The Call of the Vintage Sweaters

I want to knit.

I never….*ever*… thought I would say that, but it’s true.

This came about mostly from receiving my Wearing History “Smooth Sailing” trousers last December, and wanting to wear them with some awesome vintage style sweaters (it being cold).

But I didn’t have any. A fruitless shopping excursion did not result in any either. I tried to alter some sweaters I already had, with some minor sortof-success, but in comparison to something like this…


…my feeble sweater re-fashions just weren’t hitting the mark.

So what’s a girl to do? Learn to knit, of course!

I ordered Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook, which came by Amazon slow-boat, and it arrived a few days ago. I acquired knitting needles and yarn and all the accessories yesterday. Then I went for it.

**grabby hands**

And I learned very quickly…knitting is hard.

Knitting is HARD.

I know it’ll get easier as I get more experienced. By the end of my three hours worth of knitting last night, I had a better rhythm, more even stitches, and a whopping 4 inches of scarf done, but my hands hurt, and I felt like I spent a lot of time getting nowhere.

But then I have to remember my first sewing projects, and how bad they were, but I just kept making stuff until eventually I was proficient (I won’t say good, because I still possess the skill to utterly destroy an “easy” Simplicity pattern).

…the call of the vintage sweaters is strong, though. I want to make this…


…and this…


…and these. All of them. …


So I will keep practicing my knitting, and eventually I will figure out how to make sweaters. I might be 50 years old when that happens, though!


  • Anonymous

    February 2, 2015 at 11:04 PM

    You're right, it will get easier as you do more. I find crochet easier, but now I knit loads and have even done cables and stranded colourwork! And I only started a little over a year ago 🙂 (Although I would be wary of taking on a whole sweater because I get bored of making the same thing for too long 🙂 I tend to make too many hats…) I did knit a Victorian vest last year. Some of those vintage patterns are really cute. Just be aware that genuine vintage pattern assume more knowledge than modern ones. There are places you can get modern versions of vintage patterns which are the same pattern but with more instructions. But you can do it if you want it enough 🙂 and there is loads of advice out there. I'd highly recommend Ravelry if you haven't found it already, there are groups on there for vintage knitting where you can get advice too. for example. Happy knitting 🙂

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 3, 2015 at 8:27 AM

      Ah, good tip! There is a book with a bunch of vintage style patterns in it, which sounds like I should try out before I attempt a true vintage pattern. Thanks!

  • Angie

    February 2, 2015 at 11:12 PM

    I'm struggling with exactly the same thing right now… I'm starting with a pair of seamed stockings, but I NEED the vintage sweaters. (Have you seen Sweater Girls by Madeline Weston, Rita Taylor?)

  • bluefalling

    February 2, 2015 at 11:26 PM

    Tried as I might I never mastered knitting. Crochet was easier, but knitting required a right hand left hand coordination that I simply couldn't master. And I'd get real bored, though I can work on a dress for much longer and still find it fascinating. I gave up after trying for a year or two.

    Good on you for trying! It is not an easy skill to pick up.

    • Tegan

      February 3, 2015 at 3:59 PM

      It is easier but different. The ONLY thing that is cross-skill is that you know have an idea of what it feels like to hold tension on yarn. And if you pick up crochet, hold the hook like a wizarding wand — aka parallel to your arm as an extention of you. If you find someone who tries to show you the "correct" way is like a pencil, run. That person wants to give you carpal tunnel. There was a movement in the Victorian era for ladies to do things gracefully and assume that it was the "natural" way. They thought a girls hand looked prettier if she held a crochet hook like a pencil, completely ignoring the way the body works.

    • Anonymous

      February 4, 2015 at 10:47 PM

      Tunisian crochet is a good way to cross from one skill to the other. I started with crochet, then tried Tunisian, which feels weird to a crocheter because there are stitches all along your hook! But it helped when I started knitting. Going the other way round, the weird thing would be taking all the stitches off the needle 🙂 But it is a kind of hybrid and actually easier than either. It used to be called idiot's knitting. If I were asked whether a beginner should learn crochet first or knitting, I would say Tunisian!

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 3, 2015 at 8:30 AM

      It's amazing how quickly you go from not appreciating hand-knit items at all to being completely blown away by the complexity and patience it takes to knit even just 2 inches!

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 3, 2015 at 8:31 AM

      Lucky me, Jimmy Beans Wool is in my home town and offers free knitting classes. I am SO there. The owner is an incredible business woman too. I can't think of anything better than knitting and talking business!

