Showing posts with label history of knitting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history of knitting. Show all posts

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The History of Guerrilla Knitting: A Video

At the 24th Chaos Communication Congress that took place in Berlin, Germany in 2007, one of the speakers was Rose White, who gave a presentation on the history of guerrilla knitting. I've hesitated to post this video because White isn't the best speaker, and she gets some of her facts wrong (i.e., she claims knitting did not exist before the Renaissance, when knitting is currently believed to date from at least 800 A.D.), but she does have some interesting insights on the evolution of knitting from what she calls "proprietary knitting" to the kind of subversive and democratized knitting common today, and I found the video well worth a listen.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Knitting and Identity in the 19th Century

In this presentation, Anna Schram Vejlby, curator of the The Hirschsprung Collection of Copenhagen, shares her thoughts on knitting and identity in the first decades of the 19th Century, as seen through portrait painting. She analyzes a series of protraits that depict their subjects as knitting and suggests that the knitting is meant to connote diligence, bourgeoisie socioeconomic status, and love in the context of the painting, as well as adding to the compositional themes. Very unfortunately this video does not include the slideshow Anna Schram Vejlby showed to her lecture's audience and referred to throughout her presentation, so we don't get to see the paintings she is talking about, but the upside of this is that you'll be free to concentrate on your own knitting while enjoying listening to her talk, as I did.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Mrs. Wilson's Knitting Circle

In a presentation called "Mrs. Wilson's Knitting Circle" that was recorded on February 7, 2014 in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium at the American National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, the Museum's Curator of Education, Lora Vogt, and its Registrar, Stacy Peterson, introduce World War I-era knitting patterns and discuss the history of the National World War I Museum and knitting during World War I.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Outlandish Knits

So I finally got around to watching the time travel adventure/romance Starz series Outlander. I'd been reluctant to watch it because I've read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (though only as far as a Breath of Snow and Ashes, as I found every book less compelling than the last and the whole "Jamie and Claire are both irresistibly attractive to every other character in the book and are having mind-blowing sex for the 3,348nd time on the nearest reasonably flat surface" thing was getting really old). I also don't usually care for filmed versions of books I've read. I'd rather watch something new than a simplified rehash of something I've already read. But then I ended up deciding I should watch the series in order to write about it for this blog because I saw so many online references to the knitwear.

I must say I enjoyed the show on the whole. It's been a long time since I read the books so the discrepancies didn't bother me too much. (A friend of mine who is an obsessive fan of the books says she can't watch the series at all though she has tried numerous times.) The show is beautifully produced and quite well cast and well acted on the whole. And then there is oh-so-much knitwear, which was fun to see, if not period accurate. In the show, time-travelling Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, played by Catriona Balfe, sports a series of elegant dresses topped with knitted cowls, shrugs, shawls, and armwarmers, all in wools of natural hues and mostly knitted out of bulky weight yarn on large gauge needles. I know practically nothing of eighteenth century textiles and fashions but I had my suspicions about the authenticity of the costume design and especially of its knitted elements. I thought it quite astonishing that Castle Leoch should have a (for that time) very extensive and perfectly fitted wardrobe on hand for their unusually tall guest, and I thought it unlikely that big needle knit cowls and shrugs were a style seen at all at the time. It turns out that I was correct in this, and there were many more inaccuracies that I hadn't the knowledge to pick up on.

There is much internet conversation on this topic (such as this Ravelry thread), in which fashion history buffs are getting their replica stays in a twist over all the anachronisms in the Outlander costumes. Eighteenth-century knitting was usually done to a very fine gauge, unless it was an item that was to be felted. And not only are cowls and shrugs quite a recent style innovation, it's possible that even the knitted shawl, as we know it, did not exist at the time. Also, it seems not all yarn was undyed in the eighteenth century as natural dyes were commonly used to achieve such colours as glaring yellows, vivid reds, and denim-like blues, so not all of Claire's knitted accessories would have been dun-coloured. However, the costume designer for Outlander, Terry Dresbach, is not a fashion historian and, according to Buzzfeed writer Alanna Okun, she had approximately seven weeks to prepare all the costumes for the show. Given those limitations it's to her credit that she met her deadline with attractive costumes that are even as accurate as they are. I've heard it said that in the movie business (as in many arenas) when it comes to having things done fast, inexpensively, and well, you'll have to pick two attributes, as you cannot have all three.

