Tuesday, 9 May 2017

More Knitting Needles

Through the local newspaper, the Huddersfield Examiner,  I have been trying to find out more about Wakefield Greenwood, a Huddersfield business that sold knitting yarns to stores throughout the country, and elsewhere, in the 1940s to 1960s.  I got a few replies to my appeal in the Examiner for information, and a couple of weeks ago I met someone who worked for the company for more than 20 years.  She has given me a lot of fascinating information, so I am gradually getting a more complete story, ... and she gave me several things for the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, including a box of knitting needles.

I've definitely turned into a knitting needle nerd, I now realise, because I got quite excited by some of the makes.  Several of the pairs still had their original paper labels - not because they were unused, but because the donor liked to use the labels to keep the pairs together.

Here are the labels:

The needles at the top are Wimberdar brand - along with three other pairs of green/blue/turquoise plastic needles in the box. Wimberdar specialised in brightly coloured plastic needles, though they made other things too.  There are several pairs of Milwards Phantom needles in the box, in both grey metal and mauve plastic.  Then a really exciting pair - the Ivy needles.  I had never heard of Ivy needles before, and more surprisingly, neither has Google, as far as I can see.  There is no clue on the label as to who made them, except that it says "Made in England".  There are no marks on the needles or head, apart from the size, and IVY written on the head, not very clearly - barely visible except in a strong side light.

The labels on the Stratnoid needles read "The New Stratnoid Knitting Pins", The needles are the usual gray enamelled metal, like several other brands, and so are no longer the shiny duralumin of the original Stratnoid needles.  So 'new' in this case means 'just like everyone else' - a bit disappointing, when they started out being different from everyone else.

And of course there was a pair of Aero needles, made by Abel Morrall of Redditch - they must have been the commonest knitting needles in the country.

One pair of needles which did not have a label was, even so, particularly exciting,  I hadn't heard of the make before and the needles were marked with a patent number.  (I do like a knitting needle with a patent number.)  The make is Jouvenia, and they are the usual grey enamelled metal, so don't look very interesting.

Here's the head, with the patent number:

Patent 395307 is a British patent granted in 1933 to Joseph Jouve, a Frenchman.  The reason for the head being offset is that it has a hole in it, alongside the needle itself, where the point of the other needle can be inserted.  So the pair of needles can be joined together like this:

 (Although actually it is not at all easy to get the points of both needles at once into the hole on the opposite head.)  The idea is that fixing them together like this will keep the knitting securely on the needles, as in this drawing from the patent application.

A Google search for Jouvenia found a couple of ads for Jouvenia needles in the French magazine Tricot Journal in 1936, and a sheet of headed paper from the Jouvenia factory in Paris, so it seems that Jouvenia needles were made and marketed in France, in spite of the British patent.  Yet one pair at least ended up in Huddersfield.    

Altogether a fascinating little collection of knitting needles.  If you like that sort of thing.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Portable Project

I've just been to Birmingham to do a workshop on twined knitting for the local branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  It was a re-run of the one I've done previously for the Huddersfield branch, and at Sheringham in January.   I went by train on Friday morning, spent the afternoon shopping in John Lewis (lots of trying on, result: one pair of jeans, one pretty Seasalt cotton top).  I stayed overnight with Janet, the convenor of the Birmingham branch, and Francis,  and they took me to a very nice Moroccan restaurant for dinner.  On Saturday morning we went back to John Lewis, because the workshop was held in the Community Hub room there.  The workshop went well - everyone got the idea of twined knitting.  Most people got at least halfway though a wristlet, and one finished it.  (A couple of people weren't knitting a wristlet, because they preferred to knit flat, or else hadn't brought dpns, and so were just knitting a swatch to try out the techniques.)  From my point of view, as the teacher, it was very gratifying. Afterwards, I had coffee and cake with Janet and a few others, in the John Lewis cafe, another brief shopping foray (a pair of brogues, smart but comfortable), and then went downstairs to New Street station, which is handily underneath John Lewis, and caught a train home again.  Altogether a successful trip.

But on Thursday, in between printing off the handouts for Saturday, I had a brief panic: what was I going to knit?  I have finished knitting the Secret Project  (still secret) and the lace yoke cardigan  is at least 80% finished - I've nearly finished the first sleeve.  As it's knitted all in one piece, that means I have to carry around most of a cardigan, and it's too bulky to take on an overnight trip.  I didn't have anything else planned, but I couldn't possibly go to a KCG branch meeting without some knitting.

