Friday, 24 November 2017

Knitting History Forum

I was in London last weekend, for the Knitting History Forum conference on Saturday at the London College of Fashion.  Professor Sandy Black organises the programme, and this year's was the 10th anniversary meeting, which is quite an achievement.  I have been to three of the past conferences, and there has always been a fascinating range of talks. I was there this year to talk about Wakefield Greenwood, a Huddersfield yarn company, and what I have found so far about its history.

"Wools for the World" - details from the back of a Wakefield Greenwood pattern leaflet

You can see the programme for the conference here.  I felt that my talk hardly counted as history compared to some of the others, because I was talking about things that happened within living memory - other speakers were going back hundreds of years.

Maj Ringgaard from Copenhagen talked about 17th and 18th century knitted stockings in silk and wool that have been found in waterlogged excavations in Copenhagen.  I was fascinated by the decorative details - many of the stockings had clocks (decoration on the outside of the ankle). Maj showed several fancy clocks in purl stitches on a stocking stitch background.

(There was also a bit of discussion about the correct terminology - apparently knitting historians aren't supposed to talk about stocking stitch, or knit and purl stitches, any more.  But I know what those terms mean, and if you're a knitter, I expect you do too - although if you are American, you might have to translate stocking stitch to stockinette. I can't remember what the alternatives to knit and purl are, but the approved alternative to stocking stitch seems to be 'simple knitting', which I don't find very helpful.)

As well as clocks, the Copenhagen stockings had false seams up the back (in purl stitches, with often a bit of decoration either side).  The seam was imitating the hose made out of cloth cut on the bias that the knitted stockings replaced, but Maj suggested that it might also have had a practical purpose as a marker for the leg shaping.

The following talk was also about 17th century knitwear.  Helena Lundin, from Uppsala, has been looking at knitted fragments of wool and silk found in the remains of the Swedish Navy flagship Kronan that exploded in 1676 with the loss of 800 men.  The fragments (when they can be identified) came from gloves, headgear, silk waistcoats and stockings, and they are mostly stocking stitch, although I was excited to hear that one fragment is in twined knitting

Nearer to home, Lesley O'Connell Edwards has been examining 16th century stockings and sleeves knitted in wool, from the Museum of London collection.  The stockings are often in very poor condition as you would expect, but sleeves don't get such hard wear.  There was some discussion of how the sleeves were worn - whether as a warm under-layer, or on top of other clothes, partly to protect them.  But it's astonishing that knitted wool has survived so long.  I remember seeing a 16th century child's vest on display in the Museum of London a few years ago - it was fascinating to examine the stitches through the glass, and try to work out how it was constructed.  (It's knitted in the round.)

Matteo Molinari talked about the crochet traditions in his home village in Italy, near the Austrian border.  The older generation of women still make beautiful crocheted items for their homes - mats, curtains tablecloths, and so on.  There has been a tradition, too, that teenage girls should crochet a bedspread for when they get married.  Matteo said he found that the value of a crochet piece was judged by the fineness of the thread and hook, and the amount of work involved in making it.

The final talk of the afternoon was from Ruth Gilbert who showed photos of some ancient pieces of textile from Egypt, which look like knitting but aren't - they were made by some kind of sewing technique, I gathered.  She also presented some later pieces which she thinks might have been made by a technique something like French knitting, i.e. with something like a knitting nancy).  But unless an Egyptian knitting nancy is found from the right date,  it's hard to see how you could get beyond saying that a fabric like that could have been made that way.

It was a fascinating set of talks, covering a wide spread of knitting history.  And afterwards, there was a drinks reception,  to celebrate the 10th anniversary, which rounded off a very good day.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Teazle Wool Again

I have been wondering how similar Felted Tweed is to the Teazle Wool specified for the tam pattern I adapted, as I described in my last post. 

