Sunday 30 April 2017

A Portable Project

I've just been to Birmingham to do a workshop on twined knitting for the local branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  It was a re-run of the one I've done previously for the Huddersfield branch, and at Sheringham in January.   I went by train on Friday morning, spent the afternoon shopping in John Lewis (lots of trying on, result: one pair of jeans, one pretty Seasalt cotton top).  I stayed overnight with Janet, the convenor of the Birmingham branch, and Francis,  and they took me to a very nice Moroccan restaurant for dinner.  On Saturday morning we went back to John Lewis, because the workshop was held in the Community Hub room there.  The workshop went well - everyone got the idea of twined knitting.  Most people got at least halfway though a wristlet, and one finished it.  (A couple of people weren't knitting a wristlet, because they preferred to knit flat, or else hadn't brought dpns, and so were just knitting a swatch to try out the techniques.)  From my point of view, as the teacher, it was very gratifying. Afterwards, I had coffee and cake with Janet and a few others, in the John Lewis cafe, another brief shopping foray (a pair of brogues, smart but comfortable), and then went downstairs to New Street station, which is handily underneath John Lewis, and caught a train home again.  Altogether a successful trip.

But on Thursday, in between printing off the handouts for Saturday, I had a brief panic: what was I going to knit?  I have finished knitting the Secret Project  (still secret) and the lace yoke cardigan  is at least 80% finished - I've nearly finished the first sleeve.  As it's knitted all in one piece, that means I have to carry around most of a cardigan, and it's too bulky to take on an overnight trip.  I didn't have anything else planned, but I couldn't possibly go to a KCG branch meeting without some knitting.

I thought of starting something with some yarn I bought from the destash table at last year's Guild convention.  It's Rowan Linen Drape (now discontinued) - a linen and viscose mix that I thought would make a nice summer scarf for cool summer days (i.e. most British summer days).  I had already looked around for lacy scarf patterns and hadn't seen anything that appealed.   So finally, as a desperate measure, I decided to take a ball of the yarn and some suitable needles and invent something.  I'm making it up as I go along, which means a lot of backtracking, but I'm pleased with how it's turning out.


Wednesday 26 April 2017

Exasperated Skein Holder

Writing last week about the design for a 'novel wool winder' in Hobbies Weekly reminded me of some war-time correspondence I had seen in The Times about why wool was sold in skeins and not ready-wound into balls.  I found it a while ago when I was trying to find out when wool started to be sold in balls.  The letters appeared in 1944, not long after the Hobbies Weekly design was published, and began when a man wrote, under the pen-name 'Skein-Holder', to complain that he was having to hold skeins of yarn for his wife while she wound them into balls, and what a dreadful waste of time it was.  Obviously, he was not a Hobbies Weekly reader, and so hadn't made a skein holder for his wife.  (The Hobbies Weekly 'wool winder' is in fact a skein holder, or swift.   It holds the skein of yarn and makes it easier for a person to wind it into a ball, but doesn't help with the winding - though there are now hand-operated gadgets that do, and can be properly called wool-winders.)

This was Skein-Holder's letter:



Sir,—The Government has recently called on our women to knit a vast quantity of wool into articles required for the forces.  My wife was sent with a lorry to fetch the 2,000lb. [slightly over 900 kg.] of wool from London allotted to the knitters of our county.  The skeins packed in bales were so bulky that the lorry would only hold 1,200lb.  I suspect that had the wool been wound into balls the whole 2,000lb. would have gone into the lorry.
The knitters have now to wind each skein into a ball before they can start to knit the wool.  Each skein takes one or more often two persons at least five minutes to wind.  I have just held a tangled skein which took my wife 15 minutes to wind.  The time which our unpaid knitters spend in winding must add up to thousands of hours.
By 1779 Hargreaves, Arkwright, and Crompton perfected the spinning jenny.  In 1787 Cartwright perfected the power loom.  Yet in the last century and a half the wool trade has failed to produce a mechanism whereby knitting wool can be wound and sold in a ball ready for the needles.  Ever since, as a small boy, I held skeins for my mother I have wondered why.  My excuse for now seeking an answer to this simple question through your columns is that every hour which every worker can save is a factor to hastening the end of this war.  For the reason given above. the answer to this question will interest thousands of your readers if you can elicit it from the wool trade.
I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

