Monday 15 December 2014

A Victorian Pence Jug

I have just knitted a little pence jug from a Victorian pattern.  Useless (at least I haven't thought of a use for it yet) but very charming and decorative.   The pattern came from a little book that John bought for me at the York Antiquarian Book Fair - The Knitter's Friend by Mrs Hope.  The book is not dated, but I think it must be 1847 or 1848 - there is an ad in the back for Hope's Protective Labels for directing passenger luggage (a fascinating read in its own right), that quotes several favourable newspaper notices, all dated 1847.

Illustration of pence jug from The Knitter's Friend
I have seen several patterns for pence jugs from 19th century publications, and we have several actual pence jugs in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, so I decided to try this pattern.  The first question  was what yarn and needles to use.  The pattern specifies size 18 needles and "German wool".  Size 18s are about 1.25mm, and I do have a set of four, in steel, that I think are pre-First World War - I wrote about them here.  But I don't think I can knit with them.  And "German wool" obviously doesn't just mean "wool from Germany" but had a specific meaning - possibly the same as "Berlin wool".  But in either case I don't know what the modern equivalent would be, and anyway there would be no point in finding yarn that needs to be knitted on size 18 needles if I can't manage that.

The pattern suggests using four different colours of yarn - like many of the pence jugs I have seen, combining a few shades of one colour is a feature of the design.  So I thought of some of the space dyed yarns that are available now.  A pence jug will only use a small amount of each colour (the finished jug weighs about 10g.), so I thought that with the right yarn there would be a long enough stretch of each colour for the jug - effectively treating one ball of multi-coloured yarn as lots of mini-skeins, each of just one colour.

I chose Zauberball sock yarn, in the Oktoberfest colourway.  (Which is actually made in Germany, and so in that sense is "German wool", after all.)  It can be separated into six distinct colours so I decided to use them all (why not?) - one for each of the ridges in the body of the jug, and then repeating one for the neck and another for the rim and handle.  I knitted it on 2mm. needles, so that the fabric is quite dense - it needs to stand up by itself.

I reduced the number of stitches to compensate for the fact that I was using larger needles and presumably thicker yarn.  The pattern doesn't say what the finished size should be, and the jugs in the KCG collection vary quite a bit, but I think my finished jug is probably about right - it's just over 7 cm tall.

What did the Victorians use pence jugs for?  I think if you  had asked one they would have said (translated into modern parlance): "To put pennies in, dummy."   But beyond that, it's not at all clear. Some patterns, like this one, have a flat base, and appear to be intended to stand on a flat surface - like a jug, in fact.   But others were not designed to stand up by themselves and seem to be intended more as a purse for putting in a pocket or a handbag. Perhaps a jug like mine stood on a mantelpiece, as a combination of an ornament and a place to keep money.

The photo of the jug at the top shows it alongside some Victorian pennies.  They are 3cm in diameter - marginally bigger than a £2 coin.  And judging by the fact that in 1914, the suffragettes were calling for a minimum wage of 6d (six pence) an hour for women (see here), a penny would be roughly equivalent to at least £1 now.  A jug full of pennies would be a significant amount of money.

The pennies do easily go into the jug, by the way - the neck of the jug is in double rib and very stretchy.  In fact, the whole design is an object lesson in how different stitches behave.  The ridges around the body are alternate bands of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch, which gives it enough rigidity to stand up.  The neck is done on the same number of stitches, but the double rib pulls it in to create that elegant curve.  The only shaping is to create the lip of the jug, by adding extra stitches in a V-shape.   The rim and handle are all done in stocking stitch: the rim pulls the neck of the jug out again, and because the knit side is inside, the rim curls over to that side.  The handle is just an extension of the rim, on a small number of stitches; because a strip of stocking stitch naturally curls inwards from the sides, the handle is nicely rounded, even though it's just a flat strip of knitting.  

A satisfying (and quick) knit.   I'll put it on the mantelpiece and admire it, until I think of a use for it.

Thursday 11 December 2014

This Year's Books

Last night, one of my book groups had our annual Christmas dinner, and exchanged Christmas cards.  As is by now traditional (i.e. I have done it for the past three years), I made a card showing the books that we have read this year.     

