Thursday 27 August 2015

What I'm Knitting

I have knitted two designs by Heidi Kirrmaier so far:  Boardwalk and Vitamin D.  They are two of my favourite knits.  Last month I saw another of her designs - Lydia at the Spun yarn shop in Huddersfield was knitting a Quick Sand cardigan.  Quick Sand is knitted in an Aran-weight yarn, and there is a version, Fine Sand, knitted in a lighter, DK-weight yarn.   I was very taken with Lydia's cardigan, and I'm now knitting Fine Sand for myself.

Fine Sand appears at first glance to be a very simple cardigan knitted in stocking stitch - there aren't even any buttons.  It isn't quite as simple as it looks - like most of her designs, it is knitted all in one piece, without seams, so there is a lot of shaping to achieve that.  It is knitted top-down, with radiating increases in the yoke.  That is sort of similar to Vitamin D, except in that case, the increases are emphasised, while in Fine Sand they are not so obvious.

I have just finished the body of the cardigan.  The next step is to pick up the stitches left on waste yarn and knit the sleeves.   It doesn't look much at the moment - being knitted in stocking stitch, it curls on all the edges.  But there will be a garter stitch band around the neck and front edges, and I hope that that, along with a good pressing, will stop it curling.

The yarn is Thomas B. Ramsden's  Wendy Ramsdale, and the web page says "Ramsdale is born, bred and made in Yorkshire, it is 100% Wool using a blend of Masham fleece from the Yorkshire dales. It is then dyed, spun and balled all in Yorkshire!!"  It's unusual for a commercially-produced yarn to be spun in the U.K. these days, and if you live in Yorkshire as I do, it's even more local.  And it is very nice yarn, soft and good to knit with.  The colour is lovely too.  The blue is not completely solid, but has quite a lot of grey in it.

Here's one of Heidi Kirrmaier's photos of Fine Sand.  My cardigan will look something like this soon, although the yarn is probably not as drapey as she recommends - I'm aiming for cosy more than drapey.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Shetland Lace Shawls

I was looking for something else entirely when  I found this article about Shetland lace knitting in the Dundee Evening Telegraph from February 1893.  It is a fascinating account of the quality of the knitting then being done in the Shetlands.  (I have kept the original layout of the article, with random phrases capitalised as sub-headings, just because it looks so odd.)

Shetland lace work occupies a position all its own. There are not many people nowadays who are not acquainted with the dainty lace shawls made in Shetland, which are so suitable and so much sought after for evening wear. Some of them are indeed so fine that one would think a fairy's mantle had been found rather than an article that could be touched and worn. These
are made all over the islands, but the island of Unst and Lerwick may be said to do the finest specimens. As a rule the knitters doing this fine work do little else, their hands requiring to be kept very smooth for working the delicate threads. The best wool only is used, and the carding and spinning are done by women, who make this work their chief employment.  Among all the varied specimens, however, one has just been made which is credited with being the
produced. This is a fine lace shawl, which presently on exhibition at Messrs Laurenson & Co.'s establishment, Lerwick, and which is valued at £40.  This shawl is made of white wool, of uniform colour and texture. It measures 2½  yards square, yet it only weighs 2¼ ounces, and can be easily passed through the smallest-sized lady's finger ring.  The prime cost of the wool used in it would scarcely be 3d, yet that has been made into
and as that is two-ply the actual length of the thread spun and used is 22,000 yards, or over twelve miles single yarn.  The number of stitches in it is estimated at 1,740,000. The patterns used are designed by the knitter, and come out well in this delicate piece of work, the two-ply thread of which is no thicker than the hair of the human head. The knitter of this gossamer-like fabric is a peasant girl belonging to the island of Unst, and to her must be given the credit of producing the finest piece a. knitted work ever manufactured. To her sister, who
no small amount of the credit must be given. The wool is very carefully picked, the quality being the best obtainable. This is taken and carefully carded with a common dressing-comb, and then spun with the greatest care on an ordinary spinning-wheel, and thus before the knitter gets the delicate yarn in her hand the 2¼ ounces of wool goes through a hand-wrought process which turns it into twelve miles of thread—a truly wonderful feat, and, unless seen in the finished state, can scarcely be credited.  This fine shawl is about
and it is to be hoped that it may be the means of opening up a demand for fine Shetland lace work. The patterns with which these fine lace shawls are embellished are various, and besides the usual stock with which every knitter is familiar, and which embraces the "wave," the "pearl," the "shell," the "branch," the "bell," the "diamond," the "puzzle," and later the " Jubilee Crown," &c., the better class of knitters fall on their own ingenuity in the production of patterns and designs. These patterns are varied, and in many cases do great credit to the designers. Plain crepe work, however, is now much wanted, and fetches good prices. Nearly all the knitted work done in Shetland is produced in the country districts. Different districts are noted for their
Thus lace shawls principally come from Unst, Fetlar, Dunrossness, and Lerwick.  Yell produces the finest stockings; finest underclothing from Northmaven; and wraps coming from the west side—the finest shading wraps being done in Lerwick.  It may be generally said that all Shetland women can knit.  From their earliest infancy girls are begun and practised in the use of the knitting-pins, and it is with pride that the beginner will, on completion, show the first pair of stockings or the first little shawl knitted all by herself. And
grows with the knitter until it is astonishing with what speed and beauty the work is produced. Knitting, however, is little practised in Shetland as a pastime, but rather as a means of livelihood, and numbers of women in Shetland have no other means of support; but like many another calling it takes the most constant and untiring efforts to keep starvation from the door through the knitting of hosiery.  Those parties who give their attention to the knitting of the finer work have chance of better remuneration, but they are in the minority, and do not properly speaking represent
who do the ordinary work, and whose chances of remuneration at best are more or less a sort of lottery. As has been said, hosiery is knitted all over Shetland, the peasants being the great producers. Many crofters own sheep whose grazing is on the common scattald, and when these are unable to produce sufficient wool for the household, then wool must be bought, and in the long winter evenings all the female portion of the household are busy—one it may be carding, another spinning, or some one hurriedly getting through with a shawl which must be finished by the end of the week, to that something new may be commenced with a new one. 
It's remarkable, and sad, that the knitter of the 'finest piece of Shetland wool work produced' is not named, and I don't suppose that she was paid anywhere near its £40 value.  The Chicago exhibition that the shawl was sent to, was the "World's Fair: Columbian Exposition", celebrating 400 years since Columbus crossed the Atlantic.  (It seems that the official inauguration of the exhibition was in 1892, although it was not open to the public until the following year, and clearly exhibits were still being gathered early in 1893.)

