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Knitting an Aussie Retro Sleeveless Pullover

Updated on September 10, 2013
BlossomSB profile image

As a teacher at all levels and mother of five children, Bronwen has been interested in a variety of crafts for both children and adults.

Choosing a Pattern

Recently the family of one of my daughters did me a huge favour and I asked what I could do in return. They know that I love knitting while I watch television in the evenings (my way of pretending that I'm not wasting time!) and suggested that a sleeveless pullover would be useful for my son-in-law. He loves 'retro' garb.

At home, out came my box of knitting patterns. I have quite a few that were my mother's; they may even have been my grandmother's as they date back to the early 1930s. It was fun sorting through them for suggestions to take back for the family's approval. My son-in-law is not particularly large, so I even looked out some patterns that I had used for my sons when they were teenagers.

It was fun choosing and I eventually settled on three to take for them to choose. It really wasn't much of a choice, but more of a foregone conclusion as I was fairly certain I had found the right one. It was in a pattern book that I had bought second hand, probably about twenty years ago, "Aussie Fair: Simple Fair Isle Knitting with Australian motifs."

The pattern called the pullover a 'vest' and the name of it was 'Cocky.' My son-in-law is a musician and also teaches percussion and guitar. He is very talented and creative, loves native birds and has done some beautiful drawings and paintings of some of them.

We're on the Way!
We're on the Way! | Source

The Australian Cockatoos

'Cocky' is what we often call cockatoos, but it can also be a term that means a farmer. The vest pattern incorporated five members of the cockatoo family neatly set out in rows all around it. They included

  • Major Mitchells: These cockatoos have salmon pink and light grey plumage. They are some of the smaller cockatoos and their crests are large and bright red and yellow. We usually only see them in the drier and arid outback of Australia, especially at dawn and dusk when large flocks descend on waterholes to drink. In Victoria they can be found in the Mallee, nesting alongside galahs. I believe that last year one was recorded at Brookfield Zoo, near Chicago, as being 79 years old.
  • Galahs: Lovely pink and grey cockatoos. They are sometimes called Rose-breasted cockatoos. They are about 14 inches long and are found in all States, but not in really arid areas. The males have dark brown eyes and the females' irises are red. Australians often call someone who does something stupid a galah, but they are really very pretty with their pink fronts and grey backs. I remember great clouds of them flying over when we visited relatives who lived in the country. We looked up and saw all the pink and then as they wheeled overhead the cloud turned to a pretty grey.
  • Red-tailed black cockatoos made up the next row. They are large, magnificent birds that I used to see when I was working in Special Education and driving through eucalyptus forests to visit remote rural schools in Gippsland.
  • Sulphur-crested cockatoos are well-known. They are beautifully white with a bright yellow crest that they can raise and lower. They make lovely pets that can be taught to speak quite clearly and they live for years - sometimes longer than their owners, but they can be pests for farmers, arriving in flocks and ruining crops. They have adapted to living around outlying towns of big cities, and can be pests there, too, digging into the wood on buildings and around windows with their strong beaks as they search for bugs for dinner.
  • Gang-gangs made up the last row of the pattern. They live in the cooler and wetter bushland and forests and are a mid-grey with pretty markings on the feathers. Even with the male's red head and crest (the female's is grey), when we hear their strange call, which sounds like a squeaky gate, it is difficult to see them in the trees. They are the most primitive looking of all the cockatoos and are believed to go back aeons. Gang-gangs are the fauna emblem of the Australian Capital Territory, but with the clearing of land their nesting sites in the hollows of trees have been lost and they are now listed as vulnerable.

I showed the family the three patterns, but really there was no choice. This was just right.

The Wools from Bendigo Woollen Mills
The Wools from Bendigo Woollen Mills | Source

Choosing the Yarns

Of course, the yarns had to be pure wool from Victorian sheep for an authentic Australian vest, so there was much consultation as we examined the sample cards from the Bendigo woollen mills. Seven different colours were chosen, plus black and white - a total of nine. 5-ply Classic was chosen, so when I returned home these were ordered on-line.

