Knitters needed to produce ganseys for historic tall-ship voyage

Williams Gansey Project leaders Astrid Adams and Janice Snowball pictured with Clive Grey, skipper of the Blyth Tall Ships project.Williams Gansey Project leaders Astrid Adams and Janice Snowball pictured with Clive Grey, skipper of the Blyth Tall Ships project.
Williams Gansey Project leaders Astrid Adams and Janice Snowball pictured with Clive Grey, skipper of the Blyth Tall Ships project.

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Volunteer knitters are needed for a project to kit out the crew of an ambitious tall-ship voyage to Antarctica.

Moderately experienced knitters who like to follow patterns and may have knitted a traditional fisherman's gansey, an Aran sweater or done cable knitting, are invited to get in touch with the Williams Gansey Project, knit a sailor’s sweater and have their work taken on a journey to the other side of the world.

In January 2019, a crew is due to set sail from Blyth to recreate the journey of local man William Smith who, though never credited, discovered Antarctica in 1819.

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A tall ship similar to the one built in Blyth in the early 1800s and used on the original Williams expedition is currently being refurbished for the grueling 10,000-mile journey.

Its skipper, Clive Gray, is keen to have this item of traditional wear as a uniform for all the crew and as a long-lasting legacy from their voyage.

Project leaders Astrid Adams and Janice Snowball, both keen knitters from Blyth, have been successful in gaining £7,700 from Northumberland County Council’s Community Chest fund to finance the project to knit between 70 and 90 Blyth ganseys.

This will provide one for each crew member of the expedition which is going to be split into four legs, with new crew taking over at various stages during the trip.

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Astrid Adams said: “When skipper Clive Gray mentioned he was looking for some authentic ganseys, Janice and I did some research to see if a Blyth gansey had ever been created.

“Many fishing villages and even families had their own specific pattern and these were a very important aspect of fishing community life.

“We discovered Blyth did not have its own gansey pattern so we set out to design one, which includes the Blyth Tall Ship logo, waves, rigging ladders, ropes, an anchor and the Northumberland flag.

“Janice and I have worked on the prototypes and we have tested our patterns for various sizes. We have also designed a hat pattern for those who would like to be involved but feel a gansey is too much of a challenge.”

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Northumberland County councillor Susan Davey said: “It is great that the council has been able to support this unique project which has a range of benefits for the community and the county.

“I am sure that the group will be successful in finding lots of knitting enthusiasts in Northumberland who would like to contribute and see their work become an integral part of a memorable and historic voyage in a couple of years time.”

The ganseys are knitted in one piece on small gauge needles using fine, waxed yarn which makes them warm and water resistant. The wool comes from one supplier; Frangipani based in Penzance, Cornwall.

Would you like to be involved or know more about the project? Astrid and Janice are happy to come and talk to your knitting group and will run workshops if required.

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Volunteer knitters will be sent a kit that will include special gansey yarn, needles, a pattern and a row counter. There is no cost to the volunteer, except their time; the ganseys take around 150 to 200 hours to complete. Each gansey will have a label with the name of the maker and crew members will be encouraged to write to the maker of their gansey at least twice during their voyage. The expedition begins in January 2019 so there is plenty of time to get knitting!

If you are interested please email [email protected] or visit the Facebook page The Blyth Tall Ship Williams Gansey Project.

You can find out more about Northumberland County Council’s Community chest fund on the website

Applications can still be made to the 2016/17 fund for projects in south-east Northumberland - with the deadline 5pm, Tuesday, February 28. The scheme is closed for 2016/17 for the central, north and west areas of the county.