I came across a charming booklet entitled Headline News via the Vintage Pattern Files website and decided I simply had to try out some of the crochet patterns there; it had to be something that I could actually wear, though, which meant the strictly practical ‘head-shawl’ featured on the right-hand side of the front cover (suitable for ‘motoring or riding your bike’) rather than the exotic ‘fascinator’ on the left, let alone the flower-covered ‘captivator’ illustrated inside!
I’d wanted something like this for some time and had actually planned to make up one of my various hat-and-integral-scarf patterns – I have one with a bunch of bright crochet flowers on that I’ve meant to try for years – but felt that this would work quite well to fulfil the double role of keeping my ears warm and stopping draughts whistling down the open V-neck of my tailored coat.
Unfortunately none of the patterns in this leaflet give any indication as to tension, so it was complete guesswork as to what thickness of wool I ought to be using and what size crochet hook. The yarn being advertised (“Lily’s No.600 Crochet and Knitting Cotton”) was evidently quite chunky as crochet cotton went, so I thought I’d try some of my vintage 4-ply wool on the grounds that this was fairly chunky as vintage yarn went, and picked a 2.5mm hook after experimenting with a 2mm hook and deciding that the resulting crochet didn’t look as ‘open’ as the fabric illustrated. All these first three patterns in the booklet are essentially a basic triangle shape gathered in different ways, and the base of the triangle seemed wide enough to drape around my shoulders adequately, so I reckoned this was probably about the right size.
When I reached the apex of the triangle, however, it became apparent that it was on the contrary very much too small! The neck-cord was supposed to be threaded in a semi-circle at a radius of 12″ from the edge of the shawl, and the entire shawl was less than twelve inches deep – something had evidently gone radically wrong.
Fortunately this was crochet and not knitting, which meant it proved possible to retro-engineer a complete six-inch additional section of shawl (with the aid of some mathematical calculation) and then slip-stitch the upper loops on to the cast-on edge in a fairly stretchy manner without the join’s showing too much…
I’ve read descriptions of young ladies conversing while ‘knotting a fringe'; I never realised how long it took in real life. No wonder they regarded it on a level with doing tapestry as a means of avoiding idle hands!
The next problem was trying to get the weird cockscomb crest working. I wanted it to match the fringe rather than the body of the shawl, and as I’d used a thinner yarn for this I was back to experimenting with hook size again. I tried a large hook, I tried a small hook, I tried using the wool doubled, and eventually came to the conclusion that folding up a thick strip to get the heavy cartridge-pleated effect visible in the photo wasn’t going to work. I also came to the conclusion that the instructions about how far along the strip to place the folds were simply wrong!
So in the end I winged it to produce a lighter and shorter strip that would stand up better under its own steam – the heavy one simply weighed down the front of the head-shawl and caused it to flop – and decided that the mysterious instruction to ‘gather slightly’ the folds implied gathering each separate fold width-ways across the strip to spread the bows a little at the top, rather than gathering the strip lengthways into the actual folds required. At any rate it seemed to provide the requisite stiffening.
After all this I wasn’t particularly pleased with the finished article, which didn’t look much like the original pattern photo despite all my efforts. However I tried it out in the cold and snow of this past spring, and found it surprisingly effective despite the open mesh; it’s not proof against a direct blast of icy wind, but it does keep your head pretty warm otherwise. And I had been getting very, very tired of reknotting my large polyester headsquare, which persisted in slipping undone and was very unflattering.
The drawstring design of the head-shawl (essentially, you just pull the cord tight around your neck to fasten it on) proved as practical as advertised, although I haven’t used it for riding my bike – and the long ends of the triangle hanging down in front fill in the neck opening of a coat very conveniently. It doesn’t have the same tendency as a neckscarf to come unwound if you turn your head, and I found I didn’t spend so much time hunching rigidly to try to keep the draught out. Meanwhile the ‘crest’ on the front does actually serve a purpose in making the design noticeably more flattering than a basic headscarf – it removes the ‘low forehead’ appearance and is much less reminiscent of a Russian granny!
So in fact I ended up wearing it on a more or less daily basis throughout the prolonged wait for Spring: it’s easier (because less bulky) to carry around than a hat and scarf, doesn’t look like a peasant headwrap, and is surprisingly effective as a warm garment. I’ve even been told that it looks appealingly ‘retro’, which is perhaps unsurprising in a 1940s pattern…