'It's sentimental': Maud Lewis-inspired crochet sweater by N.S. woman goes viral

Grace Tompkins of Truro, N.S. created a crochet sweater of Maud Lewis's 1955 painting, "Three Black Cats."

Grace Tompkins, who's a biostatistics PhD candidate in Waterloo, Ont. but is from Truro, N.S., put 100 hours into crocheting a Maud Lewis-inspired sweater. (Photos via @graces.handmades/Instagram)
Grace Tompkins, who's a biostatistics PhD candidate in Waterloo, Ont. but is from Truro, N.S., put 100 hours into crocheting a Maud Lewis-inspired sweater. (Photos via @graces.handmades/Instagram)

A Nova Scotian-born woman went viral on social media after she crocheted a sweater inspired by folk artist Maud Lewis.

Grace Tompkins, a 26-year-old from Truro, N.S. who's currently a biostatistics PhD candidate in Waterloo, Ont., said she wanted to create a piece that brought her closer to home.

The University of Waterloo student created a baby blue and bright green mock neck sweater, featuring a design inspired by Lewis's 1955 painting, "Three Black Cats."

"I think, for me, it's sentimental. I'm Nova Scotian but I'm living away from home right now," she told Yahoo Canada. "I'm just drawn to that piece. I love cats, I love greenery — it's just a perfect a painting for me.

"To put it on a sweater was kind of like taking a piece of home around with me."

Tompkins said she has a print of "Three Black Cats" in her living room that she sees "pretty much every day." After completing a tapestry referencing Keith Haring's 1989 "Heart of Heads," she said she believed it'd be easy to translate Lewis's famous artwork into yarn.

While Tompkins put around 100 hours into finishing the sweater, she said she's thankful for all the support people have shown her on the project, which she started in December 2022.

"My daughter sent me this as a message and I love it so much. I adore Maud Lewis's work, so simple and happy and pure. This is fantastic!" someone wrote on Instagram.

"Both of my late grandmothers loved Maud Lewis; Grammie had several original Maud's and Nana was a prolific knitter (who sewed, embroidered, crocheted). This post made me ache to be able to show them your gorgeously crafted sweater. They would have loved it. Thank you for this," a Twitter user added.

"Wow...crazy good! They should be selling these at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery," another person tweeted.

"Wonderful. You are so creative and you did a wonderful job. I just love it," a TikTok user commented.

"The way my jaw dropped! This is beautiful!" another TikTok user raved.

Tompkins shared that she picked up crocheting as a hobby while quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic in winter 2021.

"I started doing these things called 'No Statistics Saturdays' because I was just constantly doing work, and I needed a better work–life balance and less screen time," she explained. "I wanted to try something that did not involve a screen in front of me."

Tompkins said her mom typically knits small things like dish towels in the evenings, so she went into a closet of her mother's knitting supplies and found a crochet hook that was left after her sister tried using it.

"The rest is history," Tompkins said. "My first project, I went right into it, zero to 100, tried to make a sweater. It was horrendous. It did not fit. It's actually horrible, but I kept it as a keepsake."

Now, Tompkins said she uses crochet to "turn off at the end of the day," and that it's a hobby she finds "peaceful and therapeutic."

"It's been a really good way to deal with stress and shut off from the world for a little bit," she added. "Even though it's solo craft, I don't find it isolating."

She said she often crochets with her roommate and she recently began meeting with local crafters in Waterloo at a monthly hangout.

Tompkins admitted she wasn't expecting the "degree of love" she saw after her Maud Lewis-inspired sweater went viral online.

"It's incredible. I definitely did not expect this and I wish I was a little more prepared for it," she said. "It's been so wonderful to share this craft. Hopefully someone else will see this and think that they can try something new.

"To be called an artist is so bizarre to me because I was never the artist in my family, that was always my sister."

While Tompkins isn't currently selling any of her sweaters, she said it's something she's working on. If she were to begin selling, she said her biggest issue is that she's one person, already with little spare time, who would be taking on these 100-hour projects.

Currently, she's updating the pattern to hopefully make the piece more soft and quicker to produce. She also hopes to get the pattern tested, meaning people with other body types can follow the pattern and give her feedback.

Tompkins said she has full permission to make and sell these sweaters and to release a pattern. She's talking with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to sell the pattern and, potentially, sell stock of the sweater.

Going forward, she's looking to create more pieces, and possibly even create pieces for an auction to donate to charities like the Arthritis Society Canada.

"I'm just trying to figure out the logistics because it's a lot for one person who's not doing this full-time," she said. "I understand the demand, I wish I could make 1,000 of these overnight. But for now, I'm focusing on the pattern and hopefully other makers can help me."

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