Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Universal Knitting Book

The Universal Knitting Book, Paton's, 1913
On the last day of 2013, I am writing about a booklet published in 1913.  The Universal Knitting Book was published by Paton's of Alloa in Scotland, spinners of knitting yarns.  The 1913 booklet is actually the 4th edition; according to the British Library catalogue, the 2nd edition appeared in 1903, and I imagine that the first edition appeared around 1900.  It has 76 pages, price 2d, and contains over 100 patterns - mostly knitting patterns, but also some crochet, in spite of the title.

It is printed on very cheap paper, with thin card covers - evidently not designed for durability.  Paton's also published a  much more substantial Knitting & Crochet Book at the same time, on glossy paper and with a cloth binding, priced at a shilling (12d), so The Universal Knitting Book was aimed at the cheaper end of the market. The cover features a small girl, who looks surprisingly grumpy, sitting on top of a globe (representing the universe, presumably) while knitting.  The preface promises a "lavish supply of illustrations".  Most are line drawings, and perfectly clear, but a few are taken from photographs (perhaps to be up-to-date) and have not reproduced well on the cheap paper.   

The intention in publishing booklets like this was obviously to sell the company's yarn.  The first page of The Universal Knitting Book is very persuasive about the advantages of knitting for yourself and your family, and using Paton's yarn:

"Have you ever thought how much more pleasure there is in wearing garments which you have knitted yourself?  Not only is there a pleasure in wearing the garments, but they can be so easily made in odd moments which might otherwise be wasted, and if made with Paton's Alloa Knitting Wools, you are assured of splendid wearing qualities and perfect comfort and warmth, without excessive weight....  

But the universal reputation which our Wools enjoy has not been secured, nor is it maintained, without great vigilance on our part. Nothing in the way of care or skill, or improved mechanical appliance, has been spared to bring all our qualities to a high state of excellence; and we believe we only express the opinion of the vast majority of those accustomed to handle knitting wools, when we say that, alike in respect of quality, finish, and durability, they are not surpassed by those of any other maker. They give the maximum of satisfaction to the knitter, and of comfort to the wearer."

That is a great slogan for a spinning company: "the maximum of satisfaction to the knitter, and of comfort to the wearer."  Exactly what we all want from our yarn.  (Plus it has to look good, of course.)  

The booklet has patterns for a wide range of garments for men, women and children, beginning with two chapters on socks. The first is a highly technical chapter giving rules and general directions for Stocking Knitting. It discusses the different parts of a stocking and how to adjust the size to fit a specific foot and leg.  It seems an oddly advanced beginning for a booklet aimed at all levels of experience. The next chapter has patterns for socks and stockings, with several fancy sock tops for Gentleman's Cycling Stockings. 

A thistle pattern for a stocking top
There are lots of patterns for underwear.  Chapters 3 and 4 cover vests (including the Lady's Under Bodice shown) and then combinations and drawers.

Lady's Under Bodice

The next chapter has outer garments - coats, jerseys, sweaters and jackets - and begins with instructions for knitting a simple cable, perhaps a novel idea at the time.  For the cable needle, "a broken hair-pin answers very well" - evidently broken hair-pins were plentiful in 1913. Some of the cardigans and waistcoats in this chapter look quite modern.

Jersey & Knickers for a boy of 2 to 3 years of age
The book then reverts to underwear.  (In fact, even the chapter on coats, etc. includes body bands and knee caps, for some reason.)  The next chapters are on boots (for babies) and slippers, and then petticoats. Altogether the range of knitted underwear is amazing - I'd like to know how much of it people wore at the same time. Was an under bodice a substitute for a vest, or did you wear a vest as well? 

Baby's Boot

Then there are Hoods, Clouds and Caps, including two patterns for helmets - they are not called Balaclava helmets, but that's what they are.  And a chapter on scarves and comforters, including gloves and mittens.
There is a whole chapter on shawls, which are mostly lacy Shetland shawls in very fine yarn - appropriately for a Scottish yarn spinner. One of the shawls has a feather-and-fan border, and was issued later as a pattern leaflet, several times - I showed one of the later incarnations of the design here

Shetland Pattern Shawl

The remaining chapters give a similar range of garments in crochet.

