Vintage Knitting, Retro Dressmaking, Make do and Mend, Original and Vintage Inspired Knitting Patterns, Vintage Inspired books

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Land Army Memorial unveiled

After successfully raising £85,000 the Women's Land Army Tribute Campaign was finally able to reveal the beautiful sculpture commissioned to honour both land girls and lumber Jills who worked so hard through world wars one and two.

My land army badge
The sculpture was unveiled on Tuesday by the Countess of Wessex at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Although it was a terribly wet and cold day, many former land girls made the trip to see the 8 foot high statue for the first time. Some of them even dressed up in their land girl uniforms!

Copyright Express & Star
  The fabulous bronze was created by sculptor Denise Dutton who is based in Staffordshire herself.

Here you can see the models posing for the statue in their land army uniforms.

 Here is the sculpture in a bit more detail.

I feel extremely privileged and proud to have been involved in the campaign in even just a small way by raising funds through the sales of the Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover pattern and I really want to take this opportunity to thank everyone of you who purchased a copy of this pattern. You all helped make this memorial actually happen.

Funds are still needed to for annual rent on the plot, insurance and maintenance, so please do continue to support the campaign. The Wartime Farm pullover will continue to be sold to help raise funds towards these running costs.

I thought I would close with an illustration I found on the cover of Woman's Magazine from September 1941. Its called Land Girl and inside the magazine it states that it is taken 'from the camera study by W. Suschitsky' who was a photographer and cinematographer born to Jewish parents in Austria in 1912. He moved to London from Vienna in 1934 due to the political climate, where he worked on Government information films during WW11.

What fascinates me about the illustration though is the colour choice for the land girl uniform. Brown jumper and blue tie. Had the illustrator not seen a land girl uniform? Artistic licence? Or was there an alternate colourway? I'm leaning towards the first option but would love to hear if anyone knows differently.

Thank you all once again,

for now,
Susan xx

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Bright Young Things

Thank you so much for the lovely response to Tess Young's Clemmie design. To celebrate the end of Wool Week I wore it to a knitting event at Williams Wools in Kendal on Sunday. It was incredibly comfortable and easy to wear and I received a lot of compliments! I wore it with one of favourite Cath Kidston tea dresses and felt relaxed and yet elegant. Just the result I was hoping for.

Me, Clemmie and Adrienne Williams

Anyhow, now that we are well under way with the Knits for a Cold Climate collection, I want to give you some more general background on the period we cover with the patterns. The 1920s and the 1930s were some of the most fascinating decades in terms of fashion, art and culture.

The 1920s were very much a reaction to the desolation and change brought on by the Great War (also known as World War 1). Many things had changed as a result of the War: Women had been thrust into industry (and had received the right to vote), air travel and modern media were both making the world smaller and larger, and a whole generation was permanently scarred by the losses incurred by the War. Is it any wonder that people decided to drown their worries and anxieties in fashion, art and music? Berlin, London, and Paris became fashionable cities where penniless artists could mingle with rich socialites - the world may have changed irrevocably, but the noise of despair was drowned out by jazz, cabaret, flappers, fast cars, cinema and bohemian artists.

The Bright Young Things
 Amid all this hedonism we find Nancy Mitford. Nancy was part of the "Bright Young Things" set - a group of bohemian and flamboyant aristocrats hell-bent on seeking entertainment and flying in the face of conventions.They were the original celebrities famous for being famous - and were chased throughout London by journalists as they partied hard, indulged in various substances and experimented with unconventional relationship configurations. Nancy was in her late teens/early twenties and would later base several characters in her books upon the friends she made during this period of her life. People like Noel Coward, Cecil Beaton (whose beauty as a young man is staggering), and Evelyn Waugh were also part of this set alongside people whose charisma and excess never transcended the period.

Cecil Beaton
And they all looked fantastic. Beaton is one of the most renowned and influential portrait photographers and I have studied his work at length. One day I'll talk more about him but let me just share this portrait of Marlene Dietrich and rejoice in his brilliance (admittedly from the 1930s but who's counting?).

