August 1962: Gladioli

August was a pretty blah month this year, what with the never-ending Covid-19 pandemic and associated long-term isolation, illness and unemployment. My knitting motivation is sub-par and the August 1962 issue of Stitchcraft didn’t have any projects in it that really inspired me. Still, I’ve been trying to turn the situation into an “opportunity” to save money and free up space by finishing WIPS and making new projects from stash.

This month’s embroidery flower was the gladiolus, with a special extra design of wild orchids. I chose the gladioli and embroidered them on another one of the recycled moneybags that I bought at an antique market last year. They really do make excellent sturdy little bags for buying small amounts of potatoes, mushrooms or other vegetable items, and with a zipper on the top they would even be good for buying and storing things like beans and lentils in bulk. They also work well as small project bags — I kept this WIP in the bag that I made in December.

The colours that I had in the embroidery-thread scrap box were more or less accurate to the pattern (mauve, mid-mauve, violet, yellow, gold, dark green and light green.) Also, the stitches are technically not very hard to do: the petals are long-and-short buttonhole (blanket) stitch outlined in stem stitch with straight-stitch center lines and satin stitch centres, the buds are satin stitch, the stems are stem stitch and the leaves are fishbone stitch. I like the effect of the dainty flower embroidery on the rough burlap fabric, too.

On the critical side… I am really not that great at embroidery, especially when I don’t have a transfer and I’m working with fabric like this, on which I can’t draw a design outline very well. I drew a few straight lines and dots with a pencil and improvised from there. Also, since the fabric is already made up into a bag, it’s difficult to use a hoop properly or work on the lower edge. The buttonhole/blanket stitch is a strange choice for the flowers, if you ask me — they look very scraggly! (Just like my real plants at home, ha ha.)

I left the top edge unfinished for now, as I couldn’t decide whether to make a simple button closure like on the other embroidered money bag, a fold-over buttoned closure, or a drawstring. (I don’t have a zipper of the right length on hand and I’d like to stay on the “no-buy” wagon for as long as possible, but it would be the most practical solution.)

I still have plenty more of the bags, so I can keep making one every time a little embroidery project presents itself.

February 1962: Squirrel or Chicken?

IMG_3058No, it’s not the menu choice for tonight’s dinner, don’t worry. My February 1962 was a little embroidered… animal , originally designed for a toddler’s “feeder” and which I adapted into a bag for vegetables/small projects/”stuff”. I say “animal” in this vague way because it is referred to as a “Squirrel” in the instructions, followed by more specific instructions on how to embroider the supposed squirrel’s beak and feathers. I can maybe, maybe forgive enough poetic license to call a squirrel’s mouth a “beak”, and the creature’s fluffy tail could be mistaken for a squirrel’s, but feathers… no. It also looks suspiciously like a chicken in the photo! So, not a squirrel, but a chicken and a proofreading error.

The photo is about as vague as the animal’s species, so I followed the instructions as best I could and then, ahem, winged it from there. Obviously, I did not have a transfer, so I just drew an approximation of the shape on the fabric with a pencil.

The fabric was up-cycled from a tattered pillowcase and an old red bandana. I embroidered the chicken on one thickness of pillowcase fabric and then flat-lined that piece with another piece of the same fabric for more stability and to keep the back side of the embroidery from fraying. The embroidery floss was all leftover bits and the cord is monk’s cord made from scraps of felting yarn, so this was a 100% up-cycled / didn’t have to buy anything new project, in keeping with the environmentally friendly cloth vegetable bag idea.

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It looks quite “homemade” — my embroidery skills are still far from professional level — but cute and very 1960s. I have a friend who actually keeps chickens in her garden and gets most of her food from them, the garden or food-sharing, so obviously this will be a present for her. I think she’ll appreciate it.

February 1962: Overview

IMG_3048Put on your best traveling suit, pack your Aeros and have your Kodak Instamatic in hand, because it’s February 1962 and Stitchcraft is going to Paris! This month’s issue  features Paris-inspired designs (whatever that means) and extra pages in colour to show off the latest knitwear against a backdrop of Parisian tourist classics.

Travel from London to Paris in the early 1960s was, of course, not on the speedy Eurostar or even quicker cheap flight of our modern times. Commercial air travel was a luxury for the well-to-do and the only way to cross the Channel by train was on the Night Ferry, which ran from London Victoria to Paris Gare du Nord and back. The overnight journey took 11 hours, of which three were spent on the water;  the entire train was loaded onto a ferry for the Channel crossing. I really recommend clicking on the link, which leads to the Wikipedia article. There’s a lot more information about the Night Ferry there, and even a short list of books and films set on or inspired by it.

So what does Paris fashion 1962 have in store for us? Dresses, strong dark colours and smooth crepe wools are all “in”, with a special trend for fringes and bobbles. The two-piece dress on the cover is made in fine bouclet wool and photographed against one of the little bookselling stands that still line the roads along the Seine today. Fine, red crepe wool is the choice for the similar two-piece outfit with fringey bobbles on the front of the jumper, photographed in Montmartre. Are the bobbles supposed to suggest the legs of the painter’s tripod, or an upside-down Eiffel Tower? The dress on the facing page (Sacre-Coeur in the background) is also made in smooth crepe wool, this time in somewhat thicker Totem Double Knitting.

Fringe makes additional appearances in a lemon-yellow jumper with the newly fashionable high neckline and extra collar (Place de l’Opéra) and in the dark green and black plaid-effect longline jumper on the inside front cover (which appears to have been photographed in a Métro station, though I can’t immediately place which one.) Even without fringe, large collars are still going strong, as seen in the belted Rimple jacket. “Chunky” bulky wool makes an appearance in the beret and oversized handbag set (Capucines). The bag is reinforced with strips of cardboard along the top edges and a woven fabric lining to prevent otherwise inevitable sagging.

With all these lovely large projects and the special Parisian focus, it’s not surprising that the rest of the designs in the issue are unspectacular. There are some easy knitted classics for men and children, the usual “Victorian” and “Jacobean” tapestries for the home, and some fun little crafty projects like these “mats with hats” coasters. In the “Little Bobby” serial comic, John and Jane both have a cold. That’s February for you!

I have so many unfinished projects, including the January 1962 jumper, that my February project will be something small and easy. Maybe not the mats with hats, but probably a little embroidered lilac sprig (flower of the month) on a vegetable or project bag. In the meantime, watch for updates on the January project — it’s knitting along quite quickly — and a special 1950s “blast from the past” post.

December 1961: Star-Spangled Theatre Bag

IMG_2976Technically, it was more of a “star-spangled burlap bag”, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Happy December, everyone! The 1961 festive holiday season, as envisioned by Stitchcraft magazine, involved at least a couple of glamorous parties and evenings out, for which this white satin drawstring clutch bag could be the perfect accessory.

My holiday season was going along festively enough, but I actually have a couple of vintage evening bags and clutches, should I need one to feel glamorous, and I don’t need a white satin anything. I did love the embroidery design, which features pearls and sequins sewn into flowery “star” motifs in various shades of pink and green. The motifs look very “modern” in that 1960s way — abstract and spiky, but also dainty and bright. What could I embroider them onto?

As it turns out, a few weeks ago I found myself at an antiques fair in Hamburg, Germany, and one of the stands was selling literal moneybags — sacks of burlap linen in different sizes that had been used by the German federal bank to transport money and were then at some point taken out of circulation. The material is very sturdy, finer and more tightly woven than coffee or potato sack burlap, but with a similar feel. The bags were also in perfectly good condition in spite of their age and use — each one is printed with a date, and many of them were from the 1990s. At the very modest price of one Euro each, I went ahead and bought ten of the smaller size (approximately 18 centimetres wide by 30 long).

