Thursday, 1 October 2015

French Knitting

Stitchcraft was a monthly magazine published by Patons & Baldwins that first appeared in October 1932.  In the first few years, the magazine had a Paris correspondent, Ann Talbot, who wrote every month about the hand-knitting and crochet in the models designed by the Paris fashion houses. (Not just sweaters and accessories - evidently a lot of the dresses were hand-knitted in the 1930s.)  I have been looking through her articles in the early issues of Stitchcraft in the Guild collection, for a piece I am writing for the Guild magazine.  In the May 1933 issue, a paragraph  on what Ann Talbot calls cotton-reel knitting caught my eye - it's what I used to call French knitting and we now call i-cord:
Old-fashioned tubular cotton-reel "knitting" is being enthusiastically revived in Paris at the moment. Charming accents of colour are achieved by trimming with this original handwork. Quite a brisk, military air is given to a navy woollen frock by the epaulette trimming of two rows of cotton-reel tubing, one red, the other white, along the top of each shoulder. Wool fringe in red and white is frayed out at each outer end of the tubes. Cuffs and necklines are effectively trimmed in this way, and belts of varying widths, depending upon the diameter and number of tubes used, give an unusual touch to sport coats and frocks. Striped and plaid effects are frequently worked into a tube, for both stripes and plaids are very much to the fore in the new collections. 
And here is Ann Talbot's drawing of two of the outfits, including the frock with epaulettes that she describes:

I think that the two rows of tubing above the elbow look a bit daft, actually, but never mind.

I explained here how we used to do French knitting using a cotton reel.  It's interesting that Ann Talbot calls it old-fashioned - and I wonder when it started to be called French knitting.  I-cord, which is instead knitted on a pair of double-pointed needles, produces the same effect (more quickly). Elizabeth Zimmermann gave it the name i-cord (for idiot cord, because it is easy to do).  She always claimed to have 'unvented' or re-discovered any apparently new technique (not because she knew of an earlier source, I think, but because she thought that it was impossible to invent an entirely new idea in knitting).   Several websites suggest that she did invent the technique of producing a cord on two needles, but Jean Greenhowe tracked down an early description in a book printed in 1856, in an account of how to knit stay-laces - see here.  So EZ did unvent the i-cord technique, rather than inventing it.  

Anyway, back to Paris in the 1930s.  I imagine that the cords decorating the two models illustrated are sewn in place.  These days, if we used i-cord around a neckline, it would more likely be knitted in place, e.g. by picking up stitches around the edge and knitting them into the i-cord.   For instance, Ann Kingstone's Wetwang sweater has applied i-cord at the top and bottom edges of the yoke.   In  spite of Elizabeth Zimmermann's nothing-new-in-knitting theory, I do suspect that someone invented applied i-cord, fairly recently - don't know who or when though. Any information gratefully received.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Face of the Fifties

For me, the face of the 1950s is the face of Woman's Weekly in the 1950s.   My Grandma bought the magazine every week, and once I could read, I used to look through it and try to make sense of it.  I was mainly interested in the knitting patterns for twin dolls, and Grandma made some of them for me, but the rest of it - The Man Who Sees, Mary Marryat, the Robin family - was a bit baffling.   I have met 1950s copies again since I started sorting out the publications in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  We don't have a complete collection by any means - it would be enormous.  But knitting has been an important component of Woman's Weekly magazine for a long time, and certainly was in the 1950s, so it deserves a place in the collection.

One model appears on the cover of the 1950s Woman's Weekly very frequently, and I think of her as the face of the magazine at that time. She was very slim and elegant, with very neat and carefully arranged hair.
Woman's Weekly, November 27, 1954
In fact, I know from the copies in the collection that she started modelling in the 1940s, and appeared on Woman's Weekly covers then, though I think not so often as in the 1950s. She apparently had much longer hair then, and wore it in one of those complicated constructions that remind me of a mediaeval head-dress. (And I do wonder how they managed to make their hair stay put, in the days before sophisticated hair product. Lots of hair-pins, I suppose.)

Woman's Weekly, August 23, 1947
She also did some modelling for Bestway and Weldon's pattern leaflets, which  like Woman's Weekly were published by the Amalgamated Press, Ltd.

Bestway 2071
Weldons 1002
Altogether, hers is a very familiar face.  She appeared in Woman's Weekly throughout the 1950s - I have seen her on a 1959 issue.  But I didn't know her name.  Models appearing in weekly magazines were not usually famous, unlike Kate Moss and other super-models.