I thought of starting something with some yarn I bought from the destash table at last year's Guild convention.  It's Rowan Linen Drape (now discontinued) - a linen and viscose mix that I thought would make a nice summer scarf for cool summer days (i.e. most British summer days).  I had already looked around for lacy scarf patterns and hadn't seen anything that appealed.   So finally, as a desperate measure, I decided to take a ball of the yarn and some suitable needles and invent something.  I'm making it up as I go along, which means a lot of backtracking, but I'm pleased with how it's turning out.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Exasperated Skein Holder

Writing last week about the design for a 'novel wool winder' in Hobbies Weekly reminded me of some war-time correspondence I had seen in The Times about why wool was sold in skeins and not ready-wound into balls.  I found it a while ago when I was trying to find out when wool started to be sold in balls.  The letters appeared in 1944, not long after the Hobbies Weekly design was published, and began when a man wrote, under the pen-name 'Skein-Holder', to complain that he was having to hold skeins of yarn for his wife while she wound them into balls, and what a dreadful waste of time it was.  Obviously, he was not a Hobbies Weekly reader, and so hadn't made a skein holder for his wife.  (The Hobbies Weekly 'wool winder' is in fact a skein holder, or swift.   It holds the skein of yarn and makes it easier for a person to wind it into a ball, but doesn't help with the winding - though there are now hand-operated gadgets that do, and can be properly called wool-winders.)

This was Skein-Holder's letter:



Sir,—The Government has recently called on our women to knit a vast quantity of wool into articles required for the forces.  My wife was sent with a lorry to fetch the 2,000lb. [slightly over 900 kg.] of wool from London allotted to the knitters of our county.  The skeins packed in bales were so bulky that the lorry would only hold 1,200lb.  I suspect that had the wool been wound into balls the whole 2,000lb. would have gone into the lorry.
The knitters have now to wind each skein into a ball before they can start to knit the wool.  Each skein takes one or more often two persons at least five minutes to wind.  I have just held a tangled skein which took my wife 15 minutes to wind.  The time which our unpaid knitters spend in winding must add up to thousands of hours.
By 1779 Hargreaves, Arkwright, and Crompton perfected the spinning jenny.  In 1787 Cartwright perfected the power loom.  Yet in the last century and a half the wool trade has failed to produce a mechanism whereby knitting wool can be wound and sold in a ball ready for the needles.  Ever since, as a small boy, I held skeins for my mother I have wondered why.  My excuse for now seeking an answer to this simple question through your columns is that every hour which every worker can save is a factor to hastening the end of this war.  For the reason given above. the answer to this question will interest thousands of your readers if you can elicit it from the wool trade.
I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

A few days later, there was a definitive answer from the Director of Lister's, spinners of knitting wools in Bradford:
Sir,—For many years wool has been wound by machine into balls ready for the needles. The reason for discontinuing this make-up during war-time is that the process is costly both in labour and in the materials and space needed for packing in boxes. 
Yours truly, for Lister and Co. (Knitting Wools), Limited, 
Director. Manningharn Mills, Bradford, Yorkshire. 
Mr Watson's letter showed that 'Skein-Holder' was wrong to think that machines to wind wool into balls did not exist and that 2,000 lb. of wool would have taken up less space if already wound - he claims that on the contrary, it would take up more space.  That should have ended the correspondence, but didn't.  The following day, the Yorkshire Post newspaper joined in:

Banishing the Skein 

Long-suffering husbands will surely be grateful to Times correspondents who have raised the question of winding knitting wool from skeins to a ball.  Someone wrote plaintively to say that he had just held a tangled skein which took his wife 15 minutes to wind, and added that the time which wartime knitters spend in winding must add up to thousands of hours.  "Ever since, as a small boy. I held skeins for my mother I have wondered why." he adds.
So, indeed. have I.  I recall one handy man who, determined to end the agony of skein-holding, made an adjustable wheel on which the skein was placed and pulled off as the knitter worked: to the best of my recollection the idea was a success.  Goodness only knows why some such gadget was not marketed long ago.
Why market wool in the skein, anyway?  Why not in the ball?  Many a man must have asked himself that.
The Yorkshire Post then quotes the whole of the letter from Mr Watson, and finishes with a stirring plea for wool to be sold ready-wound after the war:
So! It can be done. Husbands will grimly note this, and demand that all postwar knitting wool shall be in the ball. That destroyer of domestic serenity, the skein, must be banished from the firesides of Britain.
And a day later, another letter appeared in The Times, confirming that some wool was sold in balls before the war, and then claiming that in any case winding wool into a ball before starting to knit is completely unnecessary.  (Provided that you don't mind being tethered to a chair, or something like that, while you are knitting - carrying about a loose skein of yarn could lead to terrible tangles very quickly.)
Sir,—Your correspondent "Skein-holder" is quite wrong in supposing that no machine has been invented to wind wool.  Before the war at least a score of various brands of wool were sold ready wound----in the "cocoon" style, i.e., with the thread unravelling from the inside, not the outside, and this type of ball has the great advantage of not rolling about.

Admittedly, none of the wool officially issued for "service comforts." is in balls, but it is perfectly easy to knit direct from the skein, provided that it is not tangled to start with.  I did not believe this myself until it was demonstrated to me many years ago by a nun, who knitted dozens of garments annually for an orphanage run by her order.  Since then I have never spent a single moment in "winding." Yours faithfully,
The 'Cocoon' style was used in this country in the 1880s - though apparently only by one small spinning company at that time (see this post).  It's interesting that Ellis Swale could claim that by the 1930s it had become a common way of selling wool.

