Wednesday 31 July 2013

Stranded Knits

For the past months at Tuesday Knit Night, my friend Ann Kingstone has been working on her new book, Stranded Knits.  So I have seen several of the samples being made, by Ann and her sister Marie, and there have been discussions about names, colours, page layout and so on.  And now it's finished, printed, about to hit the shops.   It will be available through Rowan stockists, and can be pre-ordered through Baa Ram Ewe, who expect delivery mid-August.  But I have got a copy already - Ann had a few copies for herself, and gave one of them to me.  Lucky me!

It is a really delectable book, full of gorgeous designs in wonderful rich colours. It even feels nice. There's whole range of designs, from small pieces that you can practise the techniques on (mug warmer, iPad cover, headband), and a couple of designs for small children that would be very tempting if you had a small child handy.     And then there are the designs for women - several that I feel I want to start knitting immediately.

Field Study, from Stranded Knits

One of my favourites  is Field Study, which uses different patterns in two colours to give a very rich effect.  It's quite fitted and looks as though it would be flattering to wear.  As with several of the designs in the book, the yarn is Rowan's Felted Tweed - I have knitted a couple of things in that very successfully.

Hedgerow, from Stranded Knits

Another favourite is Hedgerow, where the richness of the colours is just stunning. Felted Tweed, again, in 7 colours (though I think it looks like more). 

These two are everyone else's favourites, too.  (An independent spirit, that's me.)  For people who aren't in Ravelry:  you can add a pattern that you especially like to your favourites, and when you are browsing patterns, you can see how many people have already marked it as a favourite.  Right now, Field Study  has over 900 favourites, and Hedgerow nearly 700.  It's astonishing - you can't even buy the book yet!       

I have knitted Fair Isle designs, a long time ago, but I think if I tackled these I should try to improve my technique - hold one yarn in each hand, for instance, and use steeks. (Eek!)  There is a very clear technical section in the book, which I think would give any reasonably experienced knitter all the help that they would need.  (Although of course, I also have Ann on hand on Tuesday evenings if I get stuck.) 

The photographs were taken by Verity Britton of Baa Ram Ewe in Leeds, who also did the photography for Ann's previous book, Born & Bred, and they are excellent.  The designs look gorgeous, and at the same time the details are very clear.  They were shot on location in Whitby on the Yorkshire coast - several of them have the grey North Sea in the background.   The man's hooded zip jacket was photographed on the replica of Captain Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour, in Whitby harbour, and is named after it.
Endeavour, from Stranded Knits
The names of several of the other designs are linked to Whitby.   Another favourite of mine (I'm allowed more than two, right?)  is Sylvia, named for the novel Sylvia's Lovers, by Elizabeth Gaskell, set in Monkshaven, a fictionalised version of Whitby.  

Sylvia, from Stranded Knits

And I had a hand in the naming of Pleiades, a starry hat, with matching fingerless mitts.

Pleiades, from Stranded Knits

There are several other delectable designs in the book, but you'll find them all in Ravelry.  (If you're a knitter and aren't in Ravelry, why not join it? It's free.)  One more I'd like to mention is Snowstar, which has the body in Pure Wool DK in a starry pattern on a dark background, and the sleeves and collar in Rowan's new Angora Haze yarn.   I have a special fondness for that one, because Ann gave me a piece of spare Angora Haze from it - I wrote about it here

Snowstar, from Stranded Knits
I have nearly finished Wetwang, from Born & Bred, and a couple of other projects that have been in progress for quite a while.  The next project will have to be one of these.  But which one to choose first?  

Monday 29 July 2013

Roger Moore, "teen-age youth"

For the KCG Convention in Derby, I compiled a quiz based on knitting and crochet patterns: I had collected patterns with famous models, and the task was to name the celebrity.  Most of them were actors or well-known in some other field, rather than professional models, but I included a few models such as Twiggy.  Although it turned out that no-one but me recognised Marisa Berenson and Pattie Boyd.    

While collecting celebrity patterns, I found another two early photos of Roger Moore as a knitwear model.  (I "found" them after a search led me to this piece from the Hello! magazine web site.)  These are from Practical Home Knitting, published by Odhams Press in 1949, and  pre-date by a few years the ones I have shown previously (here and here).  

The teen-age youth will appreciate this polo-neck sweater for week-end wear.  The polo collar is knitted on four needles to ensure a well-fitting neckline in spite of youth's inevitable rough handling when dressing!
The first item he is modelling is a "useful polo-neck sweater".   The caption refers to him as a teen-age youth, although he was actually 21 or 22 at the time.  In the other illustration, he is wearing a  Fair Isle scarf and gloves, "for spectator sports wear".  

