Ganseys in Guernsey

This past summer we had a wonderful 2 week trip to Europe which started with 3 nights in Guernsey.  Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands, technically a part of England, but situated much closer to the Normandy coast of France.  We flew into London, and took the ferry the next day from Portsmouth to Guernsey, an 8 hour ride.

Arriving in the beautiful port at Guernsey, we were already smitten.


Why Guernsey?  This question was asked of me more times than I can count.  Originally, our big trip this year was going to be to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  We quickly realized when we started planning, that due to difficulties getting from one country to the next, we would need more planning time.  Our next choice was Guernsey, Aix-en-Provence and Paris.  I had lived my junior year in Aix, and had been wanting to go back for some time.  And who doesn’t love Paris?  But Guernsey?  Well, it all started with a book that I read, that lead to a fascination with the island.

8110V2WqqLL During WWII, Guernsey  and the other Channel Islands were occupied by the Nazi’s for 5 years. This is a fictional account of that time period, and how the residents suffered under the Nazi occupation.  After reading it several years ago, and having little knowledge of the island, and none of it’s history, I started trolling the internet to find out more.  What I discovered was beautiful scenery and an island that fascinated me.  That motivated me to have the island high on the “travel to” list.  And, I knew that Guernsey sweaters (later referred to as Ganseys) originated on the island.  As well as Guernsey cows.  Jersey island is right next door with it’s Jersey cows.


We loved our stay at Guernsey, definitely the highlight of our trip.  We stayed at the Ziggurat, and this is the view of the harbor outside of our window.


And the view at Breakfast


My husband is the best at indulging my interests, especially when it comes to knitting.  He found  The Folk and Costume Museum, and thought they might have some of the Guernsey sweaters there.  It was in a beautiful old converted farm.


Dan got his history of the island, and I found Guernsey sweaters.  My photos are not the best, the museum was very quaint, but poorly lit.  What I found really interesting is that they are known for these sweaters, but had no sheep on the island.  All of the wool was imported from England.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The guernsey is the mainstay of Guernsey’s knitting industry which can be dated back to the late 15th century when a royal grant was obtained to import wool from England and re-export knitted goods to Normandy and Spain. Peter Heylin described the manufacture and export of “waste-cotes” during the reign of Charles I. The first use of the name “guernsey” outside of the island [2] is in the 1851 Oxford Dictionary, but the garment was in use in the bailiwick before that.[3]

The guernsey came into being as a garment for fishermen who required a warm, hard wearing, yet comfortable item of clothing that would resist the sea spray. The hard twist given to the tightly packed wool fibres in the spinning process and the tightly knitted stitches, produced a finish that would “turn water” and is capable of repelling rain and spray.[4]

The guernsey was traditionally knitted by the fishermen’s wives and the pattern passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. While commercially available sweaters are machine knit, the final finishing of these machine-knit parts is completed by hand.[4]

Through trade links established in the 17th century, the guernsey found favour with seafarers around the British Isles, and many coastal communities developed their own “ganseys” based on the original pattern. Whilst the classic guernsey pattern remained plain, the stitch patterns used became more complex the further north the garment spread, with the most complex evolving in the Scottish fishing villages.[5]

Mary Wright argues that the use and wearing of guernseys throughout the British Isles for over a century and a half almost justifies the guernsey for qualification as a national costume.[6] A guernsey from the Folk Museum Guernsey was included in the 2010 BBC project A History of the World in 100 Objects.[7]

The term can also refer to a similarly-shaped garment made of woven cloth, also called a Guernsey shirt or smock. There are a number of different names for the same garments, for instance Guernsey frock, Guernsey shirt, smock-frock, or fisherman’s frock. Essentially these are all the same garment, with the materials varying based on the purpose for which it is worn.[8]

There is still a factory on Guernsey making the traditional style sweaters.  I am regretting not visiting that.  We were, however, so smitten with the island that we really want to go back and visit Guernsey again, and Jersey, Salk and St. Malo.

Here are a few more photos from Guernsey:

The walk up to our hotel:


View from lunch one day:


The German Occupation Museum.  This was really fascinating.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA