Fisherfolk’s Daily Life

Herring Gutters at Work in Craig's Yard, Dunbar, 1930s
Herring Gutters at work in Craig’s Yard, Dunbar, 1930s.

Fishing communities based along
Britain’s coastline were – undoubtedly – self-sufficient.

Because of the hardship of life, families could not afford the luxury of imported goods and women were required to make garments for their husbands and children.
Fisherwomen would often knit in-between their other chores, such as cooking, cleaning or selling fish. Most of them would be taught how to knit from an early age, and soon learned how to knit socks, undergarments and sweaters for their family members.

They would also often copy knitting patterns they had seen when working at ports away from home, or around their villages. Often knitting would be done at home in front of the fire or by the dim light of an oil lamp, in almost total darkness – a gansey was, therefore, produced more by feel than by sight. Occasionally, when the weather was nice, fisherwomen would sit in the doorway of their home to knit, while making the most of the daylight.

Although ganseys were usually created for family members, some fisherwomen would knit to bring some income into their household, often after the loss of a husband or sons at sea. One of the most popular assumptions connected with these knitted garments is that fishermen who had drowned could be identified by the patterns on their ganseys – occasionally, the fisherman’s initials or full name would be incorporated into the pattern, or the unique design of the garment would link the man who once owned the gansey to the women who had knitted it for him, as well as to the stretch of coast they were from.

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