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.

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