Won’t You Be My Knitter? The Sweet Story Behind Mister Rogers’ Sweaters

MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD, Fred Rogers, 1968-2001.
MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD, Fred Rogers, 1968-2001.

On each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that coziest of PBS kids shows, host Fred Rogers would launch the proceedings by swapping his workwear for a comfy cardigan and tennies while he greeted little viewers with a song. The change of attire was as much about the children’s comfort as his own.

Hedda Sharapan, a five-decade employee of The Fred Rogers Company and its director of early childhood initiatives, wrote in a blog post that her boss repeated the ritual show after show to give kids a sense of routine and security, and a multisensory cue that, for the next 30 minutes, they could settle in and safely explore their imaginations and emotions. The message was so effective that even Koko the signing gorilla embraced it, immediately reaching for Rogers’ sweater when she visited his show.

But Rogers also wanted children to know that he was once a child, too, and that’s why those intricately cabled sweaters were extra, extra special: They were knitted by his mom. “She makes sweaters for many different people,” he explained in one episode, holding up a selection in a rainbow of hues. “That’s one of the ways she says she loves somebody. … When I put on one of these sweaters, it helps me think about my mother. I guess that’s the best thing about things. They remind you of people.”

Nancy Rogers Flagg kept her famous son stocked with cardigans until her 1981 death, after which the show’s producers were forced to get creative to keep the tradition intact as the existing collection wore out or were donated to charitable causes. In the era of shoulder pads, neon hues and parachute pants, they tracked down a manufacturer who still made the old-fashioned style, bought a healthy supply and dyed them the proper colors.

MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD, Fred Rogers (host), 1968-2001. ph:

PBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

An original — cherry red with ribbed collar and cuffs — hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. And those rubber-soled canvas sneakers? In addition to their casual cheeriness, they let Rogers soundlessly disappear into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to voice and operate its puppet-residents with kids none the wiser.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is available to stream on Amazon Prime

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Kid Stuff

June 2018

Unleash your inner child by reliving your favorite kids TV shows, cartoons, toys and more!

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