent's, lady's & children's vests, baby's dresses, Spencers, chest protector, lady's under sleeves, girl's and lady's petticoats, lady's under bodice, lady's leggings (for riding), and various chemises were all knit from wool on occasion. While these sources are 19th century, it would seem that that they reflect older traditions.  

Then, I looked at what various garments are called. Fishermen's sweaters knit of wool are called: Jersey Jacket, Sailor Jersey, short-waisted jacket, Guernsey frock, fisherman's Jersey, Boating Jersey, Boating Sweater, and warm undervest.  Again, I expect  that these reflect older naming traditions, and when we see these any of terms in older wills and inventories, we can not be sure that they do not refer to a knit fisherman's garment -- a gansey if you will.

I found it most interesting that the term "gansey" for a fisherman's sweater came into circulation in Great Britain about the time the old Guernsey knitting technique called gansey died out.  And, of course, modern books on ganseys and gansey knitting do not instruct on  the old Guernsey knitting technique.  This is a bit sad.

Other things that I have been reading, and which are available as free digital  editions include:

Old-time tools and toys of needlework

 By Gertrude Whiting

The rural life of England

 By William Howit

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