The final voice in the correspondence went to "A Mere Male":
Sir,—I am not so fortunate as "Skein-holder" in having time on my hands, but may I briefly reply to his letter of February 5.  I suspect from the facts given that the county to which he refers is one in which I also have a knitting interest.
Any member of the wool trade will tell him that (1) It is possible to wind wool into balls, and this is done in the case of special wool, such as Angora.  (2) It is not practicable in the case of wool in general demand, for the following reasons: —(a) An extra process is involved with consequent increase of price. (b) Balled wool is more bulky than skeined, as the balls must be loose. (c) Wool loses its resilience and other qualities expected of it.
As my competence to buy wool or even arrange its distribution has frequently been called into question by ladies of a certain country-wide organization, I sign myself
Rather a nasty letter. I think.  It was mean to suggest that 'Skein-Holder' has time on his hands (and by implication, wasn't doing as much as he should for the war-effort) just because he was helping his wife to wind her knitting wool.  And he had clearly annoyed the women of the 'country-wide organization' (the W.I.?), perhaps by throwing his weight about. 

The Times correspondence ended with a final letter from Skein-Holder, who remained unconvinced by the arguments that winding wool into balls was better done by hand, and in any case unnecessary.   He suggested that if knitters preferred 'in ordinary times' to buy knitting wool in the skein, it might have been out of 'deeply rooted habit'.  It seems more likely to me that if there was a significant cost to the manufacturer in winding wool, then ready-wound wool might have been more expensive for the knitter, and that would have been an excellent reason for many knitters preferring to buy wool in the skein.    

In fact, quite apart from the design in Hobbies Weekly, there should have been several skein holders on the market.  From about 1910 to the start of World War 2, several patents for skein holders were granted.  The illustration shows a complicated contraption in wire, patented in 1913.  It must have been put into production, because we have one in the Guild collection, as well as a few others of different designs.  

So Skein-Holder might equally well have asked why, if knitters had to wind wool from the skein into a ball before knitting, they did not invest in a (mechanical) skein holder, and instead press-ganged husbands (and handy children) into helping.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Knitting with beads

I've just finished this beaded wristband, started yesterday evening.  We had a workshop on knitting with beads, at the Huddersfield branch meeting of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  The workshop was taught by Marie, who had designed the lacy wristband as a quick knit for us to learn on.  She showed us two well-known techniques (well-known even to me, and I had never tried beading before) - first, threading the beads onto the yarn before you start knitting, and second, using a very fine crochet hook to attach each bead.  But the technique we actually used was a new one, which uses dental floss - of a particular type (Oral-B Super Floss, to be exact).  The floss comes in handy lengths and, crucially for beading purposes, each length has a stiffened section at one end that you can thread through a bead. It's a really clever way of adding a bead to a stitch, and looks much easier to do than the other two techniques.  There are tutorials on YouTube explaining how to do it: you can search for "super floss beading".

It was a very well prepared workshop - Marie supplied suitable yarn (wound into neat little centre-pull balls), dental floss and beads, as well as the pattern she had designed.  And she had threaded enough beads for the wristband onto a length of dental floss for each of us.  (On the other hand, I wasn't well prepared at all - the one thing we had to supply for ourselves was knitting needles, and I had forgotten.  Luckily a friend had a spare circular needle with her of the right size, and lent it to me.   
Here's my wristband in progress:


And here's the dental floss with beads threaded onto it:

Thanks very much to Marie for all the work she put in, and for a fascinating workshop.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Novel Wool Winder

John saw this copy of Hobbies Weekly at a book fair, and bought it for me, because of the illustration of a wool winder on the front cover.

The magazine did not cover a wide range of hobbies, in spite of the name - it was mainly aimed a woodwork, and specifically fretwork.  This issue was published in September 1940, when almost all knitting wool was sold in skeins and had to be wound into balls at home, and the magazine explained the virtues of the wool winder:
"Every knitter—and this, of course, relates more to ladies—knows the trouble of getting somebody to hold the skein whilst it is turned off into a ball suitable for their own use. The more independent knitters who use the back of a chair for the same purpose also have cause to complain. Here is a piece of work which will make them entirely independent and able to handle as much wool as they like, easily, expeditiously and satisfactorily."
The magazine would supply a pack of wood (oak) for making the wool winder, by mail order.   The pattern, printed on paper, was glued onto the oak sheets and the pieces cut out with a fretsaw.  Then the paper was removed (somehow).  The copy I have no longer has the paper pattern, so perhaps it was used, successfully I hope - it sounds as though you could only make one wool winder, and that would more or less destroy the pattern.

