I have been a huge fan of the ITV Poirot series since it started in the 1980s and have seen every episode several times. Since becoming a knitter and stitcher in the last few years have I been re-watching them and paying attention to the costumes and particularly the knitwear.
I do the same with Agatha Christie’s Marple – I’m sure my boyfriend is thrilled every time I tell him I know which knitting pattern that sweater came from and whether the actresses are really knitting or pretend knitting badly.
A lot of my knowledge of vintage patterns comes from pouring over the reprints in Susan Crawford’s Stitch in Time books, which are wonderful. Every pattern is printed as per it’s original publication and also re written in modern pattern language, resized for modern bodies in a variety of sizes (as most older patterns only allow for one bust size), are knitted in currently available yarns and beautifully rephotographed. She now has patterns from the books available to buy as a download and a range of yarns in vintage shades, have a look at her blog Just Call Me Ruby for all the links. People in London should visit Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green for the yarn and the books.
Anyway, sleuthing and vintage patterns appeal to me, so when I saw a character in “Cat Among The Pigeons” wearing a fantastic red jumper with a bow, I fancied one myself. After a bit of google-fu I discovered it had appeared on Miss Lemon in an earlier episode, The Adventure of the Clapham Cook.
Lots of other bloggers fancied it too. One has even written a pattern for it – Vintage Granny, while Nabby has altered a thrifted knit to recreate hers, as has Gemma. Thanks to Wendy from the Vintage Pattern Files I discovered that Marion Cotillard had worn the same sweater in La Vie En Rose and found a really good picture of the jumper, which resolves for me that it isn’t a cardigan, but a jumper with a placket and buttons sewn on.
So I was super excited to spot the jumper again two weeks ago, appearing in Fleming, made by Sky based on the real life of Bond creator Ian Fleming and set in the forties (so it has time traveled a few years). This time one of the office girls/ non-speaking extras wore it. After watching it live, I ran it again from Sky’s On Demand to get this screen cap from the millisecond she appeared it the background. (Here it is cropped -the black thing in front is Dominic Cooper’s shoulder).
The way the TV and Film industry works involves a lot of hiring of props, furnishings and costumes. I learnt this after going to a fantastic moving sale at Flashback Furnishings aka 303 hire last year, where a lovely friend bought me a vintage embroidered Radio Times cover that had been in Poirot. I also got a lot doilies, fabric, cushion covers and curtains (all in all I spent a bought 8 hours in their warehouse over 3 or 4 visits and brought about twenty different people in with me, so that Martha the owner, thanked me with some free fabric).
So my Google sleuthing turned to look at the world of costume hire. Some of the big names in the UK, were Nathan’s, established in 1790 according to this article from the V&A; Bermans est. 1900 who bought Nathan’s in 1972 according to an obituary of Monty Berman and Angels, est. 1840 who bought Berman’s and Nathan’s in 1992.
Then I struck gold – Angels say on their website that they supplied the costumes for La Vie En Rose , so they have this sweater in their vast stores and they also do tours for small groups! I am thinking seriously about organising a group of people to visit so I can go in and see the actual sweater and any other 30s fashions Miss Lemon may have worn (any one else interested in coming?)
But seeing the real one isn’t the same as recreating it – where do we find the knitting pattern? When Miss Marple re-appeared in the ITV series, she had a swagger coat made from a pattern from a magazine “Women and Home” from 1934 , which was later reprinted in Susan’s aforementioned book (Vol.2).
So I think the Miss Lemon jumper might not be an original vintage item, but a reproduction made for costume hire. This is also more likely because old knitwear doesn’t seem to survive. It wears out or is eaten by moths. Also a lot of everyday clothes don’t survive as well as the only occasionally worn, so evening dresses from more than fifty years ago are easier to come by than an everyday jumper. On the basis of the swagger coat pattern, I deduce the source was a real pattern in a magazine, rather than a designer’s imagination. I’m convinced that a pattern exists for Miss Lemon’s jumper and am tempted to visits the archives of the British Library which has a large collection of Stitchcraft and other magazines, which admittedly might be a bit bonkers, but spending a whole day searching through vintage knitting patterns sounds like fun to me.
I started a bit of an obsession with 30s necklines and have found many blouses and dresses which have a similar bow affair. Have a look at my neckline Pinterest board for lots of pictures like this one.