We usually read eight books in a year.  This year's were mostly novels, apart from Chris Mullin's diaries of the last stretch of his career as an MP, and Michael Ondaatje's memoir of growing up in Ceylon and his family's history there.  The books I enjoyed most, and the ones I am planning to keep, are Stoner by John Williams and Strange Meeting by Susan Hill.  The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields would also be a keeper, except that I borrowed  it from the library.    Chris Mullin's Decline and Fall and Barbara Pym's Excellent Women were also library copies - making a Christmas card means that I have to borrow them again to make the card (which might give you a clue as to why you can't see the title of the Barbara Pym book).   It also means that I am not often tempted to get a Kindle - books on a Kindle would not make a good picture.

We each got a Christmas present at the dinner from our Secret Santa - a book, of course.  Mine was The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.

I have read it before, from the library, and enjoyed it very much.  It's great to have my own copy (and a very nicely-produced copy, too) and I'm looking forward to reading it again.   I knew when I read it that Barbara Kingsolver must be a knitter, and I subsequently read a feature on her in Vogue Knitting.  Here is her account of a non-knitter (her character Harrison Shepherd) talking on a long car journey to another character, Mrs Brown, about her knitting:
 "... I thought it was an indigo porcupine."
 She had a laugh at that.  She has eleven nephews and nieces, I learned, and meant to outfit the tribe on this journey, working through socks from top to toe, all from the same massive hank of blue wool.  The coming holiday shall be known as "The Christmas of the Blue Socks from Aunt Violet."  She worked on a little frame of four interlocked needles that poked out in every direction. as she passed the yarn through its rounds.
"Aren't you afraid you'll hurt yourself with that?"
"Mr. Shepherd, if women feared knitting needles as men do, the world would go bare-naked."

And later Mrs Brown knits Mr Shepherd a pair of gloves for Christmas, taking the measurements from a grease stain he left on a piece of paper,  He is astonished because he has never had a pair of gloves that he can wear comfortably before - his fingers are extraordinarily long.  But she has made a pair that fit him perfectly, in pure merino wool.

 A good read.

Wednesday 3 December 2014


I finished knitting a thick cardigan for myself months ago - sewn up and everything.  Except it didn't have any buttons.  Then I sewed the buttons on.  And I have been wearing it quite a lot since the weather turned colder.   So it's about time I wrote about it.

The design is 'Wainwright' by Bristol Ivy.  It's described as "an asymmetric cardigan whose construction takes traditional chevrons for a joy ride."  It's a really interesting construction. ( I do like a design with an interesting construction.)   You start by knitting two triangles separately, increasing in the middle of each, one bigger than the other.  The middle of each triangle marks where the side seam would be, if there was one. Then you join them together, so that you knit along the top edge of one triangle and then the other, decreasing where they join to form the off-centre 'seam' up the back. And so on - you end up with one piece that combines the entire back and fronts of the cardigan, including the front button bands and welt.   The raglan sleeves are knitted separately and then sewn in, and then you pick up stitches around the neck edge and knit the collar.    

I made a couple of changes to the pattern. First, I made it longer - you'd think that would be difficult, but actually it isn't, and the pattern tells you where to make the change.  Second, I used the garter ridge stitch pattern from the body on the sleeves as well - the original design has plain stocking stitch sleeves, but I thought that it would look better if the garter ridges extended over the sleeves.  Finally, and inexplicably, I had to make the right front wider than it should have been, otherwise the front would have been narrower than the back.  I don't know why - I checked the instructions, and they seemed quite correct.  If I had followed them, the front should have been wide enough.  It wasn't.  Baffling.  

Because of this quirk, the neck opening is wider than it should have been.  I don't think I would want to wear the collar as a cowl (i.e. buttoned up), even if it was the right width, and I haven't put any buttons on the collar (although I did make the buttonholes).

When it was finished, I wasn't quite sure at first that I was happy with the wide asymmetric collar (especially since it was wider than intended).  But the more I have worn it, the more I like it.  It has a slightly 1950s look, I think.

The yarn is Wendy Traditional Aran, in charcoal grey.  It is a good to knit with and very cosy to wear.  Altogether a successful knit.        

