Friday, 28 December 2012

A Well Turned Heel - Socks and Stockings

People today knit socks if they have a very special yarn, a novelty pattern, or a love of the old traditions.
 We forget, however, that people also used to knit stockings. Here is a selection of socks and stockings from a very old book from the 20s or earlier.

I imagine that wearing hand knitted stockings was warm, but neither stylish nor comfortable. I think they would have been scratchy, and difficult to keep up. Garters would have been required. No doubt they would have been made in drab grey or brown. A necessity in Europe perhaps, but probably not needed in most parts of Australia.

A few days ago I acquired an old New Idea crochet book from the early 70s and was thrilled to find this pattern for stockings, or rather tights.

I so want to make these tights. How fabulous are they? How jealous would your friends be if you had them, and how impressed they would be when you said you had made them?

The word stockings was originally used to indicate very long socks for either men or women. Here is an illustration from a book published in 1913 for a "Gentleman's Cycling Stocking." I can just imagine it with the lycra!

Gentleman's Cycling Stocking

On the same page there are the instructions for "Sea-Boot Stockings".

It seems amazing to us today that people would have darned socks (and stockings), but when you think that they had to knit the socks themselves and that they were woollen, it's more understandable. My mother told me last week that she will still darn a favourite pair of socks if they are of good quality. She also told me that she still uses her darning mushroom, and that she was surprised to see on an episode of the TV show "The Collectors", the darning mushroom was featured as the "mystery object", and that no-one knew what it was. Have you ever seen one of these?
Darning mushroom
You would hold it by the handle and insert it into the sock. The flat part comes up behind the area to be darned, usually the heel, and you work over the top of it so that your stitches don't sew through to the back of the sock. You would make a little woven mesh patch to fill the hole, (which was uncomfortable to stand on.)
Socks are knitted on four double pointed needles. You knit around in a tube. You can achieve the same effect these days with a short circular needle.
An important part of sock construction is "turning the heel". I remember once reading a book, where the character who was knitting was a daydreamer, and had a tendency to accidentally "turn the heel twice", so that the sock went around in a square at the bottom. No doubt this has happened to a few dreamy knitters in the past. I wish I had a picture of this. We will all just have to imagine. Here are some different styles and methods for heels and toes.

 During the wars, women did their duty for their country and cared for their men by knitting socks and other woollies for the soldiers.

This book recommends purchasing 5 skeins (or one ounce) of khaki wool for the socks. The skeins were hanks, which then had to be wound into balls after purchase.

In books about war, you often read about soldiers marching barefoot, or marching in ragged boots without socks. No wonder the knitting needles were ever busy. I wonder how many miles of marching it took to wear out a pair of socks.

Another wartime book, The Australian Comforts Fund, insisted on good workmanship in the way of sock knitting.

My very old book also has pattern for gaiters. These also feature quite regularly in books of pattern for babies up until the 1950s.

There are lots of little leggings sets with gaiters rather than sock feet. I guess this was much more sensible for toddlers or once baby was walking and needed shoes.

Women did not really wear socks much until short socks became fashionable in the 50s. Stockings were worn with a dress and shoes, even when at home doing the housework.
Here is a cute idea from the 50s:

Angora Topped Sports Socks
And looking for pictures of socks on the internet today, I found these. I wish I had the pattern!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Caftan - Looking Fabulous in a Tent

I've recently been surprised by how much interest there has been in a sewing pattern for a caftan which I found and listed in my Etsy shop. Back in the 1970s a few hippie types sported caftans. I even had one myself. I remember it clearly, although unfortunately I don't have any photos. Picture this... a primrose yellow cheesecloth floor length garment, with green and orange embroidered flowers around the neckline and down the front. I clearly remember wearing it on stage at a school talent contest when I was 14 or 15, when I played guitar and sang "Where Do the Children Play", from Cat Stevens "Tea For the Tillerman" album, very badly. Needless to say, I did not win. However, I like to think I looked great. Maybe I'm fantasizing again.