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So … what to make of them? (Literally.) More vegetable bags? Gift sacks? Little knitting project bags? All of the above? Whatever their use(s), at least one of the bags was going to be star-spangled. Putting fine, pretty flowery embroidery on a coarse natural-fiber sack was a fun idea for a style-mix experiment that I couldn’t resist. After thoroughly machine-washing and steam-ironing the bags (“money is dirty” as the seller said with a IMG_2998wink, and who knows if they had been treated with some kind of additional preservative chemical), I drew the motifs onto the bag with a wax embroidery-transfer pen, tracing around different sizes of button to get the circles, and embroidered them using leftover bits of pink and green embroidery cotton. I decided to forego the pearls and sequins and just made French knots instead. I also didn’t care too much about perfect symmetry or absolutely “clean” lines — I wanted it to look a little bit rough and homemade.

Originally, I wanted to put in a zipper at the top, but didn’t have one to upcycle, so I just made a buttonhole and found a button from the “singles” jar. I might change the button over to the back side of the bag to make a fold-over top closure if stuff falls out, but I preferred the way the bag looked from the front with the single button.

And that was it! I like the result. It’s goofy and incongruous and has a vintage feel in a few different ways. I had already used a few of the other bags as non-embroidered gift bags, so I’ll keep this one for myself as a project bag for small projects, or possibly a vegetable bag. Star-spangled Brussels sprouts, anyone?

 

 

August 1961: Dainty Rose sprays

IMG_2721Stitchcraft‘s August 1961 “Late Summer” issue had multiple cute, easy embroidery and tapestry projects. Mine was this little set of rose sprays. To show the versatility of the designs, the magazine usually had directions for and photos of the designs made on different items: a cushion and/or tray cloth, for example. Overall, there was a huge range of homewares that could potentially be embroidered: an apron, a place mat, a chair-back, a wall hanging, a “nightie case”, a project bag, a finger plate, a fire screen, even a room divider or a waste-paper basket cover. This issue added a new idea to the mix: the rose-spray design on a lampshade, complete with a pattern to cut out, sew and fringe the lampshade cover itself.

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Close-up photo from the magazine. Sadly, there was no colour photo.

I don’t need an embroidered lampshade (or finger plate, or fire screen, or tray cloth, or chair-back, or waste-paper basket cover etc. etc.) and I have plenty of cushions and project bags, so I’m often at a loss when I see a nice embroidery pattern and don’t know what to put it on. I’ve made a couple of tablet cosies for myself or for presents for friends, or useful little bags to store “stuff”, but there are limits. I guess I could sell whatever I don’t need, but haven’t gone that route yet. So what to make?

Vegetable bags.

I stopped using plastic bags for vegetables long ago, which wasn’t difficult as I pretty much only buy vegetables at the farmer’s market or organic supermarket, both of which put vegetables in little paper bags (for small or sandy things like mushrooms, potatoes or little tomatoes) or don’t package them at all (I just put them into my basket/cloth shopping bag loose). I try to re-use the paper bags, but my best bag of all is a little linen drawstring sack that originally held soapberry nuts for washing laundry. It’s tough, washable and the perfect size for holding the right amount of potatoes or green beans or whatever. And both the organic supermarket and, incredibly, the regular supermarket in my neighbourhood have now stopped offering even little paper bags for vegetables, so time to make more bags!

IMG_2749Of course, they don’t have to be embroidered, but why not? Cotton embroidery floss is machine-washable even at high temperatures and I have plenty of scraps and bits of plain linen or cotton materials that can be put to good purpose. The bag I made for this August project was made from a piece of linen from shoes, yes, shoes that a friend bought (the shoes came wrapped in this piece of fabric in the shoe box instead of in paper.) I had enough embroidery floss on hand, so this was an almost 100% up-cycled / didn’t have to buy anything new project. (I say almost because I bought the cord for the drawstrings — then realised I could have made monks’ cord or i-cord from leftover cotton yarn. Next time…)

IMG_2756The design is of blue roses, which don’t exist in the natural world but can be created by putting white roses in blue-tinted water for a few days. (Interestingly, this low-tech process is much more successful than trying to create blue roses via genetic engineering, which so far has only made purplish-lavender roses.) I think blue is an interesting colour choice for embroidered roses, because of course when you see blue flowers you don’t automatically think of roses. I love how the colours turned out though. The stitches are easy stem-stitch, satin stitch and long-and-short stitch. Of course I didn’t have the transfer, but the design was easy enough to copy onto the fabric freehand.

