Stories

How Sunspel reinvented the Guernsey sweater

In our pursuit of the world’s best garments, Sunspel goes wherever inspiration is to be found. Here’s the story of our Guernsey sweater – created in collaboration with generations of British seafarers…

The Sunspel Guernsey sweater caresses the skin, looks great on its own or under a Harrington jacket and is made of light, luxurious Italian-spun merino wool. Very modern and very comfortable.

Given that, you may wonder what exactly it has to do with the kind of jumper that usually springs to mind when you think of a ‘Guernsey’… The sort of weather-beaten, hard-wearing garment that was once standard issue in the Royal Navy and was solid enough to see you through a force 10 gale out on the deep Atlantic.

Those old ‘ganseys’, knitted in the fishing villages of Britain and decorated with folksy patterns of waves or anchors, were so durable they were effectively family heirlooms, handed down from father to son along with the nets and fishing boats until the navy blue dye had all but faded away.

But as rough and ready as those nautical Guernsey jumpers might seem to the untrained eye, they’ve stood the test of time because they are actually the most brilliant pieces of British clothing design.

Each of the key ingredients of the traditional Guernsey – developed and honed by generations of fishermen’s wives – feeds into Sunspel’s modern reinvention of the sweater.

Whitby fishermen wearing traditional Guernseys, c.1890. Image: The Sutcliffe Gallery.

Whitby fishermen wearing traditional Guernseys, c.1890. Image: The Sutcliffe Gallery.

THE BEST YARN

The first secret of the fisherman’s Guernsey was that it used the best material available to the people at the time: in this case, worsted yarn. Worsted is a high-quality, long-staple wool from premium English sheep breeds, spun since the Middle Ages by families on the Channel Islands (hence the name ‘Guernsey’).

Worsted yarn was much more lightweight than other yarns yet also very durable. Of course, Sunspel have taken that concept to a completely different level of luxury and comfort with 100% Italian-spun merino wool – but the concept of using the best possible yarn is a Guernsey hallmark.

EXPERT KNITCRAFT

To make the tight, dense knit of the traditional weatherproof Guernsey required a seriously high level of skill. The knitcraft knowledge was developed in British fishing villages and passed down from mother to daughter over centuries.

Sunspel might have a modern take on the Guernsey but we still make use of that same care and knowhow: every garment is meticulously crafted.

Merino Wool Guernsey Jumper in Archive White

Merino Wool Guernsey Jumper in Archive White

CLASSIC CUT

The instantly-recognisable features of the Guernsey are the roll detail neckline and the tight hem and cuffs. For 19th century fishermen there were practical reasons for those: cuffs were kept short of the wrist so they could work without worrying about salt-soaked sleeves, and the tight fitted hems reduced the danger of getting fatally tangled up in rigging out on the seas.

Sunspel’s design retains these classic Guernsey features, even if the main practical benefit might be to keep you warm on a winter stroll.

TRADITIONAL COLOURS

That traditional navy blue colour, once made from natural indigo, is still the one you probably associate with Guernsey. But colours, too, evolve.

For the Sunspel Guernsey we’ve developed a military green and an archive white as well as the original navy – modern twists on the hardworking, maritime origins of the garment.

Sunspel has an obsession with developing contemporary interpretations of the best clothes the world has produced – creating luxurious updates on wardrobe essentials. And what could be more essential than weatherproof knitwear for sailors?

When you wear a Sunspel Guernsey sweater – on its own, under a Harrington for a casual winter look, or with an overcoat – you really are wearing a piece of British design history. It’s just that ours also happens to be both wearable and luxurious.

Merino Wool Guernsey Jumper in Navy and Military Green