Helen Bond Carruthers was a cashmere sweater designer in the 1950’s and 60’s. I was lucky enough to be able to obtain one of her sweaters at a thrift store back in 2001 for only $12. Back then I did not know anything about her, but just fell completely in love with the sweater itself, with it’s delicate embroidery and applique design. Later I learned the history of Ms. Carruthers and it made owning one feel even more special.
At the time that I purchased the sweater I could not stop wearing it. I liked the cream color ground with the tonal embellishments and it’s sturdy construction; it looked antique. I attended a meeting wearing the sweater and the person I was meeting asked if it was an Helen Bond Carruthers from Kentucky? I said, “why yes, how did you know”? Then, she proceeded to tell me the story about how she and her sister came to own one. Her parents had purchased the sweaters for their sweet 16’s birthday. Ms. Carruthers was well known in Kentucky for her sweater embellishments; working right out of her home. It was a privilege to own one back then (late 50’s) because they cost $100. You can only imagine what type of money that meant back then and you realize why they sell for so much now, between $300-$500! They are collectors items.
She then volunteered to show me hers at our next meeting. When I saw it, I secretly wanted to steal it; it was AMAZING! It was mint green with colorful embroidery and a big Asian embroidered butterfly on the back; and it was in perfect condition! Thinking back now, her sweater would easily fetch the $500 price tag that collectors pay for them today. I loved hearing that history first hand from a person who had an original, directly from Ms. Carruthers herself. That was so great and coincidental.
When I began my history search on her then I also learned that she would use 1920’s antique Belgian lace and linens to adorn her sweaters. Now it made sense why mine looked antique. She would purchase very good cashmere sweaters, shorten the sleeves and torso, and then proceed to make her original art using: embroidery, pearl buttons, needle point, silk embroidered appliqués, exotic buttons, and a slew of other items she incorporated to make these magnificent, one-of-a-kind sweaters.
The other fascination that I have with her is how she was a real time entrepreneur; starting her business in an era where women were not known to be heading their own company. It all started in her home with her love of art. She has definitely inspired me as a clothing designer. You can read a very insightful interview with her grandniece HERE.
So, keep your eyes out for these gems, I know that I’m hoping to run into another one for $12 dollars…..but, I highly doubt it now that they are museum pieces!
My own Helen Bond Carruthers purchased in 2001:
My all time favorite!