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.