Knit the Look: Mister Rogers’ Smithsonian cardigan

Knit the Look: Mister Rogers' Smithsonian cardigan

Arguably one of the most famous sweaters in American history — if not the most famous — is Mister Rogers’ red cardigan, which he wore on countless episodes of his legendary TV show and at least once to meet an American president, and which is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. As a knitter, you probably know that his mother knitted all of his cardigans for as long as she was able, and you may be wondering if the sweaters Tom Hanks wears in the movie are also handknits. They were, and here’s the knitter who knitted them. And if you’d like to knit one for yourself or some kindly person in your life, there’s a free pattern.

The sample is knitted in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter in Cinnabar, but it’s possible you could knit it in another color and not have people make Mister Rogers references everywhere you go. There are also those great vintage Mary Maxim patterns if you want something in the same vein but a little less on the nose.

I feel like I should acknowledge that as a small child I lived for Sesame Street and found Mister Rogers unbearable. But I do love the knitting angle.


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39 thoughts on “Knit the Look: Mister Rogers’ Smithsonian cardigan

  1. Oh, you slipped in the knife right at the end! I, too, was immune to Mister Rogers (Sesame Street, too, though: I was 100% Team Zoom) and could never quite get my head around the hubbub but then sometime around 1990, the short-lived, lamented magazine Wigwag ran an exhaustively long article about him and I ended up admiring him. But never as a child might have – it’s a completely adult affection.

    • Oh yes, I did like Zoom! I wonder if the Wigwag piece is online anywhere, but I do want to read the Esquire piece that inspired the movie. I feel like I might have read it at the time, but maybe I was just aware of it …

  2. I have a Mr Rogers red cardigan (store bought but looks identical) and honestly no one has ever said anything in reference to Mr Rogers when I wear it, which is often because it is always cold where I live. I’ve had it for many, many years.

    • Thanks, Francis — same here, but I’ve been having to retool it as I lost my original photo source.

  3. The pattern says BT Shelter held double on size 7 needles for a bulky weight. Having trouble imagining this at a gauge of 19 stitches over 4 inches on size 7 needles. Would be interested to know the original yarn name. My grandmother used a lot of Red Heart worsted wool she bought for 99 cents for a 4 ounce skein at the drug store.

    • I was a little puzzled looking at the patterns specs, too. And yes, I’d love to know what Fred’s mother’s yarn of choice was!

    • “Held together” is a new feature on Ravelry and I believe some patterns have been mistakenly tagged with this. If the pattern page erroneously said the pattern used both listed yarns, then it may have automatically been tagged with “held together.” When I look at the PDF itself, it says “worsted weight” and makes no mention of holding yarns together.

  4. Why is it necessary for you to diss Mr. Roger’s in your otherwise excellent post about the most famous red cardigan ever knit? Fred Rogers was an exemplary human who lived his values, and on balance, most children (and adults) appreciate him and his message, which remains an antidote to so much of the unkind ugliness of our current discourse.

    • I have no doubt he was a wonderful human being, and in retrospect I admire what he put out into the world. I just couldn’t sit through the show when I was a kid — it was too slow-paced for me, I guess. It would have felt dishonest to me not to acknowledge that I wasn’t a fan of the show while writing about this, with all due respect to the man, but I certainly don’t diss or deny anyone else’s right to be! It was my sister’s favorite show, so it was on in our house, regardless.

  5. As a child,I was all about Captain Kangaroo.i had no idea Mister Rogers even existed,as the local PBS station wasn’t one of the three channels our antenna could pull in clearly.when my children were small, having moved to another area,we could get the local PBS station on the TV.they very early on were decided Zooblie Zoo fans,having very little to do with Sesame Street and not interested in Mister Rogers at all.i,as a knitter, appreciated the sweaters however and was touched when I discovered they were handmade with love by his Mom ❤️ it makes everything about the story just that much more special.

  6. In grad school I wrote a paper on children’s television and almost always fell asleep when I watched Mister Rogers! However, some years later as a mom, I saw first hand how his calm, respectful voice calmed down my son and kept his attention.

  7. I’m sure it’s all the hubbub about the movie that got me started, but I realized that my local library has DVDs of some Mister Rogers episodes and I’ve been listening to them while I sew. It’s very soothing background noise. I agree – as a kid I found the show to be pretty slow paced – but as an adult I am just floored by the amount of attention he pays to the little things and to the people he talks to. You can tell he really listens and cares about everyone he meets, and it’s incredible.

    I read this article the other day and it really exemplified to me what a fantastic human being he was:

    It’s so great to hear that the sweaters for the movies were also handknit. I’m glad they preserved that really important touch.

    • I wonder if it’s streaming anywhere — it would be interesting to try to watch it as a grown-up.

  8. Since I didn’t grow up in the US I never watched Mr. Rogers as a kid, or for that matter as an adult. I did watch his speech to Congress asking for funding to continue for PBS and found it very moving. No doubt he was an exceptional human, and as Carol mentions above, he feels like an antidote to all the ugliness we encounter today.

    My kids are too young for Mr. Rogers too, but I might ask my son (who turns 11 today) whether he fancies a red zippered cardigan. At which point he will remind me that I have been promising him a sweater for 2 years ( Sigh. I need to pick it up and make it in an adult small size now…

    • Too bad the yoke sweater isn’t top-down — you could just keep going as he grows! ;)

      • Now that is a very interesting idea…I suppose I could cut off the ribbing on the body and sleeves and adapt for length as time goes on. I think I have plenty of yarn. Thanks for that suggestion, Karen!

  9. My daughter always watched Mr. Rogers, and in retrospect I now wonder if that is why she has turned into such a kind and ethical person! I loved the article and the little video at the bottom, where a mother and daughter talk about Mr. Rogers visiting the daughter in the hospital. I needed a tissue to get through it.
    Thanks Karen, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  10. Love the fact that we lived in Wash, DC when my kids were little and they got to enjoy Mr. Rogers in the 90s. I actually cried while I listened to a piece on NPR about him after he died.
    FYI, if anyone wants guidance on inserting a zipper, I have a tutorial on my blog ( in connection with “Sandridge”, a men’s jacket I had published in Twist Collective back in 2010. Where does the time go?

  11. Goodness gracious me! I thought I was the lone soul on our planet who sorely disliked Mister Rogers. He was creepy. And boring. Children are good at reading people though so I’ve never felt bad about following my instinct when it came to liking or disliking adults. I was relieved when my daughter showed no interest in his show either. Sesame Street dominated her little girl world for which I was grateful. I’d love Bert and Ernie sweater patterns though.

  12. You know…I didn’t come to appreciate Mr. Rogers until I got older and had my own kids. My kids enjoy him, and the slower pace. They enjoy him much more that I did growing up. One more thing to appreciate about him is his humble nature. I didn’t even know about the background story with the stories. I’m very glad that I stubbed upon your blog for that information! I could just imagine how much he loved his mom 😭

  13. It looks just like the hiking kacket that Andrew of Fruity Knitting knitted for Andrea based on her own design!!

  14. At one time (I have no idea about now), Canadian knitting needle sizes were different from both American (although both use numerals) and European.

    That may be why it may be difficult to visualize the gauge on the size of the needles used.

  15. The knitter who made Mr. Rogers’ sweaters for the movie said she had also made a sweater for Tea’ Leoni to wear in Madame Secretary. That might be worth another Knit the Look.

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