Saturday 23 March 2024

An (Almost) A to Z of Knitting Needles, Part 2

In the last post, I showed knitting needle brands with names beginning A to M - here I'll show the second half of the alphabet.

You might think that it would be easy to find a needle brand for N, but the only ones we could find in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection are a pair of Novi needles, stamped 'Novi Norway' on the head. I assume that they were made to be sold in the UK, because the word 'Norway' is in English not Norwegian.  They are the only needles in this alphabet in a metric size, and so I think they were sold here after we adopted metric needle sizes in the 1970s. Otherwise, I don't know anything about them.  

Novi Norway needles, size 3mm, 35 cm.

O is for Ostrich

Ostrich needles, size 9, 12 inch

Ostrich needles were advertised in Pins and Needles magazine in 1951.  The ad says they 'are ideal in every way being made of specially finished light alloy which gives strength and lightness.'  It goes on to say that 'their grey finish is restful to the eyes'.  That might be a reason why grey knitting needles became so common in the 1950s and later, though I suspect that it was as much to do with some advantage in manufacturing.  

Ostrich needles were made by James Smith & Sons of Redditch, who had also made Double Century needles from the 1920s until the start of WW2.  Double Century needles had a steel core coated in cream plastic (always cream), and I wrote about them here.   Steel for knitting needles wasn't available during WW2, but ads in the late 1940s showed that the company was trying to start production again.  It appears that the company switched to making Ostrich needles instead - and maybe stopped making knitting needles altogether some time in the 1950s.  
Ad for Ostrich pins & crochet hooks, 1951

Pelican needles, size 3, 10 inch

needles - no idea about these. 

Queen Bee needles, size 7, 14 inch 

For Q, we have Queen Bee needles, made for Patons & Baldwins. They are the usual metal needles - an aluminium alloy with a grey coating.   In the 1930s, P&B advertised Beehive needles, which were plastic, in bright colours, and they were often mentioned in P&B knitting patterns.  I think that Queen Bee needles were introduced in the early 1950s, and knitting patterns often recommended both Beehive and Queen Bee needles - e.g. 'Two No. 12 and two no. 10 Beehive or Queen Bee needles, measured by the Beehive gauge', in a pattern for Patons & Baldwins wool that appeared in a newspaper in 1956.  (In fact, size 12 needles (2.75 mm.) in plastic would be quite bendy, and metal needles would be much better, though also inclined to bend. I wrote about the Patons & Baldwins beehive trademark here.

Robinoid needles were made for Robert Glew & Co. of Robin Mills, Queensbury, near Bradford, a spinning company which made Robin Brand knitting yarns.  The company first published patterns in the 1930s, and specified Robinoid knitting needles and crochet hooks.  The paper label on this pair of Robinoid needles have a 1930s look, though the needles continued to be mentioned in Robin pattern leaflets into the 1960s. The needles themselves have 'ROBINOID' and the size stamped into them, with a white filling, barely visible on the turquoise needles. 

Robinoid needles, size 6, 12 inch

I wrote about Stratnoid knitting needles in 2017 here. They were patented (you can see the patent number in the second photo below) and are made of an aluminium alloy, according to the patent.  They are shiny, rustproof and light, and are some of  my favourite needles to knit with.  In spite of those advantages, which made Stratnoid needles almost unique, in the early 1960s, the company that made them (Stratton) changed the design and made them of the same grey enamelled aluminium as many other knitting needle brands.  But you can still find the original Stratnoid needles in charity shops - they were made to last. 

Stratnoid needles, size 6, 15 inch

Tightgrip needles are made of brightly coloured plastic with a black plastic head.  It was evidently quite difficult to ensure that the head would stay on a plastic needle. 'Tightgrip' says it all.  

Tightgrip needles, size 3, 12 inch

I could not find any knitting needle brand for U, but for V we have Viyella.  Viyella was originally a wool and cotton blend woven fabric, and eventually developed into a fashion chain, but in the 1930s, the company started to produce knitting yarns, with supporting pattern leaflets. Viyella knitting needles are not common, but I suppose were intended as an additional way of advertising the brand. 

