Friday 27 June 2014

Flaming June

June doesn't often live up to its reputation, but over last weekend and until Wednesday we were staying with friends in London, and it really was beautifully warm and sunny.  Not exactly flaming, but very pleasant.  (Today by contrast is wet and cold.) 

Sheila and I went to the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley on Saturday. It was beautiful - so many different plants were at their best, especially the roses.  

There were a couple of areas of meadow, planted mainly with poppies to commemorate World War 1, but mixed with cornflowers and other annuals.   

There were two or three tulip trees in flower around the garden - I am fond of tulip trees because of their interesting leaves, but I don't think I have ever seen one in flower. 

And there were spectacular exotic plants in the glasshouse. 

Lobster claw - Heliconia rostrata 
On another day, we went to a cemetery - part of John's long-term scheme to visit all the main 19th century cemeteries in London (and everywhere else, of course). 


This memorial is well-known to cemetery aficionados, but for the angel and its sculptor rather than for the person commemorated.   (He made his money in coal-mining, and that's about all anyone wants to say about him, apparently.)

The local parakeets were very noticeable during the weekend, flying overhead and screeching. They are well-established by now around Twickenham and Richmond - quite handsome birds, although considered an alien pest. 

 Our friends' springer spaniel, Duke, is now fully-grown but as energetic and lively as ever.  

As well as all these outdoors things, I spent a whole day in the British Library, reading issues of Woman's Weekly from 1914 to 1917.  Such fun!  All part of my research into knitting in the First World War (though I did get diverted by one of the romantic serials). More on that later.      

Thursday 19 June 2014

A to Z of Knitting Needles

This evening we had the monthly meeting of the Huddersfield branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, and we showed some of the tools and gadgets from the collection.  (It was called 'Inspect a Gadget'.  It's been explained to me.) 

Angharad decided to put together an A to Z of knitting needle brands.  She didn't quite get a complete alphabet, but most letters are represented in the collection, from Aero, Ace, Anlaby and one or two more As through to Zephyr.   Some of the trickier letters are there, including Quaker Girl and Jester, but no Xs - and no Ns or Os, which is slightly more surprising.  

Here are some of the less common brands from the collection.   First a selection of plastic needles.

Cronit, Ladybird, Peacock, Glamor, Clive, Ace, Wimberdar, Robinoid
And the J and Q:
Quaker Girl
I knew it would be easy to get nerdy about knitting needles.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Fancy Work, April 1914

The Lady's World Fancy Work Book, April 1914.

The Lady's World was a monthly magazine that first appeared in 1898.  From 1906, there was a quarterly spin-off called the Fancy Work Book.  At that time, there were several magazines on 'fancy work' around - Mrs Leach's Practical Fancy Work Basket,  Ladies' Fancy-Work Magazine, Fancy Needlework Illustrated, and probably several more that I haven't found yet.   I think 'fancy work' was supposed to be inessential and decorative - something that ladies of leisure could do to amuse themselves - but it sometimes did include clothing and other practical items.

The April 1914 issue included a lot of crochet designs, especially Irish crochet, which was at the height of its popularity - a collar, a doiley, an edging for a table cloth.  The cover illustration is of a jabot with an edging of 'Irish fairy lace' around a net centre.   The preamble to the instructions says: 'The vogue of the moment for very fine lace articles for neckwear has brought the dainty "Irish fairy crochet" lace into such prominence that the supply does not nearly equal the demand, hence it is confined to those who already possess it or are fortunate enough to be able to pay the high price demanded for it. It is the finest of all Irish crochet....often a small motif is sewn on the fine "filling" and stands out from it, just as if it had fallen there or been thrown there by fairy fingers.'  Hmmm.   Quite apart from the 'fairy fingers', it sounds a very ambitious project, but possibly some of the magazine's readers devoted a lot of time and effort to fancy work, and reached a high standard.  


Another Irish crochet design in the magazine is for The Fashionable Gaiter.

