You all know that the owl sweater means something to me, and now I know that it means something to you too. Over the past few day, via email, blog comment, or on Instagram, you’ve shared your owl-y stories. I received more than 700 responses across the different platforms and it has been inspiring, moving, but mostly just deeply humbling for me to learn about the significance of the pattern and the garments you’ve knitted in your own lives. In what follows, I’ve linked each knitter via Ravelry username or Instagram handle, unless they have emailed me personally. Everyone who receives a mention here is the recipient of a prize in my owliversary giveaway, and I’ll be contacting you all shortly. This is a longer post than usual – but these stories are definitely worth reading!
Nelson’s experience with the owl sweater is representative:
“My first ever hand-knit garment was an Owls, and it shaped me as a knitter in many ways! I remember I was very nervous about it but I enjoyed the process and result so much. It was a project of many “firsts” for me as a knitter. It was the first time I bought a large amount of yarn for a project as well as the first time I ordered yarn online (there were no local yarn stores where I lived). It was the first pattern that I modified in any way (I turned it into a cardigan)… and . . . the garment also provided me with plenty of other memories throughout the years of wearing it: while I was knitting it, the World Cup was going on, so plenty of people thought I’d chosen the orange colour in a sudden bout of patriotism (haha, no!) [KD adds: Nelson hails from the Netherlands] A few years later when I went to study at university, and I had just come out of a traumatic period in my life, Owls was like armour for me, and I wore it a lot during this period of change. . . Later, when I visited Scotland for the first time, a waitress in Edinburgh stopped at our table on the first night to ask me about the cardigan, as she recognized your owls pattern! That convinced me that Scotland truly is the knitter’s paradise that Instagram makes me believe it is.” Not sure it’s paradise, Nelson, but there are certainly a lot of knitters here!
It has been lovely for me to hear that the Owl sweater has been the pattern which inspired many people to begin their knitting journey. For tinabookout “This pattern was the reason I wanted to learn to knit. I kept coming back to it and looking at everyone’s projects,” while hellocutepanda felt that owls “was the first pattern that let me know knitting was cool and that there were awesome and fun and modern designs out there.” A chance encounter with an owl-wearing knitter in London’s V&A museum 9 years ago, meanwhile, stunned linse2718 completely “and gave me the kick to restart as a knitter. I just asked her where she got that stunning piece and she told me your name and invited me to Ravelry.”
For some knitters like gilly.bones and woolrocks owls was their First Ever Sweater, while for for judilefevre (pictured above in her 9-year-old owls) it was their second. “I got the yarn for my 22nd birthday because I was unemployed and broke. It’s the project that introduced me to Ravelry, and to adjusting patterns that don’t work for your body shape… I still get it out every year when it gets cold enough, and it’s worn well (although I had to reknit a cuff when the too tight cast off wore out).” The pattern introduced several beginner knitters to new techniques “it was my first seamless sweater,” writes theknitpicker “and the first project I made myself at university. It was a huge confidence booster.” For woolprinciple, owls was her first experience with cables (“I knitted mostly on a bus from Brighton to Scotland and back”) while anna_pa_frostvagen is just one of many knitters for whom English isn’t their first language who began routinely knitting from English patterns after knitting herself an owls “It was my first cables, my first sweater that turned out wearable, and my first pattern in English.”
(owls was hannahmcorey‘s first sweater too!)
Owls have enabled knitterly recognition. “I remember going to a conference and bumping into a delegate wearing her owl sweater,” writes knitting_owlette, “we bonded over it immediately.” Other knitters have developed or cemented important friendships while making their owl sweaters together. “Me and two friends knitted owl jumpers together several years ago,” writes sarah_in_space : “I’d taught Laura to knit and we’d encouraged Katy to pick up the needles again too. I’m so proud of my knitting pals for finishing these jumpers as their first big knitting projects, and we love wearing them together.” Similarly, channylavie has fond memories of knitting her owl sweater together with her friends. “At the time, some of us were only acquainted with one another and a couple were only just learning to knit. It was the spark that lit our passion for knitting and the start of some of my most cherished friendships.”
saturdaynitestitch happy in her owls!
One of the things that interests me most about knitting is the way it can act – both through the process and the finished product – as a powerful repository of memory. For many of you, your owl sweater carries strong associations of the place in which you knitted or first wore it. For air_billy, her owl sweater makes her think of Buenos Aires, where she then lived; kinkatinka “made it on a road trip around the American south when it was about 100 degrees. . . the jumper will always remind me of Charleston and Savannah,” while for KeiryBerry the pattern brings back memories of the effects of the 2010 earthquake on her home town of Kaiopoi in New Zealand, where she bought the yarn to knit her sweater. Some memories are deeply poignant: for Karina, the sweater conjures recollections of the kind friend for whom she knitted it some years ago (who sadly died) and abbylovescakes wore her Yorkshire-spun owls sweater to the funeral of her Grandad, who worked in the Bradford wool trade. The owl sweater carries some truly joyful memories for some knitters too: faelastar, for example, was wearing hers when her fiancé proposed! Tanyaev meanwhile, chose to knit her owligan from yarn recycled from a sweater that her mother had originally knitted more than 50 years ago for her father. Whole generations of memory are knitted through this wonderful sweater.
