Steeped in tradition, the Guernsey has become an enduring classic adapted by Original Blues
Originally designed for fishermen, this style of knitting originated in the Elizabethan era. Nelson adopted the Guernsey as part of the Royal Navy’s uniform, during the Napoleonic Wars. Guernseys (or Ganseys – a dialect variation of Guernsey) were worn at The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The Guernsey was knitted to provide a close, snug fit for safety and warmth; no part could get caught in equipment, the sleeves stopping short of the wrist so as not to get in the way, nor to become wet with sea water. The tight hem, neck and cuffs helped to keep out draughts.
Each fishing community had its own identifiable pattern including fishing related symbols such as nets, ropes, anchors and herringbone. There were even variations between families and generations. Whilst the classic Guernsey remained relatively plain, the stitch pattern became more complex as it spread further north, with the most complicated coming from the fishing villages in Scotland. The square shaped, straight necked sweater was reversible, the patterning the same front and back; this improved its longevity, as wear was distributed more evenly.
The Guernsey was knitted in one piece on five needles - knitted ‘in the round’ from chest to back on two needles, before being joined at the shoulders. The knitter would knit fake side seams in a different stitch to keep track of where they were.
Tightly knitted by hand in worsted wool for protection from the cold, wind, rain and sea spray, Guernseys were seldom washed and the everyday dirt and grime that accumulated was thought to enhance these properties.
All seafarers, whatever their role, traditionally wore dark blue – natural Indigo dye was the only blue dye available, until synthetic dyes evolved in the late nineteenth century.