Then last year, Woman's Weekly published a series, "A Vintage View", based on their archives. There was one issue for each decade of the 20th century since 1911, when the magazine started, and of course my anonymous model featured significantly in the 1950s issue.  And amazingly, I now know who she was; here's the caption to one of the covers that she appeared on:
"A favourite face  Model Patricia Squires often featured on our covers.  She was married with a son and had a nanny so she could continue working."     
It must have been very unusual for a woman in the 1950s to pay for child-care so that she could continue to work.  I am really pleased to be able to put a name to the face.

Next : the face of the 1930s. Who was this woman?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Cast Away!

Last week, we had the monthly meeting of the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild branch.  The theme this month was casting on and casting off, hence the title: Cast Away!  (It works better in British English than American English, where the theme would be casting on and binding off.)  Angharad taught us some specialised methods, including tubular cast on.  That's a method that I have heard of and wanted to learn, but it sounded far too complicated.  But now I've tried it, and my cast-on edge is very neat - I feel quite proud of myself.

The first photo shows the tubular cast-on still with its provisional few rows of stocking stitch in waste yarn which you use as the foundation - the second row shows the finished edge after the waste yarn is removed.


I am sure that I have seen tutorials on tubular cast-on in magazines and totally failed to make head or tail of it, but with Angharad showing us how to do it, it turned out to be very straightforward.  And she directed us to this YouTube tutorial by Eunny Jang as backup:

It makes a very stretchy start for single rib (and that's what my swatch is).   And there is not a definite edge as there is with the usual cast-on methods - it almost looks as though you just leap into knitting single rib with no preamble.

I finished off my swatch with tubular cast-off - Angharad's instructions were based on Montse Stanley's The Hand-Knitters Handbook (which I have).   It's a sewn cast-off, and I found it not so easy to keep the edge even and neat.  Needs more practice.  

Angharad also covered grafting and three-needle cast-off, but I decided that successfully learning one new cast-on and (not so successfully) one new cast-off was quite enough for one evening.  In any case I have done a three needle cast-off before.  I was even wearing an example (the shoulder seams of my Boardwalk pullover) - although I didn't remember that until much later.

Altogether a very productive meeting.  Next month:  Granny squares.  

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Fair Isles on Display

Lydia, at Spun Yarn Shop in Huddersfield, has revamped her window display this month.  In July and August, it was filled with summer knitting, but now that the school holidays are over, it didn't look appropriate, and so she has switched to Fair Isles in autumnal colours.

I was thrilled to see that two of the garments in the display are ones that I knitted!  I lent them to Lydia when she started stocking Jamieson's Spindrift wool from Shetland - she wanted to be able to show customers some of the things that you can knit with it.

John's pullover (on the stand on the right in the window) appeared in my very first blog post.

On the left is a sweater I knitted for myself.  I haven't worn it for years, but it does look very good - maybe I should reconsider it when Lydia changes her display again.

The patterns for both came from  Sarah Don's book on Fair Isle Knitting, published in 1979.  And I bought Jamieson's yarn for them, directly from the Shetlands (ordered by post, which seems very quaint now).

In the corner of the window are some of Elizabeth Smith's beautiful cushions, knitted in Spindrift and then felted.

And higher up, Lydia has hung a multi-coloured wheel of Spindrift.

You can see how difficult it was to take good photos - the lights and the rest of the shop are reflected in the window, and through it you can see the opposite side of the arcade.  Or v,v. if you stand outside the shop. But I think you can also see how nice the new shop is - when Spun opened nearly five years ago, it was on the 2nd floor of the Byram Arcade, but Lydia moved down to the ground floor a few months ago - so much more accessible, light and spacious.  

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Mrs George Cupples

Recently, I was doing some research for an article for SlipKnot, the magazine of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  The subject was Mrs George Cupples, who wrote two small books on knitting - or booklets, really, of 32 pages each.  They were published in Edinburgh,  apparently in 1871, when the publisher advertised them.  

Mrs Cupples was a prolific author of children's books - the British Library catalogue lists nearly 50, under what we would now consider to be her proper name of Anne Jane Cupples.  So the knitting books were more or less a sideline.  They are not instruction manuals for children, as you might expect, but rather specialised works, one on knitting stockings and the other on  “Counterpanes, Toilet-Covers, Pin-Cushions, &c.”  The Stocking-Knitter’s Manual gives general directions for stockings for all ages and sizes of foot, and finishes with a few open-work patterns, while A Knitting Book of Counterpanes gives stitch patterns for squares and strips that can be made up into counter-panes (not to mention Toilet-Covers, Pin-Cushions, &c.), with some patterns for edgings.

