Sunday 3 December 2023

And the winner is . . .

I have (I hope) selected a suitable pattern for my next cardigan from the auditions process.

What name is inside the envelope?

Some of my original selections didn't even make it to the first round. They were all 16 stitches wide, and when I tried laying the samples I had already completed onto my blue Wondrella, I realised that this was going to be too wide.

Out of curiosity, I did try knitting up one of the wider patterns. But after frogging it for the third time I gave up!

Beyond my capabilities, for now

One of the samples I had already knitted is 13 stitches wide. Not only did this seem a bit too much, but the pattern is directional. I'm considering doing the pattern on the sleeves as well as the front, but the sleeves are top-down while the body is bottom-up, so this sample had to go.

Not quite right for this project

This diamond pattern with twisted stitches is pretty, and very easy to knit, but doesn't show up particularly well in this marled yarn - I think that it would work better in a solid colour.

This gets a bit lost

The ukuleles pattern was another one which I had knitted already. It's narrow, and shows up well, but I didn't feel I was knitting the shapes very consistently.

Ukuleles, banjos, lutes - they're all in there

Of the samples I had already knitted, this left the chain links (or, as I always think of it, 'the sausages') as my favourite. But there were still a couple of cable designs left to try.

Chain links, or sausage links?

This one was far too wide, but I liked the central element of narrow and wider twists, and wondered if I could just knit that section.

Definitely got potential

Because I'm new to cable knitting, it took a couple of goes to work out which parts of the chart and instructions I could ignore.

Trying to block out the bits I didn't need

But I got there in the end, and it was worth the effort.

Well hello!

This immediately became my new favourite pattern - sorry, sausages. Not too wide, shows up well, not directional. The only one issue was that I wanted something which was symmetrical across the two fronts, not the same. (At this point, I offer my apologies to any experienced knitters who are reading this and thinking, "Oh for crying out loud, it's simple.". As I say, I'm a knitting novice and cable is a whole new subsection of what is still a fairly new area.)

In the meantime, I did one final sample of basic cables.

Twists in both directions! What witchcraft is this?

These were a bit too basic, but I did make the exciting discovery that the direction of the twist depends upon whether you put the cable needle to the front or the back!!! Groundbreaking*. Armed with this new knowledge, I went back to the instructions for the previous sample and made a couple of changes. And, voila!

At this point, I did take a moment to bask in my triumph

So now, I am knitting a swatch the same size as my original one, mostly in stocking stitch, but with the cable band included. Hopefully it will not affect the gauge, and I can start knitting.

* - I joke about it, but I am really enjoying all of this. I have been sewing for more than 50 years, about 90% of my entire life. So while I may come across a complex pattern or a tricky technique, the opportunities for me to learn something totally new are few and far between. Starting from scratch with a new skill is exhilarating.

Sunday 26 November 2023

Home improvements

Does anyone else find that they use their home differently at different time of the year? No? Just me then. In the summer I like to sit in a big armchair in my living room next to the patio door, so that I can make the most of the light. In the winter months however that location, even though the door is double glazed, becomes a little chilly, and the light is less good as the sun doesn't rise above the neighbouring buildings. Then, I prefer to sit by the radiator at the other end of the room!

The armchair doesn't really fit in that space, so instead I use this mid-century chair which I bought absurdly cheaply at auction. Among other things, it's perfect for winter knitting - because chair arms plus long actual arms plus short torso is a messy combination!

Front view

From the side

Like most mid-century furniture it is well made and still sound, but the fabric is a bit worn and has acquired some mysterious stains, and the seat could use a little more padding. Last winter I just put a fleece throw over it. I had intended to reupholster it over the summer, but that was one of many projects which somehow just didn't happen. So as an interim solution I bought a foam pad to boost the seat, and a suitable remnant, and set about making a plain loose cover.

I've done this before, albeit over 30 years ago. Plus, I can remember watching Mum make loose covers when I was small, so I knew the basic principles. Obviously, it helped that the chair is a simple shape. I measured the various parts of the chair and cut out fabric pieces with very generous seam allowances. First I sewed the front back and the seat together, and pinned this onto the chair wrong side out so that I could pin on the base section. Once this was sewn on, I could pin on the back.

