Making guernseys is a family affair for new Le Tricoteur boss

A GUERNSEY jumper firm has a new owner with family links to the company’s founder.

Left to right: Le Tricoteur general manager Neil Sexton, new owner Rachael Laine and founder Robert Macdougall. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30111458)
Left to right: Le Tricoteur general manager Neil Sexton, new owner Rachael Laine and founder Robert Macdougall. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30111458)

Rachael Laine is working to reinvigorate the Le Tricoteur guernsey jumper brand for the modern era.

Mrs Laine said her involvement with Le Tricoteur must have been meant to be.

For as long as she can remember, she and her family made a yearly pilgrimage to Guernsey to visit their ancestral home. In the summer of 2018, she went into the small Le Tricoteur shop and left with plans to buy the company.

Mrs Laine later discovered the Le Tricoteur founder, Robert MacDougall, was her second cousin, once removed. She also discovered that her parents had met at Mr MacDougall’s 21st birthday party in 1961.

‘It’s come full circle, really,’ said Mrs Laine. ‘I bought this company because I have a passion for heritage brands. My background is in brands and marketing and I got tired of all the clutter of fast fashion. I think it really matters that this indigenous jumper is kept alive. If knitting craftsmanship dies on the island, it would be an absolute travesty.’

First documented on Guernsey in the 16th century and associated with fishermen and seafarers, the guernsey jumper rose to international fame.

Founded in 1964 by Mr MacDougall, Le Tricoteur took its place in the history of the jumper. The garment Mr MacDougall made nearly six decades ago is the same pattern found on shelves today.

Although Mrs Laine has created two new lines of tweaked jumpers to appeal to a wider, more fashion-savvy demographic, she would never consider altering the main body and pattern of the garment.

‘We will never stop making the true, original guernsey jumper with the traditional navy and Aran [off-white] colours,’ she said.

‘Why change something that works so well? However, the design tweaks are for the new generations discovering this Guernsey classic.’

The new designs include a shorter, cropped jumper and an oversized slouchy jumper – perfect for pairing with leggings or tights, according to Mrs Laine.

New colours also brought the guernsey to the attention of a new audience, with mustard yellow and an autumnal cinnamon proving most popular.

Although Mr MacDougall and Neil Sexton, Le Tricoteur general manager and an employee for 48 years, both support the new colours and design tweaks, both agree their favourite is still the classic guernsey in navy blue.

The process of making a guernsey jumper begins with large spools of worsted – wool yarn. Vintage knitting machines still create the main panels of the garment.

Then the panels are loaded into old Guernsey potato sacks and delivered to knitters scattered around the island to hand stitch and finish the garments.

All of the threads are then linked together by hand, with all the ends sewn back into the garment to create a sturdy jumper.

‘The guernsey we make today is the exact same as the ones made decades ago when Robert founded the company. It’s such a special, local product. I bet each jumper must go around the island four times before it’s finished,’ she said.

Mrs Laine has urged islanders interested in knitting and linking to get in touch. She is currently looking to recruit new staff to help with her hand-finished garments.

‘It’s really an opportunity to be part of Guernsey history,’ she said.

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