The contraption was made to fold up, as shown in another illustration:

 "The whole thing can be kept in quite a compact space because the arms will close when not in use. Moreover, the needles themselves are accommodated in simple racks on each side of the parts as can be seen in the picture. They are thus placed in a handy position whilst the next ball of wool is being wound."
That was surely not written by anyone who knew anything about knitting - if you were winding each ball of wool as you needed it, as it implies, then after the first ball of wool, your needles would already be in your knitting. And the racks wouldn't do for general storage of a knitter's needle collection - it looks as though they only hold a very few pairs, and that wouldn't be adequate for any knitter I know.

If the wool winder worked, it would be a useful gadget to have.  And I suppose I am being a bit mean in suspecting that the cut-outs in the arms are more designed to show off fretsaw skills than for any practical purpose - there probably was a practical reason, in lightening the weight of the arms so that they would turn more easily.  A potential snag with the design is that, as far as I can see from the instructions, the winder isn't adjustable for variations in skein size - but perhaps that wasn't necessary?  And (me being picky again) the base would have to be a lot heavier than it looks, to stop the whole thing toppling over.  But I should stop being negative, and believe the magazine when  it says:
"When complete and nicely finished with stain, polish or paint, the article is worth a great deal more than it costs to make, and will be most acceptable as a present to any ardent knitter. Or, of course, it is just the thing to complete for a Sale of Work, or for private sale to those who are or are likely to be busy knitting comforts for the Services." 
In September 1940, the country had been at war for a year, and many knitters were busy making 'comforts'.  I wrote a post a few years ago about the things that were needed for the Army - you can find it here, and think of someone using the "Hobbies Weekly" wool winder while knitting a khaki cap-muffler.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017


Vintage designs inspired by the 1940s

The May 2017 issue of Knitting magazine is just out - full of designs inspired by the 1940s.   I've been waiting for it to appear, because one of the designs is an update of a 1940s pattern in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  The Knitting editor asked me to pick some suitable patterns, and between us, she and I chose a lace jumper pattern called Petronella.

1940s  vintage knitting pattern

It uses a very pretty lace stitch, and has a very 1940s look.  It has the typical wide squared-off shoulders, but not too extreme - I think they are mostly due to shoulder pads, rather than having the exaggerated pleated tops to the sleeves that were common.

1940s style sweater, updated from Lister leaflet 924

It's been updated very successfully, I think, and has kept the name Petronella.  It's knitted in 4-ply (fingering) - Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk, which is a beautiful yarn.  (I knitted a long lacy scarf for my sister in the same yarn a few years ago.   She's given it back to me now, because she can't wear wool any more, so I can confirm that it is really nice to wear.)   The original pattern used a wool that was possibly similar in thickness, though of course it was only written for one (small) size.

I love the model's 1940s hair style - very like the one in the Lister pattern.  As well as having an appropriate hair-style, the model's clothes in all the photos are from Collectif, who specialise in vintage and retro clothing.

Here's another of the designs from the magazine.  Fair Isle was very popular in the late 1940s, and this pullover looks great.

1940s style Fair Isle pullover

And the magazine also has a piece written by me, about the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection, and the work of the volunteers who are sorting, cataloguing and recording it, and endeavouring to make it available to the rest of the Guild - and the wider public.  It's very satisfying that we were able to use the patterns in the collection to contribute to this issue of Knitting.  

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Secret Project

It's been several weeks since I last wrote a post - apologies.  There has been quite a lot of knitting going on - and quite a lot of things, too, that are nothing to do with knitting.  (Strange but true.)  And sometimes I just don't feel like writing.  Will try to do better.

One of things I have been knitting I can't write about yet, anyway.  If all goes well, it will be published in a magazine later this year, and then I'll write about it.  For now, I can show you the yarn I'm using - Rowan Felted Tweed in three lovely colours: Ginger, Bilberry and Watery.   More later.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Listening to the Wireless

I've cracked the dating of Weldon's Practical Needlework series (by relying on the dates given by Richard Rutt in his History of Hand Knitting - see here).   So now I'm looking at Fancy Needlework Illustrated - similarly undated,  so you have to work out the dates from other clues.

Vintage crochet cotton ad, 1920s
Ad from Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 73

And while doing that, I spotted this very charming ad for Ardern's crochet cotton, in an issue from 1925.  "Could there be any more delightful way to spend the evening hours than to make dainty crochet work while you listen in?"  Four pretty young women are sitting around a wireless set, with a huge trumpet, all busy with their crochet.  The British Broadcasting Company (forerunner of the BBC)  had been set up in 1922.  A BBC website says, 'The first broadcast came from London on 14 November [1922], and "listening-in" quickly became a popular pastime.'  So although the scene seems quaintly old-fashioned now, at the time it was exciting and new.

Two of the 'listeners in' seem to be working on handkerchiefs, making lacy edgings, and the other two are making strips of crochet lace, to go around a tablecloth or something similar.  Fancy Needlework Illustrated and other needlecraft magazines had been publishing patterns for this kind of fancy household crochet for decades.  And perhaps young women such as these did spend their leisure time making household linen for their 'bottom drawer', anticipating getting married.    But by 1925, the magazine was also publishing patterns for jumpers and dresses - knitted and/or crocheted.    The cover of the same issue illustrates the mix of patterns.

