Traditional Dutch Fishermen's Sweaters

Those of you who enjoy the history of fishermen's sweaters may be
interested in a book I recently acquired: "Knitting from the
Netherlands" by Henriette van der Klift-Tellegen. I've put a little
"book review" of sorts on my site if you are inerested:
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suspect it's not easy to come across (mine is second hand) but ifthis is your sort of thing it's probably something to keep an eye outfor.
VP
Reply to
Vintage Purls
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In the many years that i was lucky to recieve `Ariadne` , published by my Great Uncle Elias Cohen . I read many articles about Dutch Knitting as well as Dutch embroidery. They were like their Neighbours over the Channel always a sea traveling nation ,,, with all the NEEDED clothing items. mirjam
Reply to
Mirjam Bruck-Cohen
Has anybody ever hear of "fisherman's sweaters" that were knit large, and felted to size? I know of traditions of socks that were felted; and, traditions of mittens that were felted and worn wet, but whole sweaters that were knit large and felted?
The fellow who proposed this was a curator at a museum. The museum does not have any examples, and when I look at photos of fishermen from the same period that sailed out of a port only 100 miles from the subject port, I do not see ANY evidence of felting. Knitters and knitting shop owners in the area do not seem to be aware of such a tradition, but such traditions die fast.
TIA
Aaron
Reply to
Aaron Lewis
Why am i NOT surprised that a fellow proposed it ,,,,, ? reaoning of life ways,,,, would be that some woolen items [sweaters socks etc,,,,,, were `felted` by the many years of use and washing ,,,, i don`t think any 'Dutch Person" knitttig will on purpose knit Bigger than needed, when materials were scarce ,,,,, mirjam wrote:
Reply to
Mirjam Bruck-Cohen
van der Klift-Tellegen claims that fishermen from Bunschoten and Spakenburg: "owned two kinds of sweaters: a heavy one to wear at sea and a thinner one for onshore wear: the Sunday sweater. The sea sweaters were "felted," treated in a special way to make them wind-and-water-proof. An oversized sweater was knit with heavy sajet, a sweater at least twice the desired size. The sweater was then submerged in a tub of hot water and rubbed and punched until it shrank to half its original size. The result was a piece of clothing heavy as lead, water and windproof." (pages 39-40)
A photo on page 36 shows a man whose sweater "strongly resembles felt".
I also note that she claims that sea sweaters were never worn on shore and may of the photos in her book show men posing for a professional photographer - clearly you wouldn't pose for a photo in your sea sweater but rather your sunday best. Maybe little photographic evidence exists for this reason.
VP
Reply to
Vintage Purls
Many people that see my gansey have to be convinced that it is not felted. They just assume that anything that tight MUST have been felted.
Much of a seaman's / fisherman's duties involved heavy labor with the arms - rowing, hauling, furling sails.... One virtue of knitting is that it can accommodate motion. I wonder if felted material could accommodate the motion? I feel an experiment coming on!
Aaron
Reply to
Aaron Lewis
However, I have found that historians, especially of the male persuasion, truly have no idea what women did when making clothing. Technology historians have come up with, and printed in their scholarly books, some really bad howlers. Like the one who thinks that, on a hand-loom, the shuttle traveled in front of the reed and beater. Like the many who have stated that cloth more than 30 inches wide required two weavers. Like the one who says that hats from Urumchi are proven to be knitted because they are made of short lengths of yarn. Like the many who believe that Arans, which of course have been made for centuries, were identifiable because the stitch patterns went by county or village.
Elizabeth Wayland Barber, among others, has stated that women's work of past centuries was not documented. As a result, the male historian is at a disadvantage when he stares at a machine, or even the product, to determine exactly what was done. Heaven forfend that he should ask an expert, even a man currently in the textile business!
Cece
Reply to
Cece
Think of a fisherman's gansey as a capital investment in survival gear to keep a worker alive while he works a high risk - high profit job in an extreme environment. The amount that they were willing to invest depended on their valuation of the worker's life.
A certain amount of wool was needed to keep a fisherman warm. It could be knit small and tight, or it could be knit large and felted small. The amount of wool would be the same, all that changes is the manner of fabrication.
If the only job your husband and son could get was fishing, how much effort would you put into providing them with garments that were warm enough to keep them alive? Their shares from fishing might be most of the family's income. If they freeze in their fishing dory, the family at home gets nothing. Then, how much effort does a wife and mother then put into the knitting that keeps her men alive? against a man's life, and years of income, a few ounces of wool and a few extra hours of knitting effort (or felting effort) are a worth while investment.
Aaron
Reply to
Aaron Lewis
Good!
At Louisburg, they have 3/4 of a million pages of documentation that they use for the details of the enactors lives. However, in that documentation there is more about the lace made by a few ladies to show that they had leisure time, than there is about all the knitting that kept the populace warm. (That is a cold and windy place. I mean really windy! They lived in drafty stone buildings. They wore wooden shoes. Do not try to tell me that they did not knit a lot of socks and mittens. Sure there is no wool on the ship's manifest, but there was a settlement around the corner that had an abundance of sheep, and fishing boats went out of Louisburg every day? They were French. Avoiding taxes is the French national hobby. They smuggled wool. Smugglers do not send reports of their activates to the King.)