Viyella needles, size 6, 12 inch

Wimberdar is, I think, one of my favourite knitting needle names. (Stratnoid is my least favourite.)  They were made by Critchley Brothers, of Stroud, who originally made pins, but diversified into all kinds of small items made of plastic (probably casein) in the 1930s.  They had two mills near Stroud, Wimberley Mill and Dark Mill, and the names were combined to give Wimberdar.  All the Wimberdar knitting needles I have seen are plastic, in many different colours, but the company did also make metal needles under the 'Quaker Girl' brand - the usual grey enamelled aluminium.  According to Grace's Guide, the company moved into making plastic fittings for the electrical industry after WW2, and later plastic pipes for land drainage. In the 1970s, manufacture of aluminium knitting needles was abandoned (again according to Grace's Guide) - presumably this was the Quaker Girl brand, and they had already stopped making the Wimberdar plastic needles. 

No X or Y, but for Z we have Zephyr needles. There are two pairs of Zephyr needles, still with their paper wrappers, in the KCG collection.  But the name Zephyr is not marked on the needles - they only have 'GAUGE 5'  engraved into the plastic.    Plastic needles marked in that way are quite common, and usually knitting needles lose their paper wrappers.  Perhaps all plastic needles marked just 'GAUGE n' are Zephyr, or perhaps there are other makes marked in the same way - who knows? 

Zephyr needles, size 5, 12 inch

So there we have 23 needle brands, from A to Z (except U, X and Y).  Only the Novi needles are marked with a size in mm., so the others pre-date the introduction of metric sizes in the UK in the 1970s.  And I think most of these needles are much earlier, from the 1930s to 1950s.  
Some of them were made by the needle and pin manufacturers based around Redditch, the traditional centre of the trade - Duralite (Alfred Shrimpton & Son), Flora Mac||Donald (Abel Morrall Ltd.), Ladybird and Milward Disc (Milward's), Ostrich (James Smith & Sons).  I would also include Stratnoid, made by Stratton & Co. of Birmingham. 
When plastics were introduced and became a common material for knitting needles and crochet hooks in the 1920s and 1930s, many companies were set up to make them.  I know that Wimberdar needles were made by Critchley brothers of Stroud, but often it is very difficult to find out anything about the makers of plastic needles. The names Bonette, Ezeenit, Ivoree, Tightgrip suggest that these needles were made by manufacturers who claimed some particular advantage to their needles, reflected in the name, but I don't know who made them, or where.  
Other brands were made for manufacturers of knitting yarns, presumably as an additional way of advertising - Anlaby, Cronit, Jaeger, Queen Bee, Robinoid, Viyella - or in one case (Golden Spinning Wheel) the needles were made for a shop  
And as I have said, some brands in my alphabet I know nothing at all about  - Hella, Kirven, .Pelican and Zephyr.  If you have any information about any of these brands, please let me know via the comments.  

Friday 27 October 2023

An (Almost) A to Z of Knitting Needle Brands

Back in 2014, the volunteers working on the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection had a week of concentrated work trying to sort out the hundreds (or thousands) of knitting needles that had been given to the collection but weren't at that point organised in any way.  We called it Hook and Needle Week, but in fact we didn't get beyond the straight, single-pointed needles until much later. The photo gives you an idea of the task we were faced with. 

During the week, one of the other volunteers decided to try to put together a set of needle brands for every letter from A to Z.  It wasn't quite possible, but almost.  This September, I gave a talk on the collection at the Guild Convention weekend, and showed an A to Z set of needles as part of the talk.  I have decided to similar needle alphabet here. 

A is for....  Actually, lots of needle brands, the most obvious being Aero - still the most common brand if you look at the knitting needles on sale in charity shops, although new Aero needles have not been on sale for many years. But here A is for a much rarer brand, Anlaby

Anlaby needles, size 4, 10 inch 

Although it is almost invisible, the needles have ANLABY REGD. 4  engraved or stamped into the plastic, and then filled with some sort of ink or paint that has almost worn off.  It is white on pink, anyway, so can't have been very obvious even when new.  Anlaby was a brand of knitting wool in the 1930s - I only know that because we have two Anlaby pattern leaflets (not in very good condition), one shown below.  

