Similarities Between Ganseys and Agricultural Smocks


For this week’s Blog, we have another extract from Dr Annie Shaw’s thesis Crafting the Technological: Ganseys and Wholegarment© Knitting (2009).

Similarities can be drawn between ganseys and agricultural smocks. The link with occupational dress may be significant.

The collection of items held by Manchester School of Art, BA (Hons) Embroidery course includes an agricultural smock. The smock (date unknown) was dug up in a garden in Edinburgh in the 1970s . On close examination, the links between the smock, King Charles’s shirt and ganseys are worth noting. The most obvious similarities are the squarish cut, under-arm gussets and the highly decorative chest panel.

Simple, basic pattern cutting nearly always comprises rectangles and triangles; this is often the type of ‘pattern cutting’ utilised in knitting.

Van Der Klift-Tellegen makes links between Dutch fisherman’s sweaters, British sweaters and smocks: ‘Pernis on the island of Ijsselmonde has been inhabited since 1300. The fishermen from Pernis had been in contact with British fishermen since early times so many have adopted their costume sooner than did other Dutch fishermen. The sweater from Pernis still shows clearly the pattern of a British sweater, which was, in turn, copied from the original smock. The gathered band in front is still clearly recognizable; also the complicated motifs had not yet been simplified as happened with other sweater designs’. [Van Der Klift-Tellegen, H., 1987, pp. 69-70]

Mary Wright describing Cornish Knit frocks makes a similar observation: ‘The shape of the garment is basically square, reminiscent of smocks worn by land workers many years ago. The absence of a curved armhole and inset sleeve results in a dropped shoulder line, sometimes accentuated by a pattern band.’ [Wright, M., 1979, p. 5]

The Influence of Machine-Made Garments

Rutt asserts that the development of machine knitted garments early in the 19th Century was a factor in the emergence of the sailor’s jersey. He explains that: ‘John Jamieson’s dictionary had carefully defined ‘ frock ‘ as a sort of worsted netting, worn by sailors, often in lieu of a shirt, as early as 1825’. [Rutt, R., 1987, p. 132]

Van Der Klift-Tellegen also describes the role machine knitted sweaters played in the development of the gansey: ‘Fishermen wore machine-made sweaters in addition to those knitted by hand. Machine-made sweaters were distinguishable by their even knitting and singular motif in the centre front. These sweaters were made in England and Belgium especially for the Dutch fishermen. North Sea fishermen wore English-made sweaters with the God’s eye motif. Regular service bargemen wore Belgian sweaters with an anchor design. It is likely that these sweaters were worn earlier than the hand-knitted ones, because knitting by machine had been common practice since about 1650’. [Van Der Klift-Tellegen, H., 1987, p. 13]

This is an important fact, it shows that influence can be transferable between machine-made and hand-knitted garments and that a machine knitting industry was already well established in Europe by 1650.

Dr Annie Shaw, Principal Lecturer Design and Research Degrees Coordinator (Design) at Manchester Metropolitan University

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