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Gansey Yarn: Have You Tried 5-Ply?

Known for their strength and stitch definition, gansey yarns can be hard to find. A new Shetland 5-ply has launched, and we had to get on board!

Kate Larson Feb 2, 2024 - 5 min read

Gansey Yarn: Have You Tried 5-Ply? Primary Image

Balls of Jamieson & Smith 5-ply in Turquoise Twilight (left) and Turquoise; all photos by Kate Larson

Ganseys—also called guernseys or jerseys in some regions—were fitted, hardwearing knitted workwear common to fishermen up and down the coasts of Great Britain and the Netherlands. Knitters have long pored over old nineteenth-century portraits of fishermen in their ganseys to decipher stitch patterns. And despite the fact that most of these sweaters were dyed a deep, dark blue and photographed in sepia, the motifs worked in knits and purls are often easily seen—thanks to the classic gansey 5-ply.

Why 5-ply? Gansey researcher Beth Brown-Reinsel says that these yarns were sometimes referred to as “seaman’s iron.” The smooth and dense, tightly plied yarn could be knitted on small needles into patterns where every purl stitch pops and cables can be seen from across a crowded room.

Smooth gansey-style yarns make every stitch pop! Power of Ten Socks by Carol Huebscher Rhoades. Find it in the Farm & Fiber Knits Library.

Jamieson & Smith just added a new 5-ply yarn collection, and I’ve been curious to give it a try. Being a lover of all things woolly, my interest was piqued when I read on the company’s website that this yarn uses a grade of Shetland wool that is “slightly hardier than what we usually use for our knitting yarns but we wanted a hard-wearing quality and due to the yarn being Worsted Spun (combed rather than carded). It meant we could use a slightly rougher grade as the spinning process improves the handle of the yarn. It’s really important to try and utilise as much of the wool clip as we can and we are really happy to be able to add some more value to this grade.”

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