Wednesday 26 January 2011

Five 1920s Jumpers

As promised, I describe here the five jumpers from the 1920s Fancy Needlework Illustrated mentioned in the last post.

The "Hendon" knitted jumper with crocheted
shoulders and crochet sleeve trimmings.
The "Dieppe" crochet jumper.

They are all quite simple shapes, but use a mixture of stitch patterns, and both knitting and crochet in the same jumper, to give different textures.   The crocheted jumper, Dieppe, is pretty (though it looks fairly shapeless in the photo), but crochet isn't my area of expertise, so I'm not going to say any more about that one.

I like the Hendon jumper too. I am sure I have seen recent designs with a drawstring waist and different stitch patterns above and below it, so I think that it could be easily be adapted for today. The mixture of crochet and knitting is perhaps uncommon now, but I have seen it used in early Rowan magazines, for instance.

(The model's pose, in Hendon and Hurlingham, nonchalantly toying with a long necklace, seems very characteristic of the period. I have seen it before in knitting patterns from the 20s, I'm sure.)

The jumpers are put together from simple rectangular shapes, for the most part. The knitted part of Hendon consists of two T-shapes for the front and back, except for neck shaping. A basket-weave stitch is used below the waist, and a lacy leaf pattern for the rest of the knitted pieces. The sleeve edging and the shoulder insert are crocheted separately before the whole thing is assembled.

The "Hurlingham" knitted jumper
with crochet edgings.
The other jumpers are not so appealing now, I think, but to me it is still interesting to see the jumpers that women were knitting, and the techniques they were using.

The Hurlingham jumper, in Peacock Green, is mostly moss stitch with a central panel back and front of stocking stitch (I think - some of the instructions are not legible). I think that the back, front and sleeves are knit in one piece.  There are 4 rows of single rib at the waist and then a peplum of moss stitch, with a scalloped edge (a nice idea). There is similar scalloped frill at each elbow. Finally, quite a deep crocheted edge is worked around the edge of the scallops, and a narrow edging around the neck. To finish it, two cords are made of crochet chains, and threaded through the jumper at the waist, and four crocheted balls stuffed with cotton wool are attached to the ends of the cords. The finished jumper looks a bit matronly to me, though perhaps that's just the model.

The "Leda" knitted jumper with crocheted trimming.

Leda is described as "very suitable for full figures".   It must have been a difficult time for women with "full figures" - Edwardian fashion was all about big bosoms and tiny waists, and then only 10 or 15 years later, the fashionable shape was very slim and straight. As with Hurlingham, the back, front and sleeves are knit in one piece, in moss stitch.  The waist band is knitted separately, sideways and in finer thread.   All the jumper patterns in the magazine use size 3 Star Sylko, except for this waist band which usesr size 5 and is knit on size 16 needles. If needle sizes are really the same as the current British sizes, size 16 is 1.625 mm. The waist band is only 30 stitches wide, but it must take a lot of rows (of garter stitch) on such tiny needles. The body of the jumper is sewn onto the waistband and gathered slightly to fit.

The "Cambridge" knitted jumper.
Finally, the Cambridge jumper is the only one that does not involve crochet. It is a much more close-fitting jumper too. The cuffs and hem (in Raspberry) are in rib, and the rest (in Lilac Grey) is in reverse stocking stitch with every 7th stitch in moss stitch. The back and front are worked separately, and as far as I can follow the instructions, short row shaping is used for the shoulders! (The instructions are legible, but very unclear.) And then there are detailed instructions for grafting the shoulders, though they would be hard to follow, I think, with no diagrams or photos. It appears to be what we now call Kitchener stitch. The sleeves are worked from the top down, with a straight top.

Apart from the usual seams, several of these jumpers also require various bits of trimming to be sewn on. Like many knitters I hate sewing up, so I am on the alert for any signs of excessive sewing, and there are lots here.  The Cambridge jumper has a separate edging, knit on 5 stitches in a pattern that I haven't figured out, that is knitted first and then sewn on to the neck, the bottom of the jumper, the cuffs and the ends of the belt.  The Hendon jumper, too, has an edging for the neck that is made first and then sewn on;  three strips of stocking stitch on three stitches are knitted and then plaited. All very fiddly. It is as though a plain cast-on or cast-off edge was unacceptable, and it had to be covered up with a crocheted edge or some sort of braid.

It is 90 years since the magazine was published, but reading through the instructions and following them mentally makes that period seem more accessible. The model for the Hendon and Cambridge jumpers looks a little bit like my Grandma (my father's mother) who had masses of curly auburn hair, in her prime. So I imagine her knitting and wearing one of these jumpers as a young woman.

