Wednesday 29 June 2016

Dressing Shetland Shawls

I have just bought a copy of Kate Davies' The Book of Haps, a luscious book.  It has essays on the history of Shetland haps, and new shawl patterns from 13 designers (if I can count).  I'll write more about it later - not this week, as we have a handling day at Lee Mills on Friday, for Guild members attending the annual Convention in Sheffield, and then I'll be at the Convention myself.  But for now,  I'll write about the image of women dressing Shetland shawls, stretching them out on the special frames.  It's used in the book to head Roslyn Chapman's Documenting Haps and the image credit says that it's from a postcard.

We have a similar postcard in the Guild collection, which was sent from Lerwick on 10th May 1911. It was sent to Mr David Thomson, West High Street, Buckhaven, Fifeshire, and the message is also signed D. Thomson, so it might have been from a son to his father.  The message is in pencil, and not very easy to read, but says something like:
Just a PC to let you know that we have not been off yet and i don't think we will be off this week.... (2 words illegible)  Buyers are hanging back the herrings are only 4/- the (to?) 7/- per cran so it does not pay to catch them  we might shift from here at any time for 2 or 3 weeks but we don't (know?) where. the most of the boats are all lying here waiting for the month off June the herring they have been getting ... (3 words illegible) herring so they are no good for curing  You might send the (illegible)  From D Thomson.   
I knew that 'cran' is a quantity of herring from the line "With a hundred cran of the silver darlings" from Ewan McColl's song Shoals of Herring, though I had to look up what it means exactly: "A measure of fresh herrings, equivalent to 37½ gallons".  A lot of fish.  4/- means 4 shillings, and there were 20 shillings to a pound:  it doesn't sound much for such a quantity of fish, and evidently wasn't enough, from the postcard.

D Thomson, the sender of the postcard must have been a fisherman, presumably based in Buckhaven, but temporarily waiting in Lerwick for fishing conditions to improve.  His postcard home is a wonderful piece of history, linking fishing and knitting - traditional ways of earning money in Shetland.      

Monday 27 June 2016

Mistake Rib

I just discovered mistake rib!  It's obviously not new, as it already has a name, but it's new to me.

The discovery came about because I've ordered a copy of Sequence Knitting by Cecelia Campochiaro.  I've been hearing about the book since it was published, e.g. in Tom of Holland's blog, here.  It's not easy to buy it in the U.K., so I have finally ordered a copy from the U.S., and it is now making its way slowly over the Atlantic (I hope).   After I ordered it, I started thinking about the kind of sequences that I think she's talking about.  One idea is to choose a sequence of knit and purl stitches and repeat them over and over on every row, so every row starts at the beginning of the sequence.  You get different stitch patterns depending on the number of stitches you have.  So for instance, the simplest sequence would be K1, P1.  If you have an even number of stitches, you get single rib, and an odd number of stitches gives moss stitch.  It's fascinating that two stitch patterns which look and behave so differently should be so closely related.

Then I started thinking about the sequence K2, P2.  If the number of stitches is a multiple of 4, you get double rib, and if it's a multiple of 4, plus 2, you get what's sometimes called double moss stitch.  And if it's a multiple of 4, plus 1 or 3, I discovered that you get an interesting stitch pattern that's a mixture of single rib and moss stitch.

Chart; knitting stitch; mistake rib

Looking at the swatch, there is a column of the knit stitches of single rib, then a column of moss stitch, then a column of the purl stitches of single rib, and another column of moss stitch, and that sequence repeats.  Here's a chart, which might make it clearer.  A blank square means knit on odd rows, purl on even rows; ● means purl on odd  rows, knit on even rows.  (It's reversible, so there aren't 'right' and 'wrong' sides.)

Chart; knitting stitch; mistake rib

The resulting fabric is deeply corrugated and quite stretchy, but doesn't pull in like double rib.

I thought that such a simple but good-looking stitch pattern must be already known, and not a new invention.  And a few days later, in the way that coincidences happen, I found a knitting pattern that uses it.

