Tag Archives: knitting

1918 Fleisher’s Knitting & Crocheting Manuel

The reason that old sayings tend to endure is that so often they are true. In this case, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” applies.  This dull brown cover gives little hint of the treasures within.

At over two hundred pages, the Fleisher’s Knitting and Crocheting Manuel is more than a basic how-to book. First of all, it’s an advertisement, as Fleisher’s was a brand of yarn. It’s also a book of knitting and crocheting patterns with garments for the entire family. And best of all, it’s a time capsule.

In 1918 the USA was involved in the Great War, now known as World War 1. There were a dozen patterns for garments and accessories for the man in service. Many were easy to make, and I’m sure many clubs and groups were busy making  Service Sweater, Type “C”, or mufflers and socks.

This cap and face protector and muffler in one was called a helmet, and was often mentioned in magazines of the period as a prized possession of many doughboys.

I learned how to crochet in high school (it was, after all, the crafty Seventies) but I really had no idea that so many stitches were possible beyond the standard single and double crochet, and the popcorn stitch. My eyes have been opened to the wonders of crocheting.

There’s a whole range of sweaters, all photographed in the out-of-doors – on the beach, in boats, on a woodsy walk.

One thing I really love about this book is how there are piece charts for many of the sweaters.

It’s not all sportswear. There are quite a few patterns for bed jackets, shawls, and “kimonos”. Even the bed jackets are called kimonos.

In 1918 it appears that the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks were not standardized.  Fleisher’s helped to solve the problem by numbering the metric diameter of each tool. I’m not sure that still applies because I measured my 10.5 knitting need and it has a diameter of  7mm.

One could either crochet or knit a tam.

By 1918 the middy blouse was wildly popular. I love the middy influence in this sweater.

While most of the sweaters have a waistband or belt, and definitely have an early Coco Chanel look, this one is looking forward to the more streamlined  Twenties.

Now, if only my skills were as good as these designs, I’d be making a sweater instead of just writing about them.

8 Comments

Filed under Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Textiles

Lady Fair Yarn Book No. 3, 1921

I have laughingly called myself a Goodwill Archaeologist, but the very nature of digging through the bins at my local Goodwill Outlet does resemble the work of archaeology in some respects.  First, there is the obvious reference to “digging” but there are other similarities.

It is important to note the location of a find.  An archaeologist may find one piece of pottery in a location, and will then be on the alert for more pieces in the same area.  In the same way, a Goodwill Archaeologist knows that if there is one piece of old stuff in a bin, there is a nice likelihood that there will be more.  I have been through bins that held a lifetime of embroidered linens.  Sometimes a bin will contain the entire series of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys books.  If one great item is spotted in a bin, then it is worth taking more time to closely examine the contents of that, and the surrounding, bins.

This strategy paid off  this week when I spotted a few old knitting and crocheting instruction booklets.  These were sold by the millions, mainly by the makers of yarns and threads.  The ones from the 1940s and 50s are pretty common, but I always take a look at them to see if there are any sportswear booklets.

I very quickly pulled out about one hundred booklets from the bin, being careful to excavate the entire area.  A closer look later revealed that the great majority of the booklets were on making various crochet edgings and laces.  But in the midst of all the doilies and laces, I found a real treasure.  The Lady Fair Yarn Book No. 3 was published in 1921 by the T. Eaton Co., one of the great Canadian department stores.

This booklet has forty pages of sports fashions for the entire family.  Being Canadian, there are lots of sweaters for skating and hockey, but there are garments for golf and tennis as well.

Lady Fair was Eaton’s house brand of yarns.  Many of the designs featured angora yarn, as in the tuxedo sweater above.

This suit, recommended for golf, was quite fashionable.

There were not just sweaters and dresses, but also accessories,  such as hats and scarves.

The instructions for this bathing suit also included directions for the stockings.  I found several things to be interesting.  First, that the stockings were knee length, when in the early Twenties it was still the custom in the US to wear full length stockings with bathing attire.  The custom for this varied from place to place, with some beaches in Europe already having done away with stockings by the 1920s.

But what I really love about this bathing suit is how complicated it is, with the straps and buttons and belt and contrasting color trunks that were not attached to the body of the bathing suit.

