Tuesday 27 May 2014

Will the real James Norbury please stand up?

Richard Rutt, in his History of Knitting, described James Norbury as "the strongest single influence in British knitting during the 25 years after the Second World War".  He was the chief designer for Patons and Baldwins from 1946 until he retired in 1969, and wrote several books on knitting.  In the 1950s, James Norbury had a series of programmes on knitting on BBC television, and I would really like to see one -  I can't imagine what the programmes were like.  So I searched online in case any of them were archived, but didn't find any.   However, I did find a TV programme on which he made an appearance - it was an American panel show called "To Tell the Truth".   The show ran for more than ten years, and he appeared on the last prime-time broadcast in 1967, which is archived here.  

The show had a resident panel of two men and two women, plus a presenter,  and in each round, three people would come on, all claiming to be the same person.  The panel had to decide which of the three was genuine.  In the last round of the final show, three men came on stage, all claiming to be James Norbury.  (You'll find this round starting at 19min. 19sec. - unless you want to start slightly earlier and watch the ads for Pepto-Bismol and Unguentine ) 

The presenter read a short piece about the real James Norbury:  "I, James Norbury, am an expert in the art of hand-knitting. For seven years I taught knitting on British television. I have written ten books on the subject, including the authoritative Encyclopaedia of Knitting.  I am also chief designer for the world's largest firm of wool spinners.... I am an accomplished knitter myself.  As a matter of  fact, in cable-stitch circles I am known as the Dior of the knitting needles."  In the middle of this, two models appeared, wearing outfits designed by Norbury.  One was a "knitted playsuit.  It features a crew neck with diamond motifs and little-boy shorts."  The other was truly atrocious: a "marine blue at-home ensemble with a crochet-accented button-front tunic over knee-length bloomers."  It had a waisted tunic with flared skirt, mid-thigh length, revealing the bloomers and their deep lacy edging.  I think that's "at-home" in the sense that you wouldn't want to be seen in public in it.   

James Norbury on "To Tell the truth"

Then the panel had about half a minute each to put questions to the three James Norburys.  The answers didn't seem very informative, except that one panellist asked the real James Norbury "What is the difference between knit and purl?" and got the reply "Knitting is done with the wool at the front of the work and purling with the wool at the back of the work," which must have been a slip of the tongue, because it's clearly the wrong way round.  So when the panel came to vote on who they thought was the real James Norbury, two picked the right man, but two picked a man who turned out to be an "expert in the art of yoga".  The yoga expert seemed very outgoing, just the sort of person to present a TV series, and also managed to get in a mention of Patons and Baldwins.   

And finally the presenter asked the question which has become a very well-known formula, even over here in Britain where no-one ever saw the show that started it: "Will the real James Norbury please stand up?"     

Thursday 22 May 2014

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Yesterday was a beautiful day - the forecasters have been saying for several days that rain is imminent, but it didn't in the end arrive until last night, so we seized the opportunity to go to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park - one of my favourite places.  We had coffee in the cafe, overlooking the slope down to the river and lake, then a gentle stroll around the lake, and back for lunch.  (M takes refreshments very seriously.) Here are some of the photos I took.

Ursula von Rydingsvard - Bronze bowl with lace

Julian Opie - Galloping horse
Horse chestnut flowers
No idea - a bird village?

Greylag geese and goslings

Sunday 18 May 2014

Double Knitting Workshop

We had the May meeting of the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild on Thursday - a workshop on double knitting by Sarah of Wessenden Woollies,  who is one of our members.   Double knitting,  as in the technique for producing a double-sided stocking stitch fabric, rather than double knitting yarn.  (Although in fact the recommended yarn was DK, so it was double knitting in double knitting.  (Double double knitting?)) 

Sarah had created a pattern for us - a "Love Owl" coaster.  I started mine again after the workshop, because I had made a mistake right at the beginning and had an extra stitch, so the first few rows of the owl were off by one.  I also wanted to try a different cast on - Sarah had shown us a two-colour version of long tail cast on, but a two-colour version of alternate cable cast on also works quite well.    The two colour cast-off that Sarah showed us is extremely neat  - a very nice braided effect. But my tension isn't very even - it's hard to keep all the stitches the same size when you're switching yarns from the back to the front of the fabric all the time.   

