Showing posts with label vintage knitting patterns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vintage knitting patterns. Show all posts

Friday, 18 July 2014

Midwifery and Needlecraft

A few months ago I zipped through the first three seasons of the BBC-produced show Call the Midwife. I'd put off watching it for awhile even though I heard many good things about it because I didn't think I'd like it, but then I gave it a chance and was hooked from the first episode. Those involving storylines! The sociopolitical depth of the issues involved! The frequent hilarity! The period detail! And, not least among the many rewards of watching Call the Midwife, is that it features a lot of needlework and knitwear. Midwife Chummy is a highly skilled seamstress (out of self-defense, I am sure, because as a 6'1" woman in the 1950s, almost none of the readymade garments then available would have fit her), the nuns of Nonatus House have a daily needlecraft hour during which they make items for charity, the mothers of Poplar are frequently seen knitting, and the entire cast, from the midwives to the mothers to the random extras to the babies, regularly sport delightful vintage style knitwear.

However, for a show that does usually nail all its period details, Call the Midwife did demonstrate an absurd disregard for accuracy in episode eight of season two. In the screencap above, Midwives Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) and Trixie Franklin (Helen George) are shown knitting. And they really are knitting, not just pretending to, which is great. But what's Trixie holding in her lap? Granny squares. Crocheted granny squares, against which she measures the size of her knitting to be sure they match. Is the blanket they are working on to be composed of knitted and crocheted squares?

No, it isn't. Here, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt), is shown "knitting" a granny square. No wonder she looks confused. Also, Sister Monica Joan is supposed to be a good knitter who can "knit in her sleep", as Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) comments, but it's all too clear that Judy Parfitt cannot knit at all.

And here we see the women of Nonatus House working together to assemble their "knitted" blanket while they anxiously await the news regarding the fate of their friend and comrade in midwifery Chummy, who suffered a hemorrhage when giving birth to her son and is undergoing surgery. This is something the show got right, as such work would be calming and very much in character with what these sensible, energetic, practical women would do, and this is a beautiful scene.

The finished afghan is lovingly laid over Chummy as she lies unconscious in her hospital bed after surgery. Happily, she rouses when her son is placed beside her, and all is well.

But I can't help being exasperated by the whole knitting/crocheting mix-up. For one thing, there is just no way those who worked on this episode didn't know they were making a mistake. Some members of the case are knitters in real life; Jessica Raine has said that they knit in the break room on set. Whomever made the decision to stage this plot point this way plainly didn't think it mattered. But it does matter, just as it would matter if a show were to confuse rugby with soccer. Conflating knitting with crocheting isn't some esoteric detail that only an initiated few will catch, but a silly mistake that will irritate every crafter in the audience as well as those who may not knit or crochet themselves but who recognize the difference, and there are not some insignificant number of us. More movie and TV directors need to understand this, and they also need to be careful about representing a character as an excellent knitter when the actor playing the character can't knit, or is only a beginning knitter. There are workarounds, such as showing an actor working on finishing details rather than the actual knitting (it is much, much easier to learn finishing skills), or showing the character merely sitting with the knitting in his or her lap rather than actually working on it.

That said, let's move on from the whole knitting/crochet kerfuffle in media topic and get to an aspect of Call the Midwife-related knitting that I'm sure we'd all much rather focus on: Call the Midwife-inspired knitting projects!

This pattern is for the real Call the Midwife fetishist, and it's an excellent rendition of the pillbox hats Jenny and the other midwives sport while cycling off to bring another new life into the world. This is the Midwife Calling Felted Pillbox Hat, designed by Kylene Moss Grell. It's available for $1.99(USD), and as a bonus it includes a pattern sized for an 18" American Girl Doll.

If you'd like a midwife-style burgundy cardigan, that should be easy to replicate, as it's a basic v-necked cardigan with five buttons. Your best bet is to use a vintage pattern from the 50s. The Yangtze Cardigan, designed by Courtney Kelley and published in Vintage Modern Knits: Contemporary Designs Using Classic Techniques might be a good choice if you nix the texture and pockets and scale the number of buttons back to five.

This Chummy doll, from the blog Amy's Gurumis, is crocheted, but is just too adorable not to include, and it's a free pattern. I did find a knitted Chummy doll, but it didn't look nearly as good as this one. Crocheting is the better option for amigurumi. I think if I were making this, I'd knit Chummy's sweater, though.

There's no pattern yet available for this Sister Bernadette/Shelagh Turner doll, which is again from the gifted Amy of the blog Amy's Gurumis, but I just had to show it to you anyway. This doll can be transformed from nun to civilian/doctor's wife because her hair's removable.

Perhaps, though, you don't care to make either a replica midwife uniform or a doll and instead want a Call the Midwife-inspired piece that you can actually wear. This would be my approach too — I've never been able to get into costume making because one can only wear the costume a few times, and I'm certainly well past my doll play years, so let's look at some Call the Midwife knitwear.

Of all the characters' wardrobes on Call the Midwife, Trixie Franklin's is your best bet for cute knits to replicate. The flirtatious, outgoing, fashion-forward Trixie wears detailed, eye-catching, tricksy little numbers (was ever a character better suited to her name?). We see her in this short-sleeved top several times, and the 1950s twinset pattern displayed above (which is available for free) could be made to be nearly identical with some changes to the stripe pattern in the yoke.

I don't have pattern suggestions for these three sweaters but include them for your possible inspiration. If any of you do track down a readily available similar pattern and care to share it with the rest of us, please email me the link and I'll add it to the post. Some of you will have the skills to write your own patterns using a picture as your guide (and if you don't now, you may someday!). I love the checked sweater at the bottom especially and am mentally playing with it to see how I could make it work for me.

Prim and reserved Jenny Lee wears simple, classic clothes (and a lot of yellow), but although she also looks lovely her clothes seems less worthwhile to copy than Trixie's, because they are so very plain, and there's not much point in putting all that work into such a plain item. (There are loads of articles on the net telling people how to get the Call the Midwife look by matching the characters' outfits up with similar and readily available current clothes.) Moreover I suspect a large part of the reason Jenny Lee's clothes look so appealing is because Jessica Raine is in them, which is an advantage the rest of us won't have. Raine seems born to wear 1950s fashions and hairstyles, which suit her so perfectly that she tends to look better in them than she does in contemporary styles. She even manages to look good in the hilarious hospital nursing uniforms, which the head nurse assures her are "practically couture" but which feature enormous puffed sleeves which look like they pose a possible hazard to the patients. I for one wouldn't want to get whacked in the nose by one of those starched sleeves.

I do have this one pattern to offer. The bottom picture is the Lady's Evening Jumper, designed by Susan Crawford. It appeared in A Stitch in Time: Vintage Knitting Patterns, 1930-1959, Volume 2, and it seems to have been the very same pattern used to make Jenny Lee's short-sleeved version. Which is yellow, of course.

Nothing else is popping up on my image Google searches that really seems worthy of mention. The other regular characters tend to wear frumpier looking knitwear, as Cynthia Miller does, or little knitwear, as in the case of Shelagh Turner, who usually sticks to beautifully tailored classic wool suits. One-episode characters and extras do tend to wear some nice knitwear, but we don't often get a good look at the designs.

But let's not forget the little guest stars of Call the Midwife, who regularly sport lovingly handknitted items. Styles such as these babies wear are readily found in vintage baby clothing knitting booklets and will look as cute as these when put on a baby. Babies are even better at looking cute than Jessica Raine.

We do have a Christmas 2014 special and a 2015 season to look forward to, so I may do a follow-up post on more possible Call the Midwife projects.

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.