No matter how conservative they may become later, young men under twenty usually favour scarves and gloves of bold design. 
I think that in the polo neck sweater, he does look like a James Bond in the making.  Maybe not in the  Fair Isle scarf and gloves. 

Saturday 27 July 2013

Talking about Arans, Again

At the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention in Derby,  I gave a repeat of the talk I gave to the Huddersfield local group, as described here, but with added PowerPoint. The theme was how Aran sweaters first became known to hand knitters in the U.K., and became very popular  from the 1960s on.

I took three sweaters from the Guild collection as props for the talk, as well as a couple of things of my own. I've written about my own vintage Arans before:  one is the Susan Duckworth sweater that I knitted in 1974 and still wear, and the other is  the Aran bobble hat that my mother knitted for my sister in the late 1960s. 

The first Aran sweater that I took from the collection is a replica of one that was bought in Dublin in 1936 by Heinz Kiewe, and illustrated in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns, published in 1943.  

Replica of the 1936 Aran sweater in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns

I don't know of any other Aran sweater that was written about in this country before 1943, so the original would be a historic garment, if it still existed.  But it seems that it doesn't.   Mary Thomas gave instructions for the stitch patterns in her book, but no details of the overall construction.  In 1987, Richard Rutt devised a complete knitting pattern from the printed photograph in the book, and it was published in the Guild's magazine, Slipknot.  We have two sweaters knitted from his instructions in the Guild collection, and it was one of those that I took to Derby. 

The second sweater is one of the gems of the collection.  It is beautifully knitted, in a fine yarn - it appears to be 3-ply (light fingering).  

A 1950s Aran sweater in fine yarn

 I think that it dates from the 1950s - the neck is very close fitting, with buttons at one side, and that is typical of the 1950s.  The stitch patterns are not unusual, but all the details have been so carefully worked out - for instance, the welts and neckband have little cables in them, which merge neatly with the cables in the body and sleeves.  

Detail - welt and body stitch patterns
And my favourite detail is that the central horseshoe cable in each sleeve is continued as a narrow shoulder strap and then merges into one of the cables in the neckband.   It is all just perfect - in design and in execution.  It's wonderful.

Detail - neckband
The third sweater I took from the collection is not, strictly speaking, an Aran. It is the Wheatsheaf sweater, knitted from a free pattern in the Sunday Times Magazine in 1984.  It looks like an Aran at first glance, partly because it is knitted in the thick cream wool we associate with Arans, but actually it is quite different.  

Wheatsheaf Sweater

Although the Wheatsheaf sweater has cables and bobbles, the central panel is nothing like a typical Aran sweater - in fact, much of it is not even knitted, but embroidered.  The ears of wheat, for instance, are in blanket stitch - and in the Guild's example have been beautifully done to give a very 3-dimensional effect.  

Like the Susan Duckworth Aran, the Wheatsheaf sweater demonstrates that by the 1970s,  Arans had become so well-known and mainstream that just a few basic elements (thick wool in natural cream, cables, maybe bobbles)  would indicate "Aran", and designers could then deviate from the typical Aran sweater and produce something completely novel. 

And having done all the research for my talks, and closely examined the Aran sweaters I took to Derby, I'm beginning to feel that I want to knit another.   I've bought myself  Alice Starmore's  Aran Knitting (purely for research purposes)  and it is full of enticing patterns......  

Monday 22 July 2013

At the KCG Convention

As I said in my last post, I went to Derby for the Knitting & Crochet Guild's biennial convention (12th to 14th July). It was a very busy weekend, lots going on.  There were two invited talks:  the first was by Chris Blanchett, who has a very large collection of decorative tiles (from mediaeval to modern) and presented a selection that he thought could be the inspiration for knitting and crochet designs.   In the second talk, Martin Polley, a sports historian, talked about connections between knitting and the Olympics.  His topics ranged from the Wenlock Olympian Games, a precursor of the modern Olympics, where some of the early Games included knitting events, to the Woolsack project at the 2012 Olympics, which aimed to provide every athlete that wanted one with a  hand-knitted, individually-designed cushion to take home - the Woolsack project almost came to grief through LOCOG restrictions on the distribution of the cushions, but by a variety of creative stratagems won through in the end.    

The main business of the weekend was the Guild AGM on Saturday morning.  On Saturday afternoon there were three parallel workshops.  A lot of talking and laughing went on, as well as learning and creating.  Most of us finished what we were making after the end of the workshop, but the workshop on crochet with wire produced some very pretty brooches there and then.  