At any rate, to get down to discussing possible Outlander-themed knitting that knitting watchers of the show can do, there are always two directions for a knitter to take when making items inspired by a TV show or movie: one can replicate the specific patterns worn by the onscreen characters, or one can draw inspiration from the show in a more abstract sense and design something completely new. I'm not seeing much of the latter kind of Outlander-inspired design, at least not yet, though I am in hopes that we'll get a magazine or book of Outlander-inspired patterns at some point. Meanwhile, it's entirely possible to knit oneself replicas of the knitwear worn in the series. The upside of dressing Claire Randall Fraser in twenty-first century knits is that her accessories are quite wearable for today. Despite the historical inaccuracies there has been a lot of online clamour about the Outlander knits, with knitters demanding patterns for the items Claire and the other Outlander characters wore. And since most of the knits worn in the shoes are simple, big gauge patterns, some knitters have obligingly providing unofficial replica patterns for those who want them.

You can make a simple striped garter shawl like the one Claire is wearing in the top photo with the When In Scotland pattern depicted below,
designed by Rilana Riley-Munson. It's a free pattern.

The Outlander Pattern for Claire's Cowl, written by Shelli Westcott, is a very close match to the one worn by Claire, and will actually look much better worn with contemporary clothing because it won't be jarringly anachronistic as it is onscreen. It's a free pattern.

I don't personally find the Outlander knits to be inspiring, as those dead easy chunky knits are very much not my preferred style of knitting, either to make or wear, but Geillis Duncan's cape, as seen above, came closest to arousing my interest. Unfortunately the show never gave us a better look at it than this.

If you fancy the little capelet Claire wears in the photo above, this Outlander inspired Rose Coloured Capelet, designed by Ravelry user Furlaine, is a very good replica of it. This pattern is available for C$4.00(CAD).

The cabled armwarmers Claire is wearing in the top photo are a close match to the Outlander Cabled Wristers, designed by Jenifer Spock-Rank. This pattern is available for $1.99(USD).

The cowl Claire is wearing is especially hilariously out of synch in terms of the kind of spun yarn that would have been available in 1743. At this distance, it looks almost like a fur neckpiece, but it is indeed knitted from yarn, which I've seen identified online as Louisa Harding's Luzia. But then perhaps Castle Leoch housekeeper Mrs. Fitzgibbons has a stash of Luzia put away in the garret. As Claire said herself, Mrs. Fitz is a wonder.

ETA: It appears this cowl was actually knitted out mink yarn. I'm trying to do a little research on this because it seems there weren't minks in Scotland in the eighteenth century. There was fur trade, but what I am trying to find out is how likely was it that anyone was spinning yarn from what would have been very expensive imported minks at that time? Wouldn't they have been used as skins? And again... cowls didn't exist back then.

I had to include this even though I don't like knitted dishcloths. This Outlander Je Suis Prest Thistle Cloth pattern, designed by Alli Barrett, and available for $2.00(USD), features the Fraser clan motto "Je Suis Prest" (in English, "I am ready"). As an aside, it's interesting how many Scottish clan mottos declare readiness or preparedness. My own surname, Rae, is Scottish, and the Rae family motto is "In Omnia Promptus", or "Ready for Everything". It's probably understandable given that these mottos were originally war cries. These days, at least for those of us fortunate enough to be living in area that isn't war-torn, they can be a way to motivate yourself to do the dishes.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Sock, the First World War, and How They Changed One Another

Today is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, and Love Knitting has marked the occasion by posting an article I wrote on the origin of the Kitchener stitch.

Monday, 23 June 2014

When in Rome, Knit as the Romans Do

The picture above is of a Roman dodecahedron, so called because of its dodecahedral shape, with twelve flat pentagonal surfaces. Over a hundred of these little bronze or stone dodecahedra, which date from the second or third centuries, have been found in Europe, in locations ranging from Wales to Hungary to Italy, with most being found in Germany and France.

