Sunday, 25 January 2015

Knitting for Soldiers and Sailors

The Lady's World Fancy Work Book, January 1915.

I wrote last year about the April 1914 issue of The Lady's World Fancy Work Book.  In those pre-war days, most of the magazine was concerned with 'fancy work', especially decorative crochet.  But there were also a few knitting patterns, for instance a woman's knitted 'sports coat' - a cardigan, more or less.

By January 1915, the magazine had decided that they should provide patterns for readers who wanted to knit comforts for soldiers and sailors.   The introduction to the issue said, "So many comforts have been knitted for soldiers, but we fear comforts for sailors are being overlooked, and we would remind the home worker of the need of scarves, sweaters, stockings, mittens, etc., that is experienced by the men in the North Sea at this time of the year."  (Though actually if readers had been knitting for soldiers, that was no thanks to the magazine, which had not published any 'comforts' patterns in the previous issue.)  The front cover illustrates four of the patterns.  The body belt is "an absolute necessity for both soldier and sailor".  Khaki wool is specified for the sleeping helmet, so that is aimed at the Army not the Navy.   The other two are specifically for sailors.  The Seaman's Jersey is in navy double knitting wool.  It is knitted in stocking stitch, apart from a patterned yoke, and has a ribbed roll collar.  The Sea Boot Stockings are knitted in the same wool.   Inside the magazine, there is a pattern for a Cardigan Jacket for a Soldier, also in double knitting wool "of a brown heather mixture colour, very suitable for soldiers' wear, although of course khaki or navy blue would be quite as serviceable."   And there is a very simple crocheted muffler for a soldier, in khaki double knitting wool.

Elsewhere in the magazine there are patterns for baby clothes, including a lacy 'matinee' jacket, and cycling or golfing stockings with fancy tops.

And in spite of the cover illustration of comforts for soldiers and sailors, more than half the magazine is still taken up by fancy work.  The biggest project is a chair-back in filet crochet, showing a cherub driving a chariot (full of apples? or oranges?) pulled by a rather depressed-looking lion.   A bit baffling, really.  The chair-back takes 188 rows of crochet, and the instructions for each row are given stitch by stitch.  Six and a half pages of print (a proof-reading nightmare).  Use a chart, people! Would the finished chair-back be worth all that effort?   I don't think so.

There are several ads in the magazines from spinners producing suitable wools for knitting comforts for soldiers and sailors, so perhaps that gives a better indication of what the magazine's readers were really spending their time on.

You can find a pattern from the magazine for a rather strange-sounding combination of cap and scarf, here.    A copy of the whole magazine is available to members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Victorian Double Knitting

I wrote earlier about knitting a pence jug from the directions in Mrs Hope's The Knitter's Friend.  I'm not at all familiar with 19th century knitting books, so I've been trying to get a feel for how easy they would be to use.

The instructions for the pence jug were on the whole clear, and of course having an illustration helped.  But I have been looking at some of the other 'receipts' in the book, most of which aren't illustrated, and some of them are very hard to understand.

For instance, there is a pattern for a comforter which completely baffled me.  In the First World War, a comforter seems to have been more or less equivalent to a scarf or muffler, but this was evidently something different.   The complete instructions read:
Four pins No. 14, and 1/4 lb. three-thread super-fleecy.  Cast on 48 stitches on each of two needles, and 54 on the third; knit three and purl three alternately, till it is a quarter of a yard long; when cast off 75, and continue double knitting with the remainder, until it is a quarter of a yard long also.  
And then what?  How do you wear it?  (A quarter of a yard is 9 inches, or about 23 cm.  At least I can understand that bit.)

Elsewhere in the book are directions for double knitting:
Having done as many plain stitches as you require for the edge, bring the wool forward, slip a stitch, * pass the wool back, knit one putting the wool twice over the pin, repeat "bring the wool forward, &c." In the next row, the stitch that was knitted is slipped and vice versa.  
 * In slipping this stitch, take it off with the pin pointing towards you, that is, as though you intended to purl it. 
This sounds  a bit like what we now call double knitting, i.e. creating a double layer of knitting, except for 'putting the wool twice over the pin'.  But if they were not both called 'double knitting' I would not guess them to be the same, from Mrs Hope's instructions.

John bought me another little knitting book at the York Antiquarian Book Fair, The Ladies' Knitting and Netting Book (3rd series) by Miss Watts.  It seems to have been published about the same time as The Knitter's Friend (1840s).  It has instructions for a very similar comforter (a tube of K3, P3 rib, and then a flat piece of double knitting on half the stitches), and describes how it is to be worn:  "The ribbed part is to set round the throat and the double knitting covers the chest."  So that's clear - it's what's now called a dickey.