The package arrived promptly in a few days. The balls were 200 g, so there would be plenty left over for other projects.

The garment was knitted in the round, which I didn't often do, so it was off on an expedition to find the right sized circular needles. I already had sets of four needles for the bands around the armholes and neck.

The Main Tube, Using Circular Needle.
The Main Tube, Using Circular Needle. | Source

The Lower Band

As soon as I had all the materials needed I was so excited to be starting the project. As it was knitted in one piece up to the armholes I had to cast on 280 stitches for a 97 cm chest.

I spent almost an evening casting on and then knitted a couple of rows in rib. There were so many stitches that the work seemed to curl around the needle, but I thought it would probably straighten as I went along.

The next evening, I continued with the rib and it continued to curl around the needle. When the band was completed it was still curling, so I drove to my daughter's to show her.

It was obvious that the whole garment was going to continue to curl and would be unwearable. We had a good laugh and she said it reminded her of a maths möbius strip she had taught her children about when she home-schooled them.

All that work had to be undone and I started again.

The Basic Pattern Section is Complete.
The Basic Pattern Section is Complete. | Source

Fair Isle is Fiddly

This time I cast on with the set of four needles, keeping them very straight, and then transferred them to the circular needle and all was well.

The Fair Isle was great fun, rather like doing a jigsaw or one of those children's 'magic' books that used to be around. Remember them? A pencil was rubbed over and over a page to make the picture appear.

I didn't see much of the television as the Fair Isle pattern was fiddly and I needed to take care as it evolved, but I heard the shows - mostly, as I had to count as well!

The pattern had been well planned, so the different yarns did not need to be twisted on the underside and soon the vest was taking shape.

A Set of Four Needle is Used for the Arm and Neck Bands
A Set of Four Needle is Used for the Arm and Neck Bands | Source

The Armhole and Neck Bands

Once all the pattern was complete, I needed to use the set of four needles for the bands.

Eventually the garment was finished. I pressed it, took the final photos, and then decided that as it had been so much work I would wait and give it to him for his birthday as well as a thank you!

The Completed Work: Front
The Completed Work: Front | Source
The Completed Work: Back
The Completed Work: Back | Source

© 2013 Bronwen Scott-Branagan


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    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      9 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      Kimberly, how did I miss your comment? I'm so sorry. I think they go so well together, too.

      Amanda, thank you for your comment. I love it, too, and have made it a couple of times now. It does take concentration and patience, but it's so rewarding to see the finished product.

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      Love this

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      4 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I love pink and brown together!

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      AudreyHowitt: Thank you! I'm not sure it's really talent, rather just sticking in there.

      chef-de-jour: I love them, too. It's such fun to create something - and my son-in-law, who does fantastic drawings of birds, really loved his gift, so it was all worth-while.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Love the home made crafts! Sleeveless is so versatile and the design a classic. My old Mum used to knit knit knit - I miss those thick patterned sweaters in winter. It felt good wearing a unique piece of wool!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      5 years ago from California

      Wow--how talented you are!!

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Glimmer Twin Fan: Thank you for your lovely comments. Actually, because it is mostly on circular needles, it is almost all plain knitting, but with so many stitches it can become cumbersome and the changing of the colours at the right spot is not always easy, but you never know unless you try!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      5 years ago

      What a beautiful sweater vest and a great story too. Sadly this looks far too difficult for my knitting skills.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      cartero6: Hope you don't miss the country too much. Those black cockatoos are wonderful to watch. The next pattern is evolving - slowly!

      teachers12345: That's lovely of you - I hope so, too. I'm glad you found it interesting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      I am sure this will be treasured for years to come. How thoughtful to make it so personal. Your stories made this post so interesting.

    • carter06 profile image


      5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Also meant to say that was a thoughtful & interesting explanation of the 'cocky's' even I didn't know..I used to live in rural Oz for many years & saw some of the beautiful black cocky's..oh & I like the way you explained the aussie slang associated with the cocky's.. Good job putting it in there!!