The use or reason for these dodecahedra are something of a mystery, as there's no mention of such objects in the Roman literature or artwork of the time. Possible suggested uses include: candlestick holders (one found dodecahedron had wax in it), dice, survey instruments, a tool for determining optimal planting dates for winter wheat, gauges to calibrate water pipes, army standard bases, or religious artifacts.

Martin Hallett thinks he may have solved the mystery. He had a scale replica made from 3D print outs, and set to work with some yarn to see what could be done with a dodecahedron. Turns out they make a useful knitting nancy for making gloves, or as they might have called it in Roman times, a knitting dodecahredria or knitting nicé.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Queen Susan Shawl

There are many, many reasons for us knitters to love Ravelry, but I think there's one story that is my favourite illustration of just how wonderful Ravelry is. This story began in October 2009, when a Ravelry user posted the above picture of a Shetland lace shawl to the heirloom knitting section of the Ravelry forums, and asked if anyone recognized the border pattern on it.

Little did she know what she'd begun. The Ravelry Heirloom Knitting Forum took up the knitted gauntlet she didn't even know she'd thrown down, and after over a month of cyclical stages of research, charting, swatching, knitting, writing, editing, and proofreading, they recreated the pattern for this shawl, with just one modernization. The shawl shown here was knitted in pieces and sewn together, while in the Ravelry version the shawl is seamless. The centre section is knitted and then the stitches for the border are picked up from the edge of the centre piece and knitted on a circular needle.

The story of the process is told in more detail on Ravelry user Fleegle's blog. The 30 or so people who created the pattern as a collaborative effort decided to name their pattern the Queen Susan Shawl, because several of the ringleaders of the project were named Susan and others had special associations with the name because they had close relatives named Susan. They also decided their pattern should be available for free to all who wanted it.

The Queen Susan Shawl project page is here and the pattern itself is available here. When I knit antique patterns, I often feel like my work is a tribute and a link to the past, but if I were ever to knit this one I think it would feel like a tribute to Ravelry itself.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Shaker Stitches

The Shakers, an American religious community first established in 1774 that peaked in the 1840s with a membership of 6,000, began to decline with the rise of mass manufacturing in the late nineteenth century, and is more or less reduced to surviving artifacts, buildings, music, and crafts now, have always fascinated me. The irony is that the Shakers are now remembered mostly for the material goods they produced and that they considered of little importance rather than for the religious beliefs that were their motivating force, but though the spare beauty and sheer level of craftsmanship of the furnishings and other items that they produced has enormous appeal to me, I do find a lot of merit in some of their principles. (No, not the whole celibacy thing.) I find much food for thought and inspiration in the Shaker work ethic and embrace of simplicity. I think often of their founder Ann Lee's maxim on time management:

Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live; and as you would if you knew you must die tomorrow.

I also like this rule of thumb for Shaker creations:

If it is not useful or necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to make it. If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity. And finally, if it is both useful and necessary and you can recognize and eliminate what is not essential, then go ahead and make it as beautifully as you can.

Or, more simply:

Don't make something unless it is both made necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don't hesitate to make it beautiful.

And then there are these dictums, which I think work wonderfully as basic design principles:

Simplicity is the embodiment of purity and unity.

Beauty rests on utility.

That which has in itself the highest use, possesses the greatest beauty.

That is best which works best.

However, as interested as I long have been in all things Shaker and though I have tried to apply some of their principles above to my crafting processes, it did not occur to me that the Shakers were also knitters themselves until a few days ago when I came across the photo above, which is a 1949 photograph of a Shaker sister knitting, and was taken at Canterbury, New Hampshire, by Nina Leen.

This photo is of Eldress Fannie Estabrook knitting at Hancock Shaker village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and was taken sometime in the 1930s.

Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art by Susan M. Strawn has some information on Shaker knitting (and I've drawn on it to write this post). For of course Shaker women were prolific knitters as most mainstream American women were in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century — they had to be. Homely but very necessary items like stockings and mittens couldn't be machine made at that time. Shaker sisters knitted many stockings, socks, gloves, mittens, fingerless mitts, wristlets, shawls, washcloths, chair cushions and rugs, both for use by the community and for sale, and as with all the goods the Shakers produced, Shaker knits were much admired for the excellence of their workmanship and design.

This is a picture of a Shaker-made rug, made by knitting tubes which were then sewn together in a spiral. One thing to keep in mind when looking at this or any other examples of Shaker knitting is that Shaker sisters knitted with "knitting pins", which were even smaller than than contemporary U.S. size 00 knitting needles. They were essentially long hairpins with knobs at one end. I look at that rug, lovely as it is, and I think about my experiences of knitting with the smallest knitting needles I've ever used (i.e., probably U.S. size 2/2.75 mm), and I think, umm, no, not even if I did have a thousand years to live. Mind you, had I been a Shaker back in the day, my poor knitting form probably would have gotten me reassigned to kitchen duty anyway.

The Shakers were never one to work in an unnecessarily inefficient or labour-intensive way. They were always very progressive and innovative when it came to adopting new technologies and even patented a number of their own inventions. Though in the early days the Shakers carded and spun their own wool, as milled fibres became available they were quick to begin to use them, and they began to use knitting machines, though due to the limitations of the machinery, and in order to maintain the quality of their work, they would still hand finish the garments by hand-knitting ribbed cuffs and edgings to otherwise machine-made items. They were also very willing to produce goods to suit the tastes of mainstream society. In the early twentieth century the Canterbury village Shakers installed knitting machines into some of their former laundry rooms and produced bicycle stockings and varsity sweaters for sale.

I suppose one of the Shaker's lasting contributions to knitting is the Shaker knitting basket. The basket above, from Shaker Workshops, is based on the Shaker knitting baskets used in the nineteenth century.

There is also a knitting stitch called the Shaker stitch, or Shaker Rib stitch, though I don't know that the Shakers invented it. (It is also known as the half fisherman stitch.) It's just as likely that they simply used the stitch so much in their knitted goods that it became associated with them. The Shaker stitch has a ribbed effect of vertical lines and is very stretchy and flexible, which makes it especially useful for ribbed cuffs and waistbands. Machine-made Shaker sweaters were very popular in the 1980s. I remember that at 14 I had one in aqua, and little guessed why it was referred to by the term it was. The video above demonstrates how to knit the Shaker stitch.

Monday, 30 September 2013

"My Picture Knit Jumpers"

In this video, YouTube user TubularBelle shows us a collection of the picture knits she and her mother designed and made back in the 80s and 90s (yes, we're talking Garfield and South Park representations here), and that, as she puts it, are "now doomed to live in the land of the eternal embarrassment". It's true picture knits aren't in style now, but the sheer level of wit and skill that went into these sweaters makes them very much worth a look.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Tunics and Tapestries: Selected Knitting Patterns from 1990-1999

So here we are at the tenth and last post in my series of posts on selected patterns from each decade in the 20th century — the post for the 1990s. (You can see all the other posts in the series here.) I can't say I'm sorry the series is completed. I have enjoyed researching and writing these posts quite a lot, but they've also been easily the most time intensive of any posts I've written for this blog, even more so than the knitting magazine review posts, which generally take about three hours each to write. I also haven't been all that satisfied with the 20th century posts. I wanted them to be a selection of the best and most currently wearable knitwear designs each decade had to offer, but instead they were usually just the best I could come up with out of what few period knitting patterns were available online, and I too often felt as though I were scraping the bottom of the barrel. I do hope, and even expect, that as time goes on more vintage knitwear designs will become readily available online, so perhaps at some later date I'll get to write the kind of vintage knitting pattern posts I had in mind.

