“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.