Here's a photo of a Teazle Brush being used, and a description, taken from J. &  J. Baldwin's Woolcraft, published before 1920:

BRUSHING (or RAISING).The full beauty of garments made from certain materials,and especially those from TEAZLE WOOL, is only developed by raising the surface of the fabric by means of the special Teazle Brush, so as to produce the effect of fur. 
The process should not be applied promiscuously to knitted and crocheted fabrics, but only where recommended in the particular recipe, certain precautionssuch as stitch, firmness of fabric and avoidance of knots on its surfacerequiring to be observed, as well as the suitability of the material from which the garment is made. TEAZLE WOOL is specially intended for finishing off with a "raised" surface, and gives most beautiful results when used according to directions. 
The procedure is as follows :Holding the Brush in the right and the fabric in the left hand, treat the material to a series of light dabs (Fig. 2A), with a very gentle lifting or pulling action at each (Fig. 2B), until a fluffy surface has been produced equally all over the garment. Heavy or careless raising may easily cause a tear, in which case the fabric will require to be darned on the inside. If the Brush be made to just lightly grip the surface, however, and the action be a gentle one and steadily applied, a beautiful effect can easily be obtained on plain fabric made from TEAZLE Wool. It is a wise precaution to make sure that the Brush is clean by using it first on a piece of waste fabric. 
The TEAZLE Brush can be obtained (in the United Kingdom), at a cost of 2/- [2 shillings], wherever TEAZLE WOOL is on sale. As it may be employed, with discretion, for renewing the nap on any woven fabrics (such as Blankets and Tweeds), it is a handy tool to have available, apart from its special use in connection with TEAZLE WOOL. 
I tried brushing my Felted Tweed swatch with a wire brush, and the result is just slightly furry.

I'm sure it's not as furry as brushed Teazle wool should be - but the brush I used is one I usually use for brushing suede.  It is not equivalent to a Teazle brush, which was also a wire brush, but each wire had a hooked end.  What's more, brushing with a wire brush, even one without hooks, didn't seem a proper way to treat Felted Tweed - the fabric did not feel robust enough to stand up to such treatment. So perhaps Teazle Wool produced a thicker fabric, or perhaps the Teazle brush did a better job of raising the nap, or perhaps I was being too tender-hearted.  It's hard to tell without a sample of the original Teazle wool and a proper Teazle brush. But I suspect that getting the effect evenly applied over a sizeable garment would be difficult, even with the proper wool and brush.  

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

A Teazle Wool Tam

In April, I wrote about a secret project that I was knitting in three colours of Rowan Felted Tweed. The pattern has now been published, in the November/December issue of Piecework magazine.  It's a special issue on collections, and Angharad and I wrote an article about the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection for it.  The project was to accompany the article, and now that the magazine has appeared, I can show it to you.

Tam for Piecework November/December 2017

It is a tam, with two bands of stranded knitting, and a tassel.  (The magazine has a nicer photo of it - it was photographed on a model, who is much more attractive than my polystyrene head.)

Choosing a project to represent all the publications in the Guild's collection was quite tricky - I wanted something unusual, not too big or difficult to knit, and something that would look good now.  Just as I was wondering what to choose, a donation arrived for the collection, of booklets and patterns from the early 1920s, including a booklet of Hats, Caps & Tams, which was just what I was looking for.

Beehive Booklet 23: Hats, Caps & Tams
I had never seen a copy of the booklet before, and I think that not many have survived. It was published in the early 1920s - after J. & J. Baldwin of Halifax had merged with Paton's of Alloa in 1920, but while they were still acting as separate companies.

The booklet has an introduction which describes the teazle wool specified for the patterns in the booklet:
TEAZLE WOOL HATS, CAPS and TAMS, in Knitting and Crochet, are a need of the times for wear with the woollen Jumper, Scarf, or Sports Coat which form part of practically every Woman's wardrobe. They can be made at home to match the other garments and at but a quarter of the cost, or less, of the ready-made article. 
Moreover, at the taste of the individual, a Colour Scheme may be deliberately put together and an air of distinction given to the finished article, such as would be very difficult to obtain through Millinery channels. TEAZLE WOOL, from which the whole of the articles illustrated in this book were made, is supplied in a lovely range of shades from which to choose such a Colour Scheme.....
The facility with which the surface of fabric made from TEAZLE WOOL can be "raised," by means of the special "TEAZLE" Brush, makes it peculiarly suitable for Hats, Caps, and Tams. The process softens the colours and gives a very pleasant touch to the fabric, the freshness of which can be restored at any time, and even after washing, by a gentle application of the "Brush." 