Output of the "Wired and Wonderful" workshop
Then there was a show-and-tell session for people who had brought along something they had made to tell the rest of us about it.  We saw some really wonderful pieces of work - unfortunately, most of my photos didn't turn out well, and then the camera battery ran out.  Here are a few. 

Marjory Needham's crocheted Christmas decorations

Patricia Davy's knitted teddy bears
Mary Graham brought along some of her latest pieces that combine wire with nylon fishing line, that can be dyed and makes the whole piece more flexible.   They are all quite small - she often wears one as a brooch - and look slightly organic, like skeletonised seed pods or flower buds or fungi.
One of Mary Graham's knitted wire pieces
There were  some much larger projects on show too - no photos, I'm afraid.  The largest was a beautiful crocheted blanket (see gilliano's projects on Ravelry).  Rita Taylor brought along the sample knit for the Marlene sweater from her book  Knit Vintage. Sadly, the sample had to fit an extremely skinny model, so Rita can't wear it herself.  There was a wonderful fitted jacket inspired by 16th century costume - lots more, too many to list.  

And on the Sunday, I gave two talks.  One was on the pattern leaflets collection (the count now stands at over 27,500), with a brief chronological survey and some of my favourites.   (A very brief survey, considering that I could only show about 30 of the 27,500.) The other talk was about Aran sweaters, and I'll write about that separately.  Because right now I'm tired.   

There were several other events during the weekend.  And, of course, lots of chatting.  In short, a good time was had by all.  

PS I have just found a wonderful photo of the jacket inspired by 16th century costume - Tricia Basham, whose work it was,  won the Fashion and textiles prize in the V&A's  Inspired by...    competition, and so you'll find it on the website here.  Scroll down to the Fashion and Textiles section and click on the small photo of part of the jacket and you'll see a larger photo of the whole jacket.  It's a wonderful piece of work.    

Monday 15 July 2013

A Walk Around Derby

I spent the weekend in Derby, at the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention.  It was a busy weekend, and I didn't have time to set foot outside the hotel at all during the Convention, but before it started on Friday, I had a walk around Derby.  I had never been there before - it's not exactly a tourist hotspot but it has some interesting bits.

We were staying in what used to be the Midland Hotel, built in 1841, which is claimed to be the first railway hotel in the country.  Queen Victoria allegedly stayed there in 1849. Very handy for arriving by train (which I did).  It's now a Hallmark Inn, and they seem to have tried to cover up the previous name on the facade - you can see what it previously looked like here.  It's a comfortable hotel, but there's very little sign of its history inside the building - I can't help feeling that the present owners don't value its heritage.

Outside, there's a war memorial to the employees of the Midland Railway who were killed in the First World War - I took a photo for John.  (Pity about the car inconsiderately stopped on a double yellow line.)

Midland Railway War Memorial, Derby

They seem very proud of Florence Nightingale in Derby - I saw two statues of her, and there's a memorial tablet in the Cathedral.  Her family were associated with Matlock (in Derbyshire), and she was of course born in Florence, so the connection seems a little bit tenuous.

Florence Nightingale, Derby

The Nightingale Home, Derby

On my walk, I got as far as the Cathedral, where there is a very grand monument to Bess of Hardwick, who is buried in the crypt.  She designed it and had it built before she died (in 1608), so that she could be sure that it was sufficiently magnificent and said nice things about her.  She had four husbands and outlived them all.  Each left her richer than before, until she ended up extremely rich.  She built Hardwick Hall, "more glass than wall", and she lived to be 87.  A splendid woman.

Bess of Hardwick's Monument

And on the way back to the hotel, I found the Market Hall, a huge Victorian construction.

Derby Market Hall

... which has a pikelet stall just inside the entrance.  We had pikelets when I was a child, in Sheffield, although they were what everyone else calls crumpets.  In Derby Market Hall, they spell the word "pyclet", but pikelet is the spelling I am used to, and shows how it's pronounced.  The Derby Pyclet Company make their pikelets on the premises, on hot plates.  They look like an American pancake, but they aren't sweet and the raising agent is yeast, or like a thin crumpet.   I was very tempted, but I had already had lunch, so I settled for a gooseberry fool, which they were also selling as a special seasonal treat. I sat at the stall to eat it, while Mark and Martin cooked their pikelets and told me about the difficulties of controlling the yeast mixture on a hot day (which Friday was).

The Derby Pyclet Company stall

Pikelets cooking
Pikelets to take home
The pikelets were selling like the proverbial hot cakes.  I intended to go back on the following day to buy some to bring home, but I was too busy at the Convention and didn't have time.  Another day. 

