Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Petticoats and Ribboned Slippers: a Selection of Knitting Patterns from 1900-1909

When I wrote a post on Mad Men-inspired knitting projects back in May, my original intent was to proceed to write similar posts about my two of my other favourite period dramas: Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey. But when I began to research those posts the results proved so discouraging that I soon gave up the effort. There just aren't that many knitted items in Boardwalk Empire that anyone would even want to copy. Aside from a few sweaters that Margaret Schroeder Thompson wears, it's mostly very drab menswear. There are some supposedly Downton Abbey projects out there, but honestly, despite the designers' claims that they are "Downton Abbey-inspired", they're mostly quite contemporary-looking items that bear no resemblance to anything any of the characters have actually worn on the show.

However, that research wasn't entirely fruitless, because during the course of it I did get inspired with a concept for a series of posts that I'm very much looking forward to researching and writing and that I hope you'll all enjoy. I'm going to do a series of ten posts, each of which will feature a selection of ten authentic (or at least accurately rewritten) patterns from each decade of the twentieth century. This post is the first in the Twentieth Century Series and covers the years from 1900 to 1909 (yeah, yeah I know there was no "zero year" and it should be 1901 to 1910, but whatever, get over it).

I'm predicting this post will prove the hardest to write of the ten. My criteria for selecting these historical knitting patterns is that a) the patterns must date from the decade I'm writing about, b) the patterns must be readily accessible to my readers, and c) the patterns must be attractive and usable and at least somewhat distinctive by modern standards. As it happens, authentic and accessible Edwardian knitting patterns are pretty thin on the ground, or at least on the net. I could find only a few web sources, and some of those were mislabelled as being from 1900 when they were really from, say, the 1920s. For that matter sometimes patterns were labelled as Victorian patterns when they were actually Edwardian. (A number of antique pattern web curators don't seem to understand that the Victorian era ended in 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria.) There are a number of genuine Edwardian knitting pamphlets available on eBay, but I don't consider those readily procurable for my readers as they are are always in very limited supply and I can't count on any specific item still being listed in even a month's time, although individuals who are interested in authentic Edwardian patterns may have some success with shopping on eBay.

Then, many of the Edwardian patterns that do exist are unwearable or useless for today's knitters — I mean, I'm assuming you don't want leading reins for your toddlers or a frilly bonnet for yourself. There are quite a number of patterns available for plain and practical items, but I don't see why any contemporary knitter would want to struggle with the vagaries of an antique pattern only to wind up with a very basic pair of ribbed socks or gloves that are indistinguishable from something that could be made with a run-of-the-mill modern pattern. And there were some unforeseen difficulties. I had hoped to find some sharp knitted waistcoat patterns for men since those could perfectly well be worn by today's men, but it seems the common practice for knitters of men's waistcoats in Edwardian times was to knit only a patterned square and then to take the piece to a tailor to be made up into a waistcoat.

However, now that my excuses are made, here are my best findings, which I hope you at least find interesting to look at. The posts will get better as I go through the 20th century, because there will be a much better selection of patterns available. At least until I get to the 1980's, when everything was ugly.

This is a "Baby's Openwork Jacket", which can be found at page 28 (on the sidebar; actual booklet page number 23) in The Book of "Hows": or what may be done with wools in every home, published in 1900 and "edited by Miss Loch, needlework examiner to the London School Board" (which, by the way, sounds like an awesome job for a woman to have in 1900). The Book of "Hows" is a part of the Richard Rutt Collection, and may be viewed and printed off for free. I've written about the Richard Rutt Collection before. This baby's jacket looks pretty standard by today's terms. Baby clothing can have a very antique look without it looking odd, because things like cape collar dresses and lace jackets with ribbons never really went out of style for babies.

This is the "Oxford Puzzle Jacket or Hug-Me-Tight", which can be found on page 26 of The Second Book of "Hows", also published in 1900 and edited again by Miss Loch, and which is also available for free in the Richard Rutt Collection. I thought this design was very similar to the spencer jackets that are in again now. They're not the easiest thing to wear, but can work on a small-breasted woman and over a empire-waisted dress.

"Lady's slippers", found on page 38 of The Second Book of "Hows", published in 1900. It seems to have been very typical of slipper styles of the era to have ribbons run in around the top of one's slippers. It's a pretty look and it makes it possible to tighten the slippers to a snug fit.

This is a child's knitted petticoat pattern, which appeared in John Paton Son & Co.'s Knitting and Crocheting Book, 3rd edition, published in 1903. You can't buy this pattern by itself but will need to purchase the whole 286-page book from for $21.95 from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions (obviously you get a lot of other patterns in the book for that price — you can view them all at the link provided). In Edwardian times this was a petticoat, but now of course it would be a little girl's knitted dress. I love the beautifully textured stitchwork, and can imagine in it a gorgeous hand-dyed wool. I'm tempted to make this one for my little grand-niece.

Child's cape-collared coat, which, like the petticoat/dress above, appears in John Paton Son & Co.'s Knitting and Crocheting Book, 3rd edition, published in 1903 and available from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95. I love the quaint look of this jacket, though it would only be worth making for some little princess who tends to dress up a lot!

This pattern is for a woman's petticoat, and it appeared in The Columbia Book of the Use of Yarns, Fifth Edition, which was published in 1904 and is available from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95. Some of the best and most usable Edwardian patterns are for what was then considered underwear. Edwardian petticoats and chemises make pretty contemporary skirts and tops (and can make a woman feel pleasantly risqué). In making this one I'd alter the top of the skirt a little to make sure there was no bulky gathering at the waist, but the texture and the scalloped hem will need no tweaking to look lovely.

This baby jacket appeared in The Columbia Book of the Use of Yarns, Fifth Edition, which was published in 1904 and is available from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions for $21.95. It's a cute jacket but I suspect the pom-poms may be considered a choking hazard in an our era of significantly lowered infant mortality.

This feather-stitch flounce petticoat appeared in Weldon's Practical Knitter, No. 253, Vol. 22, published in 1906. The book is $9.95 on the Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions site, but in this case you also have the option of purchasing just this one pattern for $4.95. This is another petticoat that would make a beautiful skirt. In this case I'd think one would have to do a little more reshaping to make sure the skirt fit well around the waist and hips and the lower pleated part of the skirt wasn't too full.

A baby's silk knitted vest, appearing at page 110 of Pearsall's Illustrated Handbook for Knitting in Silks, published in 1906, also from the Richard Rutt Collection. Again, this is underwear that qualifies as modern outerwear. I love the detail and can picture it on a baby girl with a pretty skirt. Alternatively, if it were made longer and shaped to flare somewhat at the bottom, it could be a pretty cotton dress for summer.

Silk bag purse with snap, appearing at page 199 of Pearsall's Illustrated Handbook for Knitting in Silks, published in 1906, and also from the Richard Rutt Collection. This would need no tweaking or repurposing to be usable in exactly the same way as an Edwardian woman would have used it: as an evening bag. Though the contents would be different: a cellphone and lipstick rather than smelling salts and a point lace handkerchief.

Look for the next post in the Twentieth Century Series within the next two weeks or so. Next time, of course, we'll be covering the tail end of the Edwardian era and the First World War years.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this most delightful post, I love history and I love knitting. The two together is just glorious.