Friday 30 November 2012

Born & Bred

Earlier this week I went to Leeds to see my dentist - I had broken a piece off a tooth.  (Flossing my teeth!!  Although he says that it was undoubtedly cracked already and the floss just dislodged it.  And that I shouldn't stop flossing.  Well, he would, wouldn't he.)  While I was in Leeds, I got a bus to Headingley, with my old person's free bus pass, and went to Baa Ram Ewe to pick up a copy of Ann Kingstone's new book, Born & Bred, that I had ordered.

Born & Bred was launched at Betty's CafĂ© in Harrogate last Saturday, during the Knitting & Stitching Show.  The designs in it were inspired by places in Yorkshire, and use yarn from Yorkshire sheep breeds.  Ann has published it herself in partnership with Baa Ram Ewe and it is full of really gorgeous designs.  The photographs are gorgeous, too.

Betty's was the appropriate place for the launch - it is a Yorkshire institution, and one of the designs is a tea-cosy named after it.  Not one I'm going to knit - I have no need for a tea-cosy as I don't drink tea.  But if I wanted a tea-cosy, this would be the one to choose.  (That's a Ripon Morris man in the background, btw.)

I had a preview of most of the designs in the book, because I see Ann regularly at Knit Night (Tuesday evenings in the George Hotel).  I decided quite a while ago which one I'm going to knit first - a pair of fingerless mitts called Baht 'At.  There is a hat to go with it, called (as no one from Yorkshire will be surprised to know) Ilkley Moor. For anyone else:  there is a famous Yorkshire song which begins "On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At".  Baht 'At means "Without a Hat" and the song describes the dreadful things that might happen to anyone who ventures onto Ilkley Moor hatless. 

Baht 'At mitts
The mitts and the hat are designed for Titus yarn, which is a wonderful mixture of Wensleydale and Blue-faced Leicester wool with alpaca.  I have had a skein of the yarn for a couple of weeks now - I explained here that Baa Ram Ewe were going to send me one.  Since it arrived, I have been waiting impatiently for the book to appear - although I really should finish at least one of the projects I am already working on before starting another.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Knitting and Stitching

I went to the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate on Thursday - a good day.  I have been once before, two years ago, and wrote about it here.  The show was, as usual, very busy - there were two knitters I know on Huddersfield station, the Leeds-Harrogate train was full of knitters and stitchers,  and by the time we got to the exhibition centre in Harrogate, we were following a crowd.  I went with a firm intention not to buy any yarn, and I didn't, although some of it was hard to resist.  (I may want more yarn, but I don't need it, as I keep telling myself.  And even though I don't need more yarn, I seem to have acquired quite a lot recently.) 

Of course, I bought lots of other things.  A while ago, a friend sent me a pattern for a traditional Japanese cloth bag, after I had admired one that she made.  (I think it is for carrying your bento box.)  I have been looking for suitable fabric to try out the pattern, and found some on a stall selling Japanese textiles.
Fabric from Euro Japan Links

I bought a few small Christmas presents around the show, and some Christmas decorations made by Nicola Flint, who was one of the designers chosen by the Embroiderer’s Guild for their Graduate showcase and the knitting and stitch shows this autumn.

I also admired the work of some of the finalists for the UK Hand Knitting Assocation's knitted textile awards.  I especially liked the work of Naomi Partington.  There was a 3-D collar/scarf/necklet that she had made that intrigued me. It seemed to be a collection of small overlapping pieces of knitting, all curling independently and joined together to form a circle round the neck. I'm not sure how she had stiffened the pieces - maybe she knitted it with a combination of wool and wire?  Beautiful, anyway.   

I also enjoyed an exhibition of embroideries by Anglia Textile Works.  There were several pieces by Sara Impey, who seems to specialise in text-based quilts and embroideries. My favourite of her pieces in the exhibition was Roadside Litter.  Her introduction says "Tattered sheets of polythene and plastic bags can remain trapped and visible in hedges, as if they were absurd fashion accessories.  The British hedge could use some fashion advice." - which starts off as a not very startling observation, and then veers off into the surreal. Her embroidered text includes the lines, "You edgy hedgerows know your special forte/ Is styling garments from unwanted junk./ Plastic bags come almost pret-a-porter,/ Ideal for looks like vintage, grunge or punk" and finishes "In Springtime this advice will go to waste/ We're expecting a return to pretty florals." 