A couple of other quirky things I saw in Derby:  there was a relief panel of a traffic policeman on the Magistrates' Offices building.  The building is surrounded by hoardings and looks derelict, so I hope the panel survives.  Judging by the car with the spare wheel on the running board, I guess it dates from the 1930s.

Magistrates Offices, Derby
And I found another panel featuring a policeman, high on the facade of a 1930s cinema (now the COSMO restaurant).  

Facade of former Gaumont Cinema, Derby

The policeman is on the left, with a truncheon, and I think a flashlight that he has dropped. The other characters appear to be clowns - the one on the right is waving a string of sausages and appears to have a goose hanging out of his pocket. Or maybe it's something to do with Punch and Judy (which involves both a policeman and a string of sausages). 

And then I went back to the hotel, and didn't go outside again until Sunday afternoon, when I left to catch the train home.  I'll write about the Convention next time.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Art. Silk and Angora

A few weeks ago at Lee Mills, we were sorting out some baby garments from the 1950s (or before) to send to the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention (in Derby this weekend).   One of the items was a sweet little dress, in yellow rayon (then called artificial silk, or art. silk) with a yoke and edgings in white angora.

When I saw it, I remembered that we have some 1930s Robin patterns for similar dresses  - I showed two of them here.   I got the box out to show the other volunteers, and to compare the pattern with the dress. And there, at the top of the box, was the oldest Robin pattern that we have, creased and dog-eared, but the identical pattern used for the dress.  We have no provenance for many of the items in the Guild collection, so it is very exciting to match up such an old garment with its pattern.  I scanned the leaflet and cleaned it up quite a bit - here it is: 

Robin pattern no. 12  "Pauline"
Take my word for it - they are the same.  The  leaflet photo doesn't show off the pattern very well - you can't see that the lace pattern (a version of feather and fan) creates a wavy edge to the dress, which is highlighted by the angora trim.   The leaflet specifies  Robin products, of course: "Robin Perle" Art. Silk,  "Robinsdown" Angora Wool, even "Robinoid"  knitting pins.    

We don't have the matching knickers, if they were ever made. There is in any case something strange about the measurements: the dress is 14 inches long (that's the only measurement given for it) and the side seam in the knickers is 8 inches long.  Something wrong there, surely?  I can only assume that the dress was intended to be very short and the knickers were meant to show below it.
Over the decades, the angora trim on the dress has got very flattened, and is no longer fluffy as it should be.  So I decided to knit a swatch to go with the dress, to give an idea of what it would have been like originally.   We had some odd balls of vintage rayon at Lee Mills, though I doubt if it was Robin Perle, and it may not have been the intended thickness.  To go with it, I begged a small ball of Angora Haze (a new Rowan yarn) from Ann Kingstone who had knitted a sample garment using it for her forthcoming book, Stranded Knits


The rayon has a lovely sheen, and I do like the contrast in textures with the angora.   But rayon is a pig to knit with.  It is very slippery, so stitches easily slide off the needle, and if they do, there is no friction to hold the dropped stitch in place.  At the same time, I found that bamboo needles (which held onto the stitches quite well) tended to split the yarn - the points were too blunt.  So I had to knit with sharp-pointed metal needles, adding to the overall slidiness.   I was glad to finish the swatch.  I had been sort of thinking of buying some vintage rayon and knitting myself an evening top, if I could find a suitable 1930s pattern, but I've changed my mind - a small square is quite enough rayon knitting for me.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Summer, Finally

The sun is shining, the sky is blue.  It's warm!  Even hot! (By British standards.)  Actually, that was yesterday and this morning - this afternoon it's clouded over, though still warm.  Now that I can wear it, I have finally finished a vest top I started last September.  I finished knitting it last year, in fact, but couldn't summon up the energy to sew up the side seams while it was too cold to wear it.

It's a simple knit, in some discontinued nubbly cotton/linen yarn I have had for quite a while.  It was based on a pattern, though since the pattern was for a dress in a lacy stitch, as far as I remember, the relationship is a bit distant.   I mainly borrowed the neck- and arm-bands that were knit in rib and integral with the front and back.   As I grafted the shoulder seams, the only sewing involved was the side seams - about an hour's work in total.  So I really have no excuse for taking more than 6 months to get around to doing it.  But I don't care.

The neckline has worked out very well.  Altogether, the vest looks good and is cool to wear.    

