Thursday 28 November 2013

Baby Jacket

I have just finished knitting a jacket for Noah, who is three months old.  The pattern is one I have used  before -   Baby Sophisticate by Linden Down  (free via Ravelry). It is entirely seamless (hurray!) and uses Aran weight yarn (or in this case, DK used double), so is quick to knit. 

The buttons are ladybirds - not very sophisticated, in fact, but cute.  And Noah looks extremely cute wearing it.  (Actually, it's also hard to look sophisticated when you have to wear a bib all the time to catch dribbles, so I don't think I need to apologise for the ladybirds.)  

Sunday 24 November 2013

Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show

I was at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate on Friday, working on the Knitting & Crochet Guild stall most of the time.  Our display included some items from the collection - 1950s matinee jackets, beautiful children's Fair Isle sweaters from the 1940s and 1950s - and some new pieces inspired by vintage patterns.  We also had things for sale, including shawl pins made from old knitting needles, which sold very well.   For a short while before the show opened at 10 a.m., the stall was empty and we could sit and knit.  But for most of the day, we were really busy talking to visitors to the stall.   That's a good thing, of course - the point of having a stall at the show is to meet knitters and crocheters and tell them about the Guild.  

The Guild stall before the show opened...
... and afterwards

We took it in turns to have a break from the stall and look at the rest of the show.  I didn't spend long on that - there's too much risk of spending a lot of money.  But I did visit a stall selling nothing but Latvian mitten kits, and bought one  - I think everyone else from the Guild stall did the same thing.  The stall had a display of the finished mittens, very colourful and eye-catching, and the kits were selling fast. 

Latvian mittens
A few of the other stalls caught my attention too.  I called in at the Baa Ram Ewe stall to say hello to Verity and Jo  - they had a very attractive Christmas display on their stall with a fireplace, Christmas cards, etc. 

Baa Ram Ewe's display

And I looked at the UK Hand Knitting Association's stall, where the finalists' entries for the 2013 Textile Awards were on show.  Some very striking things - one I really loved was the Kagome cardigan by Emma Vining, who was a finalist in the Open category.      
Emma Vining's Kagome cardigan
Altogether, it was a very good day.

Thursday 21 November 2013

More Bathing Suits

Patons & Baldwins, Helps to Knitters 249
I thought that we had very few 1930s pattern leaflets for knitted bathing suits in the Guild collection, but I found another last week, tidying up lot of mixed papers in a corner of the office.  Woolly bathing suits fascinate me, in a slightly horrified kind of way, so it's exciting to find a new one.  I wrote about a slightly later Patons & Baldwins leaflet (no. 337) here - that leaflet was advertised in 1933, so this is possibly a year or two earlier.

The blocks of contrasting colour in these designs look slightly Art Deco, I think. And they were of course not intended to be knitted in shades of grey and black. "Doreen", the cover design, is in beige and the contrast bands are in narrow stripes of red and navy. "Estelle" is knitted in equal quantities of red and beige, in graduated stripes with more red at the bottom and more beige at the top.  "Estelle" is unusual in being designed for a size 35 to 37 inch bust, which is large by the standards of 1930s knitting patterns.  And the leaflet does not give any warning about knitting your bathing suit small, to fit tightly and allow for stretching when wet, as the later leaflet does.

The third design, "Dorothy", would be quite striking knitted in black and gold as suggested.  It is also quite a daring design compared to the other two, because it has no skirt - the Doreen and Estelle designs both have an overskirt to conceal the knicker part. In the case of Estelle, the skirt looks especially long - long enough to be inconvenient, considering that the weight of the wet wool would pull the whole thing downwards when you came out of the water.

Stay out of the water, Estelle!

Monday 18 November 2013

Yarn winders

 Last week, a Guild member I have been corresponding with sent me a long letter in a package that also contained a little box.  The box, labelled "Signpost" Centre Thread Ball Winder, can be assembled into a contraption that you wind yarn onto.  

The yarn winder consists of a spindle, in some sort of early plastic, and two steel cross pieces that go through holes in the spindle at right angles.  Unfortunately the spindle is broken in two, at the place where the holes for one of the cross pieces are.  (I have stuck the two pieces together temporarily, just for the photographs.)  It is not very surprising that the plastic has broken there - the cross pieces are a tight fit in the holes, and the steel is much stronger than the plastic.  