Marlene Dietrich
In "A Stitch in Time, vol 1" I go into detail about the 1920s silhouette, but suffice to say the ideal 1920s girl looks completely unlike her mother. She looks boyish with short, bobbed hair and a wardrobe designed to conceal her hips and bosom. Her eyebrows arch towards the sky in an expression of perpetual wonder and her lips are painted with a perfect bow (Lillian Gish and Clara Bow - stars of the cinema - were huge influences upon this look). Ladies' fashion was both androgynous and overtly feminine: the lines of the outfits may have been boyish, but the materials were sumptuous and decadent with silks and velvets ever present. The clothes allowed for unprecedented movement - the Flapper girl needed to be able to dance, play tennis, and compete in death-defying car races - but she looked completely glamorous whilst doing so. The 1920s It Girl appeared to have it all. Also see my recent blog post for more detail about the knitted fashions of the period.

All this decadence, hedonism and care-free behaviour hid a lot of darkness - and eventually it all came crashing down. I'll discuss it more when we get to the 1930s, but I hope you enjoyed a brief glimpse into the Roaring Twenties.

If you really want to immerse yourself in this most decadent of decades why not indulge in some movies, books and art from my lists below:

1920s films:
The Kid (Charlie Chaplin)
Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
Get Your Man (Clara Bow)
Pandora's Box (Louise Brooks)
Safety Last! (Harold Lloyd)

1920s books:
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie)
Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
Good-Bye to All That (Robert Graves)

1920s Art and Design:

If you want to watch an entertaining British film about the Roaring Twenties, I can also recommend Bright Young Things, a 2003 film by Stephen Fry starring notables such as James McAvoy, Emily Mortimer, Peter O'Toole, David Tennant, Michael Sheen and Richard E. Grant (many in "blink and you will miss them" roles) and the vicar in Our Zoo!

What other films, books, music or art would you recommend from, or about, the 1920s?

for now,
Susan xx

Thursday, October 09, 2014


I'm incredibly excited to reveal the latest design in the Knits for a Cold Climate Collection.

Clemmie knitted in Fenella 2ply - using Atomic Red with Jonquil sash
Clemmie has been designed and created by my new design team collaborator here at Susan Crawford Vintage HQ, the incredibly talented Tess Young. Tess has a number of self published designs available and has also previously designed for Quince & Co., with a design aesthetic that combines a love of vintage with a vast knowledge of knitting techniques and an instinctive understanding of fabric, drape and structure. When we first discussed design ideas together,  I just knew she would design something very special with Fenella, and she has. Let me now pass you over to Tess, who will tell you more about her inspiration and the design process in creating Clemmie.


The Clemmie drape is my first pattern for the Knits for a Cold Climate individual pattern collection under the Susan Crawford Vintage label. Clemmie is the third pattern in the collection, inspired by Nancy Mitford, her novels, her life and her family. Nancy was one of the original "Bright Young Things" - a group of decadent and bohemian socialites roaming the party scene in interwar London - and she used these experiences in her books. You can see the two other patterns already released, Nancy herself and Asthall.

It’s been difficult keeping this exciting collaboration with Susan and Karie Westermann under wraps. I’ve so enjoyed working to Susan’s design brief, but it has been a challenge to reign in the inspiration this period provides for lovers of vintage fashion and knitwear.

Clemmie knitted in Atomic Red Fenella with Roman Plaster sash

When Susan and I first started discussing a design collection to include her new Fenella yarn I was immediately drawn to the 1930s, a period when much knitwear called for 3 ply yarns, but also characterised by elegant glamour, a little more restrained than the 20s, but perhaps more sensuous for it. This period saw the return of the waistline and accessories of the period, including capelets, shrugs and boleros, would stop just below the fullest point of the bust to emphasise the natural waist and hips. This can be seen in this illustration for Germaine Page hats, which also features the drape that was my original inspiration for Clemmie. 

The period was also characterised by details and designs that broadened the shoulders, again to offset the waist, and emphasised necklines. The use of bows, interchangeable collars, corsages and panel details were all key elements of garment design. 

The lace edging detail on Clemmie was inspired by a garment that features these elements so redolent of 1930s design and which is my favourite vintage piece; a crepe de chine dress, cut on the bias and constructed to hug the waistline and hips, with panel inserts in the skirt to make it float at the hem. 

 The panels of exquisitely hand sewn mesh, satin inserts and satin covered buttons at the neckline of the dress informed my choice of the simple mesh lace edging for Clemmie.

Knitted on 4mm needles, the Fenella creates a fine open fabric with wonderful drape which makes it an elegant finishing touch for formal wear but, as our model remarked, is surprisingly warm making it also ideally suited as elegant outer wear.

The Details:

You can buy the PDF Clemmie pattern from the Susan Crawford shop here


You can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. (You do not need to be a member of ravelry to make a purchase from the site.)

