Cardigan's Lynne Hiriak Explains the Origins of Your Favorite Sweaters, From Cable to La Mariniere

As see-your-breath-weather settles upon us, it’s only natural that we’re all craving a cuddle in our favorite sweaters. Leah's got a thing for cardi-coats. I’m almost halfway through my Wool and the Gang project...from last winter. This season, there's a gaggle of fuzzy numbers to choose from for more instant gratification, with many classics making a comeback. It got us thinking about where these styles originated. So we went to knit-wit Lynne Hiriak, of Cardigan by Lynne Hiriak--who has been designing sweaters for nearly 15 years working with Michael Kors, Derek Lam, and Thakoon along the way--for a history lesson on some of her favorite styles, and which will be finding their way into her closet this season. (By the way--you can save up to 65% at Cardigan's Cyber Monday sale, going on right now.)
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As see-your-breath-weather settles upon us, it’s only natural that we’re all craving a cuddle in our favorite sweaters. Leah's got a thing for cardi-coats. I’m almost halfway through my Wool and the Gang project...from last winter. This season, there's a gaggle of fuzzy numbers to choose from for more instant gratification, with many classics making a comeback. It got us thinking about where these styles originated. So we went to knit-wit Lynne Hiriak, of Cardigan by Lynne Hiriak--who has been designing sweaters for nearly 15 years working with Michael Kors, Derek Lam, and Thakoon along the way--for a history lesson on some of her favorite styles, and which will be finding their way into her closet this season. (By the way--you can save up to 65% at Cardigan's Cyber Monday sale, going on right now.)
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As see-your-breath-weather settles upon us, it’s only natural that we’re all craving a cuddle in our favorite sweaters. Leah's got a thing for cardi-coats. I’m almost halfway through my Wool and the Gang project...from last winter. This season, there's a gaggle of fuzzy numbers to choose from for more instant gratification, with many classics making a comeback.

It got us thinking about where these styles originated. So we went to knit-wit Lynne Hiriak, of Cardigan by Lynne Hiriak--who has been designing sweaters for nearly 15 years working with Michael Kors, Derek Lam, and Thakoon along the way--for a history lesson on some of her favorite styles, and which will be finding their way into her closet this season. (By the way--you can save up to 65% at Cardigan's Cyber Monday sale, going on right now.)

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Sweater: Aran Cable History by Lynne: The Aran cable sweater--also known as the fisherman's sweater--was invented on the Aran islands off the coast of Ireland as early as 1900. They first were exported from the west of Ireland to the United States in the early 1950s. Before that, cable sweaters were available only if they were personally handknit. In my previous jobs at Michael Kors and Derek Lam, I did a lot of Aran cable research, as we were always interested in referencing authentic hand-knit garments. I always wondered if the patterns had any significance, and it turns out that they all do! All the patterns have a traditional interpretation and are supposedly fashioned by ancient patterns that have been found on many megaliths around Europe. The honeycomb is a reminder of the hard working bee. It’s also said to be a lucky stitch, signifying a good catch for the day. The cable is said to symbolize fisherman’s ropes. The diamond is a wish of success, wealth and treasure. The diamond also represents the shape of the fishing net. The basket stitch represents the fisherman's basket, a hope for catches abundant. I never realized how symbolic all the stitches were, and now I can never look at a cable again without thinking of everything it represents. Buy: Vanessa Bruno Cable Dress, LaGarconne.com It's cool and refreshing to see this cable pattern made into an easy tee dress. I covet this dress because I can wear it layered, or belted and it's so soft! Vanessa also did an unusual cable pattern so it's not as traditional but it's really flattering. I also love that she did it in an alpaca blend yarn, which is an nontraditional yarn for an aran cable.

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Sweater: Shetland History by Lynne: I love a Shetland sweater because it's the type of sweater I used to wear when I was in high school. As a cardigan, crewneck, or vest in navy and yellow, I wore one everyday with plaid. It's nostalgic for me! The Shetlands are a cluster of islands off of Scotland where much of sweater history has come from. Knitting from the Shetlands is as old as the 9th century when the Norse settlers brought their native sheep to the Islands. They thrived on the vegetation, which made the sheep wool more soft, light and warm. This made the wool more suitable for knitting, which in turn evolved into the main craft of the island. In modern history, Brooks Brother introduced the Shetland sweater in 1904. What's interesting about an authentic Shetland sweater is that it's handmade like no other type of sweater--it has no seams!

