The delight of binding off a knitted project, looking at it with loving eyes…and realizing there is a glaring mistake because you “didn’t trust the pattern.” Oops. Thank goodness this was easily fixable with some frogging, or undoing stitches. This project was interesting for me, and if you have read previous posts (1, 2, 3), then you know that I began this mohair stole for reasons historical and personal.
Last year, I began to shape my thoughts on potential research projects for this spring. I am fascinated by the history of consumer culture, business, and material culture, and I wanted to include knitting, a passion of mine. Along the way, I learned that knit kits (or Knitter’s Paks, as the Bernat company called them) were sold in the late 1950s and early 1960s on the tail end of a hobby craze in the United States. In general, these kits were introduced to be inclusive: don’t have the tools or refined skills to create something on your own? Here is a kit with all materials included! Though what I’ve read about focuses on kits for model airplanes and similar items, I think a close interpretation can be made with knitting.
The users of kits tended to be looked down upon because they were not as creative as their non-kit using peers. I pondered in my original post about this project if the “come hither” look of the model was deliberate to help sell the item. Now, I really do believe that it was used to attract consumers to the project. Homemade is sexy!
Early on, I speculated about the skill level of knitters who approached this project. Do I think they were master knitters, capable of reading lace charts? No, probably not. Were they at least familiar enough with needles to know which direction was “up”? I’m fairly certain they were. Though, this was the era of mass consumption, the consumers’ republic was thriving, and homemade, knitted garments were not what they once were in they eyes of Americans who were distracted by mass produced items.
So this leaves me with a few questions: how were these items really interpreted by those who made them? I don’t have demographics to understand which consumers were purchasing these kits, and even then, it’s hard to say if they 1. completed them at all or 2. wore them. I’d be curious to see the breakdown between urban/rural knit-kit-purchasers. Thankfully, there is never a shortage of texts to navigate some of these questions.
Oh. And for anyone curious about my mistake in the pattern, here’s that story. As I was finishing the front closure for this stole, I faced a moment of great doubt and decided to knit longer than the three inches described in the pattern before binding off completely. When I held the stole up to myself initially, it hardly closed, and I assumed that adding length to the closure would solve the problem. Unfortunately, aside from looking, well, homemade, the added length draped the garment in a frumpy, unflattering way. I used scissors to cut the yarn and unraveled rows to the written length. While it is snug, it does close, so I am happy enough.
Of course, with my uncertainty about the size, I have more questions: did I knit it correctly? Can I find Bernat at fault? (See my second post!) Or were these kits “one size fits all”? How much did that save for manufacturers whey they assembled the materials for garment kits? Why not include finished measurements? Etc, etc.
The depth that history can travel with material culture is one of the reasons that I am drawn to the field. I hope that you enjoyed this project with me. I’m sure to be back with another soon.