How to knit a penguin jumper (whether they need it or not)

had only just cast off Knit Café’s free polar bear pattern when a good friend flicked me this post via Facebook: “Knitters wanted for penguin pullovers.”

It had immediate appeal. From the craft angle, I’ve been knitting toy animals for 10 years: they’re small, they’re cute and they’re quick. Hello! Jumpers for penguins sure tick the small, cute and quick boxes.

But from another perspective, I’ve been feeling kind of sad and helpless lately. Dredging three million cubic metres of spoil and dumping it on the Great Barrier Reef just seems like a crazy idea. As if crown of starfish invasions and global warming weren’t bad enough. Doesn’t our environment minister care about dugongs? Dugongs! So, if knitting a wee jumper for a poor, oil-besmirched penguin-in-need can go some small way to redressing the balance, I’m so doing this.

The pattern looks simple enough and I rifle through my stash for inspiration. Initial thoughts lean towards a classic black and white “penguin suit” – ha ha – but a bow tie could prove problematic for little flippers. What would cheer up an oiled penguin? I know … leisure wear. My footy team, the Adelaide Crows, have ruffled a few feathers lately with their choice of guernsey and I just happen to have blue, gold and red 8-ply to hand. Perfect. One little flightless seabird can become a Crow for a day!

I cast on 36 stitches and knit one, purl one to the end of the row, then repeat for seven more rows. So far so good. And speedy, as promised.

How to knit a penguin jumper
Photograph: Megan Riley

Now, change to knit two, purl two increasing eight stitches evenly across this row.

Hang on a minute! Changing from K1, P1 to K2, P2 is going to play merry hell with my ribbing, never mind adding in an extra eight stitches. I do a quick Google search for guidance and oh-my-stars-what’s-this? “The Great Penguin Sweater fiasco.” Here’s someone suggesting that those nice Penguin Foundation volunteers might be pulling the wool over our eyes and that the sweaters are in fact destined for toys in the gift shop, not real birds.

I pause and consider my commitment to this project. I’ve started now, and so what if my handicraft never gets to grace a penguin? It may catch the eye of some footy fan on holiday in Victoria, and sales of the stuffed toy will still help swell the Penguin Foundation’s coffers.

I go back to the knitting and decide to wing it. Miraculously, it works, and I knit on until the piece measures 12 centimetres.

How to knit a penguin jumper
Photograph: Megan Riley

Now for some decreasing – always fun as the knitting goes faster while the stitches get fewer. Oops! I must’ve forgotten to decrease at the end of one row but after a quick fudge I still end up with the required 27 stitches. Time to swap back to knit one, purl one rib for 10 rows and I’m on the home straight. This is fun, and fast and a great stash-busting project requiring less than a full ball of 8 ply.

How to knit a penguin jumper
Photograph: Megan Riley

After completing the back of the sweater I have a break for a few hours before tackling the front, and just for kicks Google “penguin pullovers”. Knock me over with a feather! This initiative has gone off. I mean, totally spread – like nits in a grade one classroom.

Perhaps the Giant Flightless Birds blogger was right and I’ve got caught up in some do-gooding-knit-the-world-a-better-place kind of mania when my time and money could have been better spent through a direct cash donation to the cause. But then I spy Mary Mooney’s article, all the way from Oregon, USA. She’s a knitter and has done her homework separating out the fact from the fiction when it comes to penguin pullies. Read it, very sensible.

I decide there’s no point getting in a flap over all this. It’s a brilliant campaign successfully bringing the world’s attention to the plight of penguins, raising much-needed funds in the process.

I cast on the front of the jumper, and knit. Within a couple of hours, it’s finished.

How to knit a penguin jumper
Photograph: Megan Riley

It’s taken only a few hours and a few dollars but it’s got me thinking. I’m now connected to a world wide web of people who are prepared to use their creative powers for good. It’s reassuring to think bad human decisions can be offset by an artistic contribution from people who care.


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