sweaters tell stories

I learned to knit from my mother, who in turn learned from her grandmother, and so on, and so forth. While I’ve always really admired those knitters who learned to knit not because of any family history but simply because they were interested in it, I must admit that having a family connection to the craft has always made it special for me. I learned as a kid, but I didn’t really get into knitting, branching out and learning new techniques, until I left for college. I certainly enjoyed it (and obviously still do!), but I think on some level it was also really nice to have something to connect me to my mother and my roots when I was away from home. It was something we could bond over whenever I came back to visit, too.

In the age of Ravelry my mom’s started knitting again in earnest, especially as she’s moved towards retirement and had more time for it. She’s branching out and learning new techniques, or in some cases, re-learning old techniques, too. But mom knit a lot when she was younger. She knit a lot in an age where knitting patterns could be pretty… interesting. I mean, let’s be real. Knitting and crocheting got kind of weird in the 1960’s and 70’s with the introduction of synthetic fibers on a grand scale. And while digging old stuff out of her closet, mom came across this particularly wonderful specimen of a sweater she made in the 70’s and she sent it my way.


At first glance, there’s a lot going on. A yoke festooned with bobbles and lace, a knit-purl textured pattern on the body and sleeves, ribbing of cables and lace at the cuffs and hem, and a crocheted chain drawstring at the waist. And then you see the other side…


…where the bobbles continue down the front of the sweater. And the drawstring ends in tassels! With bobbles! Bobbled tassels! My, but there is a lot going on in this sweater. But there’ another surprise to reveal:


This sweater is a cardigan, and the center column of bobbles serves as buttons (with a crocheted chain running down the opposite side, to loop over the buttons. I have to admit the bobbles don’t make particularly functional buttons, as the loops have a tendency to pull right off of them, but it’s still a pretty genius idea. Mom sent a photo of herself wearing the sweater on a trip to Romania that I’d love to share, but I haven’t had a chance to scan it yet.

It’s easy for me to see this being a pretty fashionable little piece when my mom first knit it. I have to say, though, that while I don’t think I could pull it off in my own everyday wardrobe, I’ve seen echoes  of similar design features in much more current pieces. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it on a contemporary runway or on the racks at Anthropologie. The first thing this sweater reminded me of was James Coviello’s Snow Drop Jacket, pictured below left. That design’s from 2008 and was published as a knitting pattern in Vogue Knitting as well as a finished piece at Anthropologie under the name Aestival Gust Cardi.

At left, “Snow Drop Jacket / Aestival Gust Cardi” by James Coviello;
at right, “Ruby” by Joan McGowan-Michael

I was also reminded of the sweater at right, Ruby, by Joan McGowan-Michael. It’s a veritable bobble party, with lace and ribbon to boot. I believe Ruby was also published in 2008. They are all three very unique and in some ways very different pieces, but they all share a certain loudness and attitude I can’t help but admire.

I love scoping out knits at vintage stores, because I never know what I’ll find. My favorite vintage store nearby is Trove, in Ballard, and they’ve often got a diverse offering of knits on hand. Some are machine knits, and some are old hand knits, but I love them both. I love taking a closer look to figure out how things were constructed, what they were made of. Often I can ask the owners where they got them from – an estate sale, a thrift store, somewhere else? I’ve long been entranced by this bird sweater, because the entire colorwork pattern is duplicate-stitched over the sweater itself. Did the sweater come that way? Did some crafty lady think her white sweater was boring and decide to embroider a bird on it? Who knows! I’ve also picked up a Dale of Norway sweater that someone had obviously accidentally felted, and I just got a crazy colorwork cardigan made by the Jersild Sweater Company of Neenah, Wisconsin. Some internet searching revealed that Jersild was absorbed by this company and they’re still making sweaters today.

In the meantime, while I may not wear it, I’m hanging on to mom’s sweater for now. It tells a great story, and for me, that’s enough. (Additionally, a very happy birthday to my mother today!)

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