Vintage Knitting, Retro Dressmaking, Make do and Mend, Original and Vintage Inspired Knitting Patterns, Vintage Inspired books

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Holiday Knitting

I very rarely get the time or the opportunity to knit from other designer or brand patterns or to knit using yarn from other companies, so over the Christmas period each year I allow myself the luxury of choosing a pattern created by someone else and yarn from another label. The old excitement of deciding what to knit never fades and I spend a lot of time throughout the year planning my Christmas knit. On this occasion I had chosen both the pattern and obtained the yarn nearly a year ago and had patiently waited for Christmas week when I was allowed to cast on.

I have become very interested in Faroese patterns, wool and knitting history over the last couple of years so I decided that this year I would knit a Faroese design using Faroese wool. I am particularly fortunate that my wonderful friend Fiona is the co-owner of Island Wool who import Faroese wool to the UK. Fiona kindly allowed me to choose the yarn for any pattern I wanted to knit. Fiona also speaks Faroese and translates the patterns of Faroese yarn company, Navia, into English for them.

And so I chose Model 6 - Woman's jumper in Orange from Navia pattern book 17. This gorgeous pattern features an all-over traditional pattern on the lower body followed by a fabulous floral yoke. The body is knitted in the round from the bottom up, the sleeves are then also knitted in the round then all joined together so that the yoke can then also finally be knitted in the round.

The pattern uses Navia Duo, a pure wool blend of Faroese wool, Shetland wool and Australian lambswool. Navia is a family run business based in Toftir which is located on the island of Eysturoy. Navia use Faroese designers to create their supporting pattern range. The yarn is crisp yet soft, very warm and a pleasure to knit with. The Duo has a recommended tension of 22 sts to 10cm but is approximately a thick 4 ply weight. My pattern uses 4.5mm needles to obtain this gauge creating a reasonably loose tension ensuring your stranded knitting doesn't pull too tightly and gives the wool room to bloom when it is washed. Many Faroese designs are created in this way, deliberately creating a loosely knit fabric which will fill up when washed. Traditionally much Faroese knitwear was felted to provide a warmer, more hard wearing fabric which requires an open knit in the first instance.

I decided to stay true to the colour palette picked by designer, Malan Steinholm,  as it is the contemporary colour scheme that particularly appealed to me. The very strong orange did have me a bit nervous but I was prepared to give it a go.

Unfortunately the pattern only comes in three sizes with the largest size having a finished chest measurement of 37.5 inches (95cm). Even allowing for some negative ease this was too small for me. So a little bit of simple maths was needed to increase the circumference of the body to 42 inches (106.5cm) to accommodate my boobs. I then made the body the same length as the largest size. You can probably see I created a more fitted shape than on the model in the pattern book. This was deliberate as I really don't suit jumpers that cut across the top of my thighs. Likewise a neater fit seems to flatter me more than a loose one.

Above my boobs my upper body is quite small so on the very first row of the yoke I reduced the stitch count back to that of the pattern's largest size and was able to follow the pattern as written from there. I also reduced the length of the sleeves significantly as I have particularly short arms. I could actually have made them another 2 inches shorter in fact as I still need to turn the cuffs back!  Even though I had made the body wider, by virtue of shortening the arms I still only used 5 balls of Orange and 2 each of Navy Blue and Light Grey.

Moving onto the yoke itself there are only two rounds where 3 colours are used and these are very straight forward. Can you spot them?

The only change I made on the yoke was to cast off using a very stretchy cast off as the neck is quite tight otherwise.

 I am delighted with the finished results. The jumper fits me perfectly and the colour choice actually works. I know grey and navy both work on me, but the strong orange really was a bit of a shot in the dark. However I think it looks great. I don't think it would have worked next to my face but that is the skill of the designer, who has used the grey as the main colour on the yoke, keeping a distance between such a bold colour and the complexion. In my case red hair and usually rosy cheeks are probably not the ideal combination for orange but yes I think I've got away with it.

The pattern is translated excellently by Fiona but it is briefer than the patterns some of us have become used to and a little prior knowledge of knitting a yoked jumper in the round would probably be best if you would like to knit this jumper. I would think you would only need to have knitted one circular yoked jumper before to be able to cope comfortably but I think it would be advisable. Other than that it is a very easy pattern to follow, fits beautifully and is exactly what I hoped for. I will be wearing it an awful lot! I can't wait for next Christmas when I can knit another Faroese pattern.

for now,
Susan xx

Images taken by Gavin Crawford at Monkley Ghyll. Copyright Susan Crawford ©2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

From Chanel to Westwood - knitwear exhibition

I recently visited the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London to view the Chanel to Westwood knitwear exhibition. I had been desperate to see the exhibition and finally managed it just a few days before it closed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition yet was surprised by how small it actually was and was slightly disappointed at the layout meaning some of the garments were displayed above head height with no way of getting a close look at them. The exhibition was also heavily 'biased' towards the 1970s and 1980s - naturally enough, as there is far more knitwear available from these eras than the earlier part of the 20th century, but not a period I'm personally that interested in. The exhibition was in fact, one person's personal collection of knitwear and knowing that helped the disparity in objects make more sense.

