You may think you know the Sweater history, but I think you will be engaged by the information contained in The Sweater, a History by Jane Merrill and Gail DeMeyere. Unlike the long scholarly slog that is the History of Knitting by Richard Rutt, this book is a pleasure to digest. This book is not a bon bon; The Sweater contains a lot of useful information, and this is a book I looked forward to and enjoyed. I found pleasure in enjoying the photography, the stories, and the engagement of the authors in their subject.
A Sweater History
The first 60-ish pages are historical. The authors set forth why there is so little evidence of actual knitting despite early depictions of it in other sources. There is explanation of the early sweaters, few of them solely knitted. Details of the fabric construction accompanies other good historical material.
After presenting sweater history, the book hones in on different types of sweaters and their geographical origins. I found it interesting and useful to see schematics of sweater shapes, and swatches of stitch patterns. I leave it to you to explore the details in the book.
Sweater History in Modern Times, Part 1
It might not seem modern now, but in the late 19th Century sweaters began to be worn as sports garments by men. Women, as they adopted a sporting life, also adopted sweaters. Still wearing corsets, sweaters were an enhancement to the figure and showed a certain sporting style. Club sweaters for men appeared at about the same time and were likewise adopted by women. Suffragettes wore them.
The big breakout for knits, although not necessarily hand knits, was the result of CoCo Chanel. She introduced them as garments to be part of an “every day” wardrobe. Other designers, such as Jean Patou and Elsa Schiaparelli followed her lead. American Vogue first showed sweaters in 1927.
By the 1930s sweaters were used in movies to define characters. We can all think of favorite sweaters from movies. It is fun to read through how directors and costumers have put them to use.
One of the things that I had nearly forgotten was Beaded Collars. I have one that was my maternal grandmother’s. These were heavily beaded, Peter Pan-style removable collars that hooked, buttoned, or tied over a round neck sweater. This is an idea I think we should take up again!
Sweater History in Modern Times, Part 2
There are chapters devoted to the development of sweaters, both hand knit and machine knit, post 1950. Sweaters rise and fall with fashion, do-it-yourself crafts, and whenever practicality and creativity combine. The hand knit designers are considered alongside famous designers such as Sonia Rykiel. Sweaters seem to provide a unique canvas that creative talents can exploit.
Sweater History in Modern Times, Part 3
Sweaters as avant-garde art and high fashion are the next focus. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of Vivienne Westwood’s sweaters and longed for photos (I’m guessing they were not available). It was interesting to compare some of the current innovations in sweater design with what has gone before.
This discussion continued into the final chapter which introduced new material, form and structure. It didn’t feel that new to me, but I follow fashion. What is happening in fashion is definitely different than what we typically see in hand knits.
Sweater History, Notes and Sources
This is a resource for anyone looking to learn more about sweaters. This book is easily digested, and packs a lot of information into its 200 pages. I do not think anyone interested in sweater evolution and design can go wrong purchasing this book. You will be surprised what you learn and the Notes and Sources will lend a hand where you want to know more.
Sweater History, Your Copy!
Please leave a comment here, on Facebook, or Instagram before 1:30 pm PDT, April 19, 2017. I will ship my copy of this book to the lucky winner. You must be willing to pay postage from Seattle, Washington.