Saturday 23 April 2016


An unusual jacket came to light in the Guild collection a few weeks ago.  The style is unusual - I don't remember any time when I've seen women wearing jackets of that shape.  And the yarn is unusual too - the surface of the fabric is covered in little curls of wool.

We know that the jacket was knitted in 'W B Kwiknit Astrakhan Wool' - helpfully, it has a ticket from one of the skeins attached to it.   I recognised 'Kwiknit' as a brand name of William Briggs & Co.  from the 1930s, because I have seen it on pattern leaflets.

It would normally, of course, be very odd to leave a paper ticket (or nowadays a ball-band) attached to something you have knitted, but we discovered from the records that the jacket was knitted as a replica, specifically for the collection - it has never been worn, and the ticket was attached as an easy way to keep the yarn information with the garment.

I don't know how 'Astrakhan wool' was made - was the original fleece curly, or was the curl introduced in processing it?

I looked through William Briggs leaflets that we have in the collection from the 1930s, and found the jacket pattern too.

Penelope 902

So the garment was knitted quite recently, although the yarn and the pattern have both survived from the 1930s.

I don't think that the short-sleeved option illustrated on the leaflet would have been very successful.  The sleeves look too big and a bit shapeless, whereas in the long-sleeved version, the slightly puffed sleeve caps are balanced by the close-fitting lower sleeves.  And the astrakhan yarn is very thick, warm and heavy - not suitable for wear with a tennis outfit, I think.  

While looking for the pattern, I found another tennis jacket which I think is a much more practical design, and very stylish.   It's also in Kwiknit, but the plain smooth wool, rather than the Astrakhan.   I think it would be much lighter to wear - the Astrakhan jacket is surprisingly heavy.  (I should check the weights given in the two leaflets when I can access the leaflets again.)

Penelope 890

Back to our replica jacket.  The proportions may look a bit odd when it is seen laid flat - the shortness of the body makes the sleeves look too long, which they aren't.  It reminds me of early 19th century spencer jackets - very short waist and long sleeves, close-fitting except that they are slightly puffed at the top.  The sort of jacket that the Bennett sisters wore in Pride and Prejudice - and I am, of course, talking of the BBC TV adaptation, with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Mr  Darcy.  

In the Guild collection, we have very few knitted pieces in wool from the 1930s - I think most of them would have been worn into holes, or unravelled and reknitted, during the long period of clothes rationing in the Second World War.  It's amazing that a jacket's worth of Astrakhan wool somehow survived unused though that time too.  So although it's a replica and not a 1930s original, we are very pleased to have it.

Thursday 21 April 2016

1926 Baby Outfits

Today is the Queen's 90th birthday, so I thought I would show you what a 1926 baby might have worn,  (I had that thought before I broke my wrists, so fortunately had already scanned the images for this post.)

Beehive Knitting Booklet No. 27

In the mid-1920s, babies were dressed in several layers of woolliness, at least according to the spinners of knitting wool.  (Possibly a biassed view.)  The Beehive booklet illustrated, for a 'Knitted Outfit for Baby' was I think issued in 1925.  (Although Patons and Baldwins had merged in 1920, the two parts of the company continued with their separate series of Beehive Knitting Booklets (Baldwins) and Helps to Knitters (Patons) for several years after that.)

The baby on the cover is (visibly) wearing a bonnet, a coat, mittens with thumbs, and a garment covering everything below its waist - 'overall drawers'.  There would be at least one more layer of wool underneath the visible layer.

Altogether, the booklet has patterns for 15 garments:  a vest; a 'knicker pilch' (to go over the nappy); a petticoat; bootees and gaiters; three coats; a Dutch bonnet and a cap; mittens, with and without thumbs; overall  drawers; a shawl and a pram cover.

I assume that the booklet was intended to cater for both boy and girl babies, and I think that all the garments are intended for either, except that possibly the Dutch bonnet is for a girl and the cap for a boy.

Pram Cover

And every single thing, apart from the shawl, is trimmed and fastened with ribbons, which would now be considered a strangling hazard, surely?