Like Mrs Hope, "Miss Watts"  (who apparently was at least two women) also attempts to describe double knitting:
Bring the wool forward, slip 1 stitch, pass the wool back, knit 1 stitch with the wool twice round the needle;  repeat to the end of the row.  Every row is the same.
She is (they are) evidently describing the same technique as Mrs Hope, but  I wouldn't want to rely on either set of instructions and be confident of doing what they intended.

Then I found another book, The Comprehensive Knitting Book by Esther Copley (1849).  She gives instructions for stitch patterns, as well as patterns for a huge range of garments. This is what she says about double knitting:
 Double Knitting 
So called on account of its forming a double texture, as if lined with a separate article and confined at the edges. The texture throughout though thick is loose, and is adapted to purposes in which warmth and softness are required rather than elegance of appearance, such as blankets, petticoats, drawers, protectors for the chest, &c.  Cast on any even number of stitches. Begin with six or eight plain rows by way of border.  The number of edge stitches should correspond with those of the border.  Thus, if eight rows of border be knitted, four stitches should be knitted plain at the beginning and end of every row. Having knit the edge stitches, bring the wool in front and slip a stitch; carry the wool back, and knit the next stitch.... putting the wool twice round the pin, once more than it would be in common knitting. 
 These two stitches constitute the whole of the pattern; they are to be repeated till the last four of the row, which are to be knitted as edge-stitches.  In returning, all the long stitches will be slipped, and all the short ones (slipped in the foregoing row) will be knitted.  Every row is alike until the last before the finishing border.  In this, the wool is to be brought in front, the stitch slipped, and the wool returned as heretofore; but the second (and every other alternate stitch) is to be plain knitted, not putting the wool twice round the pin. 
There's a woman who knows what she's talking about.  That description has everything you need:  it tells you what the result is like, what to use it for, and gives very clear directions.  She tells you that you need an even number of stitches (whereas in Mrs Hope's comforter receipt, the double knitting section is worked on an odd number of stitches - which could cause horrible problems to anyone trying to follow it without already knowing about double knitting).  She talks about the edge stitches, which Miss Watts does not, and Mrs Hope only mentions edge stitches at the beginning of the row. She tells you what happens on the second row, i.e. you knit the stitches you slipped on the previous row, and v.v., which is useful confirmation in understanding the directions.  And she tells you how to finish.  

So I was easily able to follow Mrs Copley's instructions and knit a swatch.

Within a border of plain knitting (garter stitch), you get a double thickness of stocking stitch, with the knit side outwards on both sides - so the other side of the swatch looks the same.  As Mrs Copley says, the texture is very loose, because putting the yarn round the needle twice gives a larger stitch than usual.  And I found it very difficult to get the stitches even, so it does not have much 'elegance of appearance'.   It would make a warm soft chest covering for your comforter.

Mrs Copley is my hero.  I haven't read the whole book - it has 208 pages - but what I have read looks very thorough and comprehensive, as she claims.  And the book is available free from Google Books.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

More Knitting Patterns

Hayfield 1569

Yesterday, we were working at Lee Mills, where the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection is kept. One of the other volunteers was sorting a couple of boxes of pattern leaflets into numerical order, and said that it seemed to be a never-ending task. As soon as we think we're nearly finished, another boxful or crateful of patterns turns up.  I said that wasn't so at all, and we are making progress, even if it's slow, and we aren't likely to get any more large acquisitions of pattern leaflets.

 I should have known better. Within the hour, someone came round from the next-door premises with four binders of Hayfield pattern leaflets that had been left for us.  They came from the cellar of the local post office, which is also a general store and evidently used to sell Hayfield patterns (and yarn as well, presumably) in the 1980s.   These patterns had been there ever since, and the man who kept the Post office was having a clear-out and passed them on to us.

The binders themselves were extremely grubby from being in the cellar, but the patterns were in plastic sleeves and so were still in good condition.   I have picked out a few;  I chose leaflet 1569, because I like to see a sweater with a landscape knitting on the front.  Even though I have never knitted or worn one, and don't plan to either, they are quite cheering.

Hayfield 1561

Some of the designs still look wearable, like Hayfield 1561.  That one has a slightly 1930s look to me, in fact, so it is not so obviously 1980s as some of the others.  

My favourite leaflets, because of their cover illustrations, are a batch for a yarn called Gaucho.  The stylist appears to have thought: "Gaucho - Argentinian cowboy - American West - Arizona - Mexico - desert - cactus..."   Some of the designs do have a hint of South America, like the llamas on the jacket in no. 1611, though the Aran-style sweater in no 1610 looks a bit out of place.    