One thing that surprised me in researching her story is that her two knitting books were reviewed in newspapers across the country.  Perhaps that was because she was already known as a children's author. But the writers of the reviews I have seen are all men, who evidently knew nothing at all about knitting.  They took the opportunity to make fun of the abbreviations that she used - here, for instance,  are her own descriptions from The Stocking-Knitter’s Manual:             
O means put over the thread. T is knit two together. A is slip a stitch,  knit 2 together, and take the slipped stitch over.  Ts is slip a stitch,  knit 1 plain, and take the slipped stitch over. P is plain 1.   B is one pearl.
They are not abbreviations that are used nowadays, but any knitter could understand the need for them, and decode her instructions quite easily.

 Here's the Essex Standard reviewer, writing in July 1871: 
We have been requested in our editorial capacity to notice this little manual, published by Johnstone, Hunter, and Co., of Edinburgh.  We must, however, beg to be excused from vouching practically for the accuracy of the receipts, and must leave it to our lady readers, who no doubt are au fait as every lady should be, at interpreting B 1, S 3 times, O, P 7, T and repeat, &c., contenting ourselves with observing, that judging from the illustrations, we gather that a dexterous fingering of the pins or needles, according to the prescribed rules should produce cockle shells and cowries, coral and cable patterns, stars and diamonds, snowdrops, honeycombs, van-dykes, apple, rose, and olive leaves, finishing up with a fringe; and that in some of the receipts ladies are instructed to take in and in others to take off
Ho, ho, very amusing. 

And similarly, the Bath Chronicle reviewer picks on the abbreviations:   
A KNITTING BOOK OF COUNTERPANES. Edinburgh: Johnstone, Hunter, and Co.—A handbook bearing the above title has been sent for review.  Of the merits of such a work we confess ourselves unable to speak, and we can only recommend those who are curious to know its contents to buy the book and judge for themselves.  We were half inclined to give a page or so from the work by way of an extract for our literary column: but we shall be excused from this when we say that line after line is made up in this fashion:— P2 × ⊥, B11, ⊥, repeat from × P2 —and so on. What it means we leave others to guess.
(The ⊥ symbol was printed in those days as an upside-down T - easy to do in those days of movable type, when the printer just took a letter T and turned it upside down.  Fortunately for me, there is a logic symbol that looks about right.)   

The reviewer in the Alnwick Mercury, does not mock the booklet, but acknowledges that he knows nothing about the subject: 
"The art of knitting has become such a favourite and congenial employment for female hands, whether in the drawing room, the workroom, or by the sea side, that the providing of any number of suitable patterns is sure to be warmly received."  Such is a portion of the introduction by Mrs Geo. Cupples to a little manual just issued under the title of  "A Knitting Book of Counterpanes, Toilet Covers, &c.," which seems to contain, as far as our limited knowledge of so recondite a subject enables us to judge, a great variety of very pretty patterns upon which our fair friends might feel inclined to try their skill, and for which the price is a mere trifle compared with the trouble of obtaining only one or two like patterns from their friends. 
It seems extraordinary to me that a newspaper should publish a book review by a reviewer who clearly knows nothing at all about the subject, rather than asking a woman who could knit to write it.  Perhaps it wasn't thought suitable for a lady to write for a newspaper (even though all the reviews above were anonymous), though I can't imagine why not, when by then there were many magazines being published that were written for women and by women.   I hope that the women readers of these ignorant reviews found them infuriating.   

Monday, 7 September 2015

All Time Greats

I am, you may have noticed, interested in old knitting patterns.  A sub-category of vintage patterns that I find particularly fascinating are those that are based on still earlier patterns.  Sometimes spinners just revise and reissue an earlier pattern, without mentioning that it has been previously published - that's noteworthy, because it suggests that the first pattern must have sold very well (the Sirdar pattern based on a doiley, for instance, that was revised at least twice - I showed the reissued patterns here.)

But sometimes spinners explicitly say that the patterns are updated from an earlier decade, and  use the 'vintage' idea to sell the new patterns - an example is the Patons All Time Greats booklet from 1974.
Patons booklet 186: All Time Greats

As the subtitle says, the booklet has 11 designs from the 30s to the 50s that first appeared in Patons publications or in Stitchcraft magazine (which was published by Patons).  The booklet has small black-and-white photos of the original designs, and on the whole, the updated designs follow the originals faithfully.  An obvious exception is that a couple of the 1940s designs had the very gathered sleeve tops that were typical of the time, and these are not copied in 1974.   For instance in the 1940s version of the very pretty "Just a Bunch of Cherries" sweater, the tops of the sleeves stick up well above the shoulder line - a smoother profile was favoured in 1974, and indeed would be today.  

