Sunday 29 April 2012

Port Sunlight and Balaclavas

Last week we had a trip to the Wirral peninsula, between the Rivers Dee and Mersey, and Port Sunlight, on the Mersey. Port Sunlight is a garden village built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to house workers at the nearby Lever Brothers factory.  The factory made Sunlight soap, amongst other products, and is still operational - now part of Unilever.  The village is very open and spacious, and the houses are built in  a wide range of Arts and Crafts designs.  It's all very attractive.

The war memorial occupies a prominent position in the village. It was built to commemorate the hundreds of people from Port Sunlight and other Lever Brothers sites around the world who were killed in the First World War.   (As you can see from the photos, it was a very gray day, with frequent heavy showers. And it was cold.)

Around the plinth of the memorial there are four bronze panels with scenes of men in action. One shows a machine gun crew, with a spotter (with binoculars),  the man handling the Lewis gun (who also has a revolver rather than a rifle), and an ammunition carrier.

The panels are carefully modelled to show a lot of detail, and I noticed that the third man in the team is wearing a Balaclava under his helmet.  A Balaclava must have been recognised as something that a lot of soldiers wore in the trenches.  No wonder that so many knitters made Balaclavas again at the start of World War II.  (And then the Army decided that they didn't want them - see here.)  


In between the panels of men in action, representing those commemorated, are smaller panels showing children, representing those who lost their fathers, presumably.  One of them shows a boy wearing a (knitted) cricket sweater.  

It was interesting to see these examples, though it seems a bit frivolous to focus on the knitting shown in a war memorial.   The details of what the men and children are wearing are presumably included to suggest that these are depictions of real people in real situations.  The scenes of men in action don't really convey the realities of the war, of course - the impression is very calm, quiet and clean.  And in the scene of a wounded soldier being carried off the battlefield, he seems to be undamaged apart from a small tear in his trousers.  Even so, it's an impressive memorial to an enormous tragedy. 

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Jubilee Knits

My friend Ann Kingstone has recently released a shawl pattern designed to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It is in a special Jubilee yarn from The Natural Dye Studio - 75% British Bluefaced Leicester wool, 20% silk and 5% of something sparkly called stellina. The pattern is free with the yarn, or you can buy it via Ravelry under Ann Kingstone Designs.

As always with Ann's designs, it's rather special - probably technically challenging, but worth the effort to knit. Just the thing to wear to a Jubilee street party.

I have seen some other Jubilee knits in the last couple of weeks, while I was sorting the boxes of Wendy patterns from Lee Mills.  I found two patterns that seemed to be out of sequence - their general design and layout was the same as patterns numbered about 1550 to 1750, but these were numbered 1952 and 1977.  Eventually, when I looked properly at the patterns and not just the numbers, I realised that they were Jubilee patterns, for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.  Wall-to-wall red white and blue does not seem a very subtle way to celebrate.  I wonder how many people knitted these patterns for the occasion.

I found the numbering of these two patterns very annoying too.  Wendy re-used the numbers 1952 and 1977 when they came to those numbers in the proper sequence, so having these two patterns outside the sequence of all the other patterns is very inconvenient.  It messes up the cataloguing no end!

Saturday 14 April 2012

Knitting with Mme Defarge

I mentioned in a recent post that I am knitting a cardigan in a cotton and linen yarn in anticipation of warm weather coming back again some time soon (though there are no signs of it yet).    I have finished the back, so far.  

This is pretty good progress.  I have been spending a lot of time reading (and so a lot of time knitting) because I am reading A Tale of Two Cities for one of my book groups  (the meeting is soon).   We decided that we ought to read a Dickens novel this year, and this one is relatively short.  I don't think I have ever read Dickens before, though I have seen several adaptations of his work on TV.  I think I even saw a BBC serialisation of A Tale of Two Cities in the distant past - even so, I don't remember the story in any detail, except for the ending, of course. (It is a far, far better thing, etc.)  And Mme Defarge.    Is she the most famous knitter in English literature?   I can't think of any rivals.  But I can't figure out what she is knitting - when she first appears, she is somehow encoding into her knitting details of all the aristos and government spies that are to be eliminated when the Revolution comes.   How does she do that?  Is it some kind of Morse code, with knit and purl stitches?   Why doesn't anyone see that this is a very odd piece of knitting?  In one scene, she is working the name and description of a spy into her knitting while he is talking to her, and he is not at all suspicious. 

 Anyway:  my knitting. This is a second attempt at a making summer cardigan with some slubby cotton and linen yarn that I bought in a sale a couple of years ago.  (I still have a lot left over.)  The first attempt didn't really work, partly because the stitch pattern I used turned out to have a bias, so that pieces that should be square aren't. (My fault entirely, for choosing an unsuitable stitch pattern.)   Also the sleeves are too baggy, which comes from the pattern I was basing the general shape on.  The original cardigan was modelled by a tiny waif, and it was falling off her in all directions, so that the fact that the sleeves would be very wide on a person of normal size was hidden in the general all-over bagginess.  This time I am basing the sleeve measurements on something that I know fits me.  So I hope it will turn out much better this time.        

