Thursday 20 December 2018

A £5 Aran Cardigan

A bag of mixed knitting patterns arrived at the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection this week, including a copy of a magazine called Knitting & Homecraft.

Knitting & Homecraft magazine, No. 4

We have several issues of Knitting & Homecraft  in the collection, and in fact we already have this one.   It was published monthly, and this was a February issue - but which year?  It's evidently some time in the 1970s, by the styles, but the year isn't given.  It isn't in the British Library catalogue either, which would give some dates.  I've tried looking for clues in the magazine before, but I went through this one again, carefully looking for a mention of the year.  Couldn't find one.   It must be 1971 or later, because the price is decimal (30p), and I think it's early 1970s rather than later.

But looking through the magazine, I was struck by the claim that the Aran cardigan on the cover could then be knitted for 'around £5', which seems astonishing now.  The yarn specified was good quality, too - Blarney Bainin Wool, Irish pure wool specifically intended for Aran knits.    The pattern is headed 'Forever Arans': "These beautiful traditional stitch cardigans will always look right, feel right and be right for wherever you are.  They would be very costly to buy, but these can be made for around £5 from our pattern."    The editorial at the front also makes similar points: "we had in mind those of our readers who like good top fashion garments, yet cannot afford to pay high prices for the ones sometimes seen in the shops....... they are in pure wool, which will last for a very, very long time."   Aran knits were very popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s for hand knitters (though not really 'top fashion', I think). The magazine was quite right about that last point - an Aran cardigan or sweater knitted in the 1970s could very well still be wearable.  (I've got one myself (here), though it's not really a traditional Aran.)

I think the £5 cost reinforces my feeling that the magazine is from the early 1970s, rather than later.  There was huge inflation in the U.K. around 1973-6, and according to the Bank of England's historic inflation calculator, the 2017 equivalent of £5 in 1970 is £73.53,  but £5 in 1976 would only be worth £34.21 now.

My guess for the date of the magazine is 1971 or 1972, but I'd like to know, to catalogue it properly.  I don't think the magazine lasted more than a year, in fact - we have (most of) issues 1 to 12, and I suspect that it folded after that.  The content suggests that they hadn't quite worked out who their readers were.  They included 'Homecraft' in the title, but in fact there is very little that isn't knitting - just three short pieces on tatting, embroidery and gardening.  So anyone looking for cooking, say, as part of the 'Homecraft' would be disappointed.

Another knitting pattern that caught my eye is this dress in random-dyed yarn (Jaeger Spiral Spun).

There are a few other designs for random yarns in the magazine, and they all show similar patterns of stripes in some areas and large patches of one colour in other areas - random yarns were very popular for knitters in the 1970s, and these unpredictable patches of colour were a desirable feature.  (Now, colour pooling is something to be avoided.)  The overdress is machine knitted, and again I wonder if the magazine was judging its readership correctly.  Presumably they thought that including both hand and machine knitting would increase readership, but I suspect that most machine knitters would prefer to buy a machine knitting magazine (there were several being published then).  And if a hand knitter saw this design and liked it, it would be frustrating to find that it was only for machine knitters.   If I'm right that it only lasted for 12 issues, it never attracted readers in sufficient numbers.  And now it is almost completely forgotten, except in archives like the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection. 

Thursday 13 December 2018

2018 - A Year Of Books

Yesterday, one of my two book groups met for our annual Christmas dinner (at the Catch Seafood restaurant in Holmfirth).  Since 2011, I have made Christmas cards for the other members, showing the books we have read during the year.   They are a nice reminder - it's hard to remember what we read in what year otherwise (especially when you are in more than one book group).

