Knitted sweaters in 18:th century?

I have been trying to look into knitted garments in 18th century in Sweden and possibly the Nordic countries.
We know there was socks, hats and possibly mittens. But what about waistcoats? or sweaters (in Sweden the same word for sleeved waistcoat and sweater is used) .

In 1741 Carl Linneus was travelling through Gotland and Öland. He noticed that on the northern island of Gotland (Fårö -Sheepisland) the men had waistcoats “that looked like cloth but was by the women knitted“.
He also notices that the ones for everyday use was grey and the ones for more formal occasions was white.

Bishop of Gotland  Jöran Wallin, 1736-46, notices that these where with “flowers and all sorts of colours”

We know of one Gotlandic knittingpattern from 18:th century. It is called Akvileja  (Aquilegia vulgaris L. (European columbine, Common columbine, Granny’s nightcap, Granny’s bonnet))


Another pattern is from Norway, also 18:th century. It is from a grave that in context would be a farmer. I do not know what kind of garment it was.

Norwegian pattern 18:th century

Norwegian pattern 18:th century

And here is a knitted hat from 1785. It was found on the sunken ship ‘General Carleton’.  I add this because it might give more input on 18th century patterns in knitting, and also because it is an adorable hat!
mössa 1700-talTo put some more perspective on the use of colours and patterns I also include this knitted hat from around 1700

ca 1700

But that is Fårö! How common could they have been?


Fårö is of course then, and now, not a centre for fashion. Is this possibly just a local thing? Historical records talk about ‘Tröjkellingar’. A Kelling was a woman who was selling merchandise of own manufacture (or of the ones in the village). A tröja is a waistcoat, with sleeves. These where going into Stockholm to sell knitted waistcoats. A Tröjkelling could have 800-1000 waistcoats with her. If we then think maybe 5 made the trip, that would make 5000 waistcoats a year into Stockholm just from Fårö. We know that there was more than one on a trip as one trip went awry and they assumed that all the tröjkellingar on it had died. I will settle your mind with that they did not and came home safe, but delayed.

Eva Andersson, costume historian at Göteborg University, has seen numerous posts about knitted sweaters being imported from Denmark in toll registers.
The province of Halland was Danish for a long time. It is also, during the 18:th century, the Swedish heartland of knitting. Women in the cottages was paid for knitting  and merchants collected the knitting to sell in bulk. This would probably mostly be socks (the army used a lot of socks….) but as we have seen that Denmark evidently made knitted waistcoats (remember the tollregisters Eva looked at? ) it is not far-fetched to assume a regional tendency and think that even waistcoats was made. As they evidently was not unheard of. 5000 waistcoats in Stockholm each year must have had buyers.


Now, a friend of mine that likes to nose about in old army records also told me that the Carolean army had knitted waistcoats issued to the soldiers (some at least… I can’t say they all had it).
If we take all this into account….  The Tröjkellingar, the Danish import, the assumed production in Halland (and if Halland is involved it is a lot of knitting) and the army issuing them to at least some regiments… it starts to look like knitted waistcoats was not something that would have been seen as an odd thing.

After publishing this, my Friend Adam, that have been looking at knitting in other contexts (förlagsverksamhet i Halland). He points out to me that there are ‘tröjväverier’ in the major cities. This would means ‘Waistcoat weaving factory’, but as he points out knitting machines have been in use since 16:th century in england and as the produce of these factories was, Tröjor (waistcoats) socks and hats, it certainly sounds as knitting. This brings up the numbers of knitted waistcoats even more. Making them less and less uncommon.

But how would they have looked?


Well, we have no idea there, but can speculate.

We know that Linneus tells us that  “they look like cloth but are knitted”. We also dont know if Linneus thinks they look like regular clothes because they are cut in the same way. Or if he just refers to the ‘cloth’.  He also compares them to waistcoats of worsted wool (its not totally worsted.. the term is ‘Redgarn’ but worsted is the closest translation. Anyway it is made with cheaper sturdier wool).

worsted wool waistcoat. 1725-1775 front

worsted wool waistcoat.
front, not knitted

worsted wool waistcoat. 1725-1775 back

worsted wool waistcoat.
back, not knitted


I don’t know if ‘redgarns tröja’ looked in a special way, or if it was just a way of Linneus to describe the texture of the garment. Was it for example fulled after it was knitted? Fulling the knit is common later, in 19th century, but this Norwegian piece is not fulled.

