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.

May 1962: In a Cooler Trend for Summer

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EDIT June 20, 2020: Finished!

May 2020 went quickly and is already over, but (spoiler…) my May 1962 project didn’t get finished until June. It was a lightweight pullover in 3-ply wool with three-quarter sleeves and a lacy yoke, simple, elegant and “in a cooler trend for summer.”

I bought the wool — Regia 3-ply, which has long been discontinued — from a wonderful little wool shop in my town that used to sell and maintenance hand knitting machines as well. It was a tiny, one-woman operation with unpredictable business hours, whose elderly owner lived in the apartment above the shop.  She often had vintage second-hand knitting machines for sale and I always meant to buy one, but the times when she had one available and the times when I was able to actually find the store open never seemed to coincide, and sadly, she passed away last year. There were no knitting machines left in the close-out inventory sale, but still plenty of fine-ply wool, which is almost impossible to find in normal wool shops these days. RIP lovely little store and lovely lady who ran it! I will think of you whenever I wear this jumper.

In spite of the fine wool and small needles (2.5 mm), I was unable to get the required tension of 8 stitches and 10 rows to an inch, so I adapted and made the smallest size, which should come out to fit me. I say “should” because the lace pattern used on the sleeves and yoke bunches together quite a lot before blocking. I blocked both sleeves on the needles to try and measure it out (see photos…) but I still wasn’t sure if they would fit properly onto the yoke. They did, with no further alterations.

The only real alteration that I made (besides making the body in the round to save time and seaming) was to alter the decreases on the front and back after the armhole bind-offs and before the beginning of the yoke. The pattern is written with identical back and front pieces, but I wanted the yoke to hang down further on the neck on the front than on the back, so I make the back pre-yoke part longer and the front pre-yoke part shorter by decreasing more or less frequently than in the pattern.

The lace stitch refused to block out flat, no matter what I did. I wash-blocked, stretched and pinned both sleeves before making the yoke (see photo above) and they had bunched up again by the time I was done knitting. I wash-blocked, stretched and pinned the whole garment after completion and the sleeves bunched up again five minutes after I unpinned it (dry). I pinned the sleeves and steamed them, then ironed them with the same result. Did I mention that this yarn is 75% wool and 25% acrylic, which normally blocks for good when any kind of heat is applied? Well, no matter what I did, it didn’t take. The yoke stretches out naturally while worn, but the sleeves bunch up. Since they are supposed to be below-elbow-length anyway, I decided to call it a design feature and live with it.

On the whole, I’m quite happy with it, and it’s the perfect weight for cooler summer days.

May 1962: Overview

IMG_3237Handknits For Your Holiday! If you are planning on taking a holiday in 1962, that is. In that case, I would recommend going to the Algarve in southern Portugal, which, based on the pattern of the window shutters and blanket in the background, is where I am guessing this magnificent cover photo was taken. Sadly, my time machine is out of order and May 2020’s motto is (Lots Of ) Handknits For No Holidays This Year Or Probably Anytime Soon.

I bought my copy of this issue on Ebay, but apparently it originally came from “The Knitting Centre” on Field End Road in Eastcote near London. I actually checked to see if it still existed but sadly, it seems to not be there anymore, nor is there any other knitting or craft shop in the area as far as Ravelry and the digital map can tell me. It would have been fun to be able to trace a 50+-year-old knitting magazine issue back to its origin!

Like most of the late-spring or summer issues, this one has a mix of quick, warm, bulky sweaters for holidays in northern climes and some finer, dressier items for that special going-out evening. “The boy friend” can get wild in a colourful, oversized mid-weight sweater, while “you” enjoy your evening in a bobbled jumper. For casual outings, there’s a raglan polo-neck and the “latest look in twin sets” — a short-sleeved jumper in lighter-weight wool with a heavier V-neck top worn over it. (The donkey seems to like it.)

The “cooler trend for summer” includes a pretty short-sleeved blouse and a fine-knit jumper with a lacy yoke as well as a cute dress and cardigan for a small child, made in terry-cloth Rimple yarn with fluffy appliquéd chicks.

Older children get their own holiday hand knits and nothing says “1962” like this little girl sporting a spectacular up-do, thick warm cardigan, knee socks and basically nothing else on her body. How is she supposed to play badminton in a skirt that doesn’t even cover her bottom when she’s standing still? Her tomboy sister gets a much better deal in her knitted shirt and shorts. White and pale colours are always on point for summer and lemon yellow is the new colour trend.

The homewares department is quite boring this time, but there is a reason for that, as “editress” Patience Horne explains on the facing page:

After our end-of-the-year check through our embroidery and tapestry features, it is clear that designs of the more traditional type head the list — others in a modern style are way down and definitely have more limited appeal. I think this is because more traditional designs never date and seem to fit in well with most homes, whereas a completely contemporary design requires almost its own special setting.

Well, there you have it. Readers usually had to send away for the embroidery transfers, so it must have been easy enough to determine which designs were most popular, and the most popular embroidery designs of 1961 and the most popular embroidery design of 1960 were “peasant motifs” and two Jacobean cushions, so we can expect more of the same. The May 1962 Jacobean cushion is certainly very pretty and there’s also a cutwork tablecloth, other table linens and a “Chippendale” tapestry stool.