This year's books were:

  • The Mask of Dimitrios, Eric Ambler
  • A Thousand Paper Birds, Tor Udall
  • Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
  • A Death in Summer, Benjamin Black
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  • The Sealwoman's Gift, Sally Magnusson
  • The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West
  • Cakes and Ale, Somerset Maugham

Unusually for us, most of this year's books were not new, going back to the Hardy and Turgenev books which are 19th century classics.  I have read several other books by Thomas Hardy, but hadn't read The Mayor of Casterbridge before, and I don't think I have ever read any of the Russian classics.  Fathers and Sons was fascinating, painting a picture of an alien society, with its own strange rules.  Also fascinating to read in an afterword of how it's viewed in modern Russia.

The Return of the Soldier was a surprise hit - I think most of us had never heard of it before.  It was published in 1918, and so was a story about a WW1 soldier published while the war was still in progress.  Although published much later (1930), Cakes and Ale is set around the end of the 19th century, I think, but depicts the same class system, of strict social rules and stifling snobbery.    I read a lot of Somerset Maugham's work at one time, but had never read this one - it was very entertaining.  It's supposed to be about Thomas Hardy and his wives (not very secretly), but I tried to ignore that.

I think the book most of us liked best was The Sealwoman's Gift.  It's a fascinating story based on actual events, of a raid on Iceland in the 17th century to capture a shipload of slaves and take them to North Africa.  Some of them were eventually ransomed and went back to Iceland.  It's a bit hard to understand why the main character chooses to leave her relatively comfortable life in North Africa, where it's easy to be clean and warm, and you can eat dates and oranges, and she can be near her one remaining child, and instead go back to her husband in cold, dark Iceland and eat dried puffins.  Except that in historical fact, she did. 

Our next book, for the January meeting,  is The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach.

Sunday 2 December 2018

The 'Susie' Yarn Holder

I wrote a few months ago (here) about a group of tools and gadgets that had recently been given to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection. One of the gadgets was an intriguing yarn holder in a leather case.

I have never seen or heard of another yarn holder of this design, but I have now found an ad for it, that appeared in Good Needlework magazine in August 1935.

The ad says:
With "SUSIE" you Knit Quicker — keep the wool clean — you can knit in comfort whilst travelling. The wool follows the needles making tangling impossible.  Post Coupon now for return post delivery, enclosing 8d. P.O. [postal order], or stamps. 

As you can see from the drawing, it has a bangle to go round your wrist, and the V-shaped piece of wire with the two little balls on the ends goes through the middle of the ball of wool - as I had already worked out, more or less.

The fact that I have never seen another like it, nor any other ads, suggests that it didn't catch on.  I had assumed, when I first saw the example in the Guild collection, that it was designed for use with ready-wound wool - it's easy then to push the wooden balls through the hole in the middle.  But in the 1930s, most knitting yarn was sold in skeins, and to use the 'Susie' you would have to wind the yarn around a section of broom handle, or a nostepinne, or something similar, to get the same effect.  (I don't think mechanical wool winders were available then.)  If you were used to winding wool into quite tight spherical balls (which is what I do when I'm winding by hand), it wouldn't work.   Or you might think, from the drawing in the ad, that you would have to wind the wool directly onto the yarn holder, which looks really awkward.  I suspect you would only buy one if you saw a demonstration, or on personal recommendation from someone you knew.  If it had been sold through yarn shops and not by mail order, it might have done better.  It's a pity - it's an ingenious design and deserved to succeed.  It might be more successful now, when most commercial yarn is sold ready-wound.

The company that sold it is named in the ad as Tormidor Ltd., with an address at 5 Rampayne Street, London S.W.1.  I can't find out anything about Tormidor - any further information gratefully received.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

A Light as Air Scarf

I have just finished a lacy scarf that I started earlier this month - a very quick knit.   The yarn is brushed alpaca and silk, very soft and fluffy, and it's knitted on 6.5mm needles, so it grows fast.

(As in the post I wrote shortly after I started knitting, the photo looks hopelessly out of focus, but it isn't - the yarn is just very very fluffy.) 

