Blast from the Past: April 1952

IMG_2746I hang out a lot in the “All Things Vintage” forum on Ravelry and try to participate in the make-alongs when I can. Usually, there are two of them per year, and last year’s July-December KAL/CAL (that’s “knit along”/ “crochet along” for anyone not familiar with the abbreviations) had the theme “Fabulous Fifties.” The 1950s were indeed a fabulous time for fashion and I have a small selection of 1950s knitting magazines, including some very nice issues of Stitchcraft, so the most difficult part was choosing a pattern! I went with this “Elegant jerkin for summer wear” from April 1952.

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Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh (wearing a jerkin) by William Segar, 1598. National Gallery of Ireland. Public domain.

First of all, I hear most of you asking: What is a jerkin? I’m glad you asked. Originally, it was a short, close-fitting, buttoned or otherwise fastened jacket with short or no sleeves, worn in the Renaissance over a doublet. It was often nipped in at the waist. Modern versions of the jerkin were revived for military use in the 20th century, and Stitchcraft as well as other mid-century patterns often use the word for a women’s waistcoat with cap sleeves to wear over  a blouse, or a knitted blouse-like garment such as this one, which plays off of the historical jerkin shape.

The four-row stitch pattern was quite easy (knit 1, slip 1 on the right-side rows, knit 1, purl 1 on the wrong-side rows in one colour, then slip 1, purl one on the RS and purl 1, knit 1 on the WS in the other colour) but because of the colour change with the slip stitches, it was amazingly difficult to “read” the work and get back on track. At the same time, if just one stitch was wrong, it was immediately visible in the pattern. Of course, I had to pick blue and black, two colours that didn’t offer much contrast and which, I found, only look different in natural light. As a result, I could only work on this project during daylight hours… in the winter, which is pretty dark.

IMG_2747Adding to the frustration: as always, no matter how small the needles or how thin the wool, I could not knit tightly enough to get the minuscule gauge, which itself was only given as a “life-size” photograph in the pattern. Of course, I am also larger than the 34-35 inch bust given in the pattern, but how much larger the garment, calibrated for how much larger the gauge? Right, lots of calculations, estimations, measurements upon measurements, and just plain guesswork. Plus the thing pulled together either more or less, horizontally or vertically, as it got larger — my gauge swatch (a pocket lining) was utterly useless. I had to start three times.

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Before sewing

When I finally got it done (too late for the KAL deadline but whatever), it fit perfectly! I was so proud of myself! Then I wash-blocked it and the wool stretched about six inches in width and at least two or three in length above the waist. In desperation, I reached out to the good people of Ravelry, who told me that the yarn I used (Lang Merino 200 Bébé) was superwash and I should put it in the clothes dryer to shrink it back into shape. I did that and it actually did shrink it down, but it still ballooned a bit in the torso, so I sewed side seams into it. At the moment they are just sewn down with yarn, but the next time I get the sewing machine out, I will probably sew them down properly and (aaaaaggggh!!) cut the excess fabric away to reduce bulk

Also, I sewed that moss-stitch bottom band on twice and it still pulls in a little bit. Oh right, and the tour through the dryer dinged up the buttons, even though I turned the garment inside out.

All in all, this jerkin was a jerk. It was jerkin me around! It looks OK though, I guess, and better under a blazer. You will have to take my word for it when I tell you that I look less dumpy in it in real life than in the photo. It was an interesting project in terms of construction and stitch pattern and I’m sure I will wear it, but sadly, in the end I don’t think it was worth all the frustration.

 

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Stay tuned for the update on the really, truly, almost finished January 1962 project and the embroidered chicken squirrel (yes) that will be my February 1962 experiment catastrophe vegetable bag.

December 1961: Overview

IMG_2973It’s that time of year again and December 1961’s issue has a lovely festive cover photo featuring matching father-son jumpers and a freshly-cut-down Christmas tree with holly branches. The jumpers are meant to be made in flat pieces with only the yoke worked in the round, but everything about them other than that is in the traditional Norwegian style, with a small snowflake pattern on the body and sleeves and a round yoke with tree and star patterns. I like that the jumpers’ pattern theme and colour choice are not so very specifically Christmas-y that they couldn’t be worn at any other time, or by people in our more diverse and modern times who don’t celebrate or don’t care much for Christmas and would just like a nice warm jumper with a wintery flair.

1961 Stitchcraft, of course, celebrates Christmas in a big way. Most of the projects are either glamorous party-wear for the ladies or gifts of all sizes and sorts for family and friends, while the fashionable housewife can do her Christmas shopping in a flecked-tweed cardigan suit similar to the ones in the November 1961 issue, or keep warm on casual days with bulkier sweaters. Tweed and contrasting polo-neck collars are in fashion all around.

For those fancy parties and evenings out, there’s a cocktail jumper in popcorn stitch, an angora stole, and an embroidered and sequinned evening bag. The jumper is knitted with wool and Lurex yarn held together, giving it a bit of sparkle. The stole is absolutely timeless and modern as well as easy to make (a rectangle in simple lace pattern with garter-stitch borders) and probably quite warm and cosy to wear over your strapless evening gown at the theatre. The bag is fancy, yet inexpensive to make, with a very 1960s “modern” look. Even after the party and the night out are over, you can still look glamorous in a knitted pink bedcape.

IMG_2982Children of all ages can look forward to practical, yet stylish winter garments — a knitted outdoor play-suit for toddlers in warm, bulky Big Ben, a smart fine-knit twin-set for girls of varying ages (sizes from 26-30 inch chest) and a wonderful knitted dress in a two-colour slip-stitch pattern that fits right into the tweed trend. The photo caption claims that Alison (the young model) is “warm as toast” but of course, her legs are going to be cold! She still seems pretty happy, though.IMG_2981

For me, the best, and sometimes goofiest, projects of every December Stitchcraft issue are the homewares and “novelty gifts”. This year, some are quite normal, like the snowflake-pattern table mats “for a supper party” pictured above, a cutwork tablecloth, or the tapestry stool cover in a diagonal Florentine pattern. Some are specifically winter- or Christmas-themed, such as the knitted cushion and a framed tapestry picture of angels. Two are very classic and beautiful and have nothing to do with “the season” — a typical Jacobean chairback and a very pretty tray cloth embroidered with anemones. They are all quite nice, if not particularly special.

And then there are the novelty gift ideas, or, as they are titled here, “gay mascots.”

The knitted teddy bear is nice enough, but looks quite stern with its unsmiling mouth and sharp, downward-pointing eyebrows. The snowman egg cosy… well, if you really feel the need to use an egg cosy, fine, it looks cheerful enough. Ivy-leaf pincushion, OK. The bear cub, though, looks like it’s about to attack! Something about its half-smile and the glint in its eye makes it look malicious. And the Father Christmas egg cosy… it’s hard for me to express exactly what’s wrong with it, but if I woke up on Christmas morning and found him on my breakfast place, I would expect to be getting coal in my stocking. Give me a gay mascot any day, but maybe not exactly these ones?!?

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I guess it shows just how difficult it is to embroider faces.

Our “Readers’ Pages” have the usual ads for fabric remnants and sewing machines as well as an extra pattern for a little knitted and embroidered scarf, some traditional Swedish pattern motifs and review of the exhibition of Swedish embroidery recently held at the Embroiderers’ Guild, and a comic in which Little Bobby gets a skiing lesson from a friendly snowman.

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it and happy winter days to all! My December project will be to finish some of the many WIPs lying around (including the November blazer, I swear it is almost done) and use the evening-bag embroidery motifs on something fun and small like dinner napkins or a vegetable bag.

 

 

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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