I was rather moved by the following analysis of a baby’s jumper knitted in the 1920s. You will have to click here for a view of the item in question.
Jumper, infants, hand-knitted, wool / plastic / cotton, made by Alfred Varley, London, England, 1926
Baby’s hand-knitted jumper made from a lavender coloured wool. It has long sleeves ending in a ribbed cuff and a front collar featuring a white spot on either side. At the back is a sailor-style collar which features a white and lavender trim that is also repeated around the waist. The collar is closed at the neck with three large, white, mismatched buttons taken from a pair of male trousers. The buttons are reinforced at the rear with blue and white striped fabric. The arms have not been worked to form the shape of the shoulder. Instead they extend horizontally out from the collarbone. Irregular stitches hold the two sides together. A hole on the back of the jumper may be the result of dropped stitches.
This jumper was made by Alfred Henry Varley in London in 1926. Alfred had never knitted before and decided to make a jumper for his new baby daughter Phyllis. The jumper exhibits a number of irregular features and design flaws which can be explained by Alfred’s previous lack of knitting experience and decision not to use a pattern.
Phyllis did not get to see much of her father before his early death. She kept the jumper for many years before finally donating it, at age 80, to the Powerhouse Museum. The story of its making was passed on to her by her mother:
This jumper was made by Alfred Henry Varley in London in 1926. Alfred knitted the jumper for his new-born baby daughter Phyllis (the donor) who had been born in London in October 1925. The family lived in Newington Green Road, Islington.
Elsie Varley, Alfred’s wife, was a great knitter who made many items of clothing for her new-born baby daughter. Elsie was a teenager during the war years and likely took up knitting as a wartime activity. Alfred had never knitted before but decided that he would like to make something for their new baby after watching his wife knitting. Elsie gave him the lavender wool used in this jumper.
While it was unusual for men to knit at this time there were exceptions. For instance, men of the upper classes were often taught to knit as young children by their nannies. School children were sometimes taught and many sailors were knitters. Some soldiers received knitting lessons as part of survival training or learnt to knit as prisoners-of-war. Alfred Varley’s decision to knit a jumper for his new baby is less surprising given this context and the ensuing post-war knitting mania.
Alfred did not ask for knitting advice or use a pattern. However he watched Elsie knitting and according to his daughter probably looked at other knitted jumpers. Phyllis also suggests that he may have watched his wife reinforce buttons on other jumpers since he knew to add fabric behind the buttons. It is likely that the large buttons were taken from an old pair of Alfred’s trousers.
The donor said her father was a brilliant man who spoke seven languages fluently. She suggests that he would have been able to successfully duplicate knitted jumpers seen elsewhere. This ability is particularly evidenced by the elaborate trim. However the treatment of the armholes and the poor sewing on the sides betrays a lack of skill. Phyllis cannot recall her father making any other knitted items.
Now, doesn’t that tug at your heart-strings?