I’m really, really happy with this and look forward to making more unnecessarily pretty, but necessarily environmentally friendly vegetable bags in the future.

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June 1961: Overview

IMG_2563I love this cover. The yellow stripes on the hats, the yellow trim on the sweaters and the yellow sans-serif lettering all harmonise perfectly with the off-white garments in the center focus. Even the models’ hair colour looks like it was chosen to match the wooden wall. And we can see that typical 1960s hairdo coming into fashion, with more volume on the top and curled ends.

The rest of the photography in this issue is amazing as well. Let’s start with little Georgina in her beach dress, striking a Napoleonic pose from the back of her inflatableIMG_2566 elephant! The dress is totally cute and definitely on my project list for this month, for my friend’s kid who just turned three. Those are seahorses, in case that wasn’t clear (the ones on the front panel of the dress and matching sunsuit look weird to me — I think I’ll fill in the bodies to make the shape more clear.)  The sunsuit and dress are made in wool-nylon blend Nylox, but I’ll be making the dress in cotton.

IMG_2585(Speaking of tiny children in goofy poses, am I the only one who finds this advertisement for next month’s Stitchcraft strangely funny? What is it about this baby that comes off looking so weird? Too much hair? The quasi-adult-looking face? The indescribable expression?)

 

Back to this month’s issue, somewhat larger children can get a pretty summer dress with an embroidered yoke. It wasn’t necessary to order a sewing pattern, as the skirt of the dress was really just a square with a little cut-out (shown with scaling grid in the issue) and the yoke outline was included with the embroidery transfer. Larger children than that (age 6-10) get a warm “Continental playtop” with a big collar in double knitting.

 

 

Big collars are still fashionable for adults, too, as we can see from the women’s version of the cover sweater or the “Husky Sailing Sweater” in bulky Big Ben wool. White or off-white and yellow are trending colours. The men’s garments both have round necks — I’m guessing designers assumed men would be wearing collared shirts under their pullovers no matter what they were doing, and “layering” big collars over each other didn’t happen until the 1970s. For warmer days or more elegant occasions, there’s a short-sleeved cardigan-jumper in 4-ply and a lacy cap-sleeve top in 3-ply wool. The cap-sleeve top is yellow and the buttoned blouse has a collar, so we’re right in fashion here too.

 

 

Homewares are fantastic this month as well, starting with some really easy garden cushions (padded with plastic foam to try and make them more damp-proof). We are still  in the year of the embroidered Zodiac signs, and June brings us a Gemini-themed beach bag.

 

 

IMG_2625And then there’s this incredible birds-in-a-tree number, to be worked either in wool on linen for a firescreen or in felt appliqué with wool embroidery on linen for a picture. I’m normally not so crazy about 1950s and 1960s neo-Jacobean designs, but I love this one and definitely want to make the felt appliqué version as a cushion (with a more greeny green for the tree and not quite so much brown-orange-yellow in the appliqué work.) I imagine it might be tough without a transfer, but they gave us two very clear photographs including one in full colour, so what could go wrong?

IMG_2588Last but not least, there’s a lovely, elegant two-piece suit in nubbly Rimple double knitting wool, featured in the most magnificent photo I have ever seen in any magazine, ever. If I remember correctly, I saw it in one of those Internet lists of “best/worst/weirdest knitting pattern photos” long before I started collecting vintage patterns. It’s definitely at the top of my list and if you haven’t seen it yet, you saw it here first!

There is nothing I can possibly add to that, so I’ll just get to work on that cap-sleeve jumper… and the little girl’s beach dress … and the garden cushions… and the Jacobean appliqué… Happy June, everyone!

May 1961: Overview

IMG_2509Time for the Summer Forecast! “Editress” Patience Horne writes that it is “a lovely sunny day in March” as they go to press for the May issue. It’s freezing cold and pouring rain where I am on May 2nd, so my summer forecast feelings have been literally dampened.