Sunday 30 November 2014

"Centenary Stitches" exhibition in Lincoln

Yesterday I went to Lincoln, to see the 'Centenary Stitches' exhibition, of clothes that were knitted for the "Tell Them Of Us" film.  I have written previously (here and here) about providing copies of patterns from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection to be passed on to the huge team of volunteer knitters that were working on the project.  So I have been wanting to go to see the exhibition ever since it opened on November 8th - and as it closes on December 6th, I nearly ran out of time.  But it's been a very busy month.  (And if you want to go to see the exhibition and haven't been yet - be warned that the Lincoln Christmas Market starts on Thursday and it will be packed.)    

The display is amazing - the middle of the room is filled with suspended rails, with coats, jackets, sweaters (anything with armholes, really) hanging off them, so that you can walk in between them and examine everything.  At the back of the room is a similar display of shawls.

 And there's a shelf of disembodied heads with hats on (that I unaccountably forgot to take a photo of).  A few special garments for the main characters in the film are on stands at the sides, including two that were reversed engineered from photos - a impressive feat.

I recognized one of the garments from the patterns that I provided - the blue coat and hat for a little girl is from a Patons pattern leaflet, Helps to Knitters X.

And I am sure that a man's sports coat in the exhibition, in white with navy trim, is from Paton's Helps to Knitters XIX.  (It's called a 'coat sweater' in the leaflet - now we'd call it a cardigan.)

Paton's Helps to Knitters XIX
There are several more garments in the exhibition, I understand, that were knitted to the patterns from the Guild collection, but I haven't identified them all.  (There is a book of patterns, Centenary Stitches, to accompany the exhibition, and I'm assured that none of the patterns in the book are based on those from the collection.)

I was disappointed that there was no mention anywhere in the exhibition of the Knitting & Crochet Guild and our support for the project.  I thought it was a pity, too, that the garments' labels did not give any information about the original source of the pattern.  Sometimes the label said something like "a gansey in a 1916 book", but often there was no information at all, and surely there are other people as well as me who would like to know which 1916 book.

Lincoln Cathedral

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Mystery Crochet

A new idea the Knitting & Stitching Show this year was a 'Stitch by Stitch' feature - a series of free demonstrations put on by the various stall holders.  The Knitting & Crochet Guild members on the Guild's stall did a Stitch by Stitch demonstration every day of the show, and I did the Saturday one.

The main KCG stall had a display of knitted and crocheted lace, and we used the Stitch by Stitch demonstration to show more lace from the Guild's collection.  

One of the items we showed is a beautifully crafted crochet piece, but otherwise a bit of a mystery.  It was bought for the collection in a charity shop, so we have no other provenance for it - we have no idea who made it, or when, and no way to find out.  It is crocheted in very fine yarn, which I thought at first was cotton, but now we think it might be a mixture of cotton and some sort of synthetic yarn.  It might be a tennis shirt.  It is hard to assign a date:  it could be 1930s, though 1930s tops tended to be much shorter.  It could be 1950s, though I would expect more shaping around the waist.  It could be later, though crocheted garments in such fine yarn would be unusual by then.

If we could identify a pattern for it, that would give us a lot more information.  Even finding similar patterns would help.  It's a long shot, but if any reader does recognise it, do please let me know.

We showed about 20 items in the Stitch by Stitch demonstration, and knew more about most of the other items than our mystery shirt.  (Though in some cases it was only that the style allowed us to date them more confidently.) The items that the audience found most interesting were three Irish crochet pieces - we don't know anything about the individual pieces, but they were almost certainly made commercially in Ireland before the First World War, and bought in this country.  The final piece that we showed was the best - an Irish crochet jacket.  It featured in the article on Irish crochet in Rowan magazine 55, and the photo was taken for that article.  It must have taken an immense amount of work, and the women who made it were probably paid very little.  But it is magnificent.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show

I went to Harrogate yesterday for the Knitting & Stitching Show.  I was based at the Knitting & Crochet Guild's stall for most of the day, but had time to look around the rest of the show when it got quieter towards the end of the day.  (Didn't buy anything though.  Not a thing.  I really don't need any more yarn, but I don't always manage to remember that.)  

I spent a lot of time looking at the finalists' entries for the 2014 Knitted Textile Awards - a UK Hand Knitting Association scheme.   Here are a few of the entries I particularly liked (and managed to get a decent photo of, too).