 'For afternoon wear and dressy occasions the lace spat or gaiter is assured a vogue in the coming season on account of the mode of the moment in skirts.  Owing to the manner in which the ankle is  exposed it is imperative to pay a great deal of attention to the chaussure accompanying the toilette ..  The lace spat is the very latest innovation and no doubt it gives a pretty and graceful finish to smart footwear.'  That is a completely daft idea, and adding a few French words doesn't make it any more sensible.  You would hope that skirts becoming shorter than floor length would be a step towards more practical clothing, and instead, women were encouraged to fill the gap with something completely impractical.  There is a gesture towards practicality  - Irish crochet is claimed to be 'the most suitable of all lace for the purpose as it is so durable and stands laundering well.'  But as the reader is told to mount the lace on something like velvet or satin, the combination would not be washable I'm sure, so the lace would have to be unpicked from the backing to wash it, and it would need washing very frequently.   Altogether a crazy idea.

There are a couple of knitting patterns in the magazine, and a little bit of embroidery.  (The cover of the magazine promises all three.)   One of the knitting patterns is for a 'Lady's Sports Coat' - essentially a cardigan, and I suspect that they weren't just for sports, because there were a lot of similar patterns at the time and surely even leisured ladies didn't have that much time for sport, what with all the fancy work to be done.    The cardigan is knitted in stocking stitch, in Paton's 4-ply super fingering on size 10 needles.  There are a couple of interesting technical features: there's a neat hem to finish off the bottom , and the tops of the sleeves are shaped with short rows, rather than decreases.  

Also knitted is a 'Cosy Sports or Motor Scarf Hood'  with a silk lining,  and a baby's cloak and hood - worn by a rather alarmed-looking baby.

There's a knitted vest and a pair of bootees too, but on the whole, the emphasis is on decorative crochet.  The Lady's World Fancy Work Book survived into the 1920s, but by then, most of the magazine was concerned with knitting, with many patterns for ladies' fashionable jumpers.  Crochet was no longer so important.

Friday 6 June 2014

Yarn holders

Today was the last day of Hook & Needle Week at Lee Mills.  There are still some knitting needles left to sort out, and a lot of crochet hooks, but it's much more organised than it was.  We are left with dozens of odd knitting needles, and a lot of pairs that are duplicates - an exercise of this kind leaves you feeling that the big advantage of crochet hooks and circular knitting needles is that they don't need pairing up.

Today we sorted out the yarn holders.  I wrote about a couple of them here, but there are lots more in the collection.  The Beehive ones made for Patons & Baldwins, whose symbol was (and still is) a beehive, are very nice indeed.  We have a lot of them, in about eight different colours (depending on how many different shades of green you choose to identify).  

There are several other plastic yarn holders, some older than the Beehive ones, possibly in Bakelite, and some more recent ones in a softer plastic.

And there are two made of wood, with a transfer print on each one.  I think they are Mauchline ware, a type of holiday souvenir made in the late 19th century. They would make a good souvenir - practically useful, and a reminder of the holiday at the same time.   

Last year, I was inspired by the yarn holders in the collection to buy one of the later plastic ones for myself (on eBay).  They are very useful if you are knitting on the move - in a car, on a train, on a plane - and it's a pity that they aren't made any more. 

Wednesday 4 June 2014

A Kit for French Knitting

It's Hook & Needle Week at Lee Mills - we are sorting out the knitting needles (thousands of those), crochet hooks, and related tools and gadgets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  I might write  about some of the knitting needles another time - it would be very easy to get very geeky about them. 

One of the things that caught my eye is a 1950s box, originally containing a kit for French knitting. There was a bobbin, a pin and six little balls of rainbow wool.  Some of the balls of wool have been depleted, so presumably the kit has been used, and the bobbin and pin are gone, but the box lid is very evocative of the 1950s - I used to do French knitting occasionally, though never produced enough to actually make anything.    

In fact, the kit was completely unnecessary.  In those days cotton reels (the bobbins for sewing thread) were wooden, so you could easily get 4 nails hammered into the top, and have something very like the bobbin illustrated on the box.  Most yarn shops sold little balls of rainbow wool just like the ones from the box.  I can't remember what I used for a pin, but it was something easily available, not something you had to buy. But the box is nice.

Puzzle Corner:  we have two objects that look like knitting needles, but with a curve at the non-pointed end.  They are plastic, quite flexible, and the knobs are metal. There is no brand name or inscription of any kind.  We don't know if they are anything to do with knitting, or even if they are a pair - maybe they were designed to be used individually.  Anyone have any idea what they are?  

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