Still, there is a lovely assortment of projects in this month’s issue, of which the prettiest (in my opinion) is featured in colour on the back cover: this beautiful summer twin-set in   “Nylox” (a synthetic, Bri-Nylon yarn) with a diagonal stripe pattern on the sleeveless top that is repeated on the lapels of the solid-colour cardigan. I love the pairing of the elegant line with the fun pattern, which reminds me of colourful rows of paper bunting strung diagonally.

Our front cover has two more of the classic, bulky, rather plain casual pullovers made in Big Ben (super-bulky) of Rimple (nubbly double knitting). For men, there’s also a classic “tennis sweater” in white with blue stripes, made fancy with a different sort of cable pattern that I don’t think I have ever seen before. It seems quite easy, as the cables never travel far and also never actually cross (so maybe technically not a “cable” pattern, but I don’t know what else to call it — you do use a cable needle to move the stitches out of line and back again.) Our model is very happy with his sweater, and his tennis game.

Besides the twin-set and the cover pullover, women’s fashions include a little short-sleeved jacket in double knitting and a cute cap in Big Ben, plus a “longline” jumper and buttoned cardigan in 4-ply wools. I love the way the pockets are integrated into the striped ribbing of the cardigan. Wide collars, shawl collars and V-necks continue to be popular.

Stitchcraft doesn’t usually have sewing patterns, but this month they’ve teamed up with Vogue to offer a flared or full-circle skirt of the type that was ubiquitous in the later 1950s and reached the end of its popularity around this time. Readers can order the Vogue pattern via Stitchcraft in their preferred size. The flared version is embroidered with “Tyrolean motifs” which can also be embroidered onto “pretty summer aprons”. How cute! Just don’t try to play the violin the way our little Tyrolean motif fiddler is doing it, or you and the instrument will both be unhappy.

(Nota bene: some folk-fiddle traditions, as well as European medieval and Renaissance vielle/violin technique, do involve holding the instrument under the shoulder on the upper chest or upper arm instead of under the chin as in modern classical violin playing. Still different from what is going on here, though.)

School-age children get some nice, basic pullovers and cardigans in washable Nylox or fun Rimple. I don’t know what’s going on with the Humpty Dumpty giant egg doll, but this seems to be a theme with Stitchcraft — I remember seeing more than one knitted or sewn or crocheted giant Humpty Dumpty mascot pattern somewhere in my collection. Check out the cute illustrations and the little castle in the air on the top right of the painted backdrop.

Homewares tend towards the fun and easy, with a “Victorian” floral ribbon design for an embroidered cushion, tapestry cushion or tapestry handbag as well as some assorted cross-stitch or drawn-thread table mats and traycloths. Oh, and also some “his and hers” bath mats. May’s Zodiac sign is Taurus the bull, which you can cross-stitch onto a fluffy-fringed lampshade. I would love to see a picture of a Stitchcraft living room with all twelve Zodiac-themed designs in one place — the lampshade, the chairbacks, the waste-paper basket cover, et cetera (spoiler: sadly, we’re not going to get one.)

That about wraps it up for May! I would love to make the twin-set, but I have such a backlog of projects that I know I won’t have time to get it done, so my project will be the tapestry handbag. I’m very excited to work with tapestry for the first time.See you soon!

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October 1960: No Fun Fuchsia

C7C1F427-D5D1-4647-A1AD-B3CA7258E8E6I really, really liked the idea of this embroidery project. Sadly, there was no colour photo, but the design is fun and very 1960 and I imagine the colours (Plum and Magenta with Cream and Fawn shades on deep green) to be quite striking. Working with tapestry wool instead of crewel cotton was (or would have been) another first, so all in all, I was eager to try it.

Thing is, I have enough cushions. So I thought I could make a project bag — you can never have too many project bags, right? And I could order some of those really 60s cane loop handles, which I saw in a catalog at my local craft shop. Perfect, except…

Well, first of all, I had no tapestry wool and nowhere to buy any except ordering it online. I did have 4-ply knitting wool leftovers in the right colours, so I thought, why not use that? I also didn’t have any deep green evenweave linen, but I did see some great deep green wool felt at the store, so settled on that. Bad move! Wool yarn on wool felt is not a great idea — it doesn’t slide well though the fabric. And knitting wool is thicker than tapestry wool, at least the embroidery kind. Also, the handles I wanted have been discontinued.