I liked Camille Hardwick's Oxymoron piece - she won first prize, I later discovered.

Camille Hardwick

Becca Tansley's jacket was inspired by the rusting steel and rivets of a Victorian railway bridge.

Becca Tansley

And Clare Sams knitted pigeon, scavenging discarded food, is fun.

Clare Sams

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Knitting History Forum

I was in London on Saturday for the Knitting History Forum conference - I've been busy ever since, so this post about it is later than I intended.

The conference was at the London College of Fashion, off Oxford Street.  There was a diverse programme of talks, beginning with Angharad Thomas talking about her researches into the history of two-colour patterned gloves, leading up to the Sanquhar and Yorkshire Dales gloves that she is particularly interested in - see her most recent blog post about Sanquhar gloves, Glove Heaven.  Tom van Deijnen (aka Tom of Holland) talked about his Visible Mending Programme and showed the cardigan in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection that he mended for us a few months ago - I wrote about that here.

I had not met Amy Twigger Holroyd before, though I had seen some of her work the previous day at the Fashion & Textile Museum's Knitwear exhibition - more on that later, possibly.  She talked about her Keep and Share programme  and brought along some of the things that she has made, or re-made, in that programme.  (And she was wearing a very nice cardigan that I recognised later in her on-line store.)   She passed around some of the pieces that she has worked on - commercial knits that she has re-worked into something special, including some 'stitch-hacked' pieces where a plain piece of stocking stitch has been converted into an embossed design in reverse stocking stitch on a stocking stitch background. As every stitch in the area she is working on has to be redone by hand individually, it is painstaking, slow work, but the results are amazing. She passed around a fine-knit vest that she has stitch-hacked - the images are from here.

Amy Twigger Holroyd's stitch-hacked vest.

Detail of  stitch-hacked vest.
The last two talks were on  war-time knitting - I gave a repeat of my talk "Useful Work for Anxious Fingers', on Knitting & Crochet in the First World War 1, that I gave at the Knitting & Crochet Guild convention in July.  This time, I showed the crochet handbag that I made to a Woman's Weekly pattern from 1917.   

And finally Joyce Meader of The Historic Knit showed a selection of garments for soldiers and sailors that she has knitted, following original knitting patterns from the Crimean War onwards.  She had brought some of the pattern booklets, and passed them around.   There were several different versions of a Balaclava helmet, socks, pullovers, sweaters, and so on.  Some odd ones, like knitted puttees, which I think may have been intended as leg-warmers to wear on chilly nights when the days were hot, e.g. in Mesopotamia.   
Some of Joyce Meader's WW1 patterns - image from The Historic Knit 

An enlightening and enlivening afternoon.  (Although battling afterwards along a thronged Oxford Street in the rain was not much fun.)

Wednesday 29 October 2014

More Elizabeth Forster Designs

The first designs by Elizabeth Forster that I saw were illustrated in her book, The Wandering Tattler.  The designs had been published as Wendy pattern leaflets, and a year later I found copies of the leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection - they are illustrated here.

There were three more pattern leaflets that she designed for Wendy in the display of her archive at Norwich Castle Museum earlier this month.  All three date from the 1970s, and I had already picked out two of them as possible Elizabeth Forster designs when I was sorting Wendy pattern  leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection two years ago.  I knew that she had done a lot of work for Wendy Wools and that her designs were often inspired by her travels, so I kept an eye out for likely leaflets. Leaflets 1593 and 1721 were two of those I thought were hers.  (I think that I was probably right about the others that I picked, too, but that hasn't yet been confirmed.)    

Wendy 1593

Wendy 1721
 They are very 70s shapes - the hooded tabard looks very dated now.  And shawl-collared belted jackets are a bit Starsky and Hutch, for those who remember 70s TV.  But I like the colour work - though in both cases, the belt breaks up the pattern and tends to spoil the effect, especially in the tabard.

The third Wendy pattern on show in Norwich is not one I had picked as a possible Elizabeth Forster, because it is less obviously 'ethnic'.  But it might be based on a motif she saw somewhere - in a mosaic maybe?  The yoke pattern with its expanding diamonds and graduated colours is a very nice effect, and it's a classic sweater shape that you could knit now with very little alteration.  