A few days later, there was a definitive answer from the Director of Lister's, spinners of knitting wools in Bradford:
Sir,—For many years wool has been wound by machine into balls ready for the needles. The reason for discontinuing this make-up during war-time is that the process is costly both in labour and in the materials and space needed for packing in boxes. 
Yours truly, for Lister and Co. (Knitting Wools), Limited, 
Director. Manningharn Mills, Bradford, Yorkshire. 
Mr Watson's letter showed that 'Skein-Holder' was wrong to think that machines to wind wool into balls did not exist and that 2,000 lb. of wool would have taken up less space if already wound - he claims that on the contrary, it would take up more space.  That should have ended the correspondence, but didn't.  The following day, the Yorkshire Post newspaper joined in:

Banishing the Skein 

Long-suffering husbands will surely be grateful to Times correspondents who have raised the question of winding knitting wool from skeins to a ball.  Someone wrote plaintively to say that he had just held a tangled skein which took his wife 15 minutes to wind, and added that the time which wartime knitters spend in winding must add up to thousands of hours.  "Ever since, as a small boy. I held skeins for my mother I have wondered why." he adds.
So, indeed. have I.  I recall one handy man who, determined to end the agony of skein-holding, made an adjustable wheel on which the skein was placed and pulled off as the knitter worked: to the best of my recollection the idea was a success.  Goodness only knows why some such gadget was not marketed long ago.
Why market wool in the skein, anyway?  Why not in the ball?  Many a man must have asked himself that.
The Yorkshire Post then quotes the whole of the letter from Mr Watson, and finishes with a stirring plea for wool to be sold ready-wound after the war:
So! It can be done. Husbands will grimly note this, and demand that all postwar knitting wool shall be in the ball. That destroyer of domestic serenity, the skein, must be banished from the firesides of Britain.
And a day later, another letter appeared in The Times, confirming that some wool was sold in balls before the war, and then claiming that in any case winding wool into a ball before starting to knit is completely unnecessary.  (Provided that you don't mind being tethered to a chair, or something like that, while you are knitting - carrying about a loose skein of yarn could lead to terrible tangles very quickly.)
Sir,—Your correspondent "Skein-holder" is quite wrong in supposing that no machine has been invented to wind wool.  Before the war at least a score of various brands of wool were sold ready wound----in the "cocoon" style, i.e., with the thread unravelling from the inside, not the outside, and this type of ball has the great advantage of not rolling about.

Admittedly, none of the wool officially issued for "service comforts." is in balls, but it is perfectly easy to knit direct from the skein, provided that it is not tangled to start with.  I did not believe this myself until it was demonstrated to me many years ago by a nun, who knitted dozens of garments annually for an orphanage run by her order.  Since then I have never spent a single moment in "winding." Yours faithfully,
The 'Cocoon' style was used in this country in the 1880s - though apparently only by one small spinning company at that time (see this post).  It's interesting that Ellis Swale could claim that by the 1930s it had become a common way of selling wool.

The final voice in the correspondence went to "A Mere Male":
Sir,—I am not so fortunate as "Skein-holder" in having time on my hands, but may I briefly reply to his letter of February 5.  I suspect from the facts given that the county to which he refers is one in which I also have a knitting interest.
Any member of the wool trade will tell him that (1) It is possible to wind wool into balls, and this is done in the case of special wool, such as Angora.  (2) It is not practicable in the case of wool in general demand, for the following reasons: —(a) An extra process is involved with consequent increase of price. (b) Balled wool is more bulky than skeined, as the balls must be loose. (c) Wool loses its resilience and other qualities expected of it.
As my competence to buy wool or even arrange its distribution has frequently been called into question by ladies of a certain country-wide organization, I sign myself
Rather a nasty letter. I think.  It was mean to suggest that 'Skein-Holder' has time on his hands (and by implication, wasn't doing as much as he should for the war-effort) just because he was helping his wife to wind her knitting wool.  And he had clearly annoyed the women of the 'country-wide organization' (the W.I.?), perhaps by throwing his weight about. 

