As I announced early in June, I'm participating in the Coronation Knits blog tour for Susan Crawford's latest vintage knitting book, published this summer to correspond with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. And today we've reached my spot in the tour. So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and enjoy! There's some knitting blathering by me, a wonderful interview with Susan, and a giveaway at the end!
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I admit: I fully intended to knit a lovely sweater from the book and review the pattern, in time for this post. Didn't even come close. I was already giving myself a tight deadline, but then add in a wilting heat wave and having my dad in town, and I just had no desire or time to knit, unfortunately! I'm disappointed I couldn't include my finished pullover in this blog tour post, so alas, you'll just have to wait to see my knitting. But I can at least tell you what I'm working on (albeit slowly). It's the Lion and the Unicorn pullover, with bat wing sleeves and an intarsia rendition of the lion and unicorn from the royal coat of arms of England. Isn't it stunning? I'm just swapping the blue for red.
|Copyright Susan Crawford|
The original version of this pullover was featured in the 1953 special Coronation issue of Stitchcraft! Susan modernized the construction, which is ingenious—knit in one piece from the front bottom up, casting on for the sleeves outwards, knitting on up to the short-row shaped shoulders and neckline, then down the back to the bottom. It's been fun seeing the unusual shape unfold!
|Copyright Susan Crawford|
Of course, you know I'm a sucker for colorwork, and the next pattern I'm dying to knit is the Coronation Sleeveless Pullover. There are instructions to knit it in the round (my preference for stranded knitting as I can fly along at it) and knit it flat and seam the pieces (more original to most published patterns at the time). I love, love, love the crown motif! This was designed by Susan in the style of a 40s/50s men's pullover, but I think the design could easily transition into a woman's version, or be turned into a marvelous long-sleeved pullover or cardigan!
|Copyright Susan Crawford|
Hmmm... it occurs to me I also have a 40s-inspired version of the Red Queen fair isle pullover (Ravelry link) on the needles, along with the Unicorn and Lion pullover, and I'm plotting that sleeveless pullover... I guess I've just been in a royal mood!
I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Susan, as she is one of my all-time favorite knitwear designers. I hope you'll enjoy her responses as much as I have!
Q. I know Coronation Knits was partially inspired by your mother's interest in Queen Elizabeth's and her sister Margaret's early fashions. When you were putting this book together, was there one or two patterns in particular that really spoke to you as something the young Queen would have loved?
A. I think the young Queen Elizabeth would probably have worn the 'Princess Twinset' in her private time, in fact, I like to think its the sort of pattern she would probably have knitted! I think she would also have liked to have worn 'Amies' on a slightly more formal occasion.
Copyright Susan Crawford
Q. Do you have a favorite pattern in Coronation Knits (to wear, to design, the finished design, etc). Why does it stand out?
A. Ooh that's a tricky one. I love all the designs in the book for all different reasons. But if I was to choose a favourite pattern to fill each of the categories you mention I think I would choose 'Diamonds are Forever' to wear as it is the jumper I always wanted to design for myself. Its the perfect combination of the slightly more casual feel of the 1950s whilst still offering a well fitting and shapely garment. As a project to design I’m going to pick Crowning Glory as my favourite although this one really is a close run competition. But I’m going with this beret because of the perfect mixing of complexity of lace crown pattern with the simple beret construction which leaves you free when knitting to focus on the lace stitches. Again which would be my favourite finished design is also a very difficult one to choose but having had the opportunity to wear it will say the Princess Twinset Jumper. I love the front panel on the decolletage. It is so incredibly flattering, framing the face and directing the eyes upwards just as original 30s and 40s handknits did.
Copyright Susan Crawford
Q. Your books have such a wealth of historical information, knitting tips, not to mention the wonderful designs. Not just the Stitch in Time volumes, but your smaller publications as well like Coronation Knits and Vintage Gifts to Knit. It seems like there's a useful tip or fact everywhere I look. What inspires you to create such invaluable knitting resources?
A. I’ve always hoped that my books would be more than pattern books, although that is obviously their primary purpose. But I wanted to share the things I had learnt from working with vintage patterns over the years along with tips I had been given by my grandmothers, by other knitters I have talked to over the years and from the vintage magazines themselves. Also I am obsessed by the interaction of fashion and social history and writing these knitting books gives me the perfect excuse to talk about the periods the designs are from or are representative of and place them in their cultural and social setting. I’m very proud that people buy my books not just for the knitting patterns but also for the historical content and the authentic styling.
Q. When you're designing (or re-constructing) a vintage pattern, what makes the design process unique from modern patterns?
A. When I’m designing a vintage inspired pattern the design process isn’t particularly dissimilar than if I was designing a non-vintage inspired design. Where the differences really come in are when I am reconstructing or writing a pattern from a vintage pattern or garment. Often the construction is done in several separate pieces and is nearly always written for only one size. That one size is usually 30-32 inch chest and for a height of about 5 foot 2 inches. The language and terminology can often be quite differnet and sometimes abbreviations which now mean one thing have been used to represent something else. If I was writing a pattern from scratch I would choose my yarn, do a swatch and find out what tension I’m working to. The pattern would then be written based on that tension. With a vintage pattern, I swatch with different yarns and different needles until I can find a combination that gives me a tension as close to the original pattern as possible. I then knit a sample from the original pattern so that the sizing can be determined and any errors or flaws in the design can be clearly identified. Its not until this original pattern has been finalized that I then ‘grade’ the pattern. This means I then do the maths to add as many additional sizes to the pattern as the pattern will allow. Many vintage patterns use beautiful stitch patterns with large pattern repeats which can make it very difficult to introduce too many sizes without making huge leaps between sizes. It is also very important to me to keep the same shaping and fit for each size as in the original and a lot of work has to go into the sizing to ensure that each subsequent size fits as well as possible. One of the biggest issues with the fit of vintage patterns is shoulders. They need to end in just the right place on the body for any vintage knit to still have an authentic look to it. Our shoulders however do not usually increase by the same number of inches as our busts tend to grow, so this area of any vintage re-write has to be done with a significant amount of care. Without a doubt re-working an original vintage pattern usually means much more work than creating a design from scratch, but there is a feeling of great satisfaction when you can make a really tricky pattern that was never intended for more than that one size, to work in 6 or 7 sizes - including mine!