Wendy 1815
  There's much more research to be done into Elizabeth Forster's designs, of course - these are just a few examples.

Monday 27 October 2014

Kagome Jacket

I bought a copy of The Knitter today, because the current issue (no. 77) has a pattern I have been waiting to see published since the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate last November.  It is the Kagome jacket, designed by Emma Vining.   It's knitted in two colourways of a variegated yarn, which share one or two colours, so that they go well together.  But they are different enough that the geometry of the design is clear.  

Emma has had to change the yarn since last year - the one she originally used has been discontinued.  The jacket I saw in Harrogate was in darker, more neutral colours, which I really liked.  I would have to choose a different colourway than the one in The Knitter - the custard yellow and pinky-orange in particular are not colours I would usually choose to wear.  But it's great to see the pattern in print, and it's in a chunky yarn so (a) a quick knit and (b) very suitable for a winter jacket.  I'm impatient to buy the yarn for it - and the Knitting & Stitching Show is at the end of November, so maybe that would be a good place to look, if I can manage to wait that long.  

Monday 20 October 2014

The Elizabeth Forster Archive

More than two years ago, I wrote here about a visit to Norfolk to see an amazing collection of sample garments and records left by the designer Elizabeth Forster. She designed knitwear from the late 1940s to the 1980s, and after she moved to Norfolk in the late 1950s, she made her living from it. Hundreds of her knitting and crochet patterns were published, in magazine and newspapers, and as spinners' leaflets.  But, like other knitwear designers at that time, her name was unknown to the many thousands of knitters who must have made her designs over the years.  As I said in 2012, it was fascinating to see all the samples and records that she had left, and I thought that it was an immensely important archive.

In 2012, her friends were trying to find a permanent home for the collection.  And now they have succeeded!  They invited me to stay with them last weekend, and to go with them to Norwich Castle Museum on Saturday.  The museum has acquired the whole collection, and on Saturday, as part of a day of activities celebrating fashion and textiles, the Elizabeth Forster Archive was on show to the public for the first time.    

The display was in the castle keep, a very grand space.  Eight of the sample garments were displayed on mannequins - the museum staff had picked some of the most striking and characteristic designs.

One of my favourites is a sweater with a band of interlocking black and white birds around it - she was a keen bird-watcher, so I expect that the birds are a correct representation of some species, though the interlocking design must also have been inspired by Escher.

I also liked a cream sweater with a geometric design in orange and turquoise.  The motif again probably comes from something she saw on her travels - designing knitwear funded her travels, but at the same time, her travels gave her ideas for more designs.

The influence of South America is obvious in some of her designs: on show on Saturday was a coat and skirt, with bands of llamas and other motifs on the skirt.

There were more garments laid out on a table - these were samples which have already been matched up with its published pattern from one of Elizabeth Forster's files.   The samples that she kept were those where the design was published in a magazine - the magazine had no use for the sample, once the design was published .  On the other hand, if a design was sold to a spinner, and published as a pattern leaflet, the spinner would keep the sample - I think that sample garments were lent to yarn shops to display both the yarn and the design.

Saturday was a wonderful day.  It was good to see the some of archive in its new home, and to meet a few of the enthusiastic volunteers at the Museum who are keen to tie together the sample garments with the designs - there is a lot of research to be done.  And it was lovely to visit my friends and see that they have done a great job in securing the future of the archive, and proper recognition for Elizabeth Forster's work.  

Elizabeth Forster and her cat

Thursday 16 October 2014

Vitamin D

I finished knitting a cardigan back in August, and I've been wearing it a lot.  It's one of my favourite things to wear currently - ideal for a summer's day when it's not too hot.   (So ideal for a British summer.  Or especially warm October weather, as we are having just now.)  And I haven't yet written about it - mainly because I haven't had any photos of it until today.   Anyway, here it is.

The design is Vitamin D  by Heidi Kirrmaier  (no idea why it's called that).    I saw a sample knit in a yarn shop in Portland, Oregon, last year,  where I bought the pattern and yarn for my Boardwalk pullover, also by Heidi Kirrmaier and a very successful knit.  The Vitamin D sample caught my eye at the same time, and I remembered the name.

