The history of knitted cardigans

Knitted cardigans were named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, the first British officer to cross the Russian lines in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, during the Crimean war.

He and his officers wore fur-trimmed or braided woollen jackets to keep them warm in the harsh Crimean winter – they actually looked very different from today’s knitted cardigans.

The garment we now call the cardigan was worn in the British Isles and France by the 17th century. Hand knitting was common in Ireland and the islands of Scotland, where Aran designs may go back as far as the 9th century, and Fair Isle designs to the 15th century.

During the 17th and 18th centuries hand knitting became a widespread industry in the British Isles, and knitted cardigans and sweaters were commonly worn by fishermen and other outdoor workers.

In the 17th century knitting frames were designed and developed, but they were very expensive. Then in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Industrial Revolution mechanised wool washing, dyeing and spinning, and today most knitted clothes are no longer totally hand-made.

During the 2nd World War (1939-1945) wool was scarce in Britain and a booklet called “Make do and Mend” was put out by the British War Ministry in 1943, encouraging people to knit garments by unpicking old clothes. Probably because of the lack of wool yarn, the British cardigan fashions of that time were typically short and tight. But in America both long and short cardigans were fashionable and long cardigans stayed popular for a long time: Marilyn Monroe famously posed on the beach for her last photo shoot in a long hand knitted cardigan with knitted belt, and possibly nothing else.

Marilyn Monroe book front picture Marilyn Monroe book front picture

Amazon UK book…………………… Amazon.com book

In the 1970s this style made a come-back and it is again popular today.

There’s been a revival of hand knitting in recent years, and globalisation has led to the popularity of authentic designs, yarns and products from native peoples of many countries, which the Fair Trade movement has supported.  Thus we come up to date in this story of knitted cardigans.

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