Sheep Don’t Shrink….

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My recently completed hand knitted 1920s inspired sampler stole and beret

I often receive compliments about my hand knits; but I’m reminded of how fearful many people are about washing their knits; so here’s my fail-safe guide to washing and storing; and a better PR for all things woolly!

“Oh, but you have to be so careful with wool don’t you?”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard it; and it’s likely to not be the last; but I often hear this said as a statement rather than a question; and each time I feel compelled to help alleviate fears about washing hand knits. To be honest, I think most of us have either had a bad experience with shrinking or felting a wool item, or we know someone else who has. And this can put people off of buying 100% wool; which is a real pity, as wool is a readily available by-product. Unlike its man made alternatives such as polyamide, nylon or acrylic, wool is warmer to wear; but also less likely to make us sweat, as its a natural and breathable fabric. Oh but how to wash it?

Well, as I often reply to the above statement – sheep don’t shrink! Just think about that for a minute. They really don’t, and they’re out in all weathers. Albeit with shelter; sheep live outside usually all year round, in wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow and sunshine; in cold, mild and warm temperatures and their fleece doesn’t shrink….

There are a few standard rules you have to follow for hand knits and pure wools though

Always use a wool cycle. Most front-loading machines have a wool cycle. If not, then when you next have to buy a washing machine, buy one with a wool cycle which carries the wool mark. Most machines will have a delicate cycle, but this isn’t the same as a wool cycle.

Wash at 30°C. Remember the sheep in the field? They’re not usually in temperatures exceeding 30°C (not here in the UK anyway!) so don’t wash your woolies on anything hotter. You will shrink or felt them. Going back to the point above, the wool cycle on a machine is 30°C and a delicate cycle is usually 40°C which is asking for disaster…

Don’t skimp on decent detergent. I would hope this goes without saying, but don’t buy cheap detergent and expect the results you want to see. You need a detergent that carries the wool mark to guarantee its safe to use on woolies. I prefer to use Woolite personally. It cost between £3.50 to £4; but it’s worth it in my experience. A good detergent will also help soften the fibres of your garment.

Don’t wash one wool item on its own. In my own experience, washing a load of woolies together means they’re less likely to be agitated or pulled about too much. If you want, you can use a pillow case for woolies, but I prefer to put all items in the machine together and skip the pillow case. If you’re struggling to make up a full load of wool, then consider adding knitted acrylic fibres to make the load up. Your acrylic knitted jumper and cardi will appreciate the extra care!

Don’t put woolies in the tumble dryer. Does anyone really think this might be a good idea?? Leave your woolies to dry naturally away from direct heat, draped over a clothes horse or airer. If your woolies have been stretched a bit you can gently pull them back into shape at this stage when they’re wet. Wool really is very forgiving if you take the care and patience to tend to it.

Don’t hang you woolies up. Wool garments need folding and storing flat in a cupboard or on a shelf. Hanging them will stretch them from the shoulders over time. Use moth balls or repellent to keep moths at bay. I have some lavender scented moth repellent which isn’t as strong smelling as moth balls but does the trick nicely.

Knit up a tension square. I know I’m always banging on about tension squares, but this is the ideal way to see how your wool is going to fair in your washing machine and will give you confidence when washing your completed garment. 

Keeping to these simple rules will help ensure your knits stay looking good for years to come. Personally, I don’t think you can beat the feel of pure new wool against skin and it looks and lasts so much longer than it’s synthetic alternatives. 

Happy washing! 

 

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Why There’s No Little Black Knitted Number…..

“That’s Lovely…..Does It Come In Black??”

I think it’s every knitter’s nightmare question – the one that makes us all bang our foreheads on the nearest table. Why? Read on…..

Well for me, black is one of the coolest colours. It’s the colour that’s most readily been adopted by subcultures in the UK over the past sixty years from the 1950’s rockabilly look, through the beatniks of the 60’s, to the punks of the 70’s, the metal, goths and psychobilly movements of 80’s and beyond – black is the absence of light. And when it comes to knitting, that’s a problem.

Knitting to vintage patterns requires a knowledge and competence in the use of different stitches. As I explained in my ‘shapes and silhouettes of 1940s’ blog; embellishments were often too expensive or unobtainable, so an easy way to add definition to a knitted garment was to vary the stitches. In this way, definition could be added by the use of cables, bobbles, lace patterns and edging.

Cables and bobbles provide a three dimensional aspect to a garment, playing with the natural light and shade available. Lace patterns and scallop edging emphasize the spaces between stitches, playing with the negative space as much as the stitches. As black is the absence of light it does neither of these – it doesn’t emphasis the negative space or create shade; and therefore brings very little to the table. Of course it’s cool, it looks good with all other colours, but why bother spending time knitting what might be a complicated stitch pattern if you can’t see the stitches?

There are, as always, exceptions to this – for example, a yarn with a bright sheen, such as a high silk content where the light will bounce off the yarn can look really stunning. Likewise, black works well in combination with other colours where it can help showcase the colours in the scheme and make them ‘pop’ out.

