“Collars have played a very important part in the drama of fashion, and today command the attention of dress designers of repute, as well as makers of simple dresses. Each realises and appreciates the value of the right collar. Each knows the scope given by their use to the expression of individuality.”
Elizabeth McCaskill ‘New Collars for Old Dresses’, Odham’s Big Book of Needlework (1935)
Collars now seem rather underappreciated things. Reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women’s manuscripts, one becomes very aware of the importance of collars. They are one of the most frequently discussed items of clothing, and (sometimes) they also form a sort of manuscript themselves. What you see above is a pattern for a collar that I found, complete with several pricked holes and one rusty pin, between the pages of a nineteenth-century album held in the Library Company of Philadelphia. The album dates from the 1820s — the collar seemed to be of a later date — probably the property of a reader at a couple of generations remove from the album’s original writer.
One only has to think of the trials of Mrs Forrester’s lace in Gaskell’s Cranford to realise the importance women attached to their collars. And they remained crucial items in women’s wardrobes until relatively recently — my new Odham’s Big Book of Needlework*, which was reprinted several times throughout the 1930s and 40s, has a whole section on collars, including a long essay about the virtues of collars in updating and brightening up items of clothing that are otherwise old and worn.
(black textiles really are impossible to photograph . . .)
Here is an old and worn collar, attached to a coat that needed updating. I bought this nice velvet coat about a decade ago. It has a faux fur collar (100% acrylic — aigh!) — one of those things that resembles a worn out teddy bear after a couple of years wear in the rain and snow. Because of the woefully ratty appearance of this collar, I’ve not worn the perfectly good coat for five years or more. It was time to fix all that with a new collar.
I unpicked the old collar, measured it, then happily threw it away. Then I made a crocheted mesh to more or less the same dimensions as the old collar with some black 4 ply. Along the vertical lines of each square in the mesh I crocheted long triple trebles up and down, in waves. I used a bit of black kidsilk haze I had left over from making this sweater, and a couple of balls of black kidsilk aura I had hanging around from when the yarn first came out last year. Man, that stuff is hairy. The idea was to create a dense, plush bobbly effect. In practice, the yarn was much more hairy than I’d imagined, and less bobbly than I intended, but still, it worked out fine, and crochet really is very fast. The new collar was made up over a couple of evenings. And today I sewed the collar to the coat. This was enjoyable. I got up early, sat in the good light by the kitchen window, watched the sky shift and brighten and the curlews arrive. Things were very quiet and wintry, I stitched meditatively, and drank about a gallon of tea. A very nice morning was had. The collar was finished. Then Tom and I went out for a walk and I got him to take a couple of pics. Here is a shot of the back of the collar:
The frizzled effect of the crocheted waves reminds me of a rolled wig. In fact, the basic structure of the collar — with the ‘hair’ laid down over a mesh — is not dissimilar to that of an eighteenth-century peruke. Hence I have christened it the bagwig collar.
You’ll have to forgive my penchant for black and white, and my vacant peering into what appears to be The Void. In actual fact, I was staring very intently at a bright wee feller in a tree two feet in front of me, and hissing at Tom to get a good shot:
How wintry does he look on those bare branches?
He’s just out of shot in this next picture
I had to lighten the whole shot so you could see the fabric and the collar. Shall I say it again? Photographing black stuff is a mare
Pattern: Bagwig Collar by me
Yarn: Kidsilk Aura, Kidsilk Haze, and some miscellaneous yarn (it may have been 4 ply soft).
3 posts in 2 days? What’s going on? The truth is, I am starting to feel well again, after being terribly unwell for several weeks now. Though I’ve been doggedly getting on with the big project I’m working on at the moment, I’ve felt so damn rotten that I’ve not had much energy for anything much at all of late. Today, though, I suddenly feel physically restored and stupidly enthusiastic. Much more like my normal self again. Hurrah!
And an owls update: I have written up the pattern. Someone who is far more experienced in these matters than I has kindly agreed to cast her eagle (or owlish) eye over it. Then testknitting commences . . . and then it will be available!
*delivered at lightening speed by Marsden Booksellers in Doncaster. Thankyou, Nick.
I love what you’ve done with the coat. Black and white photos are really good!
What a fabulous garment. I want it — and the skinny body necessary to wear it. If I lose 50 pounds, will you give it to me????? :-)
I really loved reading this, Kate.
The Cranford/ collar episode… priceless.
And your collar is just fabulous!
PS: Can’t wait for the owls pattern!
That coat looks so comforting. I love how the model’s hair seems to mirror the texture in the collar.
Beautiful! I recently found your site and love it. I’m not a knitter and I crochet badly but your pieces are an inspiration. Lovely photos too. Your comments regarding “vintage” and “retro” struck a chord. I’ve delved into the etymology of both myself and find the term “vintage style” particulary irksome. Something is vintage, or it is not.
I love this. I love what you did with the collar, and your remarks about collars in the past. I also covet the morning you had making the collar!
I always look forward to your entries – you bring a fresh academic and historical spin to your knitting sense. I love it and I love that collar. I was just buying old fur coats and having the fur made into collars and trims for the faux fur (yuck) on my coats. I know it’s wearing animal fur, but it’s also recycling….it looks good and I like it. The idea of freshening up collars in this “time of economic crisis” (I am sick to death of hearing that phrase) is a good one. Thanks!
this is truly beautiful. I like your style of photography,and you are a very clever designer!
I had just submitted a comment to your previous post when my eye was caught by The Knitting Forecast entry under your blogroll. Having visited the link, I am now truly intrigued. I’m not sure I can cope with the suspense of that AND the imminent arrival of the owls pattern! Thanks. PS I love the collar. But it just doesn’t seem fair that one person should be so good at knitting AND crochet AND design AND writing! (I hope that doesn’t sound too smarmy. I really do admire the quality of all your work – it’s what makes the blog worth visiting again and again.)
Gorgeous! I love this project. You look really glamorous (love the heels BTW)- the fabrics look warm and luscious. I especially approve of it being thrifty. Fantastic photography by Tom.
I love your commentary on the importance of collars (women’s) throughout history. One doesn’t often think of a collar. I do, however. I love collars and am always switching back and forth between favorite kinds of collars – turtlenecks are a current favorite (we have long gloomy winters and I need to be snug). Anyway, your collar (badwig, ha!) is fantastic as is the entire look it has given to your coat. Black velvet is classic. I love that you have taken something old and given it a new look. (old can be 5 years). Lovely post!
this is really, really lovely. And you’ve managed to photograph the black like a professional would. the shots are amazing – and that manuscript? Also so cool.
Glad to hear you’re starting to feel better, being ill is such a drag.
I read Cranford for the first time earlier this year and howled with laughter at the bit with the cat and the collar.
I love the revamped coat; the collar looks great. You’ve reminded me that I have a knitted cotton cardigan that’s all finished apart from a crocheted edging. Unfortunately I’m not confident in crochet, so I’ve been putting it off – I need to sit down under my reading light and just give it a go. Perhaps I’ll get to it over Christmas but I have several baby knits AND my mum’s Christmas socks to finish first.
Ooh, I like that last photo. Did you ever read that Hans Christen Anderson tale about the collar? Erin reads it in the Faery Knitting podcast if you haven’t heard it, it’s quite funny.
Very impressive. Your morning sounds delightful too.