Thursday 29 July 2010

Knitting Needles

On Saturday afternoon, J and I went to Tommy Topsoil at Sowerby so that I could get some cocoa shell mulch  (very good for the garden, and smells of chocolate too).  When we got there, we discovered that it is closed on Saturday afternoons.  So as it was my fault (for not checking) that J had driven to Sowerby to no purpose, he took a detour to Mytholmroyd on the way back to visit an antique centre where we have had some good buys in the past.

He did find some things he wanted, I am glad to say, but also pointed out a bundle of old knitting needles that were very cheap.  

 I didn't really need to buy any knitting needles, but I have in mind to knit the Dofuko jacket from Knit Kimono by Vicki Square and the photo in  the book shows it fastened with some sort of pin (I think - I don't have the book yet but have seen it in bookshops).  In the bundle was a battered old wooden knitting needle, size 4mm, and I thought that if it was shortened it would do very well for the purpose.  And what could be more appropriate to fasten a hand-knitted jacket with?   

So along with the wooden pin, I have acquired a whole lot of other needles - well over 100. Some obviously quite old, including a lot of  slightly rusty double-pointed steel needles and several pairs of plastic needles, often with a shapeless blob of something unidentifable to replace the original end. 

 And lots of perfectly good pairs in all sizes from 2 to 14 (7 mm to 2 mm).   It's a mystery, though, why there are so many pairs of some sizes.  How many pairs do you need?  And why are so many only 10 inches long?  Not much use except for knitting baby clothes, I would think.  

Quite sad, really.  I imagine that the collection was amassed by someone over a lifetime of knitting, and then ended up in the antique market after she died.

I think I shall dispose of most of them (to a good home if possible), except where they are in better condition than the ones I already have. My  favourites are the pink shiny ones  (So pink! So shiny! So pretty!) so I might keep a pair of those too. 

 J pointed out that it would be easy to get very nerdy about knitting needles and start getting excited about all the different makes.   As well as Aero and Milward that are familiar, there are Phantom, Quaker Girl and Stratnoid.  (Who could think that Stratnoid was a good name?  Possibly memorable, but hardly euphonious.)  But I am definitely not going to start collecting different makes of knitting needle.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Late 60s Knitting

I borrowed The Best of Vogue Knitting Magazine again from my local library this week, and realised that the history of the magazine, in the US and the UK is more complicated than I had thought.  In the US, it first appeared (as the Vogue Knitting Book) in 1932, but then publication stopped in the late 60s, though I can't find out exactly when.  Maybe this explains why the issues that I bought in Cottage Grove in May, dating from the early 60s,  seem so uninspiring - it was a magazine in decline.  It restarted in 1982, and  The Best of Vogue Knitting Magazine  was published to mark its 25th anniversary in 2007. 

What was happening in the UK?  A British version of the Vogue Knitting Book was also published  - the Skiff Vintage Knitting Patterns site  lists several issues from the 50s and 60s, up to issue 68 in Spring/Summer 1966. (At two issues a year, that would also correspond to a first issue in 1932).  But then...  it re-started publication in Spring/Summer 1967 with issue number 1 (again).  It seems that, in this country at least, knitting was still popular enough to warrant a re-launch.   I have two issues of the new series that I bought in 1969  (numbers 7 and 8), but I'm not sure that it survived into the 70s.  The Spring/Summer 1969 issue contains some wonderful patterns,  and consequently my copy is very dog-eared, with the cover in two pieces.

Kaffe Fassett's Moroccan jacket
It is particularly notable for a Kaffe Fassett waistcoat.   I think this was the first knitting pattern that he published.  An article in Let's Knit magazine in March 2008,  reprinted on Kaffe Fassett's web site, says  "I discovered knitting yarns in a mill in Inverness and got a fellow passenger to teach me to knit on the train ride back to London. I put all 20 colours of Shetland yarns I had purchased in the same sweater and took it straight to Vogue Magazine to ask them if they would be interested in featuring it. Reticent English, I wasn't!! That was about 1969 and all the colour in a very landscape Stripe attracted the attention of Judy Brittain the Editor of Vogue Knitting Magazine. She commissioned me to knit a waistcoat in Fair Isle for her next issue."   The waistcoat is knitted in William Fuller's Silver Cloud Shetland wool, though 10 colours rather than 20.

This is also the earliest knitting pattern in a magazine that I have seen which names the designer. Now the practice is almost universal, but not then. The designer is not credited for any of the other patterns in either of the 1969 issues.  I think that naming the designer became more common in the 1970s, when designers like Patricia Roberts were becoming well known.  For instance, the Over 21 Fashion Workshop  magazine, published in 1973, has designs by Bill Gibb, Zandra Rhodes, Patricia Roberts and Susan Duckworth, although several others are anonymous.

