Sunday, 10 March 2019

Fair Isle in Cotton

I have written a few posts about Fancy Needlework Illustrated, and an article in Piecework magazine that I wrote about here.  It's one of my favourite magazines in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, even though it emphasised crochet and embroidery at the expense of knitting.  It was associated with a consortium of cotton spinners, so everything in the magazine is about making things with cotton. It never published patterns for woolly jumpers, for instance (until Weldon's took over the magazine in 1937).  So when Fair Isle knits became popular in the 1920s, they didn't appear in Fancy Needlework Illustrated.  But I have seen the cover of issue 132 (below) many times while working on the collection, and the disembodied cardigan is clearly done in stranded knitting.   Inside, it is described as a Fair Isle design, though it is of course knitted in cotton.  I posted it on Instagram (tagged #fairislefriday) and decided to share it here too, where I can go into more detail.

Fancy Needlework Illustrated, No.132, March 1936
The cover illustration of the cardigan shows the colours listed in the instructions - Dark Jade, Black, Ecru and Dark Tango (red, presumably).  The intro to the pattern says: "This lovely cardigan has been designed on the same lines as the well known and much admired Fair Isle Jumpers, which our Scotch friends are so expert at making.  In this case, however, the design has been very much simplified so that the most timid worker need not be afraid to attempt it.  Worked in bright colours of Ardern's Florentine Twist, it will answer many purposes — for skating, golf, etc."  (Ardern's was a cotton spinning company in Hazel Grove near Stockport.)   It doesn't look very much like a traditional Fair Isle, but it's very attractive.  The large buttons and the belt are the most obvious elements of 1930s style, I think, and it would be easier to wear today than most 1930s styles, because of its length - most sweaters of that era stop at the waist.  (Though it's only a size 32 in. (81cm.) so the pattern would have to be adapted to larger sizes these days.)

The other disembodied garment shown on the front cover is an embroidered gardening smock - completely impractical, unless you're picking flowers, or perhaps deadheading roses.  Nothing more strenuous than that.  As the cover suggests, there is rather a lot of embroidery in this issue.  Too much for me, certainly - I'm not a fan of embroidery if I'm expected to do it myself.

But there are more knitted and crocheted garments inside, including a nice knitted jumper with a buttoned front and a little collar.  It takes only 300g. of Ardern's Star Sylko size 5 (a mercerised cotton thread) - but then it only fits a size 34 in. bust (86cm.) and is only 17 in, (34cm.) long. 

There's also a pattern for a crocheted collar and cuff set with a matching powder puff case.  "This collar and cuff set with be found invaluable for the business girl.  It will add a bright spot of colour to her smart business frock, and as it is made of Ardern's crochet cotton there will not be any accidents in the wash."  The colours suggested are Spring Green, Amber, Heliotrope and Sapphire, which would certainly be bright.  (I didn't know what colour Heliotrope is, but according to Wikipedia it's pink-purple.)  The stitches used are Rice Stitch and Solomon's Knots, which doesn't mean anything to me, but probably will to a crocheter.

Finally, there is a pattern for "Foundation Garments in Crochet" - a "well-fitting set of suspender belt and brassière", also in Ardern's Star Sylko size 5.  To call it well-fitting is wishful thinking - the fit of the bra is entirely due to lengths of elastic, sewn to the bra to crossover at the back.  The crocheted part would only fit someone small enough not to need to wear a bra at all, it seems to me.  As for the suspender belt, the less said the better.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Mary Quant knitting patterns

The lack of posts recently is due to The Move - the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection's move to new premises in Slaithwaite.  It happened the week before last, and all went well, though there is still a lot of sorting out to do - lots of boxes stacked on the floor, waiting to be put on shelves.  I'll say more about our new location another time. 

Meanwhile, over on Instagram, I have been working through my #50yearsofPatonspatterns series of posts, starting in 1979 and working backwards.  We are nearly through the 1960s, and I picked two Mary Quant patterns to represent 1965 and 1966.  In both years, she designed a collection of knitting and crochet patterns in Courtelle yarns, for several of the spinning companies, including Patons.  There were nine Patons patterns in all, six in 1965 and three in 1966.  I'll show them all here.