 I would have liked an illustration of one of the stitch patterns mentioned in the article to go with this post, but they are either too unspecific, like the "diamond" or the "shell", or I've never heard of them, like the "puzzle".  There is no correspondence at all between the names of the stitches listed, and the Shetland patterns given by Mary Thomas in her Knitting Book (published in 1938), which include Old Shale, Print o' the Wave, Cat's Paw.  The "shell" pattern may possibly be the same as the Razor Shell pattern described by Mary Thomas, but it's impossible to say.    So instead, here's an illustration of a "Fine Shetland Shawl" from a pattern given in The Fancy Workbasket in 1886.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Cocoon Knitting Wool

This ad for Cocoon Knitting Wool appeared in issue 3 of The Fancy Work Basket in 1885 or 1886  - see below for the front cover of the magazine.  It's a striking ad, with the logo made from the letters of 'cocoon' - it also caught my attention because the spinners' address was Holmfirth, only a few miles from here.

Most knitting yarn was sold in skeins at that time, and so the fact that Cocoon was 'wound ready for use' was its main selling point - wound into the shape of a silkworm's cocoon, in fact.   Perhaps Wood & Burtt were the first spinners to sell ready-wound wool?  Certainly, in this ad, they warn that other spinners have been copying the idea:  "Numerous complaints having been made that inferior wool balled in the same style is sold as Genuine COCOON wool, please note that none is Genuine unless bearing the word COCOON, which is our registered trade mark, on the band."   

I had not heard of Wood & Burtt, so did some research into the business, via the online newspapers accessible at findmypast.  For one thing, I wanted to find out where the mill was: in fact, it was not in Holmfirth itself, but a few miles away, on Fearnley Lane, near the hamlet of Totties.

I did not expect to find out what had ultimately happened to the company, but the information was there in the newspapers.  In 1900, the spinners J. & J. Baldwin of Halifax became a public company, in association with several other spinners, including Wood & Burtt.  The name of the new company was J. & J. Baldwin and Partners Limited - the 'and Partners' referring to the associated businesses.  Edward Burtt, a partner in Wood & Burtt, became a director of the new company, and in 1920, when the company merged with Patons of Alloa, a director of Patons and Baldwins.

Back to Cocoon wool.  The only mentions of it that I found in the newspapers were in 1883: a flurry of small ads from yarn shops and wholesalers saying that they had Cocoon wool in stock, and the following description.  I think it would now be labelled "Advertisement Feature" in small print, i.e. it is meant to look as though it was written by a reporter, but is actually an ad:
GOOD KNITTING WOOL.--Knitters who have any difficulty in obtaining really good wool, would do well to try the cocoon knitting wool. The yarn is made from wools that  are specially selected with a view to their wearing well, and will not shrink, if the articles made of it are washed according to the directions issued with each ball.  It is very smooth and even, thus being very pleasant to knit with, and as it is sold ready wound in balls the worker is saved much trouble. The winding is so artistically managed that the threads are alternately interlaced with each other, so that the wool neither becomes stretched nor readily entangled.  Half the secret of the uncomfortable shrinking of knitted articles lies in the stretching of the the wool in winding.  When it is washed, it naturally returns to its original dimensions. thus causing the shrinking. With the beautifully wound "cocoon" wool this is impossible.
We don't usually think of the artistic merits of a ready-wound ball, but I suppose that when it was introduced, it must have been quite striking.   The notion that ready-wound wool will be unshrinkable is a bit fanciful, though.

