Thursday, November 25, is the first ever International Gansey Day. I have been thinking on this, reflecting on our Cordova Gansey Project that started only 7 years ago, following a trip to the UK and the Shetland Islands. I am thinking of all I have learned through this project that started as a means to create a working sweater for my commercial fisherman son Nate, in the company of friends in the fisherfolk community of Cordova, Alaska. I have thought deeply about how much it means to me to know that for the ganseys I have completed thus far since then, my loved ones are wrapped up in stitches, made from what I have calculated to be, over a mile of yarn, that has traveled through my fingers, leaving trails of love and a bit of my DNA in the loops and fabric it created. It was just a whim and a concept back in 2014, and now an active and living reality.
The gansey I am currently working on seems to drag on endlessly. I started this one prior to the pandemic, but it languished in the midst of it, entangled with my mother’s passing and dissolution of her retreat of a home, along with the covid situation. But alas, I am determined to move forward, and now, I am finally to the sleeves, and working my way beyond the shoulders, and alternating sides, so they will be completed together. Where I am now is referred to as, with a sigh, “Sleeve Island”. I am grateful, and very hopeful, however, to finally land here, and to be on my way to the cuffs that now lie somewhere off in the distance.
This gansey is being knit with a yarn hand dyed in Cordova, by my friend Anna Hernandez of Skeins in the Stacks/ Bosque Amistoso, and for my son Matthew William, who works as a skiffman on our boat, the commercial fishing vessel Orion. It features a film strip motif through the middle to acknowledge his involvement in filmmaking, and a DNA cable strap that extends down the arm to acknowledge our deep connection with one another. The deep saturated dark teal navy colorway, called “Wake”, refers to the trail of North Pacific seawater that follows the boat in motion on the fishing grounds of Prince William Sound. His job is to manage the net as they “cut her loose” while making a set, taking care of one end of the net as the other end moves forward, and then afterwards, to tow the boat away from the net after they have closed it up, as the deckhands work on bringing the gear back on board, hopefully with a load of fish.
As I review these past several years of our gansey project, I have appreciated not just the making and finishing of the garments, which is very meaningful to me, but also, have been very deeply touched by the friends I have made along the way that have helped to create this adorned pathway, making the project even more richer than if I had just embarked on it alone.
First, it was our local group that rose to the occasion, jumping in alongside me. I remember when we first met and made Beth Brown Reinsel’s fingerless mitt as a way to get warmed up. It was there I first encountered the Channel Island cast on, the feel of Frangipani through my fingertips, and my first gusset. It was a mysterious beginning, as if setting off to sea on a foggy morning. I was grateful later for that familiarization with the unknown. I have this recollection of the group of us new gansey knitters to be, gathered with this focus for the first time around the upstairs table, wading our way through the directions, embarking on a journey that would take us through many stitches and much learning. We began our journey, knowing we were heading somewhere, knowing others had gone before us, but with an unclear view of the path. We just had to trust in those who had gone before us and led the way.
I believe that this gathering aspect of the Cordova Gansey Project, has been an extra special component, especially in light of the pandemic. The weekly virtual knitting together with gansey knitters around the globe has been a golden time for me. Matt’s gansey has grown, row by row from those sessions. In my case, we have been very short handed at the shop, and not a lot of down time for working on his gansey, and whatever progress that has been made, may be attributed to those weekly sessions, and the good company and that time carved out for ganseys and our group gansey life. I am glad for this knitting time, but even moreso for the faces on the screen and the closeness I have come to feel with this group of gansey knitters who share their lives and their knitting each week. Knit into this gansey are those friends and faces who have carried me through this time.
I always loved the photos of the herring girls with knitting in their hands, and the smiles on their faces, the connectivity you could see between them, despite the difficulties of the actual harshness of their work environment. Throughout this project, at the shop, and online, we have learned about each other’s lives, and often difficulties and hard situations, and the connections have bloomed and blossomed into close friendships, the faces that span places and ages, have become near and dear to me, with lives unfolded week by week as stitches grow into sweaters. I have been so impressed to see many move from one gansey and on to the next and often of one’s own design. It has been very inspiring for me to watch these garments from start to finish emerge. The miles and miles of yarn and the number of hours these ganseys represent is something to consider. You could make a mountain of them, if time and yarn could be piled up into something visible. It would be something to calculate and diagram somehow.
Along with the faces each week, have been the speakers who have been so gracious to join us and share with our zoom group. Technology has allowed us to come together with these speakers from far distances, brought into our homes from their homes around the globe. This is a thank you to all of you who have shared your stories and expertise. You have inspired us with your sharing, and deepened our love and appreciation of ganseys and those who knit them in the past and present.
These include authors, designers, historians and knitters, including: Beth Brown Reinsel, Tracey Doxey, Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth, Deb Gillanders, Di Gilpin & Sheila Greenwell, Penelope Hemmingway, Stefanie Huibregtse and Anja Geldof, Jo Kerrigan, Elizabeth Lovick, Lesley Lougher. Alexa Ludeman of Tin Can Knits ( and her design of the Bowline hat and sweater patterns for us), Ben the Knitterman, Mary Jane Mucklestone, Kathy Coull from the island of Fair Isle, Gordon and Margaret Reid, Stella Ruhe, Jorg and Ute Schiller, Jan and Russ Stanland, Rita Taylor, Matthew Topsfield, and Jan Whitehead, I have really loved hearing from everyone, and as I reflect on our time together, feel as though the treasure of all their voices and sharing are knit right into the stitches of Matthew William’s Wake Gansey.
I want to close with an extra special thank you for an extra special present from our guest gansey speakers, Gordon and Margaret Reid. It is a full circle of this project, from there to here, from here to there, and back again. This also includes a very special thank you to Russ and Jan Stanland for creating the Cordova Frangipani Yarn, our colorway taken from an aerial photograph of the fishing grounds of the Copper River Delta, the entryway for the return of the Copper River Salmon. Margaret designed a Wick Gansey based on a photograph glass negative of a 1911 gansey, which Gordon knit for himself and then, in the last five months secretly for me, using the Cordova yarn, milled in England for Russ and Jan in honor of our project.
It is a very special honor to be connected in this way to the heritage and history of ganseys and gansey life, and almost beyond words, yet in a certain way, I feel this gansey represents the connection between all of us involved in the project, and to all of those through the years and far around the globe, who have told and shared the stories and kept the gansey tradition alive, including authors such as Mary Wright, Gladys Thompson, Gwyn Morgan, Kathryn Logan, Elizabeth Zimmerman, Alice Starmore, and Sabine Domnick, and museums such as the Sheringham Museum and Scottish Fisheries Museum, who have dedicated spaces for gansey exhibitions, and for events such as Propagansey led by Deb Gillanders to further gansey education and appreciation. There are many more, forgive me for those I have left out. If there is someone who has been influential to you, please include in the comments. Thank you gansey friends near and far, then and now, and Gordon and Margaret, I will surely treasure this gift and wear it often and proudly.
A Happy Gansey Day to all. Teach a friend or family member to knit and share with them the joy we all know and love first hand. Thanks all for setting sail on this journey together. These are precious times we share.
Best to you,
Net Loft Dotty
ps. If you are interested in joining the project or would like any information on joining our weekly zoom sessions, you can request more information HERE.