Since writing about The Complete Book of Progressive Knitting last summer, I’ve found out a tiny bit more about Ida Riley Duncan.
First, she was a VERY big name in knitting in the 1950s. Not only did she write Progressive Knitting, she also wrote at least three works, including a book on sewing and dressmaking/tailoring, a comprehensive overview of needlework in general, and today’s subject: Knit to Fit, New York: Liveright, 1963. (My local public library’s edition is the reissue from 1966; another expanded edition was put out in 1970). Ms. Duncan was a professor of home economics at Wayne State University in Michigan. She also ran a knitting design school in Detroit that offered both on-site and home study courses. Her school was a perennial advertiser in knitting magazines of the 1950s including Vogue Knitting.
Knit to Fit is pretty impressive. This book contains the entire home-study text component of Duncan’s "Progressive School of Knitting Design" course. It’s framed as a study course, with chapters that have challenges at the end of each one, and an answer section in the back that provides the solution to each challenge.
It’s aimed at both machine and hand knitters, and goes far deeper into the transformation of body dimensions into garment patterns than any other vintage book I’ve looked through so far. She’s especially strong on skirts and tailored tops of all types. Her treatment of garment proportions in addition to plain old fit should be required reading for all too many of the people designing for contemporary knitting mags.
Among the proportion and fit problems she addresses in specific are saggy, overwide necklines, bunching under the arms; bubble-butt distortion on knit skirts (albeit it under a far more genteel label); armhole gap-itis in sleeveless garments and vests; the mistake of addressing front bust measurement and back chest measurements as one circumference; badly mated full fashioned sleeve caps and armscyes; the mystery of dart shaping and placement; collars and lapels that won’t stay folded down; fitted waists that aren’t; and and pigeon-busted raglans. In fact, she appears to be one of the first to write up the percentage system for raglan design.
Other bits that are covered include knitting with ribbon, and how to tame a ribbon knit piece with extreme blocking; and how to run a knit shop and what to charge (or what one would have charged in 1963). She also provides typical measurements of various US women’s sizes circa 1963 – very valuable info for those who are looking to knit from patterns of that era. For example, a size 18 in 1963 was predicated on a bust measurement of 36 inches, while a size 12 had a 25 inch waist. Ease was then added to those figures. It’s interesting to note that from childrens’ size measurements she provides that they haven’t changed as much over the years. One obvious lack here – there is no guidance provided specific to men’s measurements or sweaters, although some man-tailored details like points at the bottom of buttoned weskit style vests are discussed.
Yes, this isn’t a modern knitting book with photos and shelf appeal. It’s black and white mostly text, with lots of line drawings and schematics. No, there aren’t patterns in this book. Instead it’s a comprehensive course on drafting out your own. Even though the styles it details are not current, enough of a designer’s treasure to rate "seek me out" status. I will be looking to add both it and Duncan’s Progressive Knitting to my own reference shelf, where both books will take their place next to Mary Thomas’.