 But the best part is the setting.    It's evidently meant to look like desert, somewhere in America, but the leaflets give the location as Sand Quarry, in Addington, Kent.   The broom and laurel (both European)  give the game away, too.   That cactus is plastic, surely.  (I think there's only one of it, and it's being moved around.)  And the rock that the model is sitting on (no. 1620) doesn't look convincing either.

Hayfield 1611
Hayfield 1610
Hayfield 1620, with a cactus photobomb
This batch of Hayfield patterns is a welcome addition to the collection (even though they will have to be sorted...).  Most of the patterns in the collection came from the personal collections amassed by lots of individual knitters - patterns they bought because they planned to knit them.  What you get from that kind of source is a bit hit-and-miss, and stock from a shop will fill in a lot of gaps.  And of course the leaflets are unused - not creased, or worn, or with the little annotations that a lot of knitters (including me) make on their patterns as they are knitting.  We are very grateful to the donor.  

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Needlework for All - Christmas 1914

Happy New Year to everyone!  I intended to write this post nearer to Christmas 2014, but missed.  But it's not Twelfth Night yet, so it's still the Christmas season...

Needlework for All was a monthly magazine, started in 1909, and there are several issues, including the Christmas 1914 double number, in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  Like other needlecraft magazines being published at the start of the war, it emphasised 'fancy work', especially crochet.   But in late 1914, many of these magazines included patterns for making comforts for the troops, and the Christmas 1914 Needlework for All has "Comforts for Soldiers and Sailors, &c." as a subtitle to reflect that.  (In fact, I think that after this issue, the magazine pretty much reverted to fancy work - they appear to have decided that they'd done comforts, and didn't need to do any more.)

The first page of the magazine introduces the contents:
Christmas and the New Year come to us in this season of 1914 very differently, alas! to their wont.  But yet, with the war-clouds overshadowing their brightness, the old traditions still cling close, and there is the longing, deep ingrained in the hearts of most of us, to express the Christmas feelings of goodwill by the giving of presents.  The gifts which everyone has in mind before any others are those that will take the form of some comfort for the sailors and soldiers—and who is there that has not among the Forces of the King someone near and dear for whom the thinking and making of comforts is some relief to the anxious thoughts that will come?
Ever since the War broke out our little Magazine has set itself to the best of its ability to the task of helping by suggestions and instructions towards the working of practical additions to the kit of the sailors in their weary and anxious task of watching and waiting, for the soldiers in their warfare at the front, or their work in the training camps, and for the wounded and sick who have come home so quickly, thanks to the wonderful organisation for their rapid transit; nor have suggestions been overlooked for the making of warm garments for the refugees from that heroic little Belgium, or for winter comforts for the children of the sailors and soldiers whose Christmas will be such a sad one this year.
The editor then goes on to congratulate the magazine on having done such a good job already that the previous "War Numbers" that included patterns for comforts had completely sold out - and readers had found the patterns "completely satisfactory, and easy to carry out".   So the Christmas issue includes reprints of several of the earlier patterns.  

More on the comforts later.  But fancy work has not been forgotten:
No pains have been spared, however, to make our first Christmas Number as complete and comprehensive as possible.  While catering for the universal demands in connection with the War, due provision has not been omitted for those workers who have leisure or, happily, enough ease of mind to allow themselves the relaxation of fancy work.  
Filet crochet was very popular for fancy work, and the magazine includes two filet crochet designs, an edging and an insertion, which could be used for trimming tablecloths, etc., one with a military theme:    
The Victoria Cross Crochet Lace is a design that will have very special interest, even in the brighter days to which we so earnestly look forward when the immediate cause of its inspiration shall have passed away.  

The editor goes on:
there are hints as to the making of all kinds of useful knick-knacks of the inexpensive order, which specially meets the scale of present-giving of this season, and there are dainty little garments for children in knitting and crochet which will do duty for Yuletide souvenirs in the most attractive manner. 
One of the children's garments is a very practical-looking knitted jersey for a boy of five, and could not be described as a 'dainty little garment', by any stretch, but perhaps the editor was not much acquainted with five-year-old boys.  

Child's knitted jersey - age five years

The comforts for soldiers and sailors include, of course, the helmet illustrated on the front cover.  It is crocheted, except for the knitted rib around the face, and incorporates ear slits.   I think that helmets were not official issue, and so there is no standard pattern, and a great variety in the helmet designs that were published.  

Crochet helmet with ear slits.
There is also a rifle glove, that leaves the thumb and first finger uncovered.