The Times correspondence ended with a final letter from Skein-Holder, who remained unconvinced by the arguments that winding wool into balls was better done by hand, and in any case unnecessary.   He suggested that if knitters preferred 'in ordinary times' to buy knitting wool in the skein, it might have been out of 'deeply rooted habit'.  It seems more likely to me that if there was a significant cost to the manufacturer in winding wool, then ready-wound wool might have been more expensive for the knitter, and that would have been an excellent reason for many knitters preferring to buy wool in the skein.    

In fact, quite apart from the design in Hobbies Weekly, there should have been several skein holders on the market.  From about 1910 to the start of World War 2, several patents for skein holders were granted.  The illustration shows a complicated contraption in wire, patented in 1913.  It must have been put into production, because we have one in the Guild collection, as well as a few others of different designs.  

So Skein-Holder might equally well have asked why, if knitters had to wind wool from the skein into a ball before knitting, they did not invest in a (mechanical) skein holder, and instead press-ganged husbands (and handy children) into helping.

Friday 21 April 2017

Knitting with beads

I've just finished this beaded wristband, started yesterday evening.  We had a workshop on knitting with beads, at the Huddersfield branch meeting of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  The workshop was taught by Marie, who had designed the lacy wristband as a quick knit for us to learn on.  She showed us two well-known techniques (well-known even to me, and I had never tried beading before) - first, threading the beads onto the yarn before you start knitting, and second, using a very fine crochet hook to attach each bead.  But the technique we actually used was a new one, which uses dental floss - of a particular type (Oral-B Super Floss, to be exact).  The floss comes in handy lengths and, crucially for beading purposes, each length has a stiffened section at one end that you can thread through a bead. It's a really clever way of adding a bead to a stitch, and looks much easier to do than the other two techniques.  There are tutorials on YouTube explaining how to do it: you can search for "super floss beading".

It was a very well prepared workshop - Marie supplied suitable yarn (wound into neat little centre-pull balls), dental floss and beads, as well as the pattern she had designed.  And she had threaded enough beads for the wristband onto a length of dental floss for each of us.  (On the other hand, I wasn't well prepared at all - the one thing we had to supply for ourselves was knitting needles, and I had forgotten.  Luckily a friend had a spare circular needle with her of the right size, and lent it to me.   
Here's my wristband in progress:


And here's the dental floss with beads threaded onto it:

Thanks very much to Marie for all the work she put in, and for a fascinating workshop.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

A Novel Wool Winder

John saw this copy of Hobbies Weekly at a book fair, and bought it for me, because of the illustration of a wool winder on the front cover.

The magazine did not cover a wide range of hobbies, in spite of the name - it was mainly aimed a woodwork, and specifically fretwork.  This issue was published in September 1940, when almost all knitting wool was sold in skeins and had to be wound into balls at home, and the magazine explained the virtues of the wool winder:
"Every knitter—and this, of course, relates more to ladies—knows the trouble of getting somebody to hold the skein whilst it is turned off into a ball suitable for their own use. The more independent knitters who use the back of a chair for the same purpose also have cause to complain. Here is a piece of work which will make them entirely independent and able to handle as much wool as they like, easily, expeditiously and satisfactorily."
The magazine would supply a pack of wood (oak) for making the wool winder, by mail order.   The pattern, printed on paper, was glued onto the oak sheets and the pieces cut out with a fretsaw.  Then the paper was removed (somehow).  The copy I have no longer has the paper pattern, so perhaps it was used, successfully I hope - it sounds as though you could only make one wool winder, and that would more or less destroy the pattern.

