Wool serge bathing costume, 1910, frm the Tinne collection at the Walker Art Gallery
It’s that time of year again when many of us have been digging our cossies out from the back of the wardrobe ready for trips to the beach and holidays abroad. I bet that not many people will have a swimming costume quite as unusual as this one though. I have always been fascinated by it, ever since I first saw it in the Walker Art Gallery’s 2006 exhibition A Passion for Fashion: a Liverpool lady’s wardrobe.
This particular bathing costume,
which dates from 1910, is made of wool serge. It was a great curiosity when it went on display at the Walker and many of us were doubtful about how practical it would be to wear in the water. We’re all so used to modern fabrics that the idea of a woolen cossie seemed completely impractical and uncomfortable.
However one woman, Susan Crawford, is on a mission to revive the knitted swimming costume and her recent experiments show that it’s not such an outlandish idea. You may have seen one of her knitted creations, 'The Call of the Sea' swimsuit, based on a 1932 pattern, when it was put to the test on the BBC Four programme Knitting’s Golden Age
, as part of the Fabric of Britain series last year.
Fleur modelling the swimming costume. Photo courtesy of Susan Crawford.
In the programme Susan talked a little about how she has been researching and reviving a number of vintage knitted swimming costume patterns. Then it was crunch time and Fleur, a brave model, wore the knitted swimsuit for a dip in what looked like quite a cold sea. Everyone wondered whether the costume would sag when it was completely immersed in the water, but it held its shape and Fleur gave it a big thumbs up.
So knitted swimming costumes are not actually as crazy as you’d think. If you are looking for something different to wear on the beach this year then why not give one a try – you could even knit your own costume for something truly individual.
You can find out more about the knitted swimsuit project and see more photos of Fleur’s dip in the sea on Susan Crawford’s website.
Susan with the knitted bathing suit 'The Call of the Sea'. Photo courtesy of Susan Crawford.