Threadbare: Unravelling a vintage sweater’s narrative

Threadbare: Unravelling a vintage sweater’s narrative

[Written by Julia Hegele (she/her)]

[Image Credits: Isabelle Hunt-Deol (she/her)]

Your tag says “made in Inverness” but I first saw you in a half price bin in Denver. Sweating in dry heat I knew you’d be on sale, out of season, a long term investment of green wool and blocky sleeves. Your green is deep and mossy, neck scooped, hems sturdy and shapeless. You were built for comfort, for cups of tea, for sleet and fog. The needles that twisted your fibrous DNA into chromosomes and patterns had a holy power, a natural intention for your existence. You should have stayed in the hills that match your hue, safe from burning light and swathed in dew, yet here you are. Did you take the flight across the Atlantic tightly bundled in a suitcase, oblivious to your surroundings but loyal to your wearer? Or were you a gift, hastily bought on a holiday and wrenched into a stocking or flexible cardboard box? Did you rush into the new world under a matching scarf and coat or were you tucked away until our bitter winters called for you?

I can see the wear around your tag, a silk tie in proclaiming your home, your size, the sheen faded by use. But you don’t have a specific year of genesis. When did the sheep who bore your threads live, who was the deft shearer who cleaned and stripped their rugged coats into a semblance of comfort? What worker poured your dye, what hands expertly looped your form into reality? Where are they now, and do they remember you in the long line of sweaters they’ve woven since then? If they saw you again would a flicker of memory spark their eyes and make them proud, like seeing an old friend from afar?

I’m not envious of those who wore you before me. You’ve deteriorated to the point of softness. Your wool has been washed, wrung, dry cleaned, and left to sit too often. I can tell that at one point it would’ve been painful to hold you to my skin. You were probably picked up, fondled, and set back by those with more tender sensibilities than I, but you cling to me without an itch. I can wrap myself in your arms without worry of irritation. I’ve caught you at the point between discomfort and ineffectiveness and I’m gentle with you for that reason.

I’ve thought about the people who you’ve sheltered or comforted. Did their eyes glow greener when they wore you just as mine do? How were you styled: smartly over a black dress and boots or flung on casually under a pair of dungarees. How many porches have you sat on, how many planes have you soared in? How many cold campfires and pebbled beaches have you collected smoke and sand and memories from before they were washed out with fabric softener the next day? Were you ever caught on brambles, and if so is that how you got that small hook in your sleeve? Or was it a splinter off a coffee table, a miscalculated bike handle, an aggressively purring cat? I’d ask you to speak but you’ve already done so much. You’re a statement in yourself, and now you evoke parts of me as well. You stand for beauty and ease and warmth and relaxation and professionalism and history.

Do you know how close you are to your home? Did the strands of your form sigh and relax? Could you feel the air around you crack open and swell with humidity when you flew thousands of miles to land in my wardrobe? Did you miss Scotland with that same quiet ache that I feel, waiting inertly, desperate to be bound back across the sea? Whatever cosmic shifts were necessary for you to be crafted, sold, thrown through stores and closets and rummage sales and finally into my shopping bag, I’m glad they brought you to me. And for such a bargain: you were worth far more than your $4 price tag.

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