Thursday 23 April 2015

1960s Fashion Models

I have been sorting a lot of Hayfield pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection recently.  (Hayfield was the brand name of John C. Horsfall & Sons Ltd., based near Keighley, one of many yarn-spinning companies in West Yorkshire in the decades after WW2 - now Hayfield is a Sirdar brand.)  I wrote here about some Hayfield patterns from the 1980s.  In the recent sort, a few patterns from the 1960s caught my eye, because I recognised the models.

Hayfield 494
Hayfield 495
In 1966, Hayfield issued four patterns "Designed by Vogue Knitting", and the model on two of them was Grace Coddington, then a top model who frequently appeared in (British) Vogue.  She subsequently became creative director of American Vogue, and featured in the 2009 documentary The September Issue.

The four pattern leaflets were, as you would expect, advertised in Vogue Knitting.  Oddly, one of the other patterns is modelled in the ad by Twiggy, I think - hard to be sure, because her face is partly hidden by a large flower.  The model on the leaflet is definitely not the same person.  Wonder why they switched models?

It's unusual to see the top fashion models, who normally inhabit the glossy magazines, appearing on pattern leaflets.  But in 1969, Marisa Berenson also appeared on a Hayfield leaflet.  Like Grace Coddington, she was seen frequently in Vogue at that time, and appeared on several Vogue covers, for instance in July 1970.  In the 1970s, she moved into acting and appeared in several films.

Hayfield 659

The Marisa Berenson leaflet was featured in a Hayfield ad, and perhaps that was the reason for choosing a top model.  It seems to have been a special case - as far as I know, she did not model for any other Hayfield leaflets, or for any other spinners' leaflets.  She can rarely have modelled anything as mundane as an Aran cardigan.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Read, Knit and Work Plain Work

As you know, I am always looking out for references to knitting in unlikely places.   Our holiday in Wales last week wasn't very fruitful in that respect, but I did find one mention.  We went to Llanfyllin, about 10 miles north west of Welshpool, where we had a very nice lunch with our friends in the Seeds restaurant.  And after lunch, we went to the church - St Myllin's.   (Llanfyllin  means, more or less, the church of St Myllin. Changing an initial m to f sometimes is something that happens in Welsh.)  

On the front of the gallery at the back of the church was a series of painted panels, detailing various benefactions to the church and the town, including this one:

The charitable good Lady Mrs. Mary Vaughan of Llangedwyn, widdow of Edward of Llwydiarth Esqr. in 1720, aetat. suae [at the age of] 74 Did, among many other her great charitys, by her Deed grant and settle on Trustees Eleaven hundred and sixteen pounds ten shillings principal money to purchase lands the yearly Interest, Rents & proffitts thereof for ever for endowing & establishing charity schools, for 20 poor Boys & 10 poor Girls within this parish, & 12 poor Boys in the next parish of Llan-mihangel, to be educated in the Principles of the Church of England as by Law established, to be cloathed once a year; the Boys to be taught to read, write & Arithmetick; the Girls to read, knit & work plain work. This pious Lady lived some years after, saw these Schools flourish, Visited them and gave them further charitable incouragement. ...
I saw a similar record of a charitable endowment made in 1718 last year, in Herefordshire, reported here.  That listed similar subjects, but they weren't split between boys and girls (though perhaps it was thought to be obvious).  Here, it is made very specific.  The boys get what we would now think of as a very basic primary education - literacy and numeracy.  But the girls only get the reading part of that -  reading used to be taught separately from writing, and before it.  And then to "knit and work plain work" - which I think means plain sewing.  I assume that knitting and sewing were thought to be useful skills for an 18th century housewife in a poor household.  In some regions of  Britain, knitting stockings would be a way of earning money, but I think in those areas, men as well as women knitted at that time, and the skills would be learnt within the family.

£1116 10s. would have been a huge sum of money at that time, so Mrs Vaughan was a generous woman.  I wonder if the charity still exists?

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Border Country

We were on holiday last week with friends, in Wales.  We were staying in a little cottage near Welshpool, on a hillside looking west over the Severn valley towards the hills and mountains beyond, with the outline of Cader Idris (I think) on the horizon.

The view from the cottage at sunset

Our friends (and their dog) were walking the northern half of the Offa's Dyke Path - about 85 miles. We walked with them for a day, and did just 10 miles.   The weather was beautiful all week, sunny and warm, and the path went through lovely countryside.