The PDF pattern costs £3

You can also purchase or take a look at all the possible colour combinations of Fenella on the shop

Materials Required:

Option 1(as shown)
Main body – 5 skeins of Fenella 2 ply wool (shown in Atomic Red and Columbine)
Contrast drape – 1 skein of Fenella 2 ply wool (shown in Roman Plaster, Jonquil and Marriner)

Option 2
Main body worked in 2 colours with all lace edgings in contrast colour and drape worked in main colour;
Main colour – 4 skeins of Fenella 2 ply wool
Contrast colour – 3 skein of Fenella 2 ply wool

1 pair of 4mm needles
Stitch markers
Stitch holder

Fenella retails at only £4 a skein making Clemmie an extremely cost effective project.

Clemmie knitted in Columbine with sash in Marriner
And why Clemmie?

The original Clementine was the grandmother of the Mitford sisters. She married Algernon Bertram Mitford, a diplomat who had travelled in Russia, China and most notably Japan, about which he authored Tales of Old Japan, before serving under Benjamin Disraeli in the British government.

Clementine and Algernon were also patrons of the artist James Whistler, whose interest in Japanese art they shared and who painted portraits of both Clementine, ‘in draperies of Chinese blue silk’ and Algernon ‘in Van Dyke costume’. Unfortunately both paintings are believed to have been destroyed by Whistler to avoid them falling into the hands of his creditors.

Clementine and Algernon as Lady and Lord, then Baron Redesdale spent summers at Batsford Park, where their grandchildren visited them in the summer. On the death of her husband, in 1916, not long after that of their eldest son who died on the Western Front a year earlier, the title and Batsford Park passed to David Mitford, father of the Mitford sisters, who moved in with his family briefly before selling it and moving to Asthall. Clementine moved to Redesdale Cottage, the family’s country home in Tynedale where they had extensive land holdings. She stayed there taking an active part in community life until her death in 1932.

The second Clementine was the daughter of Clementine and Algernon’s eldest son, Clement. She was born after her father died in the Battle of Loos in 1915. It’s said that her childhood was as the ‘relatively’ poor relation once the inheritance went to her father’s younger brother, but she married well aged 23 in 1939, having been proposed to by Alfred Beit under the family’s Goya. Beit was a conservative MP and heir to the wealth accumulated by his father, a South African diamond millionaire and a considerable collection of paintings now housed in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Whilst a child Clementine's mother spent periods abroad with her second husband and Clementine spent much of this time with her cousins. She was regarded as a great beauty, and cousin Nancy described Clementine as one of London's 10 most elegant women.

During the Second World War Beit served in Bomber Command and Clementine worked in a factory making air reconnaissance cameras and became a member of the Transport Workers' Union. After the war they went to South Africa and planned to stay, but returned in 1952, reportedly due to their opposition to the National Party's apartheid regime. On return they moved to Russborough House near Dublin. Their art collection made them target of burglaries at Russborough House in the 1970s and 1980s.

Here is Clementine with her grandmother Clementine, the Dowager Lady Airlie (having reverted to her own title when her daughter in law inherited the title Lady Redesdale on the death of her husband)

The third Clementine, was another ‘cousin’ Clemmie, the daughter of grandmother Clementine’s sister Blanche, and Lord Henry Hozier. However, due to her mother’s infidelities, her paternity is disputed with one of the candidates Aunt Clementine’s husband, Algernon.

Again, regarded as a great beauty this Clemmie married Winston Churchill in 1908 and the Mitford girls spent time with them at Chartwell when growing up, although Diana and Tom Mitford, the lone brother among the sisters, visited most regularly as playmates for the Churchill’s children, Diana and Randolph.

Clemmie made her début at Yarndale along with Asthall and it was wonderful to see the response from knitters after quite a long gestation period. Thank you to everyone who stopped, looked, purchased and indeed, even stroked her. Pattern pre-orders have now been dispatched so if she’s not with you yet, she will be very shortly.

Thank you Tess for creating such a beautiful design and for loving Fenella as much as I do, and thank you also to our fabulous model, Zunya, who bravely agreed to model for me despite having no previous modelling experience, and for entering into the spirit of the shoot with such gusto and providing us with such amazing images.

for now,
Susan xx

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


I'm finally recovering from an amazing time at Yarndale in Skipton which took place over the weekend. I talked so much that I have developed an incredibly croaky voice over the last few days!
It was marvellous to meet so many of you and I had a lovely time admiring all your beautiful knits. It was equally wonderful to be only an hour away from home and to be able to travel back to the comfort of my own bed each night. After years of having to travel to get to all these places, it is great to find yourself closer to all things woolly related.

