Even before rationing made reusing and recycling wool necessary, clever knitters were repurposing their gauge swatches (tension squares) as shoulder pads. A swatch can be made into several different styles of pad. We'll be looking at three: triangular, square, and rectangular.
NOTE: The average swatch is knit to 10cm (4"). The examples in this tutorial are each of 24 stitches; a neat display device I tried at The Loop. These swatches were of various worsted weight yarns resulting in 18-22 stitches per 4 inches. The average size of swatch was 5" square.
Because they were for display purposes, each swatch was knit with a garter stitch border 3 stitches on either side and 3-4 rows top and bottom. This is an excellent format for a swatch destined to become padding. The garter border allows for easy stitching and stuffing, and also creates an ideal flat surface for placement and stitching to the garment, particularly useful if the pad is to be removed or used in multiple applications. These worsted weight swatches make a big statement but for a more subtle look, use a fine yarn. The point of this technique is that you will have already made the pads by swatching for your project, and since most of your vintage sweaters will have been knit with a fingering or sport weight yarn your pads will be less cartoony than my examples.
As we know, shoulder pads first became necessary to the home knitter in the 1930s so that the shoulder line could be extended gracefully, and girlish puff sleeves could stay aloft. The first shoulder pads were triangular, a perfect job for the typically square gauge swatch.
Place these stitches in from the edge. The stitches in the photo were placed in the middle stitch of the 3row/3 stitch Garter border. This works to about .25" from the edge. If your swatch does not have a border like the example pad does, place your seam .5" in from the edge. This will create a ridge you can use to attach the pad to the garment.
Stop stitching your pad together an inch or so before the second corner. Use this opening to stuff your pad. Do not cut your working yarn or unthread your needle.
You have several stuffing options. I stuffed the examples above with raw fleece, but only because it was the easiest thing to hand. Polyfilla, cotton baton and fluff will do just as well. Followers of Make do and Mend may take a tip from WWII and fill their pads with scraps of waste yarn....or even sawdust.
Note: If you are using flat sheets of wadding you should cut these to the shape of your swatches, leaving a .5" seaming allowance along the sides to be stitched. In the case of a triangular pad this means that along the third side the wadding should reach the fold of the swatch. In a square pad you will need to leave a seam allowance along all four sides. You will layer the filler to taste, depending on the thickness of the wadding, but start with just one layer.
Whichever material you choose, resist the urge to overstuff.
Pick your needle back up and finish stitching, closing the stuffing gap, and backstitch to secure. To finish, bury your yarn by inserting the needle into the pad and stuffing and bringing up through the middle of the pad's fabric as pictured further down. Now clip the yarn close to the surface.
Square shoulder pads are made in much the same way and will thrill knitters of 1940s patterns. In the sweater patterns of the 40s we see instructions for shoulder pads start to crop up and although some of them are unique to a single sweater, most are simple bean bags of the same yarn as the main pattern. Remember that under WWII's military influence pads were required to both extend the shoulder line, and raise it. In more extreme puffed sleeves, the sleeve head would be totally unsupported but for padding. This is one reason for disappointing, deflated puffs in home knitting.
In this example the two swatches are of slightly different sizes. This is almost always likely to be the case, and it doesn't really matter for this project. Simply pin the two squares together so that the edges match. The centre of one of the swatches will bulge, but that's what we want anyways.
Don't overstuff the square pad either. The amount of filler in the photo above was a good starting point; you may find that you need less padding than you thought. Remember that placement of the pad is going to be very important. Extreme vintage looks are created when the shoulder pad is stitched in. Overstuffing will actually give you less options and control.
A sticky material like raw fleece will tend to ball up in the middle. We want an even stuffing so use your fingers to distribute the filler evenly.
Bury your yarn as pictured.
A single square can also be made into a rectangular pad by folding a swatch in half and stitching. In my knitting I find this to be the most useful pad. The truth is, it has a bit more in common with another type of padding; a 'sleeve head' or 'roll'. This is because its short sides will follow the curve of the shoulder and support the front and back of a round puff. The term sleeve head is problematic! Read more about this in the intro to this padding series:here.
The rectangular gauge swatch can afford to be stuffed generously. The most important aspect to this pad for knitters, is the top seam. If your swatch does not have a garter stitch ridge remember to place your stitching well away from the edge. Along the long sides of the rectangle sew at least .5" in, creating a flat strip. This is what you will use to attach the pad to the garment.
This post is a part of The Quest For Puff Series. Read it from the beginning HERE.