Q. Is there one decade that you love the most in knitwear fashion, and why?
A. That's a real toughy. Depending on my mood I veer between the 30s and the 40s, although my personal body shape suits the 40s/50s best. There is something about the total freedom of expression in the amazing designs of the 1930s that can’t be beaten, but I adore the creativity during the early 1940s de-spite there being so many restrictions being placed on design. So I don’t think I can do it be honest. I will have to hover between the 30s and the 40s as I love them both so much.
Q. I practically jumped out of my seat with excitement when I read that one of your next projects is an upcoming book on vintage Shetland knits. What drew you to the knitting traditions of Shetland?
A. I think if you enjoy knitting from vintage patterns the chances are you have done some colour work knitting. I have loved doing stranded and intarsia knitting since I was a teenager so have long been interested in Shetland knitting. Add to that the joys of using Shetland wool for colour work and you have a match made in heaven. However, I had always been a little disappointed by what I found in ‘traditional’ Fair Isle pattern books. They didn’t seem to reflect what I saw in magazines of the 1920s onwards or in knitting patterns I had in my collection also from the first half of the twentieth century. I have been visiting Shetland for about the last four years and have got to know the islands quite well. I have also spent alot of my time there visiting the museum and studying the garments on display. All of which have so much style and shape and individuality and seem so different to the ‘norm’. So over two years ago now I started working with the Museum on identifying a number of items from their archive that represented what Shetland knitting was really about between the 1920s and the 1950s. None of these garments have written patterns. So I have been creating patterns from the garments themselves and am now up to the point of beginning to knit the samples. As a a keen social historian I couldn’t leave it at that and have also researched each piece to find out more about the knitter behind each garment and these stories will also be in the book. Its proving quite a lengthy project but I hope a very worthwhile one.
Q. Last but not least, why does vintage inspire you?
A. I have been fascinated by vintage since I was about 15 years of age and didn’t actually even realize at this point that I was. I would sit and watch old films with my grandmother soaking up all the beautiful costumes and wanting to dress in the same way. My two grandmother’s taught me to knit, sew, crochet and embroider using patterns they had gathered over the years and most of these were already very old, so again without even knowing it, I was already interpreting vintage patterns. As time passed it also became about the history behind the clothes and the stories behind something as simple as a knitting pattern and I think that this is what has continued to fuel my interest. I think there is so much to learn from both original vintage garments and vintage knitting and sewing patterns about fit, shaping, small details that turn a garment into something very special, the use of pattern to distract from less flattering parts of the body and draw attention to the right bits. The beautiful fabrics used in original vintage garments are almost impossible to replicate but the finishing touches suggested in patterns such as embroidery, hand made buttons and facings enable us all to have a ‘couture’ vintage wardrobe at the fraction of the cost. As both a knitter and a dressmaker I have always liked things to be well made and its only really in vintage or hand made that you can be guaranteed of this.
Its also worth remembering that when I first began wearing vintage in the late 1980s it was considered a really odd thing to do, in fact, non-conforming was not encouraged at all. I can even remember acquaintances of my parents crossing the road to avoid me, tutting and shaking their heads as they did so! I think we now find ourselves in a great place where we can basically dress however we like without (too much) criticism and in many ways the huge popularity of vintage has helped this happen. And when an 80 year old great grandmother and a 20 year old student both want to knit one of my patterns I feel all that 1980s angst and pain was worthwhile!
Would you like to win your own copy of Coronation Knits? Here's your chance!
- Be a follower of this blog, anywhere on the planet.
- Leave a comment on this post.
- Want an extra entry? Post about this giveaway on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook. Just post a separate comment on this post with a link to where you mentioned it so you get counted twice.
- Don't forget to leave a way to contact you if your blog or profile doesn't have your email address.
The next blogger up on the tour is the talented Tom of Holland, on July 14th, so be sure to check it out. Tom knit the gorgeous stole featured on the cover!
June 12th More Yarn Will Do The Trick - Jean MossHope you've enjoyed this stop on the blog tour, and thanks so much to Susan Crawford for asking me to participate! Now, on with the coronation knitting!
June 16th JenACKnitwear - Jen Arnall Culliford
June 18th The Icelandic Knitter - Helene Magnusson
June 20th Knitting Institute - Knitting Magazine
June 24th Ingrid Murnane Investigates - Ingrid Murnane
June 28th Domestic Soundscape - Felicity Ford
June 29th Sheep To Shawl - Donna Druchunas
July 7th Fourth Edition - Karie
July 2nd The Making Spot - Simply Knitting
July 6th rock+purl - Ruth Garcia-Alcantud
July 10th By gum, by golly! - Tasha (me!)
July 14th tomofholland - Tom Van Deijnen
July 18th Woolly Wormhead - Woolly
July 22nd Crinoline Robot - Mim
July 25th Sexyknitter.com - Sarah Wilson