Susan Crawford-along: talking about vintage patterns and accidental genitals

Nik:

I wonder if there’s this thing that authentic vintage patterns = difficult, or if it’s just the way that the patterns are written? The twinset cardigan is pretty simple, though, and I’m loving the ‘mock cable’ pattern because I don’t have to use a cable needle…that being said, I am about 2 inches into the back. There’s still time

Ellen:

It may be that authentic vintage patterns= difficult because back then, more people knitted, so there was an assumption of greater knowledge. I mean in the UK, girls were taught knitting in school, so if you were designing a pattern you were writing for knitters who had been doing it for longer. Maybe. And you look at some of the old patterns and the code is even more code-like than a normal pattern. “Continue in pattern as set and do-ci-do every 2 inches. Use number 6 needles (subtext: if you don’t know what number 6 needles are, this pattern is NOT FOR YOU) and 7 ounces of 4ply”. Never mind that the weight doesn’t actually correspond to the yardage, or not totally.

I still think the Susan Crawford= Alien Government Recruiter theory is probably more accurate.

Mainly because we would be completely fabulous as secret agents.

Nik:

I realised the other day that I’ve been knitting for eleven years now! Although perhaps I haven’t been as brave in my choice of projects…my first ever book was the original “stitch and bitch” do you remember that?

I’m quite happy with this choice of yarn, now. At first it felt a bit plastic-y, but now it seems to be softening out. I’ve decided that 1×1 rib never shows off yarn at its best…and yet it’s often a feature of vintage patterns. Maybe I’ll bust one of my Nana’s genuine 1950s vogue ones for my next project. Or more likely I’ll knit something simple in stocking stitch in chunky yarn and cackle to myself about how easy it is.

Ellen:

It’s 10 years for me- yikes.

I’m making good progress- I’m actually quite surprised at how much of the front I’ve knitted up now, considering how long I thought it would take me. The trouble is, now I’m at the point where I needed to make an important decision about the jumper: AT-ATs or reindeer?

The thing is, the AT-ATs would be cool but I don’t think they quite fit with the style of this jumper. So reindeer it is. And AT-ATs next time I do a fair-isle jumper. One that isn’t 1940s style. Or maybe one that is, but is in navy blue and grey. Rosie the Rebel Alliance Riveter could be a fun cosplay…

And then, of course, there’s the accidental penis in one of the rows of Fair Isle. To our lovely readers- nope, I’m not kidding:

2015-07-17 13.51.07

Duplicate stitch is my friend, because there is absolutely no way on God’s green earth I’m ripping back three repeats of a pattern to fix two stitches in the wrong place, even if they do make it look like there’s a penis in the bottom corner of my fair isle.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m cursed. The number of times I’ve ended up unintentionally adding genitalia to the design of a project is alarming. First there was the Vagina Owl, and now this. Are Freudian Slipped Stitches a thing?

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.