1974 pattern

That was probably the same year that this pattern was published. This is much more stylish, though, and not so hippie flavoured as my gear.

This pattern looks to me like something which Maggie Tabberer would have worn. Maggie Tabberer is a famous Australian businesswoman who was a model and later a TV personality in the 60s and 70s. Her trademark look was, and still is, a caftan type garment with very short hair or a turban. She is always incredibly stylish, even today in her 70s.

Check her out:
Then, I found these wonderful crocheted versions. They must have been quite heavy to wear, and difficult to launder, but they look very whimsical and floaty.

I  love this cream one, it looks so graceful and dainty. I can't quite make out her shoes, but I suspect they might be platforms.

This pink one looks more serious to me, and reminds me of a Greek goddess, but maybe it's just the hairstyle (and the view).

These designs are from a Villawool book from the 70s. I've never seen anything else like them, and I have over 1,000 books.

I wonder who would be brave enough to wear one today?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Magnificent Obsession

Who saw the fabulous article in the Melbourne "Age" newspaper "Good Weekend" liftout on Saturday? (8-12-12) Entitled "Magnificent Obsession, it profiled five Melbourne men and women who are passionate about vintage fashion.

I just love this knitted dress with it's patterned yoke
and waist. The skirt is knitted in 8 panels. I'm going to make
it for next winter,  and I'm going on a diet to wear it.
 Candice De Ville is obsessed with the 30s and 40s glamour era and the Golden Years of Hollywood. She describes being an unusual teenager, seen by her peers as "the weird kid who wore dead people's clothes".
She has rooms full of vintage gowns and says when she first brings them home, she puts them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer for 6 months to kill any bugs. I thought, that's a great idea, if you've got a big freezer. Half a dozen pairs of gloves and a tub of ice-cream will just about fill mine.

Nicole Jenkins runs Melbourne vintage  shop Circa Vintage. She describes herself as "a forensic seamstress". "I like to look at old clothes and uncover the layers. They tell you so much about the women who wore them and the lives they led". I've just checked out her blog, which looks great. And how nostalgic am I reading about the "House of Merivale and Mr John", the first fashion house in Melbourne, and the highlight of many of my trips to Melbourne as a teenager in the 70s.

Other fashionistas featured included fashion-parade director and compere, Christopher Horne, who scored hundred of pieces dating from the 1880's from an individual seller.

I just did a Google image search for 1920s
beaded flapper dresses. Drool!! Who can choose?
Also, Inger Sheil, whose passion is 1920s beaded dresses. She doesn't mind buying "glorious ruins", items in need of much TLC and repair. This made me remember my late aunt, who had 2 beaded dresses from the 20s which she offered to donate to the National Gallery of Victoria back in the 1980s. I so wish I had got to see those dresses before she passed them on. In the end, the gallery said they didn't have the space for them in their collection at the premises in St Kilda road, so she sold them to a private dealer. In those days I had no money, alas. I wish I'd got an inheritance!    

Emma Peel is a DJ on Melbourne's PBS-FM, among other venues, and her era is very specific, 1968-1971. She loves dresses with big bell sleeves...well, who doesn't? And as she says, the benefit of following her era is that "polyester lives on and on...The only thing you don't want to do is get near an open flame."

Janis Joplin eat your heart out.

So, I'm not alone after all. Reading about the prices that items sell for was a bit scary though. I suppose wherever there is a demand, the prices will go up and up.

I think I identify with Nicole Jenkins the most when she talks about getting to know the women of the past from studying their clothes. This is one of the things I love most about vintage clothing. Just studying how the garments were made can tell you so much about women and their lifestyle. It's a bit of escapism, akin to watching a movie or reading a book. There's also something I love about nurturing something that's precious, and caring for it tenderly, but not locking it away in a sterile museum environment, instead wearing it and giving life to it. I would not want to wear just vintage all the time, but a vintage theme with wonderful items worn with a modern twist is fabulous, I think.

"Magnificent Obsession", by Lee Tulloch; "Good Weekend" magazine liftout; The Age; Saturday 8th December, 2012.

