Knitting books

Knitter’s Bookshelf: Guernseys, Ganseys and Fisherman’s Sweaters


For today’s book round-up, I have four books on fisherfolk sweaters, whatever you choose to call them.  The point of this kind of sweater is that the item itself is a pretty standard, basic shape, which knitters personalize by stitch pattern placement. For the most part, patterning is knit and purl stitches, though there may be a bit of cabling here or there.  Cables are not going to be anything like as extravagant as on Aran sweaters, though. Authentic stitch patterns, when presented, have been reverse-engineered from example sweaters in various museums and sometimes just from photos.  Most of the type of knitting documented in these books was never from written patterns, and was not written down by the knitters who made them up.  An additional difficulty stems from the fact that these sweaters were work wear for people doing tough jobs, and not many have survived.

Most of these books are slightly to pretty old, but one is very new.  But regardless of their age, they have a lot of information on this type of sweater.  Some of that information is academic, some is practical, but either way, any and all of them are a good resource if you have any interest at all in this branch of knitting.


I will start with the most venerable of the bunch, Cornish Guernseys & Knit-Frocks by Mary Wright, originally published in 1973.  This particular edition was printed in 2008, but is completely new to me, and does not look to have been updated in any way.  It is a shortish and smallish book, as well as being focused on just Cornwall, so this is a deep and narrow book.  The author has a lot of information about fishing and the fishing culture in Cornwall in the 1800.  There are quite a lot of black and white photographs of fisherfolk in sweaters and also of knitters.  The 30 patterns reference on the cover are of stitch patterns.  There is one basic guernsey pattern that the knitter can personalize by deploying the stitch patterns in whatever fashion they like, which is a pretty standard method for this type of sweater book. This book is a very thorough treatment of guernsey sweaters in a particular place and time.  If you are into commercial fishing, Cornwall, or very detailed ethnic garment information, this is an excellent book for you!

Next up are two from the same year, 1993:


Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown-Reinsel is a more academic look at the genre, while Fishermen’s Sweaters by Alice Starmore is a bit more focused on individual sweater patterns. Knitting Ganseys presents a thorough overview of, as it says on the cover, knitting ganseys. It starts with a section on what ganseys are, then goes into very detailed sections on the technical aspects of gansey creation. As with the previous book, there are quite a lot of stitch patterns adapted from sweaters in various museums and from other historical sources.  Finally, there are a few chapters on planning and knitting your own personalized gansey.  Copious illustrations are black and white photos and line drawings.  If you want to be walked through making your own gansey using correct techniques and patterns, this is an excellent book for you!

Fishermen’s Sweaters, on the other hand, is a bit more of a collection of various styles of sweaters.  There are some ganseys, some Aran sweaters, and some mixed style sweaters.  There is a very brief introduction to the book, with a little information about ganseys and so on, and the rest of the book is original Alice Starmore patterns.  The patterns are illustrated with lovely color photographs of models wearing the attendant sweaters in a variety of nautical situations.  Sometimes standing by a boat looking hardy, sometimes on the shore looking wistfully out to sea.  Always in gorgeous, lust-worthy sweaters.  As always when I am looking at an AS book, I always think “Why are you so sad/moody/wistful?  Look at your sweater!” If you love lavish color photography, clearly written out patterns that you don’t have to mess around with, and/or Alice Starmore, then this is the book for you!



Last but not least, the newest of the bunch.  More Traditional Dutch Ganseys by Stella Ruhe, published in Dutch in 2015, and in English in 2017.  This is a follow-up to an earlier book, Dutch Traditional Ganseys, which I completely missed when it came out, and which now seems to sell for exorbitant prices.  Anyway, just like it says on the cover, this is a book of Dutch ganseys.  This book is not fooling around.  It starts off with an extensive history of ganseys and fishing in the Netherlands, and then goes right into the sweaters.  There are motifs and patterns galore, pictures of the old ganseys, and then information for recreating each one.  This book likewise is lavishly illustrated with photos old and new along with stitch pattern charts.  If you like history and technique, fishing in the Netherlands, and lots and lots of options for sweaters, then this is the book for you!

I would recommend any and all of these books. Depending on what you are looking for in a knitting book about fishermen’s sweaters, each has a lot to offer.  But really, why pick just one?


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