November 1961: Blazer with the Boutique Look

IMG_2931Post updated on December 28, 2019: Finished!

November 2019’s project was the blazer from this wonderful tweed check suit in the November 1961 issue. As it says in the description, “separates in the height of fashion illustrate why hand-knitting is chosen for today’s couture look.” The blazer, especially, is really a timeless, classic piece.

The stitch pattern is very clever and simple: k 1, sl 1, p 1 on the right-side rows, moved one stitch to the left every time, and purl back on the wrong side rows, with 2 rows in each colour. This makes a firm, structured fabric with minimal curling at the edges (which are finished with wool braid binding).

IMG_2920The pattern calls for Patons Rimple DK (nubbly wool with synthetic) in black and Patons Totem DK (smooth “crepe” wool) in “Oakapple”. I admit I had never heard of an an oak apple before and looking at the black-and-white photo, it’s it’s hard to tell what exact colour was used — but it’s obviously some kind of whitish-beige. Which, as it turns out, is pretty much the colour of at least some kind of real oak apple, which, as it also turns out, is not any kind of apple at all, but a wasp gall. My choice of wool, Jamieson’s Double Knitting, was clear from the beginning and I was lucky enough to be able to buy it “in person” at the wonderful Shetland Wool Week. Both the “black” (Mirrydancers)  and “white” (Sand) yarns are ever so subtly tweedy, which gives a beautiful depth to the colour.

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Why did I even bother?

Calculating the amounts was a nightmare, though. I had thought ahead and written it all out on paper: how many yards of Totem and Rimple there were in an ounce (thank you, Ravelry, for listing discontinued yarns with useful information about them), how many yards I would then need for each colour if making just the blazer, just the skirt or both, then comparing that with the number of metres per gram of Jamieson’s DK, dividing for number of 25 gram skeins, checking it all through and of course adding at least a few skeins of each colour for swatching, making full-length sleeves, extra security, and knowing that I wouldn’t be in Shetland again anytime soon. It was just barely enough! As I learned the other way around while making the green crocheted rug a little while ago, you can calculate all you want, (even with the help of a professional mathematician who knows extra-special secret formulas with Greek letters), or weight your swatches or whatever, but the only real way to know how much wool you are going to need is by making the thing. Argh.

IMG_2968The knitting itself was a dream, though — so nice to work in DK after the fingering-weight projects of recent months past. It knitted up fast and easily and the fabric feels good in the hands. The pattern is quite clear and simple. Even the set-in pockets with flaps and the buttonholes (such a nightmare, always) were successful and the buttonholes evenly spaced. (I used the method that Stitchcraft always suggests: make the side without buttonholes first, then mark the button positions with pins and make the buttonholes to correspond. With a repeating pattern like this one, you can count the rows between buttonholes quite accurately.)

I added a bit of waist shaping for a more tailored look, using a well-fitting blazer from my closet for a guide. I also made full-length sleeves. Originally I thought to make the sleeves from the top down for a better sleeve-cap fit and to make sure I didn’t run out of yarn, but I realised that that would reverse the direction of the diagonal pattern and I wasn’t sure if that would be a problem or not. I made them in the normal way from the cuff up, but made them narrower.

IMG_2932After putting it together and blocking, the back piece had stretched width-wise, the sleeves had stretched length-wise and the sleeve cap didn’t fit well. Also, the shoulders were too wide. What to do? I didn’t want to cut the knitted fabric, nor do everything over. My solution: I re-sewed the sleeve caps in where the shoulder and sleeve line should have fallen, then tucked the resulting extra fabric in towards the neck on the front piece to make a sort of built-in shoulder pad. I normally hate shoulder pads and rip them out of everything I buy, but in this case it turned the droopy, sloppy-looking shoulder into a crisp, tailored-looking one. I’m so sorry I forgot to take a “before” picture — the change was pretty dramatic.

