The glory days of the sweater

Photo from BTM Vintage on Etsy

Those of us who remember shoulder pads fondly (and the big hair and earrings) will also recall the sweaters: Exuberant, embellished knits that didn't fade into the wallpaper but rather announced themselves in all their intarsiaed, glittery glory.

Over the holiday I had the pleasure of meeting one of the icons of the industry. Knowing my interest in textiles, my MIL set up a visit at the home of Estelle Gracer, one of her mah jong pals. Inside I immediately fell upon a colorful hand-crocheted table cover. On the far living room wall hung a dramatic piece of fiber art, ribbons cascading gracefully. Beautiful throws and beribboned throw pillows lay across chairs and sofas. Chair pads and custom upholstery and lampshades--the house is a testament to an incredibly creative life.

Photo from Ebay store Shopping with Gina

In the late 1970s, Estelle began crocheting more seriously after reading a book on creative crochet she received from her daughter. Frustrated by the yarns available at the time, she began ripping apart old sheets and crocheting up the strips. She liked the effect, which was new at the time, and before long was having fabric machine cut for her in New York on an industrial scale. The vests and jackets she created were both luxurious and bohemian and her business took off. At its height, she employed 350 crocheters who produced 1,500 jackets a month in the United States, and she said, she and her husband paid good wages. (The business is now called Cici Bianca and is owned by Cindy White.)

Celebrities like Linda Evans wore her pieces; she designed for Bill Atkinson, Jay Jacks and Anne Crimmons. One jacket was pictured on the wife of Florida's governor at the time with the Queen of England and Prince Phillip, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Gerald and Betty Ford and other luminaries.

Today Estelle has only a handful of examples in her house--a gorgeous fabric and chenille bolero, a bright red evening jacket, among others. They look remarkably contemporary and wearable, ideal for date night with a pair of naughty high heels.

Estelle, herself, is a treasure, full of stories about the fashion industry and the vagaries of running a successful cottage industry after the sudden death of her husband. She even pressed yarn on me--custom-dyed chenille she had used in her business. We were impressed, charmed and dazzled by our morning with a fiber pioneer and courageous female entrepreneur. A big kiss to my MIL for making this happen!

Evening sweaters...gentlemen and ladies, don't you think it's a time for a comeback?

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