In 1920, Paton's merged with J. & J. Baldwin of Halifax, who were already publishing a similar booklet, Woolcraft.  (I'll write about Woolcraft some time.)   For a few years, the merged company continued to publish updated editions of both Woolcraft and The Universal Knitting Book. Eventually, only Woolcraft survived, though it incorporated some features of the other booklet. But although it wasn't as long-lived as Woolcraft, this 1913 edition of The Universal Knitting Book gives a fascinating view of what knitters were making, and wearing, on the eve of the Great War.

Monday 30 December 2013

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Yesterday was a lovely winter's day - sunny and bright, though cold.  We went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, to see the Angie Lewin exhibition and the amazing  Seizure - a London bedsit transformed into a grotto lined with copper sulphate crystals. But mainly we went for a walk in the park.  The low, bright sun lit the sculptures beautifully.

Magdalena Abakanowicz :  Ten Seated Figures

Peter Liversidge: Everything is Connected

Tom Price: A 3-metre tall man with a phone
Dennis Oppenheim:  Tree

Michael Zwingman: Invasion

Antony Gormley

Alec Finlay:   The Bee Library (one of 24 nests for solitary bees)

Richard Long: Red Slate Line

Alder cones

The Lower Lake

Sophie Ryder: Sitting

Marialuisa Tadei : Day

Marialuisa Tadei : Night

Marialuisa Tadei : Octopus

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Season's Greetings

As it's Christmas Eve, here are two vintage Christmas postcards, featuring people wearing knitting,  from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  

The first postcard is not dated - although it has an address and message, there is no stamp or postmark - but I guess it's from before 1920.  The little boy is very winsome, with his blonde curls peeping out from his hat. But let's focus on the important part - the knitting.  Knitting patterns usually show individual items, and so we don't see how they were worn together, as we do here.  The boy is wearing a knitted hat, knitted jumper and knitted gaiters.  I can't make out what he's wearing between the jumper and the gaiters - possibly shorts.  The gaiters are held under the shoes by elastic, probably (there is a pattern for gaiters in Woolcraft).  I don't know how they stay up over his knees though - there is no sign of any fastening or elastic.  Friction?  Willpower? 

The second postcard is postmarked 1913, and shows an attractive young woman, again wearing a lot of knitting and some crochet.   I think her jacket is knitted, and of course her hat is - a very large and floppy tam with a pompom. Her collar is crocheted, probably Irish crochet, which was very popular at the time. But she's not a grandly elegant Edwardian lady, more the girl-next-door, it seems to me.  Very appropriate for sending Christmas greetings. 

 Happy Christmas.      

Saturday 21 December 2013

A Mug for a Knitter

Yesterday, we went to Waitrose in Sheffield to get most of our Christmas food shopping, and I saw some coffee mugs with an embossed design to look like Aran knitting.    They are really nice, and I bought a couple for myself - how could I resist?

Waitrose mug with knitting design 

The design of the Waitrose packaging  for their own-brand Christmas was also based on knitting. A cable pattern with ribbon threaded through was printed onto the box of Camembert we bought - ready prepared to bake.  (Sounds delicious - I hope it is.) 

And there was a Fair Isle design with Christmas trees,which appeared on several of the things we bought, and around the store as well.  Today being the Winter Solstice, I had a mince pie with my coffee (in my new mug) - it was very nice.    

