Sunday 27 January 2013

Wool holders

In the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collections at Lee Mills, there is a variety of tools and gadgets, as well as the knitted and crocheted items, and the publications.  There are of course knitting needles and crochet hooks, but also needle gauges and many other things (including some whose use we don't know).   

I have been admiring two of the plastic woolholders.  One is a Beehive woolholder - judging by eBay, these were made in large numbers and are still quite common. 

Beehive woolholder
The beehive was the symbol of Patons & Baldwins (and originally the trademark of Baldwins, before the two companies merged).   The link is acknowledged by a message inside the base of the woolholder:  "The design of this Beehive woolholder has been approved by Patons & Baldwins, makers of Beehive wools, and is marketed with their consent."  Also inside the base are two registered design numbers, 856057 and 856077, which show that the design was registered in 1948.  (That doesn't of course mean that they were all made then.)

A beehive is a good shape for a woolholder - it feels good, too.  There is plastic strap to hang it by, and the other hole in the top is for the wool to emerge through.  The base is removable (and has a handy needle gauge in it, too).   

The other woolholder is also some sort of plastic, probably older, possibly bakelite.   It has one hole in the top and two in the bottom, so I'm not quite sure how it was intended to be used. The strap may have been replaced - it is a length of tape, with a button on either end to stop it slipping through the hole, so it looks a bit home-made.

Mottled plastic spherical woolholder

 If the strap is in the original location, the wool emerges from a hole in the base, if the base is the end that says "British Ware" and gives the N.B. monogram of the manufacturer (the same as the beehive woolholder).   It doesn't seem as successful a design as the beehive - you really have to hang it on your wrist or belt, whereas the beehive could stand on a table if you wanted.   


Looking at these woolholders inspired me to want to try one, so I have bought one on eBay.  It is probably much later than the two from Lee Mills, and is made of a softer plastic. But functionally it is very similar to the beehive - it has a plastic strap at the top, and a hole at the top for the wool to emerge.  As soon as a suitable opportunity arises, I'll try it out and report  on how well it works. 

Saturday 19 January 2013

Tuppence Coloured

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about sorting all the Robin leaflets in the Lee Mills collection.  Some of them are worth sharing, especially the earliest leaflets, which are very charming. 

They date from the late 1930s or early 1940s, I think - the earliest ones that we have are children's, and I can't date them very precisely.  The cover illustrations are black-and-white photos that at some stage in the process were hand-coloured.  This was common for pattern leaflets through to the 1950s (when colour photography took over), sometimes with rather nasty results.  But these are very attractive - just the knitted garment is coloured, as well as some of the lettering and the Robin logo, leaving the rest in black-and-white.

Robin 171

We have two patterns for little girls' dresses, called Mary and Margaret.   Both are knitted in Robin Perle, which was artificial silk (rayon), with angora trim.  (It is all just very very charming.)  The Mary dress has a quite complicated construction - it is knitted from the top down, with godets, or triangular inserts, to create fullness in the skirt.  (The dress is coloured a very pale blue, which doesn't show up well.)  The godets are in stocking stitch, outlined in eyelets from the yarn-over increases, and are separated by strips of reverse stocking stitch. The alternating stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch give the pleated effect, like a very wide rib.  In the Margaret dress, the skirt and sleeves are knitted in a lacy stitch, and the yoke is alternating stripes of art. silk and angora, with buttons down the front.  Both dresses are very short and so have a pair of matching "trunk knickers".

Robin 74 - Mary

Robin 77 - Margaret

Tuppence coloured?  The leaflets indeed cost tuppence (2d, in old money) - the price is inside, rather than on the cover, where it usually is.  But I don't suppose that there was a "penny plain" black-and-white version.

We have several copies of the Mary and Margaret leaflets and, astonishingly, all the copies are different colours.  I can't imagine how this was an economic way of producing the leaflets.  At what stage was the colouring done?  Did they produce the patterns in very small batches?  No idea.  But they are really pretty.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Not-Quite-A-Mystery Hat

For those who haven't heard of her, Woolly Wormhead is a well-known designer of knitted and crocheted hats.  In November, she ran a Mystery Hat Knit-Along;  she introduced a new hat pattern in three stages, starting with the brim.  The idea was that no-one knitting it would know what the finished hat was going to look like until the last part of the pattern was released.  I didn't hear about the Knit-Along until two parts of the pattern had already been released, when I saw the hat being knitted at Tuesday Knit Night.  It looked intriguing, and I joined in at that point.  I finished the hat a while ago, and have been wearing it in the cold weather that we are having at the moment. 

