V&A Dundee

Read

Seasonal Staples: Christmas jumpers

'Tis the season to explore some of our favourite festive traditions through the lens of design. Love them or loathe them, Christmas jumpers are now ubiquitous. We invited Paul Dockery to illustrate his surreal take on this festive staple and fill us in on the unexpected rationale behind it.

Festive jumpers have always been present during the holiday season, mostly in American Christmas films such as Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. However, there was a surge in the trend of novelty Christmas jumpers being sold from UK high street stores during the late 2000’s. They were marketed as intentionally “ugly” or ironic to wear, which was a fun idea, but even before the current discussion on the environmental issues of fast fashion; I hadn’t bought into them.

It’s the plasticky feel and the fact that big companies have managed to profit from the gimmick. These “ugly jumpers” were perhaps originally handmade by a family member and received as undesired gifts. Nowadays these cheap replicas are office attire, a headache inducing sea of colour in a busy December bar, or covered in sick from a work night out, then discarded after a month’s wear.

With that said, one of my highlights at Christmas every year is seeing my brother’s little dogs arriving on Christmas day wearing festive knitwear. Something hilarious about it. Wolves domesticated by man, shrunk down in size, bred to be cute, and the final insult; made to wear funny wee jumpers.

Illustration showing a snake, wearing a red Christmas jumper, a festive antler and ears headwear and a red Rudolph nose.
Illustration by Paul Dockery

Every year you see dogs of all sizes donning seasonal wear, as well as other animals in Christmas outfits. For this project, I wanted to simplify this idea into a design with various dogs of different shapes and sizes wearing jumpers. This led me to consider a Christmas jumper made for an animal with a different body shape; a snake. Snakes are cold blooded animals so may require some extra warmth, they also aren’t animals usually associated with the festive season (but maybe they would like to be).

I found it fascinating researching the Scandinavian roots of Christmas knitwear patterns, which apparently originated from fisherman’s jumper designs. They wore unique patterns to recognise the bodies of those lost at sea, but were later popularised as the attire of skiers. These patterns aren’t exclusively Christmassy and are almost like the 8-bit or pixelated graphics of early computer games with images made up from lots of coloured units. This was my inspiration for a digitally shaped design.

Are you a fan of a Christmas jumper? Share your best festive knitwear photos or show us the most outrageous jumpers you’ve seen using #SeasonalStaples

Paul Dockery is a freelance Illustrator working in Scotland. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.