June 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.
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.
I 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.
This 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.)
I 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.
After 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.
My 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.
I 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!