Saturday 27 January 2018

Comfy Cardie ... circa 1600

When I'm feeling a bit shivery and off-colour I like to climb into a certain cosy grey cardigan with huge pockets and a roomy bagginess that perfectly hides the contours of my body. It's not going to win me any points for elegance, but it's so comfortable that it feels like I'm wearing a hug. And the other day I discovered that comfy cardigans have been a thing for several centuries.

I was invited to a really interesting talk at the V&A. It ended in the Stuart section of the British Gallery, where I spotted this amazing knitted cardigan. It wasn't featured on the talk, but, being a knitter, I had to stop and admire it.

The museum sign said that it dated from approximately 1600, and certainly no later than 1620 - so, quite possibly, someone was pottering around in this very cardigan, feeling cosy and snug whilst they chewed the fat with Guy Fawkes and dreamt up the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 ... .

Knitted jacket 1600 - 1620 (back view)

The stitch-work is beautiful: very delicate and even, knit to a tension of about 30 stitches and 56 rows for a 10 cm square.  I'd love to have had a look at the reverse side to see how neat and tidy the floats were. I'm guessing they're immaculate. The yarn used was silk thread, partially wrapped in silver. It was protected from my curious paws by a glass case, but I'd love to have been able to give it a squish to see how it felt, and how it draped with its silver content.

I can't believe that it's seen much service. The colours are vibrant and the textile remains in very good condition: no sagging, pulls or signs of attack by the dreaded moths - maybe moths don't do silver.

Back in the day I'm told that knitted cardigans were popular items of clothing for both men and women, but they were regarded as informal. As such they were seldom depicted in portraits.

This one has been altered by the addition of the chequered side panels - probably inserted to allow it to be worn more comfortably with the higher-waisted styles of the 1630s. As such it was also an early example of make-do and mend. The chequered squares added to the bottom hem and the ends of the sleeves also look like afterthoughts. Admittedly they match the side gussets, but the whole thing looks to me like it was re-tailored for a taller, bigger person at the same time as being re-styled to match the fashion of a later age. And I'm kind of fascinated by what the back-story to all that reworking might have been - if only comfy cardigans could talk ... perhaps they'd tell dark tales of gunpowder treason and plot!

All the best for now,

Bonny x


  1. Such a great post, Bonny! I’m sitting here in my comfy, not very elegant cardigan, but it is like a warm hug. I wouldn’t dream of going out in it, but it is perfect for a chilly winter day at home. This cardigan is beautiful. I did wonder if it may have been let out to disguise a growing pregnancy,,,just a thought. Marie x

  2. Oh wow!

    I too have a couple of not-very-elegant but superbly comfy sweaters, and yes, it is like a giant hug! (One in particular was made by my mother at least 30 years ago, and it's still holding up well today.)

    And that sweater is absolutely amazing. I too, would have wanted to examine it in detail! (And now I'm wondering if moths don't like silver. . . )