Just a Bunch of Cherries

In a few cases, I can recognise the original design (and in theory I could identify them all - they will be in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, but  I haven't had time to search yet).  One is the Fair Isle pullover from the Stitchcraft Men's Book published in the late 1940s.

The 1974 version is a close copy of the original, though the colours are more muted - the main difference between the two models is in the hairstyles (which both now look very dated).  Fair Isle knits were very popular in the late 1940s, and had a revival in the 1970s, as I remember. I knitted several Fair Isles myself then, including a pullover for my husband (though by then it was the early 80s) that I showed here.

One of the designs in All Time Greats, for a twinset, is not in fact based on an earlier design.  The introduction says: "This lively presentation brings up-to-date the many designs that have appeared in Patons leaflets over the years.  Today the twinset branches out into the separates story - sweater goes sleeveless to wear sometimes on its own or to wear over a blouse . . . or matching raglan cardigan is there when required . . . texture is ribbed and clingy".  To me, the result looks unmistakeably 1970s rather than any earlier - twinsets with sleeveless sweaters were very new and popular then.  Often the sweater would be waist-length and the cardigan much longer.  I had one like that (bought, not hand-knitted) that I thought I looked very smart in, that I wore with a midi-skirt in about 1972.    

The twinset shows one of the things I find fascinating about 'vintage vintage' - sometimes a design that is trying to evoke an earlier time ends up looking very much of its own time. Or sometimes, a few details have to be changed to make a vintage design fit into mainstream fashion - the bright colours of the 1940s Fair Isle, for instance.  Spotting the difference tells you something about what "Fair Isle" meant in the 1940s and 1970s:  in the 1940s, it was about bright colours after years of war-time drabness, in the 1970s it was about tradition, nature and the countryside.  And of course, simply by selecting just a few of the huge number of designs open to them from the 1930s to 1950s, the Patons designers in 1974 were choosing what would fit in with 1970s fashion.

I think many of the designs look equally good today - the lacy sweater below is I think my favourite.  Members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild can download All Time Greats from the members' section of the Guild website, for personal use, along with many other publications from the collection that I am gradually uploading - you'll also find the Stitchcraft Men's Book there.    

Thursday, 27 August 2015

What I'm Knitting

I have knitted two designs by Heidi Kirrmaier so far:  Boardwalk and Vitamin D.  They are two of my favourite knits.  Last month I saw another of her designs - Lydia at the Spun yarn shop in Huddersfield was knitting a Quick Sand cardigan.  Quick Sand is knitted in an Aran-weight yarn, and there is a version, Fine Sand, knitted in a lighter, DK-weight yarn.   I was very taken with Lydia's cardigan, and I'm now knitting Fine Sand for myself.

Fine Sand appears at first glance to be a very simple cardigan knitted in stocking stitch - there aren't even any buttons.  It isn't quite as simple as it looks - like most of her designs, it is knitted all in one piece, without seams, so there is a lot of shaping to achieve that.  It is knitted top-down, with radiating increases in the yoke.  That is sort of similar to Vitamin D, except in that case, the increases are emphasised, while in Fine Sand they are not so obvious.

I have just finished the body of the cardigan.  The next step is to pick up the stitches left on waste yarn and knit the sleeves.   It doesn't look much at the moment - being knitted in stocking stitch, it curls on all the edges.  But there will be a garter stitch band around the neck and front edges, and I hope that that, along with a good pressing, will stop it curling.

The yarn is Thomas B. Ramsden's  Wendy Ramsdale, and the web page says "Ramsdale is born, bred and made in Yorkshire, it is 100% Wool using a blend of Masham fleece from the Yorkshire dales. It is then dyed, spun and balled all in Yorkshire!!"  It's unusual for a commercially-produced yarn to be spun in the U.K. these days, and if you live in Yorkshire as I do, it's even more local.  And it is very nice yarn, soft and good to knit with.  The colour is lovely too.  The blue is not completely solid, but has quite a lot of grey in it.

Here's one of Heidi Kirrmaier's photos of Fine Sand.  My cardigan will look something like this soon, although the yarn is probably not as drapey as she recommends - I'm aiming for cosy more than drapey.