Friday, 21 September 2018

The Bijou Knitting Register

Yesterday we had the September meeting of the local Knitting & Crochet Guild branch, and I gave a talk on 'Ingenious Inventions' - innovations in knitting and crochet that were patented.  I took items from the Guild collection to illustrate the talk, mostly tools and gadgets - knitting needles (including my favourite Double Century brand), crochet hooks, stitch holders, and row counters.  But also a carton for a ball of knitting yarn, and even a couple of knitting patterns. 

While looking for items to include in the talk,  I found a few things in the collection that I hadn't seen before, including this row counter:

I didn't include it in the talk because it is very small  (less than 3.5cm. long) and is badly worn - the original pink paint has worn away to the bare metal in places. 

The photo below shows what the back looks like.  It's designed to fit on a knitting needle:  the needle goes through the holes at either end and then under the two curled strips of metal, which hold it tightly in place.  (I think - I haven't tried it, in case it's not very robust.)

The design of this counter was patented - it isn't marked with the patent number, but I recognised it from the drawing in a patent I had already seen. (That's pretty nerdy, I have to admit.)  Patent 533615 was granted in 1941, to Reginald Langbart and Isabel Kreizer, both with addresses in north London.  They had previously been granted two other patents for row counters.  Patent 520604 had only been granted the previous year, and the patent application for the new device says that it was intended as a simplification and improvement of that (though it looks completely different).

I imagine that if the inventors felt that the previous device needed improvement, it was never manufactured, but the counter in patent 533615 clearly was.  1941 was probably not a good time to start making an inessential metal gadget, so perhaps they were first produced after the war.  There is no maker's name marked, though it is stamped with 'MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN' and '"BIJOU" KNITTING REGISTER'.

Reginald Langbart and Isabel Kreizer had previously been granted another patent for a row counter, in 1935, which ultimately proved much more successful than the "Bijou" Knitting Register.   The original patent was granted in 1935: here's the drawing from the application.

We have several examples of these cylindrical row counters in the Guild collection, including the three here:

Reginald Langbart (without Isabel Kreizer) patented an improved version in 1958,  and further improvements were made, up to at least 1984.  A variant has an embedded tape measure, and the later versions have polygonal ends so that they don't roll.  And you can still buy row counters that are recognisably descended from the original 1935 device.  Counters of this type were made for a long time under the name Ro-tally - here's an ad from 1950.

Given that the 1935 patent and its later developments were so successful, it seems odd that Langbart and Kreizer went on to invent the "Bijou" counter.  But perhaps manufacturers did not adopt the Ro-tally type at first.  It may be that it only became successful after the war, when new plastics became available - while the "Bijou" Knitting Register seems to have gone out of use very quickly, leaving few survivors.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Guild collection at In the Loop

I'm told that work is still in progress on the recordings of the talks at the In the Loop conference in July, so in the meantime, I will write a post based on my talk.

It was a short talk (20 minutes) on a huge collection, so I could only give an outline of what there is. Brief summary: knitted and crocheted items, tools and gadgets, yarn samples and shade cards, publications of all kinds (books, magazines, pattern leaflets and booklets).  Lots of everything.  At the conference, after outlining what's in the collection I talked about how we choose what to present in a trunk show - a suitcase full of selected highlights.  We have been doing trunk shows for a few years as a way of making the collection accessible to groups around the country - the first one was at Sheffield in 2014.  (I wrote about it here.)

When we choose a piece for a trunk show, we have to be able to say something interesting about it.  Ideally, we would like to be able to tell its story: who made it, when, what pattern did they use, who was it made for, and so on.  We no longer accept new donations of knitted or crocheted items unless they come with a story like this, but many of the items already in the collection have no story of that kind.

Sometimes, lack of a story doesn't matter - some of the pieces in the collection are such fine examples of craft that they speak for themselves.

Leaf-and-trellis pincushion cover 
Here is a Victorian pincushion cover that I have shown before on this blog, because it's an example of my favourite leaf and trellis pattern (aka print o' the wave) - I showed it here. Like many of the older items in the collection, it was bought at an antique textiles fair, and had no provenance.  We have no idea who made it and no way of finding out.  But it's a beautiful piece of work.  We don't know when it was made, but I'm sure it's Victorian.   It's possible that it was made to a specific pattern for a pincushion, in which case we might find the pattern one day, but the knitter might equally well have put together the leaf and trellis stitch pattern, and a pattern for a knitted edging (of which there were lots).   Either way, it's a very fine piece of work.

