Saturday, 13 September 2014

Change of Title

I changed the design of this blog a month or so ago, in preparation for launching my First World War blog, and at the time I warned readers that I would change the title shortly.  Now I've done it.   I got bored with the old title - I've been writing this blog for more than four years and I wanted a change.

(More than four years - isn't that amazing?  I'm amazed, anyway.  I didn't start writing with any kind of time limit in mind, but I don't think that I expected that I would still have things to write about after so long.  But then I got involved with the Knitting & Crochet Guild and started sorting out all the publications and got interested in the history of knitting and crochet....  And here we are.)

I chose "Knitting Now and Then" because it fits what I write about - it's about knitting history ("Knitting Then")  and about what I'm knitting (Knitting Now"),  and it also expresses the fact that sometimes it seems that I'm spending so much time with knitting history that I don't actually get very much time for my own knitting (so I'm only knitting "Now and Then").    

And apart from the change of title, it's business as usual.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Knitting for Tommy

Apologies for the long gap since the last post - been busy.

One of the things I have been doing is reading a new book on knitting in the First World War - Knitting for Tommy by Lucinda Gosling.  I  have been waiting for it for several months, because  I supplied some of the images, from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and also saw a draft version of the text.  And a couple of weeks ago, Luci sent me a copy of the finished book (which was actually published on 4th August, for the centenary).  It's lovely to see it all come together, with lots of other images from the Mary Evans Picture Library.  And here and there I recognise the ones from the collection - a couple of ads for spinners, promoting their khaki yarn, and several pages from Woman's Own magazine with knitting patterns for comforts for the troops.

Luci has done a lot of research in publications of the time - there are no other books on First World War knitting that I know of, so hers had to be based on original sources.  The Mary Evans Picture Library has runs of several magazines of the period, including The Queen, Punch, The Tatler, that she has been able to use.   The Queen had a needlecraft column and during the First World War, it published several patterns for knitted comforts designed by Henrietta Warleigh - as Luci points out, an unusual instance at that time of a named designer.  

 The Library also has a collection of First World War postcards, including several with knitting subjects -- usually sketches or cartoons, sometimes featuring winsome little girls. Some of these illustrate Luci's chapter on Knitting Fun, along with cartoons from Punch.

The book reproduces several knitting patterns that are readable, although perhaps not as easy to follow as we would expect these days.  So it would be possible, with a bit of interpretation and perhaps some experimentation in adapting them to modern yarns, to knit a wide variety of comforts from this book.  There are socks, body belts, waistcoats, mufflers, and cardigans.  There are several caps and helmets, and an amazing variety of gloves and mittens, with and without fingers, including the rifle glove that has an open thumb and first finger, and a mitten part to cover the other fingers. And as well as garments intended for serving soldiers, there are specialised garments for the wounded, to cater for a range of injuries.

For anyone who is interested in the topic, this is an indispensable book.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Purple Silk

I've realised that I haven't written anything about my own knitting for a long time, though I have been working on several things, and just finished a very nice cardigan which I will write about shortly.  And I started and finished a quick project back in June that I have never mentioned.  I should, if only because it illustrates how useful Ravelry is.

Several years ago (in 2009, I think) I went to a free event at the Oxfam bookshop in Huddersfield.  Two of the Rowan designers came to talk about the history of Rowan, the process of putting together a collection of designs for the biannual magazine, etc. There were about 12 of us in the audience, and none of us had brought any knitting with us. (I hadn't been knitting again for very long, and wasn't used to knitting in public - now, I would definitely take along some knitting to a talk about knitting.)   But the Rowan people were prepared - they had brought along pairs of knitting needles and a large basket of odd balls of yarn, so that we could all knit a swatch while we were listening.

At the end of the talk, they retrieved the knitting needles, but said we could keep the yarn - and we could help ourselves to anything else in the basket, too.   So I came home with several balls of yarn, mostly purples and greens.  I used one, a ball of Rowan Felted Tweed DK in green, in a Louisa Harding design, Old Moor, which called for one ball of a contrasting colour.  But I haven't yet found a use for the others.

