guernsey. a historical overview of practicality.

i don’t so much like living in a place that has made finding a coexistence between progress and happiness a major struggle. i was thinking about this when i woke up this morning. i also had Areatha Franklin’s “i say a little prayer for you” stuck in my head. i’m not quite sure how i got right on track towards a bad mood; i had great dreams, the presence of the above mentioned song attest to that. i suspect that i’m a little concerned about my knee and the thought of surgery again scares me. the concern also pertains to my finances. the state of my finances are dismal indeed.

i was aware of my mood, and i was also aware that it was quickly deteriorating. i decided to put on the brakes.

coffee + knitting.

i’ve been working on a sweater. i can not say that i have much enjoyed working on this sweater. it is a project whose end i am more concerned with than the process. i get totally sucked into patterns of complexity both in construction and stitch pattern. this one was pretty much an endless back and forth. not even any armhole shaping.

i am so charmed by the detail. i must have this sweater.

this is the Plain Guernsey by Martin Storey from Rowan’s Knitting for Him. the pattern called for sizes US3 and 6 needles and a DK weight yarn. i want my sweater to be light and just right for summer! i decided to use sizesUS2 and 4 needles and fingering weight yarn. i am so pleased how this pattern and yarn are working together!

i also had to slim down the pattern quite a bit, even with using the smaller needles. i cast on 28 sts less than the smallest size called for. i left the sleeves the same but i am reconsidering that because i left the dimensions of the arm hole the same 8 inches that the pattern called for. i will either have to increase a lot more to get to 16 inches or i could initially cast on more sts. we’ll see. i have no problem making ramen!

the yarn is Alpaca Prima from Plymoth Yarn. 100% alpaca and 100% delicious.

the guernsey sweater is a traditional maritime sweater whose origins date back to the 15th century on the island of Guernsey. the largest of the channel islands, Guernsey, is located 30 miles west of France’s Normandy Coast and 75 miles south of Weymouth, England. the island only seperated from the continent of europe, due to rising sea levels, in the year 5000 BC. that’s not very long ago geologically speaking!

the origin of the name Guernsey is Old Norse. “Guern” or apparently also “Garn” as in the above map means “corner” and -se means island. Corner Island.

in the 15th century a royal grant was obtained for the import of wool and the re-export of knitted garments to Normandy and Spain. The pattern was created in the most practical fashion. Every fisherman needs vary warm, wind and sea spray resistant, hard wearing, yet comfortable and easy to care for sweater. the yarn is a worsted weight spun with a hard twist so that the individual fibers are packed tightly together not allowing much room for wind and water to get through. for the same reason the garment is knit with a very tight gauge.

the guernsey sweater was traditionally knit (lovingly i imagine) by fisherman’s wives and each families pattern was passed down from mother to daughter. every man’s guernsey was different and unique to the creativity of the wives and daughters. in part this was necessary to identify drown sailors but even more so (again i imagine) they wore them with pride and individuality!

the above are examples of the “working” guernsey. very simple and practical. many were knitted to supplement family income so the design was a fast and easy one to knit up. it was estimated that 84 hours were needed to complete one sweater. however, “finer” guernseys were also made for more special occasions. men would wear these as bragging rights. “a toast to the fine woman who knit me a much finer sweater than you, mate” is probably what they were saying to each other at the pub while comparing their fine stitchery!

the “working” version is pretty much the same across the board.

the garter stitch against the 2 by 2 rib at the bottom is said to represent waves crashing upon rocks, the ribbing at the top of the sleeves the ships rope ladder in the rigging, the raised seam at the top of the shoulders a rope, and the purled strips around the arms represent pebbles on the beach. the gussets at the neck and underarm are for ease of movement as is the slits at the bottom. the pattern i’m using doesn’t have the slits at the bottom but i think i am going to add them.

for me, this sweater is slow to progress. 84 hours? yeah right! i’m giving myself another 2 weeks. pictures will follow!



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