      Looking forward to more patterns.. Cheers

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      cartero6: Thank you! Yes, it does seem to be trendy again, but it's always fun and useful, too. The stitches for this are easy as only the bands require purl and with the circular needle the rest is all plain, the only difficulty is managing the different coloured wools and not pulling it too tight. I've now been inspired to try making up my own design, using the same sizing instructions. It might be a while, but I'll put that in a hub - eventually!

    • carter06 profile image


      5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Oh my gosh blossom, when i saw this I just had to comment..I AM IN AWE of you!! truly, to knit that pattern is inspiring..and hard work..I love knitting and am now going to challenge myself to work out some pattern stitches..that vest is one seriously cool retro vest..he is one lucky guy!!

      It's interesting to see that a knitting shop which runs classes teaching people how to knit has opened in Newtown, in the city, knitting is trendy once again and still so relaxing..great hub btw..

      VUIA shared & def will pin.. Cheers

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      MsDora: It's fun to share and I think I'm the one who is blessed - both with my family and with my HubPages friends.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Blossom, thank you for sharing your creativity and talent. Thank you also for all the other bits of Aussie information aside from knitting. Your family is blessed to have you and your skills.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Frank Atanacio: Thank you. Actually quite a lot of men knit. I once even knew a big husky footballer who knitted his own football socks and socks are difficult!

      kidscrafts: Thank you. Yes, that's true, but it's such fun to see the shapes grow. My Grandmother was wonderful with bobbin lace. I bought a pillow and made some bobbins, but I was hopeless! I hope you do it again, that's really a wonderful craft.

    • kidscrafts profile image


      5 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Very nice work, Blossom! A lot of details with the different colours! You need a lot of patience and you must be quite attentive to what you do!

      A long time ago, I was able to knit, to crochet and to do bobbin lace.... not anymore :-( I hope that one day I can do it again!

      Thank you for sharing!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      5 years ago from Shelton

      I probably wouldn't knit Blossoms, but I do admire how detailed your hubs are..makes them easy to follow voted useful

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Faith Reaper: thank you so much for enjoying my hub. The project was quite a marathon. God bless you.

      Genna East: Thank you, that is lovely of you to comment, especially as you don't knit. I'm glad you like the photos. too.

      Mhatter99: When I was knitting for my five children, it was a matter of production, although I still liked to make the garments interesting and personal. I eventually bought a knitting machine, but that languishes under the bed now. Hand knitting is so much more relaxing.

      Eiddwen: What a great birthday gift! it's so much easier to learn to knit if it is started when they are young. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

      cleaner3: Yes. As one of my hobbies is painting, I revel in the colours and enjoy them too. Thank you for your lovely comment.

      Jackie Lynnley: I'm the other way around. I'm left-handed, but it did not seem so difficult to learn to knit as a child, but no one was able to turn the instructions around to teach me to crotchet. I manage to edgings and a few small things, but I'm definitely not proficient, so I admire you for that. It's great to share.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      What a talent you have and I know it would be so relaxing learning to knit but I just have never been able to. Strange, I can crochet but I am like a five year old with knitting needles. (and I have so much yarn!) lol

      Great read, thanks for sharing. ^

    • cleaner3 profile image


      5 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

      Blossom ..such a talent to have ..your finished vest is beautiful .. I love the colors.. !

    • Eiddwen profile image


      5 years ago from Wales

      Oh my Blossom I loved this gem. Strangely last week for the first time in many years I was showing my granddaughter Krystal how to knit after she'd been given a little girl's first knitting kit for a birthday present.

      It all came flowing back to me and now this gem.

      A wonderful share.


    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      You would have loved my mom. She was more into production than creativity.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Oh, Blossom, your beautiful hub makes me wish I could knit. But I'm afraid I'm all thumbs, without the patience or the perceptive eye to do this creative art justice. The photos you included are just stunning. Thank you. :-)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Oh, how beautiful dearest Blossom! I love your completed work : )

      I also love all of the interesting little personal stories you included here to add much interest, as well as the most interesting information on the Australian Cockatoos. So beautiful, their colors, which play into your beautiful colors here in your knitting!

      Really wonderful hub. Enjoyed reading. Voted up +++++ and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper


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