Friday, August 28, 2015

A Thirties Style Sweater

I came across this old pattern, the Smart of Course design, a pattern that originally appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly in 1934, during some research for a post on 1930s knitwear for my knitting blog. I was immediately taken by its cleverness. This design has tabs around the neck to allow for the addition of a scarf, which seemed like a terrific way to both freshen up a basic sweater and pull one's entire outfit together. Thirties and forties fashion documentation is a veritable goldmine of ideas on how to put together a good wardrobe for very little outlay.

Here's the finished item. I used 4 skeins of Cascade Yarns Heritage Silk fingering in a dark brown, as I wanted a neutral sweater. I did have to do some reshaping. At 19" long and with a 36" chest, it was way too small for me. I made it in a size 38, lengthened it to 23", decreased the height of the waistband considerably, and also opened up the neckline some to make it wider and lower. I crocheted around the tabs to make them larger and more finished-looking. I liked the stitch used, which is a kind of broken rib, as it is incredibly elastic.

Here's an outfit I threw together so as to get the whole effect, and it's not a bad look. This sweater and skirt wouldn't look all that good together on their own, but add the scarf and it's suddenly an integrated and polished outfit. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for some long narrow scarves that will work with my skirts and trousers when I'm at thrift shops so as to maximize the potential of this versatile sweater.

A Schiparellian Outfit

The story of the recent sewing project that this post is nominally about began over five years ago when I decided to make myself one of the most iconic knitwear patterns out there: the Schiaparelli bowknot sweater, as pictured above.

Of course, I had to put my own stamp on it. I don't wear black, nor pink, so the original black or shocking pink colourways this sweater was made in were out. I considered brown, but that seemed too dull. I browsed around Romni Wool looking for inspiration and found some skeins in Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, in a burnt orange. It had a tweedy look to it, which would lend the sweater the flecked look it has in the original while sparing me from having to knit the sweater in the stranded method the pattern called for. For the intarsia bowknot, I chose Sublime Yarns Cashmere Merino Silk DK in cream. I am very far from having the boyish figure that was considered ideal in the 1920s and for which this sweater was designed, so I reshaped the design to suit me, widening and shortening it, adding waist shaping, and lowering the neckline. I also crocheted around the neckline, bottom hem, and cuffs to make them look more finished. The result was still very recognizably a Schiparelli bowknot sweater.

But then it turned out I never wore the sweater because I didn't have anything to wear with it. The Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool is a rather offbeat shade of orange, and moreover, the proportions of any potential coordinating pieces never looked right. These days I try to be better about planning ahead and making sure that whenever I make anything, I will be able to pair it with other existing items from my wardrobe to make at least one outfit, and preferably several. In this case, since I failed to think about such considerations in advance, the planning had to take place after the fact. Last winter I decided it was time I bought or made something to go with the sweater so that I could wear it.

I was at a loss to figure out what kind of bottom pieces would go with the sweater, so I did some online research to see how other people were styling their bowknot sweaters. I ended up concluding that other bowknot sweater knitters had also been less than successful at outfit planning. Some were putting their black bowknot sweaters over jeans, which looked okay, but I didn't think mine, being orange, would look right. The only outfit I found that really worked was in this old 1920s photo, and from it I got the idea that I should make a pleated skirt, as a sweater with such plain lines needed something with width and interest at the bottom for balance.

Off I went to the Vogue Pattern website, where I looked for a pleated skirt design. I didn't find one, as pleated skirts are not in at present, but I did find the pieced, full-skirted, bias-cut V9031, pictured above, which I decided would pair very well with the bowknot sweater. The next step was to find the right fabric. I took the bowknot sweater to Fabricland and carried it around comparing it to the fabrics for sale in an effort to find something that went. I found a brown plaid with the same burnt orange colour in it that went admirably. It was on sale, and I had a $5 coupon I'd printed offline, so I wound up buying the fabric and the zipper for $3. Score.

But then it came time to make the skirt, and it turned out that making a skirt that called for thirteen pattern pieces out of such a bold plaid is not a particularly good idea. WHO KNEW. I'd never worked much with plaid. I think the only plaid things I ever sewed were either things like plaid flannel bathrobes and pajama bottoms (that no one bothers to match), and very subtle plaids (that don't need to be matched). And now I was having my first experience of plaid matching on project that required ninja level plaid matching skills. I soon realized that I was going to have to pick my battles: I wasn't going to get a perfect match on the front or back pieces but was going to have to settle for creating a visual through line of that bold central stripe, and I wasn't going to be able to match the sides at all. Accomplishing even this much was difficult. A skirt that I would ordinarily have been able to knock off in an afternoon took several months, as I kept getting frustrated with it and abandoning it. The only things that saved this project from ruin were that I had enough fabric to be able to cut out a couple of pieces a few times each, and that this was a very tough fabric that stood up to many repeated stitchings and rippings without ever showing wear and tear. Eventually the skirt got done, and I'm pretty pleased with the result. This is a rather smart skirt that I will be able to wear with quite a few other items from my closet.