Team Knitting

This week I went to the usual Thursday knit-and-natter at Spun in the Byram Arcade - this one was special because it was our Christmas do.  We all brought in food and drink, it was all delicious, we had a great time and even got some knitting done.  And during the party, we gave Lydia and Ash a knitted blanket for their baby, due in January - knitted by all of us in the group.  It is a patchwork of 24 squares in two designs - we each knitted three of them.  Except Lydia, of course, who didn't know anything about it.   It has been a bit tricky keeping it secret at times, because the wool and patterns had to be distributed in the shop, and then we  handed back our completed squares in the shop, too, but we managed to pick times when Lydia was busy and didn't notice.  Here are my three squares, one with a pear design, for Lydia and Ash's last name,  and two with a double heart design.  (I tried to take a photo of the complete blanket, but there wasn't a lot of space and the photo has a closeup of someone's foot in the foreground.  It looked very nice, believe me.  The blanket, not the foot.)  

The Byram Arcade was looking festive, with Christmas lights strung along the balconies.  The things hanging in the central space are origami birds - a whole flock of them, in different colours and sizes.  It looks wonderful.

Monday 16 December 2013

Another Year in Books

This week, one of my book groups met for our annual Christmas dinner, and for the third year I made Christmas cards for the other members showing the books we have read this year.

I found  The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson a bit tedious (even though it has sold over 3 million copies world-wide, according to Wikipedia), but the book I really didn't like was  A Short History Of England by Simon Jenkins.  It was inevitably superficial, since it attempted to cover so much ground in a single book - not even a particularly long book.  It starts with the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain and ends more or less at the present day (although the last part of the book is of course about the United Kingdom and not just England).  Jenkins writes about important men (hardly any women) and significant events and ignores the rest of the world entirely, except as adversaries or allies of England in war.  It's  history as "just one damn thing after another".  For me, it didn't convey any sense  of what it might have been like to be living at a particular time in history, which is what I find interesting in reading about past times. 

When it was my turn to propose the book that we should read next, I chose Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor  as an antidote.  Fortunately, we all enjoyed reading it.  It is full of fascinating detail about life in Shakespeare's time, and beautifully illustrated - the book is structured around surviving objects from that time.  It describes a very different world, when Venice was a world power and the King of Morocco was extremely wealthy,  while England was a not very powerful country on the edge of Europe, under threat of invasion from Spain for much of the period.  London was an unhealthy place to live at the best of times, and there were frequent outbreaks of plague.  There was huge political uncertainty too - public discussion of who would succeed Elizabeth I was forbidden (I didn't know that).   Reading about the concerns of Londoners in Shakespeare's time makes it even more remarkable that his plays are still relevant today.   

I have had to keep all the books that we read during the year so that I could photograph them for the card.  But now the Simon Jenkins book and The Hundred Year Old Man are going to the nearest charity shop.  I enjoyed reading the others and will keep them.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Uses of Piano Playing

"Clara had avoided a tete-a-tete by opening the piano"
This week, I was sorting out a pile of old magazines in the Guild's collection.  In the pile were a few copies of The Young Ladies' Journal from the 1860s. They include a few knitting & crochet patterns, as well as the usual mix of fiction, fashion, cookery, etc., and so deserve a place in the collection.  It's useful, too, to see the knitting & crochet patterns alongside the fashions of the time.  And old magazines can be entertaining - I liked this cover illustration from an 1869 issue.  Not sure what's going on, but I'm sure the chap is a cad from the way he is posing elegantly with the chair.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Reindeer Sweaters

I took some Christmassy knitting patterns from the Guild collection to the meeting last Tuesday.  Most of them featured reindeer - they were evidently a popular motif in the late 1940s and the 1950s.  (Although some of the 'reindeer' look more like elk, and some don't look very much like any real animal.)  Here are some of the patterns I found. Unlike the cartoon Rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer sweaters that are in the shops this year, you could wear these throughout the winter, not just at Christmas.     

Copley 1593
Copley 1689
Sirdar 1242
Bestway 1993

Thursday 5 December 2013

Let It Snow!

