I’m working away at my first cardigan – the Harvest pattern from Tin Can Knits.
It’s certainly not perfect, but I’m learning a lot and I’ll happily wear my prototype once I’m done.
I brought the work-in-progress up to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner the other day and my mother said the pattern put her in mind of the sweaters from the Brigus Knitting Mills.
The Brigus Knitting Mills?
My mother still has her mother’s prized sweater from the Brigus Knitting Mills, likely purchased sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
It’s densely knit, high quality, and has that retro mid-century look about it.
My mother recalls the clothing made by the mill was all the rage in Newfoundland at the time, and fairly expensive. A coveted sweater, jacket or skirt from the Brigus Knitting Mills would have been an investment piece of workwear for my grandmother, who was a teacher and a single mother.
I immediately went to the Google machine to find out more.
The Brigus Knitting Mills started in 1953 as the Eckhardt Mill, an offshoot of an Austrian company.
It was part of then-Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood’s industrialization plan for Newfoundland. Smallwood had appointed Latvian economist Alfred Valdemanis as Newfoundland’s Director of Economic Development in 1950, with disasterous results. Smallwood, with Valdemanis’s guidance, set up 16 manufacturing plants in Newfoundland in the 1950s, and most were Austrian and German companies.
Almost all of them, including the Brigus Knitting Mills, failed.
Noted Newfoundland costume designer Peggy Hogan wrote a journal article about the Brigus Knitting Mills in 2003. There are a few passing reference to the mills in other academic and government papers, but that’s pretty much the only trace of the Brigus Knitting Mills online – or anywhere, for that matter.
There are no vintage Brigus Knitting Mills outfits for sale on Etsy. No stock photos of fashionable mid-twentieth century Newfoundland women modelling the clothes. No modern fashion revival of the patterns.
I’m pretty sure that the Brigus Knitting Mills building in Brigus, pictured here, is long gone.
It’s a shame, really.
I have this vision of a Mad Men-style office, somewhere in St. John’s or Gander or Corner Brook, where Newfoundland women are as fashionable and current in their own way as women working in Montreal or New York City.
Also, think of the possibilities of a retro revival of Newfoundland fashion that’s not about fishing and outport life, but has a more cosmopolitan spin on Newfoundland style.
If any of you know more about the Brigus Knitting Mills, please drop me a line and let me know!