Monday 31 December 2012

Alpaca and Other Christmas Gifts

Auld Mill Alpaca yarn

I was given some very nice presents for Christmas this year - several books, and some alpaca yarn, amongst other good things.  The yarn is from a farm in Scotland, near Elgin in Morayshire - two 100g. balls of it.  Each ball-band names the alpaca the yarn came from: Jasmine is a sort of cinnamon colour, and Eartha is a slightly darker brown.  (The Auld Mill Alpacas web site describes Jasmine as "mid fawn" and Eartha as "light brown", which seem very boring colour names, but evidently they have specific meanings to alpaca farmers.)   The yarn is so, so soft - it needs to be worn next to the skin, so I'll knit something like a scarf with it.  I'd also like to show off the two different colours - it needs some thought. 

Christmas books (and DVDs)

One of the books is Sandy Black's Knitting: Fashion, Industry and Craft.  I have coveted it since I saw it at the In the Loop conference in September.   I was also given A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum, based on the series of radio talks he did in 2010, and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  That is a seriously hefty book - I'll need a big, straightforward knitting project to do while I'm reading it.  There are a few more on my Christmas pile, too, not to mention the books I'm reading for my two book groups - I'm looking forward to a lot of reading and a lot of knitting.

Happy New Year.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Mazy Mitts

Now that Christmas Day is past, I can write about a pair of fingerless gloves/mitts that I made for my daughter as a Christmas gift.  I have made her fingerless mitts before, with a single opening for the fingers, even though she asked me for fingerless gloves - I said that knitting four little stumps for the fingers would be far too fiddly.

But then I came across a (free) pattern in Issue 41 (Deep Fall 2012) of Knitty    Phalangees by Jodie Gordon Lucas  allows you to have separate finger openings in fingerless mitts without breaking the yarn.  A brilliant idea, if you ask me.

This is what the finger openings look like.  Essentially, you knit a round that creates the finger openings in a figure of eight fashion, and so joins the front and back of the hand together between the fingers, and then you cast off in a similar way.   (Although I didn't do it in quite the way that the pattern specified.  I also made the finger openings different sizes, as you can probably see from the photo - the second finger opening is a bit bigger than the others and the little finger slightly smaller - in the pattern they are all the same size.)

I did find it very tricky to knit the joining rounds and finish off, I must admit.  It was maybe partly because I was using double pointed needles - I prefer them for knitting small things like mitts, and I didn't have any circular needles of the right size.  The pattern recommends one or two circular needles- that might have been easier though I'm not sure that it would.  At one point I was using a small forest of DPNs (14 of them) to go round the figure of eight curve....

So it was awkward - but not as much work as knitting the fingers separately.  I did the thumb in the conventional way - the method specified in the pattern seemed a bit obscure and required breaking the yarn anyway, so I just did the usual thing. 

The two-colour maze pattern is from Phalangees too, though you could use the technique with any kind of stitch pattern on the palm part of the mitts.  The maze pattern is very striking, though, and I wanted to see how it's done.  It's simple to knit - it looks as though you knit with both colours at the same time, taking the colour not in use across the back of the fabric, but in fact each round is worked with only one colour, using a slip-stitch technique to skip over the stitches that should be in the other colour.

I am really proud of the finished result - I think they look very good and will be very warm.   And they fit, I am glad to say.

Monday 24 December 2012

Another Year in Books

Last year I made Christmas cards for one of my book groups with a photo of some of the books we had read.   It made a nice card, and several members of the group told me that they had kept theirs as a record.  The card created an instant tradition, and this Christmas I made a similar one, showing all the books we have read in 2012.

This year's books were:
  • Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
  • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  • David Lodge, A Man of Parts
  • Raymond Carver, Beginners
  • Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Angel's Game
  • Beth Gutcheon, Still Missing
  • Marina Lewycka, Various Pets Alive & Dead
Of the nine books, my top choice would be Still Missing. I can't say that it's an enjoyable read, because it deals with a parent's worst nightmare, a missing child. But it was gripping and very convincing in portraying how the parents and the people around them got through the aftermath of the disappearance as best they could.  The edition that we read is a re-issue by Persephone, and so was beautifully produced, a pleasure to hold. 

Happy reading in 2013. 

Friday 21 December 2012

My Color Affection

I am knitting a shawl to a pattern called Color Affection (spelt that way, i.e. American fashion), by the Finnish designer Veera Välimäki.  It's a very popular pattern, with nearly 7000 projects in Ravelry.  I chose it because it's basically a very simple garter stitch pattern, but with some technically interesting aspects involving short rows (though I haven't got to those yet),  and you get to pick three colours of yarn that you would like to put together.  And because it's so cold just now, I like the idea of an extra light warm layer to wrap around me.