Sunday 23 January 2011

The One That Got Away

I wrote in a previous post about the early 20th century knitting and crochet magazines I had found following the burst pipe at the Knitting and Crochet Guild store, that I brought home. Most of them did dry out successfully, but the pages of one were stuck together across the bottom, and I could not find any way to separate them.  The paper is slightly glossy, and I think there is a coating that became sticky when it got wet.  In fact, when I was drying out magazines and patterns in the bathroom, there was a distinct smell of wallpaper paste in the air, so it's not surprising that some things got stuck together.

It is an issue of Fancy Needlework Illustrated that dates from the early 1920s.  There are patterns for several jumpers in it and one or two are really very pretty - they could be worn now without very much alteration, given the fashion for vintage clothes.  Fortunately the illustrations are all in the centre of a page, where the paper is not stuck, and enough of each pattern is readable to be able to understand how it works.  I will describe them in the next post, so that some of the information survives even though the magazine itself is not intact.

The magazine front cover says that it is published by the Northern School of Needlework Ltd., Manchester.  But all the patterns use Ardern's Star Sylko and it seems that it was published in association, somehow, with Ardern's (just as Patons and Baldwins  published Stitchcraft).  I have seen a 1930s advert for Star Sylko that also advertises Fancy Needlework Illustrated, so there was evidently a close relationship.   Ardern's was a cotton spinning mill near Manchester that produced several types of cotton yarn, especially for crochet. Star Sylko was a mercerised yarn, produced in several thicknesses. The coarsest, size 3, is used  in most of the knitting patterns. 

The patterns in this and other issues of the magazine are a bit casual about specifying tension (or sizing, for that matter) but occasionally they do, and it seems that the size 3 thread gave 7 stitches to the inch on size 10 needles, or 6 stitches to the inch on size 9.  Are these the same as the current standard British size 9 and 10  (3.75 to 3.25 mm.), I wonder?  Anyway, I guess that size 3 is approximately equivalent to 4-ply (sport or fingering). That's not outrageously fine; I vaguely  imagined that women back then knitted in very fine yarn, but probably they were in just as much of a hurry to get their jumpers finished as I am.

Friday 21 January 2011

A Knitting Puzzle

Identical twin sisters are knitting from the same pattern (a hooded scarf, as it happens).  They are knitting with the same yarn, in the same colour and to the same tension.  Not surprisingly, the two scarves look identical.  However, they feel different - one is noticeably softer than the other.  Why?

It's because one twin is right-handed and the other is left-handed (quite common in identical twins, apparently).   And so, the way that one knits is a mirror image of the way that the other knits.*  When we knit, we tend to twist the yarn slightly at the same time - one twin twists the yarn in the opposite direction to the other.   One twists the yarn in the same direction that was spun, and so the yarn becomes more tightly spun, while the other twists it the opposite way. Her yarn becomes slightly unspun as she knits, giving a softer feel to the fabric.

This is not just a theoretical possibility - it happened at Knit Night a couple of weeks ago, and the twins are Ann Kingstone and her sister Marie.  They were knitting Ann's latest design, Lanthir Lamath.

With Ann Kingstone's permission
It is a lovely hooded scarf with complex Celtic cables.  You can read about it on Ann's blog, and the pattern is currently available in weekly instalments (though I have had a preview of the finished scarf at Knit Night). The photo shows just the first part.  Ann is hosting a knitalong - if you want to join I think there is still time, though you might have to do some fast knitting to catch up. 

To return to the left-handed/right-handed thing:  right-handed knitters using the usual British knitting method tend to twist the yarn in the direction that most yarn is spun.  Ann is the left-handed twin, so her scarf feels slightly softer than Marie's.

Knitting is just endlessly fascinating.

 *PS  Not all left-handers knit in the opposite way to right-handers - my left-handed sister, for instance, was taught to knit by our Grandma, who was right-handed, and knits the same way as she did.  But it must have been tricky for both of them - Mother had already given up trying to teach her.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Rag Rugging

On Saturday I went to a Rag Rugging workshop at Spun, the yarn shop in town.  In fact, we were working on cushion covers rather than rugs and using chunky yarn rather than rags, but the idea was to teach us the techniques so that we can move on to proper rag rugging if we want.

I wanted my cushion to be in dark reds and blues, and designed a kind of heraldic rose.  A rose should have five petals, but I gave it four because the cushion is square,  so it's a quatrefoil, I suppose.