There’s also a “cushion for the car” with the cryptic motif “II3LMF” on it. I assume it must be a reference to some sort of gearstick / gearknob / automobile part code, but I can’t interpret it and Internet searches for vintage gearsticks led me nowhere. Are there any vintage car aficionados out there who can tell me what it means? EDIT: Gretchen aka Stashdragon solved the mystery for me in her comment below. The centre panel is a customisable area for the car’s registration/license plate number and the chart gives you all the letters and numbers you might need to personalise it. Guess I should have read the pattern text! Thanks, Gretchen!

That’s all for now. My May project will be the 3-ply jumper with the lacy yoke. Get well and stay well!

June 1961: The Soft Texture Look

IMG_2569June’s project was this lovely sleeveless top in a leafy lace pattern, touted as a “very wearable and useful jumper to make for your holiday.” It looked pretty and elegant and suitable for my summer climate, which is generally not too hot — a lightweight wool garment in lace with no sleeves should be perfect most days.

It’s written for “smaller sizes” — 32-33 or 34-35 inch bust — which would be too small for me, but my ever-loose gauge and inability to find 3-ply wool came in handy here, as it has in the past. It worked out fine for me to make the second size according to the directions, adding a few rows to the length below the armholes.

The wool I used was an absolute winner — Concept Silky Lace by katja, made of 80% merino wool and 20% silk. It’s lightweight, soft, and warm enough yet cool enough at the same time. My local wool shop had it in colours that I don’t wear, plus dark blue or a sort of salmon orange. Dark blue is always fine but I was so intrigued by the orange that I had to give it a try. I normally wear black with black with possibly dark tweedy blues or greens, so orange was a big change, but I love it! The colour looks good on me, looks good with black (important…) and it seems to even be in fashion at the moment, since as soon as I bought it I started noticing all the other people around me wearing some shade of IMG_2631orange non-vintage clothing.
The body knitted up pretty quickly in spite of the somewhat complicated lace pattern. I charted the pattern out before knitting anything — as was usual for the time, the magazine has written instructions only, and the pattern is 36 rows long. That was not only good for learning the pattern and being able to follow it more clearly, but it allowed me to notice a couple of errors in the pattern instructions that would have been very frustrating had I discovered them while knitting.

IMG_2646Then I ran into trouble with the weather, which was suddenly 34-36 degrees Centigrade with no chance of a cooler room either at work, home or on the move. My hands were too sweaty to hold wool and I had to take a break for a few days until we returned to our regularly scheduled 18-20 degrees. Then I finished the body and moved on the the neck and armhole edgings, which took forever! It’s actually an interesting design, which I haven’t seen before: You knit a strip of stockinette stitch with 3-stitch garter stitch border on one side, then fold the strip in half lengthwise like a sort of hem under the garter-stitch bit and sew it onto the neck or sleeve edge with the garter stitch facing out. It’s a like a separate hem sewn on, and the front neck strip has some cleverly thought-out short rows to make it fit the curve of the neck. But oh does it take a long time to make the strips.

Which is all a very long apology for the fact that it was not done by the end of the month, but now it is! As usual, we tried to re-create the original photo. It’s always hard to get the exact pose angle, but I did have a matching scarf and sunglasses.

I am so, so happy with the way it turned out!

April 1960: Popular neckline

Version 2My second project for April (obviously not finished before the end of the month, seeing that I started it two days before) was this cute lace blouse with a “Popular neckline.” I do love the neckline, and the leaf pattern.

The pattern is written for wool, of course, but I made it in cotton for summer. It is very, very difficult for me to find any kind of yarn, especially cotton, that is fine enough to get the pattern gauge of 8 stitches to the inch in stockinette stitch. I can hardly even get 8 stitches to the inch on lace-weight wool on 2 mm needles! But crochet cotton thread would be too thin, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in black. So I found a cotton that gets me 7 stitches to the inch on 2 – 2 1/2 mm needles and fiddled with making the middle size and having it come out as the large size.

popneck_wipThe biggest problem was making the side-seam increases. The lace pattern has a repeat of 12 stitches, but a sort of varying number of edge stitches. I honestly had no idea where to fit in the extra stitches, or how to keep them in pattern when the increases and decreases within the pattern are broadly spaced. Time to hit the Ravelry forums! I did try charting it out (the pattern has written instructions only) and at first it made it easier to “read” the knitting, but didn’t give me any fundamental technical answers. I realised I had to chart out  not just the pattern itself but all of the increases and decreases, with the changes that had to be made row by row. That worked, but by then I had already made the back piece, so those increases on the sides weren’t perfect. But everything else was!

The fit is incredible. I was wary of the horizontal cap sleeves, which are really just made by casting on extra stitches instead of decreasing under the arms. I thought it would make a lot of baggy fabric under the arms, like those 1950s (or 1980s) dolman-sleeve fashions that must be extremely inconvenient to wear. But no! The armholes are snug without being too tight, and I appreciated the extra width and give in the upper chest and back, where I am quite wide.

All in all, it is wonderful and I am very happy. Here I am having fun “recreating” the original picture. The bag is from a Stitchcraft pattern, too!IMG_1929