It’s almost been a year since Grace Tompkins went viral on social media.
It happened when she posted a picture of her latest crochet project: a sweater inspired by Maud Lewis’s Three Black Cats painting.
Now anyone can make that Maud Lewis sweater at home, using her new crochet patterns.
Tompkins released crochet patterns for the sweaters on Jan. 11. Since the release, close to 100 patterns have been sold. The patterns are inspired by three of the Nova Scotia folk artist’s pieces: Yellow Birds, Oxen in Spring and Three Black Cats.
“I feel really proud,” said Tompkins. “I’ve never done anything on this scale.”
Designing and testing the patterns as well as figuring out how to sell them took about a year, said Tompkins, from the time the sweater went viral to announcing the patterns were for sale last week.
The original was inspired by other crocheters putting famous works of art on their sweaters, for example, The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh.
“I thought well, my favourite painting of all time is Maud Lewis’s Three Black Cats,” she said. “I was in Nova Scotia. I was heading back to Ontario, feeling nostalgic, and I was like ‘Oh, it’d be a cool piece of home to take with me.’ ”
Tompkins shared photos of the sweater on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) last winter. The tweet took off, with 1,000 reposts and 13,400 likes.
There was a large demand for the sweaters, both from social media and the publicity it received from Canadian news outlets. But the crocheter didn’t want to make them by herself.
“I could in theory, you know, spend lots of time making these but then I wouldn’t enjoy it. I would start to not love it anymore. So I thought a pattern would be the second-best thing.”
Tompkins made prototypes of the crochet patterns this past fall. Next, she put out a call for people to test the patterns before selling them.
Testers helping out
Erin Anton was one of around 30 testers who helped. A fellow crocheter, Anton first met Tompkins at a craft event, where she was working on her original Maud-inspired sweater.
She instantly recognized the cats on the sweater Tompkins was making. Anton, who lives in Ontario, said she first learned about Maud Lewis in her middle-school art class.
“The Three Black Cats was always my favourite painting of hers. And so I think that was what attracted me to the sweater in the first place,” said Anton.
Connecting with testers was the coolest part of the design process, said Tompkins. “The 30-plus people that I worked with to make this pattern were completely amazing. They gave me so much advice. They helped me so much.”
Over the span of about four months, the group tested all three patterns to ensure they were ready to sell.
‘A lovely tribute’
Kiva-Marie Belt purchased the Yellow Birds crochet pattern on the day it was released. The Nova Scotian artist and designer has followed Tompkins on social media since seeing her viral sweater.
Belt admires the time and effort Tompkins put into crafting the original sweater by hand and designing a pattern to share with others.
“As a painter, I thought, ‘Oh, if somebody ever did that with one of my pieces, I would feel really touched.’ And like, ‘That’s a lovely tribute.’ So hopefully, you know, wherever Maud’s spirit is, hopefully she feels the same way.”
Patterns can be bought individually, or in a bundle of three. Partial proceeds of each purchase go to Adsum for Women and Children, a shelter in Halifax.
Tompkins, who is working on a PhD in Kitchener, Ont., is both excited and relieved now that the patterns are available to the public.
“I read every single message, every single email that I get. And yeah, it just makes my heart flutter. So, it’s so nice.”
About the author
Aidan is in her fourth year of the BJH program at King's.