The backing is hessian - when rag rugs were commonly made in this area, I suppose hessian sacks would have been easily available, but now you have to buy it from craft suppliers.  By the end of the workshop, I had finished the outer petals and the centre of the flower, and was trying out a blue for the background.
The petals will be finished in a lighter red, and the background will be done in squiggles of two shades of dark blue,  to give an intermediate colour and a livelier effect than using all one shade. (And the loose ends will be trimmed off, of course.)

It is quite a quick technique, and I am pleased with what I have done so far.  It was interesting to see how different the results were around the workshop - ranging from extremely neat and even, like a carpet, to deliberately uneven and shaggy. And the designs were very different, too, of course.

The teacher (Claire Lea) brought in some rags (strips of wool cut from a machine-made jumper) so that we could try them out.  She had brought in one of her rugs to show us, and it was very attractive.  The different fabrics she had used give a lot of variation in texture as well as colour.  It's also a very practical technique - her rug is ten years old and has been used on the floor all that time,  but doesn't look worn.  And it's easy to mend a rag rug just by re-doing any damaged bit.  But I don't think I will abandon knitting for rag-rugging.  I just wanted to try it out, and I think that one cushion will be enough for me. 

Thursday 13 January 2011


My first post to this blog was one year ago today, so to mark the occasion I lit this candle.  My sister and brother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas because they thought that the decoration made it look sort of knitted.

I was going to write something thoughtful and profound about the experience of blogging for a year, but  I'm feeling really tired.  So, not today.

I have been working at the Knitting and Crochet Guild store yesterday and today, to help sort out the mess following the burst pipe after Christmas.  I really don't know how I used to get through the week when I was working full-time, because after two days of (admittedly quite hard) work, I feel worn out.  But we are making progress. Today we had a skip and cleared out a lot of things, so the store is looking much more organised.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Old Moor Progress

I have started knitting the Louisa Harding Old Moor jumper with the Rowan Felted Tweed yarn that J gave me for Christmas, as I wrote about here.   I have got to about halfway up the body.  So I have finished the band in herringbone stitch that forms the hem, which Louisa Harding says "takes its cue from the traditional woven fabrics produced in this area of Yorkshire".  On each row, you knit 2 stitches and then slip 2 stitches, taking the yarn across the front of the fabric.  The herringbone pattern is formed by the staggered horizontal lines of yarn as they are carried across the slipped stitches.

Because of the slipped stitches, the herringbone band is a much firmer fabric than the stocking stitch used for most of the rest of the jumper.  The slipped stitches mean too that there is not an abrupt change from green yarn to grey yarn; it takes three rows to work all the stitches in the new colour.  I like that, and I think the whole band is very attractive.

The pattern is written with the back and front of the jumper knitted separately,  but I decided to knit them in one piece, in the round, on a circular needle, to avoid breaking up the herringbone band with side seams.  Another advantage is that then the yarn carried across the slipped stitches is always on the nearside of the fabric, so that you can easily see whether the zigzags are developing correctly.  If the herringbone stitch is knitted back and forth, then on the alternate (purl) rows, you have to carry the yarn across the far side and it would be harder to spot mistakes.

 This is my second project knitted Continental style, after the Baby Sophisticate  jacket.   Now that I am past the herringbone band, I have a long stretch of stocking stitch in the round up to the armholes, which of course is miles of knit stitches.  So I shall be very good at knit stitches, Continental style, by the time I reach the armholes.  That could be problematic, because after the armholes I shall have to switch to working back and forth and purl alternate rows, and purl stitches are trickier than knit stitches in Continental knitting.  But I think I shall be OK, because I did both knitting and purling in the Baby Sophisticate jacket and my tension seemed to be the same for both.

 I did write in  an earlier post that I was finding knitting on circular needles awkward and slow, but Continental knitting has solved that.  With my original style of knitting, on straight needles, I hold the right needle under my arm, and my right hand holds the yarn and takes it round the needle to make the stitch.  On a circular needle, my right hand has to hold the needle as well as move the yarn, and so I have to keep switching from one to the other.  With Continental knitting, though, you can keep hold of both needles; the left hand holds both the left needle and the yarn, but the stitch is made by the right needle picking up the yarn.  So in theory, there are fewer steps involved, and in practice, hopefully, it will be quicker. 

And I bought myself a set of interchangeable KnitPro needles (i.e. cables and tips), which was an extravagance, especially as I wasn't sure whether I could adapt to Continental knitting at that point, and so how much I would use them. But they are a pleasure to knit with.  

Sunday 9 January 2011

Christmas 1940

A friend read that I recently bought a 1934 copy of Stitchcraft magazine, and sent me a Stitchcraft from December 1940 that she found amongst her mother's things. So exciting! It gives a fascinating view of how people in this country were living at that point in World War II.