The assembled Ball Winder

The yarn winder came from a charity shop, so it's not a family heirloom.  But Vera, who sent it, says in her letter that she thinks that it was for winding artificial silk or rayon, and that her mother described the problems of handling such a slippery yarn (which I can attest to, because I've tried it, as I described here).  If you wind it into a ball in the same way as you would wool, it's likely to collapse into a horrendous tangle.  She says "It is a bobbin to hold silk.  You will know that originally all thread was sold in skeins.  Wool was comparatively easy to wind into balls, but when artificial silk came in, it was hopeless.  My mother, who was born in 1903, said there was a vogue for knitting with silk, especially after the first world war.  She had a holder which was made of a very strong cardboard type of material in roughly the shape of a Maltese cross but with the arms with rounded ends.  ... However, obviously wealthy ladies wanted something better.  I have never seen anything like it and neither had my mother or her sisters. ... I have always been fascinated by the fine engine turning...  When you think how plain and workmanlike our things are today, it always amazes me, the time and trouble our predecessors took."

I agree about the detail on the plastic spindle, and the ends are I suppose intended to look like amber (unless the plastic has discoloured with time).

I'm not quite sure how it was meant to be used when the yarn was wound.  You could leave the yarn on the winder, which would help to keep it under control (and I have seen yarn holders where the yarn is wound onto cross-pieces in a similar way).  But alternatively, you could extract the steel cross-pieces and then the spindle when you had finished winding the yarn.  That would give you a centre-pull ball (if you had kept hold of the start of the yarn), which would be consistent with the name "Centre Thread Ball Winder".  I don't know - in the absence of an instruction leaflet, I'll have to hope that we might find an informative advert.  Meanwhile, it will be added to the Guild collection as Vera wanted.

Vera also mentioned a cardboard holder for art. silk in the shape of a cross, and drew an outline of it from memory, which I recognised immediately.  We were sorting out some odd balls of rayon recently, and one of them was wound around a very similar holder, which  I retrieved.  

Felix yarn holder

It's made of plywood, and the yarn is wound in two directions across the centre part of the cross, leaving the ends of the arms sticking out.  You then knit with the yarn still wound around the cross, so that it can't get into a tangle.  That's perhaps why cheap materials like plywood and cardboard were used, so that you could afford to have more than one in use at a time.  I initially thought that it maybe dated from the 1950s. But Vera's description of holders of exactly the same shape being used when rayon was popular in the 20s and 30s made me think again. And Felix the cat was a cartoon character from the silent film era, so I now think that maybe it is a lot older than I thought.

Friday 15 November 2013

Spiral Socks

Last weekend, I went to London for the Knitting History Forum meeting at the London College of Fashion, on Saturday.  I was talking about Aran sweaters and how they became popular for hand-knitters in this country from the 1930s on (a re-run of my talk at the Knitting & Crochet Guild AGM in July, though without the suitcase full of Aran sweaters).  There were some fascinating talks in the programme, here.   There was plenty of time to knit on the train there and back, and in the meeting itself, and I finished the spiral heelless socks I have been knitting. Since then it has been a busy week, but I have just today found time to sew in the ends and get some photos of me wearing them. 

Trying to match the pattern illustration, but I got my feet the wrong way round.
(Apologies for my chubby knees - I don't usually flaunt them.) 

Knitting them was part of a sort of historical experiment, because the pattern  is from World War 2.   I used a Copley's pattern, but there were several others published around the same time.  (You can tell the wartime Copley's patterns, because the cartoon figure is wearing a tin helmet - before and after the war he is wearing a pill-box hat.  I think he is supposed to be a bell-boy.)

Copley's 1304

The claimed advantages are that they spread the wear on the heels so that they last longer before you have to darn them, and that they fit anyone, as well as being easy to knit.    So Angharad and I both decided to knit a pair - hers (in progress) were part of the WW2 display at Baa Ram Ewe in October

I chose grey for mine, partly with a feeling that that would be an authentic colour for WW2 (though the yarn is not authentic - it is Wendy Roam sock yarn, which has some nylon in it.)   But I usually wear black socks in the winter, so grey is already a bit exciting.  And I made them knee-length for warmth, though that made them boring to knit - until you get to the toe, you are just knitting a long tube that seems endless, with no heel to add a bit of variety.  They are very easy to knit, though.  

So now I am wearing them, and they are very warm.  But they aren't staying up very well, which is disappointing.   I may have to elasticate the tops.  Maybe Angharad's (which I think are planned to be ankle socks) will behave better.   I'll give an update later.

