October 1962: Overview

“There are several “special” things about this issue” writes Stitchcraft’s “editress” on the facing page, and I’m glad she put the word “special” in quotes, because this month’s issue is definitely a mixed bag. On the plus side, it has extra pages in colour and introduces a new yarn: Patons Ariel, designed to be “triple-knit” bulky and therefore quick to knit, but still lightweight. On the minus side… we’ll get to that later in the post.

The new wool, Ariel, is listed on Ravelry as bulky weight (97 yards in a 2-ounce ball) and composed of 80% wool and 20% “other” (synthetic fibres). According to the person who wrote the Ravelry entry, it may or may not have been waterproof! It appears to be quite fluffy, thus the name and the “light as a feather” claim. It’s used for the two-colour, slip-stitch-patterned garments in the cover photo as well as the identical boatneck pullovers for men or women. The partner-look idea is still going strong.

Tweed looks and suits are always popular in the fall, and this month’s issue gives us a loose-fitting suit with a short-sleeved jumper to wear underneath, all in double knitting weight. Nubbly Rimple yarn is also DK weight and still a fashionable choice for this sweater with a contrasting bow-tie. The purple pullover with the big collar (still in fashion after two years!) is made in bulky Big Ben wool. Greens, browns and yellows dominate the colour palette and go with the autumn theme.

Embroidery and tapestry take a backseat to the autumn knits in this issue, with typical floral chair-back, apron, and traycloth designs. There’s a tapestry of four famous castles, a cross-stitch wall hanging with a poem about what type of wood to burn in a fireplace (I had never heard this rhyme, have any of you?) and a more complexly embroidered cushion of “Indian design”. I cannot vouch for its cultural authenticity, but the woven and latticed stitches are certainly striking and effective.

Speaking of cultural history, remember our little model Judy with her “trim Outfit” from 1960? (Of course you don’t, and I wouldn’t have recognised her either if her name weren’t in the caption.) Here she is, two years older, cutting a dash in her warm 3-piece play suit and all set to play with…

Ah, right. Her “Golly”, who “steals the show” and whom readers can also knit from a pattern in this issue. “He’s favourite”, writes our editress, and “everyone in the nursery loves Golly.” Who is he?

In 1895, the English-American cartoonist and illustrator Florence Kate Upton produced her first children’s book, titled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. Over the next fourteen years, she and her mother Bertha collaborated on twelve more books starring the same characters. The books, and particularly the “Golliwog” character, enjoyed enormous popularity for at least sixty years afterwards and “Golly” dolls and toys as well as “golliwog” images on brand names and household products were practically ubiquitous in popular culture — particularly children’s culture — in the UK and elsewhere throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Though Upton intended the Golliwog(g) to be a positive character and the hero of the story, it can’t be denied that his representation is a racist caricature born of the blackface minstrel tradition in the United States. According to Upton herself, her inspiration for the character was a Black minstrel doll found in her house, and typical “Golly” representations show him with exaggerated, distorted features and wearing an outfit typical of minstrel performers in the early 20th century. Later literary and cultural depictions of “golliwogs” often portrayed them as animalistic, uncultured or criminal, thus reflecting and perpetuating negative racial stereotypes about Black people. Over time, the word “golliwog” and shortened forms of it became used and recognised as demeaning racial slurs.

Though many white Britons, Americans and Australians who grew up with golliwog dolls continue to claim that they are inoffensive (and capitalise on their popularity via Internet auctions and collectors’ organisations), it should be pretty obvious that they, and their related imagery, are problematic. For a more in-depth understanding of why, I encourage further reading, starting with this excellent article from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan (US).

It’s not the first or only time that Stitchcraft (like just about every other knitting/craft publication of its time) has featured patterns for toys or dolls that reflect stereotypes of particular ethnic groups or portray them as an “exotic Other”, even if those representations are supposed to be positive. Many patterns from the 1940s and 1950s are particularly offensive (take my word for it, I don’t want to show them here), as is the use, up until the late 1950s in some cases, of racial slurs as colour names for certain shades of wool (ditto). By the way, I have issues of Stitchcraft and many other vintage knitting magazines up to the mid-1970s and nowhere, in any of them, have I ever seen a model who was not white — the caricatures were also the only representation to be found. Let’s remember that, for all their fantastic fashions, the mid-century decades were definitely not the “good old days”.

On top of all that, there’s no pattern in this issue that I particularly want to make, so I’ll either embroider some anemones on a vegetable bag or finish up something from the WIP pile.

March 1962: Overview

IMG_3126There are three seasons in the Stitchcraft year: autumn, Christmas and “holidays”, which start in March and continue until about September. Of course, most people take their holidays in the summer, but the beauty of knitting (or editing a knitting magazine) is that you can technically be knitting for them any time of the year, if you knit slowly enough. And so, the March 1962 issue of Stitchcraft, (motto: “Knit for Spring”) can already promise us “the fun of holidays to plan for.”

Spring is also “the time of year to wear smart two-piece suits and dresses, which you can now knit so quickly and easily” — a nod to the double-knitting and bulkier-weight wools now available and in fashion, relieving knitters of the earlier boredom of making dresses and long-skirted suits at 8 stitches to the inch. Here is a skirt set in nubbly Rimple DK. Top-fashion colours of dull green and beige-gold (or as Stitchcraft calls them, “mustard and pheasant” — sounds delicious!) are repeated in a finer-knit bouclet sweater.

Interesting textures and colour blends are key: in addition to the Rimple and bouclet offerings, the cover jumper is made in Bracken Tweed, one of the newer marled/flecked wools. Stranded colourwork is featured in a Norwegian-style pullover for men and, in more subtle form, in a bright band across a warm women’s raglan sweater. Look at that perfect 1962 “lifestyle” photo of our knitter lounging in her beige-coloured living room and smiling seductively at her man while listening to jazz!

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“Informal sweaters” that combine colour and texture elements, as well as a lovely little twin-set for a child and granny-square bonnet and mittens for a toddler round out the collection. The homewares are varied, but predictable: another tapestry town scene, a Florentine rug (pity they didn’t get a colour photo of that), traditional cross-stitch designs and a daffodial embroidery transfer for a coffee-pot cosy or night-dress case.

And of course it wouldn’t be Stitchcraft without “novelties”, in this case, matching “boy” and “girl” egg cosies made to look like nightcaps — I’m guessing somebody must have found the egg holders with painted-on faces and had an inspiration. The back cover is another fun, if slightly “uncanny valley”, advertisement for Escorto “Gold Seal” fabrics — “easy” due to being 100% synthetic material.

My March project will be the jumper from the girl’s twin-set as well as another “blast from the past” which I have been working on for literally years and will hopefully finally finish soon. Happy Spring!

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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