Friday, 15 March 2013

Wendy and Robin in miniskirts

In the 1960s, Mary Quant was one of the foremost fashion designers in London, widely credited with popularising the miniskirt.  She also produced two collections of designs for hand-knitters and crocheters to make for themselves, in Courtelle yarns.  Three of the designs appear in Wendy pattern leaflets in 1965: the preamble to the instructions says: "This is a Mary Quant design, one of the collection created exclusively for Wendy in Courtelle.  Mary Quant, famous as a pace-setter in the fashion world, has now brought her originality and flair to handknitting." 
1960s vintage crochet pattern; 1960s vintage knitting pattern; Wendy; Mary Quant; cream short-sleeved dress, bonnet & knee socks
Wendy 555 

According to notes on the archive copies held by Thomas B Ramsden & Co. (who now own Wendy), 15,000 copies of Wendy leaflet 555 were sold, more than twice as many as either of the other two Mary Quant leaflets.  That seems a bit surprising, because making the dress would take a lot of work.  It's also not a project for beginners - the skirt of the dress is knitted, and the rest of the outfit is crocheted, so you need both skills.  (And crocheting knee socks sounds fairly advanced - I've never got much past granny squares in crochet, so I can't judge.)   So I do wonder how many people actually made and wore the complete outfit, including the bonnet and knee socks.

The other two 1965 designs are more straightforward: Wendy 556 (below) is a crochet blazer with contrast edgings, and there's also a ribbed sweater with bands of contrast colour, which could be tackled by someone without much knitting experience.   But perhaps they didn't sell so well because they were seen as less distinctive.  

1960s vintage crochet pattern; Wendy; Mary Quant; white blazer jacket with navy edging
Wendy 556
In 1966, Mary Quant designed another collection of knitting patterns, including three for Wendy and three for Robin.  They are distinguished from the 1965 patterns by the fact that all the models have sharp geometric Vidal Sassoon haircuts - a style that was associated with Mary Quant after she adopted it herself in 1964.

1960s vintage knitting pattern; Wendy; Mary Quant; cream short-sleeved dress with patterned bands at waist & cuffs
Wendy 602

Three of the 1966 patterns are dresses, with matching stockings or socks. I don't like stockings at all, especially not thick knitted ones, and the thought of hand-knitting a pair is horrifying.  But ignoring the knitted stockings, I think the dress in Wendy 602 looks good (on a slim model, of course).   I don't personally think that knitted dresses are practical, and I rarely wear dresses anyway. But I could imagine converting it to a short-sleeved sweater with bands of stranded knitting.  (Or is it just me looking back nostalgically on the 1960s?)

Also among the 1966 designs for Wendy and Robin are a knitted jacket, with contrast crochet edging and another pair of matching knee socks, and two long-sleeved sweaters.  Robin 1559 (below) is a plain sweater in a raised rib pattern, with smocking on each shoulder.  The smocking is a 1960s detail which I think is too fussy combined with the plainness of the rest of the design - I'd prefer it without the smocking.  My favourite, though, is still Robin 1560 - a bold all-over geometric design in stranded knitting (described as "Fair Isle"), which I described in an earlier post here.

1960s vintage knitting pattern; Robin; Mary Quant; orange sweater with smocking; retro
Robin 1559

I've been tracking down the Mary Quant patterns for some time, and they almost all have something distinctive about them.   I like the fact that they are mostly not simple knits for beginners, and several of them have some element that would be technically novel for many knitters - stranded knitting, or smocking, or the combination of knitting and crochet.  And especially, knitting socks in the round - not a common accomplishment for young women at the time.  I think that the knitters who tried these designs might have found that their skills improved a lot as a result, which must be a good thing.

I have just started knitting another of the Mary Quant designs.  It is a sweater in a wide rib, where the knit stitches on the right side of the work are twisted.  Not difficult, but new to me.  More on that later. 


  1. That first dress is gorgeous, I can see why it sold so many copies! I would love to know how many people actually made it though. I like the idea of knitting (and crocheting) a dress but I'm not sure I'll ever get round to it.

    1. But would you wear the bonnet and knee socks as well?


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