The other side of a double knit fabric is the same design with the colours reversed.  A light motif on a dark background looks much less like an owl I think - more like some kind of weird monster.    

Thanks to Sarah for a great workshop.   She has blogged about it here - you can see that her coaster is much more even than mine. 

Friday 16 May 2014

Lee Mills open day

We had an open day this week at Lee Mills, to show off some of the collection to a small group of Knitting & Crochet Guild members and volunteers.  We had picked out some of the knitted and crocheted items, and handed out white gloves so that people could handle them.  One of the items was the huge bedspread knitted by Hannah Smith in 1837 (according to the name & date worked into it) - it's an impressive piece of work, but not easy to display because of its size.  But with a small group of people, it can be spread out between them  and examined closely.  

Angharad showed a pair of her favourite Sanquhar gloves from the collection.  

Some of the pieces in the collection are interesting for their faults. We looked at a gansey, constructed in the traditional fashion but with a stitch pattern that doesn't really work.  It's a design of interlocking arrow heads, but the alternating stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch has caused the fabric to pucker up - an object lesson in how stitch patterns can behave differently in practice to the way they look on graph paper.  (Blocking might fix it I suppose - I might try a sample some time.)    

I showed a sample of publications, including some of my favourite knitting patterns (most of those have already featured in this blog).  And we had a small selection of tools and gadgets - at the moment  we have to make exploratory expeditions into the glory hole known as Knitting Needle Alley to see what we can find, but we are going to sort them all out during "Hook and Needle Week" in June. 

Bone knitting needles and early circulars

It was a wonderful day  - visitors are always really enthusiastic when they see the collection, and spending the day with half a dozen people who are fascinated and excited by what we can show them is a great experience for us too.  Several hours of non-stop talk about knitting and crochet - what could be better? 

Tuesday 13 May 2014

1952 Wool Fashions

Another of the British Pathe films mentioned in my last post is Wool Fashions, from 1952:

It features a series of knitting patterns issued by Sirdar that were inspired by historic items  (though the company is not mentioned in the film). 

One of the patterns in the same series that is not featured in the film is a man's pullover modelled by Roger Moore (shame he's not in the film).  And I wrote about another of the patterns here - a Lady's Lacy Jumper inspired by a knitted doily.   Here's its back view from the film, showing the interesting construction.  

Sirdar 1401 - back
Another (no. 1403) has a lacy (and very see-through) top using a lace pattern from a Shetland shawl.

1950s vintage knitting pattern; Sirdar
Sirdar 1403
The connection between the original item and the 1950s design is a bit tenuous sometimes. There are two beaded evening tops (one with a matching cap) - allegedly the inspiration was a beaded pincushion, though the only link is that they all have beads.   I'm not even sure that the pincushion is knitted - it's hard to tell from the photo.

1950s vintage knitting pattern; Sirdar

Beaded pincushion - source for Sirdar 1410
The 1952 designs are sometimes based on just a small detail of the original piece.  The jumper in Sirdar 1405 has horizontal bands of a stitch pattern from a bedspread - only a minor element of the bedspread design and hardly visible in the photo. 

1950s vintage knitting pattern; Sirdar
Sirdar 1405

So these designs are unlike modern vintage knits, which aim at something close to the original, but updated.  Instead, they take a stitch detail or a technique from the original, and incorporate it into a completely new design.  I kind of like them, although the models have such tiny waists they don't seem  like real women, but if you can persuade yourself to look at them with a 1950s eye they look elegant.  And the doily-jumper is such an off-the-wall idea - I like designs that abandon the usual back, front, sleeves construction.  I'm not sure I would actually want to knit any of them, though. 

Monday 5 May 2014

How to Cheat in Knitting Fair Isle

A recent post on Ysolda Teague's blog pointed to several British Pathe archive clips on YouTube.  One of the clips, from 1931, says on the title slide that it  "presents winning specimens from the 20,000 competing articles in the recent 'Daily Sketch' Needlework Competition."   (You can view the clip here - there is no soundtrack.)  