Despite all this, there were some pieces that made the trip and the entrance fee worthwhile all on their own and one in particular which hasn't left my mind for a single day since the visit.

Photography, even without flash, was not allowed so the photos that follow are not the best as they were taken rather hurridly and secretively so as not to get into too much trouble! 

The first knitted piece that took my interest was this wonderful machine knit swimsuit from the 1930s featuring a fabulous geometric pattern that could easily have been created by Kaffe Fasset or Sasha Kagan. I also loved the colour scheme of the swimsuit and am keen to extract the pattern and colourway to use on a jumper or cardigan.

Talking about Mr Fasset, brings me to this jumper from the 1940s. As part of the Make Do and Mend section of the exhibition it used a lot of different colours in small amounts allowing the knitter to use up odds and ends of wool rather than needing full balls. I'm not 100% sure about the real age of this piece but it is listed as a 1940s piece in the exhibition.

In the display next to this jumper were some extremely striking pieces from the 1930s. This beautiful striped zig zag jumper is as wearable and modern today as it was in the 30s.

A fabulous addition is a vibrantly coloured zip on the left shoulder creating a real design feature.  Another super modern feature of this jumper is that it is knitted in rayon - or artificial silk as it was known. Alongside this jumper was a stunning machine made dress also featuring a full length feature zip down the centre front of the piece.

 Zips were new and exciting in the 1930s and I love the way these designs have used them in such striking ways without over-powering the garments or spoiling the line of the knitting. Considering these two pieces are 80 years old they have both held their shape incredibly well.

The third piece from this display reminded me of the sort of jumpers Miss Lemon would wear in Poirot. It contains all the archetypal traits that we expect from the business jumpers of that era. I could just see her wearing it whilst trying to sort out Poirot's invoices or answering the telephone.

The next piece I saw that really interested me is this twinset, which may be familiar to you, as it is featured in A Stitch in Time volume 2.

  It was wonderful to see a 1950s version of the twinset knitted and on display - although I did want to straighten it up on the display pole! We did manage to get a rather poor shot of the book image alongside the 50s original though which made me very happy.

And now the piece I can't forget. Moving back to the Make Do and Mend case I saw this sublime cardigan.

Hand knitted in the 1940s using 16 colours of 3 ply wool. The pattern on the front and back is actually different to the pattern on the sleeves. But most fascinating of all are the ribbing and stocking stitch panels that have been added on each side of the body then continued down each sleeve.

The cardigan has been cut at each side from armhole right down to the cast on edge - including the ribbing then the plain strip has been sewn to the two raw edges. The strip continues in one piece across to the sleeve where it is attached in the same manner. Without the stocking stitch strips the cardigan is incredibly small and the strips were presumably added to make it fit. Such a beautiful intricate cardigan will have taken many, many hours to knit and the knitter was probably loath to take out their work and start again when it didn't fit. The information board about the cardigan suggests that the strips were added at a later point when the wearer outgrew the cardigan and needed to make it bigger.

From the wear on the cuffs and the closely matched colour of the strips, I think they were added very soon after the original cardigan was completed and was found to be too small. My friend suggested that the sleeves and body pieces may have come from different garments and then put together to make the cardigan but I'm not sure. I think it was knitted, was found to be too small and was altered to make it fit. I will of course, never really know and its that uncertainty I think, that fascinates me most about vintage knits. We can only ever make educated assumptions at best.

The pattern of the cardigan and even the inclusion of the strips has obsessed me ever since though. It is knitted using 16 colours - there are 16 base colours in Fenella - in 3 ply wool - Fenella is a 3 ply weight wool. It seems to be telling me to recreate it, to find a way to make the construction including the strips become a fluid, workable pattern. So at the earliest opportunity that is exactly what I am going to do.

So thank you the Fashion and Textile museum for your very personal knitwear exhibition.  You have inspired me to embark on a creation that may well become an obsession but I'm not complaining!

for now,
Susan xx 

Images copyright Susan Crawford ©2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Knitting on a hill in Monkley Ghyll - and the visit of a close friend

The weeks since Christmas are already flying past. The to do list is apparently lengthening by the day but I was fortunate to have a couple of days grace when my good friend, designer extraordinaire Helene Magnusson arrived for a long awaited visit. Helene and I have been friends for several years and yet neither of us had visited each others homes before, so this was a big occasion and a delight to spend 'quality' time with a friend.

