The Susan Crawford-along: in which we decide that our knitting patterns prove Susan Crawford is an alien

Read our adventures with casting on here: casting on our vintage knits.

Ellen:

OK, so I finished the ribbing and got on to the larger needles. And then the colourwork. I’d say I’ve started the colourwork, but technically I’ve started the fucking colourwork THREE TIMES.

And then had to carefully frog said colourwork and start again.

Apparently I can’t maths, because getting the pattern to actually line the fuck up is some kind of Labour of Hercules.

This is what I get for knitting backwards, and thus having to read charts backwards and oh my god just put me out of my misery.

Nik: 

I’m slightly worried I’ve made the wrong size, so I might frog and start over. Not too traumatic, I’ve only done about 2cm of ribbing. I also stopped because I felt a bit chilly (it’s been averaging about 3 degrees) to make a chunky cowl.

Ooof, colourwork. Flat? I love colourwork in the round, but as we know, there’s nothing that English designers hate in particular than knitting in the round. Colour work and purling. Uggghhh.

Not so fond of this yarn, but it’s nice and solid.

Started cable pattern. If there;s anything SC loves it’s the dreaded AT THE SAME TIME instructions. Repeat pattern 6 more times, while inc stitch at every 16 row, while also balancing your entire stash on your head.

Ellen:

OH GOD NOW I’VE GOT TO SWITCH TO ANOTHER CHART.

This will involve additional maths and 3d modelling in my head to try and work out which end to start the chart so it looks like it’s supposed to look.

It’s flat, though that’s actually a good thing because if it was in the round I’d be using a lot of extra yarn just carrying it across the back.

The really fun bit (and by fun, I mean complete bloody nightmare) will be the reindeers. You’re right about how SC loves AT THE SAME TIME. For the reindeer part of the jumper, it’s Fair Isle AND Intarsia involving, from what I can tell, at least 5 different balls of yarn at once AND armhole shaping.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that SC is an alien with about 4 extra limbs that are used solely for knitting. Either that or her patterns are part of some kind of government training programme designed to identify people with elite multitasking skills to become secret agents. Possibly both.

Which I’m all for, if I get a red Stetson like Agent Carter.

Nik:

Think about how fabulous we’d be as secret agents though.

 

Announcing: the Susan Crawford-along

My friend Nik and I have two clothing-related things in common. We both love and adore vintage-style clothes and wear a lot of them. She saves up over time and then buys Stop Staring dresses. I scour auction sites for secondhand bargains from my favourite labels and treat myself to full-price things when I can afford them.

The second is that we’re both crafters. Nik has always impressed me with her willingness to embrace things like Rowan patterns. When she introduced me to the glory that are Susan Crawford’s vintage style patterns, I was smitten. There’s just one problem.

Like most vintage patterns, Susan Crawford’s gorgeous designs are, for the most part, knitted with fingering weight yarn. If you’re new to knitting, I shall explain. It’s super thin. The stitches are tiny. The needles are also tiny. This is a recipe for things that will take a lot more knitting time than your average snuggly jumper.

But just look at these jumpers, will you?

The retro styling!

Image copyright Arbour House Publishing

Image copyright Arbour House Publishing

The British-coronation gorgeousness!

Lion and Unicorn jumper

Image copyright Arbour House Publishing

The F***ING CRAZY SLEEVES!

Jumper with crazy sleeves

Image copyright Arbour House Publishing

How can you NOT want to at least try that on- yes, those are some cray-cray shoulders, but look what it does for her figure. Glorious.

To prevent us stabbing ourselves, or our partners, with a knitting needle (or several), and to motivate us to knit the whole thing and not a few inches of it before it disappears to the bottom of the knitting basket (you know it happens), we decided to do a knit-a-long. We’ll be blogging together on our progress, the trials, the tribulations, the things we learn about the patterns, as we go- for our and your entertainment.

Nik is making the Lion and Unicorn Jumper from ‘Coronation Knits’ while I’ll be attempting the Perfect Christmas Jumper. Yes, even though Christmas is in the middle of summer here. This means that we’ll both have to deal with intarsia on tiny needles. Fun!

While I love the reindeers on the pattern I know what I’m like. Therefore I make no promises about not switching the design to be space invaders or something else weird.

Here’s hoping the end results will be as glorious as we’re both hoping (and that the wool I bought doesn’t itch too badly…).