Rifle glove

And there is a pattern for a cholera belt (or body belt), thought by many people to be absolutely essential for keeping the abdomen warm, and the soldier in good health. There had been an appeal earlier for 300,000 body belts, which had been sent to the troops in France early in November, and many knitters would by this time have been very familiar with them.

 As the editor  mentions in the introduction,  there are several things in the magazine to make for the sick and wounded, who of course had been coming back from France in large numbers.  There is an odd selection:  some have very specific medical uses, such as a knitted eye bandage and a knitted thumb-stall.  Not the appropriate sort of thing for volunteers to be knitting, without a specific request from a hospital, surely?

Knitted Eye-bandage
 Altogether, the magazine gives a slightly unsettling view of the activities of its readers at this stage of the war - making a fairly random selection of comforts for the troops, but then going back to the more familiar 'fancy work', making decorative articles for the home, and garments for children.    

Members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild can download a copy of this issue of Needlework for All , along with other First World War magazines - more will follow.

Monday, 15 December 2014

A Victorian Pence Jug

I have just knitted a little pence jug from a Victorian pattern.  Useless (at least I haven't thought of a use for it yet) but very charming and decorative.   The pattern came from a little book that John bought for me at the York Antiquarian Book Fair - The Knitter's Friend by Mrs Hope.  The book is not dated, but I think it must be 1847 or 1848 - there is an ad in the back for Hope's Protective Labels for directing passenger luggage (a fascinating read in its own right), that quotes several favourable newspaper notices, all dated 1847.

Illustration of pence jug from The Knitter's Friend
I have seen several patterns for pence jugs from 19th century publications, and we have several actual pence jugs in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, so I decided to try this pattern.  The first question  was what yarn and needles to use.  The pattern specifies size 18 needles and "German wool".  Size 18s are about 1.25mm, and I do have a set of four, in steel, that I think are pre-First World War - I wrote about them here.  But I don't think I can knit with them.  And "German wool" obviously doesn't just mean "wool from Germany" but had a specific meaning - possibly the same as "Berlin wool".  But in either case I don't know what the modern equivalent would be, and anyway there would be no point in finding yarn that needs to be knitted on size 18 needles if I can't manage that.

The pattern suggests using four different colours of yarn - like many of the pence jugs I have seen, combining a few shades of one colour is a feature of the design.  So I thought of some of the space dyed yarns that are available now.  A pence jug will only use a small amount of each colour (the finished jug weighs about 10g.), so I thought that with the right yarn there would be a long enough stretch of each colour for the jug - effectively treating one ball of multi-coloured yarn as lots of mini-skeins, each of just one colour.

I chose Zauberball sock yarn, in the Oktoberfest colourway.  (Which is actually made in Germany, and so in that sense is "German wool", after all.)  It can be separated into six distinct colours so I decided to use them all (why not?) - one for each of the ridges in the body of the jug, and then repeating one for the neck and another for the rim and handle.  I knitted it on 2mm. needles, so that the fabric is quite dense - it needs to stand up by itself.

I reduced the number of stitches to compensate for the fact that I was using larger needles and presumably thicker yarn.  The pattern doesn't say what the finished size should be, and the jugs in the KCG collection vary quite a bit, but I think my finished jug is probably about right - it's just over 7 cm tall.

What did the Victorians use pence jugs for?  I think if you  had asked one they would have said (translated into modern parlance): "To put pennies in, dummy."   But beyond that, it's not at all clear. Some patterns, like this one, have a flat base, and appear to be intended to stand on a flat surface - like a jug, in fact.   But others were not designed to stand up by themselves and seem to be intended more as a purse for putting in a pocket or a handbag. Perhaps a jug like mine stood on a mantelpiece, as a combination of an ornament and a place to keep money.

The photo of the jug at the top shows it alongside some Victorian pennies.  They are 3cm in diameter - marginally bigger than a £2 coin.  And judging by the fact that in 1914, the suffragettes were calling for a minimum wage of 6d (six pence) an hour for women (see here), a penny would be roughly equivalent to at least £1 now.  A jug full of pennies would be a significant amount of money.

The pennies do easily go into the jug, by the way - the neck of the jug is in double rib and very stretchy.  In fact, the whole design is an object lesson in how different stitches behave.  The ridges around the body are alternate bands of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch, which gives it enough rigidity to stand up.  The neck is done on the same number of stitches, but the double rib pulls it in to create that elegant curve.  The only shaping is to create the lip of the jug, by adding extra stitches in a V-shape.   The rim and handle are all done in stocking stitch: the rim pulls the neck of the jug out again, and because the knit side is inside, the rim curls over to that side.  The handle is just an extension of the rim, on a small number of stitches; because a strip of stocking stitch naturally curls inwards from the sides, the handle is nicely rounded, even though it's just a flat strip of knitting.  

