The British Isles have made some of the most iconic contributions to the world of knitwear. We consider one of Great Britain’s greatest knits.
This article was originally published in October 2019.
Objects accumulate stories. You feel this immediately when putting on an old coat. It’s not just the creases in the waxy cotton, deepening each season, but if yours is anything like mine, it’s all the things at the bottom of the pockets. Train tickets, cinema stubs, receipts. Each has its own particularity: drinks with an old friend; Kubrick re-runs that made me feel like a mesmerised child; the place in York I most like to have breakfast (Bishopthorpe Rd., you’ll know it when you see it.)
The stories that jumpers knit together are much older. Wool reaches back to pre-industrial Britain, when yarns were spun and garments made in family homes. Like all craft production, it relied on local custom and know-how. The exact style, technique, and design varied from place to place and generation to generation. This legacy of craft explains why knits come to us draped in history, myth, and anecdote today. Not only does each traditional jumper come with an origin story, they recall a world of highly sophisticated analogue culture, relying less on formal knowledge than on skills sharpened through diligent practice. In short, jumpers were a kind of folk art, and like the folk songs you might still hear in the right kind of pub in the Scottish Isles, they were never private intellectual property, but owned, curated, and passed along by all the people who made them.