Monday 25 April 2011

Woman's Home Pictorial Companion

Knitting supplement to Home Notes, October 1937.

I have been collating a lot of Knitting and Crochet Guild material at Lee Mills that comes from magazines of  the 1930s and early 40s - complete issues, knitting booklets, pull-out supplements and torn-out knitting patterns.  There were a few magazines published from the 1930s that focussed on knitting and similar crafts - notably Vogue Knitting Book and Stitchcraft.  But currently I am working on material from general women's magazines. I have been referring to a really useful book from the Lee Mills library, The Business of Women's Magazines, by Brian Braithwaite and Joan Barrell, that gives a brief publishing history of most of the titles I have seen.   The daddy (mummy?) of them all is People's Friend, which was first published in 1869 and has appeared every week since then. Several other titles that were current in the 1930s also appeared first in the late 19th century or before World War I, but the thirties also saw a lot of new women's magazines.

Supplement to Mother magazine

There is an astonishing number of titles represented in the papers I have been sorting.  Some are familiar because they are still being published - Woman's Weekly, Woman, Woman's Own, Woman and Home, My Weekly, Good Housekeeping, The Lady, as well as People's Friend. But many more have disappeared (usually merged into another magazine).  And they all sound pretty much the same:  Mother, Housewife, Wife and Home, My Home, Home Notes, Home Chat, Home Companion, Woman's Companion, Woman's Pictorial, Woman's Sphere, Woman's Friend, Woman's Way, Woman's World,  Modern Woman.  (You feel that you could easily invent endless plausible new titles:  My Friendly Home, Housewife's World, ....)

There must have been an enormous volume of knitting patterns being produced for all these titles.  Some of the jumpers I have seen are quite attractive, but perhaps the more boring patterns tended not to be kept and so are not in the collection.  And there does seem to be an extraordinary number of patterns for swimsuits, which I don't find attractive at all.  The very idea of a knitted woollen swimsuit is just appalling.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Elizabeth Forster, designer

I mentioned to a friend that until relatively recently, the people who designed knitting patterns were largely unknown to knitters and that it's sad that they never got any recognition.  She told me that her mother had had a friend, Elizabeth Forster, who designed knitting patterns and, what's more, had written a book.  The book, The Wandering Tattler, is not about her work as a designer, except incidentally.  It's about her travels in South America and Asia, and the birds that she saw - she was a keen ornithologist.  (The wandering tattler is a species of bird.)    It's easy to find cheap secondhand copies of the book online, so I bought one.

She gives a brief outline of her life in the book.  She started working for the BBC in 1930, and after World War II began a parallel career as a freelance designer of knitting patterns, eventually giving up the BBC job in 1955.  In the 1960s and 1970s she evolved a routine of creating designs until she had accumulated enough money to pay for her next trip. Meanwhile, the things she saw on her travels gave her ideas for designs when she came home again.  Sounds like a good lifestyle.  In the book, published in 1976, she says "My ideas [for designs] come from textiles in museums, from baskets, from folk weaving.... The floors of Indian temples have provided several good designs, while another came from the floor of the university in Cuzco, Peru, and yet another from a pair of gloves which I found hanging on a stall in a small village in Afghanistan."  She shows two of her designs in the book, inspired by her travels in Peru and Guatemala, both for Wendy Wools.

And then, while I was sorting through papers from Lee Mills, I found a knitting supplement from Woman magazine, dated October 1957, with patterns for ten jumpers "by top British designers". It is unusual to find any acknowledgment from magazines of that period that the knitting patterns have been designed by somebody, so I took a look. The 10 jumpers are designed by 9 women I had never heard of .... and Elizabeth Forster.

Hers is, I think, more interesting than most of the others. It has an intricate panel of interlaced single cables on the front, and the caption says that it was inspired by wrought iron work - perhaps seen on her travels.

I don't know whether it will be possible to identify any more of her designs - I'm not sure how it could be done. But I am pleased to have brought together these three, at least.  She seems to have been an interesting person and an interesting designer.

Sunday 17 April 2011


This is my 100th post since I started this blog in January last year. So it's time to review, sum up, look back, take stock, etc.

When I started the blog I had been knitting again for a while, but in hindsight I wasn't yet taking it very seriously (i.e. it hadn't yet become obsessive). I had only just joined my first knitting group, for instance. I had been a pretty good knitter and I was just getting back in to the habit of knitting, and beginning to get more ambitious. When I look back over the past year, I can see that I have actually got a lot better at the craft of knitting. I have learnt a lot of new techniques to improve the quality of what I'm producing - several new cast-on methods and a better way of making buttonholes, for instance, from Montse Stanley's Handbook of Hand Knitting.  I have got better at sewing up, and learnt Russian grafting so that I don't need to do so much of it. I have also started knitting Continental style, though I'm still not as fast with that as I would like, so that needs more practice.

