Free Knitting Pattern for a Traditional Gansy a.k.a Guernsey

free guernsey knitting pattern

This pattern is from the 1970’s or 1980’s, but it’s a tradtional pattern which hasn’t changed much throughout the twentieth century. This pattern is in 11 sizes from child’s to ladies to adult men’s.

Edited after a comment pointed out errors.

You may be wondering what’s a gansey? Or a guernsey? Luckily the BBC website is full of useful nonsense like this article from BBC Yorkshire. A gansey was a fisherman’s jumper, which the article claims was worn with a silk scarf. Somewhat wind and waterproof wear from the days before the oilskin or waterproof mackintosh fabric was invented. It makes me glad to be alive now and not 200 years ago – imagine there not being anything waterproof! It’s impossible to live in Britain without the requisite waterproof for hot rainy summers and a warm waterproof coat for winter and several umbrellas.

The BBC article suggests it was tight knitting which kept your fisherman warm, but the yarn was rich in lanolin. Modern washing would rinse this out pretty quickly, so I’m wondering if the fishermen every washed their jumpers? You can buy oiled wool in modern times, but these are designed to go through a knitting machine and finished items are usually washed to remove the oil.

My friend Madeline is knitting one now for her Dad, inspiring this post. You can  get reasonabley priced 5 ply Guernsey yarn from Wendy’s. It’s 100% wool. For 100% British and 100% wool try Blacker Yarns Guernsey wool.

If you want to be lazy and just buy a gansey / guernsey, they seem to be still made in the Channel Islands (for international readers, these lie off the coast between Britain and France, one of which is called Guernsey).  This firm makes them for the parts of the British Army and Navy who still feature it as part of their uniform. Expect your jumper to last 30 years if you keep it away from a tumble dryer. I have hand washed and dried a guernsey belonging to my then-boyfriend and it gets soooo heavy with water. I suggest rolling it in a towel and twisting it and then walking over it, repeat with several more towels. Then drape over a chair outside on a freezing day and leave for ages, then brush off the ice – if you put it on a radiator you’ll just end up with warm droplets of water all over it. Preferably never  handwash your boyfriend’s jumpers, no matter how many items he shrinks.

It might also help to know that the knitting is supposed to be very dense. Normally you’d be knitting this size of wool on bigger needles than 3mm and 2 3/4 mm.

If you want a genuine WW2 pattern for a gansey, the type with cables, there is one on sale on this vintage knitting website from The Vintage Knitting Lady.

I’m from a fishing town myself, but we had our port built after oilskin was invented. Here is a famous local lifeboatmen /fisherman from my home town showing off their oilskins (the website names the surnames of these men, one of which is my Grandma’s maiden name, so one of these chaps is probably a relative):

Here is the pattern:

free guernsey knitting pattern

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free guernsey knitting pattern

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4 thoughts on “Free Knitting Pattern for a Traditional Gansy a.k.a Guernsey

  1. Oh dear. The pattern is nice but the article is full of errors. To start with a gansey has always been worn over other clothing, usually a linen shirt and knitted long-johns. The yarn is far too rough to wear next to the skin. The silk scarf is correct, it was to stop chafing around the neck – again because the wool is rough.
    The waterproof properties of ganseys have been grossly over-stated. They will certainly keep out some water but they are definitely not waterproof. There were perfectly good waterproof garments available, cloth oiled with linseed oil, wax or other fat is surprisingly good and has been known and used for centuries.
    As for the link to the blog, the writer is a laughing stock among serious gansey knitters and historians because he makes wild claims based on nothing more than his own opinion, and will reject any claims to the contrary.

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    • I am genuinely happy to be corrected by someone who knows more than me. I add this as an apology/explanation. It’s tricky to check the credibility of a source when it’s an amateur knitting historian enthusiast. When I was researching I googled and that blog seemed so detailed (and who else has a tonne of posts just about one sort of jumper) so I probably mistook enthusiasm for knowledge.

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  2. Thank you so much, for the lovely pattern. I have been searching for a pattern us has this for sometime now, and am looking forward to the finished project. Diddle’ Mum.

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