5 December 2023

Knitters rally round for Hornsea Inshore Rescue gansey exhibition

When local knitters heard that Hornsea Inshore Rescue was looking for a gansey to display as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations – they rallied round and launched a bid to knit not just one, but 25 of the fishermen’s jumpers for each of the 25 crew.

Lorri Tolan said it was back in March 2019 that she and other knitters met in the Crafty Coffee Shop to discuss a gansey design to mark the anniversary.

Sue Hickson-Marsay, chairman of Hornsea Inshore Rescue, had said, “Just one would be nice – we could display it on the wall.”

Lorri said: “I didn’t know much about ganseys, but I’m a knitter, and can knit anything, so how hard could it be to go a bit further and make one for each of the 25-strong crew?”

Doing some online research, she discovered Whitby-based Deb Gillanders, who organises the annual Propagansey exhibition, and arranged to meet her. With Deb’s advice and support, the gansey group became established.

Deb shared her expertise and stories of the fisher lasses” who, in the 19th century, followed the herring fleet down the east coast each year, gutting and packing the catch, and bringing their knitting with them. Making warm, tough workwear, both for their families and sometimes to sell, was a necessity.

Lorri added: “Worsted-spun and scratchy, gansey yarn, once known as Seamen’s Iron, can dig grooves in the knitter’s hands, but even the thinner, modern version produces a dense, warm fabric like no other, and garments made from it can last for more than one generation.

“Ganseys have long been superseded by the safety equipment worn by modern lifeboat crew, but they can be of use in ways other than merely a nostalgic nod to the history of our coast – the yarn, being 100 per cent wool, is biodegradable, which fits with the current urgent concern to protect the seas from the plastic pollution caused in part by our profligate use of acrylic and polyester in manufacturing far more garments than are really needed.

“I chose simple, traditional patterns. Nevertheless, this really is ‘slow fashion’, and I had just volunteered to do some 5,000 hours of it! However, the knitting community is kind as well as skilful, and starting with the Crafty Coffee Shop knitting group, soon people from around the UK and further afield were volunteering to help.

“We hope to have completed all 25 ganseys by the end of this year.”