Friday 25 October 2013

Knitting in World War 2

Last week Angharad and I went to Harrogate to talk to the Wednesday evening knit-and-natter group at  Baa Ram Ewe in Harrogate, as part of Yorkshire Wool Week, which was organised by Baa Ram Ewe.  The original Baa Ram Ewe yarn shop in Headingley (Leeds) has been established for some years, but the Harrogate branch is new and I hadn't been there before.   The shop is spacious and light (well, it would be during the day when it isn't pouring with rain) and sells some very tempting yarns.  

We had lent some things from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection for Yorkshire Wool Week, and the very talented Katherine, who is based in the Harrogate shop,  constructed four splendid window displays in successive weeks during October, on doilies, tea cosies, World War 2 knitting & crochet, and Kaffe Fassett's knitwear designs.  (For this purpose, Yorkshire Wool Week lasted 4 weeks.)  My favourite was the display of doilies - Angharad had selected a range of colours that went well together, and they looked splendid hanging up in the window.  Much better, I think, than laid flat on a table or plate in the traditional way. 

When we were in Harrogate, the window display was on World War 2, and featured a small crocheted blanket made out of small oddments of leftover wool, a knitted balaclava helmet, and several socks, including a spiral heelless one knitted by Angharad to a wartime pattern.  Katherine also used enlargements of several wartime knitting patterns from the collection.

 On the Wednesday evening at Baa Ram Ewe, I gave a talk about wartime knitting, covering knitting for the services (including all the many women's services),  the Home Front (air raid shelters and gas masks), and coping with shortages and rationing. 

Lister 802

Sirdar 887
Cronit 301

 After my talk, Angharad showed the spiral socks that she is making, and demonstrated knitting in the round with two circular needles.  Knitting heelless socks in a spiral rib was one way of trying to make socks last longer in wartime.   The idea was that whenever you put them on, your heel would go in a different place, and so the sock would wear evenly, rather than going into a hole at the heel.   That's the claim.  Angharad and I aren't sure how well they will work in practice, so we are both knitting a pair to try them for ourselves.  I'll write more about mine later - we are both onto the second sock of our pair.  Here is the extremely worn, torn and creased pattern that Angharad is knitting from - the one I'm using is a slight variation on the same idea, from a different spinner. 

The leaflet claims "The HEEL forms itself when the Sock is pulled on.  MUCH QUICKER TO KNIT THAN ORDINARY SOCKS AND WEARS THREE TIMES LONGER BECAUSE THE HEEL WEAR SELDOM OCCURS IN THE SAME PLACE TWICE. The photograph shows how snugly the Heel forms itself and the close, comfortable fitting round the legs and ankles."   So we'll test whether this is all true when we have finished our respective pairs.   


Tuesday 22 October 2013

Poodle Bottle Covers

Poodle bottle covers featured in the recent TV programme on BBC4, "Knitting's Golden Age".  They were said to represent something like a yearning for exoticism in the British public in the 1950s - Jo Turney, one of the programme's experts,  said "The knitted poodle cover is one of the icons of the 1950s".   That didn't seem plausible to me, from what I remember of the 1950s - I don't think that poodle bottle covers were something that many people wanted, or were even aware of, in the 1950s or any other time.  So after I had seen the programme, I started a search for patterns for poodle bottle covers.

One - Coats leaflet 931 - was easy to find, because the cover appeared on screen during the programme.   These particular poodle bottle covers could not have been 1950s icons - the leaflet appears to have been issued in 1963 or 1964.  (And they are crocheted, not knitted.)

Coats 931
Another pattern for poodle bottle covers (and knitted this time) appears in 3 Emu booklets, all undated.  The first, "Knitted Novelties - Ideas for odd ounces" could perhaps have been issued in the late 1950s.  But one of the other patterns in the booklet is for a narrow knitted tie, which I associate with the early 1960s (e.g. the Beatles on their World Tour in 1964). 

Emu 8127 - Knitted Novelties

As in the Coats leaflet, the poodles appear as a black and white pair.  The pattern is titled "Poodle Bottle Cover or Toy" - which suggests a lack of conviction that poodle bottle covers are a good idea.  The pattern was re-issued in a later Odd Ounce Book, which dates from about 1971 (the price is given both in shillings and in decimal) - the white poodle is promoted to the front cover this time.

Emu 6359 - Odd Ounce Book

And again, an Emu Knitted Novelties booklet was issued still later, and was sold at four times the price of the Odd Ounce Book, so possibly late 1970s?

