I have become really fascinated in the history surrounding knitted guernseys since coming back from our holiday.
I bought the book “Knitted Guernseys and Knit-Frocks” by Mary Wright and read it very quickly and have been totally inspired to knit one for myself.
Guernseys are jumpers traditionally made for fisherman. They have a strong influence from the channel islands (hence the names Guernsey and Jersey). These knitted garments were perfect for fisherman because they were densely knitted making them were warm but also protecting the fishermen from the sun, salt and strong winds. They were knitted by women and girls on double pointed needles using a fine worsted yarn dyed with Indigo. Patterns were rarely written down and were past from generation to generation. Each guernsey was distinctive and patterning was particular to each family, some even had initials knitted into the arm gusset. These garments were so individual that if a fisherman was lost at sea it would be possible to identify the body using the guernsey alone.
Knitting became a huge industry in Cornwall, employing women and girls. By the nineteenth century woman often bore the financial burden of the family with their knitting, Husbands and fathers were often at sea for long periods of time and some had left their home county to seek work. Speed was an absolute necessity so they are knitted in the round on long double pointed needles often using a knitting stick to hold the working needle in place.
An interesting blog article about the process of knitting a Guernsey from the book can be found on Tom of Holland’s site.