I'm knitting it in pure alpaca (Artesano Alpaca 4-ply, beautifully soft).  The colours are gray (don't know what that's called) with Poinsettia (a sort of soft red-pink-orange) and Demerara (a light toffee brown).  The last two colours have been discontinued, which is a pity, but I managed to find enough left by searching on-line.

I am almost at the point where the third colour (Demerara) is introduced.  That will be exciting, because I get to see what the three colours look like together in stripes, and the short rows start at that point so the overall shape gets more interesting.

I'm sure that I shall like the finished shawl, but in spite of being entirely garter stitch it's not actually fulfilling its intended role of being a straightforward piece of knitting that I can do while reading or watching TV.   It has to be knitted on a circular needle, because the rows get very long (they start off with only 3 stitches, but by now I've got more than 260 and eventually there will be 387).  On a circular needle, I am by now much faster knitting Continental style than English style, and knitting English style seems impossibly clumsy. But I can't knit Continental style without looking at what I'm doing.  (It's a bit like giving up sugar in coffee.  I remember that there comes a point where coffee tastes bad both with sugar and without.)   I'm choosing to knit fast and not look at anything else at the same time, i.e. Continental style.  I do need some TV knitting, though - I have several episodes of The Killing III saved up to watch, but I don't want to watch them without doing some knitting at the same time.  It will have to be something like plain stocking stitch on two needles, so that I can read the subtitles while knitting.

Friday 14 December 2012

1940s Patterns from Emu

Emu Knitpat no. 5
I mentioned a few weeks ago here that I had been sorting some Emu pattern leaflets at Lee Mills, while looking for patterns designed by Mary Quant.  In the process, I sorted all the earliest Emu leaflets, that date from the 1940s.  (Not that I expected to find a Mary Quant design, but they have to be sorted some time.)

I don't know what the history of Emu yarns is, but the leaflets we have appear to be the earliest that they issued (we have leaflet No.2, though not No. 1).  It seems an odd time to launch a new range of patterns - there were paper shortages then, as well as clothes rationing, and so the leaflets are only half the size of the later Emu leaflets (about 13.5 cm x 21 cm., or 5.25 x 8.25 inches).

Many of the designs are very attractive.  No.5 (above) is my favourite - 1940s jumpers and cardigans often have exaggerated square shoulders, but this one has a more or less natural shoulder line.  Like several of the leaflets, it has an editorial piece from Janet Minton - the name was given as the source of customer advice on Emu patterns until at least the 1960s.  On pattern no. 5, she says 'This Jumper-Cardigan is an exclusive Anthony Walden design.  Fashion points to note are the effective contrast of classic square neckline, emphasized by a moss-stitch band, with the delicate flower-stitch pattern and clever crochet buttons.  Knit it in "Emu" Botany Fingering and it will emerge perfect after every washing.'  It was very unusual at that time to name the designer of a pattern - several of the other Emu patterns from the 1940s were also designed by Anthony Walden, but I can't find out anything about him (i.e. Google doesn't know).

Emu Knitpat No. 27
Another of his designs is the Lady's Jerkin in leaflet 27.  Of this one, Janet Minton says 'Ideal to wear over a blouse with slacks or skirt, this jerkin does jacket service for sportswear. It is an Anthony Walden design which means that it fits like a tailor-made and has a touch of distinction allied to simplicity.  Patterned panels in an unusual cable stitch on a purl background are used effectively down the front and sides.  The shaping is worked at the inside edge of the panels instead of at the side, this keeps the patterned panel straight and unbroken yet ensures a streamline fit.'  It is made in glove cord, which is presumably cotton - the message 'Made from 4 ozs. per coupon yarn' refers to clothes rationing and means, I think, that you got more of this yarn for your coupons than you would if you chose wool.

Emu Knitpat no. 59
Some of the leaflets give instructions for knitting rugs - evidently there was a time (maybe after the war) when rug wool was no longer rationed, but ordinary knitting wool still was - clothes rationing finally ended in 1949.   Leaflet 59, for instance, gives patterns for slippers knitted with rug wool, and shows the whole family throwing off their coats in joy at the thought of getting home and putting their slippers on.

We have about 75 of these Knitpat leaflets in the collection at Lee Mills.  They reflect the necessities of rationing - making clothes out of small quantities of yarn, knitting warm vests, gloves and socks because fuel was also in short supply.  A reminder of a time when knitting wasn't a hobby - women had to knit, to make the clothing coupons go further, and they did their best to be fashionable too.

Monday 10 December 2012

Scrumptious gloves

I mentioned quite a while ago that I was knitting a pair of gloves.  It has taken me a long time to finish them - not only the knitting, but also weaving in the ends, of which there are a lot in a pair of gloves, and that's a job I really don't enjoy.  But they are done.  They were made for a friend and I posted them to her this week, so now I can show a photo of them.

The yarn is from Fyberspates, a 45% silk, 55% merino mix called Scrumptious (which it is).  It has a beautiful sheen, and the silk makes it very strong, so I hope that they will wear well.  The colour is Water - a lovely grey-blue.

