A Shoal of Ganseys

15 Jun

After my boyfriend took a trip left to chance and ended up in Norfolk earlier this year, which you can read about it  on his blog here, if you like. While in Norfolk he visited a little Museum in Sheringham, called The Mo, he was so impressed with the museum he dedicated a whole blog post to it. In fact Martin liked the area as a whole so much that he decided he’d have another little holiday there and take me with him, which coincided with an exhibition of Ganseys at The MO!

knitted bunting at The Mo - nettynot blog

The Exhibition: A Shoal of Ganseys – The Knitting Legacy of the Fishing Community

Ganseys in Sheringham Museum - nettynot blog

I found the exhibition very interesting, the sheer volume of Ganseys on display was very impressive. I’m going to try not to ramble on about it too much, however there were several things that piqued my interest. I think everyone who’s interested should try and visit this exhibition, it’s definitely worth it.

Sheringham Gansey's, it was traditional to only have patterns on the yoke.

Sheringham Gansey’s, it was traditional to only have patterns on the yoke.

What struck me when having a closer look at the Ganseys, was the way they were made, having knitted a few garments in the round before I was surprised by the way they seemed to have been constructed. They were very boxy with very little shaping, which I can’t imagine would have made them overly comfortable. Then reading the information boards all became clear; they were made in a specific way, partly to make them easier to knit, but they were mainly designed to be very hard wearing. The body of the Ganseys were knitted on double pointed needles, often in the round, however I spotted a few with side seems, and then the arms were knitted from the body, with an added gusset at the arm pit to allow easy movement for the wearer. By knitting the arms from the top down it meant the cuffs could be ripped back and re-knitted when they were wearing out. All very practical and clever really.

All the Ganseys were nicely integrated into the Museums permanent life boat exhibits.

All the Ganseys were nicely integrated into the Museums permanent life boat exhibits.

There were a lot of superstitions around knitting Gansey’s. Green was not a good colour, the colour of land, supposedly meant you’d always be seeking solid ground. If a fisherman died before his Gansey was completed the knitter, usually their wife or family member, would not finish it as it would be bad luck to give it to another fisherman. Instead the yarn would be ripped out and balled up and left for a year. After a year, it would be re-used – wool was too expensive not to use.

I was surprised to read that many fishermen back in the day couldn’t swim and even more taken aback to read that they purposely didn’t teach their sons to swim, in the event they went overboard into the cold sea their deaths would be fast.

Ahoy there! Nettynot blog

Fishermen usually had a working Gansey and a Gansey for best, worn for Church and family weddings. I’m assuming the cream Ganseys in the exhibition were ‘best’ Ganseys as I can’t imagine they would have stayed that colour for long at sea.

Sunday Best Gansey - nettynot blog

I was interested to read that there aren’t many Ganseys left intact in the country, several of the Ganseys on display were recently knitted using original patterns. Yarn was expensive so Ganseys would have been regularly unravelled and re-knitted when they started to wear out, once the yarn was too worn out it would be used for blankets.

Herring girls - Photo from A Shoal of Ganseys Exhibition.

Herring girls – Photo from A Shoal of Ganseys Exhibition.

Herring girls – something I knew nothing about before attending this exhibit. Herring girls, travelled port to port, gutting and packing herring. During the day they had to wait hours for the boats to come in, they spent this time knitting! They had the opportunity to share ideas and many herring girls prided themselves on being the first to knit a pattern new to their area. Patterns were often recognisable to specific areas, however some patterns also symbolised life events, like zigzags for marriages.

Examples of the patterns used put in to a neat little index box.

Examples of the patterns used put in to a neat little index box.

A small display of knitted items inspired by ganseys .

A small display of knitted items inspired by ganseys .

I must admit I do find social history quite fascinating, so finding out about the lives of the fishermen and their families was as interesting as the actual Ganseys. If you ever find yourself in Norfolk, anywhere near Sheringham, I would highly recommend a visit to The Mo. Ganseys or no Ganseys it’s still a very interesting, albeit it small, museum. Find out more on their website.
www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk

Many thanks to go to the museum for allowing me to take photographs of the exhibition.

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