Blast from the Past: February 1947

The June 1962 issue didn’t have any projects that appealed to me enough to make them, so I used the time to finish up a project that I’ve been working on off and on for the last few years: a “4-coupon” twin set from Stitchcraft‘s February 1947 issue.

The “4-coupon” title refers to the clothing coupons used when purchasing rationed items during and after World War II. Rationing began for many food products in January of 1940 and extended to clothing in 1941, whereby clothing coupons could also be used for household textiles or wool. The Wikipedia article on rationing in the United Kingdom during World War II gives a sense of the coupons’ comparative value:

There were 66 points for clothing per year; in 1942 it was cut to 48, in 1943 to 36, and in 1945 to 24. This system operated through a “points” system… [ ] …Clothing rationing points could also be used for wool, cotton and household textiles… [ ] … The number of points that each piece of clothing would be valued at was determined by not only how much labor went into making it, but also how much material was used. A dress could run someone 11 coupons, whereas a pair of stockings only cost 2. Similarly, Men’s shoes cost 7 tickets, whiles women’s cost only 5. In 1945, an overcoat (wool and fully lined) was 18 coupons; a man’s suit, 26–29 (according to lining); Children aged 14–16 got 20 more coupons.

The twin-set uses 8 ounces of wool, so apparently one coupon could get you two ounces of (2-ply) knitting wool. (Just to be clear, one also had to pay for the items; the coupons only limited the amount people were allowed to buy, regardless of how much money they had at their disposal.)

The influence of rationing can be seen in almost every aspect of 1940s issues of Stitchcraft: occasionally titles of designs, such as this one, but more often in recipes and advertisements. These two, from the pages of the 4-coupon pattern, promise that the company in question is “sharing out their dress and lingerie fabrics as fairly as possible” and reassure that “it won’t be long until we can have really new lingerie” (lace and frills were banned, and nylon was needed for parachutes et. al., hence the plain, home-sewn cotton nightgowns).

Many products remained rationed after the war, including clothes rationing, which lasted until March 1949. It was only in 1954 that the last rationing measures were lifted. Since then, the only product that has been subject to rationing in the UK was petrol, briefly, during the Suez crisis of 1956-57. And yet, as the global Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage around us, there have been discussions in many countries — including wealthy countries with excellent medical infrastructures — regarding the rationing of personal protective equipment, ventilators and medical supplies. The past is not as far away as we might think.

Booklet photo, February 1947

I had plenty of time to ruminate on that while finishing this project, which I started as a “home away from home” project in 2016 (a year in which I effectively lived in two different places) and finished in home isolation in 2020. The wool — Onion Nettle Sock — is a mixture of 70% sheep wool and 30% nettle fibre. I would never have thought to knit with nettle fibre, but it works very well! It is smooth and somewhat shiny and the textured lace pattern shows up very well with it. Also, it reminds me of various fairy tales involving our heroine knitting shirts for her brothers out of nettle plants (or aster flowers, depending on the version and translation), like Die Sechs Schwäne (The Six Swans) by the brothers Grimm, or De vilde svaner (The Wild Swans) by Hans Christian Andersen.

As always, I am larger than the 34-inch-bust size for which the pattern is written, but also get a looser gauge, so it worked out for me to make the pattern almost exactly as written. I made the sleeves and the body of the jumper in the round, adjusted for length and changed the sleeve cap slightly for less puffiness, but otherwise I didn’t need to change anything. Of course, the lace pattern is stretchy and can be blocked tighter or looser.

Said pattern was the first one I had worked with that increased and decreased in the course of the pattern repetition, and I was at a loss to deal with the side-seam and sleeve increases and decreases at first. The pattern, like all vintage patterns from this period, assumes you know what you are doing, and there are no charts in any case. I learned a lot and I can see that the side increases on the cardigan are much nicer than on the jumper! (Carefully photographed as to be unnoticeable, but believe me.)

My buttonhole spacing on the cardigan was off, so I ended up sewing most of the holes closed ad carefully cutting new ones after backing the bands with ribbon (a common practice at the time, especially on tight-fitting cardigans, to keep the bands from stretching out and gapping across the chest.)

All in all, this is a wonderful design and very flattering to the figure. Nota bene, my upper body is broad and flat and I am not exactly model-thin, but this ensemble somehow manages to make me look both svelte and curvy. The wool/nettle fingering weight is perfect for fall and spring. I love the buttoned placket and collar of the jumper. Knitting this was definitely worth all the time and hard work and it will be getting a lot of wear for years to come.

Blast from the Past: April 1952

IMG_2746I 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.

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Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh (wearing a jerkin) by William Segar, 1598. National Gallery of Ireland. Public domain.

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.

IMG_2747Adding 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.

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Before sewing

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.

 

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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.