ganseys Knitting Textile Arts

Sunk Island

I had to keep this quiet, til it ‘came out’, so – at last – I can put it up here!   I’m reliably informed it is in the current ‘Yarn Forward’ (No 18).  Although I won’t see it for myself til I get down the shops tomorrow or Weds.

For some time, on Ravelry this gansey was pictureless (although we toyed with pixellating a photo!) and called ‘The Mysterious Gansey of Mystery’.  A v.2 came out, and that became ‘The Even More Mysterious Gansey of Mystery’.  Now both can be given their real name, Sunk Island.

Sunk Island Vs. 1 and 2
Sunk Island Vs. 1 and 2

As you see, the difference is in the arms.  V1 I favoured my usual band of pattern at elbow, bi-sected by the coninuous rope run down from neck.  This latetr is more a Scottish feature than a Yorkshire one, but is my favourite way of finishing a shoulder. I do a cast on provisionally, and work down.  I took it to it’s logical destination, this time, continuing even through the wrist ribbing.  But…  in V.1 I was unhappy with the pattern – it seemed fussy and lacked unity. So…  v.2. Sometimes simpler is better.

V.1 uses Winghams gansey 5 ply; v2 Frangipani.

I named it Sunk Island after the place on the Humber Estuary, close by where one  line of ancestors came from. Sunk Island was reclaimed from the sea, it seems, in the 19thC. I felt I reclaimed this piece of my own family history, so it was apt.  There are also already a plethora of ‘Patrington’ ganseys out there anyway!  A couple of gansey books open with a Patrington, but few stay to linger around the inland ganseys, heading straight out to sea to play with the coastal ones.

My grt, grt, grt grt grandfather was William Richardson, who was a Keyingham born (Humber Estuary) fisherman. Sometime in the 1840s he moved further inland to Wistow, and remained a fisherman on the River Ouse.  There have been some huge salmon hauls in the past, at the right time of year.  I have speculated that the weird way I knit may well come from my Humber estuary ancestors.

In the 1851 Census, then in Ottringham, William gave Keyingham as his birthplace.  At his marriage in Wistow in 1828, he said he was ‘of Patrington’.  I am still trying to figure out whether he was the same William Richardson baptised at nearby Hedon in 1794, as this would roughly tally with his reported age on the censuses. Yet I can’t pin him down for sure. Yet.

William’s wife was Ann Ablett, who lived in Ottringham.  William and Ann had two illegitimate daughters, one of whom, Rose, born in 1825, was my grt grt grt grandmother.    Rose Ann (as she seems to have called herself) married farmer Joseph Golton in Wistow in 1848.  And so my direct line passes back to farmers not fishermen.

The Humber Star is the most famous of the inland gansey patterns.  It’s big and bold but it has its challenges in terms of design. The trasitional pattern (waves) was a bit of serendipity as I have used it before on sleeves but never on the body of a gansey. It was very characteristic of inland ganseys though and the unintentional effect is of stars over waves – in this case, the waves of the tidal river.


Take the pattern repeats, for example. You can’t break them. You couldn’t have half a star. And it’s a big old repeat, a fair few rows.  I looked at old photos etc and decided to go for the (apparently) standard 2 repeats. One would be too shallow. Three too deep.  But then, sizing it up and down from the original 28″ version… For the largest size, I couldn’t add a repeat. For a tiny size, I only had the option of a shorter section of plain, beneath. At the same time, I wanted to keep the transitional pattern (zig zags), between the plain section and the stars as this seems to me to be a key design element specifically in the inland ganseys.

I fast started to realise it would have been far easier to work with an allover vertical pattern!  Trouble with the inland ones is – they appear to be more often than not, an horizontal banded pattern  and plain for the first third.

Knitting one lone Humber star gansey would have presented no problems. The difficulty came in having to size it up and down, bearing in mind that everything had to stay proportional in every other direction – so, in a bigger version, the pattern would start higher up the body, but the armhole depth might be elsewhere…  Etc ad infinitum! I ahd to take standardised measurements for the different sizes, and alter each size accordingly, whilst still having this constant depth of pattern at the top. Easier said than done!  With vertical pattern panels, you can just add a pattern panel on either side, make sure you have everything centred – and away you go. This proved a bit more of a puzzle and I keep everything crossed, I cracked it.  The sizes as shown are 28″ and 30″.  The smaller was v.1.

