Wednesday 26 February 2014

Mary Maxim

My sister has given me a cutting from the Daily Telegraph of 12th February about twin brothers Mike and Patrick Davies who are still wearing the cardigans that their mother knitted for them in 1959 when they were 15 - you can see the story here from the Daily Mail's online site.

The cardigans are in thick wool with pictorial designs on them; one has a design of yachts and the other has buffalo.  The article says that the wool was Canadian, though bought in Neath in South Wales.   I am sure that they are Mary Maxim designs  - Mary Maxim was (and is) a Canadian yarn company that started in the 1950s.  The company specialised then in hand-knit designs for thick jackets with zip fronts and designs based on Canadian wildlife, sports and similar outdoors-y themes.  They exported the wool and patterns to the U.K. in the late 1950s, and we have around 60 Mary Maxim patterns in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  We don't have either of the patterns for the Davies's cardigans, but we do have an actual cardigan in the "Yachts" design. 

Mary Maxim "Yachts" cardigan
Our example is knitted in black, red and cream rather than cream/fawn mix, dark brown and tan like Patrick Davies'.  Another difference is that our cardigan has set-in sleeves and his has raglan sleeves - Mary Maxim patterns came with instructions for both. 

Yachts cardigan - back detail

Mary Maxim patterns of that era are very distinctive - they were all printed on matte card, in a tall narrow format and in a uniform colour scheme.   Two more are shown below, with designs of reindeer and wild duck.  They are quite attractive if you like pictorial knitwear, and they are clearly very hard-wearing, as the Davies brothers' cardigans show. I do have some hand-knits that I am still wearing after 40 years or so - I can't match their (nearly) 55 years yet, though.  

Mary Maxim no. 400 Reindeer
Mary Maxim no. 401 Wild Duck

Saturday 22 February 2014

Giant Wool

We often think that very thick knitting wool did not exist until recently, but  I showed 1930s knitting patterns for chunky yarn here, and I've now found much older patterns for very thick wool.  They come from Weldon's Practical Needlework no. 338, which was published early in 1914.  Practical Needlework was a series of magazines, published monthly but kept in print for a long time.  Each one was on a particular needlecraft - number 338 is in the Practical Knitter series. 
Weldon's Practical Needlework no.  338, 1914

There are two patterns that use  "Peacock" Giant Wool and "bone needles No. 3".  If this is the same as a standard British size 3, it would be 6.5mm.,  but as the standard knitting needle sizes are based on wire thicknesses, I'm not sure whether they would apply to bone needles.  The patterns don't give a tension, so that's not helpful, but it is clear from the patterns and the illustrations that Giant Wool was very thick (as you would expect from the name).        

Lady's Waistcoat in Giant Wool

The first pattern is for a lady's waistcoat - a very practical garment "to wear under a big coat for motoring, driving, etc."   I think that in 1914 driving was intending to mean riding in a carriage, so that motoring and driving were different activities - but both potentially involving exposure to bad weather.   The back has only 34 stitches, increasing to 40 at the underarms, so even allowing for women being smaller in 1914, it is clear that it must be knitted in very thick yarn on very big needles. 

Lady's Hood in Giant Wool

The waistcoat is not intended to be on view - just as well, because the increases up the front are not very tidy. The other pattern is much more decorative, although also functional.  The instructions say that it can be "either an evening hood or a motor hood.  For the former it can be left just as it is knitted, fairly loose around the top of the head, and it will not crush the hair."  (Women's hair-styles were big in 1914, so hats had to be roomy.)  "For a motor hood it will be necessary to line it with leather - just ordinary wash leather - to make it wind-proof." 

Motoring evidently required a whole new wardrobe to protect both drivers and passengers from the elements.  The illustration shows the hood made to fasten closely round the neck for motoring - the instructions says that for an evening hood, it could be made to fasten differently, so that one end of the neck piece trails like a scarf (which probably makes more sense if you actually knit it).   

The company that made Giant Wool, Faudel's, has long since disappeared, and I don't think that other spinners made such thick yarn until the 1930s.   Perhaps it did not catch on.     

Monday 17 February 2014

Two-Colour Moss Stitch

I was in John Lewis Sheffield a couple of weeks ago, looking for a new pair of jeans, when I noticed a jumper with what looked like an interesting stitch pattern.  I examined it closely.  It was hard to tell how it was done, because it was a very fine machine knit, but I thought that it was possibly a version of moss stitch (aka seed stitch), knitted in two colours.  I've since knitted a swatch to try out a couple of ways of knitting stripes in moss stitch. 

I tried stripes of two rows in each of two colours first.  It gives a nice tweedy effect. 

Seed stitch; two row stripes; swatching; stitch patterns; knitting

The other version I tried has one row of each colour (and I think that was the stitch pattern I was trying to match).  To alternate the colour after each row, you need to use a circular needle. One colour is always at the wrong end of the row when  you want to use it, but with a circular needle, you can just slide the knitting along the needle and knit two consecutive rows in the same direction. 

Seed stitch; one row stripes; swatching; stitch patterns; knitting
Moss stitch has the advantage of being exactly the same on both sides, and also lies flat, unlike stocking stitch, so it's useful for scarves and the like.  Both of these striped moss stitch patterns would be nice in a scarf - the one row stripe has the advantage that both edges are similar, whereas in the two-row stripe, one edge has loops at one edge where the colour not in use is carried over two rows of the other colour.  