Emu B.23 - Knitted Novelties

Judging by these patterns, poodle bottle covers were presented as novelties for using up oddments of yarn, and they date from the 60s and 70s rather than the 50s. Many spinners issued similar booklets to the Emu ones, sometimes with a title like "The Bazaar Book". The patterns include a few small items to wear like scarves, hats and gloves, and things that might be considered useful, like tea cosies, egg cosies, pan holders and soft toys.  And there are also similar "novelties" to the poodle bottle cover  - toilet roll covers, golf club covers, novelty draught excluders, coat hanger covers. None of these were style icons.  I suspect that people often knitted such novelties for charity bazaars because they were quick and cheap to make, and people bought them as gifts when they weren't particularly concerned whether they would be appreciated by the recipient.

I think too that poodle bottle covers would be worse than useless in practice.  If you're filling a glass from a bottle, you need to be able to grip the bottle firmly, and the cover doesn't allow that.  The Emu cover in particular seems very insecure - the top is elasticated, so that you can get the bottle into it, and it seems to me that the bottle could start to slide out while you were pouring from it.  But I am not going to make one in order to find out.

Sunday 20 October 2013

As Seen on TV

It's a bit late to write about this (in fact, very late), but I am going to anyway.  Last month, BBC4 broadcast Knitting's Golden Age,  a documentary about knitting from around 1920 to the 1980s, which the programme makers decided was the golden age of knitting, although there was a brief acknowledgement at the end that knitting is once again very popular.  

Angharad, who works alongside me on the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection, appeared on the programme.  She showed some of the 1950s knitted baby clothes that we have in the collection, mainly matinee coats and cardigans.  The little matinee jacket that she presented is very pretty, with lacy knitted hearts that are embroidered afterwards in blue.

 It was knitted from a Patons & Baldwins pattern,  evidently a best seller, judging by the number of copies that I have found.   Perhaps its popularity was because if you wanted to follow the "blue for a boy, pink for a girl" rule, you could hastily embroider the hearts in the right colour after the baby had arrived.

Patons 382

Another baby cardigan was shown in the programme too - in very fine yarn, with the skirt, collar and cuffs in feather-and-fan stitch.  It's beautifully made. We haven't yet identified the pattern (if there was one) - let me know if you recognise it.

Angharad  also showed some soft toys knitted in oddments of yarn, and a very small doll with a complete outfit of knitted clothes.

The poodle (?) has evidently had a hard life and been much loved.   Mr and Mrs Panda are a favourite with the KCG volunteers (because they look perpetually surprised).  We speculate whether they are actually married, or perhaps brother and sister, or just good friends.

And here's the little doll.  

Wednesday 16 October 2013

The World is your Sweater

Copley 376
 I found this pattern leaflet recently.  It's dated 1983, when picture sweaters were popular, and  I suppose you could think of it as educational.  You can decide which bit of the world you want on the front - Europe/Africa/Asia, or North and South America.   (Not much good if you live in Australia or New Zealand, though - they don't appear at all.)   Personally, I think it needs a "You are here" sign with an arrow, as well.     

Tuesday 15 October 2013

The Stitchery Annual

I said in an earlier post that we had a visit 2 weeks ago from a party of Americans on a Vogue Knitting tour of England and Wales.  My part in the visit was to show them a few of the publications in the Guild's collection.  I had to be extremely selective, and left out all the 19th century publications.  I began instead with The Stitchery Annual, a compendium of supplements to The Girl's Own Paper and Woman's Magazine,  published in about 1912.  It covered a whole range of needlecrafts, especially crochet.   The reader is evidently assumed to be able to execute the patterns without difficulty, though many of the crochet patterns seem to me to require a high degree of skill, as well as a great deal of time and patience - they all seem to be in very fine cotton.    There are several patterns in particular for Irish crochet, which was fashionable at the time - for those with the money to buy them, there were full-length dresses entirely in Irish crochet on sale in Harrods (there is one in the Guild collection). The Stitchery Annual showed women how to make their own (less ambitious) items of Irish crochet, such as the Passion Flower Corner for a table cloth or something similar.

A Passion Flower Corner
Some of the other patterns in the book rely on materials that are no longer available (that I have never heard of, at any rate) like Coronation braid.  There is a section titled "Ideas in Coronation Braid and Crochet" with instructions for several complicated-looking confections.  They seem to involve forming the braid into loops and swirls and stitching them in place, and filling in the gaps with crochet.  Something like that. 