The pattern was equally difficult to deal with. After getting a halfway symmetrical design copied out onto paper (difficult enough), I decided to try out my new embroidery transfer wax pen, since the green felt was not transparent enough to do the window-light-box trick. It didn’t work! It only transfers onto smooth cotton or linen. Dotting the tracing paper with a pin and transferring the markings with a white pencil was only marginally successful. Nothing shows up on green wool felt except chalk, which is is too imprecise and rubs off immediately. Then the wool was too thick, the pattern too small, the needle, felt and wool didn’t work together at all well mechanically, and with one thing and another, it was just a chore and no fun to make at all.

I stopped after one quarter of the (simplified) design and made it into a little zippered bag with purple floral lining. I have so many little zippered bags and don’t have enough little “stuff” to fill them. Should I give it away? Will anyone even want it? I like it in spite of itself, so maybe I just need to find the right use for it.

November will be more fun, I hope!

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May 1960: “Summer Song”

cosyThis is definitely a “cosy of unusual charm”! (Despite the ripped corner on the back cover photo.) It features appliqué and embroidery with different designs on each side and instructions to make it up into either a regular cosy to put over the teapot, or a “nest” to put the teapot into.

My version isn’t a teapot cosy of any kind, since I don’t use them or know anyone who does. Everyone needs a pretty little zippered bag or two, though, to put current projects in, or materials for crafting, or pencils or any kind of small “stuff”, so that is what this project is going to be.

I started with the “bird and strawberries” side. As always, the first question is “how to get the pattern onto the fabric and cut-out bits, since there is no existent transfer.” Remember, back in the day you had to write to Stitchcraft to get the iron-on transfer as a supplement! I used the same graph square technique previously used on the  leaf cushion  and the gay goslings. It was trickier in this case, since the only good photo was taken at an angle, but I got it to work somehow.

 

 

Then I copied the pencil sketch, cut out the individual shapes by pinning them to the felt bits, and pinned them out on the base fabric.

 

 

Stitchcraft gives pretty good instructions for the embroidery — which colours for what parts of the appliqué and how many strands. The embroidery work itself was not too difficult, using stem-stitch, Romanian stitch, loop stitches and French knots as well as a bird_straw_embbit of herringbone and the tiny straight stitches in the strawberries. Still, it was more ambitious than any embroidery I have tried up until now. It doesn’t look quite like the picture and I did take a little bit of licence, but on the whole I was pretty satisfied… except for the legs. Oh dear, oh my, oh no, the legs. I did them three times and they still look weird. Either the angle is wrong, or the thickness, or I don’t know what, but I figured doing it again would only chew up the fabric more, so it is what it is.

 

Creating the template for the second side, “Bird and Blossom” presented an extra challenge, as there was only a tiny black-and-white photograph in the magazine, where the tea cosy “nest” was open and made the design appear at an angle. I am definitely getting the hang of this copy-grid-paste-and-cut method though, because it went quite quickly and easily and I think I matched the design pretty well — or at least made a decent interpretation of it.

Again, I sewed the pieces down (noticing along the way that I had forgotten one leaf, and adding it) and then did the embroidery as outlined in the instructions. Well, that was the plan at least, but the picture was so tiny and “unreadable” that I ended up doing most of the embroidery freehand. Winging it, so to speak…

Making the finished embroidered panels up into little bags should have been the easiest step, but it was oddly frustrating and nothing worked properly the first time around. The zippers are a mess. The lining of the “Bird and Blossom” catches and the ends of both zippers are not properly sewn into the top seam. Also, the embroidery is not bad considering my level of (in)experience, but I’m not as happy with it as I could have been. So I’m still deciding whether to keep both of the bags for myself, or give one or both away. What do you think? Here are the finished objects!

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