Monday, January 16, 2012

Shoulder Pads & Puff Sleeved Sweaters

vintage knitting puff sleeves
There's no need to sit like that; a good shoulder pad will keep your puff in place!

There is a lot to cover. First off, I ask that you shove all your preconceptions, jokes, eyeball rolls and Dynasty memories to the back of your mind. We are talking about a different era for starters.
Shoulder pads in the 30s/40s were a very different beast. They were not the Velcro disks that we immediately think of in a post 1980s world.

Shoulder padding falls into 3 main categories (at least for our purposes)
Sleeve Heads (Shaped and Rolled)
This is of no help to the home knitter.

Elsa Schiaparelli, perhaps best known to us knitters for her iconic tromp l'oile sweaters, pioneered an unbelievable list of fashion classics, among them the Shoulder Pad. The Schiaparelli shoulder is strongly associated with Hollywood glamour, and all the broadest of faux-broad broads, Crawford, Garbo and Hepburn were fans.  Her look is satirized and honoured in the fashion show segment of The Women (fashions by Adrian) Watch the clip below to see how these extreme silhouettes and shoulder styling are era specific. These pads were often triangles; soft cushions extending width. Her 1930s mainstreaming of adjustable shoulder padding into conventional women's wear ensured that the square shoulder of the 1940s was feminine, rather than a simple diminution of military uniforms and other customs of mens tailoring.

You must click HERE to watch on youtube proper.
Watch on Mute!  This is (clearly) not the original soundtrack.

Shoulder Pads are best suited to structural puff sleeves.  Puffed, or full sleeves that have been folded or pleated into the seam benefit most from this style of padding.  Military, kick-up, and elongated shoulder lines from the late 1930s up until the introduction of the New Look in 1947 were supported by shoulder pads and should be now.  The hand knitter working from patterns in this era would have taken this extra step for granted.

Know which look you're going for by reading Puffed Sleeves in the 1930's and 1940's.

Many Vintage Patterns include directions for knitted pads to be sewn to the inside of the sweater. A good example may be found in the V&A's collection: "For When You're off Duty". This little pad is more like a cushion; knit of jumper yarn (sock yarn is a good substitution) and stuffed to your taste. It rests on the shoulder and supports the apex of the puff. Make your own as you would a cell phone cozy. Two squares or rectangles sewn together, or one folded in half and seamed will do. For a softer, pre-war look, you may choose to make your pad out of two triangles rather than rectangles which have a more masculine feel.

Read 'Using Gauge Swatches as Shoulder Pads in the Vintage Style' for more on knitted padding.
Read 'Choosing & Placing Knitted Shoulder Pads' for further guidance.

Today, ready made shoulder pads may be purchased at most fabric stores. These objects are more like the power suit boosters we are used to. For Knitters' use they will most likely need to be trimmed. For this reason I do not recommend buying vinyl pads. Good companies provide different pads for different sleeve shapes i.e. Raglan, Dolman. The pad is sewn to the garment through the center, creating a spine for the pad. Baste this spine and try on the sweater. Working from the outside, still wearing the sweater, take small stitches with the sweater's yarn (de-plyed if necessary) to anchor the pad in place, or for heavy yarns, sewing thread.
For an extreme vintage look I recommend a "coat pad" (a pad used in coats) with a 1" thickness. For a blouse vs. a sweater a 1/2" thickness may be more appropriate.
The looks which large pads can provide depend entirely on their placement, so a great deal of experimenting will be needed.  It is best to do this while wearing the garment, whenever possible.  If trimming is necessary, use a fabric marker to note cuts while holding the pad on your shoulder (with a friend or a mirror).

This vinyl pad is not what we want.  Note the centre stitching along the pad, attaching it to the shoulder seam.  We do want this.

Ready to wear Shoulder Pads tend to come in white, nude or black. If none are available in an appropriate shade for your project they may be covered. For a nude look try using old nylons to cover a pad.
For an outrageous shoulder la Joan Crawford or House of Balmain, consider layering 2 or more pads. Baste them together through the centre spine, and then cover the pad using loose stitches or feather stitches and cover with fabric or nylons. This is a great technique to use if you can only find 1980s styled flat pads.
American football comments be damned!

Generally these kinds of paddings can be made at home with little sewing experience.  With a reliable sewing store in your area though, you may find it easier to purchase ready-made padding, and then alter it at home.  Pads may be opened up at the seam and the amount of wadding can be adjusted.  You may choose to add or remove bulk, or you may decide to push the stuffing to one side or the other, depending on your sweater style or body type.  If you are layering sleeve heads or pads use large feather stitches.  If you are layering fibrous padding stuffs, experiment with spray adhesives.  If a large shoulder pad's slope is to wide for your shoulder or if you have a petite shoulder line, cut your pad in half.  Trim as necessary, adjust the angle on your own shoulder, and then reattach the front and back of the pad using a baseball stitch.  Remember that few bodies are symmetrical, so treat each pad, each knitted piece, and each shoulder separately.

Click HERE to see examples of Vintage Sweater Pattern Photos that put Shoulder Pads to good use.

You are reading "The Quest For Puff" ©Morgan Forrester

Up next:
Choosing & Placing Knitted Shoulder Pads
Coming Soon:
Vintage Sleeves: Puff Pleating
Vintage Sleeves: Seaming for Puff
Creating Puffed Sleeves Anew

This post is a part of The Quest For Puff Series. Read it from the beginning HERE.


Sarah said...


Michelle said...

Have you made the shoulder pad from the V&A pattern? I don't understand what it would look like. How would you know the measurements? Thanks,

Morgan said...

I have made that shoulder pad, but I've lost it! I may make another one and post it. You're right it should be pictured.
Because I didn't knit the hole sweater, gauging the pads took some forensic work. I worked swatches in the main stitch pattern until I matched the pattern's cast on measurements. Then I used that yarn and those needles to work the stockinette pad. I ended up using patons kroy sock yarn and maybe 2.5mm needles.

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