Friday 30 June 2017

Practical Knitting in 1886

I was sorting out some miscellaneous Weldon's publications in the Guild collection this week.  Several of them had lost their front covers, or probably had them removed  - the covers generally just had a summary of the contents, and the rest was ads, so they were often discarded.  But it makes life difficult for a cataloguer, because sometimes, as with the Practical Needlework series, the number in the series is only printed on the cover.  But eventually, with not too much cursing, I got most of them into the right place.  In the process, I found one of earliest issues in the Practical Needlework series, from volume 1, dated by Richard Rutt to 1886.

Victorian knitting magazines
Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2
It's number 2 of Weldon's Practical Needlework, and also number 2 of the Weldon's Practical Knitter subseries.  I have to admit that that's a bit confusing.  But never mind  - it has some interesting things in it.  Here are a few that caught my attention.

First is a pattern for a knitted quilt square in Foxglove pattern, described as 'exceedingly pretty'.

From Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2, 1886

I recognised the image immediately, because I  had seen one very like it when I was trying to find the pattern used for a 19th century bedspread  - I found the image in an Australian newspaper, the Australian Town and Country Journal, published in Sydney, also in 1886. And now that I compare  the two, the images are exactly the same - the Australian newspaper lifted both the text and the image from Weldon's Practical Needlework, in a cut-and-paste job.  And I can't see any acknowledgement to Weldon's.  To a former academic, that's really shocking behaviour - blatant plagiarism.  On the other hand, much of the wording of the pattern is taken in turn from an earlier book, Needlework for Ladies for Pleasure and Profit by 'Dorinda', though Dorinda didn't illustrate it.  So Weldon's aren't entirely innocent of plagiarism themselves.  Victorian morals weren't quite as pure as some people claim.

Another pattern in the magazine is my favourite lace pattern.  I started out thinking of it as Print o' the Wave, but I now think that that is only its Shetland name - in Victorian knitting books, it seems to have been called Leaf and Trellis (if it was given a name at all).

From Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2, 1886

The description says: ' This is a very favourite old pattern for window curtains, cotton antimacassars, bread-tray cloths, and other articles. It is here rearranged and improved, and the veining of the leaves is carried symmetrically upwards."    (Following a tradition beginning with Mrs Gaugain, the sample is shown upside down, with the cast-on edge at the top - I suppose because it looks more like a pattern of leaves that way.)   The claim of symmetry in the pattern is because some of the decreases are right-leaning (knit 2 together) and some are left-leaning (slip 1, knit 1, pass the slipped stitch over) so that in the 'leaves' you get a line of successive decreases, all leaning the same way, and then a line leaning the other way.  In earlier versions of the pattern (Jane Gaugain's, for instance), all the decreases are done by knitting 2 together.

So it may be that, as claimed, this is an innovation, and the first version of the pattern to have symmetrical decreases.  Or it could be that the magazine has 'borrowed' the improvement from an earlier publication - I'm reserving judgement.

And the other pattern that I particularly noticed was for a Balaclava cap, 'a most comfortable cap for gentlemen travelling or for shooting excursions.'  

From Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2, 1886

 It's knitted in navy blue Berlin wool (merino), with red stripes, on No. 10 bone needles.  I would like to believe that the pattern was written for this magazine, but the image seems very familiar - I'm sure I've seen it before, but can't remember where.  Maybe I have seen it in a later publication, but I'm not very confident - this might be another case of 'borrowing'.

Monday 26 June 2017

Designs by Marjory Tillotson

I wrote in February (here) about small collection of a dozen booklets and leaflets from the 1920s, that I had just been sent for the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection.  Most of them were completely new to me.  They deserve to be shown in more detail, so here are a few of them, designed by Marjory Tillotson. 

She designed the earliest pattern booklets that were published in this country, for J. & J. Baldwin & Partners, of Halifax.  The first 'Beehive Knitting Booklets' appeared in about 1910, and Marjory Tillotson stopped working for the company in 1920 when she married.  But some of the booklets she designed evidently stayed in print for several years, or were reissued in a 'New & Enlarged Edition'.  All the ones I am showing here date from the 1920s, by which time the company was part of Patons & Baldwins Limited.