A stitch I have previously considered for multi-coloured scarves is linen stitch.  It lies flat, both sides are attractive (though not identical), and it looks good in narrow stripes.  But I have only tried swatches of linen stitch, because it is very slow to knit.   Moss stitch grows much faster, though slower than  stocking stitch.  Worth trying. 

And back in John Lewis, I did find a nice pair of jeans - reduced, too.  


Wednesday 12 February 2014

Cherry Brandy Sweater Found

More than a year ago, I found a knitting pattern for a sweater designed to look like a bottle of De Kuyper Cherry Brandy and wrote about it here.  I knew that there should be an actual sweater knitted to that pattern in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, because I had seen a photo of it taken several years ago, but it hadn't been seen recently and we didn't know which box it was in.  Then yesterday the cataloguers got to box 39, and found it.

I think it's wonderfully quirky, in a 1980s kind of way, and it's very satisfying to have both the pattern and the sweater (and to know where they both are).  The knitter has adapted the neckline from the original - it should have a stand-up collar with "Extra Fine" in red and gold around it, but this one is a more practical crew-neck instead.

The pattern for the Cherry Brandy Sweater 

If you go back to my original post, you can see the TV ad which featured the model on the pattern.  Be warned - you might find yourself singing the song in your head for the rest of the day.  I am, right now - but I've had "My name is Morgan but it ain't J.P." playing for several days, so I don't mind.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Modern Technology

I have been sorting out magazines this week - I keep thinking that the magazines in the Guild collection are pretty much sorted, and then I find they aren't.  On Friday, I discovered that there were two separate boxes of Knitter's magazine, covering the same range of dates.   In sorting them out, I spotted a special issue on Aran knits, from 1989 -  next month, I am doing another re-run of my talk on Arans, so I brought it home to read. 

Aran Vest by Meg Swansen
One of the Arans in particular caught my eye  - a vest designed by Meg Swansen, with panels of Elizabeth Zimmerman's Sheepfold pattern and its mirror image either side of the central cables.  It's still a very wearable knit, I think.  But it was the photo that really grabbed my attention - and that phone!  

I suppose that it is intended to give the impression that the woman is in a high-powered job, using cutting-edge technology to keep in touch with her colleagues wherever she is - even in the street!  (Wow!)  But now, you think: "Why is that woman holding a brick to her ear?" 

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Tell Them Of Us

I have been busy for a couple of days, scanning knitting patterns from the First World War, or just before.  They will be passed to a large team of around 250 volunteers who are creating knitwear for the cast of a film to commemorate the War.  The film, "Tell Them Of Us", is based on the war memorial in Thimbleby, a village in Lincolnshire, and one man named on it in particular, Robert Crowder.   I found out about the knitting project only recently, via the costumier, Pauline Loven. They have been having some difficulty finding enough British patterns of the right date, and  there are quite a lot in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, so we can help. 

It is a fascinating project - I'm so much looking forward to seeing some of the patterns in the Guild collection knitted up for the film.  

Although all the knitters are volunteers, and various spinners have donated yarn, there are still costs associated with  the knitting project, for postage and so on.   There is a web site where you can pledge donations and also find out a bit about the film - it seems to me a very worthwhile project to support. 

1910s vintage knitting pattern; Patons; Knitted coats & caps
Paton's Helps to Knitters IX

I have sent Pauline some of my favourite patterns - Paton's pattern leaflets from 1912.  I especially like the "Knitted Coats and Caps" leaflet - the young woman on the front looks so cheerful and energetic in her coat.   (I wear the things I have knitted for myself for years, so I am sure anyone who knitted this outfit for herself in 1912 would have worn it during the war as well.)  

The pattern writer in this case had some very modern ideas about what's required in a pattern - she says what size it fits (instead of saying something like "to fit an average figure" which you see sometimes in old patterns);  she tells you how long the coat will be; she specifies the tension to aim for; and she even directs you to knit a tension swatch.  And she gives directions for a larger and a smaller size - admittedly, for the smaller size you just use finer needles, but the directions for the larger size give different numbers  of stitches and rows at various stages.  Patterns in a range of sizes are very unusual until much later - really, after World War 2, so this is a long way ahead of its time. 

1910s vintage knitting pattern; Patons; Girls' coats & caps
Paton's Helps to Knitters X

The next leaflet that Paton's issued has a similar range of patterns for girls. I like the illustration on the front, of the little girl trying to look very formal and well-behaved in her smart outfit. This leaflet was written by a different designer, and the instructions are much sketchier.  Sometimes she gives a tension, sometimes she doesn't.  She doesn't give any indication of measurements, just a target age, as in  "Knitted coat for a girl 5 or 6 years of age".   And some of the instructions seem very opaque, though I hope that they make more sense when you're knitting.  I would say that it's the usual standard for patterns of that era, except that some designers (like the designer of the previous leaflet)  evidently felt that knitters needed and deserved much clearer directions to work from.   I hope one of the volunteer knitters can follow the pattern - I would really like to see a 21st century girl dressed like that.        
P.S. The title of the film comes from an epitaph written by J. M. Edmonds that appeared in The Times Literary Supplement on July 4, 1918.  He suggested it would be suitable for a British graveyard in France:

When you go home, tell them of us, and say
"For your to-morrow, these gave their to-day." 

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