So, no more mystery - this is what my finished hat looks like: 

The construction is really clever.  You start by knitting a long stocking stitch tube to make the brim, and then join it together to make a circle.  If you've got the row tension right (which I did), you then need to pick up one stitch for the body of the hat for every row of the brim.  So you're picking up each strand of yarn in turn between two columns of stitches in the brim - that's very straightforward, and makes a very neat join. 

The body of the hat is reverse stocking stitch with little circles made of cables all over.  The cables give it a nice texture.  Then on the crown, you decrease the stitches very rapidly, so that the top of the hat is gathered in to the central point. 

And finally, you sew a button on to the brim, to hold down the tab where the ends of the brim overlap.  I found  a nice button at the Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show. 

Now that it is no longer a mystery hat, the pattern is called Encircle - you'll find it on Ravelry or here.

(By the way, the hat is not magically levitating - I put it onto a souffle dish, and then perched that on a jar.  The combination made quite a good hatstand.)  

Thursday 10 January 2013

Tunnel End

Before Christmas, I went with another of the Lee Mills volunteers to the Standedge Visitor Centre at Tunnel End near Marsden.  We wanted to look at one of the rooms there as a possibility for hosting a group of visitors who want to see some of the things we have in the  Guild collections.  Lee Mills itself isn't suitable for large groups of visitors, and Tunnel End is in a beautiful spot, only a few miles away.

Tunnel End is (surprise!) at the end of a tunnel - the Standedge canal tunnel, where the Huddersfield Narrow Canal runs under the Pennines, to emerge 3.25 miles further on at Diggle.  The tunnel was built in 1811 - although it was closed in 1944, when the canal was no longer commercially viable, it reopened in 2001, and canal boats can once more go through it. 

Tunnel entrance, centre
The Visitor Centre at Tunnel End is in a former warehouse beside the canal.  Goods could be loaded and unloaded into canal boats directly from the warehouse.  Although it is now a quiet and rural spot, it was intended to be a very busy part of the commercial transport network, before canals were superseded by the railways. (In fact, the present railway line more or less follows the line of the canal at that point, and goes through its own tunnel, parallel with the canal tunnel.)    

Standedge Visitor Centre and canal
Being at the head of the Colne valley, Tunnel End is surrounded by hills. The countryside wasn't looking at its best on a gray December day, but still beautiful, if bleak. 

From Standedge Visitor Centre, looking down the valley towards Marsden
The Visitor Centre occupies the ground floor of the warehouse (i.e. the first floor, to Americans).  The top floor, in the roof space, houses The Loft, which is a work space (and selling space) for designers and makers - workshops are also held there, as on the day we visited.

The Loft at Standedge

The middle floor is one very large room, except for the stairs and lift at one end, with large windows on three sides, which can be hired for events. 

It will be an ideal space (without the chairs) to display some of the items from the Lee Mills collections, such as the 1837 bedspread, the First World War crochet, and of course some of my favourite knitting patterns and magazines.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Sorting Robin Leaflets

At the end of November/beginning of December I missed a couple of days working at Lee Mills, for various reasons, so I brought some pattern leaflets home to sort.  I decided to work on the Robin pattern leaflets, which as far as I knew had never been sorted at all.  There were 7 boxes altogether.  Mostly, they were completely mixed leaflets that had been put into the Robin boxes as we were sorting leaflets by spinner, although it turned out that at least one of the boxes had already been partly sorted into numerical order (before my time at Lee Mills). 

Unpacking the boxes and sorting roughly

I finished sorting them all just before Christmas - they were spread out over the attic floor for quite a while.  At first, sorting 7 boxes of leaflets takes a lot more room than the original boxes did, and gradually they get tidier and eventually they go back into new boxes.  The final step is to record the numbers of all the leaflets, so that I can see how many there are and what proportion of the total we have.

Sorting in progress
Completely sorted

Now that the counting is done, I can tell you that we have just over 2000 different Robin pattern leaflets.  (Excluding the later leaflets on A4 paper, which I am ignoring for now.)  They date from the 1930s or 1940s, to about the late 1970s.  Some of the leaflets are really attractive - the earliest leaflets, in particular, are beautifully produced.  Some of them, especially from the 1970s, seem astonishingly awful, with the benefit of hindsight.  More of that later.

 And if you want to know, sorting all those took me just under 24 hours in total.  It's slow work.  

While I was sorting all these leaflets, I was looking for the Mary Quant designs from 1965 and 1966.  As with the Emu leaflets, I found just one, although I know that more were produced.  Robin leaflet 1560 is from the 1966 collection. It's described as a Fair Isle sweater, though the design is nothing like a traditional Fair Isle, the yarn is nothing like Shetland wool, and the colours are not traditional either.  But it's a very nice design. 
Robin 1560 by Mary Quant

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