The Last Rose of Summer
Added Nov 12, 2012
London, United K...
It’s getting a little cold for this style of summery top, but I manage to model it here with the aid of thermal underwear and extra petticoats….
I’m always curious to try out new knitting techniques, so when I came across this 1950s pattern for a bias-knit sweater I couldn’t resist finding some wool and trying it out just to see how it worked. The first question was which size of the three given I ought to be making: vintage knitting patterns are usually specified by bust size, but this one offered “12, 14 and 16”, which was less than helpful. Due to the bias construction of the sweater I couldn’t even calculate the bust size based on the tension and number of stitches.
I guessed 14 to be on the safe side, since I’m a 14 in pre-war vintage sizing. In fact the restricting factor is not the bust size but the hip size: it’s relatively easy to resize this pattern simply by adding extra stripes to the bottom edge triangles before you join them at the centre, since all the sizes have the same neck opening and all the other measurements are simply a matter of working the pattern for the requisite number of vertical inches. Each triangle will be one-quarter of the total hip size, and so size 14 worked out as a tube about 34" in diameter. My hip measurement is wider than that, but the extra width is lower down, so 34" round the pelvis looked about the right size.
In fact the pattern turned out not to be a perfect tube. The initial triangles are worked with straight sides by increasing on only four out of every five rows: the rest of the garment is knitted with increases on every row, producing a garment that actually has curved edges. I assumed this was laziness on the part of the pattern-writer, but in fact it is this subtle shaping that produces the ‘period’ look with a generous, slightly slanted kimono-sleeve bodice draping to a tightly-fitted waist and hip – fitting at the waist being achieved, as in the pattern illustration, via the use of a belt!
Construction is relatively simple, with the main problem being the sheer length of the rows. The sweater is constructed as two virtually identical halves with a differing neckline in the final part of the V – in fact very much like my Vintage Modern Design top of similar date. The sleeves are knitted across in one piece with the body, which makes for a large stitch count, but this is increased by the fact that you actually knit straight down one side of the V, decreasing in the centre, and then straight up the other side, meaning that you have the entire length of each stripe on the needles at once. The pattern suggests the use of a circular needle: I ended up using three 2.75mm straight needles to hold all the stitches, knitting off the end of one and onto the other.
However, life was made interesting by the fact that I had seriously underestimated the amount of wool that would be needed!
When I started, I reckoned I had 2oz spare over and above the quantities stipulated in the pattern. But the time I was approaching the neck opening for the back of the sweater, it became obvious that I was using more than half the available wool to knit the first half of the garment, so I had to stop, unravel a stripe or two, and try to introduce some new colours halfway up. This still wasn’t enough, so I then ended up unravelling downwards and re-knitting the two base triangles to use the extra colours as well, then grafting the new section back on again. This was barely enough to finish the two body pieces, but not enough to do the welt and cuff ribbing (I ended up with about six inches left at the end of the final row of one stripe, and only about eighteen inches left in another colour), so I had to introduce a whole new set of scraps in relatively toning colours with which to do several inches of rib! By the end I had ten different colours of wool used in a garment that was originally designed to be knitted in a single colour: the miracle is that it did work, with the colours harmonising together to make a striking whole.
The funny thing about bias knitting is that unlike bias cloth, it’s actually very stiff – it turns out that diagonally is the one direction in which knitting doesn’t readily stretch. So far from draping elegantly as I had supposed, this bias-knit pattern actually produces a very robust fabric that supports itself away from the body.
Accessorised with a white belt, black gloves and a pearl bracelet, plus four little vintage buttons at the back of the neck, the finished result is very glamorous indeed!
50g of pink, dark rose and dark blue wools: 100g each of light blue and mauve. Another 50g or so of assorted scraps.
Size 12 knitting needles (2.75mm): the pattern suggested using size 10, but I had to use the very fine needles to achieve the tension needed.
- Woman's Day