The sweater — that classic wardrobe staple, that most essential item of cold-weather dressing, that object of tradition and craft simultaneously affording a sense of comfort and tactile delight. Perhaps as old as any other textile art, the sweater has become integral to our dress, a perennial favorite for both the practically minded as well as the stylistically oriented. Herein lies a survey or sorts, a closer look into the wonderful world of knits, a study of their history and their technique, each as rich and nuanced as the next.
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Patched — Not actually a sweater, but rather several pieces of textured, woven fabric pieced together to form a relaxed pullover, patched fabrics nonetheless offer the rich tactile experience one might expect of a detailed knit piece. If the whir of pattern and texture seem oddly familiar, you may want to look back to Bill Cosby’s Dr. Huxtable character from his hit family sitcom in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Cosby’s most memorable sweaters were designed and created by Dutch-American designer Koos Van Den Akker, who also created the one shown here.
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Seed stitch — As complex and detailed as sweater construction can be, the art of knitting falls back to two simple mechanical processes: the knit stitch and the purl stitch. It’s the simple looping of one strand of yarn into another, then into a chain, and of course it’s reverse, allowing for two distinct, though equally rudimentary structures to come into play. The manipulation and organization of these basic stitches allows for more complex designs. One notable structure is the seed stitch — the alternating sequence of a knit and purl stitch on one row followed by its inverse on the next. The result is a pebbled surface, substantial enough to register with the senses by touch but subtle enough not to be immediately visible. Sometimes called the Irish Moss Stitch or the Bird's Nest Stitch, it evokes certain organic textures, much to the pleasure of anyone wearing such a sweater much like this one designed by Patrik Ervell.
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Shetland — The sheep of the Shetland archipelago are well-known for their fine wool. They are one of the few remaining breeds descended from the Scottish Dunface sheep, which went extinct from mainland Scotland in the 19th century. In 2011, it was given Protected Geographical Status under the European Union. A law more frequently used for food and wine, it makes it illegal for any product to make false claims about its country of origin, helping to protect what has become a highly niche industry. Ivy League clothier J. Press has been selling their own Shetland, “Shaggy Dog” sweaters for about 60 years. Originally conceived by Irving Press, the son of the company’s founder, he had the idea to take a traditional sweater and give it a more lived-in look. He teamed up with Scottish knitting company Drumohr who added a unique touch — brushing the wool, giving them their distinctive “fluffed” and textured appearance.
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Fair Isle — Instantly summoning feelings of a grand history and an academic elegance, the Fair Isle is perhaps one of the most iconic knits. Originating from Fair Isle itself, which sits just between the Orkney and Shetland Islands, it exploded in popularity in 1921 when the Prince of Wales, later known as Edward VIII, took to wearing it in public. It is essentially an intarsia knit, the classic technique used to create patterns by alternating in sequence various colored yarns held separately on bobbin spools. Tied together with their unsightly ends hidden on the backside, this technique allows for patterns and designs to be created on flat pieces of knit. The more colors, the finer the detail, the more difficult it is to produce. This particular example by J.Crew, rendered in bright bold color and clean shapes, gives a modernist spin to the traditional motif.
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Scandinavian — The generic snowflake patterns and deer motifs of ski sweaters have become synonymous with cold weather wear. But the sweater designs are an age-old standby hailing from areas throughout Scandinavia. From Iceland comes the Lopapeysa, featuring a lattice diamond pattern encircling the neck opening. And from Norway is the Setesdalsgense or Setesdal sweater, a valley region in the south of Norway. Designer Patrik Ervell, American born, but with roots in Scandinavia, has adopted the motif for his own knits line, bringing it back routinely for his autumn collections. This one features a tonal two-color design, not knit from wool, but Alpaca yarn.