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Quetzals and Llamas

I have been sorting a lot of Wendy pattern leaflets from Lee Mills recently - several boxes full, of all dates from about 1950 to about 1980.  (We have many more recent leaflets as well, but I had had enough by then.)   Following my visit to see Elizabeth Forster's archive, I was hoping to find patterns designed by her.  Two Wendy patterns are illustrated in her book, The Wandering Tattler, and we found an advert for another in one of her scrapbooks.   And I did find all three. 

It was nice to see the first two in colour.  The full-colour version of the jacket with a pattern of quetzals is quite startling, in fact.   It's supposed to be a resplendent quetzal, the national emblem of Guatemala, which is mostly green with a red front says Google, so the colours are not strictly accurate, but at least they are bright enough.    The pattern of the other, with llamas, was inspired by a trip to Peru. These both date from the mid-1970s, I guess. (The book was first published in 1976.)    

The quetzal pattern leaflet is another that has a stamp from Mrs Patrick's wool shop at Broomhill in Sheffield, that I wrote about earlier.  While I was sorting all the Wendy leaflets, I found a lot with Mrs Patrick's stamp, all of the same vintage, all in pristine condition.  They must have come directly from the shop somehow, and were never sold.  We have very few records of how any of the pattern leaflets came into the collection, unfortunately.     

The third Elizabeth Forster design is a late 1960s dress and coat, in a sort of Aran style.  This pattern must have been quite popular, to judge from the fact that there are several copies in the Lee Mills collection.  

I must say I have never understood the point of short, sleeveless, woolly dresses - (quite apart from the sagging potential of knitted skirts and dresses).   If it's warm enough to wear a thick wool dress, your arms and legs freeze, surely?        

Monday 9 April 2012

A Designer's Archive

About a year ago, I wrote here about Elizabeth Forster,  a designer who seemed to be almost completely unknown, but by her own account in her book, The Wandering Tattler, had designed knitting patterns for magazines and spinners over a long period.  I thought then that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find out much more about her work, but fortunately I was wrong.  Although she died some years ago, she had kept a lot of paper work - files of correspondence, invoices and typed pattern instructions, as well scrapbooks of her published designs.  And all this material still exists, along with many of the made-up samples.  It has all been in her house, as she left it, and her friends who inherited it all are now trying to sort it all out and match the garments with the patterns - and contacted me when they saw what I had written in this blog.  

At the end of March I went to visit them and see the collection - I was very excited at the prospect, and it was absolutely fascinating. There are 60 dresses alone, as well as suits and coats, and probably more than a hundred jumpers and cardigans - and these represent only a fraction of her designs. 

She was designing knitting and crochet patterns  from 1947 into the 1980s, so there is a huge range of styles and fashions in her work.  For some of the garments, the best that you could say is that they are of their time - such as the knitted knickerbocker suit.   But none of them are boring - they all have some interesting detail.  Many of the designs, like the two jumpers I photographed, have two-colour geometric patterns that are evidently based on things she saw on her travels, as she described in her book.   

Two favourites from Elizabeth Forster's scrapbooks:  one is from the Daily Mirror in 1960, with Adam Faith wearing a jumper that she had designed.  (For younger readers, Adam Faith was a pop star, back then.)  The caption reads "Knit this sweater for yourself or your own special Adam."

The other appeared in Woman's Own in 1967, and was modelled by Joanna Lumley.  The original jumper still exists in the collection. It was apparently made in one piece, with the ribs that are vertical on the back and front becoming horizontal in on the sleeves - not all of the designs are 'ethnic'.

Elizabeth Forster became a full-time freelance designer in 1956, in her late 40s.  Thereafter she spent 9 months of the year designing, to supplement her BBC pension and fund three months travelling and bird-watching every winter.  She always travelled independently and rarely booked any accommodation before she left home.  She especially loved the Himalayas, and trekked to Everest Base Camp when she was in her 70s - altogether she must have been a remarkable woman.  She died in 1995 at the age of 87.  

She was a prolific designer, and employed a small team of knitters to put her ideas into practice.  Her designs appeared in many magazines and newspapers including Woman's Weekly, Woman and Woman's Own, as well as designing for spinners, especially Wendy Wools.  It is sad that her work, and that of other designers, was unacknowledged at the time and so is now almost unknown.  During my visit, I could only skim through the files of correspondence, but that was enough to find out quite a lot about the knitting business of those days and the relationships between designers, spinners and magazines.  There is a lot more to be discovered from Elizabeth Forster's archive, I'm sure.  Her friends hope to find a permanent home for it, accessible to anyone interested in the history of knitting and crochet.

Friday 6 April 2012

Spring, Summer, Winter

For several days last week it was warm enough to go out without a coat, or even a jumper.  In March!  Unheard of!      And then this week it snowed. 

But I am well-prepared for cold weather, because I have just finished the jumper in Twilleys Spin Knitting that I wrote about earlier.  

It is very light; although I made it quite long, it only took 360g of the 550g pack.  I washed it as soon as it was finished to get the oil out.  The washing water turned very murky, and now the wool smells much nicer.  And it is warm and cosy to wear.   For a while it looked as though I would not be able to wear it before the autumn, but it is just what I need, now that the weather has switched back to cold.  I hope that soon we shall have warmer weather again and I'll have to put it away with the rest of my winter woollies.  It was very easy to get used to the summer temperatures that we had last week.  I have started to knit a cotton/linen cardigan in anticipation.
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