Saturday, 2 September 2017

December 1930

Last weekend, we were in Kent, staying with friends.  The weather was perfect  - hot (but not too hot) and sunny.  The men of the party went to the Military Odyssey, a multi-period re-enactment show - a fun day, allegedly.  Sue and I went instead to Sissinghurst instead.  It's one of my favourite gardens, but I have not been there for many years, so it was good to re-visit it.  And the following day we went to Knole, where Vita Sackville-West grew up.

Another day we went to a small book fair in Tenterden, a very pretty little town   I bought a couple of old magazines there,  including an issue of Britannia & Eve from December 1930.

Britannia & Eve, December 1930
As the cover says, it was "A Monthly Magazine for Men & Women".  The contents are an odd mixture.  There is a lot of fiction, and some non-fiction articles: on the early life of Prince Albert, the wife of Chiang Kai-Shek, "The Psychology of Dress", and several more.

There are two articles on Hollywood and the current films - it seems that the "Talkies" were just taking over from silent films, and so this is commented on in a couple of places.  There is a page of stills in a new film in which "Miss Evelyn Laye makes her talking debut".  (According to Wikipedia, Evelyn Laye was British and had appeared in plays and musical comedies.  In the new film, she plays a flower-seller in a cafe in Hungary, and also a famous singer who she agrees to impersonate, and a captive in a nobleman's castle. It was a Samuel Goldwyn film and, says Wikipedia, a huge flop.)  Elsewhere, one of the magazine's writers speculates, "I am not sure that we are not altering our voices and that the Talkies are not responsible for new intonations, new phrases".

There are are also several articles on fashion, and others on Christmas decor and cookery, that you would think would be aimed more at woman readers than men.

Because it's a Christmas issue, the fashion pages present evening gowns (though there is another article on what to wear for a winter sports holiday in Switzerland).  The fashions are all illustrated with drawings rather than photos, and women were evidently supposed to be tall, slim and willowy.

From Britannia & Eve magazine, December 1930
A Lovely Gown in which to Celebrate Christmas Festivities
This gown is in black velvet with a band of net above the hem, and a short jacket of net too.

 Of course, no real woman looks like the drawings - it would be grotesque if she did.  Elsewhere in the magazine is an article on women's golf, illustrated with several photos of real women looking far from slim and willowy - in fact, rather frumpy.

Women always wore a hat when out of doors, and a close-fitting beret was popular for golfers. An ad shows another style of hat favoured by some of the golfers, and that it could look attractive (but not if you sit slumped like a sack of potatoes, like one or two of the women in the photo above).

From Britannia & Eve magazine, December 1930
"An attractive small felt for all weathers"

The ads are fascinating, as usual in old magazines.  I was fascinated to see the range of electrical goods you could buy for your home, even in 1930s - a toaster, a vacuum cleaner, an iron, an electric kettle, a coffee percolator,...

From Britannia & Eve magazine, December 1930
Electrical Christmas Gifts 

Another ad shows a range of radios and gramophones (and a combination 'graphophone').
Columbia Radios and Gramophones

 I was astonished at the prices - the cheapest 'radio table model'  in the ad is 20 gns.  (A guinea was £1 1s, so 20 guineas was £21).  The equivalent today, from the Bank of England's historic inflation calculator, is over £1200.  That's partly because it's designed to be a smart piece of furniture, in a wooden cabinet, but even so, that's huge amount of money for a radio.  (And there weren't many programmes to listen to, anyway.)

There are several car ads in the magazine, and the cheapest is the Austin 7 at £122 10s. - only 6 times the cost of a radio.     

"The New Austin 7" 

But my favourite ad is this one for Dolcis shoes.  I love the Art Deco styling, and the shoes are very stylish - though the evening shoes in crepe de chine and velvet wouldn't last long.

"For Day or Evening - Dolcis"

Unfortunately, although the magazine is 170 pages long, there are some missing at the end, as I found when I tried reading one of the stories. So now I shall never know the ending of 'Shane of the Sorrowful Islands', by Beatrice Grimshaw, a 'drama of mutiny in the Solomons'.  Very disappointing.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

1940 Knitting Fashions

We are in the process of scanning the covers of the patterns in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, focusing for now on the earliest leaflets, from before 1950. Many of them are very attractive, and here's a batch of patterns from the 1940s that I particularly noticed. They are unusual, because instead of relying on the cover illustration to sell the design, there is a bit of description inside telling knitters why this was up-to-the-minute and fitted in with the fashions of the day. I find that helpful, because it's hard to judge the designs otherwise except by modern standards.

The designs are all knitted in 3-ply wool, to a tension of around 32 stitches and 42 rows to 10 cm. in stocking stitch. That's typical of 1940s clothes rationing, when a little knitting wool had to go a long way.

The first design is a neat blouse with bands of lace.    