And a big thing that has happened, of course, is that I have got involved with sorting out the Knitting and Crochet Guild store at Lee Mills.  So now I am spending a lot of time working to build a magazine collection out of the huge mass of material there - and along the way learning a lot about how knitting developed in this country over the 20th century.   And finding some inspirational designs, and some totally ridiculous but entertaining ones.

So now for the next 100.....

Saturday 16 April 2011

Lacy birthday scarf

The scarf I have been knitting for a friend's birthday is finished - in fact, I finished it some time ago, but her birthday is this week, so I didn't want to post photos of it too early.  It is in Kid Silk Haze, in a rich red colour called Liqueur, and the pattern is an adaptation of the Seascape Stole by Kieran Foley, a free pattern from  Knitty. I wanted to reduce the width, to make a scarf rather than a stole, but it can't be done by reducing the number of pattern repeats so instead I simplified the pattern to make each repeat narrower.

The finished scarf is lovely, I think.  It's light, airy and soft, and feels as though it has no weight at all.   The yarn is a bit of a pig to knit with - it's not a good idea to make mistakes - but the result is worth the effort.  I hope she likes it.

Happy birthday, Chris!

I have also started another lacy scarf, for another friend who is 60 in May.  This one is in Manos Lace, an alpaca, silk and cashmere mix, in the Titania colourway, which is green and purple.  It's coming along well.

Wednesday 13 April 2011


Here's a leaflet with patterns for an amazing set of knitted underwear, in 2-ply wool.  It dates from the early 1920s, I think.  (Patons and Baldwins merged in 1920, but the fact that Patons is referred to as a separate company suggests that they had only recently merged.)  I assume that at that date, a photo of a young lady sitting in her underwear would have been quite daring - she does look slightly coy, to me. She is modelling a petticoat and knickers from the leaflet, and the other garments artistically draped on the furniture are a camisole and a combination vest.   She is also wearing stockings, that seem to come just above the knee.  I surmise that the mob cap is to show that she is in her bedroom, and not anywhere more public.  But why is she wearing high-heeled shoes?  That's a bit baffling.

The underwear really doesn't look in the least glamorous or pretty to me, in spite of the lacy eyelet pattern.   In fact, all the pieces are fairly shapeless - the camisole and petticoat are just cylinders, with ribbon shoulder straps, and no shaping apart from a band of ribbing round the waist.   Not flattering at all, and whatever you wore on top would look equally shapeless, I should think.  And it's knitted woolly underwear!  You would surely only want to wear that if it was the middle of winter and you were otherwise freezing cold.  Think how itchy it would be!   This is one 1920s vintage pattern that I can't imagine anyone wanting to copy.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

"Mixed Unsorted"

We had a working party at Lee Mills this weekend, when volunteers from the Knitting and Crochet Guild worked on sorting through the boxes brought back from storage. I was working on magazines as usual and was there on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (which is why I didn't manage to write the last two posts for Knitting and Crochet Blog Week). My job is to sort through boxes which are labelled as being magazines (not always correctly) and also the boxes that are just a mixture of papers, to separate out the pattern leaflets (someone else's job) from the rest. I made pretty good progress - 56 boxes of papers were brought back from storage last week, and I have processed more than half of them, I estimate. Some, that on inspection are genuinely just magazines, I have put to one side for later, but I have also sorted though a lot of the magazines, to eliminate duplicates, and also a lot of the "Mixed unsorted" boxes of papers. By now, a lot of the contents of any box of mixed papers I can identify immediately as duplicates of things I have already logged, and so can be disposed of. But occasionally, there is a treasure. Yesterday, I found a Patons and Baldwins pattern booklet published in 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain. I love the cover design.

The patterns in the booklet are supposed to represent different areas of Britain (though actually only England and Scotland are represented) - for instance, there is one supposedly based on a fisherman's jumper from Great Yarmouth, and a beautiful lacy jumper in fine wool representing the knitting of the Shetlands.   In other cases, the geographical connection is a bit more tenuous - a jacket you could wear on holiday in Blackpool, for instance.   J's favourite is the Fair Isle pullover - the model's pose is what he was aiming at when I got his to wear his own to be photographed for my first post for this blog last year (though he doesn't have a pipe, so couldn't quite achieve it.)  

It's planned that the last boxes of papers will come back from storage next week, and so my part of the overall task at Lee Mills is going reasonably well.  The "woolly items" are much more of a problem - the knitted and crocheted garments and other things.  In some cases, they are beautifully made and historically interesting, but there is a lot that isn't particularly important  and that we don't have room for, once we store things in a sensible fashion and not in dangerously high stacks, as before. (And a lot that is very poor quality and shouldn't have been there in the first place.)  The good quality material needs to be separated from the rest.  But there is so much of it still in storage, and so few volunteers to examine items and decide what should be kept, that it's hard to see a way forward.  There are a lot of things that should be done as a matter of urgency, but can't be done without more people.   We're all just doing the best we can.     
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