Now, about this post. When it came to researching the 1990s patterns, I found it quite the trip down memory lane. I was sixteen when the nineties dawned and I remembered all the looks I came across, and had worn many of them myself. Leggings with tunics? I think I spent half the nineties in leggings with an oversized shirt or sweater over top, and have fond memories of how comfortable that outfit was. Cropped jackets with palazzo pants? I have unfond memories of the time I nearly pitched down a flight of concrete steps behind the office building of the publishing house I worked at when I was twenty because I caught the toe of my shoe in one hazardously wide pant leg. Colour blocking? Yes, I think I had a colour-blocked dress. Granny skirts with a denim jacket and boots? Check. Plaid flannel shirts and cut-offs? Uh huh. I wasn't grunge, and I don't think many of my friends would have thought of themselves as into grunge, and yet we all dressed that way. And when I looked specifically at the knitting designs, I not only found a great many I'd seen before but a number that I'd made myself.

Looking at nineties knitwear patterns from the perspective of someone living in 2013, I find there's still a lot of merit in the designs. My greatest complaint about them is their size. The oversized, dropped shoulder sweater, a hold over from the 1980s, was still in for the first half of the nineties, and though it may have made nineties wear comfortable it also made it terribly unflattering. However, though nineties knitwear may need reshaping the stitch work and colour work can be quite inspired. I regret that we don't see the accomplished and intricate texture and pictorial designs so common in the early nineties much these days. During the course of my research for this post I actually took a little girl's fish-themed knitted dress pattern from 2013 off my to do list and replaced it with a nineties' era little girl's fish-themed dress pattern, because it was just no contest as to which was the better design.

This is DKNY's Shetland Lace Pullover, originally published in Vogue Knitting, Spring/Summer 1990, and reprinted in the Vogue Knitting Fall 2007 issue, and now available as a $6(USD) download. I ran across a number of lace tunic patterns when I was researching this post, and I remember making one for myself, from a different pattern, in lavender, back in 1993. This lace tunic pattern is the most beautiful of any I found, though it's also the most enormous. I'd cut it down to a standard fit and fix the dropped shoulders.

Here we see a child's version of the tunic and leggings and outfit, by Gayle Bunn, which appeared in Vogue Knitting's Winter 1990-91 and Kids Fall/Winter 1993 issues. I made this embroidered sweater and Juliet cap (though not the leggings) for one of my nieces when she was five or six. Both of her younger sisters also had their respective turns at wearing it when they got old enough.

This Tapestry Afghan, designed by Nicky Epstein for Vogue Knitting's Winter 1991/1992 issue, (and reprinted in the Vogue Knitting American Collection, has long been in my "when I break both legs" pattern file. You see what I mean when I say I regret that we don't really see this kind of intricate pictorial design today? To be fair, we didn't have many pieces like this back then, either. This is one stunning, one-of-a-kind creation.

This is Donna Karan's Enchanted Forest Cardigan, from Vogue Knitting's Fall 1992 issue. Vogue Knitting has reprinted it four times and it's now available as a $6(USD) download. It looks divinely warm and comfortable (and who can resist the appeal of an enchanted forest?), but again I would cut it down to just slightly oversized and fix the dropped shoulders.

The Leaf Motif Pullover, designed by Anne Denton for Vogue Knitting's Fall 1993 issue, is another beautifully complex and textured nineties knit.

This Shaped Tweed Jacket, designed by Adrienne Vittadini for Vogue Knitting's Fall 1995 issue, still looks just as sharp a cut today as it did when published, although the colour could probably stand to be updated. We've reached 1995 in our pattern retrospective and the oversized look was passé by that point. This pattern is available as a $6(USD) download.

This Climbing Ivy afghan pattern, from Knitting Digest Magazine, Vol. 18 No. 2, March 1996, and which is available for free, looks very nineties to me in a way I can't quite explain. I think it's the mixing of different patterns (checks with lace with a floral) that mimics the kind of collage-type prints we had back then. Printed fabric is very often as definitively of its own time as though it were date stamped. A few years ago I used to be puzzled by a former co-worker's outfits as the fabric they were made from were unmistakably vintage nineties yet the cut was very 2011. Finally I asked her about it and she told me she bought many of her clothes from a company that fashioned new clothes out of unsold old stock bought from other companies.