The company making Anlaby wools would not have made the needles themselves  - I imagine that they were commissioned from a knitting needle manufacturer, for sale in shops that sold the wool, as a way of promoting the brand. 

B is for Bonette - full marks for making the brand and size easily visible on the needle.   Bonette needles were advertised in 1957, though they may have been made much earlier.  They were made by a London company, and I think only made plastic needles - whereas the traditional needle manufacturers around Redditch were originally metal workers.  The name may have been intended to suggest that the needles were similar to bone (only better, presumably).  Bone was a common material for knitting needles and crochet hooks until the 1920s, when it was replaced by the early plastics. (See here for an account of how bone needles were made).  The cream colour of this pair may be intended to reinforce that, but Bonette needles were made in other colours too, though perhaps later, when bone needles were no longer made.  

Bonette needles, size 2, 12 inch 

Cronit was a brand of rayon for crochet and knitting (hence the name) in the 1940s and 50s.  Like the Anlaby needles, the Cronit needles would have been made for the Cronit company, to promote the brand. 

Cronit needles, size 8, 10 inch

These needles may have the brand name and size marked on the needles, but if so, the marking is completely invisible.  They are only identifiable because of the paper label. 

D is for Duralite.  The paper label reads Shrimpton's Duralite, so this was a brand name of Alfred Shrimpton & Son, a long-established needle manufacturing company in Redditch.  The needles are coated aluminium. 

Duralite needles, size 13, 10 inch

They have a flattened area towards the head, embossed with Duralite on one side and the size on the other.   There are Duralite crochet hooks in the collection, too, which are marked in the same way. 

I know nothing about Ezeenit needles.  We have a single needle in the collection, along with a very discoloured pair - the photo shows both ends of the single needle. It is rather soft plastic, which makes it very bendy, though in its favour, it is clearly marked.    

Ezeenit needle, size 9, 12 inch

Flora MacDonald
was a brand name of Abel Morrall Ltd., needle manufacturers in Redditch.  The name was originally used only for sewing needles, but then applied also to these unusual knitting needles.  

Flora MacDonald needles, size 7, 12 inch

The needle is only the stated size (7, i.e. 4.5 mm.) for a short length (about 4 inches) at the pointed end, the rest is much thinner.  Oddly, the narrow part of the needle is steel, while the thicker part (and the head) are some other (non-magnetic) metal.  Possibly it is an aluminium alloy, since knitting needle ads sometimes claimed that pure, uncoated aluminium could discolour knitting wool.  A size 7 needle entirely in steel would be heavy, as well as liable to rust, but I don't know why the Flora MacDonald needles were not made in the aluminium alloy throughout - as Stratnoid needles were, for instance.  It seems a bit of a gimmick - and I don't think that Flora MacDonald knitting needles were current for very long.  

The name Flora MacDonald name is stamped into the head of each needle. The thicker part of the needles is stamped with the size, and a registered design number, 703016, which dates it to 1924. 

Registered design no. 703016

The only pair of Golden Spinning Wheel needles in the Guild collection are a slightly translucent yellow (or gold) - I assume in reference to the name. 

Golden Spinning Wheel needles, size 5, 15 inch

I searched for "Golden Spinning Wheel" in the newspapers in FindMyPast,  and found a few ads for the shops of John Smith & Co. (Wools) Ltd. from the 1920s and later.  Further searching found this article on the company.  The main shop was evidently in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, though later there were shops all over Scotland, and in England too.  The Sauchiehall shop had a golden spinning wheel as its shop sign.  The shops sold knitting wools, as well as ready-made clothing, and many other things as well.   I don't know for certain that these Golden Spinning Wheel needles were made for sale in the John Smith shops, but I think it's very likely. 

H is for Hella.  (You would think that it would be fairly easy to find knitting needles brands beginning with H, but this is the only pair in the Guild collection.) The needles are metal - not steel, so I guess an aluminium alloy.  I don't know anything else about them.   
Hella needles, size 10, 12 inch

I is for Ivoree.  (I guess now it would be spelt Ivori - equally annoying.)  We only have one Ivoree needle in the collection.  It is cream plastic,  presumably to imitate ivory, but it is not as smooth as ivory, or bone either.  

