Thursday 27 March 2014

March 1914

It's hard to look at anything published in the first half of 1914 and not feel a sense of foreboding - they didn't know what was about to hit them. In fact, authors sometimes write about the First World War almost as though they should have, e.g. in later 1914, "Little did they know that the war would go on for another four years."  Well, of course they didn't (except perhaps Lord Kitchener, and little did he know that he'd be dead by then).  Life wasn't comfortable for everyone - and extremely wretched for many - but I imagine that most people assumed that it would carry on in the same way for a good long time.  And in March 1914, spring was around the corner, primroses were in flower on the covers of magazines, and the Archduke hadn't even been shot yet.

The Girl's Own Paper was edited by Flora Klickmann, a prolific and successful author as well as editor. You would expect that she would be sympathetic to women who wanted to be financially independent and self-supporting, with their own careers, because she was herself, and there are some signs of that.  For instance, there is an article on "Quick Steps in Cooking - Suggestions for the Business Woman who has to look after Herself". The recipes in it are designed to minimise washing up - "one of the chief problems of the worker. Only those who have tried the experiment of doing everything for themselves, and earning their living besides, realise the strict economy of plates and spoons and forks and pans which must be maintained if life is not to become an impossible burden."  (Odd that doing your own washing up, etc., is viewed as an experiment, rather than something you had to do because you couldn't afford to employ someone.) The article is aimed at both business women who have a "daily servant for a few hours daily" and also those who attend to themselves entirely.  In either case a meal that doesn't require a lot of attention is needed, so soups and stews are suggested, and risotto - though I have to say that the risotto recipe is not at all authentic.  (You cook the rice by "furious boiling" and then add other ingredients afterwards.)  

Some of the ads in the magazine also seem to be aimed at women who did not have servants - or just possibly who were servants themselves, though 6d for a monthly magazine seems a bit steep for the sort of lowly servant who would have to blacklead all the grates.

But elsewhere, the magazine is aiming at women who don't want to be independent.  One article begins, "Women are said to be the keepers of men.  This being true, it is good to know that there are many women who seem born to the purple of wifehood and motherhood, and they seem to find in the seclusion of their own homes, and by their own firesides, a fuller and more satisfying life than anything the outside world has to offer them.  The need of this world to-day is not for professional women, but for educated, intelligent and conscientious women as home-makers. The world would wag along very comfortably if there never were another woman lecturer or doctor, for all those places would be filled very creditably by men; but it takes a woman to make a home, and the home is the one thing needful for the safeguarding of humanity."

Not altogether consistent, for elsewhere in the same issue an article discusses how difficult it is to find good servants - being a middle-class home-maker wasn't just a matter of comfortable seclusion by your own fireside, but of managing staff, who were then liable to do inconvenient things like leaving to get married.  

As usual in women's magazines, there are features on clothes. In 1914, they were very constraining (on a foundation of corsets, of course) - the silhouette was very narrow, so that if you were really fashionable, it was hard to take more than small steps. There are several pages of illustrations of garments that you could make yourself - paper patterns for dresses, underwear, children's clothes, etc. could be bought from the magazine.  Ready-made clothes are advertised, too. 

And you had to wear a hat.  To be fashionable, it had to be large and highly decorated - but if you were short of money you could refurbish an old hat by dyeing it.

Other ads are for sports clothes, which were considerably freer.  Sometimes, a woman is posed in a long narrow skirt holding a golf club and you wonder how anyone could possibly play golf dressed like that.  But the Tootal's tennis dress shows that at least sometimes women's dress could allow a lot more movement. 

The long cardigan and not-too-tight skirt shown in other ads for "sports" clothes were I think what many women wore every day - they were not just for sports.  As the Pryce-Jones ad says "No lady's wardrobe can be considered complete without one of these delightful models, which are so very inexpensive." 

Ad for Pryce-Jones, Newtown, Wales
But... little did they know that in only a  few months the country would be at war, and their world would change completely. 

Monday 24 March 2014

A Host of Hats

Last week, we had the monthly meeting of the Huddersfield branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  Everyone was invited to bring along one or more hats and talk about them (or bring no hats and hear the stories).  It was fascinating to see the huge variety of hats that were brought  - old hats, new hats, designer hats, make-it-up-as-you-go-along hats.   Hats that turned out well, and one that didn't. 

I took photos of some of them - unfortunately, the lighting in the cafe was not very good for photography, and the colours in particular are sometimes a bit weird.

First, the vintage knits. Pamela brought along two Fair Isle tams that she knitted many years ago, and the booklet that the patterns came from. 

Patons SC104

I brought the Aran bobble that that my mother knitted for my sister in the late 60s, which I wrote about here.

I also brought my latest project, which was inspired by a 1914 pattern, so it is a sort of vintage knit, but also new.   More on that later.

Then the designer hats.  There were three designs by Woolly Wormhead.  Margaret has made her Meret beret more than once - here are photos of two, one much slouchier than the other. 