Buy: APC Shetland-Inspired Sweater, StuartandWright.com This sweater from APC reminds me of the sweater that I used to wear in high school. Except way, way cooler because of the elbow patches and it isn't itchy! (My school sweater was!) I'm totally inspired by menswear, so it's refreshing to find an authentic version for women. I've searched forever, and it's so hard to find a good interpretation!

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Sweater: Fair Isle History by Lynne: Fair Isle is a single tiny island in the Shetlands, halfway between Scotland and Norway. It's a traditional knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colors. Something interesting I discovered was that although knitting was common on Fair Isle as early as the 1500s, the bright colors they used in knitting were supposedly influenced by shipwrecked Spaniards who crashed on the shores in 1588. The Prince of Wales first brought the patterns into popularity in the early 1920s.

Although there are traditional rules about the usage of colors and these authentic versions can still be bought from companies on Shetland Island, designers these days use artistic license to create some really interesting patterns that would not be considered traditional. I've probably created a modern version of a Fair Isle for each designer I ever worked for. I think Fair Isles are so unusual because their patterns can be so classic or can be manipulated with crazy colors to look really fresh and new.

Buy: Fair Isle Sweater, OpeningCeremony.us Everything about this Fair Isle from Opening Ceremony is so awesome. I love the fitted shape and I love the unusual colors that are used in this particular version. It's so fun and I could see myself wearing it all winter! This particular pattern reference is from a traditional "granddad" pattern. Well, I don't see my granddad wearing this colorful combo!

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Sweater: Donegals History by Lynne: Donegals, more famously known as Donegal Tweeds, come from eponymous area Donegal, located on the northwest coast of Ireland. The knit was supposedly influenced by the natural landscape of the area's, valleys and hills which are colored by the change of seasons. Purples, pinks and blue heathers flecked the summer, turning to burnt colors in autumn, then festive berry and holly colors in the winter.

The actual yarn itself is usually a solid or heathered yarn with flecks of up to six different colors. The skill and craft it takes to actually produce this yarn can take up to two months! As a sweater designer, a good donegal is hard to find as the traditional techniques are not as commonly available as they used to be. I'm happy to see that they are coming back into trend, so perhaps it means that there will be more resources out there sooner than later!

Buy: APC Donegal Sweater at LaGarconne.com I Love this APC sweater because not only is it challenging to find a modern Donegal tweed sweater, knit tweeds are traditionally considered masculine, so usually you can only find them in crewnecks or pullovers as that is the traditional way men wear them. This one is special because it's a cardigan! This version can be worn wrapped with a belt or just open. It's a great throw on and I already envision myself in front of a fire upstate wearing this the entire weekend.

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Sweater: Stripes History by Lynne: It's probably not surprising that stripes have been around for--well, pretty much--forever! One of the first references I can think of can be found in Egyptian times on King Tutankhamun's headdress and other Egyptian cloth of that time period. There is a great book called The Devil's Cloth, which reveals that stripes have not always had a happy and cheery connotation. As early as the medieval times, stripes were originally used to identify outcasts in society such as serfs, jugglers, clowns, hangmen. During the French Revolution, punishing and degrading stripes were connected with prisoners. Even in our modern times, the McDonald’s Hamburglar character in his jailbreak black and white stripes evoke mischief.

But alongside these negative connotations, good stripes also began to appear. Especially in French history. La mariniere, known as the Breton or sailor stripe, was cleverly made the official French Sailor uniform by French law as early as 1858. Why? Because the graphic stripe made it easy to locate overboard seamen in the murky Atlantic waters. Saint James was established in France in 1889 to produce striped knitwear for industrial purposes. Coco Chanel was the first to introduce the French sailor striped t-shirt to women’s fashion in 1917. After that famous introduction, stripes in fashion have evolved into a classic and are loved by everyone!

I'm obsessed with stripes. Because I'm obsessed with stripes, I'm always researching them. I came across this chic blog--Ladolfina.blogspot.com--which smartly gives a 101 of stripe history. You should check it out!

Buy: Striped Cardigan at CardiganNewYork.com This Fall 2010 Cardigan was inspired by French military and northern coast seafaring culture.