Ivoree needle, size 7, 12 inch

To represent J, I have chosen Jaeger needles.   

Jaeger needles, size 7

The Jaeger company started selling knitting wools in the 1930s, along with pattern booklets produced in association with Leach's, who published many needlecraft booklets at that time.  I wrote about one of the Jaeger pattern booklets in the collection here. The lettering on the needles dates them to the 1930s as well. 

K is for Kirven.  No idea about these. 

Kirven needles, size 8, 12 inch

Ladybird needles are white plastic, like several of the other plastic needles shown here.  We only have one pair of Ladybird needles, so I don't know if they were made in other colours too. 

Ladybird needles, size 5, 12 inch 

As well as the paper label, the needles themselves are marked, not very clearly.   

I searched (as usual) in the newspapers in FindMyPast, and found a couple of ads from 1935 mentioning Ladybird needles.  The ads were for Anchor Tricoton knitting & crochet cotton, but had a footnote in small print reading 'Always use Milward's "Ladybird" Knitting Pins and "Archerite" Crochet Hooks.'  

I think that our Ladybird knitting needles are the ones mentioned in the ads, though Milward's was one of the big needle manufacturers based in Redditch - making plastic needles would have been a significant departure for Milward's at that time. 

In the 1960s and later, there was a Ladybird brand of knitting wool associated with the Ladybird children's clothing made by the Pasold company, but I'm sure our needles are not from that time.  

I've just mentioned Milward's and we next have Milward Disc needles for the letter M.  

Milward Disc needles, size 14, 12 inch

These are grey coated aluminium needles, introduced in the late 1950s, and in production for many years.  A 1961 ad explained their advantages: 'Size recognition is easy and immediate, with the bold, clear, permanent numbers on "DISC" Knitting Pins. And with the plastic "KEEP", provided free with every pair, pairs of a size are kept together with no trouble at all.'  Milward Disc needles were produced in the same design for a long time, and were still current when metric sizes were introduced in the 1970s.  The larger sizes were made in plastic, also grey.  Milward Disc needles are still very common in charity shops.  

With M, we have finished the first half of the alphabet.  That's enough for one post - I'll finish the A-Z in the next.   

Wednesday 6 September 2023

The P&B Family Album

Patons & Baldwins became very good at advertising their wares by the 1930s.  They were publishing about 100 'Helps to Knitters' pattern leaflets every year, intended of course to sell their wools, and advertised the patterns widely.  They also published a series of free booklets, each showing many of the patterns currently available.  An imaginative example of  these booklets is the Family Album, published in 1936. 

It shows a fictional family of Mother, Father and four children.  The eldest, Priscilla, is engaged to be married; another girl, Sue, is old enough to drive a car.  Then Timothy, aged about 11, and Bill, who is a toddler.  They all wear woollies made, naturally, in Patons & Baldwins wools.  Priscilla and Sue knit their own, while Mother knits for the others.  

The six characters, plus the fiancé (David), are shown in scenes of everyday life, wearing their woollies. Here are Sue and two of her friends at the country club.  

Jumpers with collars seem to have been in fashion for women in 1936.  Here is the pattern for one of the jumpers.  

P&B 2998

Elsewhere in the album, Sue is wearing another jumper in Beehive Wool Cord:

P&B 2104

Wool cord was a thicker version of Beehive Wool String, described as 'pure wool looking just like string' - perhaps very tightly spun?  In the two jumper patterns here for Wool Cord, it's knitted on size 6 (5mm.) needles, so probably at least as thick as modern double knitting.  

Priscilla and David don't go out much, because they are saving to get married, so instead they stay at home and make a rug together.  Patons & Baldwins sold rug wool, as well as rug patterns, and many of their brochures feature rugs as well as knitwear.  

Like the other men (and Timothy) in the Album, David's knitwear isn't very interesting - they all wear V-neck sleeveless pullovers, though Timothy in one scene is shown wearing a V-neck jumper with long sleeves.  (The V neck is to show the tie, which was apparently compulsory, even for casual wear.) 

