Saturday 28 January 2012

An Aran Bobble Hat

In all the mass of material that we have been sorting in the Knitting and Crochet Guild's collections, some items turn up over and over again. The one that I have seen most often, probably, is a Patons pattern book, The Aran Book, published about 1968.  I have seen so many copies of it that I almost believe that every knitter in the country must have had one.

Why did it sell so well?  Most of the patterns are fairly standard Aran jumpers and cardigans.  But when knitting Aran jumpers first became popular, you were supposed to use oiled wool (in the natural white/cream, of course) - the first Aran jumper I knitted was in oiled wool.  And most of the early Aran pattern leaflets were illustrated in black and white - why would you need colour?  So I think this would have been a very attractive booklet. You don't need special oiled wool, you can use Patons Capstan, a regular wool yarn in Aran weight.  And you can knit in red, blue, green - any colour you want.  (I was knitting at the time, and knitting Aran jumpers too, so I ought to know why it appealed to knitters so much, but I don't.)

I know that we had a copy of The Aran Book in my family, because I have a bobble hat that my sister knitted from it (although I don't remember the booklet itself).  I have been wearing the hat at Lee Mills recently when I have been working downstairs in the magazine collection, where it is very cold.

It is definitely the same hat because the Aran motifs match, although it was never as roomy as the one shown in the booklet.

Hat and mittens from The Aran Book

I think it would look better without the bobble on top, but for historical accuracy I shall leave it on.

PS  My sister says that actually the hat was knitted for her by our mother.  She thinks that Mother might have been using up some yarn and that was why she made it a bit smaller than shown - although I'm not sure how.  Maybe it was finer yarn or smaller needles.   She also thinks that there might have been matching mittens as well, but we don't know what happened to them.

Thursday 26 January 2012

A Brioche Stitch Scarf

I finished a small scarf earlier this month, a slightly late Christmas present for my sister-in-law. It is reversible, so you can wear it as either mostly grey or mostly brown (it is intended to go with a camel coat).

It's knitted in two-colour brioche stitch, where you knit each row twice, once in grey yarn and then again in brown yarn (using double-pointed needles so that you can slide the work back and forth). So you get two interconnected layers, one in each colour.

The 'keyholes', where you loop one end of the scarf through the other, are made by separating the grey stitches from the brown and knitting with each set separately for a while. So there is no decreasing involved - the work is narrower there just because you are only using half the stitches at once.  Very cunning! 

The yarn I used is Artesano alpaco in 4-ply - very soft and very light. The scarf took only 30g of each colour. And because the main part of the scarf has the two layers, it is very cosy.

Technical stuff follows.  The starting point was Nancy Marchant's It Takes Two pattern from Designer Knitting (the international edition of Vogue Knitting) in Winter 2010/11.  The original scarf was in S- and Z-twist brioche stitch, but Nancy Marchant recommended that you should practise the simple brioche stitch first.  I couldn't understand the instructions for the S- and Z-twist stitch, so I stuck with the simple one.

The scarf in Designer Knitting was knitted with Noro Silk Garden Sock Yarn, which I assumed would be about 4-ply, so I chose the alpaca yarn as a substitute.  But the pattern specified 4mm needles, which I found much too big - I used 2.75 needles and more stitches to get a fabric I was happy with.

The pattern specifies Two-colour Italian cast-on, and I found a tutorial on YouTube.  But I found that the cast-on edge is not stable until you have worked the two foundation rows (one in grey, one in brown) and after several attempts it was impossible to get a neat edge.  So instead I used alternate cable cast-on, which is one I often use, adapted for two colours of yarn (and on 4mm needle to make it loose enough).    In that method, when you make a new stitch  you put the right needle behind both loops of the first stitch on the left needle (that's cable cast on).   In alternate cable cast on, the right needle goes alternately from front to back and from back to front.   It makes a good stretchy edge for rib or moss stitch, and in this case,  you can switch between grey yarn and brown yarn and get a neat edge with is mostly grey on one side and mostly brown on the other.

When it came to finishing, I used the standard cast off method, again on 4mm needles, but switching from knit to purl along the row.  The grey stitches are knitted and the brown stitches purled, so that the loops lie alternately to one side or the other.  It doesn't look identical to the cast on edge, but similar.    

 Altogether it was an intriguing knit.  I have not used brioche stitch before, but it evidently has lots of possibilities worth exploring. 

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Mrs Patrick's Wool Shop

I was working at Lee Mills yesterday.  It was a very cold day, below freezing outside when I got there, and like a fridge inside, so I worked upstairs as much as possible.   (Putting hat, coat and fingerless mittens on whenever I had to go down to the ground floor where the magazines are.)  So I was mostly sorting pattern leaflets.

A lot of the pattern leaflets are stamped with the name and address of the yarn shop that originally sold it, so there are shop names from all over the country.  I was musing that all of these yarn shops probably closed long ago.  The local yarn shops that exist now have almost all opened over the last ten years or so and have no connection with the earlier ones. 

Some of the shop names sound quite quaint and antique, like "Edythe", The Wool Shop, Norwood High Street.  Some are slightly odd, like A.W.Brown - Oriental Goods of every description - 16 Crown Lane Morden.  And the descriptions of what they sell are nicely old-fashioned:  Wools, Art Needlework, Hosiery, Etc.Art Needlework and Linens; Drapery and Knitting Wools.     

 And then I spotted one that I recognised:  "Patrick's", The Wool Shop, 16, Crookes Road, Broomhill, Sheffield, 10.  That was my local yarn shop when I was a teenager!

