model of gansey sweater and cap

From Cordova to Appalachia: A Journey in Gansey Knitting

From Cordova to Appalachia: A Journey in Gansey Knitting

It has been many years now since I first met Dotty Widmann from “The Net Loft”, the Cordova Alaska yarn store near the docks of this fishing village. She gave me a card about her Cordova Gansey Project and I’ve had it on my inspiration board since.

It has been tapping on my shoulder for years.

We recently launched our Breton Pullover and Beanie, a traditional French sailor sweaterinspired by those French waterman.

Of course, one of our foundation designs was the Aran Cardigan, another fisherman’s sweater from the islands off the west coast of Ireland where my ancestors lived. 

gansey sweater project
photo of breton sweater and beanie
photo of aran cardigan

I asked Cathy Hyndman, our super knitter, who use to practice medicine in Alaska, and whose daughter works on fishing boats off the Alaskan coast, if she could design a Gansey similar to the traditional style, yet in our indigo organic cotton. She scoffed at using cotton for a fisherman’s sweater because cotton doesn’t have the properties of wool: warmth, while still light weight. “They would sink to the bottom of the ocean with a cotton sweater”, she said. Yet, she couldn’t resist the challenge. Plus, I told her we would offer one in wool and let knitters know they could dye them in Indigo for a traditional navy-blue sweater.

Once we started on our Gansey project, we let Dotty know and she had plans to be at the trade show where we were exhibiting. Cathy, in just a week, had a sample of the sweater we could show Dotty for feedback. Did I mention she was a super knitter.

After many iterations—gone was the anchor, and then the “f….ing fish”, Cathy muttered, we are finally offering our version of the traditional Gansey that you can knit for a little one! It is knit in the round, as is custom; and has a wave stitch pattern, a net stitch pattern, underarm gussets and side cables. PLUS, Cathy designed a traditional Watch Cap to coordinate with it.

Why is the group of knitters from the Appalachian Mountains designing and knitting traditional sweaters from the Northern European fishing communities, stay tune, we have a surprising answer.

More Gansey links:  

For more about the Cordova Gansey Project, see .

While the traditional Ganseys are associated with the eastern UK fishing communities, the style migrated to other communities, including the Cape Clear Island off the south coast of Ireland. Here is a video about the island’s effort to preserve this knitting heritage:

This is not a knitting link, yet there is a Gansey connection; stay to the end of this delightful apartment tour for it:

The British "Fisher Lassies"…  

As a follow-up to this blog post, Dotty from the Cordova Gansey Project wanted me to recognize their inspiration: the British fisher lassies, who along with baiting the nets, keeping the home fires burning and cleaning the fish caught out at sea, knit traditional Gansey’s for their family. These sweaters were knit in the round and styled for a close-to-body fit, with an underarm gusset, in a worsted wool to insulate the fisherman from the cold air and salt water of the Atlantic Ocean.

From the southern port of Polperro, up the east coast to the villages of Cromer and Sheringham, moving north through Patrington and Withernsea, there is a documented history of Gansey knitting stitches and patterns. Many of these styles have been attributed to knitting techniques that the Scottish women, who traveled south to follow and work the herring catches, passed on to their knitting sisters in British ports.

It is this tradition of practical knitting to clothe the men who ventured out to sea that the Cordova Gansey Project is celebrating and preserving.

   We will soon be posting Gansey knitting tutorials and will let you know when they are available.

We are also planning a virtual Grand Gansey Knit Together Get Together soon! 

Watch our social feeds for more details or subscribe to our newsletter.

Ready to start your Gansey knitting adventure? 
Get your Gansey Sweater Knit Kit today and join us on this journey of tradition and creativity!

Use Code: GANSEY15 to save 15% 

on the newly released Gansey Sweater and Cap Knit Kit