IMG_3018To fix the back width, I added two vertical darts. That wasn’t as elegant as it could have been if I had knitted them in, but it was fine. The sleeve-cap changes pulled the sleeves in a little shorter, so I just finished the cuffs with the same binding that I used for the rest. The buttons are modern, but aren’t they perfect? I even remembered to buy a few extra.

It took a lot of finicky finishing work, but in the end, I was very happy. The blazer is warm, elegant, comfortable and fun to wear. It looks good as part of a retro-style outfit or a modern one. What more could I want? I don’t feel the need to make the skirt. I’m just happy with my blazer the way it is.

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September 1961: Overview

IMG_2772“Knitting with an Autumn Theme” is the motto of this month’s Stitchcraft from September, 1961. Knowing that September is the month where many knitters take up their needles again after not wanting to handle wool in the hot summer, I would have expected a “bumper issue” with extra ideas, new fashions from Paris, more colour photographs and so on. Not the case! It has more or less the same mix of “chunky”, bulky garments and easy homewares that we saw in the summer issues.

Not that that’s bad, of course (though bulky is not andIMG_2773 probably will never be my style). The kid’s coat looks cosy and fun to wear, and the “gay sweaters for him and her” in a Norwegian-style pattern are warm, practical and unisex. I imagine the boatneck collar on an unshaped front must scratch horribly across the neck, though.

There are more men’s garments than usual: a wide-collared “sports sweater” and an elegant crossed-front pullover with twisted-rib details on the pockets and borders. The former is meant to be worn for “golf, country walks and all the week-end jobs in the garden”. I’m guessing the plants in the garden will grow better if you wear a shirt and tie under your sweater while working on those week-end jobs, as it will make them feel important and worth dressing up for. Maybe I should try it — I’m terrible with plants.

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Collars, V-necks and checked patterns are still in fashion, as seen on the comfortable, yet elegant cardigan suit and the cardigan in a familiar three-colour slip stitch pattern. Terry-towel-like Rimple is still going strong, featured here in a cardigan for larger sizes.

Babies get a bonnet and jacket in the same bramble stitch pattern as last month’s coat and July’s dress (“Part 3 of our Layette”) as well as a vest and pilch (underpants/diaper cover) and small children get machine-knit slacks to match the blazer. Hooray for warm legs, finally!

If all of that sounds underwhelming, we haven’t even gotten to the housewares… The knitting and crochet projects focus on using up scraps and “leftovers” to make either a cushion, a stuffed puppy toy or some utterly goofy egg cosies. Needlewomen (sadly, they don’t write “embroideresses”, which would be more entertaining) can make floral cutwork mats or a cushion, or a “Vintage Parade” of early-20th-century automobiles. There’s a tapestry hassock for church-goers and the last of the Zodiac-themed projects — this month’s sign is Virgo.

I almost gave up on this issue, as there just wasn’t anything that inspired me… but then there was this rug! This utterly 1960s, easy enough for me to crochet, fringed and polka-dotted rug that would look marvellous underneath my vintage, Danish Modern coffee table and, if made in the right colour, would perfectly match my embroidered cushion from the January 1960 issue. I love it! Rug wool in skeins isn’t really sold anywhere these days, but I’ve got a solution for that that I think will work.

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Stay tuned for the result… and the “special bumper issues” with “extra features in colour” that are promised for October and November.

Inspired by Stitchcraft: Red and Blue Dress

IMG_2498This month’s project was a little bit different than usual. Instead of making something from the April 1961 issue, which didn’t have any projects that really spoke to me, I decided to finally make something I’ve been dreaming of ever since I made this little girl’s jacket from the March 1960 issue. I loved the check pattern and the bright red and blue combination. “Wouldn’t that make a great 1960s-style minidress?” I asked myself, and the idea has been percolating in my mind since then.

I chose the same yarn and colours from the child’s jacket: Schachenmayr Bravo, which is inexpensive, machine-washable and knits up quickly. It’s even historically correct for a 1960s design, which is a nice way of saying “100% acrylic.” (Though true 60s synthetic wools were more often Bri-Nylon or Orlon.)

