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

 

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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! 🙂