1930s vintage knitting pattern; Penelope; Wm Briggs; mistake rib; jacket; Kwiknit
Penelope 1084
It's a smart jacket, from about 1940, and would be very warm, I think.  The leaflet doesn't give a name to the stitch pattern, but it prompted me to look in Barbara Walker's Treasury of Knitting Patterns.  And there I found it, called Mistake Stitch Ribbing.  She says 'This handsome ribbing may very well have been discovered by an accident. The "mistake" consists of working Knit-Two Purl-Two ribbing on one less stitch than required.'   It doesn't seem very plausible to me that it should have been the result of a mistake - as she also says, it would have been obvious very quickly that it wasn't double rib.  I think any knitter intending to knit double rib would have corrected the mistake before realising that it is a worthwhile stitch pattern in its own right.   But the rather unfortunate name seems to be firmly attached.

It would be nice to knit something more than a swatch in mistake rib.  It would make a nice scarf, and there are lots of examples in Ravelry.  (It is reversible of course - every row is the same.)   But I have plenty of scarves - something different would be good.

Saturday 25 June 2016

EU Referendum

This blog is mostly about knitting.  But the referendum is so important that I have to write something about it.  Hearing the result yesterday morning was shocking and deeply depressing.  It seems that we are irrevocably committed to a disaster that will unfold over the next months and years.  I imagine that the other voters in the 48% who wanted to stay in the EU feel much the same way.  It's dreadful.
That's it.  Back to knitting.

Monday 20 June 2016

Yarn Week

We often have a week in June when we concentrate on sorting out some aspect of the collection.  In 2014, we had Hook and Needle Week, when we sorted out thousands of knitting needles, hundreds of crochet hooks and lots of assorted tools and gadgets.  In 2013, it was Crochet Week - we intended to sort out all the crochet, but actually didn't get much beyond the dozens of doileys.  Last week was Yarn Week, focussing on all the shade cards and yarn samples in the collection.  As well as the volunteers who come regularly, several other Guild members joined us for a day or two.  Everything has been put in order where necessary and reboxed, and a start has been made on cataloguing.  Everyone involved did a great job - and I can say that because actually I didn't do any of it.  I still have boxes of publications to sort out, so I spent the week doing that.

But I did sneek a peek at some of the shade cards, along the way.  I was looking for the shade card for Jaeger Naturgarn, and found it in a binder of shade cards issued by Jaeger in 1979-80.

I remember knitting a Patricia Roberts design, Cream of the Crop, in the 1970s, in cream Naturgarn for the cables and welts and white mohair for the rest.  I wanted to check that my memory is correct, and it definitely is Naturgarn - the colour is called Polar.

And in the same binder was a shade card for Jaeger Gabrielle - I never bought any of it, but the ads were very memorable.  (So memorable that I can recall them after all this time.)

Jaeger Gabrielle ad

Shade cards - the proper ones with samples of the actual yarn, and not just photos of yarn - can be really attractive, with lovely colour ranges.  The names are very evocative, too: Wildwood, Glade, Autumn, Brick.  Some are a bit puzzling, though - why 'Ellesmere' (the name of a town and lake in Shropshire) for a cream/pink/light brown mix in Naturgarn?

Thursday 9 June 2016

A Bedspread Detective Story

A few months ago, an email came to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collections team, with an enquiry about a 19th century knitted bedspread.   The email was from a member of the Blue Mountains Historical Society (BHMS), based near Sydney, Australia, and there was a photo of the bedspread attached. The bedspread is on show in the Society's museum, a 100-year-old cottage called Tarella.  The bedspread was given to the museum more than 10 years ago, and the only information about it from the donor was that it had been knitted by a Susan Beaumont, who had lived in Blaxland (near Sydney). 

Lois, who sent the email, said "The bedspread was in desperate condition, and repairs over the years, prior to accession, had been cobbled together by using whatever thread of whatever colour was available at the time." She had lovingly conserved it, and attached it to a cotton backing sheet to stabilise it and prevent further damage. She had been asked to give a talk about the bedspread, and the work she had done on it, and was hoping that she could find out more about it. 