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Lee Target 585
"In perfect accord with present-day simplicity, this model is knitted in wide bands of stocking web and lattice lace. The welts and borders are in twisted ribbing and a lace collar adds softness to the neckline."
The next design could be knitted with long sleeves, instead of the short sleeves shown, if you had enough wool.  The pattern also suggests the colours to use.

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Lee Target 572

"Diagonal lines are very much the vogue now and this little model is a happy example. It is knitted mainly in stocking web in a Dusky Pink with Wine-coloured diagonal stripes on yoke and sleeves, a rib welt and narrow rib roll at neck. It fastens on the shoulders. The stripes are simple to knit, a long strand being used for each with only one ball of main colour at a time."
The diagonal lines on the yoke and sleeves are really eye-catching, and quite simple to achieve.  All these patterns give quite detailed instructions, and so knitting the diagonal stripes is described very clearly:
"Each diagonal stripe is 2 sts. wide and moves over 1 st. every row from the centre to the sides, right and left. A separate strand of W [Wine] wool about a yard long is used for each stripe and the P [Pink] and W [Wine] wools are twisted round one another once at each change of colour to avoid gaps. The long ends of W [Wine] wool are easy to draw out when they become entangled and a fresh length can be joined on as needed."
I'm not sure I believe that  the lengths of Wine wool could be  easily untangled, but maybe it's true. 

We associate the 1940s with broad shoulders emphasised by shoulder pads, and  here's a waistcoat designed to be worn with that style. 

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Lee Target 573
"Designed for added warmth over the new wing-sleeved models, this Cardigan is knitted in stocking web, with double epaulettes slightly flaring round the upper sections of the deep armholes. Single ribbing is used for welts and border. The lower sections of the armholes are neatly faced for strength."
And finally, another blouse, knitted sideways in narrow stripes.

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Lee Target 565

"A cleverly designed model reflecting the mode of the moment is knitted with a raised red pin-stripe on a white ground. The entire garment is knitted sideways with a firm welt on smaller needles, and a neckline which can be buttoned high or worn with open revers. It is easy fitting, snug, and will make a delightful Summer as well as cooler weather blouse."
Lee Target pattern leaflets at that time often specified carefully how to make up the garment once you had knitted it.  The instructions for the striped blouse say:  "It is an excellent plan to tape the shoulder seams and back neck to prevent stretching." - another  reminder of clothes rationing.  Clothes had to last a long time, so it was worthwhile putting extra effort into the making up,  if it would help them to last longer.

I'm not tempted to knit any of these designs (and not just because 3 ply wool is so fine).  But it's fascinating to see how they fitted into 1940s fashion, as well as being so economical with wool. 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Jersey Suits for Little Boys

We are gradually recording and cataloguing the pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, of which there are a lot.  (I may have mentioned that before.)  Recording (i.e. listing the numbers) is nearly finished, cataloguing is only just starting.   We are focusing on the earlier ones, particularly the 1930s, and many of the designs could be adapted to wear now.  But some garments have gone out of use completely - including the hand-knitted shorts for little boys in this Bairns-wear booklet.  (I call them shorts, but actually the leaflet calls them knickers. Times change.)

Bairns-wear Booklet Number 16

The booklet has several designs for jerseys and jersey suits (jersey + shorts) for boys aged 18 months to 3 years.   They are very pretty, and feature embroidery.   The designs are named after characters in children's books and comics, though the names seem to be randomly assigned - a design doesn't show the character it is named after. For instance, the cover design is called "Mickey Mouse", but doesn't seem to have any connection to the cartoon beyond its name.

Two other designs are named after Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit.

"Brer Fox" suit
"Brer Rabbit" suit

The "Brer Fox" suit is embroidered with little flowers above the pockets on the jersey.  "Brer Rabbit" does have a family of rabbits embroidered above the welt , but they are Mr Rabbit, Mrs Rabbit and Master Rabbit, according to the booklet.  And not very realistic rabbits, especially as the embroidery on the sample has "blue rabbits with pink eyes and tongues".

There are two other jersey patterns in the booklet, without matching shorts.  Tiger Tim was a cartoon  character in the Daily Mirror.

"Tiger Tim" jersey
The embroidery on the jersey, disappointingly, is a rather crude dog, and not a tiger. It's described as a "ferocious animal", but saying it's ferocious doesn't make it look ferocious.  

"Teddy Tail" jersey
Teddy Tail was a cartoon mouse, from a comic strip in the Daily Mail.   Again, the jersey design doesn't feature a mouse, though it is a rather nice design with a zigzag pattern in garter stitch at the neck and hem, and a few embroidered crosses and dots.

Although the booklet is illustrated with black-and-white photos, the instructions specify the colours to use.  And some of the colours are surprising.  The Mickey Mouse design is to be knitted in sky blue and Tiger Tim should be mauve.  But Brer Fox and Teddy Tail are to be pink - pink is now so associated with girls that I doubt if anyone would knit something in pink for a boy.  And the Brer Rabbit suit is white - so impractical for an active toddler.

