Knitting Ganseys, Revised and Updated by Beth Brown-Reinsel


Beth Brown-Reinsel’s book, Knitting Ganseys, has been a classic for 25 years. The first edition impressed knitters with the well-researched history of these garments worn by British and Scottish fishermen in the 19th century; the detailed analysis of the sweaters’ anatomy from decorative cast-on to underarm gusset and neckline variations; and clear instructions for knitting one of your own, either from a pattern or your own unique design.

One thing that many readers loved about the previous edition was the sampler sweater. That’s still a main feature of the book so you can practice the sometimes challenging techniques before embarking on knitting a full-sized sweater. You can also make your teddy bear the best dressed guy on the block.

Ms. Brown-Reisel has updated the book by adding more information to each section, sharing more historic photos and including more patterns. The styling and photos will appeal to modern readers too. Photos are in color, clear and show both the entire garment and important details.

The gansey tradition encompasses so many aspects of life: the practicality of clothing your family, the financial aspects of knitting for pay, the broader economic context of supporting fishing industry workers, the social history of knitters who relied on knitting for comfort and pleasure in the off hours after a hard day’s work. That era has passed, and yet, every day I teach I see aspects of this tradition continuing: the bonding between knitters and the creative passion to knit something warm and beautiful for oneself or a loved one.

~ Beth Brown-Reinsel, Knitting Ganseys, Revised & Updated

Both knitters and non-knitters might be fascinated by the history of these sweaters. Ms. Brown-Reisel is careful not to romanticize it. She notes that some of pictures of women knitting while waiting at the port for their husbands to come home might look charming, but they really show exploited people who were “desperate to increase inadequate and irregular incomes.”

While I have not tested out any of the instructions, they appear clear enough to me. Parts are written out using standard abbreviations. Patterns are clearly charted. If you’re not familiar with knitting from a chart, there is a page explaining how to do so. One of the things I like the best are the many, many charts for different patterning. Even if I didn’t want to knit a full-sized sweater, I could add these patterns to other projects like a hat or a cowl.


When I was first paging through this book, I wondered, what’s the difference between an aran sweater and a gansey? My question was clearly answered on page 41. The two styles are compared based on provenance, style, construction, gauge, spin of yarn, ply of yarn, color, surface design, special features and purpose.  One of the main differences was that arans feature complex cables while ganseys usually feature knit / purl patterns and a few simple cables.

In fact, any time a question popped into my mind, I only had to flip through a few more pages or skim through the index to find the answers I wanted. How to knit cables without a cable needle? Check. How to adjust fit? Check. How to do a channel-isle cast on? Check.

The complex design process was made as simple as humanly possible. There’s a sample schematic, tables of key measurements in both centimeters and inches, and a worksheet to record your notes in an organized fashion. It makes this process seem completely do-able to me, who usually prefers to knit from a commercial pattern.

In short, this is a fantastic knitting book. It’s an entirely worthy successor to the classic printed 25 years ago. It is going to be a great addition to my knitting library.

N.B. I received a courtesy copy of this book from Netgalley for an honest review. The book is due out on July 31, 2018.

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My name is Amy Stanton and I am a blogger from Seattle, WA. If you enjoy beautiful photographs, personal essays, book reviews, travel logs, and brag posts about sewing and knitting projects, then we are going to hit it off. ♥

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