A theme of my talk was that we can sometimes identify the pattern that was used to make a piece, and that this can either provide a 'story' for it, or add to the story that we already have.  And the fact that the collection has so many publications alongside all the knitted and crocheted items helps us match pieces with patterns.

Occasionally, finding the pattern that was used to make an item casts some doubt on its story.  A piece that has often featured in a trunk show is a tea-cloth with a filet crochet edging, which has 'Welcome Home' worked into each side.

As the collection got more organised, it eventually turned out that there are three 'Welcome Home' tea-cloths, one of them with a detailed story.  It had been donated, along with a note of its history, by the daughter of the woman who made it.  The maker, Ethel Booth, was born in 1897, learnt to crochet at the age of 12, and made the tea-cloth for her father who was in the Army during the Boer War, "little knowing there would be the Great War".  That implied that the tea-cloth was made before the First World War (i.e. the Great War), but when I first saw it, before knowing this story, I was sure that it was a First World War design.  And in fact the story doesn't really hang together - the Boer War, or South African War, ended in 1902, before Ethel learnt to crochet.  And the First World War origin was confirmed when we found the pattern for the edging, in a magazine published in 1915.

Fancy Needlework Illustrated no. 33, March 1915.

 The design is called 'L'Entente', and was presumably intended to celebrate the alliance between Britain and France, shown by the British and French flags in the corners.  (Though I must say that filet crochet in white cotton is really not ideal for representing red, white and blue flags.)  The design was evidently a popular one, and I'm sure that the appeal was nothing to do with the alliance, but rather the 'Welcome Home' message.  Someone at home could make it in the hope that their father, brother, sweetheart,.... would come home from the war.

After we had identified the pattern for the 'Welcome Home' tea-cloth, we assumed that Ethel Booth's father had still been in the Army during the First World War, and she made it for him then.  But I've recently managed to trace Ethel Booth's family in census records and so on, and in fact her father had died by 1911.  So the story that she made it for her father is wrong, and I think that probably she made it for her future husband - they married in 1919.

All this happened before Ethel's daughter was born, and family stories often get slightly garbled in transmission, but she knew the final part of the story at first-hand, and I'm sure it's true: the last time the cloth was used was for Ethel's 90th birthday. 

Another item I talked about at In The Loop came with no story at all - it was bought from a charity shop.

It is a remarkably short crocheted dress.  When I first saw it, I mentally labelled it as a beach dress, on the grounds that a beach would be the only possible place to wear it.  But then we found the pattern:

Patons leaflet 6249

And it is not a beach dress at all.  The leaflets describes it thus: "Swingy little discotheque dress which longs to go dancing.  Prettily crocheted in a trendy yarn, with a short flirty skirt and a mini top."  (Did you know that 'disco' was originally short for 'discotheque'?  It's true.)

Because it’s a Patons pattern, and we have the Patons pattern leaflet archive in the collection, we have the master copy of this leaflet, that gives the original date of publication: October 1969.  The one I have shown is a later reissue from the early 1970s.

I'm not sure what you were supposed to wear underneath the dress.  The pattern calls for a pair of 'bra cups' to sew into the dress as a final stage in making up.  (Our dress doesn't have them.)  So you wouldn't need a separate bra.  But as the skirt is see-through (as well as very short) you would need underwear of some kind.  In fact, our dress is even shorter than the one shown in the leaflet - it has 5 fewer pattern repeats in the skirt.  Hopefully, the person who wore it was much shorter than the model.  Or else extremely daring.

Finding the published pattern to match our dress allows us to say a lot more about it than we could just from looking at it - we now have a story to go with it.  I finished my 'In the Loop' talk by showing a piece from the collection that is still in need of a story.

Like the pink disco dress, it was bought for the collection in a charity shop.  It is beautifully made in fine cotton.  But we don't know any more about it - it's difficult even to estimate when it was made.  If pushed, I would guess 1930s, but it seems too long for that date, or for the 1940s or 1950s.  And the work seems too fine for the 1960s or later.  It was very probably made to a published pattern and if so, we can hope to find the pattern one day - and then we will be able to give it an approximate date, and maybe say what it was intended for (a tennis shirt, I would guess).  So if you see a pattern for a shirt like this, please let us know - we would love to be able to include it in a trunk show and tell a story about it.

