Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story


The First Tap

This past fall, October 2014, I had a wonderful journey to the Shetland Islands for Shetland Wool Week, a week long celebration of the legacy of Shetland sheep and fiber arts. When I first entered the arts center, where registration was taking place, there was a great exhibit on display of Scottish Ganseys, traditional single color fisherman sweaters .

The Shetland Islands are the northernmost region of Scotland and have a rich history of fishing in addition to their sheep farming. The large posters in this "Fishing for Ganseys" display featured old photos of the “herring lassies” and gansey clad fishermen,  and as a previous fishing industry worker and present commercial fishing family member, I felt an instant affinity to the girls in the photos with their huge smiles and knitting in hand.

For those who don’t know the origins of The Net Loft, it was born in a fisheries bunkhouse room in Cordova, Alaska with an old wooden salmon egg box filled with cross stitch kits, and often inspired by knitter Bonnie Morris Phillips, the net mender who taught me how to hang fishing nets.

Bonnie would knit in her offtime, and would often be wearing one of her hand knit sweaters on the docks where she worked mending nets.  She would invite me to her bunkroom for tea and her delicious home made sourdough bread toast with jam, and show me her latest knitting project, most often of her own design, and first and foremost, all about function and fit, but always with her extra special touches.

Fishing is what brought us to the old cannery bunkhouse where I met Bonnie.  My husband had been a commercial salmon fisherman/deckhand in Prince William Sound, Alaska, since 1964.  We were married in 1978 on our first fishing boat (the one shown above with me in a headscarf running the hydraulics).  These days (37 years later)  two of our four children, as well as one great son-in-law, are fishermen as well, so it was an unexpected special connection I felt from the moment I walked into the museum and saw the exhibit of ganseys there on the wall. 

My mind drifted as I studied the display and looked into the eyes of the girls in the photos, and in that moment, I wished I could go back in time to share and exchange fishing and knitting stories. I felt such a commonality to their lives and lifestyle. They had no idea the part they played in the passage of patterns and design. I jotted down the name of the gansey exhibition which was “the Moray Firth Gansey Project”, rushed off to the registration desk, and conciously  felt just the slightest tap on my shoulder. Onward…
To be continued…

Follow along to The Long Story #2



 photo of Herring Lassies courtesy of Moray Firth  Gansey Project

Back to blog


I love reading your words Dotty! I was just showing Jared gansey pictures and this popped up, and some pictures of your kids!

Becky Niles

So happy to have found this post. Looking foreward to really going thru it!!


So glad to have you join us as the story unfolds. Our project is underway starting next week with Beth Brown-Reinsel helping a pilot group of twenty launch a traditional project for our local fishermen and Bonne Marie Burns leading us in a contemporary version the end of June. Stay tuned for further adventures, and hope perhaps someday you can join us in Cordova. 2016 we will be having a larger FisherFolk event centered around fishing and knitting. We appreciate your comments and do keep in touch.


I broke into dance when I saw where the “Fringe Association” post took me. Even more astounding is that for the past 2 months I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about Alaska and Her People. Different I know. There are times when something just grabs me and I jump into everything I can find out about that Person, Place or Thing. I actually have a wonderful time doing it.
Then, even more excited, I saw the words “Fishermen’s Sweaters from Cordova”! This was the Small fishing town that got me into this journey in the first place! I love Fishermen’s Sweaters and really wish there was more information about them, then people and countries that produce such sweaters and more. There are thousands of places that have rich Fishing Histories and many countries as well. Some may have a lighter version in a different fibers, unique patterning and colours.
Thanks for the information and am looking forward to traveling on such adventures with such wonderful people, even from my own home!


Loved it!! Can’t wait for the next entry!! Dotty I’m a friend of Betty Elaine, congratulations on your wonderful blog!!!

Debbie Radice

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.