The fisherman's Guernsey or "Gansy" is a normally blue coloured jersey worn by the fishermen and even today reflects the individuality of their home town and their families. The intricate patterns knitted into the gansey stylistically represents ropes, pebbles on the shore and the ups and downs of life. Other fishing villages used different patterns, thus when a body was washed up on the shore, it was possible to tell from which village the drowned person came from. As each family had "mistakes incorporated into the style for each member of the family, it was possible to tell exactly who the person was.
These patterns were handed down by word of mouth or by example for generations and some of them were introduced by the Scots fishermen who followed the annual seasonal migration of the herring. The ganseys were worn next to the skin by the fishermen, who kept a second one for Church on Sundays.
These hard wearing, blue ganseys were knitted in five ply wool on five or more double ended needles, they were knitted very tightly to be wind proof, often with slightly shorter sleeves finishing just above the wrist to avoid being permanently wet while at sea. Nowadays, they are worn as a fashion item by none fishermen as well, but it owes its existence to generations of development and use as a practical working garment.
There is and active circle of gansey knitters in Filey, believed to be in excess of twenty and consisting of both men and women. During the Edwardian Festival in Filey, the Filey Museum hosts a display of completed work and gansey knitters are in attendance to display and promote this craft.
We visited the Museum and met expert gansey knitter, Margaret Taylor who was attired in traditional fisher women's dress for the occasion. Using steel double-ended needles that were handed down from her fishing family, the Masons, her hands expertly worked to produce a seamless garment of high quality. The intricate patterns flowed with practised ease in between breaking off to instruct a promising gansey knitter on the finer points of the craft and answering questions from visitors. She is pictured here using four needles to make a sleeve and her husband Graham, was in attendance, demonstrating his own fishing skills at the Museum. The photograph of them both at the foot of this page was taken in between their busy schedules.
The gansey is an indisputable unbroken link to a rich Maritime Heritage which can be readily seen in the intricate designs which are and art form of their own, all the designs have an interesting story of their origin. The gansey is an individually crafted, beautiful piece of knitwear lovingly created by men and women who are masters of their craft.
In an age of volume production and changing mass fashion trends, it is a pleasure to own and wear a traditional hand knitted gansey such as this and it explains why its appeal has spread as far away as America and Japan.