Sarah and Marie both brought their Encircle hat, which was Woolly Wormhead's mystery hat design in 2012.  I knitted it too, and wrote about it here.  

Sarah's Encircle
Marie also brought in Erica, which was WW's 2013 mystery hat. 

Marie's Erica
And Lorien by Ann Kingstone.  (She also brought Ann's Ilkley Moor design - the hat to go with the Baht 'At fingerless mitts.  It is beautiful, in the limited edition blue version of Baa Ram Ewe's Titus yarn called Boothroyd - but I didn't manage to get a good enough photo of it  to show the delicate cables.)    

Marie's Lorien
There were several hats that people had knitted to their own designs.  Angharad brought a navy and mauve hat she made to use up wool left over from a pair of mittens - the photo really doesn't do justice to the colours. 

And Marie brought a design of her own in feather-and-fan stitch to show off some yarn she spun herself.  

Marie really likes knitting hats, especially blue ones.  She also brought in the funniest hat of the evening - one that didn't quite work.   Beautifully knitted, though.  And blue.

Marie's disaster
Apologies to those who brought hats that aren't featured (either because I didn't get a photo, or it didn't turn out well), and to anyone whose hat is wrongly attributed or described - let me know if so.    

It was a very entertaining evening.  I feel inspired to knit more hats.

Sunday 16 March 2014

In Aran Style, 1959

On Friday I did my talk on "The Evolution of Aran Style" once again for the Leeds branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.   It's the 4th or 5th time I've given the talk, but it changes a bit each time, and I use a slightly different selection of Aran sweaters to illustrate it.  The new entry this time was a jumper that the cataloguers were recording a few weeks ago.  

The donor had included the pattern with the garment - otherwise we might not have felt confident in describing it as "Aran style".   The pattern was published in Woman's Weekly in 1959.  The headline is "In Aran style is this chunky patterned sweater", and the magazine goes on to say "These magnificent husky patterns, so like those from the Atlantic Isles of Aran, make up a Double Knitting jersey we think you will find irresistible."  It is hardly chunky or husky in modern terms, but the description suggests that Woman's Weekly readers were usually knitting with finer yarn at that time - they are assured that because it's Double Knitting, "the sweater will grow quickly on the needles."   In fact, the sweater we have in the collection was knitted in 4-ply, not DK - I think that the knitter followed the instructions for a larger size than she was aiming for, to compensate.  It is a very 1950s sweater, especially as styled in the magazine. 

I used to read Woman's Weekly back then at my Grandma's, and I was always fascinated by the suggested colour schemes for outfits.  It seemed like a glimpse of some profound and esoteric knowledge that the Woman's Weekly writers had mastered, and if only I tried hard enough I could acquire it too.   For this sweater, the magazine declares: "There are appropriate colours to choose" and then lists them: 

  • Leprechaun green jersey, beige cavalry twill skirt, cream silk scarf.
  • Unbleached natural jersey, peat brown skirt, emerald green scarf.
  • Atlantic blue jersey, dark navy skirt, pale lemon yellow scarf.
  • Gypsy red jersey, black and white check trews, pale grey scarf.
  • Gorse yellow jersey, green tartan skirt, dark green headband. 
Too bad if you'd like purple or pink.  

The largest size (40 in.) is intended for a man (who ideally should have an open-topped sports car to go with it) and the magazine advises: "Choose the stronger colours of granite grey, storm blue or unbleached natural if you are knitting for a man."

It's interesting that the possibility of knitting in unbleached wool is offered in both cases - only a few years later, Patons introduced Capstan yarn specifically for knitting Aran sweaters.  It was what we would now call Aran weight yarn, i.e. thicker than DK, and initially was only available unbleached.  After that, Aran sweaters knitted in Capstan or similar yarns, in "traditional" Aran patterns, became extremely popular in this country.  Perhaps the Woman's Weekly pattern shows the beginnings of a trend towards knitting Aran sweaters in unbleached wool. 

Thursday 13 March 2014

A Vintage Wool Wrapper

A wrapper from a vintage skein of yarn turned up recently at Lee Mills (just the wrapper, no yarn) in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.   I think it dates from 1920 or not much later -  the brand is J. & J. Baldwin's Beehive yarn, but the manufacturer is Patons & Baldwins - the two companies merged in 1920.   I like the little engravings of things you could knit with Beehive yarn - a lady's stocking, a pair of leggings for a child, a pair of baby's bootees are all easy to guess at.  The objects at the top right look like some sort of wristlet for a lady.  The drawing at the top left is, I think, a shawl - it is worn over the shoulders and the strings cross over in front and tie at the back.  (I have seen a pattern for something like that.)  All very charming, though they seem a bit old-fashioned for 1920 - similar patterns were current before the First World War.   

On a later ball band, from the 1950s or 1960s,  the company is named as Patons & Baldwins, and the beehive (which was originally the symbol of J. & J. Baldwin) still appears in vestigial form. 

And it is still there on a recent ball-band, though the Baldwin name has disappeared altogether. 

