Gotta Have a Gussett to be a Gansey

by Lee Louise

A gansey, or guernsey, is a fisherman’s sweater. Traditionally, they were made out of fine gauge wool for warmth, using knit-and-purl textured patterns, with underarm gussets, in a construction that minizes the number of seams. I’m sure there are other trademark characteristics, but those seem to be among the defining characteristics of a traditional gansey.

I have made 4 or 5 gansey-style sweaters over the years, the first being in a class I took at a knitting and weaving shop in Catonsville, MD, in the 1990’s, using an Alice Starmore pattern. I discovered that this was MY kind of sweater: no seams, so minimal finishing; knit in the round from the bottom up; underarm gussets for increased ease of arm movement; then split the front and back at the armholes, and knit back and forth; the single seam (2 seams?) at the shoulders employing a 3-needle bind-off, which really isn’t a “seam”, now is it?; pick up the sleeves from the armhole and knit down. I wax enthusiastic! Did I mention — NO SEAMS??? (That particular sweater still lurks in one of my I-can’t-bear-to-throw-it-away-although-it-probably-should-be storage piles. I used Plymouth Encore in a heathery purple, and it pilled, so that you can no longer see the textured details.)


I also made Hillary a yellow Fife (again by Alice Starmore), back when she was E.H.’s size, so long, long ago. Hillary has long since outgrown it, but I commend E.H.’s modeling abilities:

I have sought out other gansey designers; I took a class from Beth Brown-Reinsel at Stitches South 2016 last April, where we made a gansey sampler sweater (, in 20-ounce water bottle size:


Beth is also the designer of the Snakes and Ladders sweater I made for T.E.’s second birthday

Yes, I am unashamed to be a gansey fan. Unfortunately, since I live in the MidSouth, a warm woollen sweater is totally impractical. I want to knit ganseys AND I want to wear them. Untraditional ganseys? I suppose that it the direction I am headed. But I do want gussets, no matter what:

Time to research cotton and linen blends.

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