1920s vintage crochet pattern
Beehive Booklet no. 13

The first booklet (no. 13) has a dozen designs for babies' garments - although it's called a Beehive Knitting Booklet, they are all crochet patterns.  An impressive array of bonnets, caps, coats, and bootees, all trimmed with satin ribbon bows, even those for boys.  

The second booklet (no. 14) has a range of sports sweaters, for women and men, girls and boys.

1920s vintage knitting pattern
Beehive Booklet no. 14

The cover shows a woman wearing her sports sweater to play tennis, but I think that sports sweaters were often worn as casual wear and not just for sports.  (As sports wear is now, in fact.)

From Beehive Booklet no. 14

The booklet includes sweaters for Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, and says that both are the regulation pattern.   'Each Girl Guide should knit one of these sweaters.  It is of the regulation pattern, easy to make and neat, warm and durable in wear.'  (Boy Scouts were not, of course, expected to knit their sweaters.)

Booklet 16 has patterns for nine 'House Wraps' - a range of garments to wear at home, including bed-jackets.

1920s vintage knitting & crochet pattern
Beehive Booklet no. 16 

The cover design, 'Florence', is a knitted nightingale - a type of bed wrap invented by Florence Nightingale.  They were designed to be very easy to make from a length of woollen fabric (see here),  and many nightingales were made for the sick and wounded during the First World War.  Marjory Tillotson replicated the design in knitting. The booklet describes its construction: 'The graceful "FLORENCE" Wrap is made in one length (in a fancy knitted pattern) like a shawl, the collar being formed by turning back the two corners of a slit-like opening in one of the long sides.'  The making up instructions say: 'For the cuffs, turn back the corners of the long side opposite the collar, folding them over and fastening at the folded points while leaving sufficient room through which to pass the hands.  Finish off with dainty bows.'

Another design I'm quite taken with is Cicely - mainly because it's called a Breakfast Jacket, and it seems such a ridiculous idea to have a special garment to have breakfast in.
From Beehive Booklet no. 16

It's also completely impractical - the sleeves are very loose with big frilly cuffs, and they would trail in your Weetabix or bacon and eggs. But perhaps you could eat a light breakfast of tea and toast (if someone else buttered it for you) without getting  in a terrible mess.

Finally, there is a booklet of vests, plain and ribbed. There are patterns for women, men and children, from size 22in. chest upwards.  Not very exciting designs, but the illustration in the front cover is charming.

1920s vintage knitting pattern
\Beehive Booklet no. 25

Although Marjory Tillotson could not work for Patons and Baldwins after she married, she did continue to design knitting patterns for other companies, until well after the Second World War.  She also wrote books on knitting, including The Complete Knitting Book.  It's wonderful to have these very early booklets, with her name prominently displayed on the cover - I think they are now very scarce, and it's amazing that these copies have survived in such good condition.

J. & J. Baldwin's trade mark, from Beehive Booklet no. 25

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Making Bone Knitting Needles

In the previous post I showed two ads for knitting needles, from 1921.  Both ads mentioned bone knitting needles, implying of course that the advertised needles were far superior.  Since I wrote that post, I have found a description of how bone knitting needles were being made in the early 1920s, at a factory in Gloucestershire. (I was browsing in some historic newspapers online, looking for something else entirely.)

By the 1920s, the process was highly mechanised, though still requiring a great deal of skill,  But it was also doomed - the article mentioned that a factory nearby was making casein, an early plastic.  The writer thought that it "has probably affected the bone trade in no small measure, but there still remains an extensive demand for knitting needles and other like articles manufactured from bone."  Not for much longer, I think.

