Saturday, 19 January 2019

A Few More Patterns

Last weekend, I was knitting at Sheringham, on the north Norfolk coast - the Leighton Buzzard branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild hold an annual weekend at the Youth Hostel there.  A busy weekend, with a yarn swap, a quiz, talks and workshops.  Alongside the workshops, I did a couple of sessions on tools and gadgets from the Guild collection which were innovations in their time, and have a patent number attached - such as the Double Century needles.  I took a few knitting patterns with patent numbers too. (You might not think that you could patent a sock pattern, but it has been done - I'll write about it some time.)  There was time to look around Sheringham and visit the shops, including the two yarn shops.  And of course a lot of knitting was done (or crochet, for those that are that way inclined).

During the weekend, a Guild member gave me some pattern leaflets and booklets from a friend of hers, as a donation to the collection - a mix of styles and dates, from the 1930s to the 1970s or 80s.  It's exciting to look through the very old patterns - there's often something fascinating that we don't already have in the collection.

The two oldest patterns in the new donation are Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores leaflets from the early 1930s. Their leaflets at that time were 'given free' - presumably if you bought the wool.   The first is for a 'Gentleman's Pullover', with or without sleeves.   It has a band of stranded knitting above the welt, and another around the V neck - in a rather boring colour combination of brown on fawn.

Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores B 4

The other is a children's pattern, size 24 in. (61 cm.) chest. There is a boy's pullover, with a V neck, and a girl's pullover with a square neck, buttoned on the shoulder.

Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores B 38
We have some of the Scotch Wool Stores pattern leaflets from the 1930s in the collection already, but there are a lot of gaps, so it's good to be able to fill in two of them.

I'll show a few of the later leaflets too.  From the 1950s is this elegant double-breasted jacket.

Lister 299 6d
And this leaflet is from the 1960s: 

Prismar 1024

It's aimed at teenagers - the girls on the cover are evidently fans of jazz and the Beatles. There was a time in the 1960s when every teenage girl wanted a ribbed sleeveless sweater with a polo neck, just like the one here.

And representing the 1970s is a 'poncho style shawl', crocheted in dishcloth cotton.

Twilleys 1024

Some very nice additions to the collection.  I bought another myself, in the Salvation Army shop - a Bestway pattern from the 1940s that I thought we didn't already have, and I was right.  (I could actually have checked the list of Bestway patterns in the collection on my phone, but it's more fun to wing it, and see if I'm right later.)  And a pair of Barnet knitting needles in a junk shop - not a make I had heard of.

Bestway 624

I mentioned that there was plenty of time during the weekend for knitting and crochet.  I was knitting a pair of socks for my sister - both socks at once, in line with my New Year's knitting resolution. They are progressing nicely - this is how much I had done by Sunday evening:




It was a very good weekend - and Sheringham 2020 is already planned.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Knitted Garters

Over Christmas we were trying to do the King William's College quiz in The Guardian.  It is fiendishly difficult, even with the help of Google - the questions often seem to be carefully designed so that there is nothing obvious to search for.  And of course, I didn't expect to find any questions or answers that had anything to do with knitting.  But I did.

One relatively straightforward question was "Which gentleman of Worcestershire received a huge pike from Will Wimble?"  - straightforward, because searching for "Will Wimble" gave the answer quite easily.  (Sir Roger de Coverley, by the way. Which is also the name of a dance, how confusing.)

William Wimble appears in an essay by Joseph Addison published in The Spectator magazine in 1711.  He is a member of the aristocracy, but is a younger son and has no title or property of his own.  His interests and abilities would make him very suited to a career in trade or commerce, but because of his social standing, his family won't allow it.  Addison describes how he spends his time:

