Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Fair Isle and Sportswear: a Selection of Knitting Patterns from 1920 to 1929


This is the third post in my Twentieth Century knitting patterns series (you can see the other posts here), and it covers the years from 1920 to 1929.

The 1920s saw the first really modern dressing. Many women cut their hair, went sleeveless in the daytime, raised their hemlines to just below the knee, and discarded their corsets (though they donned girdles and breast flatteners instead). Many of the knitting patterns from the 1920s are perfectly wearable by today's standards. I was still not able to find any menswear patterns that I cared to include in this post; all those that I saw were just too basic and indistinguishable from any boring run-of-the-mill pattern from today. But I was able to include just one menswear pattern by bending my rules for this series of posts.





This, of course, is not a knitting pattern photo or illustration, but a portrait of Edward, the then Prince of Wales, painted in 1921 by Sir Henry Lander. It was Prince Edward who popularized the Fair Isle sweater by beginning to wear it as golf wear, for some official public appearances, and to pose for this painting. The Fair Isle sweater is such a mainstream classic today that it's easy for us to underestimate the impact Prince Edward had on it, but I looked at a lot of patterns from 1900-1919 while researching the first two posts in this series, and I did not see a single Fair Isle pattern. Then suddenly in the patterns from the twenties they were common, for women at least — I didn't see any Fair Isle patterns for men. I've read that Fair Isle pullovers soon became a must-have for every college boy in the twenties. I'm sure Prince Edward's great-grandmother would have been pleased, given that she popularized knitting.

I have tried to find readily accessible and authentic period patterns for this series, but I'll make an exception for this one iconic sweater and instead point you to some replica patterns. The closest patterns I could find were in Michael Pearson's Traditional Knitting: Aran, Fair Isle, and Fisher Ganseys
, and in Sweaters from Camp: 38 Color-Patterned Designs from Meg Swansen's Knitting Campers, by Amy Detjen, Meg Swansen, and Joyce Williams. It wasn't as easy as it should have been to replicate this pattern because the artist didn't bother rendering it in detail. I wonder if Prince Edward's sweater pulled askew in the front as it does in this painting or if that was the artist's mistake.





This Knit Coat Sweater looks very modern to me. I think the only change I'd make, aside from any necessary size-related alterations, is to replace the sash with a coordinating skinny belt. This design was published in Columbia Yarns, Vol. 21, in 1920, and is available for free on Costumes.org. Columbia Yarns, Vol. 21 is available as a reproduction from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95.





This open front cardigan looks like it's straight out of knit.wear, and it already has a skinny belt. It would have been considered sportswear back in its day, something a woman would wear on the golf course or to play tennis, but now it's suitable as work wear and for nearly anywhere else. This design was published in the Bear Brand Blue Book, vol. 42 in 1922, and a reproduction of that book may be purchased from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $15.95.





This is the Warrington Sweater. Checks must have been very much in style in the twenties, because I saw a lot of checked patterns in my research for this post, and I liked the unusual twist on checks in this pattern. This design was originally published in Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 19th Edition, in 1922, and is available for free at A Good Yarn. A reproduction of Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 19th Edition is available from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95.





This is the Somerville Sweater. This design was also originally published in Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 19th Edition, in 1922, and is available for free at A Good Yarn. A reproduction of Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 19th Edition is available from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95. Incidentally, if you like this model's hat, scroll down to the next pattern.





These are the Claremont (top), Devereaux (left) and Duncan (right and in the previous pattern photo) hat and scarf sets. I really wanted to include at least one hat pattern in this post, and by rights it should have been the iconic cloché, but as cute as the cloché looks when considered on its own, it is terribly unflattering on anyone. It hides too much of the face and the downward lines of the hat are universally aging and unkind to even the youngest and most attractive of its wearers. Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, who was in her late forties and early fifties during the twenties and was always a well-dressed woman who cared a lot about her appearance and clothes, found most of twenties fashions "very beautiful" but hated the cloché, writing in her journals that it looked exactly like "an old bonnet without strings". I was glad to come across these alternative and much more flattering twenties hat patterns to include instead.

These hat patterns are available for free at A Good Yarn, and were originally published in Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 19th Edition, in 1922, A Good Yarn. Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 19th Edition is available as a reproduction from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95.





This little short-sleeved sweater is another sportswear design that would now go almost anywhere. I would be inclined to make those sleeves more fitted to the arm, but otherwise this sweater is totally cute and wearable just as it is. This pattern was originally published in the Minerva Knitting Book, Vol. 10, in 1922, and a reproduction of the book is available from Iva Rose Reproductions for $9.95.





I love this little top. The rose-decorated yoke and waistband looks like it might be crocheted. This pattern was originally published in the Bear Brand Blue Book, Vol. 43, in 1923, which is available as a reproduction from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $15.95.





I'd work with this little girl's pleated dress a little, making the sleeves shorter and the neckline a little lower, and finding the right weight of yarn for it — this looks a little heavy. But the concept is great. This pattern was originally published in Fleisher's Knitting and Crocheting Manual, 20th edition, in 1923, and is available as a reproduction from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95.





Of course I can't do a post on twenties knitting patterns without including one of the most iconic knitwear designs in history, Elsa Schiaparelli’s famous trompe l’oile Bowknot Sweater from 1927. Prior to the 1920s, and even after that time, collars and cuffs were generally detachable. One owned several of them and pinned them to one's shirt, blouse, sweater, or dress as desired. The rationale seems to have been that collars and cuffs got soiled more quickly and if they could be laundered by themselves by hand in a sink it would decrease the number of times it was necessary to launder the whole garment on a washboard. When Schiaparelli designed a sweater (which came in black and shocking pink) with an collar and cuffs knitted into the design, it was something completely innovative and witty. Schiaparelli also got other women to wear a shoe on their heads and think of it as a "smart hat" (mind you, as ridiculous as the shoe hat looked, it still wasn't as unflattering as the cloché). That shoe-as-hat trend didn't last, but this sweater still looks good.

This pattern is available for free from Schoolhouse Press. I've made this sweater myself. I look terrible in black, am very far from having the boyish figure that was the ideal in the twenties, and didn't care for the idea of knitting a stranded sweater, so I used a tweedy orange wool instead of black for the main colour, reshaped the sweater to make it shorter and looser and the neckline slighter lower and more open, and worked the collar, bowknot, and cuffs in intarsia in a cream silk yarn.





I've been including ten patterns in each post in the twentieth century series, but for this post I have a bonus pattern for you, the Irvington Sweater, originally published in A Good Yarn. A Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 19th Edition, in 1922, which describes the Irvington Sweater as, "A splendid example of the so-called Indian sweaters — a gay and charming mode that has found favor with the younger set. A strictly sports model." This gay and charming mode would also have found favour with the young Nazi set. Of course I'm aware that the swastika has a positive meaning ("good luck" or "all is well" if Google serves me correctly) in Indian culture and in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism... but you wouldn't see a pattern like this in any mainstream English-language knitting publication today for reasons I am sure I don't have to explain, and you won't probably won't care to make this sweater unless you are Indian, and perhaps not even then. Some years ago a former co-worker of mine, who is of Indian parentage but has lived in Toronto all her life, asked her Indian-born parents to buy her a shawl while they were visiting family back home. They brought her back a gorgeous one that, alas, had swastikas all around the border. She gulped, then told them as tactfully as possible that it was a beautiful shawl but that she could never wear it.

Coming up: Look for the review of Knit Simple's Fall 2013 issue tomorrow morning!

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