The nineties had a lot of the timeless fair isle pattern sweaters that every decade since the twenties did. If time travel were possible, this child's Faux Fair Isle cardigan, from the Interweave Fall 1996 issue, could be published at any time from 1930 to yesterday and no one would ever know it was a 1996 pattern. This pattern is available as a $5(USD) download.

This is the Brick Walk Vest from Knitting Digest Magazine, Vol. 19 No. 1, January 1997, and is available as a free pattern. I think I'd want to go with a more subtle colourway to update this vest for a 2013 version.

This is the Russian Jacket, originally a nineties pattern, which has been published in Rowan's Greatest Knits: 30 Years of Knitted Patterns from Rowan Yarns. Love the tapestry detail on the collar and cuffs. I'd want to do it in a sharp main colour instead of that oatmeal, scale down the jacket slightly, and fix the dropped shoulders.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Oversized and Over-Patterned: a Selection of Knitting Patterns from 1980-1989

This is the ninth post in my series of selected twentieth century knitting patterns (you can see the other posts in the series here), and it offers a sampling of knitting patterns dating from 1980 to 1989. I've been rather dreading this post, because I think the design aesthetic of the eighties was the most hideous of any decade of the twentieth century. Eighties design followed a curve similar to that of the sixties, in that the look of the first half of the decade was generally prim and conservative, and then got very loud, shapeless, and tacky once past the midpoint of the decade. I know this because I was there. I was around for much of the seventies too, but I was only six when 1980 dawned and all I really remember about seventies style was the appliquéd dresses my mother made me, my older brothers' hand-me-down sweaters, and my Cindy Brady bangs and ringlets hairstyle. (Yes, there are pictures, and no I will not post them.) I remember the trappings of my eighties all too clearly: the dayglo and pastel colours, the cropped pants, the batwing sweaters, the teased bangs, the frosted pink lipstick, the acid wash jeans. And unlike my Cindy Brady ringlets, I can't blame these things on my mother, because I chose all these things myself.

But after looking at a lot of eighties knitwear design while researching this post, I have to say that the eighties really were a good time for knitting. Vogue Knitting went back into production in 1982 (their original incarnation having closed its doors in 1969), and there was also Simplicity Knitting, though it didn't last long, McCall's Needlework & Craft Magazine continued the good work it had been doing for decades, and a number of women's housekeeping-type magazines offered a very decent pattern in each issue. Another change was that with the growing importance of "name brands", and thanks in no small part to Vogue Knitting, knitting designers became "names" in a way they had never really been before. Kaffe Fassett, Alice Starmore, Susan Duckworth, Jean Moss, and Nicky Epstein all became star designers during the eighties.

Of course a lot of eighties knitwear design looks unqualifiedly terrible now. The pastels and primary colour combinations and crude geometric patterns that are so typical of eighties style aren't at all appealing by contemporary standards. And then there was the shaping of eighties garments, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Oversized sweaters and tops were inexplicably in (I remember seeing other girls in our school change rooms helping each other stretch out their sweaters and t-shirts to make them even larger than they already were), and big baggy sweaters don't do anything for any figure. However, the best knitwear designs of the eighties had a gorgeously rich complexity (if you look back over the designers I mentioned in the last paragraph, you'll see they're almost all known for the sheer intricacy of their patterns) and those graphs and charts can be used to make beautiful standard-fitting sweaters that will be very wearable today.

However, despite my knowing that there are loads of beautiful eighties patterns in existence because I have many of them in my own knitting pattern library, I did have a hard time finding enough for this post. Eighties patterns aren't old enough to be public domain, yet very few are available for sale online. I finally had to relax my rule about selecting readily available patterns. A number of the patterns I have chosen were originally printed in books or magazines that are now out of print and are not available for downloading, but some have been reprinted into more recent books that should be easily purchased, and if you really wish to find a particular design that hasn't been reprinted, I think you will be able to find them in your local library or buy a used copy of the original book or magazine online.

