London Town – An Urban Gansey

London Town, The Knitter, Issue 82

London Town gansey is my latest pattern. It has been published by The Knitter in Issue 82.  Today I’m writing about the inspiration behind the London Town gansey and why I refer to it as an “urban gansey”.

Ironwork, inspiration for London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

What Does it Mean?

I’m fascinated by the use of symbolism in textiles from different cultures. If it is possible to create a motif using a textile technique, then someone, somewhere will have done so.

Detail of a robe (chyrpy) worn by women in the Tekke Turkmen tribe of Central Asia on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Motifs may be used to communicate beliefs. For example, solar discs are associated with Sun worship in Central Asia. Elephants represent the god Ganesh in India. The tree of life, common to many cultures, is associated with the cycle of birth, maturity, death and rebirth.

Motifs can be used to express fear or to ward off evil. In many Central Asian cultures embroidery around the edges and openings of a garment is seen as protective.  The addition of shiny objects, such as coins, metal discs or mirrors is believed to reflect or avert the evil eye.

Motifs can also represent an offering or express hope. Pomegranates, due to their abundance of seeds, are often used as a fertility symbol.

Some motifs, such as two-headed birds of prey, symbolise power and nobility. Other motifs represent different tribes.

Some motifs, such as animals, birds and flowers, may have always been simply representational or have lost their original meaning over time.

Modern Myths

Detail of Stornaway gansey by Alice Starmore

Much has been written about symbolism in traditional knitted garments, such as Fisherman’s ganseys, Aran sweaters or Fair Isle knitting. Mr BK loves to tell me how fishermen drowned at sea could be identified from their gansey as each family had their own design. And whilst this is a reassuring idea, it is also a common myth.

The truth is that most knitwear developed in response to commercial opportunities and pressures. It’s far less “traditional” than we would like. That said, the fact that these myths endure does show the power of symbolism, even in the 21st century.

If you want to know more about the evolution of these styles of knitwear, read ‘Aran Knitting’ and ‘Fair Isle Knitting’ by Alice Starmore or ‘A History of Hand Knitting’ by Richard Rutt.

Developing an Urban Symbolism

When I was designing the London Town gansey I wondered what symbols might we use in the 21st century? What everyday things might we represent? Since most of us live in urban environments, I wanted this design to be inspired by things that are thought of as urban. Hence this was to be an urban gansey.

When I travel, I take many photos. Some may be of impressive buildings such as The Gherkin in London. Look at the way the different colours and size of diamond windows have been used to create pattern. Very modern and very striking!

The Gerkin tower, inspiration for London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

I also take photos of more everyday items, such as ironwork. When I working on this gansey, I had the next photo in mind. I thought it was of a manhole cover, but it’s actually part of a Victorian pump called David & Sampson at Blist’s Hill Victorian Village, near Ironbridge in Shropshire. Although Shropshire is very rural, the image, out of context, looks urban. Still, the Industrial Revolution, which lead to vast urbanisation, is said to have started in Ironbridge. So this is an apt source of inspiration.

Ironwork, inspiration for London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

I also take photos of bricks. As a midlander, I love bricks. To me, red brick buildings are warm and friendly. I could write a blog post just about the different types of bricks and patterns of brickwork! The photo below shows a pattern called ‘stretcher bond’. This is, I think, the pattern most people associate with brickwork.

Brickwork, inspiration for London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

London Town – a Gansey Inspired by the Urban Landscape

So the stitch patterns were inspired by windows, ironwork and brickwork, as well as a cable to represent a river whose meanders have been fixed by urban planning.

Front of London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

London Town is knitted using the traditional construction for a fisherman’s gansey. It is knit in one piece in the round, from the rib up to the underarm gussets. At this point the front and back yokes are knitted separately in rows. The front and back shoulders are joined by shoulder saddles. The sleeve stitches are picked up from the armholes and the sleeves knitted top-down in the round. Finally stitches are picked up around the neck and the neck rib is knitted.

Back of London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

The yarn and tension used for London Town differs from a traditional gansey. I chose Pure Wool DK from Rowan Yarns rather than a traditional finer gansey yarn. This makes the gansey faster to knit. Pure Wool is a lovely yarn to use and easily available. Traditional gainsays were knitted at a tight tension to create a dense, weatherproof garment. The tension used for London Town is typical of modern knitwear and will make this gansey more comfortable to wear in an urban environment.

Detail of London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

The pattern is available in six sizes: 91.5, 96.5, 101.5, 106.5, 112 and 122 cm chest (36, 38, 40, 42, 44 and 48 inch chest) with between 9 – 11 cm positive ease.

Detail of London Town gansey designed by Nicki Merrall, published in The Knitter, Issue 82

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4 Responses to London Town – An Urban Gansey

  1. Carole Caple 9 October 2018 at 11:06 #

    Lovely work but as the daughter of a Yorkshireman I must tell you that the use of patterns to identify fishermen is actually true. Loads of people debunk it but it is true. My late Father knew of several times when the only identification was the jumper pattern.

    • Being Knitterly 9 October 2018 at 16:06 #

      Hi Carole, it’s the idea that each family had their own unique design that I think of as myth. I’m sure individual knitters would knit different combinations of stitch patterns in each sweater; it’s the unique combination on a particular that would enable fishermen to be identified. Also some knitters worked the fisherman’s initials into the design, which would have helped too. I don’t know any knitters who would be happy to knit exactly the same design time after time.

  2. Chris Scholes 23 February 2018 at 14:12 #

    Hi, I love your gansey, especially the cable that runs into the neckband and bottom ribbing.
    I am a gansey knitter too as is my husband. After months of kind of getting it right, I am just completing a Flamborough with the heart pattern up centre back and front. This gansey has been sworn at and thrown across the room in temper many times, but now, oh I am so glad I stuck with it.
    As an aside, to stop my husband tapping, I threw him wool and sticks at him and told him to use his energy on something useful. He was a non knitter but now he has just completed about seven ganseys. Some on a knitting machine, the other on circulars. His was a Matt Camish and is beautiful. As this was only finished yesterday we are still celebrating, it’s like a new member of the family.

    • Being Knitterly 28 February 2018 at 9:30 #

      Hi Chris, the first time I knitted a gansey (and the first time I knitted using yarn finer than DK) it was so slow. But once it was off the needles I was smitten! I’d like to design more, so thankyou for your comments about London Town.

      I’m impressed with your husband’s knitting; mastering both hand knit and machine knit takes perseverance. In particular, knit-purl patterns require a lot of hand tooling when knitted on a machine, so it’s not as quick as people who don’t use knitting machines imagine.

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