The pattern is called Light as Air - designed by my friend Steph as a free pattern for this yarn (see her Etsy shop - Steph's Crafty Bits).  It's a very simple stitch pattern - two rows, and one of them is all purl.  All the decreases are left-leaning, so the fabric is slightly biassed, which is why the ends aren't square, but that doesn't matter in a scarf.  Steph designed it as a shorter narrower scarf, to be threaded through a knitted loop in the same yarn, that would take just one skein.  I've used two skeins, and the scarf is about 28cm. (11 ins.) wide and about 170cm. (67in.) long. It will be very warm and cosy to wear.

Now back to my Rosedale socks - I have finished the first, but I will have to remind myself all over again how to do Judy's Magic Cast On.

Saturday 17 November 2018

October 1942

Two friends who visited recently, and know I like old magazines, brought me a Woman and Home magazine from 1942 - a very welcome gift.  The cover is very worn and coming apart down the spine, but the contents are in much better condition, and a fascinating glimpse of war-time conditions.  Woman and Home was, and still is, a monthly magazine.  It was launched in 1926, and had incorporated Good Needlework magazine from 1940 or 1941.

The cover shows three things that you could make from instructions inside. There is one knitting pattern, for a high-necked ribbed cardigan (also described as a 'button-up jumper') that you could wear on its own or over a blouse.

 Inside, there is an illustration of the tiny V-shaped pocket, which "will hold a small handkerchief to match the blouse". (Only for show and not for use, I hope.)

Clothes rationing had been in force for over a year by that stage of the war, so a cardigan was a useful garment, especially if you could wear it buttoned up and treat it as a jumper.  There is also advice in the magazine on unravelling old knitted garments to re-knit the wool into something else.  And all oddments of wool could be carefully saved - the magazine gave instructions for crocheting collars and necklets, including the African-inspired one shown on the cover, out of rug wool (not rationed, I believe) and brightly-coloured oddments of knitting wool.  There are dress-making features, too - again covering making old garments into new.

It seems that paper for non-essential uses was getting scarcer (although magazines like Woman and Home had not yet been much reduced from their pre-war size) and shops were not providing paper bags for purchases.  (This of course pre-dates by a long way the current concerns over single-use plastic packaging - many things like fruit and veg were sold loose, and only wrapped up in paper or put into a paper bag when you bought them.)   So to deal with this you could make a shopping bag with a wipeable lining to hold everything.

As well as the needlework features, there is quite a lot of fiction - two serials and a complete story.  One of the serials is by Pearl S. Buck, an American novelist who had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.  The magazine doesn't mention that, though it does say that she wrote The Good Earth, a novel set in China which is her best known book. The Woman and Home serial is called Answer to Life!, listed as a 1941 novella in a list of her works.  Its main character is a young woman who wants to train as a surgeon, a very difficult thing in those days.  Her mother is a doctor, and apparently the main bread-winner for the family, as her husband has been damaged mentally in some unspecified way by his experience in the previous war.  There are two young men who also appear in the first episode -  I imagined that in future episodes the young woman would fall for the wrong one and then eventually realise that the other is a better choice.  But I was completely wrong - after some digging around, I found an article about the novella here.  She does marry the wrong man, and the marriage breaks down, and having given up her training to marry and have children, she goes back to her ambition to be a surgeon.  Not the usual women's magazine romance at all.

I'm fascinated by the ads in the magazine, too.  There are a few that advertise knitting wools, and two of those feature pattern leaflets - like the pattern in the magazine, they are for high-necked cardigans.

Both the Golden Eagle and Femina ads stress 'coupon economy'  - I think this refers to the fact that your clothing coupons went further if you knitted your clothes instead of buying them ready-made.  But apart from rationing, knitting wool was hard to find even if you had the coupons to spare, as the Femina ad says: "Intensified war production means a shortage of many things, including Femina wools  but they are always worth waiting for."

