Friday, August 05, 2011

The Quest For Puff: Introduction

Or, "Morgan's Puff Piece"


"Well, I hope she'll be satisfied at last, for I know she's been hankering after those silly sleeves ever since they came in, although she never said a word after the first. The puffs have been getting bigger and more ridiculous right along; they're as big as balloons now. Next year anybody who wears them will have to go through a door sideways."
-L.M. Montgomery,Anne of Green Gables, Chapter XXV: "Mathew Insists on Puffed Sleeves".


I'm a direct descendant of one of the first Scottish families to settle on Prince Edward Island, so perhaps it is in my blood. Like Anne Shirley, I think that puffed sleeves are the living end. I like any number of shaped sleeves and try to incorporate these looks into my knitting. If the search
terms resulting in a visit to this blog are to be believed, then I find myself in good company.
In the continuing quest for nicely puffed sweater sleeves, most of us have become jaded. No puff is great enough. Full sleeve heads, gathered at the top are not satisfying us. Neither are increases placed near the beginning of top down raglans. Most of us are knitting vintage sweater patterns from the 1930s ,'40s and '50s.

"The History of the Feminine Costume of the World, From the Year 5318 B.C. to Our Century"
Paul Louis de Giafferri, 1926-27

Shoulder shapes differ from decade to decade but there are distinct looks specific to each of these eras. Not everyone loved a puff then either, but those who did were passionate. It is an over simplification to ascribe one puff to a single period...but I will.

As I understand it, 'vintage' knitters are interested in recreating the puff sleeves of the
and the peasant inspired puff of the 1950s-70s. (Coming Soon)

Aside: If you are interested in Victorian styles of puff, I recommend using 1980s patterns for the modern sleeve shaping and finishing guidelines. Look for sweaters baring a descriptive pattern with specific sleeve and sleeve setting instructions. The New Romantic patterns of the '80s and early '90s show good examples of late 19th century sleeves. Start there, but be warned; they will use heavier gauges.

Why I'm Puffed Up About This:

There is a misconception out there that people want to knit vintage patterns, but want to make them look modern.
This is not where I am coming from.
If I choose a pattern from say, 1943, it is because I want the look, feel and silhouette of 1943. De puffing the sleeves or adjusting the welt (or making the jumper baggy!?!) in my eyes, defeats the purpose.*
Indeed, if I choose to knit a puffy sleeved vintage pattern it probably means that I want my shoulders as big as possible and for my fit to be exaggerated.
*My purposes are petite and costumy, I do realize.


The Designing Women were not the Fashion Harpies that Mature Knitters think they were.
I assume that this notion of deflating the sleeves of old patterns is fueled by some real anti-puff bias. Most knitters hate volume in the shoulder area. They hate the idea of padding in the shoulder area more. Perhaps it is borne of having been a little bit older than I was in the 1980s. I grew up with shoulder pads, but never wore a power suit. Indeed, once they were out and my Mum un-velcroed the pads from her jackets, blouses and sweaters, I was fond of stuffing my bra with them.
Many modern patterns, should they contain any degree of puff are met with cries of "Ack!! Puff? I already have shoulders, thank you very much" and "Uh, do I want to look like a Football Player?"
Let me assure you that even with Balmain styled shoulder pads I could never look like an American Football Player, and if you are interested in knitting vintage sweaters, chances are nobody will mistake you for one either.

I'm not sure who this Gentleman is.
Padding the Problem:

That out of the way, let me also add that sometimes even vintage patterns that look great in the photo let me down in the end. The photos in these patterns seem to promise either fullness level with the ears, or sleeves that jut out high, then drop as suddenly as a cliff face (as scaled by Joan Crawford and the like).
Of course there is no reason to think that the same 'styling' skullduggery so common place in today's photo shoots wasn't being utilized in the 1930s and 40s. If we could go back in time to the Stitchcraft studios I am sure we would find ladies with backs lined with bulldog clips (to cinch in excess fabric) and most importantly, we would find a whole bunch of foreign objects holding up the sleeve at the shoulder. Of course these patterns assume that you will construct some kind of pad or sleeve head (that's another post), but these photos belie more help than those cushions could possibly provide on their own.
Link: Making Authentic Vintage Pads & Padding (Coming Soon)

When it's Still a Deflating Experience:

Often, in re-knitting vintage garments the sleeves are a limp disappointment, particularly in those vague patterns that provide no finishing instructions. The puff is in the finishing. There are several alterations and techniques that can be applied to the sleeve at the end of the knitting to enhance puff. In this way, you can re create a pattern faithfully and still achieve your own interpretation of the look.
Link: Setting the Sleeve to Increase Puff (Coming Soon)

I will also describe pads, rolls and sleeve heads. These can be bought or made and altered to achieve a custom look.

Of course all of these techniques can be applied to modern patterns. The difference is the reluctance many of us have towards fiddling with a vintage pattern. This predilection could be romantic, or it could be the fact that as these patterns are vague, it is impossible to predict just what it is that you're fiddling with. This was the case when I knit 1938s "It Cannot Fail To Please", for example. Read it here.
I will try to write about working puff into modern patterns in another post. It will deal with more substantial, structural changes, and to alterations made to the knitting itself.
A separate article will talk about designing puff sleeves and the shoulder shaping needed to accommodate them.


Get Ready To Puff It Up!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pretty insightful. Thanks!

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Anonymous said...

I can't believe this post exists! This is so awesome! Please keep going.

Suzanne said...

Please continue with your posts on this topic. I have often wondered how to set a puff sleeve correctly.

Lillian said...

Dear Morgan,
I have 2 new Granddaughters on the way and would like to knit them puffed sleeves. I was very surprised at how little instruction there is on how to set puffed sleeves. I found your website through a web search.
I look forward to reading more.
From a Grandma of 2.

Emma said...

I really want to read about 'Setting the Sleeve to Increase Puff". Thank you in advance!!

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