Meanwhile, Mother is shown having a morning cup of tea in bed.

How does she manage that - there's a toddler in the house!  And I imagine that Father has gone off to manage his bank - he might possibly have made the cup of tea first, but I can't imagine that he is looking after 'Bill the Baby' while Mother relaxes in bed.  But my reading of Agatha Christie and other 1930s fiction tells me that a bank manager was a well-respected member of the community, and could probably afford a maid, and possibly a nursemaid for Bill, too.   

Mother is wearing a Dressing Jacket that she (of course) made herself.  It's crocheted, with flowers embroidered around the bottom edge of each sleeve.  

P&B 2991

Here's Bill in his nursery (they obviously live in a spacious 1930s villa.)

As well as the photos of the 1930s family, there are little sketches of the imagined ancestral knitters (in the maternal line, I assume), going back to Great-great-grandmother, born in 1785, "the year James Baldwin set up in Halifax".  Great-great-grandmother used Baldwin's wools, and her descendants used 'best wools' - implicitly, the precursors of P&B 1930s wools, though in fact John Paton & Son of Alloa and J. & J. Baldwin of Halifax were separate companies until 1920. 

The main point of the Album is to show some of the P&B Helps to Knitters pattern leaflets current in 1936, and about 65 of them are illustrated, including those that various members of the family are wearing.  Members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild can download the Album from the Guild website here.  Nearly all the leaflets are in the Guild collection and members can request copies from

Monday 4 September 2023

A Novel Wool Winder


John saw this issue of Hobbies Weekly from September 1940 at a collectors' fleamarket, and bought it for me because of the illustration of a Novel Wool Winder on the front cover (he is not, I'm glad to say, a keen fretworker).  It's now in the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  

I wouldn't call it a wool winder, in fact  in the photo, it's the woman who is doing the winding.   We would now call it a swift, though perhaps that wasn't a term then in use, or maybe a skein holder.  Never mind.    

The magazine explains to its readers why this is a useful thing to make: "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." (Not sure why  I use the back of a chair, and it works.) 

The arms of the holder can be closed up to save space, fortunately. 

The magazine 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 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."   

I'm not sure how well it would work in practice.  The skein of wool has to be put on the holder when it is at least partly closed, so that the skein will fit on, and then moving the arms so that they are at right angles — as far as I can tell from the instructions, the design relies on friction between the two arms to keep them in position, which doesn't seem a very robust approach.  But it seems that whoever bought this magazine in 1940 did make the wool winder, because the promised paper pattern sheet to make it is no longer in the magazine.  The pattern would need to be cut up and glued onto the wood, before cutting the pieces to shape with the fretsaw, and I assume that's what happened.   

The reference to knitting comforts for the Services is a reminder that Britain had been at war with Germany for a year by September 1940.  Elsewhere in the magazine there are instructions for making a "safe and simple shelter lantern", i.e. a lantern for the Anderson Shelter in your garden. "A light of some kind is very essential in an air-raid shelter as it is no joke sitting in such places in the pitch darkness.  The most suitable and safe form of light seems to be the humble candle.  For this reason, a candle lantern, suitable for shelter use, has been designed".  

It's made of wood, of course, with glass panels in the side, and a candle holder made from a piece of tin. Maybe safer than an uncovered candlestick, but not much, I think.  

There are also instructions for making an ash tray, decorated with a fretwork elk, from one of the small glass jars used for meat paste. Misplaced ingenuity, it seems to me, but then if you have to find several new ideas for fretwork every week, it isn't surprising that some of the designs are a bit daft. 


Thursday 31 August 2023

Queen Mary's Petticoat


Child's Crochet Petticoat

This crocheted petticoat for a little girl was given to the Knitting & Crochet Guild in 2016. The donor had bought a chest of drawers in an Exeter antique centre, and found inside it several pieces of lace and the petticoat.  Rather than throwing them out, she looked for suitable homes for both the lace and the crochet - the lace was offered to the Lace Guild, I believe.  