Monday 11 November 2013

Feather and fan

Last week, we had the November meeting of the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild group - this month, a workshop on feather-and-fan given by Ann Kingstone, who is a member. 

Ann talked a little bit about the history of feather-and-fan, and showed photos of hand-knitted Shetland lace shawls in the early 20th century being stretched on frames - knitting lace items for sale was a considerable industry on the Shetlands. She explained that the term feather-and-fan was originally applied to a different stitch pattern than the one it is now usually used for. We knitted a swatch to try out the original feather-and-fan stitch - a 2 row repeat, with 6 increases on every other row, balanced by two 4-into-1 decreases in the same row. 

Old feather-and-fan
'Feather-and-fan' was later applied to a Shetland pattern that had been called Old Shale.  There are many variants, too.  They all have in common that in every pattern repeat, all the increases are grouped  together, as are all the decreases, which gives the characteristic wavy effect.  Ann passed around several swatches showing some of the possible variations - all were very attractive and would make beautiful shawls and scarves.       

Two variations on feather-and-fan
We knitted another swatch during the workshop, trying out a garter stitch feather-and-fan, i.e. knitting every row. And since the workshop, I have done a stocking stitch swatch for comparison, keeping the right side rows the same, but purling the wrong side rows.  Both are pretty, but I prefer the stocking stitch variant - the decreases show up better, for one thing.  (I think of the arc of increases as being the 'fan' and the decreases as being the 'feather', though I don't know if that's the origin of the name.)   

Three feather-and-fan swatches
Although the three swatches don't look very alike, each of them has two pattern repeats, and each pattern repeat has 6 yarn-over increases and 6 decreases.  

I took along to the workshop some pattern leaflets from the Guild collection that use feather-and-fan.  The earliest is a Patons & Baldwins shawl pattern, based on a Shetland original, that was reissued several times between the 1920s and the 1950s.   

Patons Helps to Knitters 56P
Feather-and-fan and other lace patterns were also popular for dresses for little girls in the 1930s:  I wrote about the one below here.

Robin No. 12 "Pauline"
 And little lacy tops for women were popular in the 1940s, when knitting wool was scarce, and  in the 1950s. 

Sirdar 1140
Greenock 825

Ann is planning to design a sweater with a panel of feather-and-fan running down the front centre - I'm looking forward to knitting it. 

Thursday 7 November 2013

Cloth & Memory at Salts Mill

The Spinning Room, Salts Mill
Last weekend, I went to the Cloth & Memory exhibition at Salts Mill - I had been there already in August, but only for a brief visit,  and wanted to have a proper look before it closed on November 3rd.   It was in an immense space at the top of the building, originally the Spinning Room.  It is 168 m. long and 18 m. wide - when I went in August, the staff were wearing bright green t-shirts and one of them told me that they had to wear bright colours, because otherwise they couldn't see each other from one end of the gallery to the other.

The room seems to have been left as it was, apart from the removal of the machinery, with the paint peeling and flaking off - the room is in many ways part of the exhibition.  There are no windows in the side walls, just ventilation openings, but it is lit by the skylights all the way along.  So the weather outside also plays a part - I was told that on a sunny day, the exhibits look very different.  But both days I was there were very dull (in fact, it was raining last Saturday).  

Built into the walls are a series of bins for storing the spools for yarn (I think).  A couple of the artists had used the bins for their pieces.  Caren Garfen based her piece on the women recorded in Saltaire in  the 1891 census.  Many of the single women were working in the mill, while the married women were just listed as 'Wife'.


Hannah Leighton-Boyce  had fitted  a camera obscura into several of the ventilators.  (I don't know the plural of camera obscura - can you tell?)

Hannah Leighton-Boyce, Camera Obscura
There were several large installations by Japanese artists that I particularly liked.  The one by Koji Takaki looks as though the cubes are gently floating out of the the rest of the piece.

Koji Takaki

Koji Takaki - detail

But the most stunning piece was by Yoriko Yoneyama.  A fine web of cotton threads, each with an individual grain of rice stuck to it every few inches (by the natural stickiness of cooked rice before it dries out).  

Yoriko Yoneyama

It's beautiful, and astonishing to think of the effort required to construct it.

Altogether the exhibition was well worth seeing. And if you didn't see it, now you have an idea of what you missed.

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