There were several new designs on the stand at Yarndale, but I want to draw your attention to the next instalment in the "Knits for a Cold Climate" collection. The Asthall cardigan is an elegant cross-front cardigan knitted using Excelana 4ply in Saharan Sand.

I was inspired by the long, graceful lines of the late 1920s and the feminine styling of the early 1930s. It is a relatively straight-forward knit, worked predominantly in stocking stitch but with a fascinating 'Japanese Feather' lace stitch worked across the lowest part of the cardigan and on the cuffs of the three quarter length sleeves. The raglan shaping creates a neat finish to the cardigan reducing bulk and drawing the eye inwards. The asymmetric fronts are fastened using a brooch or decorative pin. The brooch in these images is a modern resin pansy purchased at the V&A a couple of years ago with that Arts and Crafts feel to it I was trying to emulate here.

Like Nancy, Asthall is again modelled by Theo. We styled the cardigan together choosing a simple denim pinafore dress underneath to show that it can be dressed down as well as up! I think Saharan Sand really comes alive when teamed with all shades of blue, but particularly denim blue as in the photos.

Its the perfect cardigan to wear over bias-cut tea dresses for day or evening wear.  I can also see Asthall being worn with wide leg 1930s style trousers with a silk blouse peeping out underneath. I have most definitely read too many early 20th century ladies' journals but I have the following running through my head: "For casual walks in the countryside or cosy nights at home - it has to be Asthall!"

So why Asthall?  An Oxfordshire manor house built of Cotswold stone, it was the Mitford family home from 1919, when Nancy’s father, David moved the family there after the death of his father. It was a house kept full of society folk, with regular weekend parties being held. Alconleigh from Nancy’s novel, The Pursuit of Love, is largely based on Asthall, although the family moved to Swinbrook House only seven years later in 1926.

Whilst working on "Knits for a Cold Climate" over the last few weeks I have been heavily immersed in all things relating to Nancy Mitford and the Mitford family. So, it came as a bit of a shock when I learned that the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Devonshire had died (I urge you to click on the link to see the extraordinary hand knitted cardigan she is wearing in the photo.) The Dowager Duchess was the last surviving Mitford sister and was quite the character. She was one of the last Great English Eccentrics: famous for all the things she disliked (magpies, women who want to join men’s clubs, hotel coat-hangers; and drivers who slow down to go over cattle grids) but who suspected that she was a devoted Elvis Presley fan? She had an extraordinary life - I will be writing more about her later as a pattern inspired by her is revealed. But what sad, unexpected news. Debo as Deborah was affectionately known, was born at Asthall in 1920, so it seems particularly fitting that I should be releasing this pattern.  I love this photograph of the entire family taken there when Debo looks around 2 years of age. You can see Nancy, the eldest sibling, sitting at the back of the group.

So, for the details -

You can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. The PDF pattern costs £4 (You do not need to be a member of ravelry to make a purchase from the site.)

The pattern is available  in a wide range of sizes to fit from 76 to 127 cm (30 to 50 inch) bust and both written and charted instructions are included.

The pattern will also be available from my online shop very soon.

Other Materials Required are:

8 to 15 balls of Excelana 4 ply depending on size required
1 3.25mm circular needle, 100cm long
or 1 pair of straight 3.25mm needles
1 3.25mm circular needle, 40cm long
1 set of 3.25mm double pointed needles
Stitch markers
6 large safety pins

You can also see the full range of Excelana 4 ply colours here and here.

So just what exactly is "Knits for a Cold Climate"? The title obviously inspired by probably Nancy Mitford's most famous novel, "Love in a Cold Climate", it is a collection of single patterns all inspired by Nancy, her novels, her life and her family. Here's a glimpse of the work in progress 'cover' image for the collection.

The patterns will be released every week or two, all using either Excelana or Fenella yarns. I am keeping the publishing dates very flexible so that they can fit in with everything else that is going on over the next few months and just want to enjoy the design process without imposing rigid deadlines in an already heavily congested schedule. The patterns will therefore only be available to purchase individually for the time being, and very excitingly, for the first time, the patterns are being designed not just by me, but also by Tess Young and Karie Westermann, for the Susan Crawford Vintage label.

