Category Archive: Skiff Works in Progress

Vintage Knit

Like a proud parent, I thought I’d treat you to a sneaky peak of the book I completed last year which has now gone to print. Vintage Knit is a project book, the brainchild of graphic designer Marine Malak who won the ‘Best Student Book’ category of the British Book Design and Production Awards 2011 with her re-imagining of the 1940s Margaret Murray/Jane Koster classic ‘Knitting Illustrated’. Marine and I got together in the Laurence King offices in late 2012 and spent many happy hours going through patterns, discussing colours, yarns and styles … 25 projects and a year and a half later, the book is now due for release in August!

We’ve put together a great selection of projects, including 8 patterns for accessories (hats, socks, scarves etc), 14 sweater and cardigan patterns, and 3 larger projects (a beautiful dress, spectacular striped housecoat and a stylish ‘cuddle’ skirt). The patterns have been updated and graded for 34″, 36″, 38″ and 40″ bust sizes, using a wide range of accessible yarns. It was all beautifully shot in contemporary style in a North London studio and the garments were modelled by Marine’s ridiculously lovely friends. The styling might come as a surprise to some vintage fans – by no means is it slavish to the past; instead we’ve tried more to show how the designs and their classic details can still be relevant in 2014 without feeling that you have to buy into the whole vintage lifestyle. The colours are chosen from a modern palette (most obvious in the shocking pink and burnt orange of the twinset) and one of the book’s intentions is to hopefully capture a new audience of knitters, eager to put their own contemporary twist on the vintage look. (more…)

Mad Men ‘Peggy’ Sweater

I have developed the habit of rushing for the remote to pause the TV whenever I see an interesting piece of clothing or knitting and taking a picture of the screen: technology, my family thanks you. Usually the first thing to hand is my phone so the pictures aren’t great and that’s usually where they stay, languishing in the digital vaults of an HTC Desire.

Somehow this one not only made it out but made it onto my needles. And I actually finished it. And here it is … the ‘Peggy’ Sweater. The last season of Mad Men saw the ’60s really starting to kick in and, for me, Peggy’s wardrobe stood out spectacularly, coloured with mod touches, collars and cravats. Early on in the series she wore this great black dress, just above the knee, with bold black and white accents … just crying out to be made into a sweater, I thought. So I did.


On The Pins

So the call of a new project made itself heard loud and strong last week and I, a weak mortal, was powerless to obey. I didn’t even hang about to ponder too long on what I should choose, I just needed to knit something new and fast. Cardigans, that’s it, I definitely need cardigans.

I’m about to start on a new work project which means that I wanted something incredibly quick and straightforward, so when I went through my pattern stash I shunned the lure of my usual fine knit sirens in favour of something quicker … and this 1950s jacket peeked coyly from the bottom of the pile – ‘Knitting time – 6 hours!’ it whispered temptingly. How could I resist that challenge?  Not the most attractive of cardigans but still … 6 hours! I decided to go for it, just to check its claims. But then I decided I wanted something a bit more attractive but still speedy. In red. So I chose this simple P&B DK number – I like the way the unfussy border looks like an enlarged, pixelated lace pattern in the DK.

We’re not exactly blessed with a great choice of yarn outlets in this area, but I couldn’t wait for all that delivery palava so I headed for a largeish emporium in the center of Brighton – not a great selection but it sometimes does the trick. I didn’t want to splash out too much on the ’6-hour’ number and ended up going for Patons Superwash Wool Blend DK – got to admit it’s not one that’s on my radar, but was impressed with its 63% wool content and the fact that it smelt and felt sheepy, but most of all because it was £3.95 for 100 grams. I spent £16 on a guesstimated 800 grams. I took a bit more care over the red yarn and plumped for a Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK – soft, smooth, good stitch definition for the eyelet stitch. Not the cheapest but it balanced out nicely against the other cardi, so Friday night found me clearing my hectic social calendar (ahem) and merrily casting on. The bodice is knitted all in one and it’s flying off the needles – not quite the 6 hours of its humbler companion, but I’m determined to fly through it as fast as I can.

Hmm, these two are going to go so quickly I might need to start looking for another project …


And in other news … a vintage knitting book!

