Mohair Stole: Finished

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.

Knitting Pak, Bernat Brand

The “pak” as purchased

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.

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Complete!

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.

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No instructions were included for completing the buckle.

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.

Until then,
KR

Mohair Stole: Progress

My vintage mohair stole project is coming along. If you’d like to see previous posts, you can view them here and here.

Today I’ll share some reflections on this project from a historical perspective as well as a practical one. If you have read my earlier musings about this endeavor, then you know that I casted on this mohair stole with the intention to enter into the mindset of a knitting themed historical research project. I kept my idea vague because I knew it would change as I read and experimented more. A few weeks ago, my idea shifted from one that highlighted knitting kits and consumer culture to something a little different. I’m still working on it, but I’m excited to take this new direction for the spring.

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Knit with Two Skeins- “Mohair Double”

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Knitting Needle and Mohair Yarn

My new approach was partly inspired by my discovery of a collection of recent articles that dissect the practice of knitting in the twentieth century. They were enlightening to read, and encouraged me to consider moving my time frame from the 1950s and 1960s to the 1920s and 1930s. Instead of asking about consumer culture, I’m beginning to frame questions about labor inside and outside of the home. I imagine I will still address questions related to marketing and advertising, but they will likely be sub-themes in the larger project.

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Pattern: Right and Wrong Side Stockinette

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Fuzzy Mohair

From a practical point of view, this project is supposedly nearing completion. As the saying goes, “trust the pattern,” though I’m a little skeptical that this much fabric is supposed to be a stole for an adult! I still have four skeins that haven’t been used yet, so I’m wondering if I should work until they are gone or if I should bind off when I finish the written repeats and have faith that it will block to the appropriate size. Any knitters have advice? There is irony that I attempted a relatively easy project to understand how women may have handled it in the past, and I may have managed to make a mistake.

The stole is becoming rather heavy, so it is becoming challenging to keep up my usual knitting speed with this one. In terms of the yarn itself, it is really dreamy to knit. I’ve worked with mohair before and found that it tangled easily; this blend of mohair, nylon, and wool makes for a smoother process, in my opinion.

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Progress so Far

On a final note, I’m thinking about the aesthetic design of this stole and what it might tell us about culture in the mid-twentieth century. The variation in the surface pattern may have been utilized by designers to encourage women to play with their knitting skills or to boost their confidence that they too could knit glamorous items (and then, perhaps, return to the store to purchase more kits). At the same time, I wonder how much thought designers gave to making the handmade stole look fancy. To look high class, to look elegant. To smooth over the fact that it wasn’t purchased at a department store like Wanamaker’s, but made at home. These ideas are merely speculation and I don’t have actual answers yet, but I hope to find out more as I move forward with this concept.

Until next time,

KR

Mohair Stole: Casting On

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Lovely mohair blend

 

The pattern for this stole is relatively easy, and its simplicity is something that I appreciate. The instructions for this project equate about two paragraphs and are written in clear enough language that beginner knitters would be able to decipher it (perhaps, though, with some trial and error). I believe that knitters who purchased this kit were probably familiar with knitting to a certain degree, but not necessarily skilled beyond the basics. There aren’t cables or bind-offs that are difficult to complete, just alternating rows of knits and purls. However, I do think that it would be more clear for knitters if the directions for rows 1-11 were listed in numerical order rather than being grouped by knit or purl. I also think that the instruction to use “Mohairspun double” is not as obvious as saying “knit with two skeins.” Getting those registered trademarks incorporated into the pattern is important, yes?

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Action shot!

I’m using size 10 vintage needles that I inherited from a family member. They’re 10″ needles and, in retrospect, I think a 14″ pair would have been a better choice. The use of two skeins at once crowds the smaller set more than I like. I considered switching to a different pair, but I think I will continue to use the shorter pair to experiment with how it feels to use tools that don’t match the project. I need to confirm these musings as I complete my research, but I suspect there is no guarantee that knitters  would have always had access to the correct needle length or size for their projects. Nonetheless, I have a feeling that this kit was positioned in the store adjacent to products that contributed to its completion: needles (Bernat Aero needles), measuring tapes, and more.

 

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One knit row, one purl row

Similarly, I find it interesting that the manufacturer, Bernat, included two disclaimers in the packaging. The first states that enough yarn is in the package, “if the directions are followed.” A second disclaimer reads that Bernat “cannot be responsible for variance of individual knitters, human errors, or typographical mistakes.” For me, it is reminiscent of companies that informed consumers that products didn’t last long not because of poor quality materials, but because the consumer neglected to care for their purchases. (See Susan Smulyan’s Popular Ideologies: Mass Culture at Mid-Century for an in-depth analysis of how DuPont used that spin on advertising for women’s nylon stockings in the 1940s).

 

I think this project will be completed fairly quickly and I’m eager to see the results.  Will follow directions and end with enough yarn? Do my knitting skills vary from what is expected of this project? Will I find fault in Bernat’s instructions?  Stay tuned….KR