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Guest Blogger: Kristen Stoltzfus

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I recently had the opportunity to interview Kristen Stoltzfus in Talking Crochet eNewsletter and because she is such an interesting person and so passionate about vintage crochet patterns, I invited her to be my guest. Please enjoy what Kristen has to say about the "Swing Era;" her love for vintage style in her crochet designs shines through!

Swing Era Crochet: Using Vintage Patterns as Inspiration for Today
by Kristen Stoltzfus

Before the modern resurrection of crochet as a fine-tuned make-it-yourself fashion element, crochet was often thought of as either a Victorian needlecraft, with fine thread and scanty instructions, or associated with the hippie movement and splashy granny squares in coarse, fuzzy yarn.

Actually, crochet enjoyed a long period of usefulness in the eras between the early 1900s and the 1980s. Especially popular during the 1940s when “make do or do without” was the order of the day, creative women everywhere turned their focus away from traditional outer garments like mittens and capes, or household accessories like doilies, to crochet their own stylish accessories and wardrobes. There are many beautiful vintage crochet patterns for breathtaking tailored skirts, jackets, and blouses from that era still available to the adventurous or historically motivated stitcher. The earlier patterns were often based on sewing patterns, and the scanty instructions were complicated relying on the seamstress’ when turning to fiber instead of cloth.

Crocheted Purse and Hat, 1940s
 Standards were developed and less generalization was used by the 1940s; but the patterns still did not spell out every step needed. For example, “A Flattering Blouse” was only written for sizes 34-36 in size 10 thread. This was common and anyone who wanted a larger or smaller size would have to be creative and work from the written pattern. While the terms are still the same, the instructions were written so vaguely in some of the rows that even an experienced stitcher today would have to rely on the photo or intuition. A short page of tiny print includes shoulder shaping, arm shaping, jabot and collar and belt instructions. How talented the stitchers from this era must have been to be able to crochet a stylish, flattering blouse with only one grainy photo and such unspecific instructions!

Exquisite detailing was a source of pride in the 1940s
At that time, yarns were different too. Stitchers of that era did not have the beautiful, endless range of washable colors and kinds of yarn we can draw from today but used mostly natural fibers like silk, cotton, and wool. The colors were limited, often not color fast, and did not age well. Thread was much more commonly used by the proficient crocheters. Boucles and novelty yarns were available even then; and were used to create texture and interest in garments with lots of fabric such as a skirt or coat. Beading or sewing embellishments were popular, particularly for the ladies' hats and purses. Sometimes, the finishing of a project would take longer than the actual stitching!

Despite these handicaps, patterns from this era include an amazing variety of feminine styles that we can still draw on for inspiration today when crocheting or designing. Even the slim, conservative outline of a 1940s skirt and jacket might have the feminine touch of fancy closures, a lace jabot, contrasting pointed cuffs and collar. The basics of expressing individuality while keeping within the practical fashion demands of that era still apply even in today's fashion world.

Slim Line Skirt and Jacket from the 1940s
There are many patterns available from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. For anyone who wants to stitch their own back-in-time garment or accessory, I have included a few tips:

1.   Use colors they would have used – No neon shades, variegate or modern self-striping yarn! Military styles were big, so olive drab, khaki, dark blue and white would have been popular, as well as neutrals and muted bright shades.
2.   Be prepared for endless rounds of single crochet. Vintage patterns often call for a fabric stitched in single crochet to be used as a canvas for the finishing touch that suddenly made it a period piece.
3.   Don't try to skimp the finishing instructions. If stiffening is called for, it won't look right without If slippers need a certain brand of innersoles or a purse needs a bottom insert, find something that is comparable or make your own.
4.  Try to match the fiber content of the yarn called for. Using a cheap acrylic yarn to replace a luxurios wool will not turn out an identical project. Likewise cotton has more mold-ability in a crochet fabric, rather than bamboo, for example, so a substitution may not turn out the way you want.
5.   Keep in mind that gauges were sketchy. Many patterns had no gauges at all! In such cases, try to guess the tightness or looseness desired from the photo, and if it is a garment, do lots of fitting or matching against a similar garment approximately the same size. Keep in mind that a vintage size Medium, for example, will be a little smaller than a modern garment marked size M.
6.   Try patterns that do not call for extras that are long-gone such as a specific hat form.
7.    If you are a beginner and want to try vintage patterns, learn the basics first—not only stitches, but construction techniques as well. It can be frustrating to follow a pattern with few details if you are not comfortable unless every step is spelled out.

Pearl Harbor Pillbox by Kristen Stoltzfus
Designed for Sense & Sensibility this hat pattern uses a real vintage veil to give it the period correct flair.
I love and wear vintage and vintage-style clothing, so  crochet patterns from that era are always interesting to me. I enjoy designing costume accessories, and the challenge for me when using  vintage patterns comes with the finishing. For this situation, it is helpful to have a hands-on knowledge of styles from the era in which you are crocheting. Distant, one-side-only photos of either the back or front assembly only or embellishment becomes pure guesswork!
Swing-Time Tilt Hat by Kristen Stoltzfus 

The pattern was inspired by real vintage hats and photos from the 1940s
There is no need to limit vintage inspiration to actual dated patterns as there is so much we can learn from pattern photos from the past for our own creations. The recent retro movement in fashion is a throwback to these timeless styles. Lace elements, Peter Pan collars, polka dots – even color combinations like robin's egg blue and rose-red, or blue and green together, are a turn away from the often shapeless, flowing, monochromatic fashion of recent years, toward embracing the vibrancy and creativity of vintage clothing, energizing our lives and our hooks.

There is certainly a time and place to make weekend projects, using bulky yarn and simple patterns, but it can be so special to take the time to add the embellishments, do the details, and create an heirloom by hand.



Jude said…
I have a few patterns from the 1940's are you are so right about the details being important. Your tips on recreating these wonderful items are excellent. Thank you!
threadwinder said…
I enjoyed reading about historic crochet patterns with emphasis on 1940s patterns with helpful hints on recreating them today. Where can we find other historically inspired designs Kristen has created? ---Karen C.K. Ballard
Here's a link to Kristen Stoltzfus' blog where she sells her patterns:

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