There are patterns for two jumpers, including the one on the cover, and some small items suitable for Christmas presents. Clothes rationing was not introduced until 1941, though I assume that materials were already in short supply. There are frequent mentions of using up small quantities of wool, as in the coloured cables in the cover jumper.

The magazine had a continuing feature on knitting for men and women in the services. The Dec 1940 issue has a balaclava helmet. The pattern is for two sizes, to fit both men and women, though it must be said that even with make-up, it's hard to make a balaclava look glamorous.

In the same feature, there is a pattern for a pair of mittens with two layers, an inner layer knitted in wool and an outer layer crocheted in string. The idea is that the string layer gives a good grip on wet ropes, etc. on board ship. Quite ingenious, I suppose, though it makes me think of how dreadful it would have been to be on deck in a North Atlantic storm in midwinter, with U-boats after you.

There is also an ad for Lux soap flakes with a nice photo of a smartly dressed young woman wearing trousers and carrying her gas mask case, with the caption "Prepare for action in this cosy knitted Norfolk jacket". You could send off for a free pattern for the jacket. It's knitted in camel hair wool for warmth and softness, though you would think that camel hair might have been hard to find by then.

Stitchcraft had a cooking column, too, though it seems a bit outside its remit.  In this issue, it is mainly concerned with how to do your Christmas baking without the ingredients you would normally consider essential, like eggs, butter and sugar.  There is a recipe for a Christmas cake "using no eggs or sugar". It uses a small quantity of margarine or lard instead of butter, and some black treacle and quite a lot of dried fruit for sweetening - a very meagre mixture.

Alongside, there is a half-page ad from the Ministry of Food, exhorting people to eat healthily, by eating lots of the vegetables we can grow in this country, with small quantities of protein. A sort of medieval peasant diet, with added potatoes. I especially like the little rhyme:
Those who have the will to win
Eat potatoes in their skin
Knowing that the sight of peelings
Deeply hurts Lord Woolton's feelings.

Lord Woolton was the Minister of Food at the time, famous for giving his name to Woolton pie, consisting of vegetables mixed with a little oatmeal and with a pastry topping, which sounds very bland and stodgy. He would have been very pleased at the current popularity of baked potatoes, I suppose, though the fillings available now would have been far too rich for 1940.

I wonder if Sue's mother ever made any of the things featured in this magazine?

Saturday 8 January 2011

Keeping Pattern Correct

I wrote last month about my cardigan in Rowan Cocoon, to Sarah Hatton's Elise pattern. I should write about a modification that I made, that I didn't mention in my earlier post, because it is a change that I would suggest to anyone knitting this pattern.

Clearly, the cables are the main feature and because it is a V-neck cardigan with set-in sleeves, there have to be decreases at the armhole and neck edges that might overlap the cables. The narrower cables, over six stitches, are fairly easy to deal with. The cable at the armhole edge (in my size anyway) becomes a strip of stocking stitch alongside the sleeve seam, and the other one disappears fairly neatly and quickly into the neck decreases.

I assumed that the widest cable, over 14 stitches, would continue up to the shoulder seam, although you can't tell from the illustration in the Cocoon Collection book, because the model has long hair that hides the shoulders of the cardigan. So I was dismayed to discover on working through the pattern that in fact the decreases at the neck edge reduce the width of this cable by 2 stitches, several inches below the shoulder seam, and from then on the neck edge continues straight.  I don't know how you are supposed to adapt a cable that is designed for 14 stitches to look right over 12.  The pattern gives no help - it just says "keeping pattern correct"  (or actually "keeping patt correct"), and then tells  you how often to decrease at the armhole and neck edges. (That's not a peculiarity of this particular design, of course - it is usual for pattern writers to leave it up to the knitter to work out how to incorporate decreases or increases into the stitch pattern.)

The knitters that have posted photos of their finished Elise cardigans in Ravelry have all managed to reduce the width of the cable panel quite neatly, I must say.  But I couldn't see how it could be done well enough to look good and I didn't want the headache of trying.  What's more it seemed completely unnecessary.  Why not just make the shoulders three stitches wider, so that the 14-stitch cable panel is kept intact as far as the shoulder seam?   (The third stitch is for the selvage, or in my case to separate the cable from the button band, because I made a built-in button band.)   That works perfectly well - the shoulders are not too wide, and of course, the cable panel looks right throughout.

