Two styles of guernsey exist: a plain "working" guernsey and a "finer" example that was generally saved for special occasions and Sunday-best attire.
The "working" guernsey design was kept simpler in order to reduce the amount of time and materials needed to produce. The sale of knitted garments to supplement family income was important to many island families and thus the garments that were sold were also of a simple design. It is estimated that a total of 84 hours was needed to complete a guernsey: a simpler design could be produced faster than a more elaborate one.
The guernsey that is still produced on the island retains much of the original design and patterns. The rib at the top of the sleeve is said to represent a sailing ship’s rope ladder in the rigging, the raised seam across the shoulder a rope, and the garter stitch panel waves breaking upon the beach. As a working garment, the gussets under the arm and at the neck are for ease of movement, as are the splits at the hem. Twenty-four principal patterns have been identified in Cornwall alone, each one again drawing inspiration from ropes, chains, waves, nets and sand-prints.
Worn as a source of pride and often knitted by prospective wives "to show the industrious nature of the woman he was about to marry", the "finer" guernsey was more elaborately patterned than its working cousin. With the advent of the machine-knitted guernsey and the decline in the knitting industry, this guernsey is a much rarer sight.
Formerly, when all garments were hand-knit, it was possible to identify which parish or family the wearer came from. This potentially could help identify the bodies of sailors lost overboard, but also to enable stolen guernseys to be returned to their owner.
The guernsey's tightly knitted fibres and its square shape, with a straight neck so that it could be reversed, make it a particularly hardy item of clothing. It is not uncommon for a guernsey to last several decades and be passed down in families. Guernseys knitted for children were knitted to be "grown into" and often came down to the knee.
Read more about this topic: Guernsey (clothing)
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