I'll say more about the Guild collection in future posts. 

Monday, 10 September 2018

Strengthening Tonic

The first weekend of Heritage Open Days has just ended, and it's a great opportunity to see places that are not normally open.  Yesterday we went to see the church at Ripponden, not far from here in Calderdale.  It's mainly 19th century, but has a medieval window, surviving from an earlier church on the site, that was restored by the York Glaziers Trust in the 1970s.

St Bartholomew's Church, Ripponden
Next to the church is a packhorse bridge leading into the centre of the village. The other side looks very rural, with the River Ryburn running alongside the churchyard, in a wooded valley.  It wasn't a good day to appreciate the surroundings though - grey and rainy, and not very warm.

Some interesting documents had been put on display for the occasion - registers, minute books, programmes for the unveiling of the First World War memorial, and so on.  One  of them was a booklet of recipes contributed by women of the parish in 1933 to raise funds.  They mostly seemed to be cake and biscuit recipes, but I was intrigued by one for 'Strengthening Tonic'.

5 lemons, 5 eggs. Put the eggs whole into the lemon juice for 5 days.
Then beat them up with ½ lb. brown sugar, 1 gill rum, 1 gill of cream (or new milk), and strain.
One wineglass to be taken between meals. 
A gill is a quarter of a pint, or 5 fluid ounces (in the U.K. - British pints are larger than American pints).  That's about 140 ml.  I'm not sure of the point of steeping the eggs in the lemon juice for 5 days.  Would that help to preserve them?    It sounds a bit like the Dutch advocaat (my Grandma's favourite tipple at Christmas) but that doesn't include lemon, and I think advocaat has more alcohol. It sounds as though it should taste good - I like the idea of drinking something delicious because it's good for you.  If anyone feels inclined to try it, I'd love to know how it turns out.

We were also in Ripponden a week ago, when we walked from Ripponden up the Ryburn valley, round the Ryburn reservoir and back again.  It was a warm and sunny day then, and we enjoyed our walk.  It also happened to coincide with the Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival, when a tall cart laden with rushes (originally to strew on the floor of the church) is pulled around the area by a team of men, with a young woman seated on the top of the cart.  Over the course of the weekend, the cart visits several churches and (very important) several pubs, and ending up on Sunday afternoon at the church in Ripponden. The rushcart arrived at Ripponden not long after we got back from our walk, so we had a good view of the final stretch when the men run with the cart down the slope from the main road and through a 90 degree turn into the area in front of the church.  (If that sounds alarming, it looked it.)

At the point where they need to turn towards the church, the man at the front puts his right arm out to signal that this is where they should turn left.  (That sounds wrong, but I suppose he is indicating that each pole (with a pair of men) behind him should turn at that angle at that point. Maybe.) 

Here's the first pair of men just starting the turn.

And here's the rushcart as it goes down the slope towards the church, with  the young woman perched on top of the rushes.

A lot of people had turned up to watch, there were various stalls outside the church, and a fair amount of beer being drunk.  There were Morris men and mummers accompanying the cart, and a good time was had by all.  (Though we didn't stay for the Morris dancing and mummers, but left for the pub up the road.)

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Remembering a Knitting Friend

A week ago, I went to the memorial service for Cath Harris, a friend whom I knew from the knitting & crochet groups we went to.  Knitting, crochet, embroidery, and other textile crafts were an important part of her life - as you can see from the knitted shawl she is wearing in her photo.

But as well as that, she was a very active member of the Labour Party, and was elected to Kirklees Council.  An appreciation of her work as a councillor appeared in the local paper here.  She had a special interest on the council in children and young people and became deputy leader, until she had to resign due to ill health.  Until she retired, she was a teacher, specialising in children with special needs, and after she retired she continued to be active in schools as a school governor and with her great friend Pauline was a volunteer teaching children to knit.  Barry Sheerman, the local M.P., spoke at the service, describing how she had made him welcome when he first arrived in Huddersfield as a Parliamentary candidate, knowing no-one in the town, and many people at the service described her as a kind and lovely person.     

