Tuesday, 5 May 2015

My Knitting

I haven't mentioned what I've been knitting for a while, although I have several projects almost finished.  I don't generally like to talk about my knitting before it's actually finished, partly because it might go wrong, and that would be embarrassing, and partly because I am very bad at finishing knitting projects (I hate sewing up, for one thing), so I might have to report that I've finished something a long time after I've said I'm knitting it, and that would be embarrassing too.  

But here's something I have just finished, apart from sewing in ends, etc.  It's a very unseasonal cabled scarf, in Wendy Merino DK.   More about it later.  

Monday, 4 May 2015

Lace Knits

My friend Ann Kingstone has just published a new book, Lace Knits.   It should be appearing  in the shops in the next few days, if it isn't there already, but I got my copy direct from Ann a couple of weeks ago.  If you're on Ravelry, the individual designs are being posted there, too.

Like Ann's other books, it is very well-produced. The cover illustration is by Alex Tomlinson, who did a wonderful print to celebrate the Yorkshire Grand Depart of the Tour de France 2014.  The photography is by Woolly Wormhead, and styling by Susan Crawford - they have done a wonderful job of showing off the lace knits.

There are 16 designs in the book, all named after places in and around Huddersfield - Fenay, Gledholt, Cowlersley (a cowl!), Slaithwaite (pronounced Sla-wit, if you live there).   For people who know Huddersfield, that adds an extra dimension -  one is named after the district we live in, another after my daughter's school.

There are several lovely lace shawls, though knitting lace shawls is not really my thing, and some delightful fingerless mitts (Edgerton).   But the designs that most appeal to me are the cardigans and sweaters. They are all seamless -  one of Ann's trademarks, as in her Wetwang sweater, which I knitted from her Born & Bred book.  Seamless knitting avoids the difficulty of trying to make a neat seam in knitted lace - especially difficult in a yarn like Rowan's Kid Silk Haze.

I think my favourite is Ainley, knitted in Aran weight yarn (Rowan Kid Classic).  It uses two really pretty lace stitches, one being 'frost flowers' - very appropriate for a winter-weight knit. The body and the sleeves are knitted separately, from the bottom up, and then joined.  The sleeves are set in - all seamlessly, as I've said, and the shaping is just beautifully neat.  

Reinwood is another cardigan, in a lighter weight yarn (Rowan Pure Wool Worsted).  The lace panels are confined to the front, and the rest is in stocking stitch - again all seamless.  In this design, the body is knitted bottom up and the sleeves top down, from picked up stitches around the armhole.

And Springwood is a top-down sweater, with a border of lace around the hem and cuffs - very pretty.  It's in 4-ply, so would make a good knit for spring.  It's knitted top down, "commencing with the Ziggurat shoulder technique", which sounds intriguing.  

The patterns are given with both written instructions and charts for the lace.  There's also a well-illustrated section of the book on the techniques required, such as various cast-on methods, magic loop, applied i-cord, and so on.  

Altogether a lovely book.  I plan to knit Ainley for myself soon, and I'd like to knit Reinwood and Springwood too - though given my usual rate of knitting, that might be a bit optimistic.    

Saturday, 2 May 2015

For a Royal Baby

This week, we were sorting several boxes of Peter Pan patterns in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and found several copies of this free pattern leaflet, "A layette for someone special".   It must have been issued around the time of a royal birth, so that you could make a set of baby clothes fit for a prince or princess, for a baby in your own family.  I'm guessing that the royal baby was Prince William (born 1982), because the booklet on the table in the foreground says "The Royal Wedding" and I think refers to the wedding of Prince William's parents the previous year.

It was a very timely find, since another royal birth was imminent, and the new princess, Prince William's daughter, has arrived today! 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

1960s Fashion Models

I have been sorting a lot of Hayfield pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection recently.  (Hayfield was the brand name of John C. Horsfall & Sons Ltd., based near Keighley, one of many yarn-spinning companies in West Yorkshire in the decades after WW2 - now Hayfield is a Sirdar brand.)  I wrote here about some Hayfield patterns from the 1980s.  In the recent sort, a few patterns from the 1960s caught my eye, because I recognised the models.

