Because they are in irreplaceable source of knowledge.
I swatched out several yarns that I had here in stash, trying out possibilities for my 1941 vest. Everything ranging from some navy/maroon ragg style Bartlett worsted (circa 1998) to a recent find from Webs – a tweedy garnet. The Bartlett is really an Aran or light bulky. I achieved gauge, but the sample stood up like cardboard. The Webs 2/4 Highland Tweed purports to be Aran to worsted in gauge (4.5 to 5 spi) but it knit up like a DK. Again I achieved gauge, but the sample looked meshy and sparse. I suspect that it would have bloomed a bit after I washed it, but in an added complication, TRM mentioned that he liked the color but hated the tweedy flecks. So it was off to my local yarn shop on a fishing expedition.
I went to Wild & Woolly in Lexington, MA – my knitting home-away-from-home. Now Jackie the owner is a knitter with decades more knitting experience than I have. She gave me an important bit of advice. When looking over patterns in these older booklets, don’t go by the gauge any yardage deductions based on just one project. Look at all the projects in the book that call for the same yarn. You’ll probably notice a discrepancy among them. So we did. A couple of the other patterns look closer to true worsted gauge than the light worsted/DK thoughts I had when I walked into the shop. To top it off she also remembers the Minerva (and later Columbia-Minerva) yarn specified. She steered me to Cascade 220 – which is slightly denser and less lofty than the Minerva but of similar gauge. The more airy nature of the Minerva is what threw me off, providing the extra yardage and making the stuff seem like a DK . So I bought some Cascade in a regal heathered burgundy and took it home.
I swatched it up and it was perfect. Spot on for gauge, with a soft hand and drape. So offering up thanks for the entire Wild & Woolly family I set to work on my vest project.
I measured the target recipient, plus one of his favorite store-bought vests that fits well. Then we sat down together and looked at the original pattern, pointing out fit and finish items that made it especially appealing, and other things that we might want to forgo. For example, TRM likes the depth of the V-neck, and the proportions of the waist and armhole/neckline ribbing, but is less enamored of the short length, tailored at the time to compliment pants worn with the higher, more formal waistline of the 1940s.
Then I looked at the pattern. I reproduce it here in its entirety, under fair use because I am using it to illustrate how to go about both reading an unusually formatted historical pattern, and how to go about redacting it for modern use.
You’ll notice that the write-up is much shorter than a modern pattern. There’s only one size given, plus a schematic with some notations on it and cursory working notes.
This pattern if translated straight would rely heavily on the schematic. The boxes represent a 1-inch square grid. Instructions on how to interpret notes like B-8 an D-1-7 are elsewhere in the pattern leaflet. Here’s what I start with – my interpretation of the original directions, plus a bit of editorializing.
“Eckhart” – Man’s 1941 Garter Stitch Vest from Minerva Hand Knits for Men in the Service, Vol. 62, size 30
Gauge in garter stitch: 4.5 st = 1 inch, 10 rows (5 garter ridges) = 1 inch
Back: Cast on 88 stitches. Work 3″ in K2,P2 rib. Then switch to garter stitch. Work even until piece measures 13 inches from bottom edge. Bind off 8 at the beginning of the next two rows. Then decrease one stitch at the right and left edge of the work every four rows. Do this edge reduction seven times total. At the end of the armhole decreases you will have 58 stitches. Work these 58 stitches even in garter stitch until the piece measures 11 inches from the under-arm bind off row and you end ready to work a right side row. Form shoulders by binding off four stitches at the beginning of the next four rows, then bind off three stitches at the beginning of the next six rows. Bind off remaining 24 stitches to form center back neck.
Front: Work as for back EXCEPT place a marker between stitch #44 and 45. On a right-side row when work measures approximately 15.5 inches from the bottom edge, knit to two stitches before the marker, K2tog. Then attaching a second ball of yarn, and starting with a SSK, work the rest of the row. Note that this happens BEFORE you finish making the underarm decreases, so watch for it.
You now have each side of the top front on either side of the V opening being completed from its own ball of yarn. From this point on you’ll be making paired decreases on either side of the opening on some right side rows, using a K2tog when indicated on the side that ends at the center, and a SSK on the side that begins at the center. Work three of these decrease pairs spaced approximately 1/2 inch apart (you’ll probably be doing the decreases every 4 rows). Then work seven of these decrease pairs spaced 1 inch apart (probably every 10th row). You will finish these neckline-defining decreases at about the same point where you need to commence the shoulder decreases. Finish the shoulders as directed for the back.
Finishing: Seam shoulders together. Starting at a shoulder seam, pick up 132 stitches around the neckline, taking care to space them evenly, and work in K2, P2 ribbing. Count off the stitches to make sure that the center two that will be in the point of the V end up as a K2 pair, and place a marker between them. Work the mitered join at the center front point of the V-neck by knitting the last two stitches just before the marker, and working a SSK immediately after the marker – do this EVERY OTHER row until the ribbing measures 3/4 of an inch deep. Bind off. Sew side seams. Pick up 144 stitches around each armhole and work even in K2, P2 rib until ribbing measures 3/4 of an inch deep. Bind off and finish ends. If you wish, reinforce shoulder area with a strip of seam binding, sewn by hand to the inside of the sweater to cover the shoulder seams.
O.K. Clear as mud? Now for the kicker. I need to work a size 46, slightly longer, with a bit of a center back neck scoop out (he doesn’t like the straight across the back of the neck bind-off). Plus I want to tinker with the depth of the V. How I do that alchemy is next.