Friday 29 July 2011

All Sewn Up

I have finally finished the Martha cardigan that I started back in March.  I actually finished the knitting weeks ago, but it was hanging around for a long time waiting for me to sew it up.  It does seem such an effort to sew the seams, weave in the ends, sew on the buttons, when you could be getting on with the next piece of knitting instead.  It's entirely illogical, I know.

Anyway, it's finished and looks good, though the weather was much too warm yesterday to want to wear it when I modelled it for the photo.  (That won't last, of course - in fact, it is much cooler today).

The colour is quite hard to capture in a photo - it is quite a gray blue, as in the first photo. I have made the sleeves longer than in the pattern, as I said I would back in March.  I have also changed the placement of the buttons a little bit, so that the bottom button coincides with the textured band around the bottom of the cable section - I think that the design is more coherent that way.  I do like the cables a lot and it's good that Sarah Hatton has used them on the back as well as the fronts. The back of a cardigan or jumper is sometimes left plain, which is a pity - the cables make the back more interesting to knit than an expanse of plain stocking stitch, and it looks much nicer, too.  

The neck line has turned out much less scoopy than in the pattern - not sure why.  It wasn't deliberate. Maybe I misread the instructions?  I definitely did misread the instructions at the very beginning, which is why the textured band around the bottom is not quite as deep as it should be.  Altogether, it's surprising that it has turned out so well.

I am now knitting Kate Davies' Deco cardigan. I took the yarn and needles on holiday to Oregon in May, but didn't actually get any knitting done - I didn't even cast on until we got back home again.  The pattern largely avoids the sewing-up problem, because the cardigan is knitted in one piece - there is only a little bit of sewing required, backing the button-band with a strip of ribbon, as far as I can see.  I am up to the armholes, so far.  More later.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

That Day We Sang

Last week for my birthday treat, we went to see the new musical by Victoria Wood that was running at Manchester Opera House as part of the Manchester Festival.   It is based on the story of the 1929 recording of Purcell's song Nymphs and Shepherds by a Manchester children's choir and the Halle Orchestra. The record was extremely successful and sold a million copies.  J remembers it being played at his primary school in assemblies or music lessons, in the 1950s, and I remember it from the radio, I think. 

Victoria Wood says in the programme notes that the idea for the musical came from a documentary about the recording that she saw in the 1970s, featuring interviews with people who had been in the choir in 1929 and were by then middle-aged.   Her musical is set in 1929 and 1969, based around the two main characters meeting at a choir reunion after 40 years,  hearing the record again and remembering how their 10-year-old selves had felt on that day.  They start to ask themselves whether they can together rescue their lives from the mundane routine they have sunk into and live the more joyful life that once seemed possible.  And of course, it is very funny and entertaining.  It is not the 1960s of Mary Quant, Twiggy, mini-skirts and Vidal Sassooon haircuts, but of Berni Inns, The Golden Egg and Wimpy Bars. (The audience were mainly of an age to remember all those things and were very appreciative.)  There is a wonderful song-and-dance routine around dinner at a Berni Inn  (melon and maraschino cherry or prawn cocktail, gammon and pineapple, and of course Black Forest gateau).

The 1929 thread in the musical has a choir of local primary school children, playing the original choir, and an 11 year-old actor playing the younger version of one of the main characters.  He does a fantastic job - it is a big part involving singing, dancing and speaking, and this was his professional debut.  There is a YouTube video showing brief extracts from the opening night, so you can see how well the children did.

And you can also hear the original recording on YouTube. The choir mistress in 1929 trained the children to sing for the recording in "received pronunciation" rather than with their usual Mancunian accents - fortunately today's choir sing with their natural vowels. 

We went to Manchester by train and spent the afternoon there.  J took me to a rather ramshackle secondhand bookshop that he knows, near Piccadilly, where I bought a paperback on British Herbs, published in 1949.  Most of the information is still relevant, but the other things are possibly more interesting.  The author writes about Herb Committees being set up during World War II to collect herbs from the countryside when supplies from abroad were no longer available - for instance, 90 tons of dried nettles were collected in 1942, mostly to use as a green dye in making camouflage material.  She discusses the medicinal uses of herbs, as well as their use in cooking, but sometimes she seems very timid about using strong flavours, especially garlic: "Anyone who travels in Italian buses might be forgiven for deciding never to grow this unpleasantly smelling plant, and one can quite appreciate the decision of the old Greeks that people who ate Garlic should not be allowed in the temples of Cybele."  She goes on to say that it is useful in treating various ailments, but clearly does not expect her readers to want to cook with it. How times have changed - I love the smell of garlic in cooking, and in fact, I am going to make a tomato sauce for pasta right now so that I can enjoy that smell..

Thursday 14 July 2011

Vintage Knitwear

I had a birthday this week, and one of the things I got was Vintage Fashion Knitwear by Marnie Fogg.  The subtitle is "Collecting and wearing designer classics", but actually that is quite misleading - the book is almost entirely a survey of the role of knitwear in fashion since the start of the 20th century.  Most of the knitwear featured was commercially produced, and so most is machine knitted, but that is still interesting from the hand knitting point of view, because it shows how fashionable machine-made knitwear influenced the design of hand-knitting patterns - occasionally the opposite, i.e.  how hand knitting influenced fashion. 