IMG_2497I chose a typical basic construction with front, back and sleeves all made flat and separately from the bottom up and sewn together, and made a stockinette-stitch hem with the blue yarn. The dress shape is a modified A-line: flared at the hem and narrowed to the top waist, then increased slightly at the bust. I used another knit dress as a pattern, but had to deviate from it as the stitch pattern made the fabric behave differently. The sleeves are short, simple and set-in. The front piece is essentially the same as the back, but divided in half after the armhole cast-offs and rounded a bit at the neck. The button band is plain crochet.

IMG_2494After it was all done, I realised that I liked the roll of the blue stockinette stitch hems, so I decided to just leave them as is. That means the bottom hem is a little bit narrow in the blue part where it should flare out. I may or may not fix that in time, depending on my laziness levels.

It’s soft and squishy and in spite of the synthetic yarn, doesn’t feel like plastic or make me sweat uncontrollably.  The only real disadvantage is the virtual weight it puts on. It’s got negative ease everywhere and is narrower than the very svelte-looking dress that I used as a pattern, but the sponginess and three-dimensionality of the stitch pattern makes me look much bulkier than I actually am. I thought a crocheted belt in blue would help define the waist area a bit more, but the belt is curly and not heavy enough. Maybe a 1960s metal ring-chain belt would do the trick? But it’s utterly comfortable and fun to wear, so I’m happy.

November 1960: Overview

IMG_2168Brrrr! November 1960’s Special Bumper Issue” brings us “Colour for the Cold Days” and an extra 16-page pull-out booklet of baby woollies. Sadly, so sadly, the booklet from my copy of this issue has been pulled out long ago and is missing.

There are still plenty of lovely cold-weather fashions and interesting homewares to make, starting with the comfortable, matching “his and hers” sweaters from the front cover. Green checks continue to be in fashion, this time made with a complicated slip-drop-and-pick-up-later stitch pattern in two colours of Rimple. The idea of the “partner look” is just starting now, but will carry on throughout the 1960s into the androgynous 1970s and even the oversized-sweaters-for-everyone 1980s. Both fashion and gender roles were still quite rigidly stratified in 1960, but I see a parallel between the gradual softening of gender-based norms and the increased interest in gender-neutral “partner” garments that both started around this time. The two sweaters in this issue are both loosely-fitted, shaped (or not shaped, as is the case) the same, and available in overlapping sizes. The only proportional differences are in the shoulder width and sleeve/overall length, and the only cosmetic difference is the collar.

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Women’s fashions without men’s versions include a “sports” sweater with coloured lines made from a bobbled two-colour stitch pattern and added embroidery, a “top-fashion” jacket with a wide collar, a belted jumper and a cute hat with a buckled brim. Waist-length and closely fitted is definitely out, and the long-line with minimal shaping and a collar is definitely in. Men’s fashions are similarly long and loose-fitting, with dolman sleeves and interesting yoke details, and there’s a fantastic twin-set for young girls aged 5-9.

IMG_2172Homewares are still in a weird phase. The working woman or baby-boom mum (and those were overlapping categories, then as now) of 1960 didn’t have the time or patience to make too many elaborate Jacobean embroidery pieces or huge, detailed tapestries, especially not right before the great rush to get Christmas presents under the tree, so the focus is on quick, easy-to-make novelties for gifts. The aesthetic sense does seem to get lost a bit, though, if you ask me.

Of course, if you do have the time and leisure, you can go ahead and make a piano-stool and cushion set in Victorian-style tapestry, or a large room-divider screen with colourful parrots. Truly modern and up-to-date novelty lovers can continue the Zodiac series with a Scorpio motif for cushions, chairbacks or waste-paper baskets.

IMG_2178(I notice that Word Press does not recognise the word “chairback”. They have been out of fashion for too many years, I guess, having fallen victim to cheaper furniture, more frequent hair-washings and less Brylcreem. Pity that no one likes them now, as they do seem kind of fun.)

