Knitting, Make & Hue

A Found Sweater

A chance encounter provided me with a special traditional sweater that has inspired me for decades. This knitted sweater came my way, and it took decades for me to learn more about its origin. I have worn this sweater, used its patterning to inspire a design of my own, and shared it with students who find it as amazing as I still do.

Right place, right time

In the 1980s, I was just beginning to design knitwear. I had published one or two patterns in magazines, Vogue Knitting and McCall’s Needlework and Crafts. At the time, I had knitted mostly textured pattern stitches; very little colorwork. So I was eager to learn more and had bought some books about stranded knitting, both Shetland and Scandinavi

During that time, I stopped at a yard sale being held at the Quaker Meeting House on the East Side of Providence where I still live. I spotted a colourful sweater on a table and made a bee-line for it.

The sweater was stunning. It was hand-knit, with a wonderful wide floral band that repeated across the sweater, divided by smaller checked bands. There were only four colours. The background was ivory, and the patterning a mix of bright red, black and royal blue. The gauge was fine, and the surface textured as thick gorgeous “rose” motifs stood out.

I had to own this sweater! To my utter surprise, a gentleman behind the table seemed shocked I wanted it.

“Twenty-five cents?” he suggested, as if that were too much for an old sweater he undoubtedly could imagine no one wanting.

I grabbed the sweater, gave him a quarter, and strutted delightedly off. I had truly been in the right place at the right time!

Looking closely

When I got the sweater home, the first thing I did was try it on. It fit me perfectly, in an oversized 1980s way. “How wonderful,” I thought, “that someone made this sweater for me to wear and enjoy.”

A closer examination of the sweater made me realize there was much more for me to see and learn from this sweater. It was truly my first step into the world of stranded colourwork, a world I would learn to love.

As my research expanded over the years, to learn more about colourwork, I came to know the pattern resembled a traditional Scandinavian floral motif. These patterns, that I teach about in my Scandinavian patterning classes, often resemble stars, but with more rounded edges.

The most unusual thing about this sweater was that the large floral bands were knit in just black and ivory—no other colour! All the other accents—MANY!—were embroidered. I could see that the centre of each “rose” was actually embroidered with a duplicate stitch. This addition of another layer of yarn gives the roses a bold thick texture that makes them pop. The royal blue accents in the large bands were also embroidered.

I wondered… so many questions… Who made the sweater? Who designed it? Was it one of a kind? Had the knitter followed a pattern? What was the yarn?

For many years, I have presented this sweater to my classes, with students finding inspiration by the beautiful stitchwork. We all marvel at the long hours, above and beyond the actual knitting, that went into completing the sweater. What a labour of love!

I have charted the pattern and used it for a glove pattern. I placed my duplicate stitch differently from that in the sweater, changing the pattern for myself.


Prowling on Pinterest

Oddly enough, another chance encounter led me to the source of my marvelous sweater. A couple of years ago, more than 30 years after buying the sweater, I stopped dead in my tracks when I ran across an image on Pinterest. Clicking through the link took me to an Etsy shop specializing in out-of-print patterns from the past and my sweater pattern was for sale (you can see it HERE). It delighted the shop owner to see a photo of my sweater and to know more about it. You can see the pattern for sale here.

I knew  that the delightful sweater was old when I bought it even though it did not look it. Now I calculate it might be between 50 and 60 years old now. 

Worn but well-loved

My sweater has maintained its shape over the years, but the ivory color has yellowed and I no longer wear it. I can’t be sure the yarn that was used to make it was the yarn suggested in the pattern I found. In fact many people, myself included, have suggested that it might have been a wool blend sock yarn, which could account for the long life of this amazing garment.

I will never know who made it, but I like to picture that person, knitting happily along, and then carefully and painstakingly embroidering each red rose…. I cannot tell you how much pleasure this sweater has given me over the years. And all for the grand price of 25 cents. &

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