Her family had put together a display of her craft work for the service.  She was probably more enthusiastic about crochet than knitting, and amongst the crochet, I recognised two designs by Jane Crowfoot, one looking a splendid against a flower arrangement. 
Jane Crowfoot's 'Mystical Lanterns' shawl
Jane Crowfoot's Lily Pond blanket

But she was a keen knitter too.  Amongst other things, a Kaffe Fassett coat was on show.        

Kaffe Fassett's Carpet Pattern coat
The other knitting on display (including a lacy shawl that I didn't get a good photo of) reminded me of the weekend we had in Blackpool in 2016 at the Westcliffe Hotel.  Cath was one of seven of us, trying different lace techniques and being well looked after by Paula Chew - we had a lot of fun together.

In the last few years, she adored making things for her granddaughter Alicia, and I remember her bringing along the latest Alicia outfit in progress to our knitting groups.  I love the 'Rainy Day' crochet cardigan (a design by Catherine Waterfield) and the raccoon sweater.

And she was an accomplished embroiderer, though I hadn't seen any of that aspect of her craft work before.

Cath was a devoted listener to Radio 4, and much of the music at the service was based on that - the theme music from Desert Island Discs, The Archers, and the Shipping Forecast.  (To be honest, I would not recognise 'Sailing by' as the theme music for the shipping forecast, and although the Archers' theme music is a jolly tune and instantly recognisable, in our house it's signal to turn off the radio - takes all sorts.)   Also played during the service was "The Shipping Forecast" by Les Barker, a parody of a genuine shipping forecast, read by Brian Perkins (a genuine Radio 4 newsreader).

The service was a lovely way to remember Cath, who gave a lot to the world and should have had longer to carry on giving.  We miss her.

Many of these photos were very kindly given by Cath's daughter, Laura.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Perfectly Plain Socks

Last month,  I knitted myself a pair of socks, though I have only just today sewn in the ends.  It hasn't  been sock-wearing weather, but I got around to finishing them today so that I could take a photo.

They are perfectly plain stocking stitch.  I wanted to knit again the spiral toe and German short-row heel from the On the Other Foot pattern.  The spiral toe suits the shape of my foot (though I find the cast-on very tricky - I think  I should try the one I used for knitting pence jugs, except that I can't remember what it was called. I'll fill it in here when it's come back to me. [I looked it up - it's Emily Ocker's circular cast on.  You'll find tutorials on YouTube.])  And the heel is well-fitting and easy to do and altogether satisfying.  But I also needed some straightforward knitting, suitable for doing while listening to talks, not the cable and lace pattern of my original On the Other Foot socks.

Putting the toe and heel into a plain sock was just what I needed: I knitted the first sock at the Guild convention at the beginning of July, and the second sock at the In the Loop conference later in the month.  The yarn is Opal sock wool, in the colourway Geburtstagstorte (though it doesn't remind me of a birthday cake in any way).  I got both socks out of one ball, with quite a bit left over.  I didn't do anything to make sure that the paler stripes are in the same place on both socks - that just happened.  I'm really pleased that it did - I was prepared for mismatched socks, but wouldn't have been happy about it. 

They aren't very exciting, and I don't think that putting them on will fill my heart with joy.  But they fit well and will be warm and comfortable, so that's OK. 

Monday, 20 August 2018

James Norbury in Woman's Own

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a book fair with John.  On one of the stalls, there was a pile of Woman and Woman's Own magazines from the 1950s, in good condition, not expensive.  I bought several of them - selecting ones with interesting knitting, of course.

Two of the Woman's Own magazines, from 1955, advertised knitting patterns by James Norbury on the front cover.  James Norbury was then the chief designer for Patons, but the main draw for Woman's Own readers, I'm sure, was that he had a TV series on knitting.

In one of the magazines I bought, from January 1955, there is a double-page spread with the heading "Famous T.V. knitting expert James Norbury joins Woman's Own" - evidently intended to be the first of a series of features.

Woman's Own, January 6 1955.
The two patterns in this issue are billed as "To wear at the weekend".   Both are (of course) knitted in Patons wools - the man's is in 4-ply (sport weight?), and the woman's in 2-ply (super-fine?).  The black and white photo of the man's dolman-sleeved pullover doesn't really show it adequately - it is knitted in black and grey, mainly, but uses oddments of four other colours - suggested are green, scarlet, white and royal.  The colours are used in the band from cuff to cuff; the fancy pattern at the lower edge of the band is in green on black, and then there are stripes of red and white, with three rows of stranded knitting in white and blue sandwiched between the bands of stripes.  I'm having trouble visualising that - it sounds much too busy to me. 