Well I feel utterly privileged to be saying these words … I’ve written a book. Can you guess what it’s about? Well it ain’t neuro-surgery that’s for sure. It’s my favourite subject in the world, the one I could talk about for hours (via a few ranty tangents) but thankfully in this instance I had to try to limit my rambling to 176 pages. Yes, it’s a book about vintage knitting patterns. Or more specifically, how to adapt them, plus a little bit about fashion history, yarn choices and techniques. And there’s more! The second half of the book takes a different approach and looks at how to take modern patterns and customise them with your own vintage elements.

The project came as a result of those excellent people at Rotovision last year … it’s been a while in the production line – the book itself only took a few months to write and knit but then there was a flurry of photography, editing and layout design, and I’m happy to say it will be coming out on Search Press in the UK  at the beginning of 2013 (you can pre-order on Amazon here) and on Interweave in the US in March 2013. (more…)

Past, Present, Future Tension – Remembering Knitting Wholesale

I had lunch with an old friend yesterday – we talked about our younger days as you do, but we managed to avoid murky nostalgia in favour of a clearer path, instead discussing ways to reflect on the past and incorporate it into the present. Having worked intensively on a vintage knit project for the last six months or so, I’ve been thinking along similar lines about knitting recently. I’ve completely immersed myself in the world of vintage patterns, which as habitats go is a pretty marvellous place to be, but along the way I confirmed a theory I’ve been batting around. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, here it is (in usual lengthy verbose form).

You might have noticed that I’m an avid collector of vintage patterns, yarn and related paraphernalia (there’s no fooling you). I’m a staunch fan of the importance of re-visiting and curating the past, studying the original historical artifacts, reminding ourselves of the outstanding elements and learning from them, but I have my reservations … if we’re slavish to our history we run the risk of leaving it exactly where we found it. The temptation to remember knitted designs wholesale means locking them in a time-capsule, forever intrinsically linked to the era which produced them.

Studio Joy

Gotta confess, things may have been a little quiet on the website – in fact I was reprimanded recently by one of my lovely customers for neglecting the site and spending too much time on Twitter (guilty as charged). I’m still here, still obsessed, but I’ve been working away on a rather exciting project in the background which I’ll be able to tell you about in the coming weeks.

I’ve also had an enormous clearout and downsized my studio which is giving me endless joy. I’m still underneath the rather fine Union Music Store but I’ve moved into a smaller, lighter section – on a good day I can hear excellent sounds wafting down from above, courtesy of Union’s in-store gigs. The purpose behind de-cluttering was, of course, to create a place for me to focus and … well, create – I’ve got a sink and a kettle, and a very cosy chair for those essential, ahem, “creative breaks”. I was feeling pretty pleased with the result and rather adult about the whole thing, until dear friend Sibilla gently pointed out that what I’ve actually created is an art student’s bedsit, complete with shop dummy. I might as well have gone the whole hog and adorned it with a stolen traffic cone.

Still, nice to see my yarn is finally colour-organised – I picked up a couple of great old shop cabinets for £3 from the local tip which was bargain of the century. I was going to go one step further and organise it into weights as well, but life being short and all …

In other news, I’m also considering moving the pattern shop over to Etsy – I built the ecommerce side of things on a free WordPress plug-in but it does come with more bugs than an insect house and I’m spending far too much time trying to fix them so I think that’ll be the next step.

Now over to Tweetdeck to tweet about this blogpost like a true addict …

Charting Fair Isle Patterns

Our love affair with the vintage fair isle look continues, and while knitting from the original instructions may seem straightforward, I sometimes get questions from concerned fair isle pattern buyers about whether the instructions are written or charted – this blogpost is intended to encourage those nervous souls to dive in and chart your own! It’s pretty common for vintage fair isle patterns to be written with no chart representation and being a lazy moo myself I always appreciate the appeal of charted patterns for ease and speed, but there’s also something rather satisfying about deciphering the written instructions, like revealing a secret code, so here are some tips for how to do it.

