Clara bow-panel sweater: knitting a 1940s jumper for Spring

Last year, Mum surprised me with a book she found in a local charity shop: Knit Vintage by Madeline Weston and Rita Taylor. At only 99p it was an absolute steal: full of lovely 1930s-1950s knitting patterns which fit perfectly into the style of clothing I’m making at the moment! It was hard to pick a pattern to start with but I settled on the Clara bow-panel sweater. I loved the simplicity of the bow motif and the fitted shape created by the all-over 1×1 rib. I could see it in a mint colour for Spring and I found the perfect yarn in the Debbie Bliss rialto 4 ply range. All I had to do was wait for it to arrive then I could get stuck in!

The pattern and the yarn.

First things first, I diligently made my tension swatch. I found that the width of my sample was absolutely spot on but the swatch was too short. I figured that this wouldn’t be a problem, I would just need a few extra rows to make it the right length. With this settled, I cast on my 129 stitches for the back and knit 30 rows in 1×1 rib.

Casting on.

Once the rib at the waist was complete, I could start on the bow motif. I was really excited to work on this but I realised as I worked my way through the pattern repeat that there is a typo in the pattern! The bow is formed by working a number of rows in stocking stitch then a number of rows in reverse stocking stitch, then you pick up stitches from the beginning of the reverse stocking stitch band and pull those up to create the centre of the bow. Except, at one point where the pattern says p18 it actually means k18. So, as I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly, I worked a number of stocking stitch rows then a number of rows in garter stitch. Once I had realised my mistake, I used a crochet hook to redo the stitches rather than undoing the whole rows I’d worked on.

With that mistake fixed and a correction made in the book, I was able to carry on and make my first bows!

Finished bows.

An alteration I decided to make to this pattern before I started was to crop it by a couple of inches. I own a jumper from House of Foxy which is the perfect length on me, hitting just at my waist, so I used it as a guide. So, when the pattern instructed me to work until the jumper was 13.75″ from the hem, I only worked until it was 12″ long.

Using the House of Foxy jumper as a guide.

I also strayed from the instructions as I progressed with the armhole. Firstly, instead of just using k2tog decreases to shape the armhole, I used ssk on the right side and p2tog on the wrong side to get the decreases the lean the correct ways. Also, instead of working the pattern until the armhole measured 7.5″, I worked 7.5 bow motifs then worked 12 rows of 1×1 rib before starting the cast off for the shoulder. I did this because, if I had followed the pattern, I would’ve ended up at an odd place in the pattern repeat.

Finished back.

With the back complete, I could move on to the front. The instructions are basically the same until you get to the neckline so I didn’t take many photos. However, in the time it took me to work on the front, I saw in 2022 (with BBC’s Merlin) and took my knitting on many train journeys (including one where I was dressed in 1890s costume!).

Once I had finished the front and the back, I realised I had made a miscalculation in my neckline adjustment. I held the front up to myself and could see that the neckline was far too high. I think this was in part due to me not making the armhole deep enough, but also due to the pattern. I undid one side of the front and added another 10 rows, equivalent to about an inch, and this seemed to fix the problem. I was beginning to run a bit short of wool at this point so I decided to get on with the sleeves first and come back to the front and back to adjust them.

Fixing the neckline.

The first sleeve knitted up without any issues! The only change I made to the pattern was to work my decreases as ssk and p2tog as I had done for the front and back! However, I ran into a pretty significant issue with the second sleeve in that I ran out of wool. Luckily, Lovecrafts were able to supply me with another ball in the same dye lot – crisis averted!

With my new ball of wool, I was able to finish off the sleeve and go back to add the 10 rows to the other side of the front neckline and the back and I finished with not that much yarn to spare!

Finished pieces.

With all the pieces complete, I could start making up. I love using mattress stitch to make up my knitwear, it’s so satisfying seeing the pieces come together seamlessly!

The end was in sight but, little did I know, I still had a bit of a saga ahead of me in the form of a simple neckband. Once I had finished, I counted that the neckline of this jumper ended up taking me about six attempts to get right.

  • My first issue came before I put on the sleeves. I had decided to try on the jumper before putting on the sleeves to test out the neckline and I’m glad I did because it was too small! to fix this, I undid the shoulder seam and the front and back cast offs and redid them with the needle size up to loosen the cast off – issue one fixed!
  • I hadn’t been convinced by the look of the neckline of this jumper before I started and had been considering adding a neckband. When I tried on the jumper after making up I confirmed that I didn’t like the neckline instructed by the pattern, I thought it looked unfinished. So I cast on a neckband, worked 14 rows then cast off back into the cast on to create a sort of rolled neckband. However, this was too small so I undid it.
  • I pulled back the neckline to 10 rows and cast off, still too small.
  • I taught myself Jeny’s super stretchy bind off: this worked but was too stretchy and baggy!
  • I cast off again but using needles that were two sizes smaller than the ones I used for the rib – this worked!
Adding the neckband.

Finally! Now all I had to do was weave in all the loose ends.

Super stretchy bind-off.

Before I could call this jumper totally finished, I wanted to experiment with blocking. I soaked my jumper in lukewarm water for about 15 minutes then laid it out on some kids foam play mats I had bought from Ebay (these are far less expensive than blocking mats and, to my eye, seem to serve the same purpose!). I left it to dry and I was blown away by the results! The jumper had been warped by the bow motifs but looked completely flat and professional once it was done!

With that, after two and a half months of knitting, the jumper was complete! I’ve already worn it out for a day trip to Kew Gardens and I love it. It’s lovely and soft, and super comfortable! If I were to make this pattern again, I would soften the curve of the neckline at the front using some decreases (the pattern just has you cast off a certain number of stitches then work the neckline straight up) but I’m really pleased with my neckband addition. All in all, a very successful knit and one I look forward to wearing into the Spring!

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