We have a lot of bone knitting needles and crochet hooks in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and  I picked out a small selection today. Here are two pairs of straight needles, a set of four double-pointed needles, and a crochet hook. The needles are sizes 5mm. and 5.5 mm. - bone could not be used for fine needles.  It's hard to measure the size of the crochet hook - it tapers along most of its length, so I don't know where to take the measurement.  

Vintage knitting needles; vintage crochet hook; bone; 1920s
Bone knitting needles and crochet hook
The bones for knitting needles were a by-product of the meat trade, and I had assumed that they came directly from butchers.  But evidently they didn't - they were collected by rag-and-bone men, largely I assume from private houses after the meat had been eaten.  I remember a rag-and-bone man making regular appearances on our street, with his horse and cart, when I was very little, but he was just part of the background, and I never thought about what happened to the rags and bones.  Later, if I had thought about it, I might have guessed that the bones were converted into bonemeal for fertiliser, and possibly some was, after the more useful pieces had been selected for destinations like the needle factory.

The article describes the initial preparation of the bone - which must have been a very smelly business:
The bones collected by the rag and bone merchant—or the tatter man—eventually find their way to the mills, and one section of the bones which are the result of stew are sawn off and are ready for use at once. The remainder, however, have to be thoroughly boiled. This is done in large tanks, the bones being boiled in steam-heated water for some 24 or 48 hours, as the case may require. Having been thoroughly boiled, which renders them soft and possible to handle easily, the bones pass on to the second process. This consists of sawing them into square strips—a most tricky and tedious business —and they then go to a series of machines through which the square strips are run emerging at the other side of the machine in the round. The bone is converted from the square to the round by means of a small revolving knife, through which the bone is drawn. This done the round strips are next placed in vats containing a bleaching chemical, and on being removed from this the bone, which was previously a creamy colour is perfectly white. 
The bone strips were then taken upstairs to the skilled needle makers:
The bones are now in round strips about eight inches long and bleached white. They next pass to the first floor of the factory, and here the strips are finely polished. To do this the pieces arc placed in the end of a rapidly revolving spindle, one at a time, and as they revolve they are polished by means of a piece of emery paper held in the hand of the operative. The points are then made, a revolving emery wheel being used, and the knobs for the other end having been turned out by a special machine, are attached by glue, the finished needles tied together in pairs, and packed ready for the purchaser. 
Knobs for bone knitting needles

A disadvantage of bone, mentioned in the Double Century ad, was that to make long needles two pieces had to be joined together by splicing. Evidently bone would only yield lengths of about 9 or 10 inches (23-26 cm.)  The article explains how pieces were joined to make longer needles:

Needles of 12 inches [31cm.] or more in length have to pass through an additional process—that of splicing. Bone cannot be obtained in long enough lengths to enable needles of this size to be made in one piece, and so two short strips are taken and cut at the ends in such a manner that they may be strongly spliced together with the aid of fine string and a specially prepared cement. When the needle is complete it is almost impossible to discover the joint, so perfectly is the work finished. 
I didn't know until I saw the Double Century ad that bone needles might be spliced, and I looked for some long needles today to see if I could see the join.  And indeed, the double-pointed needles shown above are just under 12 inches long, and they are all spliced, if you look very carefully.  The join is still almost invisible after all this time, and is perfectly smooth.  (Look for the faint diagonal line in the photo below.)

Splice in a bone knitting needle

The factory described in the article also made crochet hooks (or crotchet hooks, as they are called throughout):

The first stages of the manufacture of crotchet hooks is identical with that of knitting needles. On arriving at the finishing department, however, the pieces of bone are polished and then one end is slightly tapered. This accomplished, both ends are rounded and the hook made. The making of the hook is an operation which needs no little skill on the part of the operative, for the slightest mistake as the bone is placed against the revolving disc which performs the operation would immediately destroy the piece of bone on which the hook is being made. The hook is polished once again, and is then ready for packing.
The better class hooks are decorated on the handle, and this is done by a specially constructed machine, and also requires great skill on the part of the worker. 
The crochet hook shown above is one of the 'better class', and is beautifully decorated.