And of course, if you’d like to play along at home, you can! Just get yourself a Susan Crawford pattern, and the relevant yarn and needles. We’d love to hear about/see your progress!

Glory days part 2: 5 things from the past that should stay there

So two weeks ago (oops, Webstock), I talked about the idea that some people in the retro/ vintage community express of wishing they were back in the past. Nostalgia is big news. We’ve all done it- looked back to a different time and thought it was better than now, for whatever reason. With all the problems that still exist today, it’s an easy escapist move to imagine that once upon a time, things were better. But I think that while there are things about the past that were positive, being thankful for the time that we’re in now is also important. Here, then, are 5 things that really belong in the past.

Gender stereotypes

They didn’t just happen in the 40s and 50s, though the stereotype of the 50s housewife is still there. Feminism has brought us some of the way, but we’ve a long way to go if we really want to put this in the past. The expectation that women should be the ones staying at home with the kids, that the man must be the main wage-earner for the family, pink for girls and blue for boys…those ideas are still here, people. And they’re archaic. They belong in the past. I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it until we really have dismantled patriarchal society and built on a foundation of equality: the patriarchy hurts men, too. It says they can’t- and shouldn’t- be the main caregivers for their children. It says there are rules about division of labour in heterosexual relationships and says that it’s weak to be in a relationship with someone of the same gender. Of course it hurts women, ignoring the contribution we make or valuing it less than the equivalent contribution from a man, less even than a lower contribution from a man.

It needs to be a thing of the past.

Medicine

A lot of us today wouldn’t be alive if this was the 50s, or the 40s. Even the 90s. Medical research has brought us a long way forward, and it keeps improving our chances of surviving things that would have killed us in the past, like measles (anti-vaxxers, I’m looking at you).

No social security

I don’t care what the right wing would have you believe about the poor- I’m here to tell you that putting money into giving people a living wage, or giving them benefits so they can live, is a good thing. Most people want to be working, and helping their families. Most people want to contribute to society. Scaling back benefits prevents them from doing so. It prevents them from giving their children all they need- and in the case of many of the right wing, it then blames them for not being able to properly care for their children. It’s not on. But for all the flaws in social services and welfare today, it’s better than the past, when if you were out of a job, you had no income and that was it. You couldn’t get help from the government.

No internet

If you wanted to find something out, it was a lot harder in the past. If you wanted to keep in touch with someone on the other side of the world, it took a lot longer, was way more expensive, and you certainly couldn’t just video chat with them whenever you felt like it. The internet is a wonderful thing. Would you *really* want to go back to a time when it didn’t exist?

Culture

No, I’m not saying music or art or anything else belongs in the past, but my Goddess, think how many amazing bands have been around since the 40s. Go back to the 50s and there’s no Beatles, no Metallica, no Runaways (I may be listening to Cherry Bomb right now), no Rolling Stones. I’d say there were no boy bands but I’d be lying- but there wouldn’t be the ones *you* listened to and pinned up on your walls.

Think about artists- no Andy Warhol, no Molly Crabapple, no proliferation of wonderful graphic artists on DeviantArt and places like it.

Books? You want me to list all the amazing authors who hadn’t published anything in the 50s? There are way too many to mention. But Diana Wynne Jones. Neil Gaiman. Jim Butcher. Emily St-John Mandel. SARK.

And don’t even get me started on movies.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this is, yes, there are things to love in the past. But we have it pretty great, and if we work at it, it’ll keep getting better. Lets not focus our energy on wishing ourselves back in time, lets make now an amazing time to live in.

Glory days part 1: 5 awesome things about the 40s and 50s

I’m definitely a retro lover, as you’ve probably already realised. History interests and excites me, and I have made love for a lot of things about the past.

A lot of things. But not all the things.

Recently I got myself a couple of issues of a vintage and retro magazine called Glory Days. It’s a very good read. But I have a problem with the title, and with the attitude that’s so frequently expressed of “[historical era of choice] is amazing, I wish I was back there!”

Do you? Do you really?

Yes, there are wonderful things about past times. But there are also plenty of things that make me *very* glad I live now, not then. Today, I wanted to look at the good things. Next time, we’ll look at the bad.

The Good:

1) Make do and mend. 

Clothes have gotten much cheaper over the years, but only financially. The cost to underpaid workers in other countries, to child labourers, to people living in de facto slavery, is very high. They pay with their lives.