It's an interesting construction, with no seams at all, a great selling point.  You start at the back of the neck, and  knit it all in one piece from there.  I love the drapy fronts -  the fullness is created with short rows.  The eyelets are functional, incidentally, not just decorative - i.e. every eyelet is an increase of one stitch.

I like the fact that the fronts are drapy without hanging below the back - they don't get in the way, and are tidier than they look.  Heidi Kirrmaier says that it's important to choose a yarn that drapes well, and I picked DMC Natura 4-ply cotton, which I have knitted with before.  It comes in a lovely range of colours (this one is called Blue Jeans), is good to knit with and I think is just right for a summer cardigan.

The back looks good too, and it's long enough for me - I often have to lengthen tops, but not this one.

Altogether a very successful knitting project.

Thursday 9 October 2014

A Handbag from 1917

I mentioned a while ago that I had spent a day in the British Library in London, reading bound volumes of Woman's Weekly from the First World War, looking to see how the magazine was helping its readers cope with the war.  I was expecting to find patterns for knitted comforts for soldiers and sailors, though there were not very many of those.  But there were articles on war work for women, and later in the war cookery features on how to cope with food shortages.

One thing that caught my eye was a crochet pattern, aimed at readers who had a sweetheart or a brother in the Army. It appeared in the March 24, 1917 issue, and is headed "The Latest Crochet Handbag - Make it in the colours of “his” regimental ribbon."

The illustration with the pattern is, of course, not in colour, and the description begins:
"I wish I could show you on this page the delightful blend of colours used in the making of this bag.  It is quite of an Oriental tone; but now that everything of note is regimental, many of you will prefer to use the colours of the regimental ribbon in which you are particularly interested. You can arrange the colours any way you wish.  A few strips of each colour in turn can be worked, or the bag can be divided into the number of colours required, so that there is an equal number of each. Or you can begin with a neutral colour, such as Navy blue or black, to match your costume; then have a band of the regimental colours near the top, finishing with the main colour as at base of bag.... Quite a medley of colours was used for the bag illustrated, as follows:  Bright red, Royal blue, emerald green, cinnamon brown and gold."
Not subtle, then.

I decided to try to make one, to illustrate my talk  "Useful Work for Anxious Fingers - Knitting and Crochet in the First World War".   We have a few pieces of WW1 crochet in the Guild collection at Lee Mills, but it is all household crochet, in white.  This handbag would be a nice contrast - and I have just finished it.

It was a bit of a challenge to make.  The pattern specifies "Star Sylko No. 8 with a No. 4 steel hook"  ("but of course, those who can afford real silk will do so.")  Star Sylko was a crochet cotton, and I made the assumption that 'No. 8' would mean the same now as it did then.  I bought a mixed selection of Anchor crochet cotton, No. 8, which is fine and slightly shiny, and I think it has worked out very well.  I have no idea what size a No. 4 crochet hook was, so after consulting a couple of modern books with patterns for fine crochet, I chose a 1.5 mm hook.

 I have never crocheted anything so fine before.  In fact, as I said in a post last December, I hadn't done any crochet until then for 30 years or so, and then only in double knitting wool. And in December, I had to sit with 'How to crochet' instructions next to me - I couldn't remember how to do doubles, trebles, etc.  So  I wasn't at all sure that I would be able to make the bag successfully.  The pattern did say  "IT IS JUST CROCHET IN CIRCLES AND SO EASY TO WORK!"  which was somewhat reassuring, but even so, when I managed to crochet fairly evenly after a bit of practice, I was pleased and relieved.   

 As usual for patterns of that date, the instructions aren't very precise about measurements.  After you start decreasing towards the top, the pattern says you should continue until it measures 6 inches across the top, laid out flat, or "until long enough".  In fact, it is more than 6 inches across the top, but I did decide it was long enough, and it's possibly a bit longer than shown in the illustration.  (The tassel should be the same size in both.)  My drawstrings are not as long as in the illustration, but I thought that the bag would be worn over the wrist, and so I have made mine a suitable length for that. 

And I did choose regimental colours, as Woman's Weekly suggested.   Royal blue, green and white, are, I believe, the colours for the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.  My grandad, John Potter,  was in that regiment in the First World War.  (The other colours, claret and purple, are intended as a background.)  I've also attached  Army buttons to the drawstrings, following the pattern.  They are the right era, but not KOYLI buttons, I'm afraid.  