The petticoat doesn't look very exciting: it is 15 inches (38 cm.) long, and simply constructed in thick wool, with an opening at the top and a ribbon threaded through the top edge as a drawstring.  

Detail of Petticoat

But it has a paper label sewn to it, saying that it was worked in 1910 by H.M. the Queen of England.   

Petticoat label

In May 1910 Edward VII died, George V came to the throne and his wife became Queen Mary.  They had been living in Marlborough House (the address on the label) and stayed there until the end of the year - Queen Alexandra (Edward VII's widow) did not move from Buckingham Palace to Marlborough House until 1911.  So I am confident the the Queen of England referred to on the label is Queen Mary.  Besides which, the KCG collection already had an almost identical petticoat made by Queen Mary in 1921.  (That one has been kept in a glass case, but is unfortunately badly discoloured).  The 1921 petticoat was, according to its label, sold for charity, and we can guess that the 1910 petticoat was also made for charity. 

There are newspaper records of Queen Mary making garments for charity in that year  (1910).  She was Patron of the London Needlework Guild, founded in 1882 to provide clothing for an orphanage, and later 'useful garments for the poor', distributed through hospitals and other institutions.  

In April 1910, The Gentlewoman paper advertised for ladies willing to become Associates of its own Group of the London Needlework Guild, and said:

The object of the Guild is to distribute clothing, household linen, or any articles suitable for the sick and poor among the Hospitals, Nursing Institutions, Missions, Refuges, and Parishes in London.  The only obligation undertaken by an Associate is to supply at least two useful articles every year, but they may send as many more as they choose.

Queen Mary's mother was the original Patron of the Guild, and she became Patron in turn after her mother's death in 1897.  It was renamed Queen Mary's Needlework Guild (QMNG) on the outbreak of war in 1914.  The Guild still exists, now as the Queen Mother's Clothing Guild

Queen Mary was an active member, not just a figurehead, for many years.  There was an exhibition each November of items collected during the year, usually reported in the newspapers.  The 1910 exhibition was reported on by The Times newspaper: 

“The work done during the last twelve months by the members of the London Needlework Guild, which has the Queen for its patroness, will be on view at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington, to-day. …. Neatly stacked in carefully classified piles ….are 54,050 garments - the largest number sent in for many years.  Of this total the Queen, who spent two days at the Imperial Institute supervising the classification and arrangement of the garments, is responsible for the collection of 15,333 garments, this being more than 2,000 in excess of her contribution last year.  

Among the contributors to the Queen's group were the King, who presented 1,000 garments, Princess Mary, who gave 700, the Prince of Wales and his younger brothers, the Princes Albert, Henry, and George.  Many of the garments included in the group has been made by the donors.  The Queen had knitted several little woollen petticoats.  Princess Mary had made three woollen baby's hoods, and the young Princes, with the aid of knitting frames, had made a number of warm woollen scarves and comforters." 

However, the Sheffield Telegraph, reporting on the same exhibition, describes “some very pretty crochet wool petticoats, Her Majesty’s own work.”  Probably The Times reporter did not know the difference between knitting and crochet.  (I imagine that the garments provided by the King were bought in.  A report on the Guild exhibition in another year says that his contribution was men’s flannel shirts, which he would not have made himself.) 

We don't know for certain if our petticoat is one of the garments made for the Guild, but it was almost certainly made to the same pattern.  If it was indeed made for the LNG, how it came to be kept, unworn, is a puzzle.  It should have been distributed with the other garments in the exhibition, and given to some child who needed a warm petticoat. 

Perhaps someone decided that it was more valuable as a piece of Royal handiwork than as a useful garment?  Or perhaps it was made to be sold for some other charity, like the 1921 petticoat?  But in either case, it has been kept in good condition because of its label. 

Apart from its royal origin, it is a very ordinary garment that would not normally have survived.  If it had been given to a poor child as probably intended by the Queen, it would have been worn every day and passed on to a succession of other children until it wore out.  It makes a striking contrast with the Irish crochet from the same period which has survived because it was expensive, and so was carefully looked after.  And it is ironic that it is valuable today as a rare example of a very mundane garment, as much as for the fact that it was made by Queen Mary. 

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