Was Cocoon Wool only sold for a brief period, in the 1880s?  I have not (yet) found any references to it after 1886.  Perhaps it did not catch on at that time.  Wood & Burtt clearly made other yarns as well - the business was established in 1855, and they were described as worsted spinners.  Knitting yarns may have been only a small part of their production, so they could have dropped Cocoon wool if it failed to sell.  But they must have had a machine to wind the yarn, and maybe the idea, and the machine, was revived by the new company of J. & J. Baldwin and Partners.  We know that, somehow or other, selling knitting wool in balls instead of skeins eventually became commonplace, and perhaps Wood & Burtt's innovation directly led to that.    

Monday 10 August 2015

Wild Leeds

On Saturday, we went for a wander around part of Holbeck, the area of Leeds just south of the railway station. Our main objective was to see the Temple Mill, a 19th century flax mill built to look like an ancient Egyptian temple.  It's an amazing place.

The office building (above) appears to be in good repair and is currently occupied, I think.  The main mill building next door is not.   From the outside, it appears to be mainly held up by scaffolding, but there are occasional open days when you can go inside, so it must be in a better state than it looks. (See here.)

The plaque on the office building.
Originally, the main mill building was designed to have grass growing on the roof (a green roof in 1838!), grazed by sheep, and there are large conical roof lights at intervals.  So perhaps it's not too worrying that there are plants growing on the roof now.  And it's perfectly OK that you can see through the roof from the outside of the building - that's just one of the roof lights.

Behind Temple Mill, there is a large area than evidently was once covered by buildings (and probably will be again).  Meanwhile, the buildings have been demolished, and plants have taken over.  It was sometimes a bit surreal - for instance, the parking sign saying "Pay here at machine. Display ticket." next to a stretch of cobbled road that was completely inaccessible by car. (Just as well, as the ticket machine had been removed.)

Parking sign and cobbled road

Round the corner, it was like walking along a country lane - no traffic, no buildings, hedges at the side of the road.   But in fact, the 'hedges' were chain-link fences covered in rampant bindweed, and the shrubs were mostly buddleia -  typical of urban scrub.

There is a tangle of railway lines in that area, running into Leeds City Square station.  here's two of the lines, at different levels, crossing each other, with a train on the lower level, and what looks almost like a wild-flower meadow in the foreground.

And all this was just a few minutes' walk from the centre of Leeds.  We walked back along the canal towpath - the Leeds-Liverpool canal runs into the River Aire near the railway station.  The canal runs parallel to the river for a stretch, with the towpath between the two, and giant hogweed, Himalayan balsam and rosebay willow-herb growing on the river bank.      

The area around the junction of the river and the canal has been redeveloped over the past few years, and is perhaps what the rest of Holbeck will look like in a few years - a mixture of new buildings and renovated old buildings.  And on a fine sunny Saturday, it was full of people sitting outside the cafes and bars, enjoying themselves.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Embossed Knitting

I was in John Lewis Sheffield on Saturday, looking for a pair of smart trousers, and saw a very nice crew neck jumper in the John Lewis Collection.

It has an all-over design in reverse stocking stitch on stocking stitch - the reverse stocking stitch areas are raised, so that you get an embossed effect.  The jumper I saw was cream, but the John Lewis web site shows it in red, too.  (But what about the half-tucked-in look?  I read about that in The Guardian fashion column a while ago, and didn't really believe it.)

Here's a close-up of the jumper, showing the stitch pattern.

I don't know what this kind of stitch pattern should be called - I thought that it was brocade knitting, and looked in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns to confirm.  But in the brocade patterns she shows, the raised areas are alternately knit and purl. i.e. moss stitch, not reverse stocking stitch.   And many of the stitch patterns used in ganseys are of this 'brocade' type.

So I'm going to call it embossed knitting. until I find out that it already has a name.  It seems worth experimenting with - a easy way to get a lot of texture without making the fabric thicker, unlike cables for instance.  And in fact, I did knit a thick jacket for myself three years ago with what I'm now going to call an embossed stitch pattern, for exactly that reason - I wanted some texture without the extra thickness of cables.  There seems potentially a lot of scope for interesting new designs, as in this John Lewis jumper. I should do some swatches.

And I did find some smart trousers too - a successful trip all round.

(Attentive readers may remember that this has happened before - last year, shopping in John Lewis Sheffield for a pair of jeans led to experiments with two-colour moss stitch.)
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