The contraption was made to fold up, as shown in another illustration:

 "The whole thing can be kept in quite a compact space because the arms will close when not in use. Moreover, the needles themselves are accommodated in simple racks on each side of the parts as can be seen in the picture. They are thus placed in a handy position whilst the next ball of wool is being wound."
That was surely not written by anyone who knew anything about knitting - if you were winding each ball of wool as you needed it, as it implies, then after the first ball of wool, your needles would already be in your knitting. And the racks wouldn't do for general storage of a knitter's needle collection - it looks as though they only hold a very few pairs, and that wouldn't be adequate for any knitter I know.

If the wool winder worked, it would be a useful gadget to have.  And I suppose I am being a bit mean in suspecting that the cut-outs in the arms are more designed to show off fretsaw skills than for any practical purpose - there probably was a practical reason, in lightening the weight of the arms so that they would turn more easily.  A potential snag with the design is that, as far as I can see from the instructions, the winder isn't adjustable for variations in skein size - but perhaps that wasn't necessary?  And (me being picky again) the base would have to be a lot heavier than it looks, to stop the whole thing toppling over.  But I should stop being negative, and believe the magazine when  it says:
"When complete and nicely finished with stain, polish or paint, the article is worth a great deal more than it costs to make, and will be most acceptable as a present to any ardent knitter. Or, of course, it is just the thing to complete for a Sale of Work, or for private sale to those who are or are likely to be busy knitting comforts for the Services." 
In September 1940, the country had been at war for a year, and many knitters were busy making 'comforts'.  I wrote a post a few years ago about the things that were needed for the Army - you can find it here, and think of someone using the "Hobbies Weekly" wool winder while knitting a khaki cap-muffler.

Wednesday 12 April 2017


Vintage designs inspired by the 1940s

The May 2017 issue of Knitting magazine is just out - full of designs inspired by the 1940s.   I've been waiting for it to appear, because one of the designs is an update of a 1940s pattern in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  The Knitting editor asked me to pick some suitable patterns, and between us, she and I chose a lace jumper pattern called Petronella.

1940s  vintage knitting pattern

It uses a very pretty lace stitch, and has a very 1940s look.  It has the typical wide squared-off shoulders, but not too extreme - I think they are mostly due to shoulder pads, rather than having the exaggerated pleated tops to the sleeves that were common.

1940s style sweater, updated from Lister leaflet 924

It's been updated very successfully, I think, and has kept the name Petronella.  It's knitted in 4-ply (fingering) - Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk, which is a beautiful yarn.  (I knitted a long lacy scarf for my sister in the same yarn a few years ago.   She's given it back to me now, because she can't wear wool any more, so I can confirm that it is really nice to wear.)   The original pattern used a wool that was possibly similar in thickness, though of course it was only written for one (small) size.

I love the model's 1940s hair style - very like the one in the Lister pattern.  As well as having an appropriate hair-style, the model's clothes in all the photos are from Collectif, who specialise in vintage and retro clothing.

Here's another of the designs from the magazine.  Fair Isle was very popular in the late 1940s, and this pullover looks great.

1940s style Fair Isle pullover

And the magazine also has a piece written by me, about the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection, and the work of the volunteers who are sorting, cataloguing and recording it, and endeavouring to make it available to the rest of the Guild - and the wider public.  It's very satisfying that we were able to use the patterns in the collection to contribute to this issue of Knitting.  

Monday 10 April 2017

A Secret Project

It's been several weeks since I last wrote a post - apologies.  There has been quite a lot of knitting going on - and quite a lot of things, too, that are nothing to do with knitting.  (Strange but true.)  And sometimes I just don't feel like writing.  Will try to do better.

One of things I have been knitting I can't write about yet, anyway.  If all goes well, it will be published in a magazine later this year, and then I'll write about it.  For now, I can show you the yarn I'm using - Rowan Felted Tweed in three lovely colours: Ginger, Bilberry and Watery.   More later.

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