  • Lauriana

    February 3, 2015 at 7:49 AM

    I tried knitting for similar reasons a few years ago. I managed to produce two wearable garments and a scarf and a hat but all from modern patterns (which are often easier to follow for a newbie knitter) but I lost courage because progress was SO slow. And all those lovely vintage sweaters use insanely small needles so one of them would take me forever to make. I bought a (vintage) knitting machine two years ago and although that took a lot of figuring out, I'm doing much better with it.

  • Unknown

    February 3, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    Hello, not sure if you are aware but there have been a number of vintage style sweatshirt/jumper sewing patterns released recently. You could try blueginger doll patterns or Jennifer Lauren vintage or muse patterns for a 'shortcut' whilst honing your knitting skills

  • AuntieNan

    February 3, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    Wow, that cruising coat is to die for! Yes, getting to a shop in your area where little old ladies (and ai am one now!) sit and knit and can guide you through the intricacies of learning and trying new things!! Although I'm still a learner, alas. I took it up to have something to do besides eat in front of junk TV. Best, Nancy N

  • Unknown

    February 3, 2015 at 12:56 PM

    Don't be disheartened, Lauren. My mum taught me to knit when I was tiny, but like sewing, sometimes you have to put it down for a while. And knitting for too long, even if you're used to it, does make your hands hurt. Get yourself over to a knitting shop, the encouragement you'll receive and the skills you'll learn are well worthwhile. (BTW, I have always found knitting scarves to be a chore, even now. Knitting garters is a great beginning for historic knitting, and much quicker at producing results.) PS – Join Ravelry! Lots of vintage and vintage inspired patterns, many free, and several Historical Knitting forums!

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 6, 2015 at 11:28 PM

      Just joined Ravelry and already have a slew of projects I want to try. I don't know how to read a knitting pattern yet, though! I like learning, and I think garters would be a great first historic project – quick and useful

  • The Merry Thimble

    February 3, 2015 at 1:31 PM

    When you accomplish knitting to your arsenal, you will eventually need Vintage Design Workshop by Geraldine Warner. It talks all about vintage knitting patterns, how to use them, and how to alter them for a modern size. It even talks about how to take modern patterns and vintage-fy them if your too lazy (like I am) trying to do all the calculations to size up or change the gauge for vintage patterns.

  • Tegan

    February 3, 2015 at 3:55 PM

    Pay attention to how you hold your needles. What angle is your wrist at? How tightly are you gripping? It is easy to give yourself an injury or worsen an old injury via handcraft.

    And the trick to completing projects is: take it everywhere. Do it on the bus. On the train. In line at the store. While waiting for the doctor. Everywhere.

    Also, being into vintage sweaters is easier for you — as they are all knitted flat and then seamed up. So the items that you'll be knitting will look like pattern pieces. Don't fall prey to circular needles. You'll not realize until too late where you fucked up.

    • Anonymous

      February 4, 2015 at 2:07 AM

      I knit on the bus, at the dentist's office and at the Doctor's office today! I had to have a couple of small fillings at the dentist this morning so had a little bit of freezing. I was left to myself for a few minutes while they were waiting for the freezing to set in, so I did a couple of rows of knitting (after having worked on it in the waiting room too). When the dentist came in he exclaimed it was the first time he'd found someone knitting in the chair, usually people are playing with their phones. He and the dental assistant got a real kick out of it, lol.

  • Tegan

    February 3, 2015 at 4:01 PM

    Ok I've left a zillion comments, mostly having to do with wrists because I have musicians wrists aka tendonitis. So please be careful of your hands! I worry about everyone who just starts out knitting or crocheting. >.>

  • Jeni B

    February 3, 2015 at 5:59 PM

    I'm glad you're adding knitting to your arsenal, I took up costume because it gave me the chance to combine all my other hobbies, including knitting and crochet which I learned as a little girl. It really opens up the possibilities in terms of accessorising your costumes from various eras. Think of the possibilities! But yes, start small – I always get bored if the garment is too big for my attention span! I like crochet for carrying around, those needles get a bit cumbersome, but a hook is much more portable.
    Good luck!

  • Gillian

    February 3, 2015 at 6:55 PM

    I would wear that Cruising Coat every day. Seriously.

    I'm a proud 'bad knitter'. Sometimes I get the bug and I make something with no less than 50 mistakes, after spending too much money on supplies, and taking 3 years to finish it. It's a talent. Good luck!