I decided to make the pattern adaptable with a section of moss either side. And used the double rope … which I have never done before – Aaron over at ‘A Fisherman Knits’ recommended I separate then with a couple of purl stitches as I wasn’t sure whether to go with purls or moss st.  Good advice, as it worked. I wanted the double ropes to ‘pop’ out, and frame the more figurative stars, almost like a picture frame but to have nothing noticeable going on between the 2 ropes.

I looked at the Patrington patterns in Gladys Thompson’s classic gansey book, also Michael Pearson’s Traditional Knitting.  I don’t understand why this is out of print, as it is a book treasured by those lucky enough to have it. It is the only book with a section on the inland ganseys. I took it as my starting point.

But I also incorporated elements of design not found in Yorkshire ganseys so much – most obviously, the shoulder knitted down sideways. I decided not to mirror ropes, but to stick with the tradition of knitting them all the same orientation. And I upped the needle size from my preferred 2.5mm to a 2.75mm which would not please the purists but I felt made the pattern more accessible. I stuck with the traditional 2 X 2 rib, and the entire construction techniques were the usual gansey suspects – knit in the round, seam stitches, udnerarm gussets, initials knitted in.  So no compromise and anyone who makes this as a ‘first’ gansey will have had a go at every single technique they might conceivably need.

With a dearth of info re. the inland ganseys, I decided to at least set them in the context of the coastal – to define what they wre not as well as what they were. Research-wise, I had already had a head start, visiting the gansey exhibition at Robin Hood’s Bay last year, held in a small church with sheep grazing between the gravestones – unusual in that the vicar got bored of it and locked it up at some point in the mid 19thC, leaving it like a little time capsule, unlocked in the 20thC. Amongst the ganseys, we were distracted by these ghostly garlands, like something from Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbrvilles’.  All the vegetal dyed colours faded except for one spectacular blue ribbon, that had to be dyed with woad or indigo.  Reminded me of the woad dyed mitten I once lost under a metre deep Colorado snow drift. Found it in the spring, itnact and the colour unaffected.  Down the week I will put up some of our old gansey photos, to show their only slightly faded blue glory.

Ribbons, from May garland of mid 19thC left in RHB church
Ribbons, from May garland of mid 19thC left in RHB church

We added to this Whitby Museum which has only the odd Sutcliffe photo – and several ganseys on display and the rather more useful Filey Museum, where I studied the beautiful largely unpublished I think, photos of Walter Fisher who deserves to be up there with Sutcliffe as a photographer:

Photo by Walter Fisher, Filey Museum
Photo by Walter Fisher, Filey Museum

And, my personal favourite:

Walter Fisher Colelction , Filey Museum
Walter Fisher Collection , Filey Museum

I began to sense the stark austerity of the inland ganseys – and maybe a different influence at work. And I thought of John Wesley, around the 1790s, making his voyage up the Ouse, preaching along the way at riversides, in farmhouses, etc, and wondered if there isn’t some of that influence, as the ganseys were working their way from the coast inland, around the same date, in all probability.

I was given permission by the lovely and generous Polperro Press,  to use some of the earlier known (1850) gansey images – the Polperro photos of Lewis Harding.  Although a world away from Yorkshire, all ganseys share some common characteristics and I felt very privileged to be allowed to share some of Lewis Harding’s famous images:

Panel of Lewis Hardings Photos, Polperro, 1850
Panel of Lewis Harding's Photos, Polperro, 1850

Sunk Island came together quickly as a design, but we had spent months looking at old coastal ganseys – and maybe something coalesced, slowly, during all that time without me consciously realising it.  I like to think my Humber Estuary fisherman’s wife, Ann Ablett Richardson, brought a Humber Star gansey or two along the Ouse, when she came here.  And the pattern lay waiting for me, somehow, to find it again.



Writer, crafter, textile historian, machine knitter, handspinner and dyer.

4 replies on “Sunk Island”

They had them before they got married. ;o) Rose Ann was born in 1825 and her parents married in 1828. She retained her mother’s maiden name as her surname and her father’s surname as a middle name. You see this a lot in the Yorkshire parish records for the 18thC and early 19thC. Even if the birth father of a child subsequently marries the mother, the child usually retains the mother’s surname.


It’s amazing how relevent knitting is to genealogy, and especially handy that some of the old techniques and patterns are coming back into fashion! I’ve wanted to knit myself a “real” shetland lace shawl for some time now but I still havent found the nerve!

Really enjoying your blog, keep it up!



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