Coronation Braid and Crochet - A Square Top for a Pincushion
There are a few knitting patterns, too,  in The Stitchery Annual, but apart from a couple of knitted lace edgings, they are mostly quite plain.  The Simple Knitted Jacket, for instance, is knitted almost entirely in garter stitch.  Although it is shown as very close fitting, it is not shaped at the waist at all - it fits so well because of the stretchiness of the stitch.  It does look elegant (though let's not think about the corsetry she's wearing to get that shape), but it doesn't need any great knitting expertise. 

A Simple Knitted Jacket
The instructions are a bit minimal, too - although a tension is given ("the work is done upon the scale of about 7 sts to the inch in width"), the needle sizes are not specified in a way that we would now think satisfactory:  "In addition to the wool, one pair of bone needles and a pair of steel needles will be required."   I assume that the steel needles would be finer than the bone needles - they are used for the lower border, which is in stocking stitch, using the wool double. 

The whole volume gives the impression that knitting was not greatly valued at the time - it was not thought of as a craft allowing a display of much skill, unlike crochet. But the situation was changing, as women began to wear knitted jackets and coats, for warmth and for sports (although I doubt that you could be very sporty in an Edwardian corset).  By the 1920s, knitted sweaters for women became fashionable for everyday wear, and published knitting patterns became more sophisticated and more demanding.

Monday 7 October 2013

Lucetting Workshop

On Saturday I went to the October meeting of the Sheffield KCG group - the topic was lucetting.  I had barely heard of it, though it is a very old craft, dating back to the Vikings, I'm told.  You need a gadget called a lucet and some yarn, and you make a braid. 

It is slightly reminiscent of French knitting (or i-cord) but the braid is square in cross-section. I found it tricky to get an even braid - whenever I stopped for a while, the next few stitches were noticeably  irregular. But after a while you get into a rhythm and then the braid grows quite fast.  Interesting - not sure when I'll find a use for a square braid, but it's nice to learn such an old craft.  

Before the meeting I went to the Steel and Light exhibition at Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery (running until  November 3rd).  The exhibition is about the work of David Mellor who grew up in Sheffield and designed cutlery, metalwork, traffic lights, street furniture, etc.  I am especially interested in the cutlery designs, because I have had a set of David Mellor cutlery since before we were married (and before that it belonged to my sister).   We eat with it every day - it is really good to use, very simple and functional.  

Minim or Thrift?
I have always thought that the design was called Minim, but it is extremely similar to Thrift cutlery, designed by David Mellor in 1965 for the Ministry of Public Building and Works.  Not quite identical, I don't think.  (And our cutlery wasn't filched from a hospital canteen, in case you're wondering - my sister bought it from Walker & Hall, a Sheffield cutlery firm that David Mellor designed for.)   So maybe they are the same and I've got the name wrong, or maybe they are subtly different, to distinguish the commercial Walker & Hall design from the government design.  Our cutlery has lasted extremely well, but then I suppose stainless steel cutlery should.  I have noticed lately that we are short of a knife, though -  it must have got lost somehow.       

Friday 4 October 2013

Cricket Sweaters

In my last post I wrote about the Vogue Knitting tour coming to Scholes to see items from the  Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection.  Because we hosted the visit at Scholes Cricket Club, we thought that we should acknowledge the cricket connection, and so I found several cricket sweater patterns and put them on display.   Here are a few of them. 

Growing up in Sirdar 541
Templeton's 1412
Patons 2379
I think the Sirdar pattern dates from the 1950s, the Templeton's pattern is about 1965, and the Patons pattern 1975, but they all look pretty similar to me, apart from the hair styles.  

I don't know much about cricket, or cricket sweaters, and I've been trying to find out a bit about when this style of sweater was introduced.  I have been looking at this website which gives a lot of details about village cricket clubs in this part of Yorkshire, including team photos.  (The things I do for you!)  It appears that V-neck sweaters with coloured stripes around the neck,  and sometimes above the welts on the body and sleeves (if any), first appeared in team photos in the late 1920s.  The sweaters may be cabled and they look to be white or cream, but it's hard to tell from the photos.  Two of the Holmfirth cricket team in 1929, photographed after they won a trophy, were wearing sweaters of that sort. (The others aren't wearing sweaters at all.)  In earlier team photos, any sweaters that are worn appear to be in plain stocking stitch, with collars and long sleeves.  