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Let's be clear about this, I hate wearing hats. I think it's because I have lots of hair with lots of energy of its own, and I hate it getting squashed. Also, not only do I have big hands, as mentioned in the previous post, but I have a big head as well as big hair. In fact, everyone in my family has a big head. We can never get hats to fit us. I always told my kids it was because we had lots of brains. However, I can appreciate hats on other people.

In Melbourne, women really only wear hats for the Spring Racing Carnival. Of course a hat, or at the very least a fascinator, is de rigeur for Melbourne Cup Day. Milliners must exist almost solely on the hats they sell for this festival.

I am not including sun hats here. Of course, in Australia we are very conscious of the hole in the ozone layer right over us, and only the most foolhardy go far in the summer without a hat. Even I wear a disgusting old camping hat outside. Let's face it, it's a horrid hat or mega wrinkles and cancer.

There are some fabulous hats on the models in old kniiting books.

Look at this classy number from the 40s.

This elegant style from a wartime book adds a veiled hat to the military themed tailored jacket and turns the ensemble into high fashion.

Until I started collecting old patterns, I never knew that people knitted and crocheted hats. Well, I knew they knitted beanies, but I mean real hats. Here's a lovely book from the forties with some very elegant styles.

This is a very stylish stripey number, but what I'm actually most impressed with are the kiss curls at the front. What a lot of hairspray to keep them in place. The pattern actually calls for red and  white stripes, which is a bit alarming.

Some of the nicest hats are crocheted.
 I particularly like this
crownless style.
Hats were very popular in the fifties and for the first few years of the sixties.
Here's fabulous Patons book from the fifties with interesting variations on the beanie for the stylish woman.
Here is my favourite                            

This lovely little cap is knitted in angora and lurex thread. It simply has a hair band inserted in the front band to keep it in place.
Here is the child's version:
How adorable is that? By the way, it's a tassle at the back, not her ponytail as I thought at first.
And these triplets are just wonderful.

This pattern is described as an old favourite. It's certainly now one of my favourites.

But why do they all look horrible on me?

Thanks to Australian Country Spinners for permission to use Patons images.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Gloves For Dainty Hands

Vintage Knit Patterns at

Is it just me, or are vintage gloves really small? I can rarely find a pair that I can actually get my hands into. Is it just that 21st century people are larger?
Actually, I think it's genetics. I clearly come from a long line of scullery maids and farm labourers, with big, useful, working hands. Some of my friends have elegant, aristocratic hands with long, slim fingers. Clearly their ancestors were more used to sitting about drinking cups of tea and arranging vases of flowers. It was my great-great-grandma out in the kitchen scrubbing the pots.

I have just had a flip through my history of fashion book, and the first picture I can find of anyone wearing gloves is at the marriage of William the Second and Mary Stuart in 1641, and it's the men who are wearing the gloves. They are then a firm necessity throughout the next three centuries, until they are ditched in the mid 1960s.

Here is the Parisian Fashion page from the Royal Ladies' Magazine in 1830. Note the fingerless gloves. Apparently, at that time "a Parisienne " insisted on having pretty shoes, pretty gloves and pretty ribbons - the dress in those days was just an accessory." (Batterberry p.223)
Victorian ladies always appeared at a ball with long white gloves above the elbow. Their popularity continued well into the 20th century.

Chanel - Little tweed suit, 1930.
 Suit with green jersey jacket, 1931
In the 1920s they appeared commonly as day wear. They were also standard evening wear (unless you were a flapper). They figure prominently in the designs of Coco Chanel from the 20s and 30s.

"The profile hat and the three-quarter length glove:
 Madame Martinez de Hoz, famous Parisienne hostess and
 beauty, dressed by Vionnet, photographed at
Chantilly in 1935

 By the thirties, the three quarter glove was in fashion for day wear.

