Wednesday 10 July 2013

Art. Silk and Angora

A few weeks ago at Lee Mills, we were sorting out some baby garments from the 1950s (or before) to send to the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention (in Derby this weekend).   One of the items was a sweet little dress, in yellow rayon (then called artificial silk, or art. silk) with a yoke and edgings in white angora.

When I saw it, I remembered that we have some 1930s Robin patterns for similar dresses  - I showed two of them here.   I got the box out to show the other volunteers, and to compare the pattern with the dress. And there, at the top of the box, was the oldest Robin pattern that we have, creased and dog-eared, but the identical pattern used for the dress.  We have no provenance for many of the items in the Guild collection, so it is very exciting to match up such an old garment with its pattern.  I scanned the leaflet and cleaned it up quite a bit - here it is: 

Robin pattern no. 12  "Pauline"
Take my word for it - they are the same.  The  leaflet photo doesn't show off the pattern very well - you can't see that the lace pattern (a version of feather and fan) creates a wavy edge to the dress, which is highlighted by the angora trim.   The leaflet specifies  Robin products, of course: "Robin Perle" Art. Silk,  "Robinsdown" Angora Wool, even "Robinoid"  knitting pins.    

We don't have the matching knickers, if they were ever made. There is in any case something strange about the measurements: the dress is 14 inches long (that's the only measurement given for it) and the side seam in the knickers is 8 inches long.  Something wrong there, surely?  I can only assume that the dress was intended to be very short and the knickers were meant to show below it.
Over the decades, the angora trim on the dress has got very flattened, and is no longer fluffy as it should be.  So I decided to knit a swatch to go with the dress, to give an idea of what it would have been like originally.   We had some odd balls of vintage rayon at Lee Mills, though I doubt if it was Robin Perle, and it may not have been the intended thickness.  To go with it, I begged a small ball of Angora Haze (a new Rowan yarn) from Ann Kingstone who had knitted a sample garment using it for her forthcoming book, Stranded Knits


The rayon has a lovely sheen, and I do like the contrast in textures with the angora.   But rayon is a pig to knit with.  It is very slippery, so stitches easily slide off the needle, and if they do, there is no friction to hold the dropped stitch in place.  At the same time, I found that bamboo needles (which held onto the stitches quite well) tended to split the yarn - the points were too blunt.  So I had to knit with sharp-pointed metal needles, adding to the overall slidiness.   I was glad to finish the swatch.  I had been sort of thinking of buying some vintage rayon and knitting myself an evening top, if I could find a suitable 1930s pattern, but I've changed my mind - a small square is quite enough rayon knitting for me.

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