This is a really, really thrilling new step where I get to work with like-minded designers - all of us creating new designs with a very particular design brief and aesthetic. There will be guest posts from both Tess and Karie when they each publish their designs, giving you an insight into the inspirations behind them. It really is quite amazing how many different directions one design brief can take people. I think we've hit on a seam of inspiration that could actually keep us going for years! Do sign up for my newsletter to be kept informed of new releases as they appear. There will be around 10 patterns in all, with a real mix of projects.  Look out next week for the release of Clemmie, a stunning Drape knitted in Fenella and designed by Tess Young.

but for now,
Susan xx

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Knitting (knit. knitted) Poem?

Yesterday, I finally had the excuse to share the opening line of a particularly favourite poem of mine. The occasion arose during an online discussion about whether to use the word knit or knitted. The conversation meandered for a couple of hours with some people using knit, others using knitted and others again using both depending on the context. One of the general assumptions though, was that knitted was more of a UK based phrase and knit more of a US one - The first more traditional, the second more modern. Interestingly, as the discussion drew to a close and many of us, including myself, coming to the conclusion that this assumption was reasonably probable, I remembered this poem. Written by one of my knitting heroines, Flora Klickmann, and published in England in 1915. Flora was the Editor of Girls Own Annuals and the author of over 40 books about knitting, crochet, sewing, etiquette, gardening and more. This is the poem:

The End of the Coat

I knit my doll a walking Coat
All fluffy white and red,
I laid it out, for her to wear,
Upon her little bed.
But when I went to get her dressed
To pay Aunt Maude a Visit,
The Coat was nowhere to be seen;
And though I asked, “Where is it?”
My dolly stared in great surprise,
Then fell down flat, and shut her eyes!

I hunted high, I hunted low,
While Mother said, “Now hurry,
Or we shall miss the train!”
I got in such a flurry.
But not a vestige could I see
of fluffy white and red.
At last I had to dress her in
Her old blue serge instead!
And all the while, our Nanny Goat
Was gaily eating up the Coat!

Flora Klickmann, The Little Girl's Knitting & Crochet Book, (Pub: 1915)

I'll share about and from Flora very soon. 

But, for now,

Susan xx

Monday, September 15, 2014

Introducing "Nancy"

It is  wonderful to finally reach the point where I can finally begin to show you things I have had ready for a particularly long time. A sense of routine is beginning to evolve on the farm and I am finding myself able to focus on my knitting once more.

Please welcome "Nancy" who has been awaiting her debut for far too long. My dear friend Theo - star of A Stitch in Time volumes 1 and 2 is once again modelling for me - and is looking amazing to boot! The jumper has an easy feather-and-fan pattern on the body and the most delicate lace motif on the sleeves. Theo styled it with high waisted trousers with 1930s style wide legs for a relaxed but elegant look. I think Nancy would look equally lovely with a heavy woollen skirt, ribbed tights and brogues for everyday wear or could be glammed up a little with a bias cut crepe de chine skirt for an afternoon tea dance.


I particularly enjoyed creating the neckband with attached scarf which provides contrasting vertical stripes around the neck and a flattering glimpse of decolletage. It looks flattering on so many different body types. The jumper has quite a neat fit, designed to be worn with just a small amount of positive ease and the elbow length sleeves make this a great garment for office wear.

The jumper is knitted in five colours of Excelana 4ply (Alabaster, Nile Green, Persian Grey, French Rose and Ruby Red) and is worked flat from bottom up. Excelana lends a wonderful softness to the garment yet has a beautiful crisp finish to the stitch pattern which takes my breath away. I had great fun creating the stripe pattern and never cease to be excited at how stunning the different Excelana colours look together. The pattern comes graded in sizes from 30 to 48 inch bust with the stitch patterns shown in both written and charted formats.

And so, why Nancy? As some of you may have suspected, Nancy is named after the author Nancy Mitford and is the first pattern to be released as part of a loose collection of designs called "Knits for a Cold Climate" featuring approximately 10 patterns themed around Nancy Mitford, her life, her style and her books.

I love this image of Nancy. Not only does she look amazing but she's wearing a hand knit!

I often find inspiration on my bookshelves and I have long wanted to design things inspired by Nancy Mitford. She wrote several witty and astute novels about upper-class English eccentricity and elegance. Nancy was one of the original "Bright Young Things" - a group of decadent and bohemian socialites roaming the party scene in interwar London - and she used these experiences in her books.