The jerseys, by themselves and without the unnecessary embroidery, are nicely designed - I like the ones with square necks particularly.  In a stronger, more practical colour they could work very well.  And I know that if I say that no-one nowadays would want to knit shorts for a little boy, some knitter out there will already be planning to do just that.  So I will only say that if you are a member of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, you can have a copy of the  booklet.

Monday, 7 August 2017


I love old magazines, so when I saw a 1963 copy of Flair magazine in an Oxfam bookshop, I bought it.  Flair was a monthly fashion magazine launched in 1960, and I remember reading it occasionally as a teenager.  (Sadly it died in 1970, merged into Woman's Journal).

Flair magazine, June 1963
It's fascinating, especially the ads.  We think of 1960s fashion as revolutionary - the era of miniskirts, Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon hair cuts, shift dresses, skinny rib jumpers,...  But really that was the later 60s, and it had barely started in 1963.

Many of the clothes shown look very formal, like the suit worn with long gloves, an organdie scarf  and a big hat (modelled by Grace Coddington?)

Admittedly that's from an article How to Stand Out in a Crowd and deals with  "important social events" such as weddings, race meeting, regattas and committee meetings.  (Committee meetings?? No committee I've ever been on had meetings that were important social events.)  But elsewhere in the magazine, too, the clothes look rather stiff by today's standards, and although the possibility of wearing 'slacks' is mentioned occasionally, none are actually shown.

A feature "Underneath it all" suggests one reason why the clothes look more stiff and formal than we are used to - you were supposed to wear a corset.  And perhaps they were more comfortable than earlier corsets, because "in these days of miraculous man-made fibres, a featherweight corselette or pantie girdle will exert real control for all figure types".    Even under slacks - the feature shows a "pantie girdle that gives a really smooth line under slacks",  reaching to just above the knee.  And they were made for slim women as well as "the most ample figure" (size 40 in. bust, that is).

There are several ads for different brands of corset in the magazine, including the famous Silhouette ads, showing corsets worn over a  kind of black body stocking.

As the suspenders attached to the Silhouette corsets show, women still wore stockings, not tights.

The magazine has a surprising number of ads for perfumes and perfumed products like talcum powder. (What happened to talcum powder?) Some of the French perfume brands still exist, and there's an ad for Chanel No. 5, already 40 years old in 1963.  But other names like Morny have gone, I think.

I was too young to be affected by most of this, though I did wear stockings for a short while . (Hated them.)  Women's clothes are so much freer and more comfortable now than in 1963 - a huge improvement.

 And... knitting.  There is a knitting pattern in the magazine, although perhaps you shouldn't really expect much woolly knitwear in a June issue.  It's a collarless cardigan knitted in two colours.

It's really not too bad - it wouldn't look too extraordinary if someone wore it now. The yarn is Lee Target Gaelic Floss, so I imagine something like a Shetland wool.  It's knitted mainly on 4.5mm needles, so possibly a DK weight.  For me, it's the most forward-looking thing in the magazine.  (But then, I'm a knitter.)

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

'Leaf and Trellis' Stockings

Anyone who was at the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention in Birmingham earlier this month might have seen a pair of 19th century knitted lace stockings that I showed, to illustrate the kind of object that we have in the Guild collection.  Here's one of the pair. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

They were knitted from the top down, in the round, with a band of double rib to start and then a deep band of stocking stitch, before starting the lace part.  The lace is a stitch that in Shetland lace knitting is called Print o' the Wave, but in 19th century knitting books I have seen it called Leaf and Trellis.   Here it is as it appears on the stockings.  They are knitted in very fine cotton, so that it takes 5 pattern repeats to go round the ankle - there is a huge amount of work in these stockings.

On the way to Birmingham, I found an early version of the pattern, in Miss Lambert's My Knitting Book.  The 7th edition, published in 1844, is available online from the Winchester School of Art library, here.  I think that Jane Gaugain published the pattern earlier, in 1842 (see my earlier post here), but Miss Lambert might have been the first to call the pattern Leaf and Trellis.

In Birmingham, I knitted a swatch of Leaf and Trellis to compare with the stockings.  I used DK cotton for the swatch rather than anything finer, mainly to be easier for me.  But I wanted it to be visible to an audience, too, and didn't in any case have any cotton thread anywhere near as fine as that used for the stockings, or the tiny needles to go with it (around 1mm thickness or less, at a guess.)

Here's my swatch, with the cast-on edge at the bottom, because that seems more natural to me.  (I actually used the instructions in the 12th edition of Miss Lambert's book, from 1845, also available from the Winchester School of Art library.)