So far, I haven't found a knitting pattern for anything called a cricket sweater from before World War II, though presumably there were sweater patterns like the ones I have shown.  It's possible that they started out being called sports or tennis or golf sweaters, and were only called cricket sweaters after wearing them for cricket was already common.   (Maybe somebody who knows about cricket could tell me.)

I did find a much earlier pattern for something knitted to wear while playing cricket.  It's a jacket in a Paton's booklet, I think from around 1913.  Although the garment  is described as a "Gent.'s Knitted Sports Coat",  it is shown being worn by a cricketer.  Quite stylish, though I think it would be hard to run in something as long and close-fitting as that.  The "coat sweater" on the front cover, worn by a tennis player, is white with navy trim, and might be a pre-cursor of the later cricket sweater.  Notice the tennis racquet in one hand and the cigarette in the other - he gets fit by playing tennis and then ruins the effect by smoking.     

Gent.'s Knitted Sports Coat

Patons Helps to Knitters XIX

Thursday 3 October 2013

Vogue Knitting visit

There is a knitting tour of England & Wales in progress right now, under the auspices of Vogue Knitting magazine,  that started Tuesday morning at Manchester Airport.  (The people on the tour are all from the U.S., I think.)  Tuesday afternoon, the tour visited  Scholes to see a selection of the choicest items from the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection.  We hired the clubhouse at Scholes Cricket Club for the day, which proved to be an ideal venue.  It is mainly one big room, with windows all along one side, looking over the cricket  pitch and to the hills beyond, so there was plenty of space and light. 

We went one weekend a few weeks ago to check on  a few details, and I took a photo of the view while a cricket match was in progress - it was drizzling at the time, so the view wasn't at its best.  (Not ideal weather for cricket either.)      

There were about 40 in the Vogue Knitting party, and we wanted to give them all the chance to get close to the things we were showing them.  We had chosen five sets of items (Irish crochet,  traditional knitting,  etc.) , with one or two volunteers for each set (I was showing a selection of magazines and pattern leaflets).  We divided the visitors into five groups, too, and over the course of the afternoon, each group progressed around all five sets of items.   The scheme worked very well, though it did mean that we volunteers were talking about our set of items five times, over about two hours.  But I found that each repetition worked out differently, because each group picked up on different things in what I was showing, and asked different questions.   I'll write something about the things that I showed  in the next few posts.

And at the end of the afternoon, we all had tea (very important in cricket, I understand).   I had bought cakes from ProperMaid in Huddersfield who supply a lot of local cafes.  We had Beetroot & Chocolate, Courgette & Lime and Lemon & Poppyseed Drizzle - all really delicious I'm told, and the Beetroot & Chocolate certainly was.  (There was a lot of discussion with the visitors about what courgettes are, though.)  I had also bought parkin, made by a local company, to give them a taste of traditional Yorkshire food.

ProperMaid Courgette & Lime cake

It was an exhilarating afternoon for all of us.  For those of us from the Guild, it reminded us what an amazing collection we have, and the visitors saw some really wonderful things.  Exhausting though - it took a lot of organising and preparation on our side, and several people had come a long way to help. 

And after we had cleared everything up and put the furniture back approximately where it was before, I got home at about 6.45 and then went out for a meeting of the Huddersfield KCG local group.  The meeting was on the theme of lace,  and several people had brought along beautiful lace shawls and scarves that they had made, including a silk stole knitted in the Shetland print o' the wave pattern, which was just lovely.  Ann Kingstone showed the sample knits for some of her lace patterns (knitted by her sister Marie, who was also there), including Hartfield - even finer and more delicate and gorgeous in reality than it looks in photos.  Three of the Guild members who were staying in the area to help with the Vogue Knitting visit came along to the meeting.  Jane, who had been showing some of the Irish crochet in the collection, had brought with her an Irish crochet shawl that she had made, and so was able to show that at the Guild meeting as well - a beautiful piece of work.  I took along one of the knitted lace samplers from the collection, in amazingly fine cotton.  And also (although it wasn't really up to the standard of anything else on show) I took along the honeycomb lace infinity scarf I have made for my daughter - mainly so that I could talk about how tricky it was to keep track of the stitch pattern. 

And then I went home and fell into bed.  I wish I could say that I slept like a log, but I didn't - it was such an exciting, busy day, it was difficult to wind down.  I am so glad that after all our preparation and planning (and several hiccups along the way, up until the last minute)  it all worked out just right.       
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