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Visserstruien – The Story of the European Gansey

Our summer exhibition explores the relationship between the Gansey – (the traditional fishermen’s sweater - known as 'Visserstruien' in the Netherlands and also known as a Jersey, Guernsey or even a Knit Frock in Cornwall) and the family members who made them, featuring historical photographs of those who wore them and how they travelled throughout Northern Europe, the UK and the wider world.

Stella RuheThe exhibition is based on the research of Dutch knitting historian Stella Ruhe and is based on her new book “More Traditional Dutch Ganseys” published by Search Press and launched here on June 1st. The exhibition has been touring Europe for the last two years to critical acclaim and this is its first UK stop before travelling onto Scotland and then Alaska in 2018.
The Exhibition comprises over 60 unique Ganseys from all over Holland and the accompanying photographs and family history behind them, displayed within our fleet of eight historic lifeboats and fishing boats to create a unique exhibition backdrop. The exhibition is one of the largest “Gatherings of Ganseys” the UK has seen. This is an exhibition not to be missed for knitting enthusiasts and those interested in heritage crafts or historical photographs.

A community appeal for Ganseys in the North Norfolk area has resulted in some fine examples of historical and well-worn hand knitted Ganseys being loaned for the exhibition. These will not have been seen in public since the last time they were worn by a fisherman. Many date back to the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s and show signs of wear, tear and repairs. They will be displayed alongside the Dutch ones to show how the tradition varied between coastal areas all over Europe but also show the similarities and shared stories between European coastal ports.

Holding the exhibition in Sheringham is of particular interest as Sheringham is internationally renowned for the quality of its local Ganseys. The town was the only one in North Norfolk which developed a local style of patterning and skilled knitters using a fine 3ply wool. Even in neighbouring Cromer, many of the fishermen commissioned Sheringham women to knit their jumpers or they bought machine knitted ones from chandlers as there was no tradition of Gansey knitting in the town. The knitters created their own stitch patterns often taking ideas from other Ganseys or the Scottish Herring Girls, although families had particular favourites.

A hand knitted Gansey is traditionally knitted on ‘a round’ using up to 5 thin double pointed metal needles and is knitted with incredibly fine wool. The skill is carried on by a few families but is one that is sadly dying out among fisher folk.

A series of talks, demonstrations and workshops including a Yarn Market will take place during the exhibition run, with Knitting books and yarn also available from the museum gift shop. Stella Ruhe's new book is available as well. The exhibition will conclude at the end of September with a two-day Gansey Symposium where Stella Ruhe will lead knitting workshops and discussions surrounding this important piece of maritime heritage.