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1920s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 73

The magazine gives patterns for the tops worn by the two women in the cover picture, and for the crocheted table cloth border that forms its frame.

And Ardern's themselves have another ad in the same issue promoting their Star Sylko yarn for making 'Beautiful Frocks'.

Vintage 1920s crochet cotton ad
Ad from Fancy Needlework Illustrated No. 73

Going back to the first ad:  I can't tell exactly what the four young women are making.  But I do recognise the pattern for the edging of the tablecloth that the wireless is sitting on.  It was called the 'Dresden' pattern (presumably for Dresden china - the design shows a tea service) and it was published in Fancy Needlework Illustrated No. 26 in (I think) 1913.  

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1910s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 26
It's in filet crochet, which was very popular in the 1910s - it is easy to produce quite complicated pictorial designs in filet crochet.  (In the Dresden design, I like the corner motif of crossed teaspoons and a pair of sugar tongs.)

Dresden was evidently a very successful design - it was re-published in a later issue of the magazine, in 1920.  The cover says: 'This number contains a reprint of the "Dresden" crochet lace.  The most Popular Pattern ever published.'

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1920s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 52
  And you could have a matching tea cosy.

Vintage crochet design, 1910s
'Dresden' Tea Cosy Design
I think we have a 'Dresden' tablecloth in the Guild collection - there must certainly be many survivors.   It's nice to imagine some of the filet crochet in the collection in a 1920s setting like the one in the ad.

More on dating Fancy Needlework Illustrated in a later post.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Lace Yoke Cardigan

Here's what I'm knitting just now.

It's going to be a cardigan.  The design is by Norah Gaughan, from the Holiday 2016 issue of Vogue Knitting.  (The magazine appears in the U.K. as Designer Knitting, with a different cover, and the equivalent issue was Early Winter 2016.)

From Vogue Knitting, Holiday 2016 issue

It is going to look exactly like this, only denim blue.  

As you can see from my work-in-progress, it's knitted top-down, with no seams.  I have got past the complicated yoke, which took a lot of concentration because almost  every row is different - after the yoke it's very straightforward, and I have nearly finished the body.  

The yarn is Aire Valley Aran, spun by West Yorkshire Spinners ("reared, sheared and spun in Britain").  The pattern calls for an Aran weight yarn, though I think the specified yarn must be relatively lightweight to give the specified gauge (21 stitches and 30 rows to 10 cm in stocking stitch on 4mm needles ).  But Aire Valley Aran is also quite lightweight for an Aran yarn, and my gauge is spot on.

I did have a crisis of confidence part way through, though.  One of the advantages of knitting top-down is that you can try on as you go, and I did that, once I had finished the yoke and reached the point where you divide the sleeves from the body.  At that point the yoke looked extremely bulky and much too large.   It doesn't naturally lie flat - especially the cables at the top.   So at that point I pressed it gently under a damp cloth, which was an improvement.  But it was still too large around the neck edge.  The ribbed neckband is supposed to be added as a finishing step, but I decided to pause knitting the body and add the neckband at that point, and that has improved the fit around the neck a lot.  I now believe that it's going to fit me when it's finished, which is a great relief.

Without the neckband, the neck edge was much looser, and was sitting much lower when I tried on my knitting - it would have been difficult to judge the finished length of the cardigan.  So I'd advise anyone else knitting this pattern to add the neckband early, not at the end.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Stratnoid Knitting Pins

I do like a knitting needle with a patent number.  (At least I do if I can find the patent - sometimes I can't, and then it's just frustrating.)  It seems so unlikely that something as straightforward as a knitting needle should have anything patentable about it.  But several brands of knitting needle that we have in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection do have patent numbers, for instance the Double Century needles that I have already written about.

Another brand with a patent number is Stratnoid  (a horrible name).

Vintage knitting needles; patent number 151307; duraluminl

Patent number 151307 was issued in 1919.   The patentee was Harry Norman Lilley, of Astwood Bank near Redditch, and he said in the application:
"My invention relates to improvements in the manufacture of knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like and has for its object to enable such articles to be easily and rapidly produced in such a manner that they are not liable to get rusty or otherwise deteriorated in use as has hitherto been the case.

Knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like have usually been made out of steel and plated or otherwise polished in order to render them rustless and not liable to be deteriorated in use and therefore have to undergo a series of processes whereby the production of such articles by these means requires undue time. To avoid this it has been proposed to manufacture knitting pins and crochet hooks of aluminium but this is objectionable in use as it marks or soils articles with which it contacts.

