The guernsey came into being as a garment for fishermen who required a warm, hard wearing, yet comfortable item of clothing that would resist the sea spray. The hard twist given to the tightly packed wool fibres in the spinning process and the tightly knitted stitches, produced a finish that would “turn water” and was capable of repelling rain and spray.
The guernsey was traditionally knitted by the fishermen’s wives, a technique that can be dated back to the late 15th century, and the pattern has been passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. 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. This is a practice which still exists today with the final finishing of the machine-knit parts completed by hand. It is not uncommon for a guernsey to last several decades and be passed down in families.
Now the term guernsey is rarely used outside of traditionalists. The more common factory made cable knit being the main technique in fashion textile design.