Friday 5 July 2013

Poppleton's Patterns

Last week, I sorted a box of patterns issued by Richard Poppleton & Sons, a spinning company which had mills at Horbury near Wakefield.   We only have the one box of their patterns - nearly 300 different ones.  (The company no longer exists:  it was taken over by another spinning company, I think in the 1990s when hand-knitting went through a difficult time in the U.K.) 

The oldest pattern that I found was number 824, which also appeared in the earliest Poppleton's ad that I have seen, in Vogue Knitting book in 1949.   

Poppleton 847
 I don't know whether pattern 824 was the first pattern they issued (but why would they start numbering there?) or whether previous patterns had only been circulated locally, and they were trying to become better known by advertising nationally.   It must have seemed a propitious time for spinners:  in 1949, clothes rationing ended in the U.K. 

When I am sorting patterns, I look out for the ones that we have the largest number of copies of - I assume that those patterns are the ones that sold best, and so are the ones that were most attractive to knitters at the time.  One popular Poppleton's pattern is a picture sweater, with a country cottage on the front - the leaflet was advertised in 1981.  

Poppleton 1647
But the most popular of all the Poppleton's patterns seems to be a leaflet from later in the 1980s  (I guess).  It doesn't appeal to me at all as a knitting project - almost all the interest is in the yarn.  But if you wanted quick results (and it was still the 1980s and so you wanted an oversize, loose sweater) you might like it.   

Poppleton 2242
 (In fact, a designer friend tells me that over-size, loose sweaters are coming back into fashion, which seems very bad news to me.  So you might like to keep an eye on Poppleton 2242 for future reference.) 

Poppleton may seem like a jokey sort of name, but it comes from a village near York (or in fact two villages, Upper and Nether Poppleton).  And anyone who reads The Times Higher Educational Supplement (or has read it at any time over the past 30 years) will be familiar with the University of Poppleton:  Laurie Taylor writes a regular column, The Poppletonian,  about events there. 

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Talking about Arans

Yesterday evening we had the second meeting of the Huddersfield group of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  I talked about Aran knits - how knitting patterns for Aran sweaters started to appear in this country in the 1950s, became very popular in the 1960s, and have never really gone away since then.  The talk was based around sweaters and patterns from the Guild collection.  You need a lot more baggage to talk about Aran sweaters than you do talking about gloves - I had a large suitcase full of sweaters and a bag of pattern leaflets, magazines and books as well.   But it was worthwhile - the talk went well, I think, and people were interested.  

The talk was a kind of rehearsal for a talk I am giving at the Guild Convention in Derby, later this month.   I don't want to say too much about the talk, and give away the plot, or it might spoil the surprise.  But I shan't take to Derby all the sweaters that I had last night - I need to take my own things for the weekend as well. So I can show an Aran sweater that I'm not planning to take to Derby: 


It's a man's sweater, very bulky, though not as heavy  as it looks.  We know the pattern that was used to knit it:  Sirdar 2018, issued in 1962.  Although it's about 50 years old, it looks up-to-date - if you saw it in a knitting magazine now, you wouldn't assume it was a vintage design. 

Sirdar 2018
The sweater seems to be in the same yarn, Sirdar Supreme, that's featured in the leaflet - in fact, the same colour too.  It's a very thick, soft and loosely-spun yarn - I don't think that the resulting sweater would stand up to hard wear, but it would be ideal to wear on  a cold day while leisurely smoking your pipe (as demonstrated by the model).       

In the early 60s, spinners don't seem to have made their minds up about the thickness of yarn appropriate for Arans.  Here's another Sirdar pattern, issued in about 1960, for an Aran sweater in double knitting yarn - much finer than Supreme.  "Aran"  did not become a term for a standard yarn weight in the UK, as well as a sweater style, until some years later. 

Sirdar 7795

Tuesday 2 July 2013

No Pigeons

I forgot to mention in my last post that while we were in London we went to Trafalgar Square, for the first time in years.  We noticed straightaway that there were no pigeons in the square - there used to be thousands flying around.  Then we saw the reason - a falconer with two Harris hawks.  He and another falconer split the week between them, and spend a few hours each day in the square, flying their hawks.    Some of the pigeons are canny enough to return to the square when the falconer has gone (so the falconers vary their schedule from time to time).  But there are no longer pigeons nesting on the surrounding buildings, which are much cleaner than they were.  The falconer said that in old films and newsreels, the lions at the foot of Nelson's Column are white with droppings - now they are clean and shiny black. 

 The Harris hawks are beautiful birds.  Perhaps if you only ever saw pigeons occasionally, in ones and twos,  it would be easier to appreciate them.  
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