A satisfying (and quick) knit.   I'll put it on the mantelpiece and admire it, until I think of a use for it.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

This Year's Books

Last night, one of my book groups had our annual Christmas dinner, and exchanged Christmas cards.  As is by now traditional (i.e. I have done it for the past three years), I made a card showing the books that we have read this year.     

We usually read eight books in a year.  This year's were mostly novels, apart from Chris Mullin's diaries of the last stretch of his career as an MP, and Michael Ondaatje's memoir of growing up in Ceylon and his family's history there.  The books I enjoyed most, and the ones I am planning to keep, are Stoner by John Williams and Strange Meeting by Susan Hill.  The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields would also be a keeper, except that I borrowed  it from the library.    Chris Mullin's Decline and Fall and Barbara Pym's Excellent Women were also library copies - making a Christmas card means that I have to borrow them again to make the card (which might give you a clue as to why you can't see the title of the Barbara Pym book).   It also means that I am not often tempted to get a Kindle - books on a Kindle would not make a good picture.

We each got a Christmas present at the dinner from our Secret Santa - a book, of course.  Mine was The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.

I have read it before, from the library, and enjoyed it very much.  It's great to have my own copy (and a very nicely-produced copy, too) and I'm looking forward to reading it again.   I knew when I read it that Barbara Kingsolver must be a knitter, and I subsequently read a feature on her in Vogue Knitting.  Here is her account of a non-knitter (her character Harrison Shepherd) talking on a long car journey to another character, Mrs Brown, about her knitting:
 "... I thought it was an indigo porcupine."
 She had a laugh at that.  She has eleven nephews and nieces, I learned, and meant to outfit the tribe on this journey, working through socks from top to toe, all from the same massive hank of blue wool.  The coming holiday shall be known as "The Christmas of the Blue Socks from Aunt Violet."  She worked on a little frame of four interlocked needles that poked out in every direction. as she passed the yarn through its rounds.
"Aren't you afraid you'll hurt yourself with that?"
"Mr. Shepherd, if women feared knitting needles as men do, the world would go bare-naked."

And later Mrs Brown knits Mr Shepherd a pair of gloves for Christmas, taking the measurements from a grease stain he left on a piece of paper,  He is astonished because he has never had a pair of gloves that he can wear comfortably before - his fingers are extraordinarily long.  But she has made a pair that fit him perfectly, in pure merino wool.  

 A good read.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


I finished knitting a thick cardigan for myself months ago - sewn up and everything.  Except it didn't have any buttons.  Then I sewed the buttons on.  And I have been wearing it quite a lot since the weather turned colder.   So it's about time I wrote about it.

The design is 'Wainwright' by Bristol Ivy.  It's described as "an asymmetric cardigan whose construction takes traditional chevrons for a joy ride."  It's a really interesting construction. ( I do like a design with an interesting construction.)   You start by knitting two triangles separately, increasing in the middle of each, one bigger than the other.  The middle of each triangle marks where the side seam would be, if there was one. Then you join them together, so that you knit along the top edge of one triangle and then the other, decreasing where they join to form the off-centre 'seam' up the back. And so on - you end up with one piece that combines the entire back and fronts of the cardigan, including the front button bands and welt.   The raglan sleeves are knitted separately and then sewn in, and then you pick up stitches around the neck edge and knit the collar.    

I made a couple of changes to the pattern. First, I made it longer - you'd think that would be difficult, but actually it isn't, and the pattern tells you where to make the change.  Second, I used the garter ridge stitch pattern from the body on the sleeves as well - the original design has plain stocking stitch sleeves, but I thought that it would look better if the garter ridges extended over the sleeves.  Finally, and inexplicably, I had to make the right front wider than it should have been, otherwise the front would have been narrower than the back.  I don't know why - I checked the instructions, and they seemed quite correct.  If I had followed them, the front should have been wide enough.  It wasn't.  Baffling.  

Because of this quirk, the neck opening is wider than it should have been.  I don't think I would want to wear the collar as a cowl (i.e. buttoned up), even if it was the right width, and I haven't put any buttons on the collar (although I did make the buttonholes).

When it was finished, I wasn't quite sure at first that I was happy with the wide asymmetric collar (especially since it was wider than intended).  But the more I have worn it, the more I like it.  It has a slightly 1950s look, I think.

The yarn is Wendy Traditional Aran, in charcoal grey.  It is a good to knit with and very cosy to wear.  Altogether a successful knit.