Helene has written a beautiful blog post about her visit to the farm which says far better than I can about what a lovely few days we had. Suffice to say however that no visit to the farm is complete without a bracing walk across the fields. We were very lucky to have one clear, bright, beautiful day amidst the horizontal rain and gale force winds, and so we set off on our walk. Pausing for a few minutes to survey the view, Helene took the opportunity to knit on the hill at Monkley Ghyll which gave me the additional opportunity to take this photo of her.

Helene is wearing her stunning Icelandic Spring Shawl knitted in her own Gryla yarn which attracted attention where ever we went and was particular admired by 'Cuddles' the friendliest of all our Zwarbles sheep -

This is possibly the best sheep picture ever!

I have so much more to share about Helene's visit including incredible food, the Chanel to Westwood knitwear exhibition, Helene modelling my knits and three amazing books brought from Iceland by Helene, but for now I'm going to re-read Helene's post and appreciate what a wonderful place I live in.

for now,
Susan xx

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vat Changes from 1st January 2015

Many of you will already know about the fiasco that is the Digital product VAT directive which comes into effect tomorrow. If you haven't I would suggest you google 'vatmess', pour yourself a long drink and be prepared to be bewildered by the nonsense the various EU vat authorities have dreamt up. A very thorough analysis of the situation was also written by Woolly Wormhead recently. (Please note there have been some updates to the situation since this post was written).

I won't bore you with too many of the details here but the bare facts are that digital downloads and ebooks to EU member states will have to be sold with vat added based on the country that the purchase is being made from. This along with complex audit requirements make the act of processing a sale extremely complicated. I have looked at potential options for my business and over the next few weeks you may see changes and potentially, glitches, on the website as Gavin and I rebuild our shop on a new platform that can better deal with these new vat requirements.

We don't know exactly how things will work in the first instance, but we will remain open for business throughout the switch-over and as the customer you will hopefully not be affected other than ultimately we hope to have a better, more streamlined website, shop and blog.

Due to additional processing costs incurred as a direct result of the new VAT rules I will have to increase prices on digital patterns and ebooks very slightly. These will be introduced over the next few weeks. I will keep these increases to an absolute minimum but the new system imposed creates a substantially increased administrative and processing burden on my business, that I just can't afford to absorb completely.

My patterns and e-books will also still be available on ravelry as before but again slight changes will be seen when you checkout and VAT may be applied dependent on where you, the customer, is based.

I will also be introducing 'hard copy' versions of a number of patterns to purchase via the website for those of you who would prefer this to a pdf download.

My apologies in advance for any complications during the switch over but as I said previously, we remain very much open for business! Its not the best way to be starting a New Year, but I'm determined - as always - to carry on.

With very best wishes for 2015

Susan xx

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Phew, what a busy few weeks building up to Christmas have been. I'm sure you all feel exactly the same so I just want to wish every one a relaxing, peaceful and happy Christmas with lots and lots of opportunity to knit!

I'll be back in a few days time with the story behind my 'appearance' in the Daily Mail but in the meantime the shop will remain open and despatch of orders will recommence on Monday 29th December.

But for now,

Peace and Goodwill,
Susan xx

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 1930s: The Decade Between

When I posted The Bright Young Things, I always thought I'd want to write about what came after the Roaring Twenties. We humans like to think of decades as clearly defining cultural or political phenomena, but real life is rarely that clear-cut.

The Roaring Twenties really ended in 1929 with the infamous Wall Street crash. From a cultural point of view, the reaction to the economic downturn is really interesting. People demanded escapism and the result was the rise of glitzy Hollywood musicals (made possible with the invention of "the talkie" in 1927). This Busby Berkeley number from 1933 is incredible: economic woes, American values, risky outfits, imaginative choreography, and an adorable Ginger Rodgers.

I love the contrast between the glitz of Busby Berkeley musicals and the British equivalent. The Gracie Fields musical, Sing as We Go, was written by novelist J.B. Priestley and was the story of a young girl laid off from her work in a mill who decides to go to Blackpool in pursuit of her dreams. Pay attention to Gracie's wonderful jumper in this excerpt!

The two clips make for good companion pieces because they tell the same stories in two different settings. the world was a darker, more uncertain place and people faced real hardship as they were trying to 'make it'.

