Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Trunk Show in Mayfair

Yesterday Angharad and I went to London on the train with two large cases.  We were doing a Trunk Show of items from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, for a joint meeting of the London branch of the Guild and the Knitting History Forum.  The meeting was in a room at the back of the Grosvenor Chapel - an unexpected quiet corner of Mayfair with the huge plane trees in Mount Street Gardens towering behind it.

We enjoyed the meeting - the people there were very interested in what we had brought, asked lots of questions and told us some things we didn't know in return.  Well worth the day-trip to London.  Here are a few of the things we included.    

Tam or beret, hand-knit in Shetland, about 1950

Knit and crochet jumper in art silk, ,about 1920 

'Mr and Mrs Panda'

Shawl or sampler of Shetland lace stitches

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Emu gadgets

Last June we had a Hook and Needle Week at Lee Mills, to make a start on sorting out the tools and gadgets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  We found a lot of needle gauges, including more than a dozen varieties of bell gauge.   According to the Victoria & Albert Museum, the first bell-shaped needle gauge was patented in 1847, and many later variants exist.   The Emu gauge illustrated is probably the latest in the KCG collection - I think it was made in the late 1940s.   It is different from earlier bell gauges in having holes in the middle rather slots around the edge (down to the tiny 1mm diameter hole for a size 19 needle), and it's anodised aluminium, in a beautiful green.

Then recently we found another Emu gadget.  It's a very neat little counter, about 2 inches/5cm. long. There are two circular holes in the purple plastic at the back, just visible, and we think that the plastic would bend enough to allow a knitting needle to be threaded through both holes (though we're not going to try it, for fear of breaking it).

The Knit-Count has a registered design number - 846860, which corresponds to 1946-7.   And I found another Emu gadget on eBay, with registered design number 846859 - a plastic ruler and needle gauge, to measure knitting needles from the old UK size 1 down to 16.  

In theory, the Knit-Count and ruler/gauge could have been manufactured long after the design was registered, but I think they are likely to date from the late 1940s.

Emu was a yarn company that seems to have appeared just after the war.  There are some very nice Emu knitting patterns from the late 1940s and 1950s in the collection - I showed a few here.
Early ads claim that unlike other yarns, Emu knitting wool won't shrink.  For instance, a 1945 ad says:
'Emu is the result of scientific research into wool shrinkage.  It is made permanently unshrinkable and easy washing by a secret process called "emunising". Send for a copy of "Science and Wool" booklet, which explains why Emu Wool is unshrinkable.'  
We don't have a copy of the booklet in the collection, so I can't tell you the explanation.

Emu ran a long series of ads with the slogan "Knit with Emu and stop thinking about shrinking".  The two illustrated give the address "Emu Wools  Ltd., Emu House, Oxford Circus, London W.1."  I wonder where Emu wool was spun - obviously not at Oxford Circus.   Any information gratefully received.

From Vogue Knitting 29, Autumn 1946

From Vogue Knitting 30, Spring 1947

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A 1930s Fair Isle Sweater

We were admiring a Fair Isle sweater at Lee Mills yesterday.  It has seen a lot of hard wear - it has been mended in several places, and the neckband and cuffs are a bit ragged.  And it's been attacked by moths too - there are quite a few little holes in it.  Even so, it is a beautiful piece; very well knitted, and the colours are as fresh as if it were made yesterday.  

It was donated to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection a few years ago, and had belonged to the donor's father.  He came from a farming family in Banffshire, in Scotland, and it was made for him in the 1930s, by one of his aunts.  He wore it for more than 20 years, and from the signs of wear must have been one of his favourite garments.  The short waist is typical of sweaters of that date that were intended as working clothes.  

In some Fair Isle designs, a different pattern is issued in every band, but here the Greek key pattern, in two shades of brown, is re-used in alternate bands.  I guess that helps to tie together the overall design.  It's interesting to see how the different combinations of colours work together.  At first glance, the colours in each of the wider bands are different, but in fact the same colours are re-used - they just look different because of the way they are combined.  ( I think there are 9 colours in all, including the two browns and two shades of green.)

On the inside, you can see that the knitter wove in the colour not in use, rather than stranding it across the back of the work. It's very neatly done.

The donor said that her mother had kept it after her father died, for sentimental reasons, and that she found herself unable to throw it away.   It has been very gently washed, but we shan't attempt to mend it.  It is too fragile to go on display or be handled more than absolutely necessary, but it will be treasured.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Mysterious shawl

I had some alpaca yarn left over from the Color Affection shawl I knitted two years ago, and so I have been on the lookout for another project to use up the surplus.  Then a few months ago I read something about a mystery shawl knit-along by Stephen West.  I haven't ever knitted any of his designs but I have seen some and they are very striking.  I read about the proposed shawl - at this stage there were no details, just some information about how much yarn you needed and how to choose suitable colours.  You needed a contrast colour that would stand out against each of the other three colours (which could be my left-over pale grey, orangey-pink (Poinsettia) and light toffee brown (Demerara).  It sounded intriguing and exciting, and I had just enough left over from Color Affection, if I chose a contrasting yarn in the alpaca to go with it.

So I bought an extra ball of black (Liquorice) as my contrast, and signed up for the knit-along.  The pattern arrived in four weekly instalments, and I started happily on week 1, which was just what I wanted - very dramatic and interesting to knit.   It has swooping curved wedges of garter stitch, getting progressively larger, in the three toning colours, and outlined in black. The shapes are created with short rows and the increases are kind of naturally built in to the turns of the short rows - very clever.  And the edge is finished with i-cord - very clever.

But I don't think I'm really cut out for a knit-along - by the end of week 3, lots of knitters could hardly wait for the final instalment so that they could finish their shawl, while I was still working on week 1.    

And then I hit a major snag - when I came to look at the week 2 section of the shawl, I didn't like it.  The week 1 section was all in garter stitch, but then it switched to two-colour brioche.  I didn't really like the look of it, and I didn't think that changing texture in that way was what I wanted to do. (Sorry Stephen, but it's my shawl.)   That's an obvious potential hazard of a mystery knit-along - you embark on a piece of knitting, hoping that you are going to like it, even the parts you haven't seen yet.

Also, by then I had decided that I wanted quite a small shawl, just to wrap around my neck.  I decided to do just a few plain bands of garter stitch, and then finished with an i-cord edging.  (Though actually, Stephen's final section, a zigzagging band of the contrast colour, looks very good   - maybe I should have skipped weeks 2 and 3, and gone straight to week 4.)      

So now I have finally finished it (I finished the knitting weeks ago,  but it was waiting for me to sew in the ends) and it's lovely. Very warm to wear around the neck.  Much more dramatic than almost anything I have knitted previously.  It's amazing how different the three colours that I used in Color Affection look in this shawl.    

And I should say that I am evidently in a small minority (of one?) in not liking the whole of Stephen's design.  The pattern has now been named Exploration Station (available for sale through Ravelry), and it has nearly 1800 projects listed in Ravelry, to date.  There are lots of comments from knitters who especially liked the brioche stitch section.  OK - I'm odd.

I haven't even succeeded in using up my left-over yarn.  Because my shawl is a lot smaller than intended, I've still got some of each colour left (though obviously less than I had), and now have some left-over black too.  So now I need another project that uses small quantities of three toning colours and quite a lot of a contrasting colour...   This could go on indefinitely.  
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