Hayfield 494
Hayfield 495
In 1966, Hayfield issued four patterns "Designed by Vogue Knitting", and the model on two of them was Grace Coddington, then a top model who frequently appeared in (British) Vogue.  She subsequently became creative director of American Vogue, and featured in the 2009 documentary The September Issue.

The four pattern leaflets were, as you would expect, advertised in Vogue Knitting.  Oddly, one of the other patterns is modelled in the ad by Twiggy, I think - hard to be sure, because her face is partly hidden by a large flower.  The model on the leaflet is definitely not the same person.  Wonder why they switched models?

It's unusual to see the top fashion models, who normally inhabit the glossy magazines, appearing on pattern leaflets.  But in 1969, Marisa Berenson also appeared on a Hayfield leaflet.  Like Grace Coddington, she was seen frequently in Vogue at that time, and appeared on several Vogue covers, for instance in July 1970.  In the 1970s, she moved into acting and appeared in several films.

Hayfield 659

The Marisa Berenson leaflet was featured in a Hayfield ad, and perhaps that was the reason for choosing a top model.  It seems to have been a special case - as far as I know, she did not model for any other Hayfield leaflets, or for any other spinners' leaflets.  She can rarely have modelled anything as mundane as an Aran cardigan.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Read, Knit and Work Plain Work

As you know, I am always looking out for references to knitting in unlikely places.   Our holiday in Wales last week wasn't very fruitful in that respect, but I did find one mention.  We went to Llanfyllin, about 10 miles north west of Welshpool, where we had a very nice lunch with our friends in the Seeds restaurant.  And after lunch, we went to the church - St Myllin's.   (Llanfyllin  means, more or less, the church of St Myllin. Changing an initial m to f sometimes is something that happens in Welsh.)  

On the front of the gallery at the back of the church was a series of painted panels, detailing various benefactions to the church and the town, including this one:

The charitable good Lady Mrs. Mary Vaughan of Llangedwyn, widdow of Edward of Llwydiarth Esqr. in 1720, aetat. suae [at the age of] 74 Did, among many other her great charitys, by her Deed grant and settle on Trustees Eleaven hundred and sixteen pounds ten shillings principal money to purchase lands the yearly Interest, Rents & proffitts thereof for ever for endowing & establishing charity schools, for 20 poor Boys & 10 poor Girls within this parish, & 12 poor Boys in the next parish of Llan-mihangel, to be educated in the Principles of the Church of England as by Law established, to be cloathed once a year; the Boys to be taught to read, write & Arithmetick; the Girls to read, knit & work plain work. This pious Lady lived some years after, saw these Schools flourish, Visited them and gave them further charitable incouragement. ...
I saw a similar record of a charitable endowment made in 1718 last year, in Herefordshire, reported here.  That listed similar subjects, but they weren't split between boys and girls (though perhaps it was thought to be obvious).  Here, it is made very specific.  The boys get what we would now think of as a very basic primary education - literacy and numeracy.  But the girls only get the reading part of that -  reading used to be taught separately from writing, and before it.  And then to "knit and work plain work" - which I think means plain sewing.  I assume that knitting and sewing were thought to be useful skills for an 18th century housewife in a poor household.  In some regions of  Britain, knitting stockings would be a way of earning money, but I think in those areas, men as well as women knitted at that time, and the skills would be learnt within the family.

£1116 10s. would have been a huge sum of money at that time, so Mrs Vaughan was a generous woman.  I wonder if the charity still exists?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Border Country

We were on holiday last week with friends, in Wales.  We were staying in a little cottage near Welshpool, on a hillside looking west over the Severn valley towards the hills and mountains beyond, with the outline of Cader Idris (I think) on the horizon.

The view from the cottage at sunset

Our friends (and their dog) were walking the northern half of the Offa's Dyke Path - about 85 miles. We walked with them for a day, and did just 10 miles.   The weather was beautiful all week, sunny and warm, and the path went through lovely countryside.

