Mary Maxim Sweaters

Mary Maxim Sweaters

Unless you are both a knitter and a vintage fashion lover, you might not know the Canadian home knitting company Mary Maxim by name. You will probably recognize their iconic designs once you see one, however. 

Here is what has contributed to their enduring success:

  • Mary Maxim designs are iconic, featuring bold geometric, sports, and animal designs.
  • They are akin to traditional Cowichan sweaters, developed on Vancouver Island by indigenous craftspeople after being introduced to knitting by European settlers in the late 19th century. Designed to withstand the cold and rainy weather of the Pacific Northwest, these garments are warm, durable, and versatile.
  • Mary Maxim’s “smart, luxurious, bulky knit fashions” (the title of one of their vintage knitting books) have been worn by movie stars, musicians, and hipsters from many walks of life. Bob Hope, Angela Lansbury, and Canadian musicians Barenaked Ladies have all been photographed in their designs.

Celebrities wearing Mary Maxim sweaters

From Spinning Wheels to Celebrity

Originally established in the 1940s in Manitoba as a spinning mill, Mary Maxim really distinguished itself through its bulky weight knit designs aimed at home knitters. Inspired by the Cowichan sweaters that the company’s founder, Willard McPhedrian, saw while on an early sales trip to Canada’s west coast, Mary Maxim released their first patterns shortly thereafter. Canadian knitters enthusiastically embraced the designs and produced a huge number of these sweaters during the 1950s and 60s.

Mary Maxim sweater patterns vintage calalog

As the largest privately held craft and needlework mail-order company in North America, the firm has achieved worldwide success. Most of their sales of patterns and yarn are online and by mail order. Except for a couple of retail locations, their business has been built on this model since its inception.

It’s still possible to find great Mary Maxim sweaters - lovingly hand knit by some unknown maker half a century ago - in vintage clothing stores online. They’ve always been popular and have become increasingly valuable over the years, regularly fetching well over $100 for even the more common examples.

And as a testament to its enduring appeal, the design concept is also being reinterpreted by brands like Granted and Canadian Sweater Company who offer a wide range of nature-inspired styles as well as contemporary motifs. 

Original Mary Maxim sweaters can be difficult to find. We’ve had many in our shop over the years, and they’re always snapped up immediately. Here’s one of our favorites - the buffalo.

Day17 Vintage Mary Maxim buffalo sweater

Make Your Own Mary Maxim Sweater

Many fans of the style opt for the do-it-yourself approach. If you know how to knit, you can make your own perfectly sized sweater in the design of your choice.

Here are some useful resources for you if you choose to go that route:

  • Original vintage paper patterns as well as digital versions can be found in online vintage shops
  • On Mary Maxim’s website you’ll find instant download patterns of some of their more popular vintage styles as well as substitute yarn recommendations.Unfortunately, Mary Maxim no longer produces wool yarns suitable for recreating their vintage patterns.
  • Briggs & Little, Brown Sheep, and KnitPicks all offer modern yarns that can be used for making traditional Mary Maxim sweaters. You may also be able to find other suitable yarns at your local yarn shop. 


Mary Maxim sweaters are classics and belong in every fashion lover’s collection. Attesting to their enduring appeal, machine made imitations are produced in China and elsewhere. But because these knock-offs are much cheaper and not nearly as well made, they can easily be recognized for their faux origin. 

There is nothing like hand-knitting, and it shows. The skill, love, and patience required to produce a handmade garment make an original Mary Maxim sweater a treasured and coveted piece.

There are no comments yet

Leave a comment