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The Gathering 

Creating a celebration of Plymouth Sound

We didn't see this project coming!  A wonderful piece of cultural reclamation that came out of the Gathering.  The Gathering project focuses on reconnecting Plymouth people to the sea and Plymouth Sound.  

We discovered by chance that the jumper worn by fishermen of old (working out of Plymouth) had virtually disappeared without a trace.  This jumper or 'gansey' was having a revival pretty much every where else with celebrities commissioning their own and gansey exhibitions and books springing up across the UK.  There is much mention of ganseys pertaining to ports in Cornwall but Devon seems to be a bit of a blind spot. 

So what makes a gansey so special?  Firstly, they have appeared on the endangered list of traditional crafts.  They were popular in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  They probably died out after WWII when people became enamoured with synthetic materials and mass production.  


They are sustainable in that they are hand-made and made to last.  Back in the olden days - if they were damaged, they simply unravelled and repaired the area. Also they are knitted in a very specific way,  without seams and with gussets in the armpits.  This makes the gansey the perfect working garment because it is less constricting than a jacket but warm and hardwearing against wind and rain.

Then there is the romance woven into the garment itself. Ganseys usually had a specific pattern for a specific place or family.  These patterns mirrored the patterns in nature Irish moss (seaweed), herringbone and rocks or motifs relating to the work including anchors, nets, lighthouses etc.  They were knitted by mothers, daughters, lovers even children and sometimes a lock of hair was knitted into the gansey itself.   Very often the owners initials were knitted into the garment in case someone decided to steal it.


Gansey mythology insists that if a fisher lost his/her life at sea, then they could be identified by their jumper. We don't know if this is true, but we imagine it would have helped. 

So we decided to put this situation right, partly because of the Gathering and partly because our ancestors were fishers and this heritage is so close to our hearts.  


We asked the community for memories of the knitted fisherman's jumpers worn by Plymouth fishers up until the 1950s.  We had an amazing response after being on our local news programme BBC Spotlight and BBC Radio Devon/Cornwall and with a social media campaign.  We spoke to fishermen and those whose ancestors worked with and on the sea.  We studied archive images and footage at The Box and out in the wider world of stock images.  However, one of the most useful sources was the Fisher Collection owned by Richard Fisher. See the image on the left of four boys wearing ganseys on the Barbican.


The next stage of the revival of the Plymouth Gansey was the knitting of the prototype.  We were lucky to have knitter extraordinaire Maya Izumi as a personal friend and she worked hard to produce our first jumper.  She also knitted on the beach at Devil's Point at times for inspiration.  Did you know It takes at least 120 hours to knit a gansey? So it really is a labour of love. 

So please welcome the Janner Gansey (image top right), made of traditional blue 5 ply worsted wool (or Guernsey wool) which is very dense for keeping out the wind. These jumpers were often worn over shirts and with a neckerchief to stop chafing.


Front and back of the top half of the garment is decorated with moss stitch which is said to symbolise abundance and growth. The stitch depicts carrageen moss, a type of seaweed found on the Irish coast.  Virtually every image we found of Plymouth fishers had this design.

We are delighted with our prototype.  Please check out the gallery of photos produced by local photographer and fisher Andy Lawson and modelled by Plymouth crabber Beejay Tapper.  View our Gansey Gallery.

Developing the Janner Gansey has been supported by the Rank Trade-up programme.   In 2024 we hope to start selling these wonderful bespoke jumpers soon.  



We need skilled knitters.   

The Janner Gansey has been supported by the Rank Foundation. 
The Gathering is brought to you by Crowdfunder, National Marine Park Plymouth, The Box, Arts Council England, Nudge Community Builders, Plymouth Community Homes, Sovereign Housing, Local Emergencies Fund, BA Better World, Awards For All and Plymouth City Bus.  

Gansey Jumper HI RES - PP3 - colour-48 -1D9A3832.jpg
Image - Andy Lawson 
Magic lantern image courtesy of the Fisher collection
Fisherman on the Barbican 1919 - courtesy of Getty Images

The Janner Gansey

Remaking maritime heritage - one stitch at a time

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