(Teazle wool was named for the heads of the teasel plant, shown in the trademark, that were used in the woollen industry to raise the nap on woven cloth.)

I didn't want to choose a pattern that was designed to be brushed, but fortunately many of the patterns in the booklet were not, and I chose this design from the front cover, which isn't brushed:

Even though I didn't intend the finished tam to be brushed, in order to imitate Teazle wool I couldn't choose a smooth yarn  - it would have to be a wool that could conceivably be brushed.  The pattern specified the colours, too, so I wanted to be able to match them if possible.  And of course I needed to be able to match the stated gauge.

My friend Ann Kingstone suggested using Rowan Felted Tweed, which she used for her Stranded Knits book, and assured me that it would knit to the right gauge.  And Rowan very kindly supplied me with Felted Tweed in Bilberry, Watery and Ginger, to stand in for Violet Blue, Jade Green and Orange Teazle Wool.  The result looks very close to the illustration in the booklet, and has the 'jewelled effect' described in the pattern - I am very pleased with how it turned out. 

Having chosen the pattern and the yarn, I still had to modify the pattern quite a lot.  The knitted tams in the booklet were intended to be made in four or five separate sections and then sewn together.  Here's a chart for one of the sections in a similar tam from the booklet - each section in the tam pattern I chose is the same shape, apart from the final decreases. 

Chart for a 4-section tam
The booklet has a preamble that suggests knitting in the round as an alternative - I thought that most knitters now would prefer that.

The tam I chose was intended to be knitted in 4 sections, and I knit a trial tam (in other colours of Felted Tweed) following the pattern closely, apart from knitting it in the round.

I didn't like it - it was too square.  And the decreasing in the centre of the crown didn't work well (for me anyway) - it didn't lie flat.  So I changed to five sections and changed the decreasing in the middle.  I also had to re-jig the bands of stranded knitting, so that they sat symmetrically within each section, and carried on smoothly from one section to the next - not a consideration in the 1920s, it seems.

The final hurdle was the tassel.  All the pattern says about that is "sew together neatly, finishing with a length of chain and tassel from the centre of the crown."  Some instructions would have been nice, but in the absence of any help, I had to make it up, and fortunately, I could see roughly how long the chain and tassel should be from the illustrations in the booklet.     Here's the finished tam, showing the crown with the five converging sets of decreases, and the chain and tassel.  I am very proud of it - my first published pattern.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Donation from Scotland

A friend sent me a package of pattern booklets and leaflets this week, a donation for the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  She lives in Scotland and had found them in her local charity shop - several of them do in fact have a Scottish flavour.  There are several 1950s pattern booklets that were given away free with The People's Friend magazine (published in Dundee).

There were several late 1940s pattern leaflets in the package too, including this lacy blouse pattern with crocheted buttons. (I'd call it a blouse, or else a short-sleeved cardigan.  The leaflet calls it a 'jackette'.)

The most intriguing item was a copy of the Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores' Hand Book of Knitting and Crocheting. which was similar to Patons & Baldwins' Woolcraft.  It gave a lot of useful basic patterns, with an emphasis on underwear.