First the 1965 leaflets. The yarn for all six is Patons Flair, a wool-Courtelle blend, which was DK weight, to judge by the tension.

Patons 9526, below,  is a skinny-rib sleeveless polo-neck sweater - perhaps not as distinctive now as it was in 1965. 

Patons 9526
Patons leaflet 9527 is a ribbed sweater, with crocheted collar and cuff, and matching knee-socks, also with a crochet trim for the turnover.

Patons 9527

Next is a ribbed cardigan, with a small collar, knitted in reverse stocking stitch, folded in half and stitched down.  You were clearly not intended to wear it as an extra layer, so it's more a button-up sweater than a cardigan. 

Patons 9528
Patons 9529 is a dress, with ribbed bodice, little stand-up collar, and knitted belt.  More knee-socks, this time in a wide rib to match the dress bodice. 

Patons 9529
Then another dress, mostly ribbed, with cable panels in the skirt, a big roll collar, also ribbed, and a knitted tie belt.  There is a matching cabled hat, with pompom, and a pair of matching mitts. I like the dress, though I generally feel that knitted dresses won't keep their shape. 

Patons 9530

And finally, an ensemble of jumper and skirt, with a bonnet and stockings.  The body of the jumper is ribbed.  The skirt looks as though it is in the same rib, knitted sideways, but in fact it's knitted top down. The sleeves, stockings and bonnet are all crocheted.

Patons 9531

It's notable that wide ribbing is a feature of all these 1965 designs, so the jumpers and dresses fit closely. 

It's easy to distinguish the 1966 leaflets from the 1965 designs, across all the spinners that had these Mary Quant designs in Courtelle.  The leaflets in the 1966 collection all have the Mary Quant daisy as part of the background, and the models have the Vidal Sassoon geometric hairstyle that she had adopted herself and made famous.  The 1966 Patons designs are all in a pure Courtelle yarn, also a DK weight by the tension.

The first of the 1966 Patons designs is leaflet 9700 - a cardigan and stockings outfit. They are both worked in rib. The front of the cardigan has a smocked yoke, worked afterwards by using a contrast thread to bind adjacent ribs together.  (The instructions for the smocking are a bit skimpy, I have to say.)  There are also bands of smocking in the stockings, just below the knee - whihc looks a bit strange.

Patons 9700
Patons 9701 is a short-sleeved jumper and skirt outfit.  The jumper has narrow stripes of a contrast colour across the yoke, back and front, and there is a crochet trim in both colours around the neck and bottom of the sleeves.  The belt is also knitted, in the contrast colour.  Of all these Mary Quant designs for Patons, this one is my favourite.

Patons 9701
And the final pattern in this collection is Patons 9702, a ribbed jumper and matching stockings.  The contrast band on the sleeves is worked by using two balls of the main colour and one of the contrast.and then using just the contrast colour to knit a saddle shoulder.  Finally, the polo collar is added after the jumper is sewn up.  The stockings are also in two colours, as you can see from the illustration, which gives an odd knee-sock effect.  (And the model is wearing white sling-back shoes too, not to mention the shorts over stockings - altogether a bizarre outfit.)

Patons 9702
The dresses and skirts in these leaflets are shown finishing above the knee, but they aren't as extremely short as they became later - just as well, because in 1966 women were still wearing stockings rather than tights.  So Mary Quant designed knitted and crocheted stockings, not principally to avoid all the extra work in making tights, but because women didn't wear tights at that time - though that changed only a year or two later.

A Mary Quant exhibition is opening at the V&A  next month, which I hope to get to.  And there is an exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum on "Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution", until June, which features the work of Mary Quant and Terence Conran.  It seems that there is a resurgence of interest in the 1960s, and Mary Quant in particular - so I'll offer this post as a knitting and crochet contribution to that.   

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

50 Years of Patons patterns

It's Tuesday and up to now (for the past few years) I have usually been at Lee Mills on a Tuesday, working on the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  But, as I've mentioned in an earlier post, the collection is moving.  The move is scheduled for next week, and everything is all packed up ready to go, so we are having this week off.  (Next week, on the other hand, is likely to be very busy.)

