Knitting, like tweed, has been a home industry for centuries. Almost in parallel to the development of the tweed industry in Harris, knitting assumed a significant economic importance. In 1859 and agency was opened in Edinburgh for the sale of both tweeds and knitted goods, the latter the produce of many Harris women, whose skills with needles ensured articles of a quality which the market was only to eager to snap up. In the 1870s, in Harris alone, some 400 people were engaged in knitting, earning valuable cash to supplement and otherwise subsistence economy. Stockings and gansies were the main items, the latter displaying both imagination and innovation in their patterns.
Only in recent years has knitting began to achieve something of its former popularity, though the market has firmly expressed a greater interest in hand-knitted garments than those produced by machines. In fact, the once-thriving machine-knitting industry has gone into decline. A few years ago some six knitwear factories were being hailed as a new enterprise for the future. They have now all but closed down, with only a few small companies producing knitwear - the largest being in Daliburgh, followed by others in Stornoway.
The demand for hand-knits remains high, however, with garments sold to the market mainly through the agencies of the community co-operatives.
Many of the designs of gansies are traditional, though many have been lost over the years. The island of Eriskay has, however, done much to revive the patterns associated with the Hebrides. Unlike the usual vertical configurations, the Hebridean gansey is patterned in blocks set horizontally, each containing a different symbol. The patterns include representation of starfish, anchors, marriage lines and diamonds, the latter traditionally representing a fishing net.