Most baby photos back then were taken indoors, often in a studio, and the baby was in a dress or wrapped in a shawl.  So we don't usually see the full range of baby clothes that they would be put into to go out in the pram, say.  But we can try to imagine 90 year olds, such as the Queen, David Attenborough (90 next month), and my aunt Beryl, as tiny babies all those years ago, and being dressed in an outfit like the one in the Beehive booklet.  Perhaps not quite so much woolliness, most of the time, except outdoors in winter.        

Thursday 14 April 2016

The Knitter's Friend Revisited

[This was written, apart from minor tweaks, before I broke my wrists. As John said in the last post, I shan't be doing any  knitting for a while.  I might be able to write posts about one or two of the pieces in the Guild collection, but I'll see how it goes.  Broken bones are quite tiring, apparently.  Now read on....]

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Hope family of Ramsgate:  Isaac Hope, his wife Margaret and their son George Curling: they kept a fancy goods store in Ramsgate in the 1840s, that also sold Berlin wool and other needlework supplies.

Mrs Hope and George Curling Hope between them wrote or edited several books on knitting and crochet in the 1840s, one of them being The Knitter's Friend, which was first published in 1844, but ran to several editions.  It was promoted in The Knitter's Casket, a later book by Mrs Hope:  "This book has an unprecedented popularity;  it is the clearest book on its subject, and is welcomed as a 'friend' by every knitter." (But she would say that, wouldn't she?)

My copy (illustrated) is one of the later editions - it dates from 1847.  

The title page says that it was edited by Mrs. Hope.  I don't know what editing involved precisely, but  a notice at the end of The Knitter's Casket says:
"In return for an original receipt in knitting or netting forwarded to the editress for publication, she will be happy to send free to any part of the kingdom a copy of the volume in which it appears.
None can be accepted which are not original, and a small specimen would be an advantage."
So I guess that the books edited by Mrs Hope were compilations of patterns that she had collected.  A free copy of one of her books (price 1 shilling, or 5p) doesn't seem a great reward in exchange for a pattern, but presumably the scheme of asking for patterns from readers worked.  It couldn't have been used for The Knitter's Friend, being Mrs Hope's first book, but perhaps in that case the 'receipts' were solicited from her customers in Ramsgate.

Mr Hope's role in  The Knitter's Friend is clear: he was the publisher.   He also used the book, in my edition, as a platform to promote another enterprise of his, Hope's Protective Labels.

(Click on the image for a larger view).  Some of the text is below:

They are cheap—readily affixed—instantaneously recognised—save time—prevent confusion--protect from robbery—may be had of all Stationers throughout the kingdom. 

Annexed are a few extracts from some of the Notices of the Press, "A very neat and simple invention has been made by Mr. Hope, of Ramsgate, in the matter of Passengers' Luggage Labels. The label is adhesive, and it is distinguished from any other label of the kind yet introduced, by the diversity of patterns, strikingly dissimilar, obtained from the combination of colours, designs, and numbers. It is a very useful and ingenious contrivance, and is calculated to add considerably to the comfort and convenience of those who are travelling."—Sunday Times, May 9, 1847.
"The Protective Label, invented by Mr. Hope, of Ramsgate, renders luggage readily recognisable, for the labels are of multitudinous designs and colours, so that no two persons can have their packages similarly distinguished."—Douglas Jerrold's Newspaper, May 15, 1847.
"The object of the publisher is to prevent a certain class of gentlemen from appropriating parcels by mistake."—Penzance Gazette, July 1, 1847.

and so on.

Passenger rail travel had become increasingly popular in the 1840s, as the network of railways spread across the country, and these luggage labels were evidently addressing a problem that had arisen, though I'm not sure whether the main problem was that passengers couldn't recognise their own luggage, or that it was getting stolen.  And was the luggage unaccompanied, or travelling with the passengers but in the luggage van?  I can't imagine what the labels looked like - I'd love to know.  But I think that they can't have been very successful - I have seen no later mention of them.

So that's Margaret (editress) and Isaac (publisher and advertiser).  What of George Curling Hope?  He used The Knitter's Friend to advertise his Cornucopia knitting needle gauge.  I think that he also did at least two of the illustrations that accompanied the receipts in the book, because they are signed with his initials, G C H, though in both cases his initials are followed by something illegible.