Such articles need not particularly be made of steel, and our invention ... consists in making knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like of aluminium and manganese alloy which is readily workable, such as that which is known under the registered trade mark "Duralumin", whereby an easy manufacture may be undertaken which effects a large saving both in tools and machinery."  
 It's interesting that aluminium by itself was "objectionable in use" because it would stain the wool - presumably that's why later aluminium needles are anodised in pretty pastel colours.  Also interesting that the patent doesn't mention another big advantage of the Stratnoid needles - they are much lighter than steel needles, but very strong.   In the KCG collection, we have a haberdasher's catalogue of knitting and crochet equipment from 1918-19 (see here), that lists knitting needles made of steel, bone, wood, vulcanite and ivory.  Anything finer than a size 12 (2.25mm) had to be steel, but the thicker needles (more than about 4mm) were only sold in the lighter materials.
At the 1911 census, Harry Lilley had been a commercial traveller for a needle manufacturer, so although he obviously understood the pros and cons of different knitting needle materials from the sales point of view, it doesn't seem likely that he knew a lot about metallurgy and the processes involved in making knitting needles by 1919.  But all the patent says, really, is "I think it would be a good idea to make knitting needles out of this new Duralumin stuff."  And in the 1939 register, he was still a commercial traveller, so the patent didn't change his life much.

(In fact, he seems to have got the composition of Duralumin wrong - according to various websites, it was an alloy of 95% aluminium, and 4% copper, with the rest made up of manganese and magnesium, so "aluminium and manganese alloy" suggests that he wasn't very familiar with it.)

The patent was taken up (though I don't know when) by the firm of Stratton and Co., of Birmingham.  According to Grace's Guide, the company was set up in 1911 by George Abe Laughton, who at that time was running a small section of another company, selling coronation badges and flags. "Components were bought in from a small supplier who suffered from the ravages of alcohol and supplies were erratic. Laughton bought the business for £50 and acquired four hand presses and two girl workers. He named this enterprise Stratton, reputedly after the hero in a novel his wife was reading."   A nice story about the source of the company name, but in fact their eldest son, born 1906, was named George Stratton Laughton. So he might have been named for the hero of the novel, and the company named for him.  (And when he grew up and joined the family firm, he was known as Stratton Laughton, not George Laughton.)

By 1920 (again according to Grace's Guide) the company was making knitting needles, radio receivers and men's jewellery (an odd portfolio).  It then merged with Jarrett & Rainsford, the company that George Laughton had worked for until 1911, and became Jarrett, Rainsford and Laughton.  The Stratton name was kept for such things as powder compacts (vintage Stratton powder compacts are evidently very collectable) and of course Stratnoid knitting needles.    

The earliest ad for Stratnoid needles and hooks that I have found dates from about 1925.  It features a testimonial from a customer: "JUST IMAGINE MY DELIGHT when I discovered 'STRATNOID' -- so light, soft as silk, and never discoloured my white wool as aluminium ones did.  I have several sizes in 'STRATNOID' and they are JUST PERFECT."

Vintage knitting needles & crochet hooks, 1920s
Stratnoid ad, about 1925
The brand continued to at least the late 1950s. In 1955, an ad listed the  "points of appeal about Stratnoid Knitting Pins":
  • Solid heads that CANNOT come off.
  • Polished rounded points that pick up stitches easily.
  • Supersmooth finish for rapid work.
  • Lightweight and unbreakable.
  • Neutral shade that obviates eye strain.
The last point seems a bit of a stretch, but all the others seem valid.  (The head couldn't come off because it was made in one piece with the rest of the needle, I believe, unlike some of the anodised aluminium needles.)  

Here's another ad, from 1958.  At that time, the company often offered free knitting patterns in their ads - if you bought a pair of Stratnoid knitting needles, you could send off for a free pattern.

Vintage knitting needles, 1950s
Stratnoid ad, 1958

And after that, the ads seem to have stopped (if I see a later one, I'll add it.)  But the needles have carried on - as Harry Lilley's patent application didn't say, they are very durable.  (Though we have had several rejects in the KCG collection that were slightly bent.)  I've tried knitting with them, and if you like very smooth needles, these are ideal.  Though I might not go so far as to say "JUST PERFECT", like the 1925 ad.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Spider Wools

I've been working with the pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild  collection for a long time now. A lot of them aren't at all memorable, but sometimes there's a batch that stands out.  One is a small number of "Fair Isle" patterns for Spider Wools, published, I guess, in the late 1940s,

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; child's jumper, beret & gloves
Spider No. 183

Although the patterns are labelled "Fair Isle", they aren't anything like traditional Fair Isle designs.  Especially the one with the pandas:

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; child's twin set, beret & gloves with panda design
Spider No. 192

Spider Wools were produced by the Bradford Hosiery Yarn Spinning Co. We have only a dozen or so Spider patterns, but evidently there were many more, judging by the leaflet numbers.  The Scottie dog and panda designs seem to have been popular - I have seen several copies of each of those leaflets, though for the rest we have only one copy (or more often none).

There's an earlier leaflet, no. 56, for Baby's Rompers, that possibly dates from the 1930s.  They are certainly very 30s names for the designs:  Chips, Bunty and Mick.