There are close-ups of three pieces of traditional Fair Isle, and then six or seven jumpers.  One of them looks at first glance like another example of Fair Isle knitting, but the close-up shows that the pattern is actually embroidered afterwards, not knitted in.   

And I recognised the design!  (Yes, I should get out more.)  It's from a Paton's & Baldwin's 'Helps to Knitters' leaflet from the 1920s. 

Patons & Baldwins Helps to Knitters 147
 There is a very battered copy of the leaflet in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  When I first saw it, I assumed that it was done using stranded knitting, in the traditional Fair Isle way - Fair Isles were very popular in the 1920s.  But in fact you knit a plain sweater and then follow the colour chart in the leaflet to add the patterned bands in cross stitch afterwards.   The leaflet specifies embroidery wool for the cross stitch, but from the film, it looks as though the knitter has used something with a sheen to it.   

Evidently the 'Daily Sketch' competition was looking for excellence in execution, not necessarily original designs.  And so it might be possible to identify some of the other winning designs too - there's a particularly elegant jumper below that looks very striking even in low-resolution black-and-white.  

Sunday 4 May 2014

The Lee Mills Trunk Show

Yesterday, Angharad and I went to Sheffield with a selection of things from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection in two suitcases - a large one with knitted and crocheted items and a smaller (but equally heavy) one with publications and a few tools and gadgets.  It was a new venture - we showed the contents to the Sheffield branch of the Guild, as a way of making the collection more accessible.  The visit went very well - it is such an amazing collection that it's easy to fill a couple of suitcases with fascinating material. 

I'm not going to show very much of what we took, because it would spoil the surprise,
should the trunk show come your way in the future,  but here are a couple of crochet doileys that Angharad chose.  The butterfly doiley was specially starched for the occasion, so that the butterfly wings stood up as intended.

Thursday 1 May 2014

The Earliest Pattern Leaflets

1913 ad for J. & J. Baldwin's pattern leaflets 
Because of all the interest this year in the First World War, I have been looking at the knitting and crochet patterns that were current at the start of the war – for the Tell Them of Us film, for one thing.  Most of the patterns that I have found are in magazines - only a few pattern leaflets were issued before the war. According to Richard Rutt in A History of Hand Knitting, pattern leaflets were then a new idea in this country, introduced by Frank Mills, managing director of the J. & J. Baldwin company in Halifax. In the section on the career of Marjory Tillotson, he says: “In 1908 Mills visited Germany on business and there saw for the first time knitting pattern leaflets. He asked Muriel Tillotson to undertake a demonstration department for the firm and produce leaflet material. Muriel was not attracted by the idea, and suggested her sister take over the organization. Marjory established the new department with a group of girls recruited from the mill, and soon issued her first leaflet. Although called a 'Beehive Knitting Booklet', it was a pattern for a crochet jacket and cap.”

1912 ad for Paton's pattern leaflets

J. & J. Baldwin may have been the first to introduce pattern leaflets into this country, but others were not far behind. By 1912, two other spinners were also advertising leaflets. Patons of Alloa started issuing their “Helps to Knitters” series, and by 1912  they had issued ten (we have leaflets 9 and 10 from the 1912 ad in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection).

1912 ad for Baldwin & Walker pattern leaflets

Baldwin & Walker of Halifax (surely some relation?) were advertising leaflets for their Ladyship knitting wool by 1912, when they illustrated the first 11.  Sadly, there are no Ladyship leaflets in the collection from that date – the earliest that we have are from the 1930s, I think.

1914 ad for a man's "sweater coat" in Ladyship Wools

However, the pattern for a man’s “sweater coat” – “useful for tennis or boating or any outdoor sport” – advertised as a leaflet in 1914, was also published in a Weldon’s Practical Knitting magazine at about the same time, so at least we do have the pattern. Maybe with a bit more research, we could find the patterns illustrated in the 1912 ad too.

By the way, there is a reference to “patterns” in the 1914 Ladyship ad – I think this means yarn samples, not knitting instructions. A common word at that time for what we now call a knitting pattern was recipe.

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