Sewing, What I wear

HSM ’16 Challenge #5: an autumn cardigan

I had grand plans for the Historical Sew Monthly 2016 Challenge #5: Gender Bender.  I was going to finish my 1916 Wearing History jacket, and give it a few twists that made the correlation between the jacket  and menswear even more obvious.  But life, as it so often does, got in the way, in the form of unexpected overseas visitors and exciting opportunities.

With the month coming to a close, I was in a bit of a panic.  What did I have on my sewing list or in my UFO pile that wasn’t going to take 20 hours to finish, and that was for a man, or that showed the influence of menswear?

How about a 1920s cardigan?


A 1920s inspired cardigan

Even better, I realised I had a half-finished blog-post on the history of cardigans for my terminology series sitting in my draft folder.  I could cross two UFOs off my list in one go!

A 1920s inspired cardigan

The cardigan is made from midweight merino knit in black, with buttons in black and light brown.

A 1920s inspired cardigan

Although black became a fashionable colour in the 1910s and 20s, it wasn’t a particularly popular colour for knitwear, though it was certainly used.  Merino wool, sometimes called botany wool, was used for knitwear throughout the 1910s or 20s (it was specifically listed in the types of woolen products banned from export from Britain during WWI).

I based the look of my cardigan on numerous images of 1920s cardigans with V-necks, loose silhouettes, and low pockets, particularly two featured on the page of 1920s knitwear in Fashion: The Ultimate Book of Costume & Style.  While I used the 1920s as my primary source, the basic style  appears in  the 1910s and lasted well into the 1930s, with only slight variations in shape and detailing:

Good Housekeeping cover by Coles Phillips, Aug 1916

Good Housekeeping cover by Coles Phillips, Aug 1916

SPORTS ENSEMBLE, comprising soft tweed check skirt with fitting basque, blouse with short sleeves, and cardigan, in green crepe mousse. Auckland Star, 8 December 1930

SPORTS ENSEMBLE, comprising soft tweed check skirt with fitting basque, blouse with short sleeves, and cardigan, in green crepe mousse. Auckland Star, 8 December 1930

I’m wearing the cardigan with my ‘Bambi & Bows’ 1929 dress, a 1930s girdle and petticoat, and vintage (probably 1960s) cotton stockings, which matched the outfit perfectly in real life, and then ruined the look by photographing as ochre.

A 1920s inspired cardigan

My hat is a complete cheat – it’s a modern hat that I quickly safety pinned into a sort of cloche shape, and added an arrow clip, and called it good

A 1920s inspired cardigan

Hat aside, I was extremely pleased with the outfit, particularly how comfortable it was.  Cotton stockings with garters are SO much nicer and snugglier than modern tights.  The whole ensemble was warm and easy to move in.  No wonder cardigans were so popular in the 1920s!  I’m now inspired to make myself even more Rosalie stockings for modern wear, and a few 1930s wool crepe dresses, and this look could become a winter staple.

A 1920s inspired cardigan

What the item is:  a mid-1920s cardigan.

The Challenge:  #5  Gender-Bender

Fabric/Materials:  1.6m of midweight double-knit merino wool.  I think it was about $30 a meter – not cheap, but it was so nice and soft!

Pattern:  My own, based on my Mackenzie cardigan pattern.

Year:  ca. 1925

Notions:  20cm of cotton interfacing, 5 wooden buttons, thread.

How historically accurate is it?  The overall shape and materials are pretty good, and machine knitted cardigans with sewn elements did exist, though home-made ones did not, so that part is marginal.  Maybe 70%

Hours to complete:  4

First worn:  By  me, ALL THE TIME, because it’s so comfortable

Total cost:  $40ish  A 1920s inspired cardigan


  1. Oooh, I love the outfit. It just exudes the idea of 1920’s and 30’s.


  2. Lynne says

    I feel rather furtive saying this, but I really, really like that cardigan. This is me. The one who doesn’t like cardigans and who swore she would no more be seen wearing one that she would bloomers. It’s still nix to the bloomers, but that cardigan is smart, as well as being comfortable. They were always comfortable (she said, grudgingly).

    Watch the pockets. They are begging you to put your hands into them, and stride with womanly strength across the field as pheasants fly up around you and a bloke with a pipe waits by the stile. And after a couple of days of that, the edges of the pockets get all flabby (see that woman with the bow and arrow) and sad. So sad. I blame Virginia Woolf, poor woman.

    • I’m trying to imagine Mr D as a bloke with a pipe waiting by the stile, but even in my daydream he starts waving and making silly faces and filliping and it just doesn’t work 😉

  3. Elise says

    I love 20s cardigans! To my everlasting regret, I passed up 2 wool varsity cardigans from the 1920s. To my everlasting delight, though, was that trend in 2008-2010 of longer cardigans.

    • Wow. You NEVER see 1920s cardigans in NZ. I’d love to own one – no wonder you regret passing them up. Don’t you love when fashion agrees with your tastes? It’s so useful!

  4. Yes, it’s really beautiful! Didn’t you think about publishing the cardigan pattern? Please do!

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