Many a knitter has made the mistake of setting out on a project with great enthusiasm, to then be disappointed when the results of the hard work can’t be seen. I’ve done this myself. Never again. Then again, despite being a pig to knit with, not being able to see my stitches when knitting in black also means I can’t see my errors…..which is possibly some kind of pay off! Maybe ignorance is bliss!

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My original tension square in black
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Droplet stitch in cream, this was the final colour I settled on

 

Shapes and Silhouettes of 1940s – headscarves and brooches

 

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My Victory Jumper!

A glimpse into vintage fashion from the 40s and it’s commentary on society

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‘Shapes’ and ‘silhouettes’ in fashion terms are the bare bones we start from when we talk about fashion styles. Each era of fashion has a ‘look’ – for example, 1940s fashion, as shown in the Victory Jumper above, is typified by shorter lines of tops, with skirts and dresses having a neat tailored look. Consider, in contrast, the long, flowing, evening dresses of 1930s, often portrayed in films from the Golden Age of Hollywood; and we begin to understand the meaning of ‘shape’ and ‘silhouette’ when we think about 1940s fashion.

I’ve now finished my vintage victory jumper (yey!) and am really pleased with the final result. As you can see, the fit is close, and the hem is shorter than what we find on sweaters from other eras. And there was very good reason for this. As my grandma used to say when she reminisced, “There was a war on you know…” and everyone was expected to do their bit. Textile and lace factories became (for a large part during WW2) munitions factories, worked by the munitionettes, the female factory workers.  This meant there was limited access to fine textiles, so many women turned to their knitting needles for a new garment. My grandma told me stories of unravelling knitted garments once they were too small and using the yarn to make something new; so an old jumper, and a worn out hat and gloves might become a new tank top and matching hat, maybe knitted in a fair isle style to make use of all the odd bits of yarn around. Being knitted in fair isle meant it had a double thickness, making it a really warm garment around the yoke and chest area; an added bonus for winter!

Unlike the yarns of today that are wide and varied; ranging from cobweb and 2 ply, through to extra chunky, yarn in 40s Britain was usually 2, 3 or 4 ply. It wasn’t until the 50s that ‘quick knit’, as my grandma called it, was created. So most knitting patterns could be used with almost any yarn as the thickness or ply, was very similar. Knitting in fair isle, or using a pattern such as a cable or vandyke; also made a plain garment look a bit more fancier and added interest.

Likewise, on tailored garments from the 40s, embellishments were usually added in the form of a brooch. Ladies coats and jackets were usually single breasted, skirts and dresses had minimal buttons too as buttons were expensive; and metal buttons were unobtainable as they were melted down and required for the war effort. There was a real sense of clothes having to be functional and practical, over being beautiful; and a brooch was an easy, and sometimes the only way to add beauty and interest. 

Hats were often worn by women; and ‘hat hair’ was a usual thing – infact, hair was usually washed and set just once a week. The line “I’m washing my hair” was a real thing, as washing and setting hair took a good hour, then usually dried overnight. Headscarves likewise were common place, especially for factory workers. Anyone whose worked in the textile industry, or any other factory can verify that the oil used for machinery sits on your skin and hair; so with a once a week wash a headscarf was a must!

So there you go – if you want to rock a 40s look you should keep an eye out for shorter line sweaters, single breasted coats and jackets, tailored skirts and dresses, headscarves, hats, brooches and a pin curl wetset! Oh, and a slick of red lippy! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Its the little things….

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Ahhh, the little things in knitting that make the most difference and save the most time in the end….

I’m going to share a secret. It’s not sexy (sorry!) but it’s a vital piece of knitting know-how. There’s a reason the saying “a stitch in time, saves nine” rings true over and over again.

Let me go back a little. I learned to knit from my mum when I was about four. I’m one of those unique left-handed people *winks* and although my mum tried to show me in slow-mo how to embroider I just couldn’t get it. I was trying to embroider backwards using my left hand (going from right to left) a skill, I grant you, but not one that led to any valuable embroidery happening! Thankfully my first teacher at school was left handed too…and I picked this skill up pretty soon after being shown how to embroider using my left hand.

So, the embroidery thing wasn’t working for me prior to starting primary school.

*Enter knitting needles, stage left*

Bravo! A skill I could manage with both hands, including my left one (keggy as we call it in the UK!!) I quickly learned to cast on, knit, and purl quickly on my junior knitting needles; and I loved it!

What i didn’t learn from my mum or grandma were the more creative techniques to knitting. These I learned from my textile tutors at art college. Some of this was boring stuff to a sixteen year old – always knit a tension square, always pin, measure and block finished pieces before sewing up. BUT, these are really important techniques that can save time and headache much further down the line.

For example, knitting to vintage patterns, especially original patterns means I’m unable to work with the yarn specified in the pattern. So this requires some creative thinking on how best to find a suitable alternative yarn. A tension square is always a must of this purpose. It helps ensure I have the right needle and yarn for the pattern I need. A lot of old patterns use a measurement such as 9 stitches to 1 inch. If I’m actually knitting less stitches (say, 8 stitches to 1 inch) and the garment is 18 inches across the front; then I’m 18 stitches short (1 stitch short per inch)….and that equates to a full two inches less, so my garment will be 16 inches across the front…how tight do you want your sweater darling??!

