Thursday 27 July 2023

1920s Woolly Jumpers

 In the last post, I wrote about outfits in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection that were knitted in the early 1950s from 1920s patterns.  Here's another, based on the same set of Beehive Recipe Cards.   

And here is the photo from the card.
From Beehive Card No. 51 (1923)

The jumper is partly knitted and partly filet crochet.  The knitted parts (the front and back) are stocking stitch, with evenly spaced columns of pairs of eyelets (i.e. knit two together, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, knit two together).  The photos make the construction fairly clear, I think.  The front is straight up to the armholes, then you increase each side for the sleeves.  The neck opening is made simply by dividing the stitches into two halves and knitting each half separately. There are five pieces of filet crochet as well, one for each shoulder, one for each sleeve, and one for the waistband. 

To put the jumper together, 'sew the pieces of insertion to the front shoulders, then join to the back, leaving a space for the back of the neck.'  The shoulder insertions are made to to the same length as the front shoulders, and the back is wider than the front, so that there will be a space at the back of the neck. 

And finally, 'make a twisted cord of the wool, thread it through the spaces at the waist, attach pom-poms (when threaded) at each end.'  The spaces are in the knitted part of the jumper, using the eyelets.  As with the dress in the last post, there are no instructions for making the cord, or the pom-poms.  (And that's not what I'd call a pom-pom - it's a crocheted ovoid, stuffed with something.)   Cord belts on jumpers, with tassels, pom-poms, etc. were very common in the early 1920s, and some patterns do give instructions for making stuffed crochet balls to go on the end of the belt, so perhaps the person who made the replica in the early 1950s had access to one of those patterns - or else just worked out how to match the photo on the recipe card.  

I don't like the fact that the back is wider than the front - that's not a good way to create a V neck.  And the jumper is very short - the belt appears to be higher than the model's natural waist, though that is easily modified.  I like the use of filet crochet combined with knitting, and I'm sure that a modern design could be based on this one.  But not one that I would like to tackle - my crochet isn't good enough.  

We think of 1920s knitwear as long and straight - worn by women with ideally no curves anywhere. But that wasn't always the case especially in the early 20s - as the photo of the recipe card shows, jumpers sometimes were loose and wide, with a well-defined waist (even if not in the right place). Another replica in the Coats-Patons donation is more typical of our view of 20s knitwear.  It is similar to the Eunice design above - it is a T shape, with a draw-string cord belt with pompoms.  But it is much longer, and I think the belt would sit at hip level, so would be pulled in very little.

I have not yet found the pattern for this jumper.  It is not one of the Beehive recipe cards, though some of the designs have a similar look, like those below. 

From Beehive Card No. 67 (1923)

From Beehive Card No. 84 (1924)

The pattern may have been one of the 'Helps to Knitters' leaflets (originally published by John Paton, Son & Co., and later by Patons & Baldwins). But we have very few of the 1920s 'Helps to Knitters' leaflets in the Guild collection, so looking for the original of the jumper will have to wait - I'll report here if I find it. 

Monday 3 July 2023

A 1920s Costume

I wrote about the Coats-Patons donation in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection in my last post, and said there that some of them are knitted from vintage Patons & Baldwins patterns. I have identified some of the replica garments as knitted from  Beehive Recipe Cards, which I wrote about here. Although we only have a few of the cards in the collection, the British Library has a complete set of 86, and four of the replica garments given to the collection can be matched to the cards. Here's the first: 

And here is the illustration on the card:

Illustration from
Beehive Recipe Card No. 31

The description on the card is: 'The "Pauline" Costume, being made in TEAZLE Wool, is suitable for sports wear, it is knitted in two colours which, if tastefully chosen, will make a very distinctive one.  The skirt is worked in one piece and knitted so as to give a pleated effect.  The coat is worked in plain knitting, with a vest  knitted in the same manner as the skirt  fastened into the front of the coat.'   

So although the top looks like two separate garments, it is just one: the 'vest' is actually just a piece to join together the two sides of the coat.  It is not easy to see in the photo, but there is a deep band of fabric showing above the top of the vest  the model is wearing something like a camisole, and the outfit is more modest than it looks at first glance. 

Teazle wool was so called because you could create a furry effect on the finished knitting by brushing with a wire brush, though in this case the finished outfit is not intended to be brushed.  A few years ago, I recreated a tam pattern originally intended for Teazle wool, as I described here, and used Rowan Felted Tweed as a substitute, though without seeing the original Teazle wool it's impossible to know how similar they are. 