I think this edition dates from the First World War - it has several patterns for balaclava helmets, steering gloves, puttees, and similar garments that would be useful for soldiers and sailors. But the intriguing thing is not the booklet itself, but its cover - the original cover (above) is falling apart, and a new cover has been made from the outside of a school exercise book.  (To confirm that, it has the address on the back:  Corporation Printing and Stationery Department, 197 Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow, S.1. )

And on the front is advice to children on how to cross the road safely.
Do your best to avoid street accidents by observing the following rules:-
1. ALWAYS stop at the kerb, before crossing the street. 
2. ALWAYS look right and left before stepping into the street. 
3. ALWAYS keep looking RIGHT till you come to the middle, then keep looking LEFT. 
4. ALWAYS look out from behind a car or bus before stepping out into the street. 
5. NEVER climb upon a moving vehicle, or hang on to it. 
6. NEVER follow a ball, hoop or playmate into the street while there is traffic about. 
7. NEVER play games on the street. 
What I want to know is: when did children last play with hoops?  (i.e. hoops for rolling along the street, not new-fangled things like hula-hoops).  Long before my time, I'm sure.  There's a long article on hoop rolling in Wikipedia, which shows that it has a very long history, but it doesn't say when it stopped being a common street activity for children.

The cover should clearly stay with the booklet - even though  it's nothing to do with knitting or crochet, it's now part of the booklet's history.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Summer Time Ends

The clocks went back an hour this morning and many of the 'clocks' around the house updated themselves automatically - radios, computers, mobile phones.  But a hundred years ago, when 'daylight saving' was a very new idea, putting the clocks back was a cumbersome business, and one that had to be explained to the public.  I just today came across this timely article warning the people of Leeds about the end of Summer Time in 1917.   It appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post on the 10th September (summer time ended earlier in 1917 than it does now).



Daylight saving, at all events for this year, comes to an end this week. The Home Secretary gives notice that summer time will cease and normal time will be restored at 3 a.m. (summer time) on the morning of Monday next, Sept. 17, when the clock will be put back to 2 a.m.  The hour 2-3 a.m. summer time will thus be followed by the hour 2-3 a.m. Greenwich time.
The act of putting back the clock will, in the average household, be performed by paterfamilias before retiring to bed on Sunday night.  None but the most particular stickler for order will sit up till 3 o'clock for the purpose of restoring clocks and watches to Greenwich mean time.
Even in regard to the Leeds Town Hall clock, which gives the accepted time to all the work-shops and factories of the city, not to mention the public houses, there will be no need to go to all the trouble of setting back the clock at the hour named.  It might have been necessary if the clock had continued to give forth its chimes and show its face at nights, but as the possibilities of air raids have stopped all that, the demands of the times are such that the clock man need only stop the 4 cwt. pendulum for an hour.  He may do that precisely at 3 o'clock, or he may study his own convenience in stopping the clock any time during the hours of darkness and nobody will be the wiser.
Actually the putting back of the clock will impose no hardship on anyone. On the contrary, those who retire on Sunday night at the usual time will have the comfortable feeling that they are granted an hour's extra sleep for the sixty minutes which the Government took from the people in April last. The only people who will need to "get busy'' through the change are those who have to do with the regulation of clocks in public places, railway stations, post offices and Government establishments.
 One Leeds firm, besides holding up the "works" of the Town Hall clock, has to restore Greenwich time to nearly a score of tramway traffic clocks, to a dozen churches in Leeds and to sixty or seventy other clocks in public places, including those on hotels and in the arcades.
In regard to the ways of manipulating the clock, the public are cautioned that the hands of ordinary striking clocks should not be moved backwards; the change of time should be made by putting forward the hands eleven hours and allowing the clock to strike fully at each hour, half hour, and quarter hour, as the case may be.  The hands should not be moved while the clock is striking.  An alternative method in the case of pendulum clocks, is to stop the pendulum for an hour.
So if you had a striking clock with no pendulum (the sort my grandparents had on their mantelpiece) that chimed every quarter hour, you had to let it chime 44 times in order to put the clock back an hour. I think I would rather have had it an hour wrong until the following April.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Greenwoods Wools

I've been researching the history of Wakefield Greenwood, a knitting yarn business based in Huddersfield in the 1950s and 1960s - I'm giving a talk on the company at the Knitting History Forum meeting next month. The Wakefield Greenwood company grew out of Greenwoods, a needlework shop in Huddersfield that advertised in Vogue Knitting in the 1930s and 1940s. 