Pinning the back section on

And seen from the back

Because the back narrows slightly from the top, I had to insert a zip down one side.

Super-exciting zip shot

Once I was happy with the fit, I could trim off the excess seam allowances and neaten the edges. This gave me the basic cover.

Starting to look like a cover

Next I needed to do cut-out sections around the legs, so that the excess fabric could be pulled tight underneath. Originally I was planning to just turn the edges under, but the fabric is quite loosely woven and I felt that it needed reinforcement. So instead, I went for a dressmaking approach and added facings made from scrap cotton. (Actually a discarded toile which had in turn been made from an old bedsheet - serious recycling!)

The facing sewn on and trimmed to shape

Turned to the wrong side and sewn down

The right side (with bonus mystery stain on the chair)

And here is the completed chair.

Lacking decorative detail, but clean

And well-padded - result!

The underside does need a little work to tidy it up, but I'm very pleased with result. Plus, there's just enough of the remnant left to re-cover an old pouffe to match, which is now my next project.

Sunday 19 November 2023


If you scroll through the vintage and contemporary galleries of this blog, there’s one thing which you won't see much. Black. I very rarely wear it now, and I suspect that a big part of the reason why Butterick 7598 is taking me so long is the colour.

However, while solid, all-over, black is something I avoid (if you really want to know why, this post will give you a clue to its negative connotations for me), I'm quite happy with black-ish items such as my absurd-but-fabulous 1970s blouse. So when I decided that I could really do with a black cardigan, I looked for a wool along those lines. And found Sirdar Haworth Tweed in Hepworth Slate, a marled dark grey with flecks of grey and rust. It's just what I wanted.

Gauge swatch - the orange threads mark the area to be measured

Yes, I am planning yet another Wondrella (as I suspected when I started the first one, it's a pattern I'm happy to have in multiple colours). But I want to do something a little different with this one. I've noticed that a single column of pattern, usually a cable or lace design, up each side of the front is a feature on a lot of 1950s cardigans.

Lavenda cardigan with lace panels

The Dolman Shortie by Subversive Femme is a particularly good example.

This is on my 'to knit' list

Sometimes the pattern runs up the sleeves as well.

From a 1958 issue of Stitchcraft

So, I decided that I would like to add this feature to the Wondrella. But what pattern to use? When I was in York in the spring, I went to Duttons for Buttons (of course) and bought, among other things, this book.

So many possibilities!

It's a wonderful library of stitch patterns: textured; lace; cables; slip stitches and novelty. To narrow the choice down a little, I wrote out the pattern for the cardigan fronts in my size row by row, and then used this to draw out a chart.

Right front in chart form

The main section of the front is only 36 stitches, with four of those knitted in a ribbed edging for the front opening, so I didn't want anything too wide. It is 88 rows long, so I discounted any very long patterns, as they would have very few repeats and would be tricky to position in a way which looked right. Finally, the author has helpfully labelled some of the patterns as 'easy'. This means that the wrong side row is either all purl, or 'knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches' from the previous row. As I still regard myself as a novice knitter, I decided to limit myself to 'easy' patterns only. Finally of course, it had to be a pattern I liked.

Based on all this, I identified nine possible patterns. I then bought an extra ball of wool, and set about knitting samples to see how easy they were to knit, and how well they worked with the yarn.

For each pattern there is a clear photograph, knitting instructions, and a diagram.

Ukuleles pattern

So far, I have completed three of my possible choices.

Two colums of ukuleles on a purl background

Diamonds with openwork

Chain links on a purl background

Once I have completed all the samples, the main contenders will go through to the 'next round' where I knit them up as full swatches to check if they alter the gauge. Who knew I would ever get so into knitting?!

Sunday 12 November 2023

A century of women designers at the Walker Art Gallery

Creating Visions: Women Designers 1900-2000, the latest costume exhibition in Craft and Design Gallery at the Walker opened a couple of weeks ago. I have been longing to visit, but decided to wait until half-term (which was staggered over two weeks here) was over, so that I could pore over the exhibits in relative peace and quiet. I finally went last week, and it did not disappoint. Be warned, this is a long and picture-heavy post!

Half of the exhibition . . .