The back of the jacket is knitted first, and then continued into the two separate fronts (so there are no shoulder seams).  The broad collar, forming a full-length lapel, is knitted as a separate piece.  The skirt and vest are knitted sideways and the pleating is done by working alternate bands of garter stitch and stocking stitch, alternating the two colours.  

The suggested colours are Light Saxe (blue) and Pearl Green.  There is very little contrast between the colours in the black and white photo on the card, and I think that in colour the stripes would have given a subtle green-blue effect. The colours chosen for the replica are not subtle at all, and even in black and white it looks very obviously striped, but again if it was intended for showing on TV, the colours might have been chosen deliberately to show the stripes.

The Beehive Recipe cards in the British Library have British Museum date stamps (because the British Library used to be housed in the British Museum) showing the accession date.  The dates are December 1921 for cards 1 to 37, November 1923 for cards 38 to 74, and June or July 1924 for the rest.  Yarn shops advertised the cards from January 1921, and I think that the Pauline Costume can be dated to 1921.  

Another of the replicas is based on Card no. 26 for a Lady's Knitted Dress.

Here's the image from the card:

Illustration from
Beehive Recipe Card No. 26

The description from the card is "The 'Alicia'  Knitted Dress being light in weight is suitable for indoor or outdoor wear. The skirt is worked in a rib which gives a pleated effect, the remainder of the dress is knitted in a plain smooth fabric, with a simple pattern introduced at the neck and cuffs, whilst a thick twisted cord is used for the sash.  The garment being knitted in one piece — with the exception of the sleeves  is easily made and can be worked by any average knitter."  

Here's another photo showing the "simple pattern" at the neck. 

As the description says, the body of the dress is knitted in one piece, starting at the lower edge of the front, continuing up to the shoulders, casting on stitches in the centre to replace those cast off for the front neck opening, and then knitting the back of the dress downwards.  The sleeves are knitted from the cuff upwards, finishing with a straight edge.  This kind of construction was common in 1920s jumpers, though often the sleeves were also knitted in one piece with the body. 

There are no instructions for making the cord belt.  The card just says "make a cord  with tassels attached at each end", of the same wool used for the rest of the dress.  Evidently in the 1920s knitters were expected to know how to make cords, tassels, pompoms and the like, without further direction.  Personally, if I were making the dress I would like some indication of how many strands of wool to use and how long they should be, because a thick cord with tassels, like that shown on the card, would use a lot of wool, and mistakes could be expensive. 

I think it's an unexciting design, but it must have been so much more comfortable to wear than the fashions of 10 or 15 years previously (let alone Victorian fashions) that I can understand women wanting to wear a dress like that.  Pleated skirts (or rather skirts with a pleated effect) seem to have been popular in 1921, at least according to the Beehive cards.  Here are two more designs from the same  1921 tranche. 

Illustration from
Beehive Recipe Card No.30

The title of Card No. 30 is 'Lady's Knitted Dress', but actually it's a skirt and jumper.  The back and front of the jumper are knitted in one piece, as in Card No. 26, but there are separate ribbed pieces to go either side under the armholes.  I don't know why knitting designers of the 1920s were so averse to shoulder seams.   

Illustration from 
Beehive Recipe Card No. 41

Card No. 41 is another Knitted Costume ("Doreen" design), but unlike the Pauline design, above, the jacket is a proper jacket, without the awkward 'vest' piece.  It has some similarities to the jacket of the Pauline costume - the broad striped collar forming full-length lapels, and the belt going under the lapels at the front.  And the back and fronts are knitted in one piece, as before.  

(What's wrong with shoulder seams?  I avoid unnecessary seams where I can, and often choose to knit jumpers top-down, in the round, in one piece so that there are no seams at all, but these designs have seams elsewhere, just not shoulder seams.) 

If I were choosing a knitted costume to represent early 1920s knitting, I would choose the 'Doreen' design rather than the 'Pauline' design.  And I wouldn't choose the 'Alicia' design because it's not very interesting and doesn't seem characteristically 1920s.  But when the replicas in the Coats-Patons donation were made in the early 1950s, I have no idea what the purpose was, or why particular designs were chosen, so I can't judge.  

In my next post, I'll write about another replica garment that was knitted from a Beehive Recipe Card, and is much more attractive, in my view.    
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