Will. Wimble is younger brother to a baronet, and descended of the ancient family of the Wimbles. He is now between forty and fifty; but being bred to no business and born to no estate, he generally lives with his elder brother as superintendent of his game. He hunts a pack of dogs better than any man in the country, and is very famous for finding out a hare. He is extremely well versed in all the little handicrafts of an idle man: he makes a May-fly to a miracle; and furnishes the whole country with angle-rods. As he is a good-natur’d officious fellow, and very much esteem’d upon account of his family, he is a welcome guest at every house, and keeps up a good correspondence among all the gentlemen about him. He carries a tulip-root in his pocket from one to another, or exchanges a puppy between a couple of friends that live perhaps in the opposite sides of the county. Will. is a particular favourite of all the young heirs, whom he frequently obliges with a net that he has weaved, or a setting-dog that he has made himself: he now and then presents a pair of garters of his own knitting to their mothers or sisters; and raises a great deal of mirth among them, by enquiring as often as he meets them how they wear? These gentleman-like manufactures and obliging little humours, make Will. the darling of the country.
I noticed the reference to knitted garters, of course.  I'm guessing that garters were usually either knitted by women for themselves, or they were bought, and so were made by professional knitters, possibly including men.  William Wimbles' other activities seem entirely suitable for men, and I assume that knitting was too - the mirthful part is that because he is a gentleman knitting for ladies, he can ask how they wear (which a tradesman could not, of course).

But I have other question, too.  What were the garters knitted in, what did they look like, how were they fastened?  1711 seems a bit early for knitted cotton, though I know very little about knitting at that time - maybe linen?  I'm imagining a strip of knitting, tied round the leg, but that may be completely wrong. And of course, they must have been knitted in garter stitch, surely?

So then I wondered when the term garter stitch was first used - I don't think I have seen it in 19th century knitting books.   The Oxford English Dictionary (available online in some libraries) gives supposedly the earliest use of any word or phase in print, and its first reference for garter stitch is from 1909.  That's very late, and I easily found a much earlier one (through the online newspapers in FindMyPast) in 1854, at the time of the Crimean War, in a letter to the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser:

A LETTER FOR THE LADIES, 
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DUNDEE ADVERTISER, 
SIR, Will you kindly insert in your Friday's paper the following simple directions for knitting comforters, &c., as they may be useful to those who wish to work something for our soldiers in the Crimea.
For Comforter — Cast on 70 loops on middling-sized pins, with wool called "wheeling,"  Knit brioche stitch (O, S,T, repeat).
One shilling's worth of worsted will make a good-sized comforter, and an ordinary knitter will be able lo knit one in three or four days. The same wool and stitch, or even garter stitch, may be used for muffetees.
Saturday is the school-girls' holiday: could their leisure hours be better occupied than in working something for our gallant men in the Crimea?  Let each girl purchase four-pence worth of wheeling and knit a pair of muffetees, and she will have the satisfaction of feeling she is contributing a little to the comfort of her brave and suffering countrymen in the East.
LYDIA.
December 14, 1854. 

[The red for garter stitch is my addition.  I have corrected 'briothe' to 'brioche'. Muffetees were I think fingerless mitts. The abbreviations O, S and T were not standard at the time, so these would only have been comprehensible to someone who had a knitting book that used them - in fact the directions are altogether a bit sparse.]

This letter suggests that 'garter stitch' was a term that knitters would understand at the time.  But it's still a very long time after 1711, so doesn't tell me much about William Wimble's garter knitting.  I'll report back if I find out any more.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Rosedale Socks



I have finished my Rosedale socks  - in fact I finished them in time for Christmas.  The pattern is from Ann Kingstone's Cable Knits book, the yarn is Countess Ablaze sock wool in the colourway Grey Skies in Manchester. 

I made a few changes to Ann's pattern.  I used the heel from her On the Other Foot socks, because those socks have a gusset and fit me very well.  I also replaced the picot cast-off edge with a ribbed cuff because I prefer it.  And the pattern has a complicated rose-like cable at either side of the ankle, just below the picot edge - I left those out, and substituted a simple circle.  Another change was unintentional - the cables are supposed to be sometimes right over left and sometimes left over right, but I didn't notice and did them all the same way.  By the time I realised the mistake I had gone too far to want to go back and correct it, and I think it's fine to have them all going the same way.

The cable design is perhaps not as visible as it might be - it would show up better perhaps in a lighter solid colour.  But the cables are perfectly clear to me when I'm wearing the socks and looking at my feet, which is all that's necessary.

I made another minor mistake in the second sock, which I'm not going to tell you about.  It wouldn't have happened if I had been knitting both socks at the same time (or else I would have made the same mistake in both socks).  So my New Year knitting resolution is to try knitting two socks at the same time - I have already started a pair, in fact.  I could have been more ambitious, e.g. resolving to finish all my unfinished projects before starting another, but let's be realistic.

