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.

Out of Order: Beach dress, June 1961

IMG_2566June 1961 was the issue with too many great projects in it and not enough time to make them all. My “official” project was this wonderful knitted blouse  which took up the whole month, but there was also a very intricate appliquéd and embroidered cushion that will probably become a long-term learning experience project, as well as a great beach dress for a small child. Summer is waning, but I got the beach dress done.

There’s so much I love about this design: the sea horses, the buttoned straps in the back, not to mention the ridiculous poses and strange inflated? stuffed? animals that the kids in the photos are riding. Also: illustrations in the magazine, done by hand, with bubbles.IMG_2566 2

The pattern is for a 23-24 inch chest, with an 8 1/2 inch long skirt. The child I knit it for is a little thinner, but taller, so I made the width from the pattern and added 1 1/2 inches to the skirt length and made longer straps with multiple buttonholes for different length options/growing room.

Version 2I decided to make it in cotton instead of Nylox (Patons wool-nylon mix from the 1960s) or a modern equivalent. It is always, always a problem to find non-mercerised cotton that is fine enough to give 7 stitches to the inch. Thick, mercerised dishcloth cotton is always available, mercerised crochet cotton is always available, but what passes as 4-ply or  fingering weight non-mercerised cotton is just too thick. I decided on Natura “Just Cotton” which is non-mercerised, soft, pretty and supposedly free of harmful substances (Oeko-Tex certification). The label says it gets 27 stitches in 4 inches but that is illusory. The yarn is 8-ply! I don’t know why they don’t use 4 strands, thus making it a true 4-ply fine cotton for soft, light garments. I got 6 1/2 stitches to the inch with some effort, but the resulting fabric is a bit stiffer than I would have liked.

On the first try, the first ball of turquoise ran out shortly after the bottom sea-horse band and I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough, so I started over and made the skirt less full. Of course, the skirt lost a lot of its swing and I ended up with a ball and a half left over at the end… I used some of the rest to make a little kerchief that the kid can wear on her head for extra sun protection and cuteness. Let’s just hope it stays warm enough for her to still wear it this year.

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.

December 1960: Baby’s Special Outfit

IMG_2217My December project was a warm winter dress for a baby, part of the “Baby’s Special Outfit” of dress, bootees and mittens that continued the baby set started in the November 1960 issue.

The dress has a smocked top, which I had never worked in knitting before. Of course, knit smocking is not like sewing smocking, where you gather the fabric up in regular pleats and embroider over it. Here, it’s pretty easy to do and involves taking out a long loop and knitting it back in a few stitches later — almost like cabling without a cable needle. The base pattern is 2×2 rib, which gives the same effect as gathered fabric.

dec60wipI used a lovely 100% wool that was hand-dyed by a fellow knitter in my local knitting group. She uses natural dyes from plants in her garden, or the bits of food items that are normally not eaten: walnut shells, onion skins, and so on. This green-melange wool was dyed with red onion skins! She did explain to me how that worked, but please don’t ask me, because I forgot the answer already. Anyway, it’s very nice. I was worried that it might be too scratchy for sensitive baby skin, but wash-blocking it and rinsing with hair conditioner softened it up quite a bit.

I only had 100 grams of the wool, so had to make the dress a bit smaller than in the pattern. The original pattern was for a baby up to one year or more, had a long, full skirt, measured 22 inches at the chest and had sleeves. The baby I made this for is 6 months old but still quite small, and my version of the dress measures 21 inches at the wide part of the chest, has a shorter and narrower skirt and no sleeves. In a way, that’s more practical, since it can be worn over a t-shirt and leggings and taken off if the baby gets too warm. It also won’t touch her skin, so scratchiness won’t be a problem. It buttons in the back.

And with that, I have completed one whole year of Stitchcraft projects! Goodbye 1960 and 2018, and hello 1961 and 2019. Stay tuned, and happy New Year!