(Tanyaev’s memory-rich owligan)
For many of you, my owl-y patterns carry fond memories of knitting for your kids. surfguna knit her first daughter a wowligan, and is currently looking forward to passing it on to daughter number 2, while knitter4217 has knitted three wowligans in increasing sizes, for her granddaughter to wear as she grows up. lindagower has “knit three owl sweaters; one for each daughter,” and appreciated the speed and simplicity of the knit: “I had such a good feeling of accomplishment completing three sweaters in a year after not knitting for so many years.” Many of you wrote to share your memories of babies in their owls. For example suvikristiinav “knitted the baby owlet for my son’s first birthday. He was cute and warm in it. He turns 9 next month! I still have the tiny sweater in a box with other baby stuff.” “I knitted a red owligan cardigan for my daughter’s 1st birthday,” writes knoviceknitter. “It was important for me as it was the first ‘proper’ garment I knitted since her birth and represented the beginning of my recovery from PND and PTSD.”
singingmama’s sweet owlets
Knitting is an incredible healer, and it has perhaps meant most of all for me to hear how the owl sweater has played a role in your own stories of recovery, or in managing illness and disability. “I got this pattern 9 years ago after I’d broken my shoulder” writes loopknots. “At that time I was a pretty basic knitter but knitting was the only thing I could do while my arm was in a sling. I had to switch to continental style to limit my arm movement. Until then knitting never really clicked in my brain but during this time it just really started to make sense.” For freckledpast the sweater carries associations of generosity, friendship and healing. “I had a tough recovery after open liver resection for a giant tumor and wyvernfriend2 offered to knit me an OWLS if I provided the yarn. Sometimes someone does something so kind and generous, you wonder what you did to deserve it. That will always stick with me as one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever done for me. I wear it all the time.” For flibbydoodah, meanwhile “Owls holds great significance, because it’s why I learned to knit. I desperately wanted one, didn’t think I’d be able to knit because of minor hypoxic brain injury and lo! There you were, talking about your stroke recovery on your blog. This came at such a low point of my life and lifted me into a hobby that has seen me through now ever since.” It was lovely to hear this, flibbydoodah, thankyou.
(Here’s Nadia taking her owl sweater to the beach)
All knitters are aware of the crucial role of the craft for our mental wellbeing and for abeeinthebonnet an owls knitalong during a long hard winter helped her to manage her seasonal affective disorder and anxiety. “I still smile when I put it on almost ten years later.” I know from my personal experience that the simple sense of satisfaction of progressing with, and finally completing a knitting project can often help me turn a corner with depression and anjaundkiara feels the same. “I finished my first owl sweater while at the hospital, following a breakdown due to depression. It was the first thing that made me feel like I could be happy again.” “In the year you released this I was sectioned and diagnosed with bipolar,” writes sewpositivity “In hospital I was encouraged to take up a new skill. . . I’d never knitted. It took me over a year but this was the first completed knitted garment I made. It proved that I could learn, adapt and complete new things.” This experience chimes very strongly with my own. Thankyou, Elle, for sharing it.
(purlprincess in her owls in Iceland)
Finally, it’s been lovely to hear from owl knitters who now work alongside me in this industry. “Nine and a half years ago,” writes owlaboutyarn, “I knitted my first sweater from this pattern. It was my first foray into cables, and made me feel enough of a knitter to join a local stitch and bitch group. Through that group I was introduced to Ravelry, yarn festivals and the idea of dyeing my own yarn. I’d call that pretty life changing now that I’m a yarn dyer with regular stalls at festivals myself!” For Corinne, meanwhile “the owlet I knitted my daughter was my return to knitting as an adult . . . much more knitting followed, then a podcast and ultimately The Woolly Thistle came into being. “The Owl-Sweater means recovery for me too writes yarnesty. “It was the first garment I knit from an English pattern. This was when I was on sick-leave from a burn-out and knitting was my way back from my illness.. . . And now, I am actually more fluent in knitting English than Swedish. And I have started a small creative biz myself and become a part-time knitting designer.” Congratulations, Anna and all power to your needles.
It has meant so much to me to read your stories. Thanks so much for sharing them. Here’s to another great decade of owl sweater knitting! Cheers.