It started with a simple sweater. After Harry Styles wore a color-block patchwork cardigan to a “Today” show rehearsal last February, the knitters went crazy trying to reverse engineer the pattern.
So many TikTok and YouTube users shared their process using the hashtag #harrystylescardigan – generating tens of millions of views – that the original cardigan creator, Jonathan Anderson of the JW Anderson brand, posted an official sample and tutorial video.
In the end, the original sweater was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and hailed by the institution as a “cultural phenomenon that reflects the power of creativity and social media to bring people together in times of extreme adversity”.
Knitters and crocheters have always been a resourceful (and community-minded) bunch. But the reverse engineer knitting trend that is unfolding on social media has a lot to do with the current moment.
“I wrote the pattern to knit a pair for myself, as a joke so to speak, but I decided to publish it because I love the community that Ravelry created for ideas and enthusiasm for knitting / crocheting around the world, “Ms. Harlan wrote in an email. “It was great fun to see all the comments from people excited to knit a pair for themselves!” (The authentic Sanders mittens were made by Jen Ellis, a Vermont teacher who converted wool sweaters and then lined the mittens with fleece from recycled plastic bottles.)
“This movie is just full of really good knitwear and knitwear,” said Ms. Shaffer. “Chris Evans’ sweater in particular has inspired many knitters.”
“Pretty deconstructed, pretty punk”
When TikTok explanations about reverse engineering the Harry Styles cardigan became popular last summer, Mr. Anderson knew he had to jump into the fray with his original pattern. He asked Ruth Herring, knitting designer and pattern writer in London, to develop an official model.
“I really wanted to show our appreciation, so we’re going to share the sample with everyone,” said Mr. Anderson of a spokesman in email correspondence after the sample was posted. “I liked the idea of something that felt authentic and almost homemade, like you or your grandmother could have done, but at the same time it feels pretty deconstructed, pretty punk.”
Ms. Herring, 62, worked with Mr. Anderson and the JW Anderson knitting team for several years but did not design the original Mr. Styles cardigan. After she agreed to write the hand-knitted pattern, the original cardigan was sent to her for review.
“The pattern is perfect for beginners,” she said in a telephone interview. “You start with your basic stitches and then move on to the seed stitch and then to the color work.”
Unfortunately, crochet workers who wanted to make the cardigan had to work out the implementation of the design themselves (crocheting is a different fiber art than knitting). In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, Selina Veronique Bernier, 38, spent her time in lockdown with it. (She said she started seeing the cardigan all over TikTok after being on leave from her job at Fenwick’s, a high-end department store.)
In Los Angeles, Liv Huffman, 22, also began creating her own crochet pattern for the cardigan. The two-week process that Ms. Huffman, a social media influencer best known for her makeup tutorials, posted on TikTok was so popular that Ms. Huffman’s creation joined the JW Anderson design at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Ms. Shaffer also sees a keen interest in her Knives Out inspired pattern.
She started the pattern on a Google Doc after seeing the movie in December 2019, but started working on it in earnest after being on leave in the spring. Working the pattern out in a public document enabled other knitters to join in as she shaped the sweater’s unique cables.
Ms. Shaffer’s progress on the sweater has slowed, in part because she started a new job at The Philadelphia Inquirer, but she said this hasn’t stopped other knitters from making their own sweaters to her design.
“I made the pattern for free because I want as many people as possible to come to knit themselves and find the same level of comfort that I’ve had over the years,” said Ms. Shaffer.
There are endless possibilities to customize a piece of knitting, which is an attraction for many manufacturers. Both Ms. Herring and Ms. Shaffer said they heard from other artisans who add their own touch to the patterns by changing the weight or color of the yarn used.
However, since so many first-time knitters started during the pandemic, Ms. Herring is concerned about the sustainability of the materials used. Many beginners choose a cheaper synthetic yarn, but Ms. Herring suggests choosing a natural fiber yarn that will last longer instead.
Knitting or crocheting a garment is nowhere near the quickest route to a finished product. There are many types of knitwear made, but making a cardigan, hat, or scarf is a slow and meditative process (and has been for thousands of years). Slowing down and watching a project grow step by step – however imperfect it may be – is the deeply satisfying part.
“Knitting is trust-building,” said Ms. Herring. “Starting with two chopsticks and some string or a crochet hook, you can make something beautiful.”