 I've decided to use my unexpected free time to showcase the Patons pattern archive, which was given to the Guild a few years ago.  I have picked out a pattern from each of 50 years covered by the archive, starting in 1979 (because it's 40 years ago, a nice round number), and working backwards to 1930.  I'll post them over on Instagram (where I am @barbaraknitsagain), starting today with the 1979 pattern, also shown here: 

Patons 1702
The pattern describes it as "Casual good looks for this shawl-collared jacket in a sporty yarn.  Garter stitch ridges for an interesting background to the broken cables, and the shawl collar and edgings are in simple garter stitch."  It's knitted in Patons Capstan, "a rugged sports yarn, originally designed for Aran knitting, but now available in bold striking colours as well."  Still a good-looking jacket, I think.

Assigning dates to the patterns is sometimes a bit tricky.  The later 1970s pattern leaflets have copyright dates, so that's easy. Because we have the archive, we have the master copies, and in the 1960s and 1970s, those often have the date of issue written on.  In the 1950s, the company had a club for its customers, with a quarterly newsletter, Knitters Circle News, that usually mentioned a few of the latest leaflets. Otherwise, I have relied on ads in magazines - the magazines are dated, and I assume that companies would only advertise their newest patterns.

There are two periods when it's been particularly difficult to find a representative leaflet for a year.  The first is during World War 2, when for several years Patons did not advertise their leaflets.  They may have produced catalogues for yarn shops, but if so, we don't have any in the collection.  So assigning a year of publication involves some guesswork. The other is in the early 1930s, when there are gaps in the archive.  The earliest leaflet in the archive is number 170, published in the late 1920s.  (The company was then called Patons & Baldwins - it had been formed by a merger of Patons of Alloa and Baldwins of Halifax in 1920.)

Patons & Baldwins Helps to Knitters No. 170
The leaflets numbered 211 to 290 are missing from the archive, and these may include the leaflets published in 1930.  So my choice to represent that year may have actually been published in 1929 - apologies in advance.

But I hope that Instagram users who like vintage knitting patterns will enjoy seeing the changing styles as we go back in time from 1979.  If it proves popular, I might repeat the exercise, maybe with patterns for men or children.

And as I've said before, members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild can have copies of vintage Patons patterns, for personal use, on request - just email 

Monday, 11 February 2019

Vandyke Check Socks

I have been knitting a pair of socks for my sister - just finished them.  My New Year's knitting resolution was to knit both socks of a pair at the same time (to avoid mismatches, not to mention second sock syndrome), starting with this pair.  I tried knitting with two circular needles, but found it too awkward - too much cable to contend with - and so used magic loop with a single circular needle instead. 

The yarn is Regia Graphics Color sock wool.  My sister wanted a pair of socks to wear with her Joules printed rubber ankle boots - I haven't seen them, but here is the matching handbag.

I think the yarn is a pretty good match to the colours in the handbag, especially as I didn't go looking for it, but found it more or less by accident - after my knitting friend Cath Harris died, her family had a coffee morning in aid of the charity Myeloma UK to find homes for some of her extensive stash of wool and other craft materials, and I found it there.

I knitted the socks toe-up, using the same basic construction (German short-row heel, with a gusset) that I have been using recently, because I know it fits me very well. It turns out that my socks fit my sister very well too.

I didn't want to use a complicated design with this variegated yarn, so I chose the Vandyke Check stitch pattern from Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns.  I have used it before - for the first pair of toe-up socks I ever knitted, made for my daughter in 2011.

The pattern really doesn't show up very well, but I do like the texture given by the blocks of knit and purl stitches, so I'm happy with the choice.

I hope you enjoy wearing your socks, Margaret.  I have enough yarn left to knit a pair of socks for me, too, but I think I'll have a break from socks for a while.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Steve's Jumper

The Knitting & Crochet Guild collection is moving to new premises very soon, which is exciting but involves a lot of work.  We have been busy tidying up - all sorts of things that were put to one side to deal with on another day.  On Friday, I brought home a box of 'miscellaneous publications' to sort out.  When I first started working on the collection, there were many, many boxes of very miscellaneous publications, but we have gradually worked through almost all of them - this is the last one, I think.  (I hope so.)  I have riffled through this box at various times and taken out all the things that can be easily placed elsewhere - magazines, spinners' pattern leaflets, booklets, and so on.  And the contents of other boxes have been amalgamated with this one. What was left in the box finally was a very random lot of stuff - mostly things that don't belong in the collection (sewing and embroidery leaflets, etc.) or out-and-out rubbish (creased and crumpled plastic pockets, booklets with no covers and pages missing).  But it was worth going through carefully, because there were some things worth keeping.  And one thing that I have been looking out for, but didn't ever expect to find.

