Sunday, 27 January 2019

Steve's Jumper

The Knitting & Crochet Guild collection is moving to new premises very soon, which is exciting but involves a lot of work.  We have been busy tidying up - all sorts of things that were put to one side to deal with on another day.  On Friday, I brought home a box of 'miscellaneous publications' to sort out.  When I first started working on the collection, there were many, many boxes of very miscellaneous publications, but we have gradually worked through almost all of them - this is the last one, I think.  (I hope so.)  I have riffled through this box at various times and taken out all the things that can be easily placed elsewhere - magazines, spinners' pattern leaflets, booklets, and so on.  And the contents of other boxes have been amalgamated with this one. What was left in the box finally was a very random lot of stuff - mostly things that don't belong in the collection (sewing and embroidery leaflets, etc.) or out-and-out rubbish (creased and crumpled plastic pockets, booklets with no covers and pages missing).  But it was worth going through carefully, because there were some things worth keeping.  And one thing that I have been looking out for, but didn't ever expect to find.

About three years ago, my friend Stephanie (known as Steve) came to Lee Mills, where the Guild collection is stored at present, and showed us a jumper that her mother knitted for her when she was a teenager in the 1950s.   She demonstrated that it still fitted her, though I'm sure she hadn't worn it for many years.  She later gave it to the collection, and it has featured in several trunk shows that I have done since then.

Steve in her jumper, as a teenager

It is knitted in emerald green, with bands of stranded colourwork in cream and tan - very 1950s colours. It's a complicated knit, and very well made.

Steve thought that the pattern had been published in Radio Times, in the late 1950s.  I looked through the Radio Times archive in Manchester Central Library, but I couldn't find it (though I did meet several characters from 1950s BBC television like David Nixon the magician and Lenny the Lion).  Memory being fallible, I decided that Steve was wrong and that it was published somewhere else.  But I hadn't seen it in a pattern leaflet, and if it was in another magazine, there were so many possibilities that it would need a lot of luck to find it.

And then I found it in the miscellaneous box that I brought home on Friday.  It was indeed published in Radio Times, in a supplement to the November 21st 1958 issue.  (Perhaps the supplement had not been archived, and that was why I didn't find it in Manchester.) 

It's especially interesting to see the pattern, because Steve's mother changed the construction.  According to the pattern, it should be knitted in one piece, starting at the bottom of the front.  You cast on stitches for the sleeves either side, so that the stranded colour band is knitted in one piece from cuff to cuff. Then you make an opening for the neck, and carry on, knitting the second stranded colour band from cuff to cuff, cast off the sleeve stitches, and then knit the back.  You pick up stitches around the bottom of the sleeves and the neck opening for the ribbed cuffs and neckband, and finally sew the side and sleeve seams.

Steve's mother apparently didn't like the fact that at the side seams, you would have to join two stranded colour bands going in opposite directions, i.e. the one on the front knitted upwards and the one on the back knitted downwards.  She probably thought that the difference in direction would show - I think she was probably right.  She wasn't worried about the bands on the sleeves, because they don't meet at a seam - in fact you wouldn't usually see them next to each other.  So instead of knitting the body and sleeves entirely in one piece, she stopped after the sleeves were finished, and put that piece aside, leaving the stitches for the back on a spare needle or a length of wool.  Then she cast on again for the back; she knitted the welt and then the stranded colour band working upwards, and then the rest of the back up to the armholes. Then she grafted the two pieces together, which I think is extraordinary.  We had spotted that the two stranded knitting bands on the back of the jumper were knitted in opposite directions, and so we had found the graft, though it's very neatly done.  I don't think I have ever seen such a long graft in such a visible place, and I was surprised that a 1950s knitting pattern should be so ambitious.  But now I know - it wasn't.  The graft was Steve's mother's idea.

So having the pattern as well as the jumper tells us that Steve's mother was an expert knitter and a perfectionist - she saw something that she didn't like in a pattern that she wanted to make, and she fixed it. 

This was the last thing she knitted for Steve - she died in 1959, only about six months after the pattern was published.  I'm sure that Steve kept the jumper for that reason.  Steve herself  is very sadly no  longer with us - she died in 2017, not very long after giving her jumper to the Guild.  She would have been very pleased that the pattern for her jumper has been found.  (I think she would also have been a bit cross with me for doubting her memory that it was in Radio Times - sorry, Steve,) 

Detail of Steve's jumper, showing stranded colour work and basket stitch 
PS I have only just noticed, after writing the above, that the colour work bands in Steve's jumper are not exactly the same as in the pattern - the flowers are spaced further apart, because the intervening abstract design is doubled up.  I can guess how it happened - the chart shows a flower pattern with the abstract design either side, to show how it would look overall.  But you were only supposed to repeat the flower design and the following abstract design, not the whole chart.  Equally acceptable either way, I think.


  1. So nice that you could close the story and solve the mystery of the construction. It is certainly has a striking colour scheme!

  2. Thank you for this. It's a very moving and interesting memorial to your friend and her very gifted mother.

    1. Thanks - I'm so pleased you found it interesting.

  3. What a lovely —and satisfying — story. That pullover is lovely, and clearly your friend’s mother was a very skilled artisan.

    You asked me about the source of a pattern for a 1950s striped cardigan that I showed on Instagram. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the pattern, as I found it on Ravelry.

    Judging by your comments, you'd already looked at this page. I’m sorry I don’t have more information.

    I’ve been knitting mostly vintage patterns for the past few years. Mostly 1939s through 1950s. I find the construction of these garments very interesting and challenging.

    1. Thanks for your comment - so pleased you liked the story of Steve's jumper. I rarely knit from vintage patterns myself, but I love looking at them and studying their history, and it's great to know that there are people like you who still use them a lot.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...