The Season's Smartest Blazer is not what I'd call the season's smartest blazer, but instead a classic. Though I'd definitely make it in some other colour, and lose The Dress for Success styling. This pattern originally appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly in June 1980, and is a free pattern.

This child's White Rabbit sweater, by Nicky Epstein, is a cute nod to Alice in Wonderland. It originally appeared in Vogue Knitting's Fall/Winter 1985 issue and is available for $4.95(USD).

This felted shawl collared jacket, by Deborah Newton, was originally published in Vogue Knitting's Fall/Winter 1985 issue and is available as a download for $6(USD). I'd nix the third colour used for the front edges and collar and just knit it all in one colour with contrast piping trim.

This is one of Kaffe Fassett's inimitable designs, Spanish Combs, which appeared in the still-in-print Kaffe's Classics: 25 Favorite Knitting Patterns for Sweaters, Jackets, Vests and More in January 1986. You will probably want to reshape this sweater as it's quite boxy.

I may have criticized eighties colourways above, but I've got nothing but admiration for the palette used in this Bellmanear Sweater by Jean Moss. Though again, this sweater needs some reshaping. The dropped shoulder really took hold in the eighties. This pattern appeared in Rowan's Designer Collection Summer & Winter Knitting, which was published in 1987.

This Argyll Sweater, designed by Sarah Dallas, is a nice twist on the traditional argyle sweater. I'd want to change the colours to something a little more typically menswear to bring it a little more in line with the kind of thing men can feel comfortable wearing. This pattern appeared in Rowan's Designer Collection Summer & Winter Knitting, which was published in 1987, though this individual sweater pattern is not on Ravelry.

This is the Blackwork design, from Susan Duckworth's Knitting, published in 1988. I don't know why the security tag wasn't removed from this item before the photo shoot.

This is the Plum Blossom design, from Susan Duckworth's Knitting, published in 1988. I've limited myself to two designs from Susan Duckworth's book, but much against my will, as the whole book is a visual feast that has me just as excited about the patterns in it as I was when I first bought it, even though most of the sweaters need some serious reshaping and updating of colour schemes to look right for 2013.

Kaffe Fassett's Persian Poppy Waistcoat, which was originally published in Glorious Color: Sources of Inspiration for Knitting and Needlepoint in 1988. I have to admit, the few times I have made a Kaffe Fassett design, I cheated by whittling the colour palette from ten or twelve colours down to four or five.

I quite like this floral cardigan from Vogue Knitting's Spring/Summer 1989 issue, though the colourway needs a total overhaul. As awful as eighties geometric patterns often were, eighties designers usually seemed to do florals very well.

This is Alice Starmore's Thoroughbred vest, originally published in Vogue Knitting's Fall 1989 issue, and it's not only been reprinted but is available as a kit from Virtual Yarns. And it's a unisex pattern.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Tank Tops and Toggles: a Selection of Knitting Patterns from 1970 to 1979

This is the eighth post in my series on 20th century knitting patterns (you can see all the other posts in the series here), and it offers a selection of knitting patterns from the years from 1970 to 1979. And I must say researching this post gave me some fleeting yet intense moments of wanting to throw myself under a Donna Summers tour bus. I won't even blame the general seventies aesthetic. Yes, there are plenty of examples of horrible seventies attire and bad hair out there, but you can say that of any decade. All the patterns for this series were cherry-picked. Every set of ten patterns I have selected for this series because they were wearable and attractive by modern standards was the result of several hours spent sifting through a hundred or more patterns that weren't. On the whole, I find more to admire about seventies fashion than those of the sixties. The clothes available for every day (as opposed to disco wear) had neither the prim constraint of the early sixties nor the psychedelic extremes of the sixties but instead achieved a happy medium of relaxed, flattering, wearable style.

