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Ganseys and Knitting Accessories

The Museum holds an extensive textile collection, including a number of very fine old ganseys.We have a team of textile enthusiasts researching their origins, their patterns and the knitting techniques that were used to make them.

The group meets monthly (3rd Tuesday of the month). We knit or sew in support of the museum exhibitions and displays.

One of our researchers is Martin Warren, who became very interested in ganseys during his time as manager of Cromer Museum, which also holds a number of ganseys in its collection. Martin has documented his research results and you can see his work by clicking HERE.

Knitting Sheaths

How were they used?

The sheath was worn at an angle, tucked into the knitter’s belt, called a ‘cow-band’ or an apron waistband or string. The hole at one end would be made according to the diameter of the needle used, thereby the smaller the hole, the finer the gauge of knitting. Sometimes the ball of yarn was held inside a purse attached to the knitter’s belt by a hook, or stuck onto a nail hammered into the back of the knitter’s clog. This hook was called a ‘clue-holder’, a ‘clue’ being the name for a ball of yarn. Clue holders were in use up to the mid 18th century. Another old-time device was a wooden pin onto which the yarn was wound, which was pointed at one end and broad and flat at the other. This was known as a ‘broach’ and was inserted into the side of the clog or shoe of the knitter and held the yarn tensioned whilst knitting.

Belted sheath        Bored ends of sheaths    

Types of Knitting Sheaths

The illustrations below show some of the many designs used, from very simple constructions up to very fine pieces of craftwork. Spindle, Pierced, Ball and cage and Chain, Bundley Sticks, Chip-carved, Goose wing, Chisel shaped, Heart & novelty shaped, Ceramic, Blown Glass or metal, Forked and shafted sheaths. These are all types of handknitting sheaths.


Spindle sheaths are relatively simple in form with a turned appearance, and date from the early 19th century. Later, more complex turned ‘spindle’ sheaths were made in the North of England, these were produced by the textile mills in quantity and on the same industrial machinery which made the bobbins and pirns used to hold the yarn for loom weaving

Spindle sheaths

Pierced sheaths for threading a cord through to attach around the waist; these range from the simple to the very ornate. Ball and cage and Chain sheaths are the most technically proficient and display the skill and ingenuity of the carver. Often a professional woodworker would even be able to fashion the wood into a links forming a chain.

Pierced sheaths    
Cazey Goffin    

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