Knitting a tension square ensures I go up (or down) a needle size depending on what my natural tension with that yarn is. And my tension changes. This can be due to the feel of the yarn, the type of needles I’m using such as circular or straight, and the material of the needles such as metal or wood. There’s so many variables….it just makes sense to do the groundwork at the beginning and save the hassle later.

Additionally, a tension square means I have yarn in a stash. As in my last blog post, I’m currently finishing off the Victory Jumper. I was knitting up the sleeves when I ran out of the shell pink colour. Thankfully, I had used the pink to check my tension at the beginning of the project and had just enough to finish the two rows for the pattern on both sleeves! 

So a stitch in time, really does save nine. Like I said at the start, it’s not sexy, but getting it right first time is!

 

Winning Victoriously!

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Being a knitting addict brings some comical signs and symptoms that only other addicts can identify with….

I have lots of knitting patterns. Lots….and lots….and lots….Some of these are online in my Ravelry library, but the majority live at home in glorious hard copy….next to the bed, next to the sofa, behind the sofa, in one of my numerous knitting bags that holds odd patterns. The list of places is endless. What goes with the patterns though takes up far more room.

Yarn. Lots of yarn. 

It’s impossible for me to walk past a yarn shop without going in and looking what’s available. When I go on holiday I seek out all the local wool shops and visit them individually. On different days. So I can really browse. This usually results in me coming home with a new load of yarn which I usually have a pattern in mind for (I use the term usually very loosely here!…)

Like all knitters and crocheters the world over I have a large stash of yarn. I have enough to keep me busy for the next two years plus. So I’ve decide to begin a project using some stashed yarn (so I can make more room for future purchases, of course!)

Along with my 50s summer lacey cotton jumper, I’m using a cotton/wool blend Rowan yarn which has recently been discontinued. This means I got it cheap (yay!!) at a half price bargain…and it would be wrong to not buy it when it’s cheap! So I’m currently playing yarn chicken with what I have left of four colours. So far I have completed the front and back, with enough for the sleeves, possibly with the stripes, if not, then in plain black.

The pattern is a 1940s Your Victory Jumper pattern, available to download for free (yay!) here free download pattern The original uses three colours, however, as I have less yarn, but more colours, I decided to add a fourth colour way into the pattern, which is leading to an interesting pattern repeat.

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I’m expecting to finish this project in the next two weeks. That will include blocking it, sewing the ends in and making it up. Although it’s a little too warm for this sweater now, it will be handy to pull on once the weather begins to cool in October, so I’ll get plenty of wear out of it before the year is out.

If you have identified with the stash story above, then you too are a knitting addict. Long may there be no cure, except another woolly sweater!! 🙂

 

 

 

1950s summer cotton lacey top

I decided it was high time to begin this lovely project which I’ve been hanging my nose over for the past year – a 1950s pattern for a cotton summer lacey top with velvet ribbon detail on the yoke.

I found some beautiful 4ply cotton at my favourite yarn store – a Wendy Luxury 100% cotton that knits up beautifully and really sets off the lace pattern. I had considered using a blended cotton/wool yarn, but I thought the wool would soften the lace pattern; and I wanted the crispness of cotton to pick out each stitch.

It’s an suprisingly easy 12 row pattern to follow and looks pretty impressive with minimum effort. Getting my tension right with the cotton was important so I didn’t lose any of the beautiful detailing on the body of the garment. 

As with most vintage tops, the ribbing on the waist of this top is extra deep to give that great 50s feminine silhouette that we all love so much! The top begins on the waist and has a soft blouson look over the lace patterning, then sits tightly around the yoke. 

I’ll be creating another blog soon about the classic shapes and silhouettes of ladies garments from 20s through to the 50s, and how these shapes were set into the psyche through starlets and icons such as Marilyn, Rita and Audrey.

 

Hey! Hello there!

I’m a vintage vixen with a love of all things timeless – cardigans, sweaters, shawls, boleros, gloves, hats….the list goes on and on!

I make hand knitted garments using original patterns from 1930s through to the 1950s, as well as creating my own patterns to give a reproduction of those classic, vintage looks.

I am a self-confessed yarn snob and only use natural fibres in all my work. Hell! it can take a while to create or follow a hand knitted pattern from the first cast on stitch to the last press of the final garment; and it seems only right to use a yarn that brings the real beauty of the piece to life. So whether that’s the warmest wool from the fleece of Shetland Isle sheep, the haze of mohair, the  softest alpaca fleece or the purest silk; each garment stands out as a piece of unique beauty. Sometimes I mix fibres, such as mohair and merino wool to create a soft halo on a sturdier garment, but I think the final results speak for themselves.

So welcome, feel free to browse and see my past and current projects!

I have plenty of original and own designed patterns for one off, unique pieces using the softest, thinnest fibres for that truely vintage look!