The Copley's ad goes even further in acknowledging that wool was scarce: it has one of a series of "Couplets of Knitwise Notions",
Cut out the front, crop waist and sleeves, of winter-time's thick sweater;
bind firmly — this bolero makes your best frock even better.
(Though I can't help thinking that you would be sorry next winter when you didn't have your thick sweater any more.)

But it does go on to say that you might be lucky and be able to buy some new Copley's wool: "You're a good knitter (and a good sort) if you put Comforts first, put brains into "remakes," and put wrapping paper in your shopping bag —  ready for some "Excelsior" or some other Copley line and a Copley leaflet when your woolshop has a supply."

There are ads for some products that are still around - Weetabix, Bovril, Knight's Castile soap.  And Ryvita, which surprised me - I thought it was a much later import from Sweden.

But as I discovered here, it was imported from Sweden long before the war (from 1925) and was made in Britain from 1936.

There were a couple of public information notices, too, one from the Ministry of Food, encouraging women to collect wild produce from the countryside - elderberries, crab apples, rowan berries, rose hips, haws, mushrooms and blackberries.  I was a bit surprised that the section on mushrooms does not give any advice on identifying safe fungi, or warn that some fungi are deadly.  Perhaps people were more aware in those days - but then you'd think that  they wouldn't need the ad in the first place.

So the magazine had plenty of valuable content for 9d.  A good read, and useful things to make.

Thursday 15 November 2018


I don't often write about what I'm knitting, until it's finished (in case it all turns out badly).  But I thought I would show you two things I am working on just now. 

At the top is a nearly finished sock for me. The yarn is a sock yarn (blue-faced Leicester and nylon) from Countess Ablaze in Manchester, colour Grey Skies in Manchester.  The pattern is a modified version of the Rosedale socks, from Cable Knits by Ann Kingstone.  The main change to her pattern is at the top - I have not done the complex rose-like cable that Ann designed, and I prefer a ribbed top to a picot edge.  Another change  you can't see in this photo: I have used the heel from Ann's On the Other Foot socks because they have a gusset and fit me very well.  And finally, I (unintentionally) worked some of the cables in the opposite direction to what the pattern specified, but I've decided not to worry about that. 

I have stopped work on the socks, temporarily, to start on a Christmas present for my sister.  (She knows all about it, so I don't need to be secretive.)  It is a scarf in a really luscious brushed alpaca and silk yarn.  The photo above looks completely out of  focus, but it isn't - the yarn is just very very fluffy.  It was dyed by my friend Steph (stephscraftybits on Etsy) in a beautiful mottled grey colourway that she calls Smoke.  The yarn came with a free pattern for a lacy scarf.   It's growing fast (on 6.5mm. needles) and is amazingly soft.

I'll show both socks and scarf again when they are finished. 

Thursday 8 November 2018

A New Match

It's very exciting (as I think I've said before) when we identify the pattern that was used to make an item in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  I talked in a recent post about how important it is to have a story to tell about an item of knitting or crochet - the pattern it was made from (if there was one) is a crucial piece of its story.

The 1950s jumper below is one of many items in the collection that were the work of one woman, Jane Denny.  She was a prolific knitter - she commuted to work in London by train, and knitted on the journey.  She eventually gave the Guild more than 50 garments.  The earliest is a pixie hood that she probably wore to go to school in the 1940s, but there are also several little jumpers that she knitted in the 1950s, and later garments too.

We have three feather-and-fan jumpers knitted by Jane Denny in the collection - it was evidently a stitch pattern that she liked very much.  As you can see, it has a buttoned opening at the back of the neck (one of the buttons is missing), which was common in 1950s jumpers. This one is distinctive in having a square neck and dolman sleeves, and those features match it to a Marriner's pattern.