In the back pages, Jill Browne is still happily endorsing Patons Big Ben wool, and a lovely new children’s serial, “Wendy and Wag in Wallpaper Land” has started. Note the printed ruler at the side of the page, included in each issue as an easy way to measure your tension swatch. Also, there’s a rug reprint, a toy pig made of pink felt, a panda-bear motif and gay pot holders. What more could you want? My project will be the cloche hat, and I’ll consider the belted jumper if I have more time.

 

 

October 1960: Overview

0E56629B-4509-4599-B9F4-63679CA72DCCOctober and November are really the best months for knitting. The weather has gotten cold enough that you really want to wear and make warm, woolly things, and there’s the nice “surprise” of packing the winter clothes out of storage, and so remembering what nice hand-knitted pieces you made in other years. At least, that’s my experience.

Stitchcraft also knows that knitters like to start more projects in the fall, so this month’s “bumper” issue has lots of warm clothing for adults and children as well as Christmas presents for home and family (for those who like to think ahead). And in the middle of the magazine is a special supplement of fashions in “Big Ben” — bulky triple-weight wool.

Women’s fashion features the “new length” of 23-25 inches in all jumpers, with minimal or no waist shaping, a sign that the era of waist-length sweaters and knitted blouses so popular in the 1950s is coming to an end. The sleeves have a new length, too — the “smart bracelet length” i.e. 3/4 length. I guess it lets you show off your bracelets, but I get cold forearms! Two are in 4-ply and one in an interesting “Italian waffle” slip-stitch pattern in double knitting.

There are some great fashions for men, as well, both in the regular magazine and the supplement. The long socks and lined scarf in ever-fashionable green checks are definitely cosy and “would make very acceptable presents for a grown-up son or special boy-friend“. The jumper features a shawl collar, here referred to as a „reefer neck“. Reefer neck? When I think of the 1950s or 1960s and „reefer“, a shawl-collared jumper is not what comes to mind. Perhaps that grown-up son or special boy-friend has special recreational plans to wear that sweater for? In an case, it‘s attractive and warm-looking, as is the model.

 

There are plenty of little trinkets to make for the home, „for your Church Bazaar“ or for Christmas gifts. Looking at some of them, I think more bizarre than bazaar — Peter the Pup has a very weird look in his eyes and you don’t really mentally associate an igloo with the idea of keeping tea warm, right? (Though I know, I know, the thick ice walls of real igloos make excellent insulation.)

Homewares are always fun and this month has a bathroom set with seahorses for those who like a hand-made woolly toilet seat cover (makes me think of my great-aunt, who even made those woolly extra-toilet-paper-roll covers).

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There’s also a landscape tapestry, a cushion embroidered with sprays of fuchsia and a „Chippendale“ chair seat. In home-wears, there‘s a bed-jacket that‘s pretty enough to wear as a cardigan and the start of a new embroidery series with signs of the Zodiac. I always though the interest in astrology was a 1970s phenomenon, but here we have an entire year of zodiac-themed home accessories in 1960. I personally have no interest in astrological signs, but I do absolutely love her dress — check out that lovely lacing in the front. (And be sure to wear your frilliest petticoat while ironing.)

And we haven‘t even gotten to the Big Ben supplement! It truly is a bumper issue. The Big Ben offerings are under the signs of „Continental“ and „Italian“ styling: a long, slim, mostly unshaped silhouette with square collars and nubbly stitch patterns. Toddlers get a classic „lumber style“ jacket with pockets. The Norwegian „playtops“ aren‘t from the Big Ben supplement, but they are awfully nice.

Last but not least, you can order yourself some sewing fabric from the advertisements in the back pages, and what could be better for autumn wear than gay checks? I wholeheartedly approve… and want that suit that the lady on the left is wearing. My October project will be a variation of the fuchsia embroidery. Happy autumn knitting parade, everybody!

