Sunday 19 March 2017

Listening to the Wireless

I've cracked the dating of Weldon's Practical Needlework series (by relying on the dates given by Richard Rutt in his History of Hand Knitting - see here).   So now I'm looking at Fancy Needlework Illustrated - similarly undated,  so you have to work out the dates from other clues.

Vintage crochet cotton ad, 1920s
Ad from Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 73

And while doing that, I spotted this very charming ad for Ardern's crochet cotton, in an issue from 1925.  "Could there be any more delightful way to spend the evening hours than to make dainty crochet work while you listen in?"  Four pretty young women are sitting around a wireless set, with a huge trumpet, all busy with their crochet.  The British Broadcasting Company (forerunner of the BBC)  had been set up in 1922.  A BBC website says, 'The first broadcast came from London on 14 November [1922], and "listening-in" quickly became a popular pastime.'  So although the scene seems quaintly old-fashioned now, at the time it was exciting and new.

Two of the 'listeners in' seem to be working on handkerchiefs, making lacy edgings, and the other two are making strips of crochet lace, to go around a tablecloth or something similar.  Fancy Needlework Illustrated and other needlecraft magazines had been publishing patterns for this kind of fancy household crochet for decades.  And perhaps young women such as these did spend their leisure time making household linen for their 'bottom drawer', anticipating getting married.    But by 1925, the magazine was also publishing patterns for jumpers and dresses - knitted and/or crocheted.    The cover of the same issue illustrates the mix of patterns.

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1920s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 73

The magazine gives patterns for the tops worn by the two women in the cover picture, and for the crocheted table cloth border that forms its frame.

And Ardern's themselves have another ad in the same issue promoting their Star Sylko yarn for making 'Beautiful Frocks'.

Vintage 1920s crochet cotton ad
Ad from Fancy Needlework Illustrated No. 73

Going back to the first ad:  I can't tell exactly what the four young women are making.  But I do recognise the pattern for the edging of the tablecloth that the wireless is sitting on.  It was called the 'Dresden' pattern (presumably for Dresden china - the design shows a tea service) and it was published in Fancy Needlework Illustrated No. 26 in (I think) 1913.  

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1910s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 26
It's in filet crochet, which was very popular in the 1910s - it is easy to produce quite complicated pictorial designs in filet crochet.  (In the Dresden design, I like the corner motif of crossed teaspoons and a pair of sugar tongs.)

Dresden was evidently a very successful design - it was re-published in a later issue of the magazine, in 1920.  The cover says: 'This number contains a reprint of the "Dresden" crochet lace.  The most Popular Pattern ever published.'

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1920s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 52
  And you could have a matching tea cosy.

Vintage crochet design, 1910s
'Dresden' Tea Cosy Design
I think we have a 'Dresden' tablecloth in the Guild collection - there must certainly be many survivors.   It's nice to imagine some of the filet crochet in the collection in a 1920s setting like the one in the ad.

More on dating Fancy Needlework Illustrated in a later post.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Lace Yoke Cardigan

Here's what I'm knitting just now.

It's going to be a cardigan.  The design is by Norah Gaughan, from the Holiday 2016 issue of Vogue Knitting.  (The magazine appears in the U.K. as Designer Knitting, with a different cover, and the equivalent issue was Early Winter 2016.)

From Vogue Knitting, Holiday 2016 issue

It is going to look exactly like this, only denim blue.  

As you can see from my work-in-progress, it's knitted top-down, with no seams.  I have got past the complicated yoke, which took a lot of concentration because almost  every row is different - after the yoke it's very straightforward, and I have nearly finished the body.  

The yarn is Aire Valley Aran, spun by West Yorkshire Spinners ("reared, sheared and spun in Britain").  The pattern calls for an Aran weight yarn, though I think the specified yarn must be relatively lightweight to give the specified gauge (21 stitches and 30 rows to 10 cm in stocking stitch on 4mm needles ).  But Aire Valley Aran is also quite lightweight for an Aran yarn, and my gauge is spot on.