Norwegian knitted garment. 18th century

Norwegian knitted garment. 18th century

There are some knitted garments from later part of the 17:th century. But these are knitted of silk and very high up in the society. They are also more registered as shirts.
They do however show a type of garment that will be the base for knitted garments in Norway in 19:th century. The Lusekofte.


Knitted Silk sweater, Norway (probably import) 17:th century.

Knitted Slik sweater, Norway (probably import) 17:th century.

Knitted Silk sweater, Norway (probably import) 17:th century.


The last of them has been opened in the front later. Now, this is rather interesting as this might have been done to convert it to current fashion. But.. alas it does not really tell us anything…..

Knitted Slik sweater, embroidered, Norway (probably import) 17:th century. Later opened in the front

Knitted Slik sweater, embroidered, Norway (probably import) 17:th century.
Later opened in the front

It was common for the peasant class to use hooks and eyelets instead of buttons. So If it was opened it would probably have had that. Also, the most common technique to knit was roundknitting. If the garment was to be open, it was cut after it was knitted. It Basically leaves us with two ways.. either it was a full garment, like in the shape as a modern knitted sweater. Or it was an opened garment. Roundknitted and later cut.

In conclusion

It seems that knitted waistcoats was around, but it is difficult to figure out how they would have looked and how they were used. Three options seems plausible.

  • It was a full garment without opening
  • It was an open garment with closing, probably hidden hooks and eyelets
  • It was semiopen, like a modern LusekofteIt seems clear that they was knitted with pattern. Either simple lines or more figurative patterns.

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2 Responses to Knitted sweaters in 18:th century?

  1. Gitte Wulff Jürgensen says:

    You are wrong about the “18th century Norwegian pattern” from a grave.
    This pattern is actually quite well documented, although the origin of the knitted piece is unknown – but it is not Norwegian. It was copied from an adult-sized silk-knitted shirt from the late 16th or early 17th century, which was re-used to dress the body of Maria Cathrine, a daughter of the Danish king Christian IV and his controversial wife, Fru Kirsten Munk, for burial when she died 3 months old in 1628. It was found in 1981, when the graves of Maria Cathrine and her brother, Frederik Christian (died 2 years old in 1627) were opened in connection with some renovations in Roskilde Domkirke where members of the Danish royal family have been buried for centuries. The variably well-preserved textiles from both graves – both silk knitted shirts and stockings and woven garments – were carefully examined and documented before being returned to the graves, and the work was published in the book Fru Kirstens Børn in 1988 (Nationalmuseet). The exact origin of the shirts is unknown, but similar silk-knitted shirts or jackets are known from other parts of Europe and are described in the book. For unknown reasons, they are known as “night shirts” (natskjorter) – no one imagines that they were used to sleep in, not even by royalty.
    Maria Cathrine’s shirt was knitted in indigo-blue mulberry silk with the pattern in gold thread, with a gauge of approximately 36 stitches x 29-30 rows (for 5 cm x 5 cm). The front and back were knitted flat and the sleeves in the round. The pattern itself is supposed to be of a Phoenix, a Holy Grail, and some roses.
    The book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of knitting and other textiles – in Danish, but easily readable for Scandinavians. Unfortunately, only the texts for the numerous illustrations are in English – unless the book has been translated. Knitting instructions for the shirt are included – although I have not seen any proof that anyone has attempted to recreate the shirt, other than the one who is responsible for the illustrated piece (Helen Overgaard).


    • johankaell says:

      thank you for that information!
      Do you mean the pattern is that old, or that this particular item i have on the picture is the Maria Katarina silk?
      The information, and picture was handed to me by a third party, so all information is greatly accepted.


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