I have a bit of a thing about Nancy Mitford and her books. Her family background was one of privilege but she decided to live what you might call a bookish life. She worked in bookshops and became a journalist and writer. I like to think of Nancy moving in these literary circles of refined, famous writers and looking like a breath of fresh air. She was always very elegant and cared a great deal about clothes. Obviously I am also drawn to her style and adore seeing photos of her both with her family and from the society pages of the times. Admiring Nancy's writing as I do, particularly "The Pursuit of Love and "Love in a Cold Climate", I couldn't resist my own attempt at word play calling the pattern collection "Knits for a Cold Climate". I hope you'll excuse me taking liberties with Nancy's literary greatness!

I will be releasing a pattern from the collection every week or so for the next 10-11 weeks and will write more about Nancy Mitford with each release. I also have some ideas for a special knitalong to go along with the collection but more about that next week!

Nancy is available now as a PDF download for only £4

You can purchase the pattern from my online shop
from my ravelry shop

The yarn is also available in kit form including a Susan Crawford Vintage cotton project bag and the pattern provided as a PDF download free of charge.

You can buy the kit exclusively from my online shop

for now,
Susan xx

All images copyright ©Susan Crawford 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Knitwear through the Ages - The 1920s

To mark the republication of A Stitch in Time volume 1 I thought I would take a look back at knitwear and knitted fashion during the decades covered by both this, and volume 2 in a little more detail -

Britain was a rapidly changing place as the 1920s dawned. World War I resulted in dramatic social upheavals compared to its pre war days. One of the most significant changes was that in 1918, women over 30, won the right to vote. In the four years preceeding this landmark event women, had taken the place of men in the workforce, whilst World War I raged across Europe. Women, naturally and almost without thinking, became more independent and ‘liberated’. And, with the dawning of a new decade, the desire for a different type of dress, that enabled them to participate more in life, without the constrictions of corsets and tight, restrictive, layered, long clothes changed the way women dressed for ever.

Many women wished to remain in the workplace, and many more began to take part in leisure and sporting activities, such as swimming, tennis and golf. A new, lean silhouette became desirable with women wanting to look slender, athletic and young. Previously long hair was cut short into a bob, make up became more and more popular and skirts became shorter and shorter.

Breasts and curves were particularly unfashionable, with women going to extreme lengths to appear flat chested with slim hips - many binding their breasts and wearing girdles, just as restrictive as the corsets they had rejected. Androgyny was all the rage with many girls adopting a boyish appearance wearing sweaters with shirts and ties.

Sweaters were generally worn long and loose hiding the natural form. Neck lines had low, round or V necks, with stocking stitch garments being particularly popular. The sweaters were worn over skirts that finished just past the knee with natural coloured stockings - suggesting naked legs! Cloche style hats became incredibly popular pulled down over heavily made up eyes.

Can you crochet a toque? from A Stitch in Time volume 1

Nights out and dancing - informally - became incredibly popular, with ‘flappers’ dancing to the ‘Black Bottom’ and the ‘Charleston’. Stars such as Josephine Baker and Clara Bow - the ‘It Girl’ - brought a new sexuality to the fore. A more sophisticated beauty was seen in Greta Garbo, but the actress who epitomised the 1920s look more than any other was Louise Brooks.

Louise Brooks

With her sharply cut bobbed hair and straight fringe, cupid’s bow lips, dark eyes and lithe body, she encapsulated the era. Like many of the other famous women of the time - Josephine Baker and Clara Bow included, she gave out mixed messages about her sexuality and enjoyed questioning traditional stereotypes.

Josephine Baker
 Other style icons of the 1920s, included for the first time, adventurers - such as aviator Amelia Earhart and most notably, sports stars such as tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen, whose sportswear was designed for her by Jean Patou, and is probably one of the earliest examples of sport and fashion working together in this way.

Suzanne Lenglen

Sportswear as everyday wear really became accepted as a fashion statement however, when Coco Chanel introduced jersey garments such as an easy fitting cardigan jacket worn with a soft pleated short skirt in 1922, and was herself seen wearing men's trousers. Chanel is also credited with introducing the knitted one piece bathing suit, which remained popular for many years.

But how did these fashions feed directly into hand knitting? The rise in popularity of knitwear and knitting in the 1920s can probably be credited to one sweater. In 1922, James A Smith, a draper, of Lerwick, Shetland, presented a hand knitted Fair Isle sweater to the then Prince of Wales.