This skirt was designed to be left unhemmed, but I hemmed it. My mother did not raise me to go around with my hems undone.

And here's the completed outfit. It works, but I'm not sure I'm done with it yet. Looking at my Schiaparelli sweater, I am wishing I had taken the modifications steps further to make the sweater more appealing by contemporary standards.

I may at some point reknit the sweater to make it look more like this (crocheted) one, but we'll see.

Update: I did indeed reknit my Schiaparelli sweater with a new design. You can read all about it here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cauliflower's Dress & Purse

This project began with a need, or rather a want, as I wanted to make my grandniece a dress and matching purse for her sixth birthday and she needs another dress about as much as Princess Charlotte probably does. I decided that I could use some cream Naturally Loyal 8ply DK that I had lying around after having taken apart the sweater it had originally been knitted into. This pattern from my library, which is pattern #18 from Family Circle Knitting's Fall 1997 issue, seemed like a good fit for the yarn. I've made it before. Years ago I made it in a lilac colour, decorated with with purple and green beads, for a niece of mine. This time it would be made in cream, and I bought some iridescent blue and green beads to go with it.

And here's the finished dress. I changed the shaping of the dress slightly by adding armhole shaping in order to raise the dropped shoulder. I used beads instead of buttons, as I thought the buttons have a kitschy effect and the beads look much prettier and dressier. I did wish I'd bought one set of beads in a different shape to add to the visual interest.

Once the dress was done, I thought about the all-important matching purse. I wanted to do something different from the usual drawstring purse I usually do, so I selected the Teeny Bag pattern, designed by by Pierrot (Gosyo Co., Ltd), decided to knit it in a plain stockinette pattern to match the dress, and to decorate it with knitted flowers and leaves in blue and green, with some of the leftover beads for further embellishment.

I selected this Knitted Flower pattern, designed by Ravelry user Miss Crafty Fingers, and this Small Leaf pattern, by Lesley Stanfield.

Here's the finished purse. I altered the flower pattern slightly, making it a few inches smaller. I could have done better with the arrangement of the leaves, but oh well. I sewed a snap just inside the opening to keep Cauliflower's little treasures secure. I meant to line it with some pale blue satin I have lying around, but I kept putting off finishing the bag and then ran out of time.

The dress and purse together. I'm pretty sure Miss Cauliflower won't have to be made to wear it.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Photo Memes Hat and Scarf

After what I think of as the "hat epiphany" I had last year, when I realized I'd been knitting hats willy-nilly without thinking about what I'd wear them with and that I had hats that matched none of my coats and coats for which I had no coordinating hat, I added four new hat sets to my "to knit" list for this year. This post is about the first set. The project plan began when I came across Lion Brand's Amazing yarn at Michaels, in the Acadia colourway. I fell in love with it at first sight and decided it would be the perfect colour to wear with my spring green parka. I then selected a pattern to suit it: the Vrida Cabled Slouch Hat, designed by Jenifer Spock-Rank and shown above. I also decided I would knit a scarf to match.

I thought the Amazing yarn too expensive at full price, so for some months I dropped into Michaels once a week or so to see if it had gone on sale. Finally it was priced for clearance. I felt exactly like the woman in yellow depicted above. I promptly bought all four of the 50g skeins that the store had left. But 200 grams wasn't enough to make both the hat and scarf, so I called all the other Michaels stores in Toronto to ask if they had any skeins left. When none of them did, I ordered two more skeins from Amazon. They proved to be of a different colour lot, but in such a variable colourway that hardly mattered. When the Amazon skeins arrived, I began work on the hat, and once that was done I made the scarf. It soon became clear I had bought too much yarn and would have nearly two skeins left over. Oh well. I decided I would make a pair of slippers with the leftover yarn.

Then one day I lost a skein on the bus. I relieved my feelings by recreating the above photo meme, then I went down to the TTC lost and found (twice!) in the hopes that whoever found it had turned the lost skein in. No one had.

At least I had the extra skein with which to finish my project. I'm really very pleased by the way this project turned out.The lovely glowing colours of the yarn are such a pleasure to look at, and the set will look very nice with my spring green parka as well as an olive velvet jacket I have. The parka was bought at a thrift store about 14 years ago and is looking the worse for the wear, so will probably be replaced soon, but the plan is to replace it with a turquoise or teal parka, and this set will also go with that. As you can see, I have definitely learned my lesson about planning my hat-making projects more carefully. The new photo meme aspect to the process just happened.