Fashion was more grown-up as well. The boyish silhouette of the 1920s gave way to a feminine, more fitted look with a high waist and puff sleeves. The young, carefree girl had grown into a hard-working, smart woman and fashion trends reflected that. Tailored ensembles, mid-calf skirts, and form-fitted blouses with detailed neck-lines were all staple wardrobe items. The 1930s also became one of the most exciting ages in which to be a knitter. Jumpers were hugely fashionable and knitting became a way of making fashionable clothes for yourself on a small budget. You can read more about 1930s knitted jumpers in A Stitch in Time, vol. 1! Some of the most cutting edge designs in the book are indeed from the 1930s. Just look at The Rose Jumper with its dramatic neckline and beautiful sleeves coming to points immediately above the cuff.

The most dramatic piece of all has to be Concentrate on the Sleeves with its 'sharks fin' pleats at the top of each, already dramatic, leg o' mutton sleeves.

One of the things I love most about the 1930s is the music. As per usual Hollywood took advantage of new technology and as a result they made many splendid musicals while radio and gramophones made stars of touring "dance band" orchestras. Many "standards" started life as big popular hits in the 1930s: I Got Rhythm (written by George & Ira Gershwin), Cheek to Cheek (written by Irving Berlin), and Begin the Beguine (written by Cole Porter) among others. You also saw the rise of crooners like Bing Crosby (Pennies from Heaven) and a very young Frank Sinatra (Night & Day).

What about literature though? Writers like John Steinbeck, George Orwell, and Ernest Hemingway wrote angry, realist pieces about every-day life, but again you see a lot of escapism. The 1930s were the Golden Age of detective novels with writers like Agatha Christie (whose Miss Marple series started in 1930), Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. All wrote genteel mysteries featuring nice and definitely not so nice, middle-class and upper-class people. What better way to assuage the trials of toils of every-day life than curl up a good mystery where the villains eventually are brought to justice? Likewise, it is no coincidence that science-fiction and fantasy began to take off (J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World were all published in the 1930s) nor that the biggest literary success of the decade was Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind!

Nowadays I think we tend to forget the 1930s a little bit because it was the decade between the Roaring Twenties and the devastation of World War Two. I think it is a fascinating period of time filled with strong women, interesting books, and the start of mass pop culture.

Did I forget your favourite piece of 1930s culture?

for now,
Susan xx

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cecilia's Stranded Knitting Adventure

Last weekend I went on a lovely trip to see my good friend Cecilia, who lives high in the Cumbrian countryside. Cecilia is a spinner and hand dyer of the highest level and she has very kindly (or foolishly) been teaching me to spin. In return, she asked if I would help her improve her stranded knitting skills.

As well as both living on farms and being obsessed with wool and knitting, Cecilia and I have another thing in common. We were both supporters of our mutual friend,  Felicity Ford's 'Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook'.

Helping Cecilia to improve her stranded knitting skills seemed the perfect moment for us also to explore Felix's book and launch Cecilia into a project.

Before I arrived I had set Cecilia some homework based on Felix's book. She was to study her surroundings and choose something around her as the inspiration for her piece of stranded knitting. She was then also to extract the colours from this and create a colour palette from which she would knit.

As a hand dyer inspired by her environment on a daily basis, Cecilia decided to turn things on their heads somewhat and chose a skein of her beautiful hand dyed yarn as her inspiration. This in turn had been inspired by a view by the near by lake early this year. You can read more about Cecilia's processes in this interview on the Wovember blog in 2013.

 She then chose a selection of Jamieson & Smith 2 ply jumper weight Shetland wool that reflected the colours to be found in the skein.

Felix's book helps you to see the range of colours and patterns in everything around you and then shows you how to take those colours and patterns and turn them into beautiful samples of stranded knitting. I would recommend you looking at Felix's website at just some of the truly amazing images of completed works that people have sent to her.

Felix has herself been using a photo I had taken of my farm, Monkley Ghyll to create the most stunningly, rich swatch. Here it is in progress.

Here is the photo which Felix has used to create this incredible swatch.

And so, once colours had been identified, Cecilia took up her needles and set about learning to create stranded knitting. Sitting at her kitchen table we talked and drank tea oblivious to the day darkening outside; the only sound disturbing us that of Cecilia's two new Old England goats who have been relentlessly trying to escape since coming to live with her.

Initially awkward, the rhythm of working stranded knitting with a colour held in each hand began to make sense and Cecilia's speed and accuracy improved dramatically.  At the end of the day a small but perfectly formed swatch had begun to appear on her needles. Cecilia is going to continue with this and at our next meeting I will hopefully be able to share with you her completed project.

Felix's book is inspirational in the true sense of the word and yet also manages to be fabulously instructional as well, releasing often un-noticed patterns and colour combinations for us to use and admire.

If you haven't already got yourself a copy of the Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook I would highly recommend you do so. Take a walk, look at the everyday things around you and begin to create your own works of knitted art.

Felix's book can be purchased via her website here.