And - a great extravagance- I bought a subscription to Selvedge.  The price was reduced for the show, and you got a free back issue of your choice and a free gift as well.  So it was a bargain really. 

Monday 19 November 2012

Looking For Mary Quant

Emu 2561 - designed by Mary Quant
Last week at Lee Mills, I was searching for Emu pattern leaflets designed by Mary Quant.  She did two collections of knitting & crochet patterns for Courtelle, in 1965 and 1966, and Emu was one of the spinners involved.  I found one of the Emu patterns a few months ago, but I know there should be about 5 more.  I looked in the Emu boxes that we have already sorted - nothing there.  So last week, I searched the four boxes of Emu patterns that we haven't yet sorted.  And I still haven't found any more.  

It was disappointing, but not altogether surprising. Even though we have upwards of 50,000 different pattern leaflets (that's my current estimate), that still means that there are a lot that we don't have.  And the leaflets in the collection have almost all been used, so that it's representative of what knitters and crocheters chose to buy.  We are most likely to have the leaflets that sold well.  Although the Mary Quant patterns were stylish and fashionable, I suspect that they didn't sell in large numbers.  They would appeal to young women who wanted to make themselves a high-fashion outfit cheaply (or who could persuade their mothers to make one for them), but that might have been quite a small constituency.  And there were 27 leaflets in each collection to choose from, which would reduce the number of potential buyers for each one still further.

Ad for Emu 2562

Even so, I did hope to find more - especially as I have seen an ad for another of the Emu patterns, which you might expect to increase sales.  (That's what advertising is for, right?)

My fruitless search for Mary Quant patterns wasn't wasted effort, though. While I was looking for them, I did some rough sorting and in the process, added to my small collection of patterns celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.  After that, I finished sorting the Emu patterns from the 1940s and 1950s (about 500 of them) - I'll write about the 1940s patterns another time.
Emu 3234 - Jubilee 77
And I also sorted some Sirdar patterns, with some Huddersfield University students who are working at Lee Mills, and another Roger Moore pattern turned up.  (I don't think the pipe suits him.)

Sirdar 1390 with Roger Moore

Sunday 11 November 2012

Talking about Elizabeth Forster

Yesterday, I went to London to give a talk at the AGM of the Knitting History Forum, on Elizabeth Forster.  The meeting was at the London College of Fashion, just off Oxford Circus.  It was a very good day, though it meant an early start to get to the College for 10.45.    I forgot to take a camera with me (how daft is that?)  so I cannot show you photos of the splendid Christmas decorations in Oxford Street, or of the wonderful pieces of knitting that had been brought to the 'show and tell' session  You'll have to make do with a couple of book jackets off the web, and the title slide for my talk.  The title was suggested by Sandy Black, and I thought it was great - there must have been lots of knitting pattern designers working at the same time as Elizabeth Forster, and we know very little about them. The designers of the patterns published in magazines or by spinners were hardly ever named.  We don't even know many of their names - they were invisible.  

There were several other talks in the afternoon - a really interesting programme.  Lise Warburg from Denmark talked about twined knitting or "knitting with both ends of the ball".  The idea is to give a thicker warmer fabric, though it is often very decorative as well, whether or not both strands are the same colour.  Lise traced the geographic spread of the technique and suggested that it might be related to the travels of the Vikings through Eastern Europe to Byzantium.

Jane Malcolm-Davies gave a talk about the Tudor Tailor project - specifically about the replicas of 16th Century knitted children's clothes that have been made, and the difficulties in writing unambiguous instructions for them.  She brought along some of the replicas:  vests, caps, mittens, socks and a swaddling jacket.  I think that I have seen the original of one of the vests (or one like it) in the Museum of London, and tried to figure out through the glass how it was made, so it was fascinating to be able to examine the replica closely.  

