|Grandma H's needle holder - an reused girdle box|
|A Stitch In Time by Susan Crawford & Jane Waller|
Like many other knitters I adore vintage fashion. Past blog posts have reviewed Susan Crawford's A Stitch In Time books reclaiming vintage patterns, the book Vintage Knit, and Liza Hollinghurt's Vintage Knitting. I adore the style and glamour of the 1940s and 1950s and enjoy adding that look into my wardrobe. What can often be forgotten, however, is that for many women that era wasn't particularly stylish or glamorous at all. It was a time of war and rationing, when women stained their legs with tea because they couldn't buy nylons and the government prescribed clothing styles so as not to use excess material. In the first few years of the 1940s no-one knew the British would win World War 2. All they did know was that many civilians had lost their lives during bomb raids at home, and that of the millions of able-bodied men who had gone to fight, some hadn't come back.
|Eilis (right) wearing a fetching knitted jumper in Brooklyn|
It's worn a lot in the film in Ireland then in Brooklyn when Eilis arrives in New York. That's because she hasn't got many other clothes. When she has been working for a while Eilis' clothes change to New York ready-made outfits with colour and an in-your-face-style. She goes from wearing garments of austerity to those of modernity and possibility. In a piece by Sharon Clott Klanter for In Style magazine, the costume designer for the film, Odile Dicks-Mireaux, talks about her choice of cardigans for Eilis:
"She would have had quite a few cardigans, hand-knitted from Ireland. Then she would have some that she acquired in America that were slightly more stretchy and machine-knit, which wasn't as much available in Ireland. I wanted to show that there were just different things in America that you could buy."My mum remembers her childhood with great fondness, but she also can recollect the joy and advancement she felt as an young adult when she was able to afford to buy a jumper rather than have to knit one. I own Cath Kidston 1950s-print napkins and have a 1950s-style sofa. Mum sees them as kitsch - why hark back to things her mother had, with all their austerity connotations, when you can look to the new?
|Image courtesy of keepcalmandcarryon.com|
In his new book, The Ministry of Nostalgia, Owen Hatherley sees the rise of the 'make do and mend' and 'keep calm and carry on' culture as the political right's attempt to placate any reaction to enforced welfare cuts and austerity. It harks back to the romanticised Blitz spirit of us all being in it together when in fact the current cuts are hitting the poor and disadvantaged hardest. The 1940s and 1950s were actually a time, he argues, that socialist policies were implemented to improve the ordinary person's working lot: for example the creation of the NHS and the welfare state, and a rapid increase in council housing to rid the country of bombed-out squalor, but those are not things we think of when we wear our hair in a victory roll and sew a Cath Kidston cushion cover.
The book has opened my eyes to the vintage industry. I'll continue enjoying my hand-knitted retro knits and vintage styling along with admiring the values of prudence, community and shopping locally, but will remember to appreciate how women's lives have improved since the mid-twentieth century and the opportunities I have that were closed to grandma H. It's great for the planet and our bank balances to be thrifty, but it's not much fun if it's imposed on you because of poverty and/or gender.
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