It is a very well produced book, with lots of clear illustrations.  Some are contemporary - fashion photos (usually from Vogue) or ads for knitwear manufacturers.  Others are photos of surviving garments, and the author often shows both the whole garment and then one or two small details in close-up, so that it's possible to get a clear idea of  how it was made.  Some of the knitwear is from John Smedley,
a long-established knitwear manufacturer (based in Derbyshire), others apparently come from private collections.  

Altogether it's a really enjoyable book - informative and illuminating. 

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Weekend in Cardiff

Modern Weekly, 1927
Last weekend  I was at the University of Cardiff for a Knitting and Crochet Guild meeting.  There was a day of workshops on Saturday, and the AGM on Sunday morning, as well as lots of talking, knitting and crocheting in between.  On Friday evening I gave a talk on the Lee Mills periodicals collection, or at least the part of it that deals with hand-knitting.  It was an interesting challenge to tell a coherent story about hand-knitting in this country since World War I, just based on the magazines that I have catalogued so far.  I talked about women's magazines as well as the more specialised knitting and needlecraft magazines.  Lots of pictures, of course, of magazine covers, and a few knitting patterns from the magazines, some that still look quite attractive and some that you could only wear to a fancy dress party.

There were three workshop sessions on Saturday, but I only went to one of them - a workshop on knitting with wire, given by Mary Graham.  It was fascinating.  I thought beforehand that it would be quite hard work to knit with wire, but it is not.  Mary provided us with very fine wire in a range colours, and ordinary metal knitting needles.  An advantage is that you don't have to bother about tension, and the final shape of what you make depends a lot on how you tweak the piece afterwards, so there aren't too many rules.  I was really pleased with the piece that I made.  I didn't have any plan in mind when I started - I was just knitting a rectangle to get used to the material, and then incorporated a dart (in pink) using short rows, which was one of Mary's suggestions for starting to make a three-dimensional shape, and another in the silver wire.   Then I bent it into a 3-d shape  - a butterfly? a bow? - and I think it's rather pretty, and wore it as a brooch.    Of course, it's technically very inept compared to the pieces that Mary showed us - her knitting is much more even and they look as though they were meant to turn out the way that they did, unlike mine. She has made some beautifully shaped pieces - I especially liked one that she showed us in which she used rapid increasing to make a ruffle.  But I'm pleased with my first attempt, and I plan to do more.              

For giving the talk on Friday, I got a voucher from the Guild to spend at the traders' stalls, and exchanged it for some beautiful laceweight yarn.  So the next lacy scarf I knit might be for me.  I also did very well out of the raffle - I won  6 balls of Rowan Damask in a pretty pale blue colourway and a book - Contemporary Classics by Jean Moss, signed by the author (one of the Guild's patrons).

Altogether it was a very successful weekend. It was great to meet so many enthusiastic, knowledgeable and expert knitters and crocheters.  A disappointment was that we didn't have much time to see Cardiff, apart from a couple of hours at the castle at St Fagans - must go back.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

World War I Knitted Comforts

Knitted Comforts for Men on Land and Sea

Here is another pattern booklet from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection at Lee Mills, Beehive Booklet No. 17.  Knitting "comforts" for the troops was common during the First World War.  Richard Rutt, in his book A History of Hand Knitting says: "The First World War stimulated British knitting to the point where it was regarded as as a national mania".  It was helpful for the women at home to feel that they were doing something, however minor, for the men fighting in the trenches and at sea.

This booklet has a collection of patterns, mostly devised by Marjory Tillotson, who was the chief designer for Baldwin's.  (Baldwin's merged with Paton's in 1920.)  Her career is outlined in Richard Rutt's book. It was unusual then, and for decades afterwards, for the designers of knitting patterns to be identified, but in this case her full name is given with the first pattern, and most of the others have her initials at the end.

The booklet is in rather poor condition, unfortunately - all the pages have become separated and two are missing.  But the surviving pages include patterns for a "Plain helmet (or Balaclava cap)", a sleeping cap, bedsocks, several kinds of sock, a seaman's jersey and a "Coat Sweater (or Cardigan)". The Crimean War terms (balaclava, cardigan) were presumably not widely recognised at that time, and so could not be used by themselves without further explanation. 

Stout steering gloves

There are also mittens (actually what we would call fingerless mittens) and two thicknesses of "steering gloves", which we would call mittens, with little diagrams giving detailed measurements.  There is a note saying that "The original garments have been approved by the R.N.M.D.S.F. - to whom the publishers are indebted for the use of several illustrations giving the Standard Measurements."   I asked Google about the R.N.M.D.S.F., without much hope of finding anything, but in fact the organisation still exists - the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.  Their web site notes that much of the mine-sweeping work in both world wars was carried out by the fishermen and their vessels, and indeed the "Knitted Comforts" booklet says that the garments will be of great use for men engaged in mine-sweeping.

I especially like the illustration on the front, of the intended recipients (a Royal Navy sailor, a fisherman, a soldier) chatting on the quay.  Though the soldier does look surprisingly like Stalin.
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