Monday, May 21, 2012

Hand-knitted curling sweaters

Written by Bob Cowan

This photo of eight upstanding young curlers - all members of Carmunnock and Rutherglen CC - comes from the late 1960s, and was taken in the annex of the Crossmyloof rink. It is in the club's archives! By whom it was taken, I don't know, nor do I remember the occasion. Their names are:

Back L-R: Bill Horton, Graeme Adam, John Brown and Michael Burton.
Front: David Horton, Bob Cowan, Martin Bryden and Robin Gemmell.

Look at what three of us in the front row are wearing. These are hand knitted, shawl-collared curling sweaters, often referred to as Cowichan sweaters. The name comes from the Cowichan people of southeastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who pioneered these distinctively patterned, heavy-knit sweaters. They are also called Mary Maxim sweaters, or simply 'curling sweaters', whether or not the design is a curling one.

My mother had knitted me such a sweater - in fact it's the one Martin Bryden is wearing in the photo - when I had begun curling at school. I was very proud of it, although I probably did not appreciate at the time the effort which had gone in to making it. The sweater still exists, although it has shrunk considerably over the years. Or perhaps there is another reason it no longer fits!

I suspect that it was finding an extract from a knitting pattern in my Higher English paper back in 1964 that affected me in such a way, that with my introduction to eBay some ten years ago, I started to collect knitting patterns for curling jumpers.

In the midst of the Loudmouth revolution, it is interesting to look back at curling fashion on the ice in the 1960s, and see the social history that can be gleaned from the simple knitting pattern. Here are just a few from the 'national collection'.

'Bonspiel Days' is the name of this Mary Maxim pattern, which is © 1955 Miss Mary Maxim Ltd. The instructions call for the use of four-ply 'Northland' wool.

It is this garment which has been recreated recently by Jenny Stark, see here.

This pattern says 'Patented 1957' on the cover, and '© 1959' on the back. The 'Women's or Teeners'' pattern is illustrated, but there was also a 'Men's' version. I have copies of the latter, one priced at 25c, printed in Canada, and another, priced at 6d, printed in England.

This © 1961 pattern, called 'Granite Club' was the one knitted for me by my mother. I have not yet come across a women's version of this pattern.

This one shows a price of 25c, but I also have a version with a dual price of 25c and 6d, with 'Printed in England' on the back cover. Presumably by the early 1960s the patterns were more available in the UK. Indeed, by then Miss Mary Maxim had a presence in Leicester, England.

And no, my mother did not knit me the Tam-O-Shanter!

Mary Maxim was not the only company producing knitting patters for curling sweaters. This one, © 1961, was by the Woolard Company Ltd, of Paris, Ontario, who also marketed a different design, No.13.

Dominion Woollens and Worsteds Ltd of Ontario also published 'Bouquet' patterns for 'Polar Sweater Curling Design'.

This was from Patons and Baldwins Ltd, Toronto. Not dated. There is a separate 'Lady's' pattern.

This by Belding-Corticelli Ltd, designed for 'Empire' or 'Caribou' yarn. Not dated. There is also a separate men's pattern.

By Newlands-Harding, not dated. There was a separate men's pattern of the same design.

This is the rear cover of the pattern above, showing other designs which could be knitted.

And for any non-knitters reading this, here is an example page from inside the pattern!

Although the 1960s were the heyday of the hand knitted sweaters, this pattern was not produced by Patons and Baldwins Inc until 1984.

There is even a pattern for a curling sweater to fit Barbie! Here's the result. This was recreated recently by Kathryn Mackin. Splendid!

There are patterns for other types of curling jumper. But a description of these is for another time!

Curling history enthusiasts David B Smith and Bob Cowan are both sporting modern recreations of two of the patterns. Hazel Smith was the photographer.


John Brown said...


The picture also apeared in the September 1970 issue of the Scottish Curler - with the information that these were the 2 Glasgow rinks which dominated the under 35 weekend tournament in Edinburgh in February - that was the reason it was taken - the report on the competition in the February edition was headlined "Glasgow Boys Spreadeagle the Field" and uses a picture of your Murray winning team to illustrate it.

" The two Glasgow rinks ....dominated the new event with displays of accuracy which opened many Edinburgh eyes."

By the way on the opposite page of the September edition is a picture of the Craigholme team that reached the national Schools final - featuring very young looking (s they were) Vivienne Adam and Muriel Logan!

Best wishes


Alice said...

Huzzah! Great sweaters.

R J Sewell said...

I am on the hunt for knitting instructions for curling sweaters. Would you know how I could go about finding the booklets that you have in this post?

Bob Cowan said...

My collection of these patterns has built built up over many years, and have for the most part been obtained on eBay. For example, there is one on auction now:

This site has sweaters already knitted up:

Hope this helps. Email me if you need more info.

CanadianInvestor said...

They were very popular in Canada at the time too. My dad had one that my mum knitted. I also have a book by the famous Richardsons in Canada in which there is a photo of the team wearing such sweaters.