This was the first pair of gloves I had knitted, so I consulted my friend Angharad who knows a lot about knitting gloves (and has a blog on the subject).  For the basic pattern, she lent me Ann Budd's  book The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns, which has a chapter on gloves.  The stitch pattern on the hands is based on a brocade pattern in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns, which she says was used on a knitted silk vest worn by Charles I (on the day of his execution in 1649, but let's not think about that).    I'm very pleased with them - they have turned out well.

Sunday 9 December 2012

War Crochet

On Friday at Lee Mills, the hardiest of the volunteers were looking through boxes of assorted crochet downstairs in the cold.  (The rest of us were sorting pattern leaflets upstairs in the warm office.)    In one of the boxes, they found some wonderful filet crochet items from World War I.  One is a small piece with little strings of beads (alternately blue and clear glass) around the edge to weight it down - a milk jug or sugar bowl cover, to keep off the dust or flies.   Such covers are usually circular, but this one is rectangular, presumably because that shape fits the "Success to the Allies" slogan better.

The other item is a small table cloth (about 33 in./85 cm. square), in plain white cotton with an edging of filet crochet.

Along each side is the slogan "Welcome home" with some sort of naval ship on either side, and in each corner there are crossed British and French flags and an anchor.

To go with these, the week before I had found a bound collection of World War I women's magazines at Lee Mills.  They are in very poor condition, but mostly readable, and they are full of crochet patterns, including a few "war" designs.

Waterplane design, Woman's Own, January 15 1916 

"A Patriotic Tea Cosy", Woman's Own, March 11 1916

The "Welcome Home" cloth is touching, because presumably it was made in anticipation of a sailor coming home on leave, or at the end of the war, by someone in his family.  But the "Success to the Allies" piece doesn't seem very helpful to the war effort, although at least it does acknowledge that there is a war on. The magazines do have quite a few patterns for garments for the armed forces, mainly knitting patterns, but there are probably more patterns for decorative bits of crochet (doyleys, fancy edgings, and so on). Given our current view of the horrors of the First World War, it seems callously frivolous to spend hours on fine crochet work rather than something more useful, but maybe it seemed different at the time.

Monday 3 December 2012

Huddersfield Architecture

The Christmas decorations in the Kingsgate shopping centre in Huddersfield this year feature a series of panels hanging from the roof, showing some of the local buildings that are important architecturally.  It was good to see architecture being celebrated, though I can't help feeling that the panels look a bit out of place surrounded by greenery, red ribbons, etc.

It was good to see Neaversons featured - a lovely Art Deco china shop, which is now a "tea house and restaurant".   


Two of the University buildings are shown - the Ramsden Building and the Creative Arts Building. The Ramsden Building is the original building which developed eventually into the University from the Technical School and Mechanics’ Institution, while the Creative Arts Building is one of the new buildings on the campus.

Ramsden Building
Creative Arts Building
The George Hotel is famous as the home of Rugby League.  It is also the home of Tuesday Knit Night (though not quite so famous in that role).
The George Hotel
The other buildings shown on the panels include the railway station, the parish church and the town hall, all in the town centre. The Victoria Tower on Castle Hill is 2 or 3 miles away, but it's a local landmark and can be seen from most places in the town. 

Westgate House

The local building material is sandstone - very good quality sandstone is still quarried near Huddersfield.  So when Westgate House was built in the 1920s, it was probably the only building in town not built of stone.  It's mostly glass on, I think, a steel frame - it still looks surprising.  

And one of our favourite buildings is there - Lindley Clock Tower, designed by Edgar Wood in 1902.    

Lindley Clock Tower

Sunday 2 December 2012

Bedspread, 1837

Because I'm dealing with the publications collection at Lee Mills, I don't usually see much of the collection of knitted and crocheted items that is gradually being recorded.  But occasionally, the volunteers working on the inventory let me know that there is something I ought to see.   The week before last, they called me over to see a bedspread.  It is knitted in white cotton, in diagonal strips in a variety of stitches,  and is in very good condition.  And the maker included a panel with her name and the date:  Hannah Smith - 1837.

It is about 7 feet by 9 feet, and the yarn seems to be about 4-ply/fingering thickness, so must have taken a lot of work.    It is one of the oldest items in the collection (as well as one of the biggest).   Finding it was thrilling - it makes the hard work at Lee Mills worthwhile when things like this turn up.   There are a few more photos of it on the Guild's web site here, though they don't really convey any idea of its size, or how stunning it is to see it in reality. 

No-one working at Lee Mills currently had seen the bedspread before, or was aware of its existence. Although there was a brief record of it, in the old files at Lee Mills, things were lost following the flood in December 2010 and we don't know whether any item has survived until it actually appears as the contents of the boxes are recorded.  So finding something like this feels like excavating buried treasure.      
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