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April 1960: Overview

coverapr60“Already there is talk of holidays” says the introduction to the April 1960 issue, “and whether it’s to be the sea, country, sight-seeing or sailing, you can’t go without your holiday hand-knits.” At the same time, spring and April mean Easter, with lots of opportunities for hand-made accessories and knickknacks.

For knitters, there is a larger variety of wool weights and styles than in the last couple of issues. Houndstooth and checked patterns are still going strong — look at that great jacket on the front cover! — but lace and Rimple designs are offered too, and garments for babies, toddlers, and adult men and women.

For the patient, there is a cute 3-ply top and a shirt in cotton crochet yarn at 12 stitches to the inch. (This is the only type of cotton yarn I’ve ever seen featured in Stitchcraft, but usually it’s used for making doilies or other fine crochet items.)

For those who prefer to actually get their garment finished before the summer holidays start, there are “partner look” sailing sweaters, the houndstooth jacket on the cover, and pullovers in Rimple and Big Ben yarns. Rimple will continue to not be my taste in terms of texture, but isn’t the model cute?

Easter embroidery is big, and around this time, Stitchcraft started to include designs for church accessories — hassocks and kneelers in tapestry or cross-stitch. For those for whom Easter is less of a religious experience, there are some great “Easter novelties” (cosies for teapots and toilets) and who could resist those gay kitchen ideas? Standard needlework ideas for the home include a fitted chairback and a lovely Persian-inspired cushion.

One thing that is really different in this issue is a sewing pattern, common in 1940s and 50s Stitchcraft but rare in the 1960s. It’s a very simple nightdress (for Easter and/or your holidays, of course) that is recommended to be made in “one of the easily laundered non-iron materials”, i.e. nylon or early synthetics.

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April’s celebrity “plug” is given to us by Jill Browne, the actress who played Nurse Carole Young on the soap opera Emergency – Ward 10, which aired on ITV from 1957 to 1967.  I have to admit I have never seen it, but it seems to have been quite progressive for its time, with Joan Hooley playing a female surgeon in an interracial relationship that was sealed with a kiss onscreen.

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On the back pages, it is the end of adventures for Good Teddy Bear and Naughty Teddy Bear, but they got two gay jerseys knitted for them in the end, so I think everyone was happy. Plus you can make your very own teddy bear to commemorate the series! The ads are for the usual things, except for this gem of a potty-training stool called “Bambino”, appearing for the first time.

My projects from this issue will be the 3-ply top and the appliqué goslings on a tea cosy. Happy Spring, everyone!

 

 

 

 

March 1960: Spring Magic

Version 2First project for March: this charming jacket from the jacket-and-skirt set titled “Spring Magic in Judy’s trim Outfit”. What a great title! And what a great photo in the booklet. I’m glad today’s girls don’t generally get their hair tortured into curls like litte Judy’s in the picture, but she certainly looks happy enough holding hands with her gigantic teddy bear.

The pattern calls for Patons Double Knitting at a gauge of 18 stitches to 4 inches over the stitch pattern. The child I knit this for can’t wear wool, though, so I made it in wonderful, easy-care, electric red and blue acrylic Bravo Originals from Schachenmayr. It did turn out to be a bit bulkier than Patons DK, so I adapted the stitch counts to reflect a gauge of 15 stitches to 4 inches.IMG_1566 (1)

The stitch pattern looks complicated but is actually very easy — fundamentally just k1, p1 on the right side and k on the wrong side, but the k stitches on the right side are made through the purl bump of the row below, giving a sort of check pattern without stranding or slip stitches. It has stockinette-stitch hems on the cuffs and bottom edge and a row of double crochet (British terminology, i.e. single crochet for Americans) around the front and collar edges.

It knit up so fast, and the colours were so bright, and the yarn so space-age, that I bought a whole lot more of it in order to make a 1960s-style, short-sleeved, A-line minidress for myself. I can’t wait!