I did have a crisis of confidence part way through, though.  One of the advantages of knitting top-down is that you can try on as you go, and I did that, once I had finished the yoke and reached the point where you divide the sleeves from the body.  At that point the yoke looked extremely bulky and much too large.   It doesn't naturally lie flat - especially the cables at the top.   So at that point I pressed it gently under a damp cloth, which was an improvement.  But it was still too large around the neck edge.  The ribbed neckband is supposed to be added as a finishing step, but I decided to pause knitting the body and add the neckband at that point, and that has improved the fit around the neck a lot.  I now believe that it's going to fit me when it's finished, which is a great relief.

Without the neckband, the neck edge was much looser, and was sitting much lower when I tried on my knitting - it would have been difficult to judge the finished length of the cardigan.  So I'd advise anyone else knitting this pattern to add the neckband early, not at the end.

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Stratnoid Knitting Pins

I do like a knitting needle with a patent number.  (At least I do if I can find the patent - sometimes I can't, and then it's just frustrating.)  It seems so unlikely that something as straightforward as a knitting needle should have anything patentable about it.  But several brands of knitting needle that we have in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection do have patent numbers, for instance the Double Century needles that I have already written about.

Another brand with a patent number is Stratnoid  (a horrible name).

Vintage knitting needles; patent number 151307; duraluminl

Patent number 151307 was issued in 1919.   The patentee was Harry Norman Lilley, of Astwood Bank near Redditch, and he said in the application:
"My invention relates to improvements in the manufacture of knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like and has for its object to enable such articles to be easily and rapidly produced in such a manner that they are not liable to get rusty or otherwise deteriorated in use as has hitherto been the case.

Knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like have usually been made out of steel and plated or otherwise polished in order to render them rustless and not liable to be deteriorated in use and therefore have to undergo a series of processes whereby the production of such articles by these means requires undue time. To avoid this it has been proposed to manufacture knitting pins and crochet hooks of aluminium but this is objectionable in use as it marks or soils articles with which it contacts.

Such articles need not particularly be made of steel, and our invention ... consists in making knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like of aluminium and manganese alloy which is readily workable, such as that which is known under the registered trade mark "Duralumin", whereby an easy manufacture may be undertaken which effects a large saving both in tools and machinery."  
 It's interesting that aluminium by itself was "objectionable in use" because it would stain the wool - presumably that's why later aluminium needles are anodised in pretty pastel colours.  Also interesting that the patent doesn't mention another big advantage of the Stratnoid needles - they are much lighter than steel needles, but very strong.   In the KCG collection, we have a haberdasher's catalogue of knitting and crochet equipment from 1918-19 (see here), that lists knitting needles made of steel, bone, wood, vulcanite and ivory.  Anything finer than a size 12 (2.25mm) had to be steel, but the thicker needles (more than about 4mm) were only sold in the lighter materials.
At the 1911 census, Harry Lilley had been a commercial traveller for a needle manufacturer, so although he obviously understood the pros and cons of different knitting needle materials from the sales point of view, it doesn't seem likely that he knew a lot about metallurgy and the processes involved in making knitting needles by 1919.  But all the patent says, really, is "I think it would be a good idea to make knitting needles out of this new Duralumin stuff."  And in the 1939 register, he was still a commercial traveller, so the patent didn't change his life much.

(In fact, he seems to have got the composition of Duralumin wrong - according to various websites, it was an alloy of 95% aluminium, and 4% copper, with the rest made up of manganese and magnesium, so "aluminium and manganese alloy" suggests that he wasn't very familiar with it.)

The patent was taken up (though I don't know when) by the firm of Stratton and Co., of Birmingham.  According to Grace's Guide, the company was set up in 1911 by George Abe Laughton, who at that time was running a small section of another company, selling coronation badges and flags. "Components were bought in from a small supplier who suffered from the ravages of alcohol and supplies were erratic. Laughton bought the business for £50 and acquired four hand presses and two girl workers. He named this enterprise Stratton, reputedly after the hero in a novel his wife was reading."   A nice story about the source of the company name, but in fact their eldest son, born 1906, was named George Stratton Laughton. So he might have been named for the hero of the novel, and the company named for him.  (And when he grew up and joined the family firm, he was known as Stratton Laughton, not George Laughton.)