1950s vintage knitting pattern
Marriner 266
I like the square neck opening - a neat way of avoiding having to incorporate a curved line of decreases into feather-and-fan.  There is of course a seam along the shoulders, running into the sleeves, and an underarm seam.  It's awkward to seam the wavy edges of feather-and-fan neatly, but I think that the seams would look better when worn (as in the illustration on the pattern leaflet) than when laid out flat.

Marriner patterns at that time included a sketch of the garment as well as a photo, to give you an image to aspire to.  Wearing gloves, earrings and flowers on your shoulder is easily achievable, if a bit impractical for everyday wear, the hourglass figure not really. 

The obvious difference from the Marriner pattern is that Jane Denny's jumper is striped, in two shades of pink and a blue-purple.

Most knitters, I'm told, like to match the illustration on the pattern leaflet as closely as possible, and choose the same colour.  (I've done that myself.)  It's a very useful habit, as far as the collection is concerned -  it helps in matching a finished garment to its pattern. For instance, the pink crocheted disco dress (see here) was easy to recognise because the pattern leaflet also shows the dress in pink.   But Jane Denny not only chose a different colour, but also knitted her jumper in stripes.

One of the earliest cases where I matched a garment in the collection to its pattern was also a Jane Denny jumper, knitted to a Jaeger pattern.  I wrote about it here.

1950s vintage knitting pattern
Jaeger 3398

It was knitted to a Jaeger pattern, and again it was designed to be knitted in one colour.  But Jane Denny knitted it in broad bands of four different colours, combining together beautifully. We already knew quite a lot about her, and we know from the quality of the garments she gave to the collection that she was a skilful knitter.  We can now see, comparing these two jumpers with their patterns,  that she also had a very good eye for putting colours together, and didn't just follow the intention of the pattern designer.

Saturday 27 October 2018

Matching Socks

I finished another pair of socks (for me) a couple of weeks ago.   They are like the last two pairs I knitted - the structure is based on the On the Other Foot socks I made in Ann Kingstone and Sarah Alderson's knit-along, but these are quite plain, double rib.  I had some variegated sock yarn I wanted to use, so a fancy pattern wouldn't have shown up well.

The yarn was dyed for me by my friend Steph of Millhouse Designs (stephscraftybits on Etsy).  The special thing about the yarn is that she dyed two strands together, so that the colour changes happen in the same places.  So knitting a sock from each strand means that they match. 

I wanted colours that aren't too exciting (I'm not into wearing brightly coloured socks yet), so they are grey at the toe, turning into indigo blue at the cuff.  With winter in mind, I made the leg part longer than the last pair I made.  They are proving very cosy.  I'll knit some more.  I have two skeins of variegated sock yarn that are basically grey - I should be safe colourwise with those (not too exciting) and I think that they might suit a fancy pattern too.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Arans in Birmingham

I have just been to Birmingham with my colleague Angharad - we did a trunk show and workshop on Arans yesterday for the Birmingham branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  That is, I did the trunk show in the morning, and Angharad did a workshop in the afternoon.  We had two suitcases full of Arans - they are of course very bulky and heavy.  (Fortunately for us, we didn't have to transport them ourselves on the train - they were taken to Birmingham by car a few weeks ago and they are being brought back this week.)  I've given talks on Aran sweaters a few times, based on those in the Guild collection, and I showed some of the same things yesterday, including a replica of the sweater illustrated in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns, published in 1943, that I showed here.  We had also chosen the Aran sweater in 4-ply (fingering) wool from a 1959 Woman's Weekly magazine (see here for more details):

and my own Susan Duckworth Aran from 1973, as well as more conventional Aran knits.

The collection has some distinctly unconventional Arans from the 1980s, using more or less standard Aran stitch patterns, but not knitted in wool.  One we showed yesterday is in purple chenille, following the Sirdar pattern below (cropped version):

Sirdar 5231
Another is in pale blue cotton:

Wendy 4033
We even have a batwing Aran sweater in a cream yarn with lurex, though in that case we don't have the pattern:

Here's a detail to show the gold sparkly bits:

If you recognise the pattern, please let me know.  Did the pattern specify lurex yarn, I wonder, or was that the knitter's choice.  And why not?  Maybe my life too would be richer for a batwing lurex Aran sweater.