About three years ago, my friend Stephanie (known as Steve) came to Lee Mills, where the Guild collection is stored at present, and showed us a jumper that her mother knitted for her when she was a teenager in the 1950s.   She demonstrated that it still fitted her, though I'm sure she hadn't worn it for many years.  She later gave it to the collection, and it has featured in several trunk shows that I have done since then.

Steve in her jumper, as a teenager

It is knitted in emerald green, with bands of stranded colourwork in cream and tan - very 1950s colours. It's a complicated knit, and very well made.

Steve thought that the pattern had been published in Radio Times, in the late 1950s.  I looked through the Radio Times archive in Manchester Central Library, but I couldn't find it (though I did meet several characters from 1950s BBC television like David Nixon the magician and Lenny the Lion).  Memory being fallible, I decided that Steve was wrong and that it was published somewhere else.  But I hadn't seen it in a pattern leaflet, and if it was in another magazine, there were so many possibilities that it would need a lot of luck to find it.

And then I found it in the miscellaneous box that I brought home on Friday.  It was indeed published in Radio Times, in a supplement to the November 21st 1958 issue.  (Perhaps the supplement had not been archived, and that was why I didn't find it in Manchester.) 

It's especially interesting to see the pattern, because Steve's mother changed the construction.  According to the pattern, it should be knitted in one piece, starting at the bottom of the front.  You cast on stitches for the sleeves either side, so that the stranded colour band is knitted in one piece from cuff to cuff. Then you make an opening for the neck, and carry on, knitting the second stranded colour band from cuff to cuff, cast off the sleeve stitches, and then knit the back.  You pick up stitches around the bottom of the sleeves and the neck opening for the ribbed cuffs and neckband, and finally sew the side and sleeve seams.

Steve's mother apparently didn't like the fact that at the side seams, you would have to join two stranded colour bands going in opposite directions, i.e. the one on the front knitted upwards and the one on the back knitted downwards.  She probably thought that the difference in direction would show - I think she was probably right.  She wasn't worried about the bands on the sleeves, because they don't meet at a seam - in fact you wouldn't usually see them next to each other.  So instead of knitting the body and sleeves entirely in one piece, she stopped after the sleeves were finished, and put that piece aside, leaving the stitches for the back on a spare needle or a length of wool.  Then she cast on again for the back; she knitted the welt and then the stranded colour band working upwards, and then the rest of the back up to the armholes. Then she grafted the two pieces together, which I think is extraordinary.  We had spotted that the two stranded knitting bands on the back of the jumper were knitted in opposite directions, and so we had found the graft, though it's very neatly done.  I don't think I have ever seen such a long graft in such a visible place, and I was surprised that a 1950s knitting pattern should be so ambitious.  But now I know - it wasn't.  The graft was Steve's mother's idea.

So having the pattern as well as the jumper tells us that Steve's mother was an expert knitter and a perfectionist - she saw something that she didn't like in a pattern that she wanted to make, and she fixed it. 

This was the last thing she knitted for Steve - she died in 1959, only about six months after the pattern was published.  I'm sure that Steve kept the jumper for that reason.  Steve herself  is very sadly no  longer with us - she died in 2017, not very long after giving her jumper to the Guild.  She would have been very pleased that the pattern for her jumper has been found.  (I think she would also have been a bit cross with me for doubting her memory that it was in Radio Times - sorry, Steve,) 

Detail of Steve's jumper, showing stranded colour work and basket stitch 
PS I have only just noticed, after writing the above, that the colour work bands in Steve's jumper are not exactly the same as in the pattern - the flowers are spaced further apart, because the intervening abstract design is doubled up.  I can guess how it happened - the chart shows a flower pattern with the abstract design either side, to show how it would look overall.  But you were only supposed to repeat the flower design and the following abstract design, not the whole chart.  Equally acceptable either way, I think.

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:

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.
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.
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