I hang out a lot in the “All Things Vintage” forum on Ravelry and try to participate in the make-alongs when I can. Usually, there are two of them per year, and last year’s July-December KAL/CAL (that’s “knit along”/ “crochet along” for anyone not familiar with the abbreviations) had the theme “Fabulous Fifties.” The 1950s were indeed a fabulous time for fashion and I have a small selection of 1950s knitting magazines, including some very nice issues of Stitchcraft, so the most difficult part was choosing a pattern! I went with this “Elegant jerkin for summer wear” from April 1952.
First of all, I hear most of you asking: What is a jerkin? I’m glad you asked. Originally, it was a short, close-fitting, buttoned or otherwise fastened jacket with short or no sleeves, worn in the Renaissance over a doublet. It was often nipped in at the waist. Modern versions of the jerkin were revived for military use in the 20th century, and Stitchcraft as well as other mid-century patterns often use the word for a women’s waistcoat with cap sleeves to wear over a blouse, or a knitted blouse-like garment such as this one, which plays off of the historical jerkin shape.
The four-row stitch pattern was quite easy (knit 1, slip 1 on the right-side rows, knit 1, purl 1 on the wrong-side rows in one colour, then slip 1, purl one on the RS and purl 1, knit 1 on the WS in the other colour) but because of the colour change with the slip stitches, it was amazingly difficult to “read” the work and get back on track. At the same time, if just one stitch was wrong, it was immediately visible in the pattern. Of course, I had to pick blue and black, two colours that didn’t offer much contrast and which, I found, only look different in natural light. As a result, I could only work on this project during daylight hours… in the winter, which is pretty dark.
Adding to the frustration: as always, no matter how small the needles or how thin the wool, I could not knit tightly enough to get the minuscule gauge, which itself was only given as a “life-size” photograph in the pattern. Of course, I am also larger than the 34-35 inch bust given in the pattern, but how much larger the garment, calibrated for how much larger the gauge? Right, lots of calculations, estimations, measurements upon measurements, and just plain guesswork. Plus the thing pulled together either more or less, horizontally or vertically, as it got larger — my gauge swatch (a pocket lining) was utterly useless. I had to start three times.
When I finally got it done (too late for the KAL deadline but whatever), it fit perfectly! I was so proud of myself! Then I wash-blocked it and the wool stretched about six inches in width and at least two or three in length above the waist. In desperation, I reached out to the good people of Ravelry, who told me that the yarn I used (Lang Merino 200 Bébé) was superwash and I should put it in the clothes dryer to shrink it back into shape. I did that and it actually did shrink it down, but it still ballooned a bit in the torso, so I sewed side seams into it. At the moment they are just sewn down with yarn, but the next time I get the sewing machine out, I will probably sew them down properly and (aaaaaggggh!!) cut the excess fabric away to reduce bulk
Also, I sewed that moss-stitch bottom band on twice and it still pulls in a little bit. Oh right, and the tour through the dryer dinged up the buttons, even though I turned the garment inside out.
All in all, this jerkin was a jerk. It was jerkin me around! It looks OK though, I guess, and better under a blazer. You will have to take my word for it when I tell you that I look less dumpy in it in real life than in the photo. It was an interesting project in terms of construction and stitch pattern and I’m sure I will wear it, but sadly, in the end I don’t think it was worth all the frustration.
Stay tuned for the update on the really, truly, almost finished January 1962 project and the embroidered chicken squirrel (yes) that will be my February 1962
experiment catastrophe vegetable bag.