And then there's the woman's jumper - just right "for the girl with the 'what shall I wear when  my guests come tonight' problem", it claims.  (Though frankly, if that's your problem, it's a bit late to start knitting a jumper in 2-ply.)

In its favour, it has two wide bands of my favourite print o' the wave/leaf and trellis pattern back and front.  Apart from that I think there's far too much going on - there's a different stitch pattern up the centre, and the frills round the sleeves and neckline are too fussy.   And her waist is ridiculously tiny!  Though actually I think it's partly that her skirt has stiff petticoats underneath to puff it out.

You can see from the photo that there's a lot of shaping above the welt.  There's also shaping in the rib, to accommodate the width of the skirt - the rib is first knitted on size 11 (3mm.) needles and then on size 13s (2.25mm.)

I think the whole jumper is awful - and such a waste of effort to knit something so complicated in such fine yarn.  But I'm quite prepared to believe that some people will like it.

Woman's Own, October 20 1955.
Another of the magazines from the book fair was a Woman's Own from later in 1955, with three more James Norbury patterns.  Designs for women, all using lacy stitch patterns.

The first is a dress, which takes 24 oz. of 3-ply wool (somewhere between fine and super-fine?) and a huge amount of time, I'm sure.  The description says "An insertion of lace stitch between bands of knit 1, purl 3 rib (the knit stitch is worked through back of loop) forms the skirt of the dress.  It is shaped at the waist and has a panel of lace stitch on the bodice."  It looks quite pretty, though it would be hugely impractical for anything more energetic than watering house-plants, which is what the model appears to be doing.

Then there's a lacy cardigan, also in 3-ply, which I think is very attractive.  The magazine says "this charming cardigan is right for any informal occasion".  (But obviously not so informal that you'd leave off your pearl necklace.)  I like the combination of a fancy rib gradually evolving into a lacy pattern on the fronts and back.

Finally, there's a relatively thick knit, in 4-ply, for "autumn's chilly days".   It's described as a tunic-jacket.  The panels on the front, with a pattern of trailing leaves, are knitted on the bias; that's what the introduction says, though I must confess I can't figure out from the (very complicated) instructions how that's done.   An interesting idea, though.   

James Norbury wasn't short of inventive ideas (even if he sometimes went over the top in putting too many of them into the same garment).  And I assume he had people to knit for him, so he didn't have any problem with designing a dress with a full skirt in a complicated pattern in 3-ply wool. 

Apart from the knitting patterns, there's a lot in the magazines that is absolutely fascinating - it was such a different world.  I was struck particularly by the distressing number of corset ads - you don't get a tiny waist like the model in the first magazine just by will-power and breathing in.    

The descriptions make them sound like a feat of engineering, which I suppose they were, in a way. A typical description is the Kayser Bondor "new all nylon net girdle with wonderful boneless control in criss-cross reinforcements".  That was made in sizes 24-30 in. waist (61-76cm.), so they weren't aimed at the overweight.  The emphasis is on control rather than comfort - though I imagine that the introduction of nylon and better elastication did make them more comfortable than earlier corsets.  Still gruesome though.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Who was Marion Grey?

I've found this pair of knitting needles - not in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, though that's where they are going.  They were in one of my own needle boxes, but I can't remember when I acquired them, or where from - I certainly didn't buy them new.

I must have had them before I got interested in knitting needle makes, and started looking closely at needles for anything that's written on them, because I had never noticed before what's written on these:


This is not a needle brand listed in Susan Webster's catalogue, as far as I can see, which is quite exciting.  I suppose it's possible that Marion Grey was a knitter who had a set of needles with her name on (just as you can get personalised pencils and other things with your name on) - but as someone who loses knitting needles far too often, I think that I'd want to put contact information on mine.  'Marion Grey, Colindale' wouldn't be sufficient to find her easily.  Another possibility, which I think is more likely, is that Marion Grey had a yarn shop in Colindale (an area of north London) and had needles made to publicise the shop.  Or, just conceivably, maybe she had a knitting needle factory?

If anyone knows anything about Marion Grey of Colindale, please do let me know. 
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