The most delectable was a ball of pure silk DK in a rich purple, by Jaeger.  (Jaeger Handknitting was owned by Coats, as is Rowan.)  It had a gorgeous feel, very soft and smooth - in fact, very silky indeed.  But I couldn't think what to do with - after all, what can you do with one ball of silk yarn?

But then, in June, we were going to London to visit friends, and I needed a small portable project to knit on the train.  I thought again of the Jaeger pure silk,  and this time posed the question more positively:   what can you do with one ball of DK yarn, 125m. long?   And this is exactly the sort of question that you can ask in Ravelry, through the advanced pattern search facility.

I asked for knitting patterns for clothing or accessories, for an adult woman, using up to 150 yards of DK yarn.  That came up with 889 patterns. Then I specified that it had to be available via a website (not 'purchase in print'),  which cut it down a bit.

I was getting a lot of hats and mitts suggested, and decided that they wouldn't be suitable, so specialised from 'All accessories' to 'All neck/torso', which left just 119 designs, for cowls, short lacy scarves, collars, and several buttoned 'snugglers' or neckwarmers.  I looked through the first page of the remaining suggestions (they are ordered by the number of projects for each design that have been posted in Ravelry, most popular first), focussing by this time on the ones with buttons, rather than the cowls, and found the one I finally chose, the Rios Locos neck snuggler by Amy Klimt.  It was free too!  (Another advantage of Ravelry is that it has lots of  free patterns - you can restrict your search to free patterns, if you want to.)    

So that's what I found to do with one ball of silk DK yarn.  I'm really pleased with the result, though I haven't worn it yet - it's not a summer item, even in Britain.  I think it will be very useful in the cooler weather, and very comforting to wear.   I think it might need more buttons, rather than just the four along one end, so that the end of the underneath layer lies flat, but I'll try it in wear first.

Now for the other odd balls of Rowan yarn....  What do you do with one ball of Aran weight?

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Knitter article on the Guild

I've just been reading the latest issue of The Knitter magazine (no 75) - it has an article on the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  The writer, Juliet Bernard, visited the Guild's collection at Lee Mills a few months ago, and I showed her around.  It is fascinating to see in the article how the collection appeared to someone who had never seen it before.

Juliet was especially interested in the patterns that we have from the First World War, and the article focusses on those.  She has also written a shorter piece (here) for the Huffington Post, based on her visit.

During Juliet's visit, she asked what my favourite items in the collection are - a tall order to choose from the 50,000 pattern leaflets, as well as magazines, books, knitted and crocheted items, and everything else.  But as we were talking about the First World War, I picked a leaflet of coats and hats for little girls, Patons 'Helps to Knitters' X.  As Juliet describes, a pattern from the leaflet has been recreated for the Tell Them of Us film -  a gallery of photos of the costumes that have been knitted for the film can be found on the film's website here, under 'WW1 gallery'.  

There are lots of good things elsewhere in this issue of The Knitter, too - some very enticing patterns, including the sweater by Emma Vining that appears on the cover.  I met Emma at the Knitting & Stitching show last November, and admired a Japanese-style jacket she had designed that appeared on the UK Hand Knitting Association stall.  I've been waiting since then for the pattern to be published, and she tells me that an updated version will appear in The Knitter shortly - I'm really looking forward to seeing it.

Emma Vining's Kagome cardigan

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Seed stitch and Stocking stitch

Seed stitch is what I and other British knitters call moss stitch, but in this post I'll be quoting an American writer, so for the duration of the post, I'll refer to it as seed stitch.  (I'm not going to be consistent, though - I cannot bring myself to call stocking stitch 'stockinette', so I won't.)

Back in 2010, not long after I started knitting again, I came across a quote from The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt:  "Seed stitch is 30 percent shorter than Stockinette, and 18 percent wider."   As well as introducing me to that wonderful book, the quote was an amazing revelation.  I knew that rib is used for welts because it's stretchier than stocking stitch, but apart from that, it had never occurred to me that different stitch patterns behave differently - I thought that the choice of stitch pattern was all about what the resulting fabric looks like.  I knew that seed stitch is slow to knit, because of the constant switching from knit to purl, but I hadn't really understood that it's also because it takes more rows to the inch than stocking stitch.   (Yes, I know I should have.)