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 6, 2015 at 11:33 PM

      We can be bad knitters together. I'm a bad embroiderer too, but I kindof like the "home made" look of my crappy embroidery. Hopefully I'll feel the same about my knitting, lol

  • Anonymous

    February 3, 2015 at 10:03 PM

    I've been knitting for several years now, but still don't feel comfortable knitting anything more complicated than a hat! Once you get the hang of it though, knitting is so wonderfully relaxing. If I've had a difficult day, I turn on a Poirot, knit a few rows, and I'm right as rain again 🙂 Good luck!


  • Gae, in Callala Bay

    February 3, 2015 at 10:28 PM

    Sore hands and arms – stop for a few moments every half hour or so, and wriggle and shake and stretch the kinks out.
    Knitting is my 'base' craft – cannot remember learning it is so long ago. Mother and aunt both very talented knitters – my father had several of those 1940's Fair Isle vests, and he finally ran out of hand knitted socks (knee highs!) about 20 years after my mother died.

  • KristenG

    February 3, 2015 at 11:55 PM

    I tried knitting and it didn't go well! Maybe you can try crochet? It's easy and projects work up pretty fast. And I find it easier to count crochet stitches than in knitting. Crochet is preference, but I still want to conquer knitting!
    I hope you create the sweaters you want. Good luck!

  • Anonymous

    February 4, 2015 at 1:58 AM

    My 2014 new year's "resolution" was to become a knitter. I did, and now I'm totally addicted! My reason for starting was similar-ish to your's. I wanted lots of cute little cardigans. Not to wear over trousers, but over all the full-skirted dresses I tend to favour. Over the past year I knit 2 scarves, 3 hats, 1 1/2 sets of fingerless mitts (one mitt to go for a fall pair that didn't get done this past fall), a capelet (that I can't tell you how much I love!), a hood to wear under winter coats (that I've worn nearly every time I've gone out this winter) and 4 cardigans. I started super simple with a scarf and then a very blobby hat. They weren't anything special, other than being pretty yarn, but I'd made them and was so proud of myself. It was a really wonderful feeling learning something new to do with my hands. That hasn't happened in some time, lol.

    I didn't use a book to learn, I'm too visual for that. I used youtube video tutorials instead. I'm sure nothing quite beats gets one-on-one help in-person from experienced knitters, but perhaps if you find yourself faced with a new technique and can't wait for when you'll visit the shop again you might find videos on youtube helpful. I've never had a problem findin a tutorial for any technique I wanted to see demonstrated.

    I have the Sweater Girls book, and am really looking forward to trying those patterns, I like so many of them. But……that Cruising Coat is now calling my name!

  • Kem

    February 4, 2015 at 4:09 AM

    A year ago my sister gave me a class on Craftsy to learn to knit. I picked it up pretty quick, but had the same hand soreness and realized it was due to too tight tension on the yard, I guess I had it in a death grip! As I learned how to hold the needles better and to control the tension, my hands don't get sore. It just takes practice, and before you know it you will be knitting an awesome sweater. I didn't know I wanted to knit vintage style sweaters, but since you mentioned it and provided eye candy, I am going to look over at Ravelry to see if they have anything similar. 😉

  • Luvin' Ewe

    February 4, 2015 at 2:56 PM

    Most of the sweaters you want to make were not hand knit! Many of them can easily be made on a knitting machine!

    Now good quality knitting machines are expensive, but depending on how you value your time, investing in one might be well worth it. If you really want to do the fancy work and color work, do your research and invest in something higher end than an Ultimate Sweater Machine

    Good luck
    I think you'll really enjoy machine knitting

  • La belle inconnue

    February 4, 2015 at 4:19 PM

    Don't give up! It's hard to begin with but really worth it in the end because there are so many beautiful vintage patterns out there. I learnt from my Mum when I was little and she must have had the patience of a saint because I'm sure she spent more time correcting my mistakes and picking up the stitches I had dropped than I did actually knitting. When I got more confident though I moved on to knitting baby clothes – it meant I could try out new stitches and patterns but still finish projects quite quickly. I never actually attemped an adult-sized jumper until years later. Now its having the time that's the problem because it's definitely not the quickest way of making a new garment even when you're well practised. But it can be very relaxing and the end result is always worth it. Good luck with your projects.

  • Black Tulip

    February 8, 2015 at 1:17 AM

    I'll be watching your progress with interest, as I'm planning to take up knitting too. I'm can never find jumpers or cardigans which actually fit me – hardly surprising as I have to shorten the bodice by 1-2" whenever I make a dress from a commercial pattern. Unfortunately all of the things I want to make so far are definitely not beginners' patterns!

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