The time of the enactment was set in 1744. At that time, knitting sheaths were common in France and Britain. ( Louisburg was French, but many of the fishermen employed in the town had Scotch- Irish origins. But none of the enactors that were knitting the day I was there had ever touched an actual knitting sheath. Moreover, the artifact collection had never been reviewed by competent knitters for evidence of knitting implements. Later this summer, the collection of artifacts will be reviewed by the members of a Nova Scotia knitters guild for additional evidence of knitting implements. Given the fact that none of that guild's members actually use knitting sheaths on a regular basis, I do not think that they are adequately prepared to recognize all knitting implements.
Aaron
Reply to
Aaron Lewis
The felted sweaters in "Knitting from the Netherlands" don't look tight, they look felted. They look very thick and stiff. All of the studio photos show men in fine "fishermen's sweaters" that would have never seen a boat in their lives - these sweaters were for Sunday best. No one would have worn their work jersey for a formal portrait. The photos that show fishermen at work (of which there are many less for obvious reasons) show men in grubby, thick, chunky jerseys.
van der Klift-Tellegen seems to have consulted local people in each area and asked for their recollections and photos. Although this can't be considered 100% reliable she does seem to avoid falling into the trap of repeating "mainstream" history and clearly attempted to discover the history herself from the practitioners (or their nearest decendents).
VP
Reply to
Vintage Purls
I have never heard of this, Aaron, and I really can't imagine it. Just think how heavy such a garment would be!
Higs, Katherine
Reply to
Katherine
Would you consider the photos on
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to look knitted or felted? It was knitted, but most knitters that touch and feel it, make a comment that it must be felted. It is not - yet!
That gansey is now navy blue. I wore it as I chatted with enactors on the ramparts of Louisburg. In their replicas of 1744 French Army uniforms with BOILED wool coats, the enactors' finger tips were blue and their teeth were chattering. My wife was wearing two layers of Patagonia pile under a mountain parka and was also warm enough. I was wearing the gansey over a jersey. I was warm and had more freedom of motion than either the enactors or my wife. (We were actually out in the wind longer than any of the enactors.) The wind on the walls of Louisburg did inspire me to knit a warmer hat for myself in preparation for my cod fishing trip.
That gansey has now been cod fishing on the banks off PEI and sailing on the Bluenose II. I wore it hiking in the rain and mist as we looked for moose, and as we sat on the headlands of Cape Breton watching pilot whales in the white capped waters below. The coldest place I wore it was on the beach where Cabot is said to have first landed in the New World. The warmest place that I wore it was drinking beer at a sidewalk pub in Halifax.
The firmness of the gansey fabric along with the loose sleeves allows it to vent through the large neck opening in warmer (60F) conditions. This venting is dramatically reduced by wearing a garment under the gansey, or carrying a backpack. (Note however that the gansey, fits snugger than many modern "fishermen's sweaters".) Otherwise, I have never owned a garment that was so comfortable in such a variety of different weather. If I had not knitted it myself, I would say it was magic. It was worth every hour of its knitting. It gets worn a lot!
I cannot knit that tight with circular needles. (At least not without eventually ruining my wrists.) Gansey needles and knitting sheaths are still a marvel of technology.
I bought a fist full of DPN as I geared up for the trip. Wooden needles are good for not dropping stitches while knitting on the go, but steel needles are faster. Air security did not take my needles away from me - not even the 7" steel DPN, but on the plane, I ended up knitting with wooden needles. (I did check the gansey needles.)
Oh, and the little bands that they put around lobster claws are perfect for keeping stitches on your needles. Lets see, for 4 needles you will need 8 bands - as if we needed another reason for eating lobster!
Aaron
Reply to
Aaron Lewis
It is possible. In fact, it would solve the question how Europeans could have been fishing the Newfoundland banks long before knitting arrived in Europe.
However, my guess is that felt is not as durable as a gansey knit from worsted yarn spun from a long staple wool. That is OK if you are a coastal fisherman. But, if you are far at sea and your upper garment starts to fall apart, then you will die and your family will starve. I once wore a pair of wool pants up into the hills. It turned rainy, and after a few days those pants just disintegrated. I would have froze, if I had not also been wearing a wonderful old Canadian army officer's wool shirt. While my pants fell apart, that shirt never even lost its crisp creases. My point is: that not all wool fabrics have the same durability. So, instead of a fisherman taking one knit gansey for a season of fishing, he would end up taking 2 or 3 or .?. felted garments. So then he has a larger duffel bag and less space in his berth. Ever (try to) sleep in a fisherman's berth with your duffel beside you?
Fishermen slept in their ganseys. I've slept in my gansey. Would a felt sweater be comfortable enough to sleep in?
I think we need to make up a swatch of felt as directed by Klift-Tellegen and see how it stands up to flexing and abrasion while being drenched with salt water for a few weeks. Then, we test to see if the swatch of felt is as warm as a swatch of gansey material. If the felt has reasonable durability and warmth, then we make up a felt garment and see how it works.
My guess is that if Klift-Tellegen's felting produced a warmer, more comfortable, more durable garment than knitting, then we would have seen more felting and less knitting.
Belfast mills has a really neat felting machine It can convert a bat of wool into felt in 15 minutes.
Aaron
Reply to
Aaron Lewis

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