Textile History: The Sweater

When most people, especially non-knitters, think of knitting, the image of a sweater pops up in their minds. Actually, the sweater as a knitted garment is the new kid on the block. It’s believed that the sweater began with 19th century British fishermen, who needed a garment that would keep them relatively dry at work. Wool repels water and is the only natural fiber that retains its ability to keep the wearer worn even when wet, and at some point, wives devised a form of pullover for their men. There’s been a rumor circulating for a long time about the different cable and Celtic stitch patterns being developed by each knitter so that if her husband/father/son was lost at sea, their washed-up bodies could be identified. Most experts view that as a myth, though. Tattoos, now, do seem to have been originally devised by sailors for similar reasons. At any rate, Guernsey, Aran, and Fair Isle patterns, all fairly to extremely intricate, developed relatively quickly after about 1870.

The wearing of sweaters as casual wear in the general population seems to have evolved as a result of the wardrobes of 2 English military heroes.earlcardig.jpg

The cardigan was popularized by the 7th Earl of Cardigan, James Brudenell, who lead the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. The Earl favored close fitting jackets after which the sweater is modeled.

The raglan sleeve came about because Lord Raglan, Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, another Crimean War officer, lost hisearlrag.jpg arm and needed a coat that he could get into and out of without assistance. His tailor designed the slanted, wider sleeve opening to accommodate his injury.

Isn’t it amazing how many variations have developed over the past 100+ years, based upon these 3 originals?

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4 thoughts on “Textile History: The Sweater

  1. I am really loving your blog! It’s so informative & it’s really wonderful to get to know about the history of the garments we make. Thanks so much for the information — can’t wait to scroll down and read more! =)

    Katie

  2. Ann says:

    Someone added a rather nice hand-knit sweater into a Society for Creative Anachronism loaner garb (clothing) pile. That confused me, because the SCA period is pre-17th-century, and I thought sweaters were more modern. Thank you for the clarification.

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