By 1920 (again according to Grace's Guide) the company was making knitting needles, radio receivers and men's jewellery (an odd portfolio).  It then merged with Jarrett & Rainsford, the company that George Laughton had worked for until 1911, and became Jarrett, Rainsford and Laughton.  The Stratton name was kept for such things as powder compacts (vintage Stratton powder compacts are evidently very collectable) and of course Stratnoid knitting needles.    

The earliest ad for Stratnoid needles and hooks that I have found dates from about 1925.  It features a testimonial from a customer: "JUST IMAGINE MY DELIGHT when I discovered 'STRATNOID' -- so light, soft as silk, and never discoloured my white wool as aluminium ones did.  I have several sizes in 'STRATNOID' and they are JUST PERFECT."

Vintage knitting needles & crochet hooks, 1920s
Stratnoid ad, about 1925
The brand continued to at least the late 1950s. In 1955, an ad listed the  "points of appeal about Stratnoid Knitting Pins":
  • Solid heads that CANNOT come off.
  • Polished rounded points that pick up stitches easily.
  • Supersmooth finish for rapid work.
  • Lightweight and unbreakable.
  • Neutral shade that obviates eye strain.
The last point seems a bit of a stretch, but all the others seem valid.  (The head couldn't come off because it was made in one piece with the rest of the needle, I believe, unlike some of the anodised aluminium needles.)  

Here's another ad, from 1958.  At that time, the company often offered free knitting patterns in their ads - if you bought a pair of Stratnoid knitting needles, you could send off for a free pattern.

Vintage knitting needles, 1950s
Stratnoid ad, 1958

And after that, the ads seem to have stopped (if I see a later one, I'll add it.)  But the needles have carried on - as Harry Lilley's patent application didn't say, they are very durable.  (Though we have had several rejects in the KCG collection that were slightly bent.)  I've tried knitting with them, and if you like very smooth needles, these are ideal.  Though I might not go so far as to say "JUST PERFECT", like the 1925 ad.

Friday 3 March 2017

Spider Wools

I've been working with the pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild  collection for a long time now. A lot of them aren't at all memorable, but sometimes there's a batch that stands out.  One is a small number of "Fair Isle" patterns for Spider Wools, published, I guess, in the late 1940s,

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; child's jumper, beret & gloves
Spider No. 183

Although the patterns are labelled "Fair Isle", they aren't anything like traditional Fair Isle designs.  Especially the one with the pandas:

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; child's twin set, beret & gloves with panda design
Spider No. 192

Spider Wools were produced by the Bradford Hosiery Yarn Spinning Co. We have only a dozen or so Spider patterns, but evidently there were many more, judging by the leaflet numbers.  The Scottie dog and panda designs seem to have been popular - I have seen several copies of each of those leaflets, though for the rest we have only one copy (or more often none).

There's an earlier leaflet, no. 56, for Baby's Rompers, that possibly dates from the 1930s.  They are certainly very 30s names for the designs:  Chips, Bunty and Mick.

1930s vintage knitting pattern; toddler's rompers
Spider No. 56
But most of the leaflets that we have were published at about the same time as the panda and Scottie designs.  There are a few other "Fair Isle" designs - all for girls, except the outfit below.

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; woman's jumper, beret & gloves
Spider No. 189

This one would be more attractive, I think, if I could figure out what the design represents.  There are bands of butterflies, and then bands of baskets? or cauldrons? or...?  They might, I have just realised, be bowls of flowers.  But there's no chart, so I would have to decipher the row by row instructions to see if they would look like bowls of flowers in the colours specified.   And I'm not going to.

I have seen ads for Spider wools from the early 1950s.  They evidently didn't publish them very fast - leaflet 211 was advertised in 1950, and leaflet 220 in 1953.

1950 ad

1953 ad

Leaflet 220 was a Coronation design - a purple cardigan and mauve jumper.   Like the other patterns, they are knitted in 3-ply wool.

After that there is a gap until the 1960s. I think that by then the company was part of Coats-Patons. We have a few Spider patterns for mohair from the mid-60s.  Very of their time. but a long, long way from the 3-ply "Fair Isle" designs of the late 40s.

1940s vintage knitting pattern; woman's beret, hood & hats in mohair
Spider No. 312
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