Like the stitch pattern in the stockings and other early versions of the pattern, all the decreases are done by knit 2 together, so they are all right-leaning.   Later versions, and present-day Print o' the Wave patterns, use  both left- and right-leaning decreases to make the pattern symmetrical.  As I wrote here, the Leaf and Trellis pattern published in Weldon's Practical Needlework in 1886 claimed the credit for introducing this variation.

The lace stockings must have been very precious to the woman who wore them - either because she had knitted them herself,  or because they had been bought and must then have been very expensive.  We can see that she valued them, because they have been darned in several places.  The heels wore through, as you would expect, and there are also darns on the back of the calf - perhaps she sometimes wore them with boots?   And there are more darns in the stocking stitch sections at the top of the stockings.  I would have guessed that they would have been kept up by garters, though that seems a bit precarious.  But I really don't know anything about how Victorian ladies wore their stockings, and perhaps they were attached to the corset?  I don't know.  

Here's one of the feet, showing the darn in the heel.  I'm not a sock knitter,  so I don't know whether there is anything unusual in the heel shaping.  The toe shaping on the other hand does look rather peculiar - it looks as though it's designed for an anatomically strange, very pointed toe.

But clearly the stockings did fit someone, who wore them a lot and looked after them.  And then eventually they were put away and kept carefully, until the end of the 20th century, when they were acquired for the Guild collection. And we can admire the skill that went into making them, and marvel at the amount of time they must have taken.

Monday, 24 July 2017

My Linen Drape Scarf

I mentioned in my last post that at the show-and-tell session at the Guild Convention 2 weeks ago, I showed the summer scarf knitted in Rowan Linen Drape that I started in April (described here).  I finished it just before the Convention.   

Here it is.  It does drape very well (as it should, given the name of the yarn).  I like the fact that even the stocking stitch stripes are slightly translucent.  And as I planned, it's an open pattern but not too fussy.   

If I've got time (hah!)  I'll write out a chart for the pattern and add it to this post.  And I'll try to take another photo with a better colour - the blue is less grey than in this photo.  

I haven't actually worn it yet - it's been too warm to want to wear a scarf.   But today is cold and damp - a raincoat and a scarf are needed, and it will get its first wearing.  

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Guild Convention in Birmingham

It's been a busy week, so I am only just getting around to writing about the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention which was in Birmingham last weekend.  The Convention is an annual event, though Birmingham is a new venue.

On view was the Guild's display for this year's shows, on the theme of 'Passing on the Passion'.

It features a few items from the Guild collection, including a Kaffe Fassett 'Foolish Virgins' jacket, a crocheted top from C&A, and a knitted crown.

That's one of the very few photos I took at the Convention - I was too busy knitting most of the time.  (I bought some Rowan Felted Tweed in John Lewis, and started knitting a Heidi Kirrmaier cardigan, but that's another story.)   I also spent some time looking around the centre of Birmingham - it's not a city I know well.  The hotel was in the Chinese Quarter, with the Bull Ring markets nearby.  Around the corner are the National Trust Back-to-backs, which are fascinating.  Several of us who arrived a day early for the Convention went on a tour.

And I spent a lot of time in the Museum and Art Gallery.  It has wonderful collections, including a new display of the Staffordshire Hoard, which is amazing (and very difficult to photograph through the glass cases - I tried).

At the Convention, as well as the Guild's AGM, we had three very good talks.  Betsan Corkhill, of Stitchlinks, talked about the role of knitting in healthcare.  The second talk was by Emma Price of In the Woolshed, which produces natural dyed yarns.  She talked about her career to date, initially alternating between accountancy and spending time in India with people practising traditional crafts, before starting In the Woolshed.  She now also leads textile journeys to India.  And finally, Denise Musk, a life member of the Guild, brought along some of her machine knitted garments in amazingly complex fabrics, and talked about how they developed from her initial ideas.

As well as the talks, there were two workshop sessions led by Guild members, with six topics on offer in each session.  But I skipped one session in favour of the Staffordshire Hoard and Pre-raphaelite paintings, and so only did one workshop.  It was on Moebius Knitting, with Fiona Morris.  Fiona brought along some very inspiring samples, and taught us how to cast on - a surprisingly quick technique.  I didn't get very far past casting on in the workshop, though I did finish one round and I've subsequently done a few more.

It's very satisfying for anyone with a mathematical background that it is a genuine Moebius strip, with one edge and one surface.  But my sample isn't very tidy and I'd like to do more practice and then try one of the very nice cowls that Fiona showed us.

I contributed to the Convention, too.  There was a 'show-and-tell' session on Saturday evening, when members could show something they made during the past year.  I took the summer scarf, started in April, which is now finished - I'll write about that later.  And Maureen and I did a short presentation on 'How to do a Trunk Show'.  I had brought two items that haven't previously featured in trunk shows and talked about them - but those are two more stories for the future.