It was a tiny shop, converted from the front room of a small terraced  house, though I guess there was a stock room behind it.     It closed a long time ago, probably in the 1970s, when Mrs Patrick retired.  It might then have been a hairdresser's for a while, but then became a pet shop, and still is.      

Broomhill is a busy area with lots of little shops and restaurants (Patrick's/Paws Here is on the very edge of the shopping area).  It seems to be thriving, with so many university students living in the neighbourhood.  Everybody knew, when I lived there, that John Betjeman  (the Poet Laureate) had described Broomhill as "the prettiest suburb in England", though I never understood which bit he could have had in mind.  Now that I can ask Google, and find his poem "An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield",  I see that it was the large Victorian houses and not the shopping area that he was thinking of, although they are not very typical of most of Broomhill - the small terraces like Mrs Patrick's are more common.  Poetic licence.       

Sunday 8 January 2012

1930s Fashion Advice

A research student visited Lee Mills recently, to look at the 1930s magazines - she was interested in how ideas of fashion and glamour were transmitted to women making their own clothes.  So, for instance, Stitchcraft had a regular feature in its early issues reporting on Paris fashions.  Pattern leaflets for the most part did not attempt to persuade buyers of their fashion credentials - they relied on the photo to appeal to knitters, and maybe gave a brief title like "Lady's Pull-over and Sleeveless Cardigan".

But Copley's pattern leaflets of the 1930s were different - the front cover told you why this design was just what you should be wearing right now, and even what colours you should knit it in.

To add extra weight, they employed two aristocratic fashion advisers, Lady Georgiana Curzon and the Countess of Carlisle. In one style of leaflet, one of the ladies tells you what she likes about this design: 

"This is the kind of jersey you see lying in a carefully negligent heap in the more expensive sports shops.  I saw one like it just off  Bond Street not long ago, in a good brazen yellow like Copley's 160. Not an easy colour to wear, but a triumph if you can stand up to it. It looked grand and cost a staggering number of guineas.  Whereas Copley's design can be made for about the same number of shillings. The charm and smartness of this jersey lies in the contrast between the robust chunky cable-stitch and the feminine arrangement of the yoke and front panels. Wear it as jacket or blouse, perhaps adding a broad leather belt for the latter occasion. After yellow I suggest brown for practicality, willow-weed green for subtlety or flannel-grey to go with the greatest number of skirts."  

A clever piece of writing - it tells you that even Lady Georgiana Curzon, who shops in Bond Street,  is keen on saving money, and that knitting this will give you a jersey that looks expensive.  It explains why it's a charming design that should appeal to you, and that it's perfectly OK to knit it in a "practical" colour rather than the fashionable yellow.

Another style of fashion advice purports to show two memos on the front cover, from one of the ladies to the Copley's designers. The first asks for a new design and suggests some of the things that she would like to see in it, and the second says, "Yes, that's just what I had in mind." Thus: 

"One can't have enough trim, young little blouses to wear with spring suits. Do make a new one with long and short sleeved versions in new brief length. Stitch contrast would be smart -- and I'd love a completely new neckline!" 

"Quite charming for new flannel tailor-mades.  (Suggest rose, yellow, yellow-green with dark suit; navy, bright green with light suit.)  Lovely little collar.  (Yes, utterly new, too!)  Smooth surface broken with fancy lines and ribs right in the 1936 idea."

(I do appreciate it when people mention the date.  So helpful!)

You can find a nice photo of Lady Georgiana Curzon and her baby son in 1937, at the National Portrait Gallery's web site, here  and amazingly you can see a short film of her wedding in November 1935 here*.  (Sadly, the marriage didn't last.)  I assume she gave up being a fashion adviser then and so the patterns featuring her advice date from the early 1930s, when she was in her early 20s.  Copley's were evidently aiming at young, fashion-conscious knitters, and so chose a young, fashionable woman, with the cachet of a title, to appeal to them.    

[*April 2019 - the video of Lady Georgiana's wedding seems not to be available any more.]

Friday 6 January 2012

Not My Type

I have been reading Just My Type, by Simon Garfield, a book about fonts, full of fascinating information.  In honour of that, I am writing this post in Georgia, rather than the default font offered by Blogger.  There are not many fonts available in Blogger, but Georgia was (I now know)  designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft, specifically for computer use.  I like it.    

Reading Just My Type has made me more conscious of fonts, so when we (unusually) bought The Observer on Sunday, I noticed how different it looks to The Guardian, which we read every other day.  (We don't normally buy a Sunday paper because the Saturday Guardian lasts all weekend, but it was New Year's Day and it rained all day...)   They are sister newspapers, they have the same Berliner format, but they use a different set of fonts.

The headlines are in two versions of the Prelo font family, one with slab serifs (Prelo Slab Extra Bold, I think), and a sans serif font (Prelo Light?).

It may just be the unfamiliarity, but I don't like the slab serifs of Prelo Slab - it looks clunky to me, especially when it's used in a smallish size for the subheads in the middle of a long stretch of text. Prelo Light is easier to get used to, though a bit spindly.

The main font used in the paper is at first glance little different to Times New Roman and other serif fonts in common use, but when you see it used in headlines, it is a little quirky - the serifs are very obvious and spiky, the ascenders rise above the tops of the capitals.  It's rather elegant, I think.   The font is Mercury Text, designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

I feel an inclination to become a font nerd, but I don't think I can manage it - I can't recall the detail of a font when I'm not actually looking at it.   I might stick with Georgia, though.
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