In the 1940s gloves continued to be a staple of the well dressed woman's wardrobe. Many of the glove patterns in my collection are from the 40s. My most popular pattern has been  mentioned in a previous post, and was published in the 40s. Here's another lovely one.
Crochet Lace Gloves - 1948
Crochet Lace Gloves - 1940s
And I think this pattern with the black contrast is very elegant:

Gloves in the thirties, forties and fifties were made of leather, felt, crochet, nylon, rayon and knitted and crocheted in wool as well as cotton.

I recently had a tragedy when I learned that you cannot wash fine leather gloves. What were a lovely pair of above the elbow 50s evening gloves in the softest "kid" leather turned into a pair of potato crisps when I submerged them in soapy water - well, they shrank first, then dried into crisps. How do you soften leather? I thought. I couldn't help thinking of stories I'd read where Inuit women chewed leather to soften it. Needless to say, this idea was quickly dismissed. I found that rubbing the leather repeatedly did soften it, it also rubbed the skin off my fingers. If you have any ideas about how to restore fine leather, PLEASE add a comment.

Gloves seem to become even more popular in the 50s. My mother, who was a teenager and later a bride in the 50s, says she would never go anywhere without gloves. As a school girl, she had to wear her gloves to and from school on the tram, because if someone reported her to the school, boy was she in big trouble. This even applied in the hottest days of the summer. I notice that three-quarter length gloves were popular for day wear in the 50s, as well as "shorties".

Christian Dior's "New Look"
 for 1947.

I love this photo of Audrey Hepburn in 1958 in
Givenchy. How different are the ballerina flats (and stance) with such a gown? But of course she carries it off brilliantly. And the gloves, of course. I would never have thought to wear white gloves with black gown and shoes.

Gloves feature in some of my books from the early 60s, but Jean Shrimpton sounded the death knell of the glove as a fashion accessory at the 1965 Melbourne Cup. Not only did she dare to wear a mini skirt to Flemington, but she wore no stockings, no hat and NO GLOVES! Just look at the expressions on the faces of the disapproving matrons in the background, and the admiring smiles of the young women, (gloved and hatted).

I can see that I will have to test my crochet skills and try to make some of the patterns in my shop. Maybe I can make them in thicker cotton so that they come out BIGGER!

Michael and Ariane Batterberry; Fashion - The Mirror of History; 1982; London; Columbus Books

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bedjackets and Sleepwear

Vintage Knit Patterns shop on


Knitted Nightingale, or convalescent's slip-on - early 20s

When I first started collecting vintage patterns, I thought, what is this with the bedjackets? There were so many books of bedjackets around. They were obviously a must have for decades, but you don't see or hear of them these days. That got me thinking, when did the bedjacket drop out of the well dressed woman's wardrobe?

I have bedjacket patterns in books from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and the newest bedjacket pattern I can find is in a Patons book from the late 70s - early 80s.

They were considered lingerie, and a necessity for the bride's trousseau. They also feature occasionally in books of baby patterns. I thought about this for a while...why? Aha! Because a pregnant woman needs a new bedjacket for her impending visit to hospital, of course.

Book of Bedjackets and Baby Wear - 1940s
 Bedjacket patterns tend to be lacy, but not always. They are usually knitted in 2 or 3 ply.

Many would make beautiful cardigans or jackets. Here is one which I thought would do particularly well as a cardy, I just love it.
Sun-glo pattern from the 40s

Sun-glo pattern from the 30s

I think the bedjacket capes were especially beautiful. Here is one from my favourite Sun-glo book. This book was one of the first in my collection and belonged to my grandmother.

 Here is a more dramatic bedjacket cape from Patons in the 30s.

I have also found bedjacket patterns for children (but only for girls) and even one included in a layette for a baby in a very old book.

I remember knitting a bedjacket for my grandmother when I was a teenager, after her eyesight failed her. That's the last time I thought about bedjackets, until I started collecting with a vengeance earlier this year. Let's finish the bedjacket section with an entry from 1954.
1954 Bedjacket


But not just bedjackets...

 In a book I acquired last week I found this pattern for a knitted nightgown. Now that would be nice and warm. But not so sexy. And difficult to launder, I would think.