Decoration on bone crochet hook

I'm really pleased to have found out how bone needles and hooks were made, at the tail-end of the history of working with bone.  It had been a raw material for making tools and decorative objects such as sewing needles and combs for hundreds of years.  By the 1920s, perfect knitting needles and crochet hooks made of bone could be mass-produced  - and then bone was completely superseded by new materials like anodised aluminium and plastics.  I don't know when the factory described in the article closed down, but I think it must have been within a few years.

Sunday 11 June 2017

Advertising Knitting Needles

I wrote a post two years ago about Double Century knitting needles, which had a metal core inside a plastic coating.  The original idea was patented in 1913 by Emily Doubble, although she seemed an unlikely inventor, as she was a widow in her 70s at the time. But this week, Emily's great-granddaughter commented on my post and said "she did invent a knitting needle which her son, Theodore, patented for her. My aunt told me that she was fed up on her fine needles breaking and had the idea of putting a metal wire in them. She was a great knitter, embroidery and wood carver!"

(One of the best things about writing a blog is that sometimes people give you fascinating information in comments - sometimes several years after the post first appeared.)

Belinda's comment reminded me that at the time I wrote the post, the earliest ad I had seen for Double Century needles dated from 1945, though it was clear from the wording that the needles must have been in production before the start of World War II.

But I've since found a much earlier ad.  It appeared in Needlecraft Practical Journal, and I date it to 1921.  (I'll write later about dating issues of Needlecraft, because it's not at all straightforward.)

1921 ad in Needlecraft Practical Journal; vintage knitting needles

At that time, bone was a common material for making thicker sizes of knitting needle, and you could also get ivory knitting needles, though they were of course much more expensive.  Double Century needles were always a cream colour, and this ad shows that it was because they were imitating the colour of bone or ivory.

In the same issue of Needlecraft, was an ad for Stratnoid knitting needles - another brand based on a patent.

This is also an earlier ad than I had found previously.   The patent (to make knitting pins from duralumin, an aluminium alloy) was granted in 1919, so the manufacturers were quick to get the idea into production.

The claim is that Stratnoid knitting pins are "STRONG - FLEXIBLE - LIGHT AS BONE - STRONG AS STEEL".  As with Double Century, bone was one of the materials to compete with.  It's interesting that they are claimed to be flexible - the finer ones will bend a bit, but you'd need a lot of force to bend the thicker ones.  And the ad doesn't mention their other big advantage over steel - they don't rust.

And with both Double Century and Stratnoid needles, you could knit faster, allegedly.  I've tried both, and they are very nice to knit with, but I don't think I can knit faster than with other needles.  Perhaps I should be comparing with rusty steel needles, wooden needles with splinters, or bone needles with  snags, but if so, I'd rather not do the experiment - I'm convinced already.    

Monday 5 June 2017

Disco Sweaters

One of my favourite blogs is The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done, by Orange Swan.  She reviews knitting magazines, and often exactly nails just what's wrong with a design.  And occasionally she has a post collecting together photos of unusual (aka seriously weird) knitted garments.  Her most recent post is one of those:  Lederhosen and Tutus and Other Knitting Fables.  It included this knitting pattern:

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6065
Her caption is "Penelope had come up with the perfect way to get men to buy her drinks when out clubbing."

It's a super example of 1980s picture knits.  I looked for the leaflet in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and found that it's one of a small group of "Disco" knits.  Here are the others:

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6062

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6063

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6064

You were evidently supposed to wear your Disco sweater with skintight metallic lycra in a bright colour, and BIG hair.  But a long-sleeved sweater in a thick yarn (DK) seems very impractical for a disco - you'd boil.  I can see that one or two of them might also do for everyday sweaters - the giant daisy, and the hearts.  Maybe even the butterfly.  (It was the 80s after all, when picture sweaters were normal wear).    But the lips/straw/glass combo - as Orange Swan says, that's just begging someone to buy you a drink.
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