Kids Go Free
Louth Museum

Ruth's Blog


by Ruth Gatenby

Traditional wiska.

Traditional wiska.

Gansey. Photo from Flamborough Marine.

Gansey. Photo from Flamborough Marine.

We have some curious looking things in the museum.  This is one of them.  It’s a leather belt with a padded pouch.  The pouch is stuffed with horsehair, and its leather covering is dotted with holes.

It is a knitting belt or ‘Wiska’, probably dating from the late 19th century.  Double-ended knitting needles were poked into the holes in the pouch.  There are two main advantages to using a wiska while knitting.  If a knitting needle is held by the wiska, it takes a lot of the weight – this is very helpful when the garment is nearly finished and therefore heavy.  Also, the wiska allows the knitter to continue to knit while moving around – no need to sit down and knit.

Wiskas were common in fishing communities where women used to knit jumpers for their menfolk.  There was a strong tradition of making these jumpers, known as ‘ganseys’, in coastal communities in eastern England and Scotland.  Knitters further inland appreciate their use too.

A gansey does not have side seams, and the body of the gansey, and also its sleeves, are knitted as tubes.  Made from sheep’s wool, and with a very tight mesh, ganseys give protection from wind and water.

Should you be uncertain about how a wiska is used, there are helpful online videos.  Search for ‘using a knitting belt’!

Our wiska was donated by Mrs Jennifer Smith whose husband’s ancestors worked with the herring fleet along the coast.