Since I came across her quote about seed stitch, I have read June Hemmons Hiatt 's book, and bought my own copy of the revised second edition.  And I have generally been much more aware of the characteristics of different stitch patterns.

Just recently, I have been thinking about various stitch patterns, and decided to do some experiments of my own.  I knitted swatches of different stitches, all using the same yarn, same number of stitches, same needles, same length of yarn.  Here are two of the swatches, in seed stitch and stocking stitch.
Seed stitch

Stocking stitch
I have pressed the stocking stitch swatch very lightly, just to stop it curling up a lot, but otherwise they are straight off the needles.  You can see from the ruler that both swatches are about 13 cm. wide.  So for me, seed stitch is not wider than stocking stitch, although it is definitely shorter. The stocking stitch swatch is about 30 rows to 10 cm., whereas seed stitch is taking about 38.  (That's near enough 30% extra.)

It's easy to understand why seed stitch takes more rows per cm. than stocking stitch - the vertical lines of stitches (wales) are kind of concertinaed, producing a thicker fabric.  I can't really see why it should be wider (but then as it isn't, for me, I'm not well placed to understand it).   So I don't know why there is such a discrepancy between my swatches and the account in Principles of Knitting.    Perhaps different knitting methods affect the width (i.e. yarn in right hand v. yarn in left hand, picking v. throwing, or whatever you want to call them).  Or perhaps it's just that different people knit differently.  It's intriguing.

I knit with the yarn in my right hand, the throwing method (aka English style).  If any reader knits seed stitch that is wider than stocking stitch, please tell me what knitting method you use - I'd love to know.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

For Instructing Children in Knitting

I can't recall ever seeing a mention of knitting in a church before - certainly not carved in stone.  But there is one in Abbey Dore church in Herefordshire.  In the church there is a stone slab inscribed with "A list of the Benefactions left to poor House keepers in this Parish to be annually paid out of the Estate under mentioned".  The slab was commissioned by the Church wardens in 1793, and lists bequests made between 1610 and 1720.  

One of the items on the list reads:  "1718. Rev. William Watts a School house & Garden with 5L. P. Ann.  now payable from Upper Cefen Bach for instruction of Children in Reading & Writing or sewing knitting & spinning the Teacher to reside in the said House the Church wardens & Overseers of the poor are to visit the said School & see that it be not neglected."

I think this means that Rev. Watts bequeathed the property at Upper Cefen Bach (a farm, perhaps) from which the sum of £5 could be raised annually, as well as the school building with its garden, and that the £5 was sufficient to pay the teacher's annual salary.   Reading & writing as an alternative to sewing, knitting & spinning is odd - perhaps reading & writing was for the boys, and sewing etc. was for the girls?  I assume it was intended to be a vocational curriculum, teaching children skills that would be practically useful to them, though it seems a bit strange to leave out arithmetic.   But it's interesting to see knitting listed as a school subject in the 18th century.   And was the teacher a man or a woman?

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Victory Traycloth

While we were on holiday in Herefordshire, we went to the museum in Hereford, which currently has an excellent exhibition about the First World War and how it affected local people.   There were lots of interesting things on display, but one that caught my eye was an embroidered tray-cloth, made to celebrate the end of the war.  I noticed it particularly because I thought I had seen the design before - I've since checked up and I was right.

The design appeared Weldon's Ladies' Journal ( a monthly magazine) in January 1919.  The front cover advertises "An Embroidery Design symbolical of PEACE".

The magazine gives instructions for transferring the design to a piece of cloth, and suggests colours for the embroidery.  The tray-cloth in Hereford, however,  doesn't use the colours suggested, but is all done in white on black linen.   (I couldn't get a good photo of it because of the reflections in the glass of the case.)

Black seems an unusual colour to choose for a tray-cloth.  I wonder if  the person who embroidered it had lost someone dear to them in the war - though in that case, I cannot imagine that a Victory embroidery would be of much comfort.