As you can see, the trees were still bare, but there were primroses and other spring flowers. including a few wild daffodils.  It felt like spring had finally arrived.

Saturday 4 April 2015

Double Century

I have recently bought some vintage knitting needles, and I think they are the nicest straight knitting needles I have ever used.    The brand is Double Century and they have a plastic coating over a steel core.  They are very good to knit with.  The coating is smooth - but not too slippery, unlike metal needles. They don't bend, unlike plastic or wooden needles.  The steel core gives them a satisfying weight, although perhaps some people might find them too heavy.  And the points are just right  - not too blunt or too sharp.  

The name and other details are incised into the plastic, and I think that originally the lettering was filled in with some black substance.  A few of the Double Century needles in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection still have the inlay (see photos), but it has usually worn off.

Vintage knitting needles
Add caption

After "The Double Century" there is a patent number, and on the other side of the needle, "English Made" and "B.G." for "British Gauge", I think, and then the size.  The coating of the needles is always a cream colour, to imitate bone or ivory.  

The patent, for "Improvements in or relating to Knitting Needles, Crochet-hooks and the like" was applied for in 1913 by Emily Doubble, widow, of  "Knole", Harpenden, Herts.

The specification reads:
"This invention relates to knitting needles, crochet-hooks, and the like of the kind which are made of vulcanite, ebonite and such like pliable material, the object of the invention being to lend a stiffness to the hook or needle when in use.

It has been found the knitting needles, crochet-hooks, and such like appliances of domestic use when formed of ebonite, vulcanite or other material, though possessing a desirable smoothness and silence in working, are apt to become soft and to lose their stiffness when held in the hand for any length of time, owing to the heat of the hand softening them.

According, therefore, to this invention, I reinforce the needle, crochet-hook or the like by imbedding a core of stiffening material ... to increase its rigidity.

In one manner of carrying out the invention as applied to a knitting needle, a steel wire is imbedded in the centre of the needle when the same is in a liquid or semi-liquid state, the reinforcement being entirely covered at the pointed end of the needle..."
I have been trying to find out more about Emily Doubble, and how her patent led to my knitting needles.  She  seems an unlikely inventor.  In the 1911 census, she is recorded as living at the same address as on the patent application, aged 72, and already a widow.  She had had 14 children, and living with her were two daughters and a son, all unmarried.  The son, Theodore William Doubble, must surely be the T.W. Doubble, Chartered Patent Agent, who is also named on the patent application - his occupation in the 1911 census is engineer, so he seems a much more likely inventor than his mother.    

Then there is a gap after 1913 when the patent was granted, and 1945, which is the date of the next reference I have found to Double Century needles.    

Vintage knitting needles, 1940s

They were advertised in June 1945 in the magazine Home Chat as "The Knitting Pins with a history and a future."   Evidently the manufacture of Double Century needles had been suspended during the war, and in 1945 they were still not available. The ad says "The Steel for their unbreakable centres has been needed for essential war work.  Soon they will be back for those insist on the finest knitting pins in the world."  Many ads with a similar message appeared around that time, saying "our product has not been available during the war but it soon will be".  

The company making Double Century needles was James Smith & Son, in Redditch.  The town had a long history of needle-making, and the firms of Henry Milward and Abel Morrall (makers of Aero knitting needles) were also based there.

When I first saw this ad, with the date 1698, I thought that Double Century referred to the age of the company, i.e. more than 200 years, and thought that the name might have been introduced in 1898.  But surely it is not a coincidence that the brand name is Double Century and the patent was granted to Emily Doubble?  What is the link between a widow living in Harpenden, and a needle-making company in Redditch?   It's very mysterious.

Vintage knitting needles, 1950s

By 1950, steel shortages were past and you could buy Double Century needles without any problem. An ad in Needlework Illustrated claims that they are "Just like ivory" (because of the colour and feel, I suppose) and the "Best Knitting Pins in the World".  I might not go so far as to agree with that, but they are certainly my favourites just now.   If I find out more about their history, I'll let you know.

Thursday 2 April 2015

A Crimean Sleeping Helmet

One of the things that Joyce Meader showed at the Knitting in Wartime study day was a "Crimean Sleeping Helmet".  The pattern was published in a booklet published in 1900, "Women and War!  How to Knit and Crochet Articles necessary to the Health and Comfort of our Soldiers and Sailors" which Joyce also brought along for us to look at.  (1900 was in the middle of the South African (or Boer) War.)