There were included a large variety of men’s sweaters, for activities like skating and golf.

This garment for a boy might be called overalls, but I’m betting it was more like underwear, wouldn’t you agree?

 

10 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

Make It Yourself

When I was eleven years old, or somewhere in that preteen time, I realized that by sewing my own clothes I could have more than if we bought them ready made.  My grandmother had always made my clothes, but she was beginning to suffer from arthritis, and so was having to cut back on her own sewing.  The solution was for her to teach me.

Today, people don’t sew in order to save money, unless they are in the custom of buying it all at Bergdorf Goodman.  Clothes have gotten so cheap that in most cases it is cheaper just to buy a garment and be done with it.  But there are plenty of people who sew not because it is cheap, but because they like being able to create their own clothes.   The fit can be better, and you get to choose your own fabrics and colors.

But it is a mistake that by sewing (and knitting…) you are eliminating all social and environmental problems from your wardrobe.  The growing and manufacture of cotton and other textiles is costly in terms of water, dye, and chemical usage.  Slave labor is associated with cotton farms in Asia, and textile factories in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are big polluters.

There is still textile production in the US, though it can be hard to source.  Organic cottons are also available, which at least helps with the problem of pesticides.  If you like wool, made in the USA Pendleton is hard to beat.

If money is not a concern, there are still factories in France and Italy that make stunning silks and woolens.  The UK produces Harris Tweed and other woolens, and the superb Liberty cottons are printed in the UK.  (I could not find where the cloth was actually manufactured, though the cotton is grown in Egypt.)

But the best solution is to try to source fabric secondhand.  Most serious sewers have a fabric stash.  You can see an old photo of mine above.  Most of the pieces I can pick out in the photo were ones I found at my Goodwill Outlet Center.  I have a really hard time leaving behind great fabric, and so I have quite a collection.  To be honest, I could be kept busy for several years sewing up what I already have.  When at the Goodwill bins I also look for garments made of great fabric that I can adapt to something new.  There is also lots of great vintage fabric on ebay and etsy.

As with ready made clothing, you need more than just fabric to make a garment.  There are still thread manufacturers in the US, but most of them produce in bulk for industrial use.  When I bought my new sewing machine (nine years ago!) the consultant advised me to only use a high quality European made thread, like Gütermann, as they are tightly spun and do not produce as much lint.  If you have ever used a cheap thread, you might have noticed how it actually looks furry.

I also buy good vintage thread when I find it.  The sheen of a roll of old Coats & Clark mercerized is hard to beat.  But always do a stress test on any old threads, as if stored in high heat, they can become dry rotted and will be too weak with which to sew.

I love it when I run across the remains of a seamstress’s sewing box at the Goodwill bins.  I always stock up on elastic, snaps, hook and eyes, zippers, and buttons when I find them.  And look at the bottom shelf in my photo to see a bin filled with vintage bias binding and rick-rack.

One thing I would really love to do is learn to knit past a simple knit and purl.  Knitting has become so popular that it has helped sustain many small fiber farms which produce wool from sheep and other animals.  There is an alpaca farm just a few miles from me, and their yarn is in very high demand.  I’m afraid to get anywhere near the front door of a yarn shop, as I know I’d be sucked in.  But it is great that this resource is available to knitters.

Making your own clothing can be one way to  improve your closet, but as with buying ready made clothing, you have to do a little work and research to ensure you are making wise environmental choices.

28 Comments

Filed under Sewing, Viewpoint

The Cowichan Indian Sweater

I pulled this great little booklet out of a Goodwill bin, along with some other vintage booklets about Native American textiles.  What really interested me about this one was the section on knitted goods made by Vancouver Island Indians.  I know that knitting is not what generally springs to mind when thinking of Native textiles, but the Cowichan sweater is a special story.

In the early days of ebay chat boards, I loved to read the Vintage Fashion Board.  This was in the late 1990s, or maybe early 2000s, long before any vintage blogs or other sources of information online.  It was the best vintage education I could have gotten because it was an open discussion about anything and everything about old clothes.

One discussion I remembered in particular involved Mary Maxim and Cowichan sweaters.  As ebay was growing (exploding, actually) one of the big concerns was using key words so buyers could find what they wanted through searching.  For some reason, probably due to some “expert” on the board giving bad information, sellers started using the term Cowichan to describe Mary Maxim sweaters.