I'm not sure I'm ever going to use it as a bag, but it will be on show several times over the next few months when I give my talk.  I certainly couldn't use it as an everyday handbag, when I think of all the things I carry around with me -three sets of keys; mobile phone;  packet of tissues; lip balm; purse with money and debit & credit cards; bus pass; wallet with assorted shop & cafe loyalty cards, library cards, etc.; mirror.  Etc.

What did women carry in their handbags in those days?  I consulted The Secret History of the Handbag and found a cartoon from the early 1910s, of an elegant lady with a huge leather handbag over her shoulder, and the rhyme:
Elsie, why this monstrous bag?
Don't you think it rather swanky,
When you know that it contains
Hairpins, powder puff, and hanky?
So there you are.  It would be a perfectly adequate little bag for those things, with room for a small money purse as well.  

Monday 6 October 2014

My Favourite Tea Cosy

I've said before on this blog that I don't need a tea cosy as I don't drink tea. Even so, I do have a favourite tea cosy.  She is in the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, and she is definitely she, not it - she is a china half doll, with the cosy forming her skirt.  Admittedly, she would look much less elegant with a teapot under her skirt - a handle and spout sticking out at the sides would not really suit her.  

She has recently featured in the second edition of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits, a special issue of Piecework, published by  Interweave Press.  We were sent a copy for the collection, because it has a photo of our tea cosy.  (It may not otherwise be available in the U.K.)  Susan Strawn, who writes regularly for Piecework, has designed a tea cozy (American spelling) for the new Downton Abbey edition.  It's intended as the  personal cozy of Mrs Patmore, the cook, to use when she has a minute to sit down and enjoy a break from cooking.

Tea Cozy for Cook, designed by Susan Strawn, in The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits

Susan visited the collection at Lee Mills last summer, and saw our tea cosy lady then.  She had just bought a similar cosy herself, in the Shetlands, with a china half-doll and corrugated skirt, and the two tea cosies together inspired her to design another.

The pleated effect, with two colours of yarn, and the yarn not in use being pulled tightly across the back of the fabric, is commonly used in tea cosies, and is a good way to insulate the tea pot.  And as our lady shows, you don't need to use two colours - you can equally well use two strands of the same colour to make the pleats.  

China half-dolls were very popular in the 1930s to 1950s, and used on all kinds of things (including a telephone cover).  I have seen them used in several tea cosy patterns.  Patons & Baldwins' Helps to Knitters leaflet 4/531 from the 1930s has two tea cosies with china half-dolls, and two matching egg cosies.    

Helps to Knitters 4/531

The example in P&B leaflet C-1069 (from the 1950s) is elegant, with a very wide skirt and underskirt completely covering the tea pot - there are no gaps in the skirt for the spout and handle.

P&B C-1069
 But I think that our tea cosy's embroidered rosebuds are exceptionally charming.  It's good to see  them adopted for Mrs Patmore's tea cosy.  

Friday 3 October 2014

Another Rug Wool Gauge

I hadn't seen, or even heard of, a rug wool gauge until friends gave me one a couple of weeks ago,  and now I've seen another - or rather a drawing of one in use. (Of course, I probably wouldn't have noticed the drawing if I didn't already have a rug wool gauge, so it's not really an amazing coincidence.)

The drawing is from the Hand Book on Knitting and Crocheting published by the Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores.  We were looking through the copies of the Hand Book in the Guild collection at Lee Mills the other day, trying to make sense of them.  They are all undated, but evidently there were quite a few different editions.  (They don't have edition numbers either.)   The drawing is from an edition that I think must have been published during the First World War, because there are several patterns for knitted comforts for the Army and Navy.

The booklet has a section in the booklet on Rug and Mat Making, using (as it says on the gauge) Greenock Rug Wool.   The company used the brand name 'Greenock' for its knitting and rug wools - the mill was at Greenock in Scotland.  You could buy the wool, the gauge, a special hook, and canvas in various sizes.   The canvas was not printed with a design, though, as was common later, and the booklet does not give any charts - you had to make up your own design, or (more likely) make a plain rug.