So I have a new addition to my growing wardrobe of warm, well-fitting hand-knitted socks.  As I said, I've started another pair already, but those will be for my sister.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

A £5 Aran Cardigan

A bag of mixed knitting patterns arrived at the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection this week, including a copy of a magazine called Knitting & Homecraft.


Knitting & Homecraft magazine, No. 4

We have several issues of Knitting & Homecraft  in the collection, and in fact we already have this one.   It was published monthly, and this was a February issue - but which year?  It's evidently some time in the 1970s, by the styles, but the year isn't given.  It isn't in the British Library catalogue either, which would give some dates.  I've tried looking for clues in the magazine before, but I went through this one again, carefully looking for a mention of the year.  Couldn't find one.   It must be 1971 or later, because the price is decimal (30p), and I think it's early 1970s rather than later.

But looking through the magazine, I was struck by the claim that the Aran cardigan on the cover could then be knitted for 'around £5', which seems astonishing now.  The yarn specified was good quality, too - Blarney Bainin Wool, Irish pure wool specifically intended for Aran knits.    The pattern is headed 'Forever Arans': "These beautiful traditional stitch cardigans will always look right, feel right and be right for wherever you are.  They would be very costly to buy, but these can be made for around £5 from our pattern."    The editorial at the front also makes similar points: "we had in mind those of our readers who like good top fashion garments, yet cannot afford to pay high prices for the ones sometimes seen in the shops....... they are in pure wool, which will last for a very, very long time."   Aran knits were very popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s for hand knitters (though not really 'top fashion', I think). The magazine was quite right about that last point - an Aran cardigan or sweater knitted in the 1970s could very well still be wearable.  (I've got one myself (here), though it's not really a traditional Aran.)

I think the £5 cost reinforces my feeling that the magazine is from the early 1970s, rather than later.  There was huge inflation in the U.K. around 1973-6, and according to the Bank of England's historic inflation calculator, the 2017 equivalent of £5 in 1970 is £73.53,  but £5 in 1976 would only be worth £34.21 now.

My guess for the date of the magazine is 1971 or 1972, but I'd like to know, to catalogue it properly.  I don't think the magazine lasted more than a year, in fact - we have (most of) issues 1 to 12, and I suspect that it folded after that.  The content suggests that they hadn't quite worked out who their readers were.  They included 'Homecraft' in the title, but in fact there is very little that isn't knitting - just three short pieces on tatting, embroidery and gardening.  So anyone looking for cooking, say, as part of the 'Homecraft' would be disappointed.

Another knitting pattern that caught my eye is this dress in random-dyed yarn (Jaeger Spiral Spun).


There are a few other designs for random yarns in the magazine, and they all show similar patterns of stripes in some areas and large patches of one colour in other areas - random yarns were very popular for knitters in the 1970s, and these unpredictable patches of colour were a desirable feature.  (Now, colour pooling is something to be avoided.)  The overdress is machine knitted, and again I wonder if the magazine was judging its readership correctly.  Presumably they thought that including both hand and machine knitting would increase readership, but I suspect that most machine knitters would prefer to buy a machine knitting magazine (there were several being published then).  And if a hand knitter saw this design and liked it, it would be frustrating to find that it was only for machine knitters.   If I'm right that it only lasted for 12 issues, it never attracted readers in sufficient numbers.  And now it is almost completely forgotten, except in archives like the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection. 

Thursday, 13 December 2018

2018 - A Year Of Books


Yesterday, one of my two book groups met for our annual Christmas dinner (at the Catch Seafood restaurant in Holmfirth).  Since 2011, I have made Christmas cards for the other members, showing the books we have read during the year.   They are a nice reminder - it's hard to remember what we read in what year otherwise (especially when you are in more than one book group).

This year's books were:

  • The Mask of Dimitrios, Eric Ambler
  • A Thousand Paper Birds, Tor Udall
  • Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
  • A Death in Summer, Benjamin Black
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  • The Sealwoman's Gift, Sally Magnusson
  • The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West
  • Cakes and Ale, Somerset Maugham

Unusually for us, most of this year's books were not new, going back to the Hardy and Turgenev books which are 19th century classics.  I have read several other books by Thomas Hardy, but hadn't read The Mayor of Casterbridge before, and I don't think I have ever read any of the Russian classics.  Fathers and Sons was fascinating, painting a picture of an alien society, with its own strange rules.  Also fascinating to read in an afterword of how it's viewed in modern Russia.