This week we had the December meeting of the Huddersfield branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild - a Christmas craft-along.  We made snowflakes, either knitted or crocheted.  The knitted snowflake pattern was reported to be a bit fiddly, so I tried the crochet patterns instead.  It is many, many years since I did any crochet, so I sat with a "How to Crochet" manual open at my elbow.  But I managed to complete two snowflakes, with some tutorial help with the pattern along the way.  The stitches are not as even as a competent crocheter would make them, but for Christmas decorations they are fine. (I made the small snowflake on the right first, because it was simpler, but I much prefer the other.)   

I am very proud of my finished snowflakes.  The most complicated crochet I had done before was a cushion cover and a waistcoat in  Afghan squares, in the early 1970s.  (The waistcoat was in cream and camel wool, and I wore it with a cream and camel tartan kilt and a cream shirt - we were very keen on co-ordinating colours in those days. A very smart outfit, I thought at the time.)  I'm surprised, and gratified, that I was able to remember how to do it, with a bit of revision.  But  apart from snowflakes, I think I'll stick with knitting.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

The Price of Knitting Needles

I have been sorting out a corner of the office at Lee Mills recently.  It was full of all sorts of papers - books, magazines, leaflets - all mixed up, and mostly very old.  One of the fascinating things I found is an illustrated price list from 1918-19 for W.H. Head & Son, a shop that sold materials for knitting, crochet and other needlecrafts.  

Catalogue of knitting needles, crochet hooks, tools & gadgets
W. H.Head & Son price list, 1918-19

The shop sold everything you would need for your knitting, from yarn and pattern leaflets to tools and accessories of all kinds, including, of course, knitting needles.  They were available in sizes 1 to 18 (7.5 mm. to 1.25 mm.), in different lengths, double pointed or with knobs, in sets of four or in pairs.   They were made in different materials:  steel, bone, wood, vulcanite and ivory.   Vulcanite is  vulcanised rubber, a hard material, usually black,  that can be polished and was sometimes used for jewellery, in imitation of jet.  Ivory (always 'Real Ivory', not just ivory) is the most expensive material by far.  Not every size of needles is available in every size:  steel is used for the finest needles, and lighter materials (bone, vulcanite, and wood) for the thickest.  But the middle sizes were for sale in  all of the materials, so prices can be compared.  A pair of 12 inch needles in size 10 (3.25 mm) cost 4½d (under 2p) in wood, twice as much in bone or vulcanite, and a shilling (5p) in steel.   Real Ivory needles cost 3 shillings (15p) - eight times the price of wood.   

What's the present-day equivalent of Real Ivory for knitting needles?  I guess it would be carbon fibre, but maybe there's some even more high-tech material that I'm not aware of.  And the cheaper end of the market is plastic and steel.    It might be interesting to see whether the price differential between luxury and basic needles is anything like it was in 1918. But of course the situation then was completely different - for many women, hand-knitting for their families was an economic necessity, whereas Real Ivory needles were probably bought by women who could afford to knit for recreation.           

W. H.Head & Son also sold  extra large or Leviathan knitting needles, in sizes A, B, C, D and E.  I don't know what sizes they were, but possibly they corresponded to the sizes that are marked 0, 00, 000, etc. on some gauges. I don't know what knitters used them for in 1918, but evidently if you didn't know what they were for, you didn't need them, so you didn't need to be told. 

To go with your knitting needles, you needed a needle gauge, because I think that needles were not marked with their sizes at that time.   There are two in the catalogue, nicely illustrated.    

Vintage knitting needle gauges, 1910s; bell gauge, Wheel of Fortune gauge

The bell was a popular shape for needle gauges - I have a very small collection myself (three, apart from the one I actually use).  Some friends gave me a Walker's gauge like the one illustrated, so it's nice to think that it might be nearly 100 years old.  Another is a different make but also bell-shaped.  And the Beehive gauge that I wrote about here is sort of a derivation of a bell shape, if you look at it cross-eyed. 

I have not seen a "Wheel of Fortune" gauge, as far as I know.  We may  have one in the Guild collection, but that part of the store ("Knitting Needle Alley") awaits sorting.
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