Discover Shetland 5-Ply - a traditional Gansey yarn, and so much more besides!

Discover Shetland 5-Ply - a traditional Gansey yarn, and so much more besides!

Jamieson and Smith is one of only 2 yarn producers on the Shetland Islands, creating yarns made only from 100% Real Shetland Wool that reflect the knitting traditions of these famous islands.  Over the years they have produced many types of wool, but one thing that they were constantly asked for was a traditional Gansey-style yarn for knitting fine-textured patterns like Gansey sweaters, and this has led to the introduction of their new 5-Ply Shetland yarn.

So what is a Gansey (or Guernsey) sweater?  Gansey is the name given to the traditional hand-knitted sweaters worn by herring fishermen off the coasts of Great Britain, particularly during the 19th century and early 20th century.  It is often thought that these sweaters came originally from Guernsey in the Channel Islands, but this is not the case.  This kind of sweater was found up and down the British coastline, and also in the Netherlands, and it is more likely that the name is derived from the Norwegian word for sweater, “genser” (old Norwegian words are still found in many northern English and Scottish dialects).



The ganseys were very practical garments for the fishermen, being more flexible than a jacket, and knitted densely in order to keep out the wind and ocean spray.  They are knitted in a very particular type of wool, known as Guernsey 5-Ply, which is a worsted-spun yarn with a very high twist.  This makes the yarn denser and heavier than other sport-weight yarns, so the yardage is lower for a similar weight ball, but it makes for a very robust yarn which will keep out the worst of the weather. 

Ganseys are typically knitted very finely and tightly, and are traditionally a snug fit with little to no ease.  To allow for more freedom of movement, a true gansey design will always have a diamond-shaped gusset under the arm, which allows the wearer to raise his arms up without the body of the sweater rucking up. 

However, the main and most distinctive feature of the gansey is the patterning, which can be over the whole body, or more usually just across the yoke (possibly because fishermen wore high-waisted waterproof trousers, so any pattern lower down was a wasted effort).   The patterns themselves are easy to knit, being mainly composed of textured knit/purl motifs and simple cables.  However, the many combinations can create amazing effects and the tightly knitted fabric gives excellent stitch definition for these kinds of designs.

Although the Shetland Islands are known primarily for their Fair Isle and lace knitting designs, they are of course also a community with a strong seafaring tradition.  Many women who worked in the fishing industry, often as gutters, travelled up and down the coast to work, from Shetland in the north down as far as the east of England, and would have seen and learned different gansey styles and techniques.  There are many examples of photos of Shetland fishermen wearing ganseys, as shown below in this group of men and women in Lerwick.

Jamieson & Smith’s 5-ply Shetland is therefore the perfect yarn for knitting ganseys, but it can of course also be used for many other types of projects.  It is perfect for smaller textured projects such as hats and mittens, as well as for colour work, and can of course also be knitted on larger needles to make a fabric with more drape and fluidity.   We also think that the dense, hardwearing nature of the yarn and its high twist make it an ideal yarn for nylon-free socks.

J&S has created two designs for this yarn.  Firstly, the unisex Yoal Gansey by Sandra Manson (below):


with its authentic diamond under the arm:



and the Ultima Mitts by Ella Gordon:



Both patterns available on Ravelry.  Other pattern ideas include the Newhaven Hat by Ysolda Teague:


the Beaufort Socks by Jane Lithgow:



 the Marinai Sweater by Eri Shimizu:



or the Scilly Gansey by The Raw Wool Company:



Take a look also at other projects on Ravelry knitted so far in this yarn for more ideas on how to use this yarn.

Happy Knitting!


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