Mary Hawkins talked about her efforts to find the replica of William Lee's 16th century knitting frame that was made by Eric Pasold. She eventually tracked it to the Science Museum in London.  The museum was able to supply her with photos of the models (it turned out that there were two) taken some time ago (with one of the models upside down), but although they haven't lost the actual models, they don't know exactly where they are....

Sandy Black finished the day with a talk on the work of Maria Luck Szanto who was a postwar designer of couture hand-knitted clothes.   I had heard Sandy give a similar talk at the In The Loop conference in September, but actually got a lot out of hearing it again.  The clothes she showed were beautiful - often constructed from several oddly-shaped pieces, which came together in the workshop  in a feat of virtuoso tailoring.  Often the stitch patterns were very intricate too (and always beautifully executed)   - fine pleats, lace patterns graduated to fit the shape of the garment, brocade patterns combined with beading.  Maria Luck-Szanto features in Sandy's new book, Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft, which is on my Christmas list. 

Wednesday 7 November 2012

The Man with the Golden Pullover

Sirdar leaflet 1402
Did someone think that Roger Moore looked especially good in yellow, or was it just a fashionable colour for men in 1952?   I showed the yellow cardigan that he modelled for Stitchcraft here, and here he is on a Sirdar pattern too.  

I have seen this pattern before at Lee Mills, in fact, but it was a very creased and torn copy, mended with sticky tape that had gone brittle and yellow - it had not been treated with the respect and care it deserves.  So I was very pleased to see several copies in good condition when I started work on the boxes of unsorted/partly-sorted boxes of Sirdar leaflets last week. 

The pullover pattern is interesting in its own right.  The cables and the diamond pattern on the panels between the cables are based on a fisherman's jersey from Flamborough on the Yorkshire coast.  There is a photo of the original jersey on the back of the pattern.  Adapting vintage patterns has become a big thing, so it's good to see that 60 years ago the Sirdar designers were taking inspiration from traditional patterns. 

Monday 5 November 2012

Crepe Paper Crochet

I said last week that there are fewer treasures being found at Lee Mills now.  This leaflet isn't really a treasure, but it was an unexpected find - it had been mis-sorted into a box of Coats pattern leaflets.  It isn't clear from the cover, but the Dennison Manufacturing Company made crepe paper, so the leaflet gives you instructions for crocheting a hat out of paper.  From the cover design, I imagine that it dates from the late 1920s, when cloche hats were very popular.

The leaflet describes a laborious process.  First you have to cut the crepe paper into strips.  The instructions say "The paper may be cut in various widths from ½ in to 1½ in. [1 cm to 3.5 cm, approx.]  The wider papers naturally make a heavier straw and are more suitable for Winter Hats than the lighter ones."  Are they crazy?  Who wants to wear a hat made of paper in the winter?

Anyway, then you "Stretch and draw the strip through the lightly closed hand."   That seems a bit under-specified to me, but I guess that after stretching there should still be some give left in the crepe paper.

So then you are ready to start to crochet, and make the hat on the cover, which frankly is not worth the effort.  The woman is clearly not a supermodel, but I don't think the hat does her any favours either.  As well as all the folderol with crepe paper, there is a veil across the face;  you could evidently buy veiling at the time, and it is to have a strip of metallic ribbon sewn around the bottom.  And finally, "It is a great improvement to add a small ornament to the front of the hat."

Another pattern in the leaflet is for a hat with a brim, which looks slightly more attractive.

Finally, there's another helpful hint:  "Hats may be waterproofed by painting with Dennison Wax dissolved in methylated spirit."   And the leaflet goes on to give detailed instructions.  Even so, would you expect a hat made of paper to protect you from the rain?  Maybe the waterproofing was intended just to protect it from damp - you would expect crepe paper to absorb moisture and lose its shape,  without a protective coating.

Just reading the leaflet made me feel tired - such a lot of effort to make something so insubstantial and  flimsy, and not very attractive.  I wonder how many women made themselves hats following these instructions.  It sounds like genteel poverty - I think you would only do it if you couldn't afford to buy a hat, or anything but cheap materials, yet felt that you had to wear one.

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