I'm still finding bits of information about the company and the shop.  This week, I found some Bestway patterns from the late 1940s for Greenwoods Wools.

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Bestway 1416

Bestway patterns often specified generic yarn, such as 3-ply wool, but otherwise, they had a company logo on the front and the pattern was written for that company's yarns.  So for instance, in the late 1940s,  many Bestway patterns had Sirdar or Emu logos on the front.  It must have been good for the yarn company, as an extra way of advertising their yarns. I think, too, that Bestway patterns were sold more widely than other knitting patterns, in newsagents as well as yarn shops.

During World War 2, Greenwoods shop started to sell their own brand of knitting and crochet yarns - the shop had had a mail-order service for several years, supplying knitting wools and other needlework supplies all over the country, and advertised the service in Vogue Knitting.  But they hadn't yet started producing their own knitting pattern leaflets to support their yarns.  The Bestway leaflets would have been a way to test the market, and also to get the name known more widely.

In fact I recognised one of the Bestway designs straightway.

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Bestway 1446

I had already seen an illustration of the jumper in a Greenwoods ad in a 1946 Vogue Knitting magazine..

Ad in Vogue Knitting 28

The ad says "Write to-day for LEAFLET 1446, 4d post free from us or from any Wool Shop."  I did wonder how Greenwoods managed to have a leaflet numbered 1446, without any previous leaflets, but now I know - it was Bestway 1446.

I don't recall any other yarn company advertising a Bestway leaflet, but Greenwoods (and later Wakefield Greenwood) were very good at seizing any advertising opportunity.

I have found two other leaflets for Greenwoods Wools.  One is an underwear set - a (very long) vest and (very long) knickers.

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Bestway 1448

The yarn is Silbro, described as Underwear Silk, and it may indeed have been real silk.

And finally, there's a little jumper knitted in mercerised cotton yarn, "knitted in stocking stitch with lacy yoke and front panel".  It has a neat little collar and a buttoned opening at the back neck - very pretty, if you like 1940s vintage knitwear.

1940s vintage knitting pattern
Bestway 1449

I haven't found any other Greenwoods Wools leaflets published by Bestway in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, though  there may have been some.  But shortly after these were published, Greenwoods started to produce their own pattern leaflets, so perhaps they didn't need the Bestway support any more.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Vulcanite Knitting Needles

Before other plastics were developed and came into common use, one of the materials used for knitting needles was vulcanite, a hardened rubber.  A haberdashery catalogue from 1918-19 lists steel, wood, bone, ivory and vulcanite knitting needles.  So I've known about vulcanite knitting needles for several years, but I didn't think that we had any in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.

But then recently I saw that we had some black double-pointed needles, that I thought might be vulcanite.  Another name for vulcanite is ebonite, and it was used to make jewellery and other decorative pieces in imitation of ebony or jet - black is its 'natural' colour.

The needles that I thought might be vulcanite are size 14 (2mm.) and some are in a set of four with a paper band around them, though it's not very informative - it just says 14 W.G. (presumably for 'Wire Gauge') and Made in England.

You can test whether a knitting needle is vulcanite by rubbing it gently to warm it - it should smell of rubber. I've done that and they do smell of rubber - at least to me. I've asked several other people to test them, without mentioning rubber.  No-one else said that they smelt of rubber, and you would be amazed at the range of things that various people thought they could smell.   (Strawberries?!!)

So I'm relying on  my own nose.  Also, they are surprisingly sharp, which makes me think that they are not made of one of the usual plastics.

And this week we have been given some more knitting needles, including a pair of black straight needles, 12 in. (30.5 cm.) long and size 7 (4.5 mm.)   They don't have any label or markings on them, not even the size.

Again, they are sharper than most plastic needles.  And to me, they smell of rubber.  So I'm convinced they are vulcanite, and I'm not asking anyone else to smell them for me. 

It seems that vulcanite was not used for knitting needles after the start of the Second World War.  So if I'm right, these really are vintage knitting needles. 

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