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When I was a kid, my parents took me to storytelling time at our library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The librarian sat in a low chair in front of a squirmy band of us cross-legged children, arranged her long green skirt around the chair, and we all stopped wiggling when we saw her skirt. It was covered in cloth pictures of children and animals from around the world. She pointed to an appliquéd girl in a blue dress with a yellow hat and said, “This is Madeline and she lives in France.” Then she began reading. Well, that was it. All I wanted to do was grow up to wear a storytelling skirt and tell stories about everything on my skirt.

Gyles Brandreth is a person who, in his own way, has done just that except he tells stories with sweaters and you can see a fine a selection of them at the Petersfield Museum and Art Gallery in Hampshire, England.

It all started with Scrabble. Gyles organized the first British National Scrabble Championship in 1971. To honor his Scrabble prowess a friend presented him with a Scrabble sweater which read “Gyles Brandreth loves Scrabble.” From then on, he was hooked.

He was a TV presenter on chat and quiz programs, so he began wearing picture sweaters on air. This was because he loved them, but also because he remembered the advice of one of the best-known British advertising executives Peter Marsh, Mr Showbiz: “Viewers remember 83 per cent of what they see, but only 17 per cent of what they hear.” People remembered what Gyles wore and then, like us kids at the knee of the librarian, they remembered what he said.

For years, Gyles wore more than a thousand of his colorful sweaters in public appearances. Then he became a member of parliament and traded his bright knitwear for a grey suit. His sweaters waited patiently in his basement. When the pandemic hit, a friend suggested that desperate times called for Gyles’ positive spirit. He brought back his sweaters and wore them while sharing a poem each day online.

How did he get so many sweaters? He had a great collaborator in the late George Hostler. Gyles writes, “One day, in the early 1980s, I was walking down Kensington Church Street and passed a small boutique where in the window I saw a sweater featuring a pair of cockatoos. I loved the look of it, went into the shop and bought it. I also asked the shop who had made it. They gave me George Hostler’s address in Leicester.” 

Gyles faxed George designs or sent them on postcards or the backs of envelopes. George figured out how to turn everything from snakes to slogans into knitwear. Often, George would send Gyles a sweater by train from Leicester to London in time for a breakfast television program! They also produced some of their knitwear for sale including one sweater made famous by Princess Diana. On the front it read, “I’m a Luxury . . .” and on the back, “Few Can Afford.”

The Peterfield Museum is now showing part two of Gyles’ sweaters which includes thirteen hand and machine-knitted sweaters. Christmas and Halloween feature in the line-up as well as a sweater that reads “THE END” which Gyles wears for curtain calls in Pantomimes.

There’s a mohair tribute to the musical Into the Woods where the wearer’s shoulders become a treetop. There’s also a giant toothy mouth and sunglasses sweater—a knitted Mick Jagger/Elton John hybrid—which Gyles wears to rock concerts. You’ll see corrugated and striped ribbing, embroidered musical notes along sleeves, and even wool-covered wired daffodils sprouting from shoulders.

Most TV presenters are shown from the waist up and Gyles took the view that he had a blank canvas on his shoulders which he could fill with joyful and curious knitted messages. In a career filled with everything from Monopoly championships to tending one of the largest teddy bear collections in England, Gyles Brandreth has found a way of saying something extra everywhere he goes.

The Petersfield Museum is housed in an exceptional space combining a Victorian ex-county police station and contemporary architecture. They hold the Bedales Historic Dress Collection as well as presenting works by contemporary craft artists.

If you don’t want to lose any time in making your own statement sweater, almost directly opposite the museum, you’ll find Linda’s gorgeous Handmade Studios Yarn Shop full of hand-dyed British yarn as well as a tempting selection of Rowan and West Yorkshire Spinners.

Looking for guidance on a motif? Over the last thirty years Gyles and his collaborators have released several books on knitting everything from bears to bowties into your sweaters which you can find used and new online. Time to tell your own picture story in string!

Enrolling now for Seasons 1 through 8! Our affiliate link below takes you to knit stars to learn more.

About The Author

Jeni Hankins is an American performing artist, writer, and maker living in London and Lancashire. Since 2008, she’s toured extensively throughout the USA, Canada, and the UK. Find her recordings on Bandcamp and catch up with her musings on Substack.


  • Thank you for this article. I had never heard of Gyles and his sweaters but they made me smile! I’m looking forward to your next knitting revelation.

    • Aww, thank you so much, Leslie! I didn’t know him either until I moved to Britain. Then, I saw him on tv wearing a teddy bear sweater and that was it!

  • This is FABULOUS!!!! Your posts are always so interesting. I always learn something!!

    • Huge thanks to you, Linda! Your comment is the perfect start to my day.

  • Gyles is also a erudite raconteur, author of entertaining books, friend to the Royal Family and something of a British institution, besides being a champion of the sweater.

    • I can’t wait to see his Teddy Bear collection in Yorkshire!

  • Brilliant! Do you know if the pattern(s) with jacket and bow tie are in any of the books, & if so in which book(s)?

    • Hi Margaret, if you look on Ravelry, some folks have shown the contents of some of his books. And you may find your answer there!