 Designed to be worn whilst playing golf it created a huge surge in interest in hand knitted garments as a fashion statement. Edward VIII, as he became, was a fashion icon of his time and  wearing this V necked Fair Isle sweater when golfing, caused a sensation. The long lines, V neck and masculinity of the garment also appealled to fashionable ladies of the time, and became the garment to be seen in when golfing or taking part in outdoor activities, such as walking and shooting.

Image courtesy of Shetland Museum
Even Harrods bought the sweaters from James A Smith, creating a huge demand for garments knitted in Shetland and Fair Isle. Knitting on both islands was big business, with two colour garment production increasing rapidly during this period. New patterns were created by the knitters, adapting designs from wallpaper, tiles, magazines etc. A pattern book of fair isle charts was first published on Shetland sometime between 1925 and 1930 which provided knitters with charted instructions of new innovative fair isle patterns.

Most knitters were also encouraged to keep their own hand written chart books, a practice that continues to this day.

Despite all the glamour portrayed in the contemporary media of the ‘Bright Young Things’ poverty in Britain was a significant problem, with many people living in dreadful conditions. In fact, the workhouses still existed until 1929. There was significant unemployment and, in 1926, a General Strike was called. To escape from their circumstances many people spent a great deal of time at the cinema, absorbing the beauty and sophistication seen on the big screen. Literacy improved over the decade allowing a wider variety of women to read the women’s magazines of the day, and work from knitting patterns. The hand knitting of fashionable, outer garments by following a pattern, rather than only knitting underwear, comforters etc., out of necessity and often without a pattern, became widely popular, filling an economic need.

Woman’s Weekly (which had been founded in 1911) and Woman and Home, first published in the mid 1920s, began to publish regular knitting patterns aimed at  the fashion conscious woman, who couldn’t afford Chanel, Patou, or Harrods, but who wanted to look like the woman they saw on the big screen and in magazines and newspapers.

Woman’s Weekly only began publishing knitting patterns on a weekly basis from around 1932/1933. However, with single pattern leaflets still relatively uncommon in the 1920s the gap began to be filled more frequently by these magazines, with unisex patterns being offered by Woman and Home for a Fair Isle sleeveless cardigan

 and Woman’s Weekly presenting a fair isle pullover for golf or walking, with a deep V neck on a completely flat chested female model.

Designs for tennis wear and long line deep V neck sleeveless pullovers were featured, with an even mixture of pattern instructions knitted in the round or in separate pieces.

 Even the Chanel cardigan and pleated skirt was interpreted into a knitting pattern, as well as her bathing suits! Most garments, even the tennis sweaters and swimming costumes, were knitted in 4 ply scotch fingering wool, from brands such as Ladyship, Templetons and Patons. For ‘dressier’ garments, artificial silk was usually recommended.

Patons & Baldwin, Weldons, Munrospun and Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores and several others, did release single patterns and pattern booklets, the most noteable being ‘Woolcraft’ from Patons & Baldwin, still being published today, but which was first printed in the 1910s.  These companies produced pattern leaflets to promote and sell their yarns. Whilst some of these patterns featured contemporary designs, many were traditional designs being ‘revisited’ such as Sock and Spencer patterns. In the US, two major yarn manufacturers in particular were producing ‘modern’ knitting patterns to tap into this increasingly popular market. These were Minerva and Columbia.

 Once again, both used their pattern books to promote their yarns,  but tapped into the latest trends. Their publications usually offered a selection of knitting and crochet patterns, in fact, patterns of this period from all manufacturers and magazines often combined both crafts assuming knowledge of both by the readers.

With the Great Depression and the Wall Street Crash in 1929, the world became a very different place as it moved into the 1930s, but the creativity and exciting design that can be seen in that period most definitely has its foundations in the 1920s, and the sweater, jumper or pullover, as we know it today owes its birth to the modern, independent young women of the 1920s.

A version of this essay was originally published in The Knitter magazine in 2010 

I have found that over the years I have become more and more fond of the styles of this decade and have gained great inspiration in the shapes, drape and patterns of the period whilst working on a new mini collection featuring Fenella. Its not quite ready to be revealed yet but watch this space!

A Stitch in Time volume 1 is still available at the discounted price of £30 (plus p&p) until the end of August from my website.

So, for now,
Susan xx