I think there are two factors that made my seventies pattern research slightly scarring. The first one is that the materials available in the seventies were generally ghastly — horrible stiff, scratchy, synthetic fibres in awful colours — and garments can only be as good as the materials from which they are made. The shapes of seventies clothing were generally good, and if I re-imagine seventies designs in modern fibres and colours they suddenly look very desirable indeed. It was the fabric used that made the leisure suit such a byword in tackiness, not the basic style of it. The second contributing factor is that the seventies were a bad time for crafting. Needlework is of course traditionally the province of women, and given there were many more women in the workforce in the seventies than there had been for decades, women simply had less time for such things. The crafting industry inexplicably responded by dumbing down crafting kits to make them more desirable, and again, the fibres and colours available in the seventies were wretched, so the result was not pretty. So while the clothing design of the seventies wasn't too bad (save and except for a few bad styles such as the hot pants above), the home décor and accessory patterns were often really freaking terrible. I saw patterns for matching toilet seat and toilet roll covers, for lampshades described as "Tiffany-style" that probably had Louis Comfort Tiffany rolling in his grave, for pointless and retina-burning mobiles, for driving gloves and steering wheel cover sets (why?!?), and for some truly frightening dolls and toys.

All that said, I did find a pretty good set of clothing patterns, and I hope you like them. Unfortunately although I do my best to include at least one menswear, one child's, and one home décor pattern in each post of this series, these seventies-era patterns are almost all women's patterns because I just couldn't find anything I liked for any of those categories. But look on the bright side... I have not included a link to the hot pants set pattern above. You're welcome.

When I began to work on this post, I thought I should try to find a poncho pattern for it, because they were so archetypically seventies. It didn't happen because I dislike ponchos and didn't find any that gave me any reason to change my mind on that point. However, seventies designers also seemed to favour knitted coats. This duffle jacket pattern originally appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly in June of 1972 and is available as a free pattern. If I were making this jacket, I'd probably replace the toggle fastenings with something else, though smaller toggles would probably look current enough.

This halter top pattern originally appeared in Mon Tricot Fashion Edition's Spring/Summer 1973 issue. There actually isn't a pattern available for this piece, but who needs one when this pattern is simply two tube scarves knitted long enough to fit around the wearer and then sewn together? I adore the colours of the contemporary version of this design.

This open front jacket design originally appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly in March of 1974, and is a free pattern.

I love all the clever detail in this turtleneck pullover, and think it would look pretty amazing done in a solid colour with a handpainted yarn as the contrast colour. This pattern appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly, in February 1977 and is a free pattern.

This hooded jacket appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly in February 1977, and is a free pattern. To update it for modern wear, I'd raise the dropped shoulders, consider another kind of fastenings than the toggles, and ditch the blanket stitch, especially at the top of the sleeve, because it makes the coat look like something from the Bride of Frankenstein's trousseau. Instead I'd finish the garment with a picot edging, which could always be done in a contrast colour if desired.

One of the things that has really struck me as I have worked through this series of posts was that baby knits have consistently remained very traditional. Every decade produced remarkably similar-looking lacy baby blankets, and lacy, ribbon-trimmed bonnet, bootee and sweater sets, and they are still commonly available patterns today. I expected something different from the progressive seventies, yet they had embroidered bunting bags and ribbon-trimmed surplice baby sweaters as well. This baby jacket, which originally appeared in Needlework and Craft in Spring 1979, looks as though it could have been created at any time in the previous five or following three decades. This pattern is available for free.

This is the Rorschach Sweater, designed by Elizabeth Zimmerman. It appeared in Needlecraft for Today in November/December 1979 and is available as a $1 download. The pattern includes directions for knitting the sleeves cuffed or belled, and it's possible to go with one tab or none at all, and to omit the belt.

The sporty-looking stripe is so common in seventies fashions, probably because there was such a upswing of interest in physical fitness. This top rather looks as though it were made to go with striped-top sweat socks pulled nearly to the knees, but I think it would look much less so if the colours were updated. The pattern is available from the Vintage Knitting Lady for £2.00, or you can get a PDF for £1.50.

Quite like these little tie-top tanks. The pattern is available from the Vintage Knitting Lady for £2.00, or you can get a PDF for £1.50.

This style of hat is so very seventies and yet would still look right today. The pattern is available from the Vintage Knitting Lady for £2.00, or you can get a photocopy for £1.99 or a PDF for £1.50.