Andrew Wyeth, his New Zealand sweater and my efforts

This story starts with Andrew Wyeth one of the most famous American artists who died a few years ago. His most well known 1948 painting – Christina’s world – depicts his disabled neighbour crawling towards a house. It’s an extremely well know picture and I admit to liking his work which has a brilliant, restrained sparseness to it as well as being incredibly realistic.

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth
Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

Now I had also seen a few photographs of one of America’s best loved artists in his wonderful Shaker style home, and in many of these pictures he is wearing what look very much like hand knitted sweaters. His personal style seems to be somewhat Beatnik with narrow trousers, with a tunic length jersey over a closer fitting polo neck.

Anyway you may want to know more about him!

Helga, above, was also a subject, clothed and unclothed, in dozens of his paintings. One of my favourites is of her is wearing a brown polo neck jumper. It looks well worn and comfortable. Her hair looks a bit greasy and plaited for convenience rather than looks. Her face, in repose, is sensitive and reflective. I love her colouring. Don’t you find this a stunning portrait? So soft and restrained. Every hair and line of her face individually rendered. And the construction of her jersey – the knitting, the neckline and shoulder seams – is so accurately recorded you feel this man knew something about knitting.

Helga by Andrew Wyeth

So to get to the punch line.

I was rather taken with this 1996 photograph of Andrew Wyeth by Harry Benson “wearing one of several New Zealand sweaters knitted by his wife Betsy”.

Andrew Wyeth wearing an Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater that his “went with his eyes” according to his wife.

It is a wonderful pattern and looks great on Wyeth.

Zimmermann’s book Knit One Knit All describes how to make it. Some of the photographs are a bit fuddy but this is a jersey with enormous potential. The knee length version includes a Guernsey motif on the body and sleeve, and was knitted by Mrs Wyeth.

I pounced on the pattern as it did something I had been imagining – knitting a jersey in stocking stitch in the round, then separating for the armholes and continuing in garter stitch so that purl stitches could be avoided. And of course Elizabeth had already invented this jersey but with a wonderful detail. Inspired by the Rangitoto volcano of New Zealand, she decreases the front and back down to a single stitch. For front and back we then pick up stitches along the gently sloping edge and knit back and forth in garter stitch, using short rows to make the jumper fit well around the neck both back and front. The neckline is very nice.

Rangitoto volcano, New Zealand

I really like this jersey, which has lots of possibilities. I think a sleeveless version might be nice. Or even a short sleeve version. In the end I just knitted it up, more or less as described, in my bargain cashmere/merino wool from Colourmart. I finished it last weekend and wore it for work – and I love it. But I want to play with the basic pattern a bit. My yoke is much more modest that EZs, and my short rows are not done very professionally so there is an inadvertent lacey look. It has gussets which I don’t really approve of. So there will be another one.

Next time I will make the sweater a bit closer fitting so the front column is neater with lesser overhang on the dropped shoulders. I think this DK yarn is better with 4.5 mms needles rather than the 5 mms I used. I like the sleeveless look. Maybe a version with shorter sleeves. I am going to play with this pattern a bit and try a couple more versions. It has the wonderful clever design that I so enjoy. I am wondering if any of the men in my life want a blue, cashmere version.


18 Responses

  1. BMGM

    I saw the ‘Jamie and Andrew Wyeth’ show last year. DD preferred Jamie. DH preferred Andrew. I liked the styles of both.

    AW’s dad and grandfather had been artists. He was homeschooled in art and nothing but art. AW also said that, someday, he would be known as Jamie’s dad who also painted.

    Betsy laughed all the way to the bank. She auctioned off his secret trove of Helga pictures for mega millions while Helga, the long-time mistress, got nothing. I was shocked that AW did not make provisions for her.

    • fabrickated

      What interesting additional information Grace! Thank you so much. There is some debate about the nature of his relationship with Helga – but if she was his mistress I guess not the first one to be left penniless.

  2. eimear

    Gorgeous sweater, love the colour and yoke detail – I like the one where its just short sleeve – could be a great summer top in cotton?
    – and didnt know that about Helga pic in BMGM comment above…. wow – theres news

  3. ceci

    A few summers ago I stayed with a friend in Maine who lives just up the road from the house in Christina’s World; as you walk (or drive carefully down the road in the painting, now graveled) you can see and walk around on the field Christina is lying in (its a considerable hill…..), around the house, etc. Evidently sometimes one can tour the house, but not during the time I stayed near by. There is a museum in a town neighboring town (blanking on which…..) that has a fantastic Andrew Wyeth collection, including watercolor sketches and the paintings they grew into, side by side. Well worth a visit to this beautiful area!

    Knitting is an important part of life in Maine – it gets cold there, and indeed I borrowed one of my friend’s hand knit cardigans for dog walks in August!

    Thanks for the trip down this particular memory lane – and the yoked sweaters are lovely!


    • fabrickated

      Thanks so much Ceci for this information. I would love to spend time in Maine – we had lined up a house swap one year, to stay in a very wonderful vacation home of a New Yorker we exchanged with frequently. But after two weeks in the states various issues at home forced an early return so we never went. One day….

  4. Vancouver Barbara

    What a gorgeous green. That particular hue plays well with so many other colours. And it looks wonderful on you. The design is very interesting too. Wish I still knitted. Wish I still wore sweaters. I enjoy your creations, creativity and fearlessness.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Barbara – the green is really nice. I often go for a cool blue green – and this one is more a sort of fresh mid green, sort of 1930s front door green. I am enjoying wearing it.

  5. Joan

    On the theme of artists and sweaters we have just been to see the film Final Portrait about Giacometti. Really enjoyed it and it is very beautiful but typically my sixteen year old daughter and I emerged from the Barbican Cinema talking about the cardigans worn by Mrs Giacometti! Incidentally although the film is set in Paris it was filmed in Bermondey Street just near the Fashion and Textiles Museum.

  6. Maggie

    Years ago we went to an entire exhibit of a huge number of paintings of Helga at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I think the exhibit literature said they weren’t sure about the nature of their relationship, but it was hard not to conclude she was his mistress after seeing all those portraits. They just made it feel as if you were intruding into very personal feelings.

  7. Jane

    Kate I love everything about this post. Rangitoto sits in the middle of Auckland harbour and can be seen from all over the city, it is circular so you see the same shape from wherever you are. I was at school in Auckland (Murrays Bay Intermediate) for a short while when I was 12 and could see the island from the window next to my desk.
    I didn’t know Elizabeth Zimmerman create a New Zealand sweater and now I need to knit one for myself! I also love the connection with Andrew Wyeth a great painter who inspired a lot of my friend James Kelso’s paintings

    Your sweater is fabulous and th backstory makes it even more precious

  8. fabrickated

    Thank you Jane – this is such a nice comment – in content and sentiment. I really appreciate it. I always like the back story – brings every thing to life for me. An absolute story addict!!

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