 So, you should save your ball-bands and one day they will be fascinating historic documents.  (I just found three, all different, lurking in the bottom of one of my knitting bags, so it turns out I am already saving ball bands, without actually deciding to.)  

Monday 10 March 2014

Name that Stitch

I went to Sheffield last week, bought myself a new top and while I was looking around the fashion floor, saw an interesting stitch pattern on a sweater.  This is getting to be a habit -  it was seeing a sweater in John Lewis that led me to experiment with two-colour moss stitch.  The latest stitch pattern seemed to be a slip stitch pattern, with the yarn carried across the front of the fabric.  

In fact, if I've got it right, it was a mixture of linen stitch and stocking stitch.   On an odd number of stitches:
Row 1 (right side): (Knit 1, slip 1 with yarn in front) to last stitch, knit 1.
Row 2 (wrong side) Purl.  

On the right side, it looks a bit like single rib, but is less stretchy. The sweater I saw was in a flecked yarn that made the horizontal 'bars' more obvious - I think it would be interesting, too, to try it in two colours, one for the knit rows and one for the purl rows.  

The wrong side is also quite attractive - like a slightly corrugated reverse stocking stitch.
It makes a nice fabric - softer and much less dense than linen stitch.  In comparison with stocking stitch, it's thicker and doesn't curl up, though it does still curl inwards a bit.  Is it a standard stitch, I wonder?  I have been thinking of it as the fatface stitch (it was a fatface sweater) but clearly that won't do, especially if it has a name already.   

Thursday 6 March 2014

Sanquhar Gloves

I've just bought a new pair of gloves - for a hand-knitter that wouldn't usually be anything to write about, but these are very special gloves.  They are traditional Sanquhar-pattern gloves, hand-knitted in Sanquhar (in Dumfriesshire in Scotland).    And as you can see, they were knitted just for me, with my initials knitted into panels on the wrist.   

In theory, I could knit gloves like this myself, but actually I don't have the skill, or the patience.  They are in very fine wool (3-ply?) and the detail is just amazing.  (I generally make people look at the gussets between the fingers. Phenomenal.)    

The pattern is very similar to one of the first published patterns for Sanquhar gloves, Patons & Baldwins leaflet 87 that appeared in the 1950s.  

Patons & Baldwins 87
I ordered the gloves from the Sanquhar Arts Cente, A' the Airts, which is just opposite the Tollbooth Museum. We visited both in May 2012,  but I didn't know then that you could order gloves from the Arts Centre.  I think they can be ordered in other colour combinations, and other stitch patterns, but I wanted to stick to the traditional black and white.  The pattern is called 'the Duke' - the squares are supposed to represent the enclosure of the land.  

The gloves are very warm - too warm to wear in the spring-like weather we are having.  But I'll be ready for the next cold spell. 

Monday 3 March 2014

"Tell Them Of Us" Update

I wrote last month here about the project to make a film about the village of Thimbleby in Lincolnshire in the First World War, and the men commemorated on its war memorial. I have been supplying copies of patterns from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collections to the knitters and crocheters who are making costumes for the film, via the costumier, Pauline Loven.

A recent update on the project described packaging up yarn and patterns to send to the volunteers around the country (and around the world). There was a photo of a table strewn with copies of patterns, and I was thrilled to recognise them as ones I had sent.

Photo by permission of Pauline Loven.
I think I can recognise on the table a pattern that featured in my earlier post - one of the Paton's leaflets.

Paton's Helps to Knitters IX
Also on the table are copies of two issues of Leach's Home Needlework series.  The originals are a bit worn and discoloured, after 100 years - the paper was not top quality in the first place - but they are perfectly readable.

Leach's Home Needlework Series no. 4 -- Comforts for Men
One is a booklet of things to knit for soldiers and sailors, including the strange helmet with ear flaps on the cover - the idea is that the flaps could be tucked in to keep the ears warm, or folded back when it was important to be able to hear well.

The other booklet has instructions for garments for babies and small children, including the small boy's suit shown on the cover. It has a jersey, buttoned on one shoulder, and with a diamond pattern on the yoke, shorts, a cap and socks, all knitted. The instructions say that "It can be made in useful navy blue, brown or other dark shade, but white has a much better appearance."  (You would have to really love washing clothes to dress a small boy in white wool. Especially in the days before machine washable wool and washing machines.)

Leach's Home Needlework Series No. 10 - Garments for Children
The little girl's outfit on the cover is a coat and cap, in green wool if you follow the suggestion in the booklet.  It is in "apple-seed" stitch, which I had not met until recently.   I am knitting an Aran sweater for my husband to an Alice Starmore pattern, and the side panels of that are in what she calls sand stitch, but it is the same as the apple-seed stitch in this pattern.  (More on the Aran sweater later.) 

I recognise other patterns on the table from The Lady's World Fancy Work Book - maybe some from Weldon's Practical Needlework too.  It's very satisfying to think of all these patterns being used again, to create the costumes for the film.
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