Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Suse Sweaters (1945)

Good morning! Nashville weather is not yet showing any signs of yielding to fall, but nevertheless, the act of changing the calendar page from August to September earlier in the week has me thinking about sweaters! Specifically, novelty sweaters. Not the sleeveless, themed, buttons-shaped like school buses variety favored by elementary school teachers, but something cheeky and fresh along the lines of Veronica Lake in an impish mood (see Sullivan's Travels or I Married a Witch). Boy, do these "Suse" sweaters strike the exact chord I was looking for!

This gal actually looks like Veronica Lake!
 Life ran this article in 1945, at which time "Suse" Dannenburg (pronounced "Susie") had been creating her distinctive, appliqued sweaters for six years. The byline mentions that the novelty appliques were originally incorporated into the design to distract from the potential wearer's less-than-sweater-perfect figure. Lord, can I sympathize! Sweaters have always been a particular bĂȘte noire of mine-- any forties' or fifties' pin-up enthusiast knows that sweaters look best on big bosomed, small waisted girls--sadly, I fall into the latter, but not the former, category. Lana Turner, the original sweater girl, boasted measurements of 34C-25-34 in 1940, according to her official website...some of us gals just don't have that much "oomph"! What is the less pneumatic, vintage sweater enthusiast to do?

I think these appliqued sweaters are a pretty good step in the right direction. The "funness" of the patterns breaks up a wide plain of fabric on a small-chested girl, not to mention, no doubt, sets lips buzzing as to where the wearer even found such a cute sweater. I can knit straight cable rows (and, accordingly, endless, fifth doctor Dr. Who scarves), but have no talent at knitting actual garments. However! I can cut and stitch felt appliques like a champ. Is that the faint, distant sound of a craft gauntlet being thrown down? I wonder what the difficulty level on appliquing to knit is, versus regular cloth...

I searched high and low and high again to find more information about these sweaters, but all I could find were references to the same article (including this blog post from Tuppence Ha'penny as part of "Applique Week"...might have to read the rest of the articles in that series for some inspiration!!) and a lone example of an Etsy sale for an autumn leaves pattern (how fitting for my autumn-envy). The Life article mentions sales to the likes of Slim Hawks (Howard Hawks's wife, and the rumored inspiration for Lauren Bacall's Sailor character in To Have and To Have Not), Barbara Stanwyck, Jennifer Jones, and Esther Williams, and that Suse began knitting while laid up with a broken leg. How did she break the leg? What is the designer herself like? There's not even one picture of her in this whole spread, and I couldn't find a daddurn thing about her other than what I've already mentioned. Foiled!

I really love this "roaring lions" pattern. Other than the scant information about the sweaters' designer, I was also disappointed that none of the spread was in color (as is typically the case with smaller features in the magazine). Think of this ensemble in "royal blue" with white lions. I bet it was a knockout! I think I've spent too much of my adult life remembering my fourth grade teacher's penchant for sweaters decked out with craft jewels, puff paint, and random fringe (or remembering my own, against-my-will nineties' school days sweatshirt styles) as what constitutes an "embellished sweater". If only I'd opened my mind! Novelty is my middle name...I could really enjoy some of these slightly-over-the-top decorations.

This one reminds me too much of the mid seventies' for me to get whole heartedly behind it, but maybe it was cuter in person! Transfer those same appliques to a chambray ensemble, and you've got something Buffy St. Marie would have worn...not always a bad thing, but I prefer the lions and the cheery sun better. But hark! What sweater through yonder illustration breaks...hold your hats, ladies...

OH! WE! LOVE! THIS! Oh, we love this. I think we've found the pattern inspiration for that craft challenge I mentioned earlier! Of course it is Suse's most popular pattern...just look at it! The fact that the heart is bleeding, and that the dagger is a jewelled dagger...I don't even know. Couldn't be more appealing to me if it tried. Talk about cheek!

Have you seen these sweaters either in this magazine or the real world before? Do you think embellished sweaters are "too nineties'" or could you see yourself in one of the mysterious Suse's creations? Do you have a favorite, go-to vintage sweater? Tell, tell!

Have a great Wednesday, I'll see you tomorrow!


  1. Thank god! I have seen this image of the "Jezebel" sweater all over the internet on blogs and tumblrs with nary a source, and am so glad to finally know its provenance.

    I can certainly see myself in one of Suse's creations. Love your blog, just found it at random recently while googling Madonna's jacket in Desperately Seeking Susan!

  2. The little sweater top and bottoms are particularly stunning. And the bleeding heart sweater, wow! Funny to think something that morbid was popular at the time.

  3. ugh! that dagger sweater! blarg! i need it1

  4. Oh wow! Yes! That Jezebel one is the best thing that I've seen in a long, long time!



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