The BHMS had by this time found out something about Susan Beaumont: she was born in about 1840, and came from Huddersfield.  She emigrated with her husband and four children, arriving in Australia in 1883, and died at Blaxland in 1911.  Lois was hoping that if she could find a date for the bedspread pattern, that might indicate whether Susan Beaumont could have made the bedspread before she left Huddersfield, or whether it had been made in Australia. 

The bedspread is in a style that was common in Victorian times - knitted in white cotton, with the main part in squares, and an edging in a different pattern.  We have examples in the Guild collection, including one that is very similar, but not identical, to Susan Beaumont's.  (The card with '47' records which box it's kept in.) 

I quickly realised that Susan Beaumont probably didn't use a single pattern for her bedspread, but one pattern for the central squares and another for the edging (which is a leaf pattern of a familiar kind).  For instance, A Knitting Book of Counterpanes, published by Mrs George Cupples in 1871, gives patterns for squares, strips and edgings - the knitter can choose a pattern for a square or a strip, and combine that with any of the edgings to make a bedspread.

I was very doubtful that I would be able to find an exact match to the bedspread.  We have quite a few 19th century books of knitting patterns in the collection, and many more are available online - we have some magazines from the late 1800s, too, such as Weldon's Practical Needlecraft.  But the individual patterns are not catalogued, so to find a match to the bedspread we would have to look through all the possible publications  - and to make things worse, some of the knitting books are not illustrated.  Without much hope of finding anything, I looked in Ravelry at illustrations of bedspreads.  (Using Ravelry's pattern browser, it's easy to search for, say, knitted bedspreads with a photo - there are 294.)  Of course, most of the designs are modern, but there are a few of the kind I was looking for - and eventually I found a match!  (Much to my surprise, I should say.) Someone has helpfully uploaded an illustration of an identical square, with a link to the pattern, which was published in 1886 - in an Australian newspaper.

The link given for the pattern is to Trove, a very useful site which has lots of Australian newspapers and magazines (and other archive material) available for public access - you can find the Foxglove pattern here.

Lois was immediately convinced that the Foxglove pattern matches Susan Beaumont's bedspread exactly - and as the pattern was published in  Australia in 1886, after she had emigrated, we decided that she must have knitted the bedspread in Australia.

But then... I was looking for something else entirely in a 19th century book called Needlework for Ladies for Pleasure and Profit by 'Dorinda' when the words 'Foxglove pattern' caught my eye.  There was no illustration, but it was a pattern for a quilt square, and the instructions matched the pattern in the Australian newspaper word for word.  You can download the book from the Winchester School of Art library here - the pattern is on page 78.  I would never have recognised the pattern if I hadn't already seen the illustration, of course - the 19th century knitting books with no illustrations must have been very difficult to work from. 

The Winchester School of Art copy is the 3rd edition, published in London in 1886, but according to the British Library catalogue, the 2nd edition of the book appeared in 1883.  So assuming that the foxglove pattern was also in the earlier editions, it's clear that the Australian pattern copied Dorinda's.  (But the Australian author did go to the trouble of knitting the square and creating the illustration.)   It is just possible that Susan Beaumont got
the pattern from the 1st edition of the book before she left England, and not from the Australian newspaper - I doubt if there is any way to tell now.   

So we have found two possible sources for the square pattern in the bedspread.  Quite a few details are known about Susan Beaumont's life, too.  She was born Susan Holloway in Huddersfield in about 1840, and married William Beaumont in the 1860s. (In spite of its French origins, Beaumont is not an uncommon name in Huddersfield.)  He did various clerical jobs - he was a railway booking clerk in 1861, a book-keeper in 1871 and,  more specifically, a book-keeper to a cloth finisher in 1881, from the census records.  The Beaumonts then emigrated to Australia, arriving early in 1883, with their four children, aged then between 5 and 17.  Susan Beaumont died in 1911, in a small cottage at Blaxland, near Sydney, used by the family as a holiday home.

It is good to be able to tie all this information about the pattern and the knitter to the bedspread - the background story makes it in some ways more interesting than the similar bedspreads in much better condition about which nothing is known. And last month, Lois gave her talk on the bedspread and her conservation work on it, so now I can add my own part of the detective story.  
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