My Patons & Baldwins rug wool gauge is much later than this one, and I thought that such things were only in use from the 1930s to the 1950s, roughly, so it's interesting to see the history pushed back to the 1910s.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Women and the Great War

On Sunday, we went to a History Wardrobe event at the Red House Museum in Gomersal - a talk on Women and the Great War, featuring original clothing.  Lucy Adlington talked about a common idea (though hopefully not as common as it was?) that women played little role in the war. She talked about the shelling of Scarborough and Hartlepool, and the Zeppelin raids, which very obviously brought the war to the Home Front, killing women and children, as well as men.  And she talked about the work that women did during the war.  On show was an original nurse's uniform from the History Wardrobe collection, with a pair of starched cuffs, to keep the uniform sleeves clean, and still marked with the owner's name, W.Ingram.  

The other presenter, Meredith Towne, played the role of a young dressmaker who had lost her job at the start of the war, as customers cut back on luxuries, and eventually became a munitions worker.  She appeared first in a very pretty dress from the start of the war, or just before, and later in a munitions uniform - amazingly, an original outfit, apart from replica trousers.

They also showed a beautiful wedding dress, with a wedding photo to go with it.  (Astonishing that these things have survived!)  The groom and best man were in Army uniform, so it was definitely a war-time wedding.

It was a very entertaining talk, with lots of fascinating information, and it was such a privilege to be able to see so much original clothing at close quarters. (Lucy also has a copy of the British edition of Vogue, from 1918!  And allowed me to look through it after the talk!  What a treat.)  History Wardrobe are repeating the show in various places around the country - it's worth tracking them down.

Lucy has written a book on Great War Fashion and I bought a copy after the talk, though I have only had time to dip into it so far.  It is very well illustrated - a few of the photos are of Meredith wearing items from the History Wardrobe collection.   It looks very well researched, too, and full of useful information.  I'm looking forward to settling down with it for a good read.  

Sunday 28 September 2014

More Reversible Cables

Quite a while ago, I saw Norah Gaughan's Here and There Cables design on Ravelry.  It's a lovely textured scarf, covered on both sides with cables which wander about, split and rejoin.  It's reversible, so the cables do the same thing on both sides, and I've been trying to figure out, with absolutely no success, how they are done.  But following the reversible cables workshop last week, I had another look.  Still couldn't work it out.  So I decided I needed to get the pattern - I really wanted to understand it, and I wasn't going to do it any other way.

 Here's a swatch:

And the stitch pattern is the same on the other side!

Now that I have seen the instructions, it's actually a very easy pattern to remember, and quite easy to knit.   I feel there's going to be a cabled scarf on my needles very soon....

One downside of finally understanding how the Here and There Cables work is that  trying to work it out in my head was an infallible way of getting back to sleep, if I woke up in the middle of the night.  Perhaps I'll have to try designing some variations instead.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Rug Wool Gauge

Friends came to stay last weekend and brought me a knitting-related gift - a Patons Turkey Rug Wool Gauge.   It's a piece of wood, 8½ inches (21.5 cm) long.

The instructions are printed on it: "Wrap wool with even tension round gauge and cut along groove"- the groove is on the under side.

Add caption
The gauge was intended to be used when cutting thick rug wool into short pieces for making a hooked rug - the pieces are 2¾ inches long, or just over 7 cm.  (I've tried it.)  Rug making was evidently popular in the 1930s - there is a Patons & Baldwins catalogue from 1935 in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection that has several pages on making rugs.  

From Patons & Baldwins catalogue, 1935.
The woman seems to be working with large skeins of wool, so she must be cutting off short lengths of wool before hooking them into the canvas.  Presumably she is using a wool gauge, though it's not shown in the sketch.

The KCG collection also has several booklets of rug designs, from the Patons archive.  The earliest, I think, is a Rugcraft booklet. There seem to have been several editions of Rugcraft; this one is later than the one illustrated in the 1935 catalogue, but still shows vaguely Art Deco designs, so possibly dates from the late 1940s.  

My mother used to make rugs, up to the 1970s.  (My mother-in-law too.)  But I don't remember my mother having a rug wool gauge -  she bought Readicut kits, with a printed canvas, and bundles of  wool already cut to the right length.  So no need for a gauge.  

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