As you can see, the trees were still bare, but there were primroses and other spring flowers. including a few wild daffodils.  It felt like spring had finally arrived.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Double Century

I have recently bought some vintage knitting needles, and I think they are the nicest straight knitting needles I have ever used.    The brand is Double Century and they have a plastic coating over a steel core.  They are very good to knit with.  The coating is smooth - but not too slippery, unlike metal needles. They don't bend, unlike plastic or wooden needles.  The steel core gives them a satisfying weight, although perhaps some people might find them too heavy.  And the points are just right  - not too blunt or too sharp.    

The name and other details are incised into the plastic, and I think that originally the lettering was filled in with some black substance.  A few of the Double Century needles in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection still have the inlay (see photos), but it has usually worn off.

After "The Double Century" there is a patent number, and on the other side of the needle, "English Made" and "B.G." for "British Gauge", I think, and then the size.  The coating of the needles is always a cream colour, to imitate bone or ivory.  

The patent, for "Improvements in or relating to Knitting Needles, Crochet-hooks and the like" was applied for in 1913 by Emily Doubble, widow, of  "Knole", Harpenden, Herts.  

The specification reads:
"This invention relates to knitting needles, crochet-hooks, and the like of the kind which are made of vulcanite, ebonite and such like pliable material, the object of the invention being to lend a stiffness to the hook or needle when in use.

It has been found the knitting needles, crochet-hooks, and such like appliances of domestic use when formed of ebonite, vulcanite or other material, though possessing a desirable smoothness and silence in working, are apt to become soft and to lose their stiffness when held in the hand for any length of time, owing to the heat of the hand softening them.

According, therefore, to this invention, I reinforce the needle, crochet-hook or the like by imbedding a core of stiffening material ... to increase its rigidity.

In one manner of carrying out the invention as applied to a knitting needle, a steel wire is imbedded in the centre of the needle when the same is in a liquid or semi-liquid state, the reinforcement being entirely covered at the pointed end of the needle..."
I have been trying to find out more about Emily Doubble, and how her patent led to my knitting needles.  She  seems an unlikely inventor.  In the 1911 census, she is recorded as living at the same address as on the patent application, aged 72, and already a widow.  She had had 14 children, and living with her were two daughters and a son, all unmarried.  The son, Theodore William Doubble, must surely be the T.W. Doubble, Chartered Patent Agent, who is also named on the patent application - his occupation in the 1911 census is engineer, so he seems a much more likely inventor than his mother.      

Then there is a gap after 1913 when the patent was granted, and 1945, which is the date of the next reference I have found to Double Century needles.    

They were advertised in June 1945 in the magazine Home Chat as "The Knitting Pins with a history and a future."   Evidently the manufacture of Double Century needles had been suspended during the war, and in 1945 they were still not available. The ad says "The Steel for their unbreakable centres has been needed for essential war work.  Soon they will be back for those insist on the finest knitting pins in the world."  Many ads with a similar message appeared around that time, saying "our product has not been available during the war but it soon will be".    

The company making Double Century needles was James Smith & Son, in Redditch.  The town had a long history of needle-making, and the firms of Henry Milward and Abel Morrall (makers of Aero knitting needles) were also based there.

When I first saw this ad, with the date 1698, I thought that Double Century referred to the age of the company, i.e. more than 200 years, and thought that the name might have been introduced in 1898.  But surely it is not a coincidence that the brand name is Double Century and the patent was granted to Emily Doubble?  What is the link between a widow living in Harpenden, and a needle-making company in Redditch?   It's very mysterious.

By 1950, steel shortages were past and you could buy Double Century needles without any problem. An ad in Needlework Illustrated claims that they are "Just like ivory" (because of the colour and feel, I suppose) and the "Best Knitting Pins in the World".  I might not go so far as to agree with that, but they are certainly my favourites just now.   If I find out more about their history, I'll let you know.