When clothes were more expensive, and fabric harder to come by, people took better care of their clothes. You didn’t just throw things out if they got a hole. You mended them. You made them last.

I’m not a fan of disposable fashion, because it encourages corporations who believe that people are disposable. Less clothes, better cared for and made ethically- it’s pretty straightforward. It doesn’t just benefit the people making them. It benefits us. More space in the wardrobe. More money in the bank because we’re not spending it all on things we don’t need, that won’t last. But it requires us ALL to learn how to make do and mend.

It also gives you a reason to save up a bit more money, and buy investment pieces- clothes you know you’ll be wearing for a long time to come.

2) Actual, useful skills taught in school.

Cooking. Sewing. Mental arithmetic (not going through your maths class with a calculator permanently attached to your hand). Even PE (Phys Ed, for US readers) is on its way out. Now admittedly, cooking and sewing were girls’ subjects (and we’ll come on to that issue in part 2), but teaching young people how to cook proper meals, how to mend (see above) their clothes, and make their OWN clothes, how to do the maths they will use all the time as an adult (because we all have to manage money)- these are things that would stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

3) No credit cards.

Yes, I know, I know. Credit cards have their place. If you are in a position to pay them off in full every month, and stay within the limits of what you can pay for, they’re great. But for my grandparents, if you couldn’t afford something, you didn’t buy it until you could. Or you just didn’t buy it at all. Now, you buy it on your credit card and the bank (or the credit card company) gets rich. This idea that we have a right to have things immediately, that we shouldn’t wait, is dangerous. There are many, many people drowning in credit card and other debt, because of it. What’s wrong with waiting and saving up? The payoff after the anticipation, of finally having the thing you were after, is pretty great.

4) The fashion.

I mean come ON. Clothes designed for women with curves. Underwear designed to make the clothes look amazing. Elegance. Fun. HATS.

5) Readily available yarn and fabric.

It used to be a lot easier to get materials to craft. Wool shops were all over the place. Most big department stores had a fabric department. A big one. As a kid, I remember going into John Lewis with my Mum, and walking through the ground floor, which was almost entirely fabric shop. Nowadays there are only a few chains (only one chain store in New Zealand sells fabric) that sell craft supplies and a few other shops in cities, or in larger towns if you’re lucky, and if you know where to look.

And what crafter wouldn’t want to be able to get their craft on more easily?

Join me next time for a breakdown of some of the stuff that should stay buried.

Friday Five: Five great places to get a retro sewing/knitting fix

Subversive Lesbian Anarchic Knitterseriously, how can you not love a site with a name like that? And she has some utterly beautiful vintage knitting patterns available, for free, on her site.

Mrs Depew Vintage has patterns from a range of eras, all downloadable and print-at-homeable. While there are quite a few for ‘intermediate’ sewers, the styles are just beautiful, and a good way to learn some new skills. At least I think so.

If you want to go REALLY retro (or you have a thing for Steampunk), then Truly Victorian is the place for you. I’ve made several of their patterns- they take a LOT of fabric but the results are gorgeous. If you’re serious about the Victorian look (at least the womenswear) the bustle petticoat is a must. And if you have a thing for trim, Victorian is the era for you. Basically it’s Step One: add trims until you think there’s probably too much and too many, Step Two: add more trim, Step Three: Fabulousness. See how I give you an excuse to buy more trim? Or maybe to use a bunch of the trims you already have lying around- if you’re the sort of person who HAS trims lying around. I don’t assume- I read a craft magazine once that presented a project for “your stash of gorgeous vintage silk handkerchieves.” Who has a stash of vintage silk handkerchieves? (If you do, then yay for you. It’s nice to have a stash of something.)

For a little knitting snack, how about this gorgeous polka dot ascot and beret from ZilRedLoh? Haven’t you always, when someone asks “what are you knitting?” wanted to be able to answer “an ascot”? Of course, it’s also fun to be able to answer “a ball gag”. I know this from experience. But it’s not so retro-chic.

And finally, for an easy way to retro-ify your outfit (admittedly this won’t work if you’re wearing a onesie, or a tracksuit, but it would probably work on jeans and a striped top, for example), here’s a tutorial for making a retro turban out of an old t-shirt. Retro AND waste-not-want-not upcycly goodness. I’m planning on making one of these very soon, and accessorising with a fabulous brooch or maybe some feathers. Or both. Because why not get all Norma Desmond with it? Exactly.