Guernsey (clothing)

Guernsey (clothing)

A guernsey or gansey is a seaman's knitted woolen sweater, similar to a jersey, which originated from the Channel Island of the same name.


The guernsey is the mainstay of Guernsey's knitting industry which can be dated back to the late fifteenth century when a royal grant was obtained to import wool from England and re-export knitted goods to Normandy and Spain. Exactly when the Guernsey was first knitted is unknown. Peter Heylin described the manufacture and export of "wast-cotes" during the reign of Charles I. The first use of the name 'guernsey' outside of the island is in the 1851 Oxford Dictionry, however, the garment was in use in the Bailiwick before that.Marr, L.J. (1982). "A History of the Bailiwick of Guernsey". Philmore & Co. Ltd.]

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 fibers in the spinning process and the tightly knitted stitches, produced a finish that would "turn water" and are capable repelling rain and spray."The Story of the Guernsey" [] accessed 6 May 2008]

The guernsey was traditionally knitted by the fishermen's wives and the pattern passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. This is a practice which still exists today with the final finishing of the machine-knit parts completed by hand.

Through trade links established in the seventeenth 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 complicated the further north the garment spread, with the most complex evolving in the Scottish fishing villages."A Short History of the Hand-Knitted Gansey" [] accessed 6 May 2008]


Two styles of guernsey exist: a plain 'working' guernsey and a 'finer' example that was generally saved for special occasions and Sunday-best attire.Lambert, G. A. (2002) "The Taxonomy of Sweater Structures and Their Origins". Raleigh.]

The 'working' guernsey design was kept simpler in order to reduce the amount of time and materials needed to produce. The sale of knitted garments to supplement family income was important to many island families and thus the garments that were sold were also of a simple design. It is estimated that a total of 84 hours was needed to complete a guernsey: a simpler design could be produced faster than a more elaborate onePearson, M. (1984) "Traditional Knitting: Aran, Fair Isle and Fisher Ganseys". Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.]

The guernsey that is still produced on the island retains much of the original design and patterns. The rib at the top of the sleeve is said to represent a sailing ship’s rope ladder in the rigging, the raised seam across the shoulder a rope and the garter stitch panel waves breaking upon the beach. As a working garment the gussets under the arm and at the neck are for ease of movement, as are the splits at the hem.

Worn as a source of pride and often knitted by prospective wives 'to show the industrious nature of the woman he was about to marry, the 'finer' guernsey was more elaboratly patterned than its 'working' cousin. With the advent of the machine knitted guernsey and the decline in the knitting industry, this guernsey is a much rarer sight.

Previously, when all garments where hand knitted, it was possible to identify which or family the wearer came from. This had a rather morbid use when identifying the bodies of sailors lost overboard.

The guernsey's tightly woven fibers and its square-shape, with a straight neck so that it could be reversed, make it a particularly hardy item of clothing."The History of the Gansey" [] accessed 6 May 2008] It is not uncommon for a guernsey to last several decades and be passed down in families.

=Use in the British Royal Navy=

The Guernsey was first widely used in the rating uniform of the nineteenth century British Royal Navy. ["The History of Rating Uniforms" [] accessed 6 May 2008] ["Traditional Guernsey knitwear and genuine Alderney sweaters from the Channel Islands" [] accessed 6 May 2008] It is said that guernseys were worn at the Battle of Trafalgar. The association of the Guernsey with the British military has continued into the twenty first century. In 2006 the British 7th Armoured Division ordered three hundred sweaters from a company in Guernsey and these were sent out to Iraq. Each jumper was hand-finished in a neutral colour and had the Desert Rat insignia sewn onto the left hand sleeve. ["Desert Rats get 'knitted out' for Iraqi winter" [] accessed 6 May 2008]

Use in Australian rules football

In Australia, the word is used for the usually sleeveless woollen shirt worn by Australian rules football players. The top worn by National Rugby League and Australian Rugby Union players is called a "jersey", [Jackson, Glenn; "Pride in the Rabbitohs jersey - and dollars, too", Sydney Morning Herald, 20 December 2006, accessed 9 January 2007] ["History of the ARU" [,183.html] accessed 9 January 2007] though it is still frequently called a "guernsey". As an extension of this tradition, the expression "to get a guernsey" [Miller, Nick; "Technology gets a guernsey", Sydney Morning Herald, 21 November 2006, accessed 9 January 2007] is to be selected for something or to gain recognition for an achievement.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Guernsey (disambiguation) — Guernsey may be:* Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands * Guernsey (clothing), a piece of clothing * Guernsey cattle, a breed of cattle * Golden Guernsey, a breed of goatsPlaces;Canada * Guernsey, Saskatchewan;United States * Guernsey, Iowa *… …   Wikipedia

  • Clothing — in history Clothing refers to any covering for the human body that is worn. The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic and is a feature of nearly all human societies. The amount and type of clothing worn depends on functional… …   Wikipedia

  • Clothing terminology — comprises the names of individual garments and classes of garments, as well as the specialized vocabularies of the trades that have designed, manufactured, marketed and sold clothing over hundreds of years. Clothing terminology ranges from the… …   Wikipedia

  • Clothing in the ancient world — The clothing of men and women and seveal social levels of Ancient Egypt are depicted in this tomb mural from the 15th century BC The clothing used in the ancient world strongly reflects the technologies that these peoples mastered. Archaeology… …   Wikipedia

  • Clothing in ancient Rome — Statue of the Emperor Tiberius showing the draped toga of the 1st century AD. Clothing in ancient Rome generally consisted of the toga, the tunic, the stola, brooches for these, and breeches. Contents …   Wikipedia

  • Clothing material — Historically, clothing has been made from many materials. These materials range from grasses to furs to much more elaborate and exotic materials. Some cultures, such as the various people of the Arctic circle, until recently, made their clothing… …   Wikipedia

  • Clothing in ancient Greece — Caryatid wearing chiton from the Erechtheion (British Museum. Note the blousing, or Kolpos, over the Zone.) Clothing in ancient Greece primarily consisted of the chiton, the peplos, himation, and …   Wikipedia

  • Clothing in Africa — A woman in Kenya wearing kanga African clothing is the traditional clothing, often vibrantly coloured, worn by the indigenous peoples of Africa. In some instances these traditional garments have been replaced by western clothing introduced by… …   Wikipedia

  • clothing — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) Wearing apparel Nouns 1. clothing, clothes, apparel, wear, dress, attire, array, raiment, garments, garb, costume, outfit, habiliment, habit, rig, ensemble, caparison, drapery, toilette, fig, wardrobe,… …   English dictionary for students

  • Jersey (clothing) — For other uses, see Jersey (disambiguation). Single jersey front side under microscope …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”