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Emma (Hull Maritime’s Community Engagement Officer) recently had the pleasure of meeting Sue Taylor who has been knitting Ganseys for the last 10 years. Gansey knitting is a heritage craft which is an important part of our maritime history and so she was keen to find out more!

What is a Gansey?

Ganseys are a tightly knitted sweater, traditionally worn by those in the fishing industry. Ganseys were designed to be tough, hard waring and warm and are knitted in the round in a tight knit with no seams. Ganseys are an important part of maritime history, yet the history of Gansey knitting is hard to trace and seems to be shrouded in much myth and mystery. However, Sue tells me about how the skills and patterns travelled with Herring Girls from the North of Scotland down to The Wash. You can find out more about Ganseys here.

Sue's Knitting Story

Sue learnt to knit whilst she was a small child, learning the skill through her family. Her Granny taught her to turn the heel of a sock when she was very young and her mother used to knit Aran sweaters. Clearly knitting is in the family with many of the women being talented crafters!

Sue recalls that the first jumper that she knitted was mustard yellow. She was aged 6-8 and her Auntie Dora had asked Sue if she would knit a jumper for her husband. Sue said yes! Sue also remembers knitting clothes for dolls.

Sue Taylor

Sue started knitting Ganseys 10 years ago when she bought her first Gansey kit from Flamborough Marine Limited here. and has been an avid Gansey knitter since! Sue knitted her first Gansey for her husband and kindly brought it along for me to see – it really was a beautiful work of art. The jumper is a dark navy colour. Seeing the Gansey in person really brought home the skill and amount of time and dedication that must be needed to create such a garment. Whilst we were talking, Sue's Ganseys got quite a lot of attention with people stopping to have a chat and a closer look.

Seahouses Tree of Life pattern (knitted in Helford Blue)

Gansey patterns

Sue's first Gansey was a Humber Keel pattern, the Gansey has a distinctive star on the chest which Sue tells me is unique to Hull patterns. She says that she thinks this may be a reference to navigation and the North Star, an important part of Hull's maritime history. When we met, Sue was knitting a Gansey with the Seahouses tree of life pattern in Helford Blue. She explained that the pattern is a more northern design and includes fir trees.

Sue’s husband in his Humber Keel pattern Gansey

Gansey Colours

Many traditional Ganseys are a dark blue colour. However, Ganseys can be found in a range of colours from blues, greys, creams and even reds. After disusing the different colours, I asked Sue what her favourite Gansey colour is. She decided that 'Sea Foam' was probably her favourite and described it as a pastel pale turquoise colour. She also like cobalt blue.

Becoming a Gansey Knitter

Sue is clearly passionate about others learning this heritage craft and believes that it is important that more people learn this skill to help preserve an important part of maritime history. Gansey knitting isn't easy though! Sue told me that to be a Gansey knitter you need a good memory and most importantly tenacity. You need to be able to read and remember the pattern and having good eyesight and plenty of time doesn't hurt! Despite this, Gansey knitting is clearly very rewarding and worth the time and effort learning this heritage craft to help keep a part of our maritime history alive.

Many thanks to Sue for taking the time to talk to me about this important part of our Maritime history.