Kamschatka Body

Opera Cap
If he did draw these, I think he might have drawn other illustrations too, because the captions look to be in the same hand-writing.

Round Scotch Cap for Pence

George Curling Hope probably designed the covers of both The Knitter's Friend and The Knitter's Casket as well, because his monogram appears in the bottom corners of the back and front covers - the same monogram as on the Cornucopia gauge, though with added plant tendrils to fit in with the rest of the design.

Helpful words are embossed around the edges of the cover, in similar rustic lettering:  PERSEVERANCE, PATIENCE, APPLICATION, INDUSTRY - four very useful virtues, but sounding very dull.

So The Knitter's Friend (and later The Knitter's Casket) was not just Mrs Hope's work, but a Hope family enterprise.  Both can be downloaded from the Richard Rutt collection in the Winchester School of Art library here and here.  I'll talk about the other works produced by Mrs Hope and George Curling Hope in the 1840s in a later post.

Monday 11 April 2016

Barbaradoesn'tknitagain (for a while...)

As you can probably tell from this picture, it's going to be a while before Barbara does any knitting (or writing blog posts for that matter). So this is being ghosted by her mysterious amanuensis, AKA John. Last Monday, Barbara decided it would be a good idea to paint the kitchen ceiling. But unfortunately she found the ladder sliding away from beneath her. In the words of the old joke, 'Did she miss a step? No, she hit every one.' The consequence was two broken wrists and a broken kneecap. There followed a visit to our excellent local A & E, an overnight stay in the hospital, and two plastered wrists and a leg in a splint.
I have never had to type the word 'incapacitated' so many times as when notifying our friends. Luckily the injuries were not as painful as they sound, although the A & E staff were very impressed about the five-bones-for-one accident. Barbara says I have to tell you all that I am looking after her very well.
We saw the orthopaedic surgeon today, and Barbara is going to be out of action for about 5-6 weeks. She says that there is a post written before the accident that will appear in the next few days. But otherwise there may not be any posts for a while unless something exciting happens like a new type of splint or colour of plaster (there is a choice of colours these days - Barbara could have had a different colour for each arm).
Meanwhile we expect to have a very quiet few weeks at home...

Saturday 2 April 2016

Hostess Aprons

We have several crocheted aprons in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection - all quite similar in design, and presumably all the same vintage (1950s, I think).  Several of them have stripes of colour on an ecru background - the stripes emphasis the chevrons in the design.

The white one is unusual (as far as the collection is concerned) in being just one colour, ...

...and we have one in a random-dyed crochet cotton.

They are of course not much use in protecting your clothes from food spillages, which is what I use an apron for. But I think they were to wear when you had guests for afternoon tea - the apron was your badge of office as the hostess.

Aprons without bibs are technically known as half-aprons, apparently.   I think that even workaday aprons in the 1950s were half-aprons - my mother always wore one for housework and cooking. Personally, I think they pretty useless as a practical garment - if I spill anything it's generally on my top half.  I remember (I think) that in the late 1960s, the Habitat shop on Tottenham Court Road in London had butcher's aprons, in navy with white stripes, with bibs, and they seemed a great novelty - very practical, and just what the cool cook should be wearing.

However, back to our hostess aprons.  Being in charge of the publications in the collection, I've been trying to find a pattern for the aprons.  They look very similar, so I thought at first that they must have been made to the same pattern, only varying in the number and placement of stripes.  But in fact there are more differences  - the two coloured aprons look very similar indeed, but they are slightly different in detail.  So there must have been several similar patterns around in the 1950s, but I haven't been able to find any pattern that could be the original of one of our aprons.

I have found a few patterns for hostess aprons, but none of them match the actual aprons in the collection.

Twilleys 268

Coats 370

Arderns 4616

One of the aprons on the Arderns leaflet is quite like our aprons, though with a ribbon threaded through the waist band - but it's not a match.

Maybe aprons like ours were all made commercially?   That seems a bit unlikely - surely the 1950s housewife should make her own?  But if they were made at home, where are the patterns? If anyone  knows any more about these aprons, or knows of any patterns I've missed, I'd be delighted to hear about it.      

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