The only things the two sweaters really have in common is the use of a heavy multi-ply yarn in their making and often, the depiction of wildlife.  Mary Maxim is a company that sold knitting charts and yarns to home knitters.  The patterns are pictorial in nature, with themes like fishing or bowling or airplanes, usually in bright colors on a tan background.  They are best described, I suppose, as novelty sweaters.  Cowichan sweaters are hand knit by Indians on Vancouver Island, often with geometric patterns, but also depicting local wildlife.  They are knit in neutral colors of wool.

In the course of the ebay discussion, some knowledgeable person finally showed up and set us all straight about the Cowichan.  To use the term Cowichan to describe any bulky hand knit was just wrong, and to be honest, ignorant.  It was a good lesson for me, not to rely on the word of people I don’t really know.  Do my own research and be careful with the details.  Of course it is much easier now, fifteen years later.  The amount  of information on the internet is far beyond anything I imagined in 2000.  And it helps that today I know many people online whose knowledge I can trust.

Following is the text from the booklet, Indian Weaving, Knitting, Basketry of the Northwest, by Elizabeth Hawkins.  It was published in 1978.

Knitting is a modern technique that was introduced by early Scottish settlers to Vancouver Island Indians.  Today, Native knitting is predominated by the Salish women knitting the famous Cowichan Indian sweaters, and to a lesser extent, tams, socks, mitts and ponchos.  Many women still spin and dye their own wool both because of the handcrafted touch it gives and to keep the cost down.  Many of the sweaters are knitted in the round using as many as eight needles and therefore produce a seamless garment.

There is such a demand today for these sweaters that I was recently told that on two of the Vancouver Island reserves every woman of age commercially knits.  While the southern Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley tribes are the predominant knitters the demand is encouraging a similar home industry in northern villages as well.

Design

Geometric patterns predominate in primitive Salish design but more modern designs often incorporate wildlife.  Thunderbird, eagle, killer whale and deer are crest figures often portrayed.

Duncan Fall Fair brings forth competition among Cowichan knitters.

I thought the spindles were really interesting.  I’ve never seen a spinning wheel adapted from an old treadle sewing machine.

Note the Scottish influence in the sweaters hanging behind the happy spinners.  I love that argyle.  The snowflake is interesting as well.  It looks like other knitting designs such as Scandinavian were being appropriated into the Cowichan.

13 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

A Closer Look at a Knitting Booklet

Coming of age in the crafty late sixties and early seventies, I was always trying to learn to knit.  I’d find someone to volunteer to take me on, and then we both would realize that my left-handed brain simply could not wrap around their right-handed instructions.  I bought that little Learn How Book from Coats and Clark Yarns,  thinking that I could teach myself, but that didn’t work either.

Finally, in her last years, my mother-in-law, who was a world-class knitter, was able to teach me the basics.  I learned by facing her, observing like looking into a mirror, instead of sitting side by side.  I managed to make a little neck wrap that buttons and looks cute, but that was pretty much my limit.

I used to look in vintage knitting booklets and just dream of all the wonderful designs, but eventually I just stopped looking through them, knowing I’d see something I wanted to make and knowing I couldn’t.  Then several years ago I took some old things to a local vintage dealer to trade, and included was a vintage knitting booklet for baby things.  The dealer began looking through it and was delighted to find in one of the photos a Bakelite baby rattle being used as a prop.  She then produced an identical rattle from a display case.

She said she always looks through old needlecraft booklets because the props are so interesting.  Lesson learned.  That’s why I looked through the 1950 sock booklet when it turned up in a bin at my Goodwill Clearance Center.

Along with the socks were the best little illustrations of people in their sports clothes.   These aren’t just generic drawings, as you can clearly see some of the sock designs on the people.

Note the plaid cuffs of the skiers’ socks.  That’s almost enough to take up knitting lessons again.

Does “trew” mean “completely wonderful socks or stockings”?   Because that is what these are.  Just looking at the photo, would you ever have guessed 1950 as the date?  They are so much like what we were wearing in the late 1960s.

 

18 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Sportswear