1930s vintage knitting pattern; toddler's rompers
Spider No. 56
But most of the leaflets that we have were published at about the same time as the panda and Scottie designs.  There are a few other "Fair Isle" designs - all for girls, except the outfit below.

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; woman's jumper, beret & gloves
Spider No. 189

This one would be more attractive, I think, if I could figure out what the design represents.  There are bands of butterflies, and then bands of baskets? or cauldrons? or...?  They might, I have just realised, be bowls of flowers.  But there's no chart, so I would have to decipher the row by row instructions to see if they would look like bowls of flowers in the colours specified.   And I'm not going to.

I have seen ads for Spider wools from the early 1950s.  They evidently didn't publish them very fast - leaflet 211 was advertised in 1950, and leaflet 220 in 1953.

1950 ad

1953 ad

Leaflet 220 was a Coronation design - a purple cardigan and mauve jumper.   Like the other patterns, they are knitted in 3-ply wool.

After that there is a gap until the 1960s. I think that by then the company was part of Coats-Patons. We have a few Spider patterns for mohair from the mid-60s.  Very of their time. but a long, long way from the 3-ply "Fair Isle" designs of the late 40s.

1940s vintage knitting pattern; woman's beret, hood & hats in mohair
Spider No. 312

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Quick Baby Jacket

A couple of weeks ago, my sister asked me if I would knit something for a new baby - a friend's grandchild, who was then expected imminently. Margaret would have made something herself (she knitted something for the baby's older brother when he was born), but she's finding knitting too painful for her hands. So we got together in the knitting wool department of John Lewis, and chose a pattern and the wool, and I set to work on a baby jacket. And here it is:

Margaret wanted something that would be suitable for either a girl or a boy.  I wanted something quick to knit.  So we looked through the baby patterns for double knitting.

King Cole 3803
The pattern we chose has two versions of a jacket - one is supposedly for a baby girl (peplum, hood) and the other for a baby boy (no peplum, collar).  Margaret decided she would like a combination (peplum + collar), and  picked neutral colours (soft grey and ecru).  The yarn is Erika Knight for John Lewis Baby DK, machine washable wool.  (The baby's mother wanted natural fibres.)  Very soft, good to knit with.

I really dislike sewing up, so I knitted the body in the round up to the armholes, and knitted the sleeves in the round too.  I find it difficult to get seams in cuffs and welts to look neat, so they are best avoided.  I posted the jacket to Margaret earlier this week.  It had buttonholes but no buttons, as in the photo  - adding the buttons is her job.  And while I was knitting it, the baby arrived - it's a boy.

It's very satisfying to be able to knit an entire garment so quickly, and I think it's turned out rather well.  Eli will look very smart.

And the pattern leaflet is now in the Guild collection.  We need to keep up-to-date when we can.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Weldon's Practical Needlework

I was going to write a PS to my last post, but then I thought. "Who reads a PS?"  Probably no-one who's already read the original post.   So I'll write a new post.

Weldon's Practical Crochet, 15th Series, No. 77 in the Practical Needlework series.
 In my last post, I was speculating about the date of this Weldon's Practical Needlework magazine,  recently donated to the Knitting & Crochet Guild, which had ads from the First World War inside, but I thought was much earlier.  I suggested that it might have been originally published about 1895, but kept in print for much longer - and obviously the ads could be updated for every reprint. Hence, 1890s patterns, but WW1 ads.

Then I remembered that Richard Rutt wrote an appendix to his History of Hand Knitting giving publications dates for Weldon's Practical Needlework issues, up to July 1915, when they started to be dated.  Actually, he only gives dates for issues in the Practical Knitting sub-series (he's writing about hand-knitting, after all, and not crochet or macrame or millinery or any of the other things covered in Practical Needlework).  But all the issues were numbered consecutively, and then given another number within their sub-series - so the issue illustrated above was the 77th Practical Needlework issue, and the 15th in the Practical Crochet sub-series.  (Confusingly, this is expressed as "Fifteenth Series" on the cover.)  So we can use the appendix to date all the Practical Needlework issues, not just the knitting ones.  

It's quite simple actually - each volume of 12 issues corresponded to a year, and Rutt dates volume 1 to 1886, so volume 7 is 1892.  And if we want to be precise, No. 77 was first published in May 1892 (because 77 = 12 x 6 + 5).

I don't know whether Rutt counted backwards from the dated issues. or whether he had other evidence too.  But it certainly works by counting backwards.  Here's No. 395, in volume 33.

Weldon's Practical Crochet, 180th Series, No. 395 in the Practical Needlework series.

It's dated November 1918 - that's the '11/18' in the bottom left corner.  (Click on the image to enlarge it.)  And extending Rutt's list of volumes and years, volume 33 does correspond to 1918.  And No. 395 would be the November issue (395 = 32 x 12 + 11).

The magazine continued with only a change of title font into the 1920s.

