Long time followers of this blog will know that I live in the Netherlands (not to be confused with Holland!). The Netherlands is a nation with quite a bit of craft tradition, most people from the older generations grew up with crafting being an important skill and it was taught at schools (and some schools still teach it). Some of you might recall some chapters of Debbie Stollers famous Stitch in Bitch books in which she describes this culture of her Dutch ancestors. Me, being very interested in all history related things to the craft, was always a bit bummed that there was no book or something published in the Netherlands that had to do with this craft. Not anymore though!
Those of you who follow me on twitter, might remember a series of gush tweets back in August when I found out about the publication of this book. I was really anxious to find out whether this book could meet the standards of the likes of Gladys Thompson and Mary Wright, who wrote great works on British heritage knitting. Last week the book fell on my doormat, I was quite surprised as when I pre-ordered it the publication date was set at late September. Well let me tell you, it was worth the wait (and the gushing!)
First the numbers: The book is about knitted guernseys/ganseys, or as most people know them: Fishermen sweaters, from the Netherlands. The 176 pages of this book include 60 sweater patterns from 40 Dutch villages. Originally the book was supposed to be slightly smaller (as demonstrated by the covers above), but mere weeks before publication they found out about and added some extra patterns.
The book is published in both Dutch and English. In Dutch it is called Vissertruien and in English Dutch Traditional Ganseys. Both books have the exact same patterns so nobody has to feel like they miss out on something. The book is packed, PACKED, with old photo’s of Dutch fishermen and their families (and sweaters!) and most of the patterns in the book have been reknitted and were photographed on a model as well (the few that aren’t have show the old photo’s and knitted swatches). This is a huge advantages this book has on the books of the previous named authors as they don’t have these updated photographs. Before I was a bit afraid that the newly taken pictures would either dominate the book and the old photos which make this books so special would be left out, or that none of the patterns would have been knitted by contemporary knitters pre-publication at all. Luckily neither of those happened and it’s basically the best of both worlds!
The book is divided into five parts, the first part discusses how the book came about and the history of Dutch coastal towns, Dutch fishermen ánd their Ganseys. I was immensely looking forward to this bit and it does not disappoint! It is quite a bit bigger then I expected (YAY!) covers lots of historic details. Part 2 is called “knitting”. It still covers some history, like what materials were used in the time etcetera, but also provides information as to what materials we can use nowadays, techniques used, how to go about with the pattterns and basic sweater patterns.
The next 3 parts are the actual patterns. They are divided into the different Dutch coastal areas: De Noordzee kust or North Sea Coast, de Zuiderzee-coast now IJselmeer. (uh…due to poldering the Zuiderzee is no longer a sea but a lake) and de Waddenkust or Frisian Islands coast. Each coastal area is again divided, this time into the different villages each guernsey comes from. Each pattern comes with a chart, a detailed description, yarn recommendations (though you can use other yarns as described in the knitting chapter). Furthermore there are drawings and swatches included of each guernsey. Most guernseys are reknitted and include both an old and a contemporary photo. The pattern chapters contain a lot of information as well, about each village the guernsey comes from and about the guernsey and its distinct features. As it turns out, knitting traditions varied greatly from village to village and guernseys are a quite reliable way of identifying the home of fishermen on photographs from that time.
The guernseys use different kinds of yarn and there is a chapter devoted to encourage the knitter to try out new yarns and different yarn weights for the same guernsey. The book tries to stay as close to the type of yarn knitters used back then. Unfortunately the yarn that was used commonly back then isn’t available any more. One company that made it however is still in business; Sheepjeswol. Sheepjewol is the only company in the Netherlands that still makes yarn, all the other companies unfortunately had to stop their business. Now this company has worked together with the author of this book and they (re)created a yarnline especially for guernseys! The yarn is 100% wool and is called Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) and comes in three colours, two blue and one natural. Apart from this yarn the book also uses a lot of other yarn brands that have the same properties as the yarns that were accessible to fisherwives back then, like special guernsey wool from the British Isles and lopi wool from Iceland. Fishers who went out to sea brought these yarns back for their wives from the places they went fishing.
All in all this book is very much worth buying, especially if you’re interested in guernseys or knitting traditions. The patterns are of high quality and it is packed with information, much more than I anticipated when I first heard about it in August. I can finally say that the Netherlands has an excellent book on a Dutch knitting tradition. Do not be surprised if you see a guernsey in progress float by on the blog in the near future.
Ps. Stella Ruhe, the book’s author, will give a lecture on Dutch guernseys this sunday (29th of september) in one Amsterdam LYS, de Afstap. More information on www.afstap.nl/jubileum/ .