  • He also had viewers knit him jumpers and he would credit them on screen when he wore them. Nice man

    • That is so cool. I didn’t come across that when I was researching for my article. I’m so glad you’ve added another fun fact about Gyles. The curators at the museum said he is s a joy to work with!

  • There will be no rest until I find a pattern for a sweater that looks like a tux. Want

  • What a wonderful article! Now I must plan another trip – overseas.

  • What a delightful article! I read this to start my day and it’s definitely put me in good humor. Thank you for sharing a great story with us. Owning and safely storing (in the basement??) over 1000 sweaters boggles my mind.

    • Aww! I’m so glad that my article helped your day start positively. Gyles makes me smile every time I see him on TV!

  • So much in this piece charmed me, from the storytelling skirt through the sweaters to a glimpse of a truly interesting man. Thank you for a lovely article that filled my head with joy!

    • You are very welcome! It’s so rainy and grey here in the north of England that I think a storytelling skirt and a teddy bear sweater might be needed!

  • This is so charming!

  • I am speechless. Absolutely speechless.
    These are the most spectacular kits and I’m astounded that someone knit them.

    • I am SO happy that you are in awe of them, too! They just boggle the mind.

  • This brought back memories! I bought the Knitability pattern book way back in the 80s when my eldest son was small. He wore, with pride, the spooky ghost sweater and the Intercity train sweater both of which saw sterling service by being passed down to his younger siblings. I’ve still got the book in the wild hope that one day I’ll be able to knit those sweaters for my grandchildren (I’m still waiting ).

    • I love that your son wore some of the wonderful Knitability patterns! And how remarkable of you to have knit them. Brilliant. Do you know if the Knitability book has the tuxedo pattern in it? A few people in the comments are looking for it and I’m a seven hour drive from my Gyles books, so I can’t check them . . . 🙂

  • Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!!!

  • Unbelievable!!

  • I love this story! I am fascinated by the sweaters, and admire the talent that made them.

  • I have a sudden, overwhelming urge to submerse myself in intarsia! Many thanks for this, Jeni.

    • I totally know what you mean! The teddy bear sweaters are just calling to me!

  • There are some teachers who would love those sweaters. They would have to talk half as much! Such a fun subject so well told. I signed up for Season 8 last November, I think. MDK and KnitStars seem made for each other!

  • How had I never heard of these gentlemen! Or the “I am a luxury few can afford” sweater worn by Diana, clearly her black sheep sweater gets all the press.

    Thank you so much for sharing, Jeni.

    MerlinMart on Etsy sells a pdf of Wit Knits for a very affordable price, if anybody is interested.

    • Interested! For slightly more find Brandreth’s poetry e-book Dancing by the Light of the Moon, cool lines to memorize while knitting.
      Thank you all.

  • I just found a copy of Wits Knits at the Oxfam bookshop in my town! I was so lucky and really glad I have it. I love looking through it.

    • Ooh!! That’s so cool that you found a copy of Wit Knits at your local Oxfam. I don’t have my Gyles books with me where I’m staying for the next few weeks. Does Wit Knits have a tuxedo jumper pattern in it? Some folks in the comments are looking for that pattern.

  • Jeni-
    Thanks for the morning chuckle. What a treasure trove of sweaters. I especially loved the “I am a luxury… few can afford! I would love to see that one and may do a google search to find that gem.

  • Lovely article; how clever to create stories and statements that are whimsical!

  • What timing on this article! I have both the Princess Diana sweater (originally done by Warm & Wonderful) and the “I’m a Luxury Few Can Afford” sweater, a gift from my daughters! Both have been revived by Rowing Blazers, currently doing a collaboration with Target. They were selling a larger selection of the Gyles & George sweaters not too long ago but I see less of them on the RB website at the moment (no affiliation, just in case anyone wants to buy vs. trying to make.) There is a great story behind the Princess Diana sweater — the original was damaged, the ladies from Warm & Wonderful made her a new one and the first was put in a box. One of the W&W owners recently found it and it sold about 2 weeks ago for over $1 MILLION in a bidding war during the last 15 minutes of the auction! I would love to see this exhibit, I bet it’s a lot of fun! For those looking for specific patterns, I would write to them and see if they can lead you to the correct book. Happy hunting, thanks for an interesting article!

  • These are the most awesome sweaters I’ve seen in a long time!!!Thanks for posting.

  • Interesting. I’ve been going back and forth to Petersfield for over 60 years first to visit my grandparents and now my cousins who are dairy farmers there. I never even knew there was a Petersfield Museum! I will have to go there next time I visit. Thanks for making me aware.

    • I am SO excited that you may now visit the museum. They had a major renovation with lottery funds in the last few years and it is truly lovely inside! Even the loos are great! 🙂 They have a permanent display that tells the cultural history of Petersfield and it’s wonderful. I was crazy about a fisherman’s lunch basket I saw there. And there was a gorgeous worker’s smock as well.

  • Thank you for sharing this. I grew up watching Gyles and his sweaters on the telly. I really enjoyed the article.

  • This is so fun. Brought a smile to my face throughout. He looks like a great guy.

  • Thank you for this lovely article for sunday breakfirst!

  • Fantastic! Amazing patterns

  • Lovely article. Gyles has a weekly podcast that’s a genuine delight called Nothing Rhymes with Purple. He is an absolute treasure.

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