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.        
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