Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Universal Knitting Book

The Universal Knitting Book, Paton's, 1913
On the last day of 2013, I am writing about a booklet published in 1913.  The Universal Knitting Book was published by Paton's of Alloa in Scotland, spinners of knitting yarns.  The 1913 booklet is actually the 4th edition; according to the British Library catalogue, the 2nd edition appeared in 1903, and I imagine that the first edition appeared around 1900.  It has 76 pages, price 2d, and contains over 100 patterns - mostly knitting patterns, but also some crochet, in spite of the title.

It is printed on very cheap paper, with thin card covers - evidently not designed for durability.  Paton's also published a  much more substantial Knitting & Crochet Book at the same time, on glossy paper and with a cloth binding, priced at a shilling (12d), so The Universal Knitting Book was aimed at the cheaper end of the market. The cover features a small girl, who looks surprisingly grumpy, sitting on top of a globe (representing the universe, presumably) while knitting.  The preface promises a "lavish supply of illustrations".  Most are line drawings, and perfectly clear, but a few are taken from photographs (perhaps to be up-to-date) and have not reproduced well on the cheap paper.   

The intention in publishing booklets like this was obviously to sell the company's yarn.  The first page of The Universal Knitting Book is very persuasive about the advantages of knitting for yourself and your family, and using Paton's yarn:

"Have you ever thought how much more pleasure there is in wearing garments which you have knitted yourself?  Not only is there a pleasure in wearing the garments, but they can be so easily made in odd moments which might otherwise be wasted, and if made with Paton's Alloa Knitting Wools, you are assured of splendid wearing qualities and perfect comfort and warmth, without excessive weight....  

But the universal reputation which our Wools enjoy has not been secured, nor is it maintained, without great vigilance on our part. Nothing in the way of care or skill, or improved mechanical appliance, has been spared to bring all our qualities to a high state of excellence; and we believe we only express the opinion of the vast majority of those accustomed to handle knitting wools, when we say that, alike in respect of quality, finish, and durability, they are not surpassed by those of any other maker. They give the maximum of satisfaction to the knitter, and of comfort to the wearer."

That is a great slogan for a spinning company: "the maximum of satisfaction to the knitter, and of comfort to the wearer."  Exactly what we all want from our yarn.  (Plus it has to look good, of course.)  

The booklet has patterns for a wide range of garments for men, women and children, beginning with two chapters on socks. The first is a highly technical chapter giving rules and general directions for Stocking Knitting. It discusses the different parts of a stocking and how to adjust the size to fit a specific foot and leg.  It seems an oddly advanced beginning for a booklet aimed at all levels of experience. The next chapter has patterns for socks and stockings, with several fancy sock tops for Gentleman's Cycling Stockings. 

A thistle pattern for a stocking top
There are lots of patterns for underwear.  Chapters 3 and 4 cover vests (including the Lady's Under Bodice shown) and then combinations and drawers.

Lady's Under Bodice

The next chapter has outer garments - coats, jerseys, sweaters and jackets - and begins with instructions for knitting a simple cable, perhaps a novel idea at the time.  For the cable needle, "a broken hair-pin answers very well" - evidently broken hair-pins were plentiful in 1913. Some of the cardigans and waistcoats in this chapter look quite modern.

Jersey & Knickers for a boy of 2 to 3 years of age
The book then reverts to underwear.  (In fact, even the chapter on coats, etc. includes body bands and knee caps, for some reason.)  The next chapters are on boots (for babies) and slippers, and then petticoats. Altogether the range of knitted underwear is amazing - I'd like to know how much of it people wore at the same time. Was an under bodice a substitute for a vest, or did you wear a vest as well? 

Baby's Boot

Then there are Hoods, Clouds and Caps, including two patterns for helmets - they are not called Balaclava helmets, but that's what they are.  And a chapter on scarves and comforters, including gloves and mittens.
There is a whole chapter on shawls, which are mostly lacy Shetland shawls in very fine yarn - appropriately for a Scottish yarn spinner. One of the shawls has a feather-and-fan border, and was issued later as a pattern leaflet, several times - I showed one of the later incarnations of the design here

Shetland Pattern Shawl

The remaining chapters give a similar range of garments in crochet.

In 1920, Paton's merged with J. & J. Baldwin of Halifax, who were already publishing a similar booklet, Woolcraft.  (I'll write about Woolcraft some time.)   For a few years, the merged company continued to publish updated editions of both Woolcraft and The Universal Knitting Book. Eventually, only Woolcraft survived, though it incorporated some features of the other booklet. But although it wasn't as long-lived as Woolcraft, this 1913 edition of The Universal Knitting Book gives a fascinating view of what knitters were making, and wearing, on the eve of the Great War.

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