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What is Argyle?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
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Argyle is a pattern which consists of diamond shaped blocks against a colored background. Subtle cross stripes in a contrasting color are also often involved, leading many people to consider argyle a type of plaid. Most commonly, argyle is knitted into garments such as socks, sweaters, and vests. Knitting argyle requires mastery of intarsia, a notoriously difficult knitting technique.

Like other patterns in the plaid family, argyle has its roots in Scottish culture. The argyle pattern has been around since at least 1500, when it appeared on the socks of members of the Scottish Campbell Clan. The Clan was native to County Argyll in Scotland, and the word slowly became corrupted into argyle, although the archaic spelling is sometimes used. By the 1700s, the pattern had caught on in England as well, and knitters had begun to deviate from the traditional Campbell colors of green and white.

In the 1920s, argyle socks were immensely popular, primarily among men. The socks were usually designed to run all the way up the calf, and they were worn with many different styles of pants. Argyle socks faded into the background again until the Second World War, when competitive knitters making socks for the troops would challenge each other to complete complicated patterns. In the 1980s, the preppy look brought back the argyle sock with a vengeance, and the pattern was adopted by women as well.

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Most people associate argyle patterns with socks and sweaters. Argyle is also used to make scarves, knit skirts, and other knitted designs. Multicolored patterns are also used, along with decorative accents such as floral motifs inside the argyle diamonds. Some argyle products are embroidered with decorations after they are knitted, to make the decorative process more simple. Numerous stores carry argyle knitwear, for people who are not yet bold enough to knit their own.

Knitting argyle requires immense skill and organizational acumen. In the intarsia knitting technique used to produce argyle and many other patterned knits, multiple colors of yarn are knit simultaneously, and twisted over each other at color borders. A complex piece may have numerous bobbins of individual yarn, all of which need to be kept in order and prevented from unraveling. Most knitters who practice the technique start with scrap yarn before graduating to simple patterns, and do not start ambitious projects such as socks until they have reached a high level of knitting confidence.

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