It’s National Sweater Day! The idea is to show support for energy conservation by wearing extra sweaters.

Sweaters are knitted garments, and knitted garments have been around for a long time. How long is hard to say, but fragments, and sometimes whole specimens of what are now known as Coptic socks have been found on sites in Egypt, and date back to about 1,000 AD. Made from cotton, they were woven in symbolic patterns that were supposed to keep their wearers from harm.

As regards sweaters, however, knitted tunics and shirts showed up on the English Channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey sometime in the fifteenth century. Fishermen and sailors’ wives made them from natural wool that retained its oil and thus offered protection from the cold, even when it was damp. From there they became popular with the working classes all over Europe. Why the ones from Jersey won out over the ones from Guernsey in regards to a name, I could not say, but sweaters are often referred to as jerseys in the UK, where they are also known as jumpers, pullovers, woollies, and cardigans, depending on the style. The last term originated with the seventh Earl of Cardigan, whose famed Light Brigade (the ones who did not ‘reason why’) wore knitted military coats nicknamed cardigans. The term ‘sweater’ started up in USA in the 1890s, when athletes started wearing them.

The distinctive Aran sweaters and Fair Isle sweaters take their names from the islands on which they were first made, and a blend of the Scottish Fair Isle and Coast Salish knitting techniques resulted in Canada’s famous Cowichan sweaters.


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