Weldon's Practical Needlework, No. 478.  
 This issue on Tea Cosies is dated October 1925. (You'll have to trust me on that - the pages are bigger than A4 and when I scanned the cover the date got missed off.)  And again the arithmetic works out - it's volume 40 (so 1925) and issue No. 478 (= 12 x 39 + 10).  In spite of the change of font, the cover design must have been looking very old-fashioned by 1925.  There was a redesign shortly afterwards, and the series then continued - in fact, it was still being published after the Second World War, though then as a Practical Knitting series only.

There's one problem with Richard Rutt's list of dates:  the British Library catalogue says that the Weldon's Practical Needlework series started in 1888.   Hmmm.   One possible explanation for the difference is that I think the British library has the bound annual volumes, not the monthly separate issues.  (Weldon's sold both - and if you can sell it as a monthly magazine and a yearly volume as well, why not?)   You can't produce an annual volume until you have all 12 separate numbers, and maybe volume 1 didn't appear until 1888.  And it has been known for the British Library catalogue to assign the wrong date to undated 19th century publications.  So I'm putting my money on the dates given by Richard Rutt.

Saturday, 18 February 2017


It's been an exciting week at the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  I had accepted two donations of publications and they arrived though the post.  One is a wonderful collection of booklets and leaflets, published around 1920 - most of them I have never seen before.  Here is a selection:

We already have copies of that edition of Woolcraft, but not in such good condition - the other booklets are entirely new.  But this donation deserves a post to itself (later).

The other donation consisted mainly of collections of crochet samples, bound into notebooks.  I will perhaps write more about those in another post as well  (although crochet is not my thing, especially fine cotton crochet of the kind in the notebooks.)  An unexpected bonus with this donation were some very old magazines, including copies of Fancy Needlework Illustrated and Weldon's Practical Needlework.

Fancy Needlework Illustrated is awkward to scan - the printed area is larger than A4.  So the ilustration below is just part of the front cover.  Evidently it was also an awkward size for readers, too - this copy has been kept folded across the middle for a long time. Issue No. 64 is from the early 1920s, I guess.  (They aren't dated.)  Knitted or crocheted dresses often featured in the needlecraft magazines of that time - like the one on the left, with the model soulfully examining a rose. The dresses are so shapeless and droopy - not at all attractive to my mind.  It's amazing that only ten years previously, women were tightly corseted into the very structured Edwardian gowns - now they appear not to be wearing any corsets at all (although I'm sure they must have been).  

Fancy Needlework lllustrated No. 64 (detail of cover)

We think of 20s fashion as a very straight slim silhouette - but I think that's more typical of the later 20s.  At the time of this magazine, dresses seem to have been quite roomy on the hips (it looks as though the models might have been wearing quite bulky petticoats).   I don't think it works - if you're going to have no bust and no waist, you have to have slim hips too.

But as well as dresses, there were jumpers, and these are more successful, I think - they often have a belt, for one thing.  Here are two from the same magazine.

The "Clovelly" Jumper in Knitting and Crochet
The "Wingrove" Knitted and Crocheted Jumper

The Clovelly jumper is a T-shape,  in stocking stitch with panels of filet crochet.  The Wingrove jumper also has knitted sections, in stocking stitch with a regular pattern of eyelets.  The crochet pieces are done in a sort of large-scale Irish crochet, in a design of leaves and bunches of grapes.  The drawstring waist was very common in jumpers of that time - and at least it did give you a waist.

In the same parcel was an issue of Weldon's Practical Crochet - no. 77 in the Practical Needlework series.  Our copy has several ads for knitting comforts for the troops, and so must have been printed during the First World War, but Weldon's kept these magazines in print for a long time, and I think it may have been originally published earlier than that.  (A note on the first page of the magazine says "Over 360 Numbers now ready, and always in print.")

Weldon's Practical Crochet, 15th Series, No. 77 in the Practical Needlework series.
   It is subtitled "How to Crochet Useful Garments and Articles for Ladies and Children."  It has patterns for babies' and children's clothes, including 'bootikins'  (which made me smile, because that's Mary Beard's translation of Caligula).  There are a couple of household items - antimacassars and coverlets - but no women's clothes except underclothes. And there are patterns for toys, including the very charming elephant on the front cover.

And a toy lamb, too - though I don't think that's as successful.  Perhaps better in reality, in white wool, than in the engraving.

Some of the clothes for babies and children seem needlessly complicated.  Here's a child's dress in tricot (Tunisian crochet?) and crochet.  Not a garment to encourage active play - more suitable to sitting quietly to read an improving book.  

This dress and other patterns in the magazine make me think it's much earlier than the First World War.  The Practical Needlework series started in 1888, it was published monthly, and No. 77 is part of Volume 7, so I think it might have been first published in 1895 or thereabouts.  (Which is very inconsiderate to someone like me who is trying to assign a date to a publication and might be seriously misled by the ads.)

More later on the other publications that arrived this week.