Sweaters (Joys of the Public Domain)

It’s a little cold lately, here in Minnesota in general, and in my office in particular. I understand that several other parts of the country are also a little chilly +/- snowy. In the interests of spreading thoughts, at least, of warmth, the topic of today’s “Joys of the Public Domain” post is…


(Click on any picture to go to the original full image page.)

Sweaters are useful pieces of clothing in many contexts. We (humanity in general) have apparently been knitting for at least three thousand years. (That link goes to the Wikipedia article on knitting. The one on sweaters cites no sources at all, though some of its unsubstantiated information is interesting or amusing.)

It’s amazing how far back some photos go:

Close-up very old photo of a boy in large hat, wearing dark-and-light patterned sweaterOld close-up photo of bearded fisherman, smoking a pipe and wearing a textured sweaterThe Swedish fishing family in the picture at left was photographed in 1863. The fisherman at right, in a sweater with a fairly intricate knit texture, posed for his portrait around 1900.
Fisherman family, Grundsund, Sweden; Swedish National Heritage Board; ‘A Fisherman At Home’ by P.H. Emerson. National Media Museum (U.K.)

Old photo of young woman holding baseball bat in batting position. Her hair is up, and she's wearing a long light-colored textured-knit sweaterOld photo of young man in ball cap and high-collared jersey sweater. The letters N and Y are knit into the sweaterMaggie Jones, at left, was playing baseball in Cleveland in 1911 – a detailed texture is visible in her sweater in the full image. Russ Ford, at right, played for the New York Yankees in 1911. His team sweater has the letters “N” and “Y” knit right in.
Maggie Jones of Cleveland, LoC.; Russ Ford, New York, AL, LoC.

I thought the following images were interesting comparisons of activities of kids of similar ages. The children at left are in school in Virginia in 1958; the children at right are working in Oregon – time unspecified, but (I’m guessing) probably in the 1910s-1930s. And all in interesting sweaters!

Photo of 1950s schoolchildren with filmstrip projector. Boy wearing patterned sweater, girl wearing plain cardiganTwo children with waist-high basket full of hops, in field. both are wearing textured cardigan sweaters, and hats.

Navy Hill School, Library of Virginia; Two children with hops basket, Oregon State University Archives.

Woman in plain light-colored cardigan, wearing dark cat's eye glasses, and dancingYoung man in brightly patterned sweater (light and dark colors, photo is black and white), eating something.Some folks’ sweaters are an expression of personal style. The woman at left was photographed dancing in 1976. The man at right was photographed on a picnic at an unspecified time – I’d guess 1940s or 1950s from the car in the larger photo.
2nd Ave + 86 st. by James Jowers, George Eastman House Collection; Cape Verdean Picnic, Nantucket Historical Association.

Lots of folks think there are no recent works in the public domain; color photos can be a bit of a surprise. Here are some full-color photos of sweater-wearers in 1939, 1944, 1973, and 1974!

Early color photo (1939) of small dark-haired girl in blue sweater/shirt, flowered dress, and red cardigan sweaterCropped early color photo, showing a portion of a man's face, left arm, and back. He's wearing a navy and white-and-navy patterned sweater.Small girl wearing brightly colored blue, white, and red zigzag-striped sweaterTwo boys standing in front of a chain link fence. Portions of both of their faces are visible, as well as the puppy one of the boys is holding.

Girl with doll standing by fence, 1939, LoC; C&NWRR, towerman R.W. Mayberry of Elmhurst, Ill., at the Proviso yard, 1944, LoC; Neighborhood Children of the Neptune Road-Lovell Street Area, the Residential Community Closest to Logan Airport, 1973, U.S. Nat’l Archives; Two Youths and a Dog in Paterson, New Jersey, 1974, U.S. Nat’l Archives.

Possibly the complete apotheosis of sweater-ness is apparently 1950s Canadian curling teams.
Smiling dark-haired woman wearing dark sweater with light-colored yoke with curling-stone pattern and the word curling knit into itSmiling dark-haired woman wearing glasses and holding a broom, bristles up. She's wearing a light-colored zip cardigan with dark curling stone picture knit on the left chest.I have immense respect for these women, whose (probably hand-made) sweaters feature curling stone intarsia (knit patterns/pictures.)

Curling Women’s Champs, March 3, 1954, Galt Museum & Archives; Women’s Curling Champs, February 29, 1956, Galt Museum & Archives.

Several entire curling teams of the era rocked amazingly awesome sweaters. Check ’em out:
black and white photo cropped to show just the midsections of four very brightly patterned sweaters
black and white photo cropped to show just the midsections of four very brightly patterned sweaters
black and white photo cropped to show just the midsections of four very brightly patterned sweaters
Elks Curling Champs, March 17, 1957, Women’s Curling Alberta Champs, January 26, 1955, Women’s Curling Bonspiel Champs, March 2, 1955. All from Galt Museum & Archives.

I just don’t think we could top that. Must be done!

“Joys of the Public Domain” is a recurring feature on this blog, celebrating works in the public domain that I have found and enjoyed. I hope that featuring them here will help expand folks’ ideas about the works in which we all share ownership!

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  1. Some of the Alberta ladies are wearing Cowichan sweaters, or at least sweaters made in that style.
    Images (from Google Images): http://bit.ly/i2r57f

    We spent a year in Victoria BC and my mom bought some of the carded wool used for these (it’s just spun, but not made into yarn) and patterns and knit us kids some of those sweaters. They are incredibly warm but when they get wet you smell like a wet sheep and the thing weighs a ton.

    1. Thanks for sharing your memories. I learn something new every time I go digging into the public domain!

  2. Love this post. I’m a knitter and grew up in Saskatchewan where many, many people had this type of sweater, which we called “siwash”. Very warm and very heavy, but perfect for skating and playing broomball (kind of like shinny but with cut-off curling brooms—great game!) Learned to knit with my grandmother, when she was knitting one of these sweaters for one of my brothers. I’m also a former librarian and love old photographs! Thanks for sharing these with us.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for sharing your memories. We play broomball here in Minnesota, too. In fact, saw some folks playing it at the park behind my house a couple of nights ago (flooded ball fields make great ice rinks.)

  3. Wonderful to see you’ve re-used our image of the young skater in this post. It’s one of my personal favorites as well!

    Yvette Hoitink
    Web team Nationaal Archief, the National Archives of the Netherlands

    1. Thank you! I love the stuff in your collections – I’ve linked to them before on Twitter.

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