First up, we have to have my traditional grumble about glass cases, reflections, and the difficulties of photographing some pieces. As a result, some of the images are of a poorer quality than I would normally include in this blog, and/or taken from a strange angle. On the plus side, the 14 exhibits have been very carefully placed to provide clear all-round views - which is bliss for dressmaking nerds like me!

. . . and the other half

As the title suggests, the exhibition celebrates 100 years of women designers. All of the items on display are from National Museums Liverpool's own collection, so while the actual creators of some of the early pieces are not known, they are included because they show the influence of female designers of the time. For example, the two oldest pieces are evening dresses from 1911-13, both made by T & S Bacon (a high-end ladies' outfitters on Bold Street, Liverpool), which were clearly inspired by the designs of Lucile.

A dress from the 'Young Ladies Department'

Showing the metallic lace on the bodice

A more mature style

Close-up of the beading detail

Next in age is my favourite piece from the whole exhibition. While I have seen some of the dresses before, this silk satin and metallic brocade evening dress, circa 1930, was entirely new to me. The bias cut is reminiscent of Madeleine Vionnet. As well as liking the fabric itself and the clean lines of the design, I was hugely impressed by the quality of the workmanship and the way the maker had handled such a tricky material.

Bias-cut elegance

Back view, showing the train

Such careful placement of motifs on the bodice front

The construction of the skirt is just visible here

The oldest piece by a named designer is from the Paris couture house which at one time employed Vionnet, Callot Soeurs. I had come across this 1936 dress in the Putting on the Glitz exhibition at the Lady Lever some years ago, but this time I was finally able to see the stunning back properly.

Silk satin and metallic net

Stylish back detail

It's back to Bold Street for the next dress - a silk crepe evening dress, circa 1945-50, by local designer Elaine Paquin who had her premises there. The accompanying notes suggest that she chose the name Paquin after Jeanne Paquin (sadly there was no mention of her real name), but I was just thrilled to come across another Elaine. There aren't many of us about, and certainly not dressmaking ones!

Front and back views

Close-up pf the bodice draping

From here it's a big jump, both style and date-wise, to 1966 and a wool jersey dress by Mary Quant.

Very 'youth-quake'

Back view

Somehow, I had never heard of Janice Wainwright, not even registering her obituary when she died in June this year. I really liked her printed jersey acetate dress and overcoat from 1965-68, but struggled to get decent photographs of it. The fact that the overcoat has a pocket on it just adds to its charms.

I was so annoyed that I couldn't get better pictures

The pocket is just below the right elbow

Thea Porter I have heard of, and have come across several of her pieces at auction. This silk velour cape, circa 1970, is beautifully rich and textured.

A lovely ensemble

I tend to associate Jean Muir with jersey garments, so this 1972 leather pinafore dress was a bit of a surprise.

Not typical Jean Muir, but very chic

Obviously not only have I heard of Laura Ashley, but I own one of her dress patterns. I also owned various Laura Ashley dresses in the late 1970s and 1980s. I don't think I ever had anything quite as ornate as this cotton dress from 1970-75, though.

This could not be anyone but Laura Ashley

Pin tucks, piping, and lace insertions

Gina Fratini is another new name to me. I must admit that this 1974 cotton voile dress is far too frilly for my taste, but very of its time.

So 1970s

Beautifully made, but really not me

Definitely not frilly is this Vivienne Westwood printed cotton jersey dress and top from her 1982-3 'Nostalgia of Mud' collection.

Knee-length dress with a long train

The motifs are inspired by Matisse

A decade later, this cotton denim skirt and top printed with the image of a 1930s Rolls Royce are from her 'Always on Camera' collection.

Another one which was hard to photograph

The most recent 'dress' in the exhibition is from 2006 and made by Diana Dias-Leão, who worked for Katherine Hamnett in the 1980s and then became a glass artist. This 'wedding dress' has a skirt of cotton and beads, while the torso consists of iridescent glass fragments fused onto a polystyrene and wood mannequin.

Exploring issues around body image

Glass chrysanthemum details

I've been unable to find out how long this exhibition runs for, but I expect it will be well into next year. According to the press release, there will be slight changes throughout its duration as different jewellery, all by female designers, is displayed alongside the clothes. I often pop into the Walker when I'm in Liverpool so will be going back a few times anyway, but it will be interesting to look out for new pieces when I'm there.