A Dog’s Best Friend

Designer, knitter, and teacher Paul Robinson
Designer, knitter, and teacher Paul Robinson

Since 1996, Paul Robinson has been using his many talents to make south Minneapolis a better, warmer, and more joyful place to live. His influence has been felt whether it was through his role for many years as Company Manager of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, teaching children at Ingebretsen’s how to make masks and to create a play from the Norwegian folk tale “The Trolls of Hedal Forest” or knitting sweaters for assistance dogs for Can-Do-Canines . It was Paul’s work with Can-Do-Canines that inspired the Ingebretsen’s knitting classes for dog sweaters and led to Paul’s dog sweater pattern being printed and sold through the store. Ingebretsen’s employee Sandra Hunter was volunteering with their annual fundraiser and she saw a wonderful opportunity for collaboration. Many of the service dogs and the dogs owned by board members were short-haired. Why not create sweaters for them and have a dog fashion show at the event? Paul, who has extensive design experience, seemed to be the natural person to ask. To his credit, he didn’t even blanch when asked to create 9 sweaters for dogs ranging from Bichons to standard poodles with only a short time in which to complete the project.

One of the nine sweaters Paul knit for Can-Do Canines.
One of the nine sweaters Paul knit for Can-Do Canines.

Paul tells the story from here: “Back in 2009, I was asked to create dog sweaters for a fundraiser for Can-Do-Canines, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs. I jumped at the opportunity! I first started to research what other knitters were designing and creating. I found that the tube sweater was the most common. That is where I started, creating a pattern that would be easy to follow and also easy to add color patterns and to change sizes. I also decided that I wanted to be different, so I looked to my heritage, Norway. I tried some new things that I wasn’t well practiced in. I started knitting traditional patterns into yardage and then doing that thing that so many knitters are scared to do, sew and cut. Yes, this process is like steeking, and what an easy way to learn and practice! Hey, what is a knitter to do? I practiced my tension while carrying color. Sometimes I was carrying two or even three colors at once. I practiced the process of creating a pattern to use on my dog, Gussie, to make a custom fit sweater all for her. I took the yardage to the sewing machine and sewed around the outside of the pattern two or three times. And then, I took my scissors, I started to cut on the outside of the stitches that I sewed and I was happy! I encased the outer edges in woven Scandinavian braiding and finished with pewter clasps or buttons to fasten the sweater.”

Paul first knitted a traditional pattern as a piece of fabric.
Paul first knitted a traditional pattern as a piece of fabric.
Paul cut and hemmed the knit fabric.
He then cut and hemmed the knit fabric.
Paul's dog, Gussie, models the completed dog sweater.
Gussie models the completed dog sweater.

The owners were delighted with the sweater and the fashion show a success. This success was grounded in Paul’s  46 years of knitting experience. His start in knitting was with a loving grandmother who taught him as a boy. “I learned to knit by sitting in my grandmother’s lap with a pair of plastic needles. She would make a stitch, then she would have me make a stitch,” Paul recalls.  The dog sweater pattern Paul created for Ingebretsen’s is based on designs used by his grandmother Grace Erickson of Fertile, Minnesota. Her ancestors came from the Vestfold region, southeast of Oslo. Grace preserved the designs and patterns that she learned from her family and carefully charted them. Paul is the only grandchild who is carrying on the knitting tradition in the family, so his mother ensured that the charts were passed on to Paul.

One of the Can-Do Canines sweaters.
One of the Can-Do Canines sweaters.

Paul provides patterns for his students, but also teaches them the skills and gives them the encouragement needed for  them to personalize their sweaters. Knitting is an art that readily reflects the style and the personality of the knitter. The dog sweater class starts with traditional pattern so students can learn the skills for making a traditional Norwegian sweater, if they want, on a small, manageable project. As the students progress, they can customize the dog sweaters and learn how to make their own patterns.

Knitter Anessa Andersland personalized the colorway on Paul's pattern for Emmit's sweater and added a balaclava.
Knitter Anessa Andersland personalized the colors on Paul’s pattern for Emmit’s sweater and added a balaclava.
Anessa Andersland knitted this sweater for Emmit using Paul's pattern and her color choices.
Emmit enjoys modeling his sweater.
Angela Ringuist knit a wardrobe of Norwegian sweaters for Ole.
Angela Ringuist knit a wardrobe of Norwegian sweaters for Ole.

Angela Ringuist, who took the first dog sweater class Paul taught, said at the time,”If I can knit a Scandinavian design, I can knit anything.” Angela created a wonderful wardrobe of sweaters for Ole, her chihuahua, during the class and she planned to begin knitting sweaters for human family members. “My grandmother knitted over 100 Norwegian sweaters for members of our family,” Angela said. “It’s almost a case of you can’t be part of the family unless you have one of the sweaters. I want to learn to knit a Norwegian sweater so I can continue the tradition.” So, if you want to continue a tradition, start a tradition, or keep your best friend warm, please join Paul for this winter’s session of “Knit a Norwegian Sweater for Your Dog,” starting on February 20.

A matching Setesdal sweater set knit by Paul.
A matching Setesdal sweater set knit by Paul.

– Carstens Smith