So my recommendation to anyone knitting this cardigan would be to do the same thing:  make the shoulders 3 stitches wider, so that you can stop decreasing at the neck edge on the fronts when you reach the widest cable panel. It will look much better for a minimal change.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Sophisticated Baby

Over the holidays I knitted a cardigan for a friend's baby boy, due just before Christmas. Daniel arrived on December 26th and I went to see them today and handed over the cardigan.

I had forgotten how tiny new babies are, and I really cannot remember my daughter being so small.  He is, as his mother says, a poppet.  The cardigan is supposedly the 0-3 months size  and looks much too big at the moment, but he'll grow fast and I expect it will fit him before spring arrives.

The pattern is Baby Sophisticate by Linden Down  (free from her web site or via Ravelry).   It's a quick knit in Aran weight yarn.  It's knitted top down - no seams, which is great.  I found the pattern really well thought out.  For instance, the shawl collar is made by picking up stitches all the way round the edge of the cardigan, and I usually hate picking up stitches.  But that's because usually you are only told how many stitches to pick up on each section, and  you have to work out the spacing for yourself (and often get it wrong first time).   Here, the first stitch of every row in the body of the cardigan is slipped, and then you pick up one stitch in every slipped stitch.  Dead easy.  I like the shaping of the shawl collar using short rows, too - sophisticated but easy to follow. 

This project was also my first serious attempt at Continental knitting (holding the yarn in the left hand). I saw someone knitting that way a few months ago, for the first time, and she was so fast that I was amazed. I decided that I should try it - I'm hoping that if and when I can knit easily in the Continental fashion, I will be able to knit faster than before. It's obviously not sensible to switch knitting styles in the middle of a project, because your tension might change, so a small project seemed like a good one to find out whether I could do it or not. This was also a good choice because it is all in stocking stitch and garter stitch - I haven't attempted rib yet.   It seemed very clumsy and awkward to begin with, but I am getting better at it.  My tension seems to be fairly even, somewhat surprisingly.  I'm not very fast yet, but I'm sure I will get faster with practice.   I'm now working on a bigger project - more on that later.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Happy New Year

2011 already!  Best wishes for a good year to everyone.

I spent several hours yesterday at the Knitting and Crochet Guild's warehouse near Holmfirth - there was a burst pipe a few days ago in the unit above, and so there was water pouring into one end of the warehouse for quite a while until the leak was discovered.  Fortunately, only a small proportion of the collections were affected.  Also, it was clean water and the cardboard boxes that things were stored in protected some of the items to some extent.  But there has been a lot of rescue work to do - a team were working there on Thursday before we got back from Berkshire, and evidently did a huge amount of work.  Yesterday, we were sending a van-load of things off to a freezing facility to stabilise them and prevent mould developing.

After the van had gone, I emptied some slightly damp boxes of assorted periodicals, to bring them home and see what could be retrieved.   At the bottom of one box, I found some magazines dating from around the First World War, which were very wet.  They seemed important enough to try to dry them out.  We have had them all over our bathroom floor, interleaved with newspaper, which is not the ideal material, but it was the only thing we had available that would absorb moisture.   It seems to have worked very well, and they have almost dried out.  They were not in very good condition to start with, in fact, but I don't think they are significantly worse now (although of course, I didn't see them before they got soaked).  

I hope that someone will be interested in the instructions for  Crochet D'Oyleys, because frankly I am not, although the idea of a d'oyley (or doily) is fascinating in a "What on earth?!!"  kind of way. There is even a pattern for a cheese d'oyley, i.e. a doily for your cheese plate, which is wedge shaped.  Why would you cover something that is easy to wash (a cheese plate) with something that is harder to wash and needs ironing, and probably starching, too?  I guess because there was a servant to do the washing, while the lady of the house sat crocheting doilies.   And the Victorians and Edwardians had a mania for covering, trimming and decorating anything that didn't get out of the way fast enough.

Etymological note:  according to Wikipedia and my ancient Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the original  spelling is doily. Its use to mean "a small ornamental napkin used at dessert" dates from 1711 (OED).   I guess that the spelling D'Oyley seemed posher.

 Some of the magazines do contain patterns for more practical things,  e.g. (as you would expect) Weldon's Practical Crochet. The cover shows a lady wearing a "Sports or Aviating Cap"  and a "Hood and Scarf for Motorists or Evening Wear".  The other bonnet shown on the cover is "A practical and becoming bonnet for motorists, or for wear in the country, for travelling, evening wear, etc. "     Of course, they were all designed for huge Edwardian hair styles.  (I think this magazine is pre-WWI).  

There are also one or two magazines on knitting, though on the very limited evidence of this selection of magazines, crochet seems to have been more popular at the time.
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