Knitting an Aussie Retro Sleeveless Pullover
Choosing a Pattern
Recently the family of one of my daughters did me a huge favour and I asked what I could do in return. They know that I love knitting while I watch television in the evenings (my way of pretending that I'm not wasting time!) and suggested that a sleeveless pullover would be useful for my son-in-law. He loves 'retro' garb.
At home, out came my box of knitting patterns. I have quite a few that were my mother's; they may even have been my grandmother's as they date back to the early 1930s. It was fun sorting through them for suggestions to take back for the family's approval. My son-in-law is not particularly large, so I even looked out some patterns that I had used for my sons when they were teenagers.
It was fun choosing and I eventually settled on three to take for them to choose. It really wasn't much of a choice, but more of a foregone conclusion as I was fairly certain I had found the right one. It was in a pattern book that I had bought second hand, probably about twenty years ago, "Aussie Fair: Simple Fair Isle Knitting with Australian motifs."
The pattern called the pullover a 'vest' and the name of it was 'Cocky.' My son-in-law is a musician and also teaches percussion and guitar. He is very talented and creative, loves native birds and has done some beautiful drawings and paintings of some of them.
The Australian Cockatoos
'Cocky' is what we often call cockatoos, but it can also be a term that means a farmer. The vest pattern incorporated five members of the cockatoo family neatly set out in rows all around it. They included
- Major Mitchells: These cockatoos have salmon pink and light grey plumage. They are some of the smaller cockatoos and their crests are large and bright red and yellow. We usually only see them in the drier and arid outback of Australia, especially at dawn and dusk when large flocks descend on waterholes to drink. In Victoria they can be found in the Mallee, nesting alongside galahs. I believe that last year one was recorded at Brookfield Zoo, near Chicago, as being 79 years old.
- Galahs: Lovely pink and grey cockatoos. They are sometimes called Rose-breasted cockatoos. They are about 14 inches long and are found in all States, but not in really arid areas. The males have dark brown eyes and the females' irises are red. Australians often call someone who does something stupid a galah, but they are really very pretty with their pink fronts and grey backs. I remember great clouds of them flying over when we visited relatives who lived in the country. We looked up and saw all the pink and then as they wheeled overhead the cloud turned to a pretty grey.
- Red-tailed black cockatoos made up the next row. They are large, magnificent birds that I used to see when I was working in Special Education and driving through eucalyptus forests to visit remote rural schools in Gippsland.
- Sulphur-crested cockatoos are well-known. They are beautifully white with a bright yellow crest that they can raise and lower. They make lovely pets that can be taught to speak quite clearly and they live for years - sometimes longer than their owners, but they can be pests for farmers, arriving in flocks and ruining crops. They have adapted to living around outlying towns of big cities, and can be pests there, too, digging into the wood on buildings and around windows with their strong beaks as they search for bugs for dinner.
- Gang-gangs made up the last row of the pattern. They live in the cooler and wetter bushland and forests and are a mid-grey with pretty markings on the feathers. Even with the male's red head and crest (the female's is grey), when we hear their strange call, which sounds like a squeaky gate, it is difficult to see them in the trees. They are the most primitive looking of all the cockatoos and are believed to go back aeons. Gang-gangs are the fauna emblem of the Australian Capital Territory, but with the clearing of land their nesting sites in the hollows of trees have been lost and they are now listed as vulnerable.
I showed the family the three patterns, but really there was no choice. This was just right.
Choosing the Yarns
Of course, the yarns had to be pure wool from Victorian sheep for an authentic Australian vest, so there was much consultation as we examined the sample cards from the Bendigo woollen mills. Seven different colours were chosen, plus black and white - a total of nine. 5-ply Classic was chosen, so when I returned home these were ordered on-line.
The package arrived promptly in a few days. The balls were 200 g, so there would be plenty left over for other projects.
The garment was knitted in the round, which I didn't often do, so it was off on an expedition to find the right sized circular needles. I already had sets of four needles for the bands around the armholes and neck.
The Lower Band
As soon as I had all the materials needed I was so excited to be starting the project. As it was knitted in one piece up to the armholes I had to cast on 280 stitches for a 97 cm chest.
I spent almost an evening casting on and then knitted a couple of rows in rib. There were so many stitches that the work seemed to curl around the needle, but I thought it would probably straighten as I went along.
The next evening, I continued with the rib and it continued to curl around the needle. When the band was completed it was still curling, so I drove to my daughter's to show her.
It was obvious that the whole garment was going to continue to curl and would be unwearable. We had a good laugh and she said it reminded her of a maths möbius strip she had taught her children about when she home-schooled them.
All that work had to be undone and I started again.
Fair Isle is Fiddly
This time I cast on with the set of four needles, keeping them very straight, and then transferred them to the circular needle and all was well.
The Fair Isle was great fun, rather like doing a jigsaw or one of those children's 'magic' books that used to be around. Remember them? A pencil was rubbed over and over a page to make the picture appear.
I didn't see much of the television as the Fair Isle pattern was fiddly and I needed to take care as it evolved, but I heard the shows - mostly, as I had to count as well!
The pattern had been well planned, so the different yarns did not need to be twisted on the underside and soon the vest was taking shape.
The Armhole and Neck Bands
Once all the pattern was complete, I needed to use the set of four needles for the bands.
Eventually the garment was finished. I pressed it, took the final photos, and then decided that as it had been so much work I would wait and give it to him for his birthday as well as a thank you!
© 2013 Bronwen Scott-Branagan