 The Lux Knitting Book for 1936 says: "And why not? - don't you think we've laid the old-fashioned bogey that woollen nighties are dowdy? Just look at those frivolous cape sleeves!"
I have also come across several patterns for knitted dressing gowns. What a huge quantity of wool must have been required, and how cheap wool must have been in those days. Surely they would have had trouble with the weight of the garment making it drop out of shape. And imagine trying to get it dry if you washed it in those cold houses, and having to dry it flat. Here is my favourite dressing gown pattern.

Loveliness Dressing Gown - 1930s

What a huge amount of labour with all that lacy knitting, but what a beautiful garment. This is from the same Sun-glo book as the lacy cape bedjacket above, from the 30s.

And finally, you couldn't be without these:
Bed Socks
My nana knitted me some when I was a child in the 60s. My daughter laughed when she saw these, and I thought, "Gosh, don't people wear these any more?" Of course they don't, 40 years have gone by, Joanne!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Crochet In Fashion

Before starting my Etsy shop and my blog, I had no idea how popular crochet was these days. I thought it was only me who liked it. The most popular items in my shop have been crocheted glove patterns and crocheted cushion and pillow cases. Most of the people who favourite this glove pattern can't crochet, but wish they could!

This gorgeous pattern for filet crochet gloves was published in the 40s, and everyone seems to love it.  No doubt, some people have weddings in mind, too.







Jennifer Lopez in Crochet

Did you see Jennifer Lopez in her fabulous white crochet shorts and crop top earlier this year? Take a look.

She looks wonderful in the white crochet with her enviable tan and great body. It made me wish I had the pattern for this outfit (as well as the body and the tan!) Not everyone could wear white so well, and it would be interesting to see this outfit in different colours. It made me think to look back in some of the old books from the 70s when crochet was really hip, to see if I could find anything similar. Sadly, I have not yet found a pattern for shorts - although I do have quite a few patterns for knitted knickers (scanties) from the 30s and 40s which could do in a pinch.

However, I did find these fabulous patterns which I thought I would share.

Daring, no knickers please skirt

Flower Power Crochet

Patons jumpsuit, late 70s

 Look at this gorgeous dress, I can see it being worn today. You can't see in the poor quality image, but she is also wearing white fish net stockings. Fabulous.
Woman's Day, 1968

New Idea, 1976

And here is one of my all time favourites, the sun top with optional sunhat crown. I always meant to make it and never did.

So, the gear, the cushion covers and the pillow cases are super popular. Now, bring on the doiley revival!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The 1920s - Wearing a Lace Front

Filet crochet lace was very popular in the 1920s. We're not talking about the Flappers so much here, but in mainstream women's fashion. The Flappers get all the press these days, but as far as I can find out, most young women weren't Flappers.

Many women wore beautiful filet crochet over blouses. Sometimes these tied at the sides over a blouse, sometimes they buttoned. This garment is sometimes called a sweater.

Filet lace over blouse and dressing jacket.

I was quite fascinated to see garments which were simply described as a "front". The garment below appears to just slip on over the head, presumably over a blouse


This next garment is also described as a front. It looks to me like a vest or under garment, but I guess it may have been worn over a blouse.
I don't suppose there are many elderly women left who could tell us about this. I would place my bets on underwear for this last one.
Here are two more filet lace over blouses.

This one has attractive side button fastening.

This one has a matching hat band!
What do you think about the "front"? Please add your comment and let me know.

About 30 years ago I made myself a filet lace short sleeved top for the summer in cotton, with a floral motif front and back. I really liked it, but it was a bit tight for me, so as the years wore on, I stopped wearing it very much, but I kept it because it was pretty, and because I had made it. About five years ago my then 20 year old daughter claimed it, and she is still wearing it. I will try to get a photo of it from her.

The photos are from "The Newest Knitted and Filet Crocheted Sweaters", series no.16, by Mary E. Fitch, published in the USA sometime in the 1920s.
And also "Desirable Designs in Crochet and Knitting," by Ella Allan, 1922, St Kilda (Mellbourne)