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March 1960: Overview

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March 1960 promises “Spring Magic” and a special pull-out supplement with designs in “Big Ben”, Patons’ new Aran-weight wool that promises to knit up especially quickly, so you can have your thick, warm woolies finished in time for the summer holidays. (Anyone who lives in Northern Europe or who has taken a holiday on the northern Atlantic or North Sea coast will understand perfectly.) Fine-gauge knitting is right out: the designs not written for Big Ben, like the excellent yellow pullover and sleeveless waistcoat for men, the “Young Style Designs” for teenage girls, or the fabulous checkered coat for a toddler, are all in DK-weight wool. The only exception is “John’s new pullover” in 4-ply.

 

 

The embroidery and homecraft projects focus on springtime and Easter, with a floral tablecloth and a cushion and chairback in traditional Hungarian design. It’s a pity nobody uses chairbacks these days, as they are a nice decoration and certainly prolong the life and cleanliness of a chair or sofa. The stitched rug is a “quick and easy modern design” and there are tapestry and needle-etching pictures of quaint-looking English town streets.

 

In comic land, Good Ted and Naughty Ted (two teddy bears) and their human friends Beth and Bill take a balloon ride to Magic Way, where a fairy turns Beth and Bill into animals in order for them to visit Noah’s Ark. As usual, the ads are for Lux soap, Opti-Lon zippers, Cow & Gate baby formula and various sewing and knitting machines.

 

One older style of ad is the Patons and Baldwin’s testimonial, in which a famous personage shows off their favorite hand-knit garment made from P&B wool. Here we have Russ Conway, the popular music pianist, at the peak of his career and wearing a lumber jacket in “man-weight wool”. Russ Conway was a multi-talented, self-taught piano player and composer who enjoyed enormous success, producing multiple No.1 hits and playing in a distinctive “honky-tonk” style. Though plagued by serious health conditions, he continued to compose, produce, and fund-raise for charity until his death in 2000 at the age of 75. You can read more about his life and career and hear some of his music on his tribute website .

IMG_1560I will be making two children’s designs: the fabulous checkered coat for a toddler, and “John’s new pullover” for a soon-to-be six-year-old.

January 1960: Green check jumper

greencheck_issuefoto2My knitting project from this issue was a houndstooth-check jumper, made in double knitting wool in two shades of green. Large checked patterns of this type were popular this year, which is presumably why Stitchcraft categorized this jumper as “fashion knitting” rather than “casual knitting”.

I love the big green collar and the interplay of the two colours. What I didn’t like as much was the pattern itself. It looked fine in the photos but in a swatch, I found it looked too much like plusses or crosses and not like what I think of as houndstooth. Also, the straight vertical placement of the stitches made the fabric pucker. I experimented with a couple of other houndstooth variations and decided on the second one (lower swatch in photo.)greencheck_2swatches

My only other intended modifications were minimal: knitting it in the round with invisible fake “side seams” instead of in pieces with real seams, as I don’t like purling in two colours, and making the sleeves full-length instead of the 3/4 or 7/8 shown in the photos. However, once the body and upper back were finished, it looked as though the upper back would not be wide enough. I suppose the average Stitchcraft reader of 1960 was not particularly athletic, by modern standards… The shoulder width was fine, so the solution was to simply space the decreases from the beginning of the armhole farther apart (at each end of every 4th row instead of every other row). I did the same on the upper fronts and increased the total stitch count on the upper arms by 4 stitches, making the decreases more gradual on the sleeve caps as well.

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The pattern calls for Patons Double Quick Knitting. I got a good gauge (6 sts to an inch in pattern) and a fantastic colour match with Patons Diploma Gold DK, a wool-acrylic-nylon blend. I had plenty of it on hand from a frogged project, but the work in progress was nubbly. I thought it would get smooth again with blocking, but alas, the original project was probably blocked “too well” and the finished product is not quite smooth. Since it’s the same all over, though, I decided to think of it as a design feature.

The fit is excellent, everything worked out wonderfully and I am very satisfied with the final result.