The introduction to the sleeping helmet pattern says "These helmets are much prized by soldiers in time of war, as well as by many other men whose business or pleasure exposes them to much severe weather, or to night air."  The accompanying illustration has the caption: "Crimean Sleeping Helmet. With long neck, which, turned up, forms a warm wrap and comfortable support when sleeping."  The pattern specifies grey with crimson stripes, which is how Joyce has knitted it (though why would you want stripes on your sleeping helmet?  I don't know.)

The helmet is knitted in double rib, and I was interested to see that the trick of getting an even colour change when you knit stripes in rib was already known in 1900.  The pattern says "N.B. All through this pattern at each change of colour  the first round or row must be knitted plain; also the first stitch of the row must be knitted with both colours to avoid a break where the stripes begin and end."   I previously wrote here about a pattern published in 1919 that gave the same advice to knit the first row of each stripe, so that the colour change in the purl ribs is even - that seemed surprisingly early, but evidently it was known even earlier.

In the sleeping helmet pattern, the striped sections have just two rows in each stripe, i.e. two rows crimson, two rows grey, two rows crimson, and so on.  That means that alternate rows in these sections are all knit stitches ("knitted plain"), and only alternate rows are ribbed. So I think it's remarkable that this is not evident on the right side of the helmet - it just looks like ordinary double rib.  The wrong side does look less like double rib, but it is still corrugated as it should be.

Striped section, wrong side.
Thanks very much to Joyce Meader for her generosity in sharing these things.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Knitting in Wartime

This is a belated report on last week's study day in Glasgow on 'Knitting in Wartime', part of the Knitting in the Round project at Glasgow University.   It was an interesting programme (you can see it on the project web site) and there were about 70 people in the audience. Jane Tynan talked about knitting comforts for the troops in the First World War, and Maggie Andrews about knitting in both world wars.  Maggie also talked about the Womens' Institute, found in the U.K. in 1915, and so deeply involved in the home front during the war, and again in WW2.  Joyce Meader  brought two huge bags of knitted comforts for the troops, most of which she has knitted herself from patterns from the Crimean War onwards.   She also brought along many of the pattern booklets and a sock machine.  Wendy Turner talked about the Glasgow Women's Library, where she is the museum curator, and brought along a selection of knitting patterns from the library collection.  She says they have boxes and boxes of knitting patterns, completely unsorted so far.  (I felt quite nostalgic - the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection of knitting patterns used to be like that!)

And finally, I gave my talk on knitting & crochet in the First World War,  "Useful Work for Anxious Fingers".  I emphasised the crochet part more than usual, so as not to overlap too much with Jane and Maggie's talks,  though the title doesn't really apply to some of the crochet, which was not very useful and often didn't show much sign of anxiety about the war either.   I took along a replica of a little bag to put sugar lumps in when you went out for afternoon tea.  The pattern was published in Needlework for All in April 1918 - by then, imports of sugar and other foodstuffs had been seriously affected by the success of German U-boats in sinking British merchant shipping, and sugar was rationed. The magazine's description says "The modern anxiety is not how to manage on a limited supply of sugar, but rather how to get the most fascinating yet practical receptacle for it," which seems an incredibly blinkered attitude in 1918, when there were so many more serious things to be anxious about.  

The study day was held at The Lighthouse, based around the old Glasgow Herald building, which was an early design by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1895.  You can go up to the top of the tower of the old building (originally a water tower) and get a good view over the roofs of central Glasgow.

Model of the Glasgow Herald building, in the Mackintosh Centre
The turret of the Glasgow Herald building, from the top of the water tower

A nearby roof 

I liked these signs for the loos, in the recent extension to the building.  (I read somewhere that these signs are called sex symbols, which would also be pretty hilarious.  Not sure it's true though.)

Just before the train left Glasgow station on the way back, the conductor did the usual announcement about the departure time, destination and intermediate stations, finishing with something like "The train will be leaving shortly and if you are not planning to travel, now would be a good time to leave the train and absquatulate."  What?  When he came round to check the tickets, I asked him to repeat the word, and whether it is genuine.  He assured me that it is, and that he had learnt it at school. He had put it in because the train staff have been asked to make their announcements more distinctive and  personal, compared to the bland automated announcements.  He wrote it down for me, and I looked it up when I got home.  Sure enough it's in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary -  a "U.S. formation of  jocular use"  (19th century), meaning "to decamp".  I must use it in future whenever possible.  

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