The Return of the Soldier was a surprise hit - I think most of us had never heard of it before.  It was published in 1918, and so was a story about a WW1 soldier published while the war was still in progress.  Although published much later (1930), Cakes and Ale is set around the end of the 19th century, I think, but depicts the same class system, of strict social rules and stifling snobbery.    I read a lot of Somerset Maugham's work at one time, but had never read this one - it was very entertaining.  It's supposed to be about Thomas Hardy and his wives (not very secretly), but I tried to ignore that.

I think the book most of us liked best was The Sealwoman's Gift.  It's a fascinating story based on actual events, of a raid on Iceland in the 17th century to capture a shipload of slaves and take them to North Africa.  Some of them were eventually ransomed and went back to Iceland.  It's a bit hard to understand why the main character chooses to leave her relatively comfortable life in North Africa, where it's easy to be clean and warm, and you can eat dates and oranges, and she can be near her one remaining child, and instead go back to her husband in cold, dark Iceland and eat dried puffins.  Except that in historical fact, she did. 

Our next book, for the January meeting,  is The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The 'Susie' Yarn Holder

I wrote a few months ago (here) about a group of tools and gadgets that had recently been given to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection. One of the gadgets was an intriguing yarn holder in a leather case.


I have never seen or heard of another yarn holder of this design, but I have now found an ad for it, that appeared in Good Needlework magazine in August 1935.



The ad says:
With "SUSIE" you Knit Quicker — keep the wool clean — you can knit in comfort whilst travelling. The wool follows the needles making tangling impossible.  Post Coupon now for return post delivery, enclosing 8d. P.O. [postal order], or stamps. 

As you can see from the drawing, it has a bangle to go round your wrist, and the V-shaped piece of wire with the two little balls on the ends goes through the middle of the ball of wool - as I had already worked out, more or less.



The fact that I have never seen another like it, nor any other ads, suggests that it didn't catch on.  I had assumed, when I first saw the example in the Guild collection, that it was designed for use with ready-wound wool - it's easy then to push the wooden balls through the hole in the middle.  But in the 1930s, most knitting yarn was sold in skeins, and to use the 'Susie' you would have to wind the yarn around a section of broom handle, or a nostepinne, or something similar, to get the same effect.  (I don't think mechanical wool winders were available then.)  If you were used to winding wool into quite tight spherical balls (which is what I do when I'm winding by hand), it wouldn't work.   Or you might think, from the drawing in the ad, that you would have to wind the wool directly onto the yarn holder, which looks really awkward.  I suspect you would only buy one if you saw a demonstration, or on personal recommendation from someone you knew.  If it had been sold through yarn shops and not by mail order, it might have done better.  It's a pity - it's an ingenious design and deserved to succeed.  It might be more successful now, when most commercial yarn is sold ready-wound.

The company that sold it is named in the ad as Tormidor Ltd., with an address at 5 Rampayne Street, London S.W.1.  I can't find out anything about Tormidor - any further information gratefully received.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A Light as Air Scarf

I have just finished a lacy scarf that I started earlier this month - a very quick knit.   The yarn is brushed alpaca and silk, very soft and fluffy, and it's knitted on 6.5mm needles, so it grows fast.




(As in the post I wrote shortly after I started knitting, the photo looks hopelessly out of focus, but it isn't - the yarn is just very very fluffy.) 

The pattern is called Light as Air - designed by my friend Steph as a free pattern for this yarn (see her Etsy shop - Steph's Crafty Bits).  It's a very simple stitch pattern - two rows, and one of them is all purl.  All the decreases are left-leaning, so the fabric is slightly biassed, which is why the ends aren't square, but that doesn't matter in a scarf.  Steph designed it as a shorter narrower scarf, to be threaded through a knitted loop in the same yarn, that would take just one skein.  I've used two skeins, and the scarf is about 28cm. (11 ins.) wide and about 170cm. (67in.) long. It will be very warm and cosy to wear.



Now back to my Rosedale socks - I have finished the first, but I will have to remind myself all over again how to do Judy's Magic Cast On.
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