I never knitted the Kaffe Fassett waistcost, though it was very tempting.  The fact that it was designed for a man was a bit off-putting.  I did knit one of the designs from that issue. It has lots of  moss stitch ( I still love moss stitch)  - cuffs, waist band and a square neck.  It looked good, but didn't get as much wear as it should have.  I knitted in it nylon yarn  - a mistake - and the neckline was perhaps a bit too high at the front so that the edge rubbed and was uncomfortable.  Pity.  Maybe I should knit it again in better quality yarn.
A lean-look sweater with square neck and moss stitch bands outlining the waist
 (The linen trousers in the photo are from Jaeger - £7.25.  That's inflation for you.)

Wednesday 21 July 2010


Now that my daughter is at home for the summer, there are three laptops in the house.  But my husband doesn't get on well with his, and so doesn't use it for internet access, and my daughter's is out of action because the power cable is broken.  Mine has a problem with its graphics, and only works at all reliably on its docking station in the attic, and I can't access the internet from there, because the wireless doesn't reach that far.  So we have all been competing for the desk-top computer for web access.   It's pathetic.  But a replacement for my daughter's laptop cable  has arrived so things are going to be better.  And I'm going to get myself a new laptop.

Competition for internet access partly explains the lack of posts recently, even though my Zigzag top has been finished for a couple of weeks.

I haven't yet worn it - it really needs a sunny day, and recently the weather has been very showery, or else it's been raining steadily.  By artificial light, the colours are odd - the pink looks orange and the orange looks oranger.

It fits very well, although I am slightly worried that the bottom edge might stretch with wear.  (Although as it is knitted top down, I could in that case re-knit it, I suppose.)  The waist decreases are cleverly hidden in the chevron pattern, which is made by decreasing at the downward pointing Vs and increasing at the upward pointing Vs, so to decrease you just don't do the increases for a  round.   There isn't any increasing below the waist, in spite of the way it looks laid out flat.

It has been an interesting pattern to knit and would be worth doing again.  I am somewhat reconciled to knitting on a circular needle - it did help a lot with fitting and getting the length right.  (I think that the main reason that I had problems with knitting the Oatmeal Pullover  was the thickness of the needles compared with the joining cables, as I mentioned at the time.)   There are some patterns in the Classic Knitwear book that use the same chevron idea but with added sleeves, e.g. a zip-front jacket (though I would have to convert it to a button fastening - I don't approve of zips in knitwear.)   One of those would be nice for the winter.

Friday 9 July 2010

Modern Home Knitting

I mentioned before that I bought several books from the surplus library stock at the Knitting and Crochet Guild's Open Day a few weeks ago.  One criterion in choosing books was that they should include at least one  pattern for something that might still be interesting to knit (with more or less adaptation, of course).  The oldest book I bought is from the late 1930s, I think - The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Knitting, by Catherine Franks.  It is undated, but there is no mention of war-time shortages or austerity, so I think it must be pre-war. On the other hand, the designs show some features I associate with the 1940s (some jumpers have very square shoulders) as well as some 1930s features (dresses have skirts nearly to the ankle). So late 30s, I guess.

The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Knitting

It is very comprehensive, with tutorial material on how to knit, lots of stitch patterns, and instructions for knitting just about every kind of garment you could imagine knitting.  Except that there are hardly any patterns for coats or indeed anything that would need thick yarn.  Although the section on yarn does list double knitting wool as "a very thick thread for skirts and outerwear", the author does not mention it again - the patterns are for fingering weight or finer yarn. (The one exception is a jacket in "astrakhan" yarn.) It's odd - these days, for many knitters, double knitting is the thinnest yarn they use for knitting jumpers and cardigans, and yet houses are much better heated now than in the 30s.    But then, to judge from this book, they wore lots of hand-knitted woolly underwear. 

Here's a pattern that I think is pretty (if you get into a 1930s mindset) though I am not planning to knit it.  But I do like the idea of using a lace stitch pattern to create a kind of yoke - that might be worth adapting for a thicker weight of yarn.  (How did they maintain complicated hair-dos like that without all the modern hair products that we have now?  Why did they bother?) 

A Yoke Effect Jumper

Here's a recycling  tip from the book.  "Don't throw away a broken needle.  If one piece left is of workable length, sharpen the broken end with a fine file, polishing it afterwards with fine sand-paper. [It] will be very useful as a cable-stitch needle."  That puts our efforts in recycling newspapers and glass into the shade, don't you think?

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