I’ll use this 1940s jumper with fair isle yoke that I’m working on at the moment as an example – as you can see you’ll obviously have a visual clue from the pattern picture so you’re not exactly working in the dark. It’s also fairly common for patterns from this era to suggest which colours you should use, although don’t feel you have to stick to their suggestions. This particular pattern suggests natural, black, blue and red which I’ve decided to stick to. (more…)

1949 Vogue Blouse

Well hang out the bunting and slice the cake, it’s a Skiff blogpost … just catching up with some pictures from finished projects and thought I’d share this one. I know what you’re thinking – I’m looking pretty pleased with myself right? In my defence I earned that smug look … this blouse caused me a fair amount of grief as I was suffering from knitter’s elbow throughout the knitwork. This sounds like a ridiculously mild complaint in the bigger scheme of things (and it is), but is a common knitter’s problem along the lines of tennis elbow (I’ve never been near a racket in my life). I now wear a bizarre strap thingy on my arm when I knit and can be regularly seen doing strange arm exercises to prevent a comeback.

The classic combination of 2-ply and 3.25mm needles was taken from Vogue Knitting No.35 (1949) and knitted up to a tension of 14 rows to the inch in a tiny moss-stitch … let’s just say it’s not the quickest thing I’ve ever knitted (although it still beats my 14-year-long pimped Vogue shirt), but it’s here in the world and I’m making the most of it.

My friend Sibilla took the picture round the back of a local ancient church where we then proceeded to have a crafty cig and a couple of miniatures before the vicar caught us.

Smug? Damn right.

Another Lesson Learned …

I’ve been knitting from vintage patterns for a few years now, but I never stop learning. Case in point is this wonderful pattern for a Sports Jumper with fabric trim from a 1935 edition of The Needlewoman.

In theory it looks pretty straightforward – the bottom half is knitted from left to right in a horizontal ridge (knit row, purl row, purl row, knit row), the back and front yokes are knitted vertically with increases on the front yokes to fit around the, fake (as I thought) pockets. I always do an initial sketch based on the measurements, tension and instructions from the original pattern, and from that I re-size it if necessary and create a new sketch … I followed my usual procedure in this case, but just couldn’t get my head around the top front yokes: the instructions show that a 3″ stretch on one side of both pieces is knitted in stocking stitch and I couldn’t work out from the picture where that should fit.

Writing it out now, it seems so obvious but I spent ages agonising over it, and was on the verge of writing this off as a pattern mistake and over-ruling it, creating my own version. Then I remembered one of my own rules – never forget to THOROUGHLY comb the ‘make-up’ instructions. I’d made the fatal mistake of assuming I’d find out all I needed to know about the anatomy of this jumper just by looking at the picture which meant I just quickly gone over the most vital part of how to actually put it together. Are you one step ahead of me? Yes my friends, the pockets weren’t fake, the stocking stitch edges in the top yokes were the pocket backs.

I’m feeling pretty stupid now I’m writing this as it seems so obvious, but it stands as a valuable lesson to other vintage knitters … don’t get complacent and make assumptions about the designs you’re knitting from, vintage patterns constantly amaze me with their little details and surprises. Read the pattern once, then turn down the music/TV/dog and re-read it without any distractions, make sure you’ve got a complete understanding of how the garment is put together.

Here’s another tip for free: don’t try and work it out at 9 o’clock at night, half a bottle of wine down, with Queens of the Stone Age shouting at you in the background (I mean on the iPod, they weren’t actually in the kitchen arguing with me). I’m writing this in the morning with a bit of Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle playing quietly and a clear head, and it seems blatantly and embarrassingly obvious now (heh, sheepish sigh).

Vintage Hat Love

As I uploaded a P&B Cap & Bolero pattern yesterday I had a nagging feeling I’d seen it before somewhere – then I remembered that I’d knitted the cap from it a couple of years ago.

Can’t remember what yarn I knitted it with (stupidly didn’t record it on Ravelry), but I think it was a straightforward angora, and used about 75g. It was pretty quick to knit too, although those bobbles can be a bit fiddly. Haven’t aired it in public yet – you need the right hairstyle for this and I haven’t got round to perfecting the whole look.

The bolero’s rather lovely too – fancy a go? You can buy the pattern here

Pattern Sales

Unfortunately I haven't been able to spend so much time on pattern sales recently and the site has suffered as a result, so sadly I've decided not to continue with selling vintage knitting patterns. read more ...

About Me

I've been knitting and crocheting since the age of seven, taught by my mum and nans who instilled in me a love of the patterns they knitted from originally. Over the years I developed a style of my own, adapting these wonderful designs for a modern fit and yarn choice. read more ...

Vintage Tips

If you're new to the vintage knitting pattern game, have a look at these useful tips first - they'll help you decide which wool to use and if the pattern needs adapting ...

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