In praise of the herring – the West fisherman’s Gansey

The stitches knitted into the Norfolk fishermen’s Gansey jumpers tell all kinds of stories from the fishermen’s lives…
The tradition of knitting these jumpers stretches around the North Sea coast from Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, along the Norfolk coast and down to Cornwall and may have originated as far back as the early 19th Century.
Herrings figure heavily in this iconography, whether they are swimming or once they have been caught, in the herring bone motif.

In In Norfolk, most of the fishermen went out in their “small” boats to catch crabs, whelks and the odd lobster, but back in the first half of the 20th century the industry was dominated by the “big” steamboats which went far out, off-shore fishing for herrings for weeks on end. 

John Craske “Herrings on a string”

But herring are an elusive fish, frequenting the North Sea waters for years and then vanishing completely, like they did from the coast around Great Yarmouth, leaving fishermen, herring girls and the entire industry without work.

There are countless songs, biblical references and superstitions surrounding these fish and the fishermen would use them to entice the fish into their nets. These tales make fascinating reading and many examples can be found in Donald S. Murray’s book “Herring Tales”.

Leonard West from “Fishermen Knitting” by Michael Harvey & Rae Compton

The “herringbone” design that I have chosen for my latest Gansey knit is borrowed firstly from the Scotch Fisher Girls’ patterns which tended to run horizontally across the yoke of the knits, but I was delighted to find this vintage image of Norfolk fisherman Leonard West wearing one of the Ganseys knitted for him by his wife in the 1970’s with the same design. 
As usual, I have taken the original patterns and reimagined them into contemporary shapes and proportions to create something completely new. The new West Gansey has been knitted from a carefully sourced GOTS certified Organic cotton and Merino wool yarn which has been plied up to create a chunky but light weight shape, this is my spring summer equivalent to the Craske Gansey (the fit is very similar). The West has a neat crew neck with wider sleeves that slim down to the cuff (like the original Ganseys) so that boxy T shirts or blouses with billowy sleeves can be comfortably worn underneath. This style is very soft and can be worn next to the skin. It works equally well over a dress or paired with shorts or trousers and comes in 2 sizes. The M/L can also be worn by men.
The Navy colour is available to buy now, and a Creamy colour knitted from GOTS certified organic cotton and 5% cashmere will be available from early June and can be pre-ordered.
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.