At Angharad's workshop in the afternoon, we were given Aran weight yarn in cotton, to knit a wash-cloth.  We each chose stitches from the Arans in the trunk show.  I chose mine mainly from a very fine 1950s Aran:

I used the double cable from this sweater and the cable from the welt, and a related cable from the welt of the 1943 replica.  I carried on knitting it on the train back home, and then finished it last night.

It was a very successful workshop - devising your own pattern from a garment makes you examine it much more closely than you would do otherwise.

We had travelled to Birmingham on Friday, and as an extra, that evening our friend Janet took us to a Rowan Ruby Anniversary event, put on by the Stitch Solihull yarn shop.  The Birmingham branch had treated us to the tickets, and it was a lot of fun.

There was a display of current and vintage Rowan designs, as well as the current Rowan yarns and book to browse.   The Soumak wrap below by Lisa Richardson is both past and current: it was first published in 2013, but is also in Rowan's new 40 years book.

Lisa Richardson's Soumak and Mayfield designs
There were of course several designs by Kaffe Fassett: the China Clouds jacket is from Rowan Magazine 28 (2000) and Summer Star from Magazine 25 (1999).

China Clouds jacket by Kaffe Fassett

Summer Star by Kaffe Fassett

We were encouraged to wear a Rowan knit for the evening (in exchange for free entry in a raffle).  I wore the Gilda sweater that I made in 2009, in Rowan Wool Cotton - still a favourite of mine.   It was fascinating to see what other people were wearing - including a huge 1980s intarsia sweater.

There was a fashion show, too, presented by Anna of Stitch Solihull - here she is modelling a jacket with 'ROWAN YARNS' knitted into it.

It was a very good evening.  The shop provided drinks and a buffet with a 1970s theme (for the 40th anniversary) - including pineapple chunks and cubes of Cheddar cheese on cocktail sticks, and of course Black Forest gateau.  Looking through the Rowan books, I found at least two designs that I really want to knit.  And Angharad won the first prize in the raffle. 

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Fancy Needlework Illustrated in Piecework

Yesterday, a packet arrived through the post with three copies of the current (Winter 2018) issue of Piecework magazine.  If you don't know it, Piecework is an American magazine, published by Interweave, that covers the history of needlecrafts.

Piecework, Winter 2018

I was sent the copies because I have an article in this issue.  Earlier this year there was a call for articles on needlecraft magazines, so I decided to write about Fancy Needlework Illustrated.  It is one of the magazines in the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, and a favourite of mine (I have written posts about it several times, e.g. here).  I especially like the covers of the 1920s issues which have charming colour illustrations.

Fancy Needlework Illustrated, September 1927

As well as the magazines themselves, we have several pieces of filet crochet in the Guild collection that were made to FNI designs, so there was plenty to write about.  I have written a few times in this blog about the "Welcome Home" tea-cloth pattern appeared in 1915 - evidently a design that appealed strongly to women left at home when their men joined the armed forces.  We also have several examples of the "Dresden" tea-cloth, a very popular design from FNI that is featured in the article - and appearing here in an ad for Ardern's Crochet Cotton that shows a guest at afternoon tea admiring her hostess's handiwork:

There is also a project to accompany the article, to knit a very pretty 'Tea Rose Scarf', designed by Katrina King.

I sent photos of several pretty jumper designs from 1920s issues of Fancy Needlework Illustrated as possible sources for projects, and this is the one that inspired Katrina:

The "Tennis" Knitted Jumper

I think the jumper itself is pretty, if a bit shapeless.  In the usual 1920s knitted jumper style, the sleeves are made in one piece with the front and back.  Often in 1920s patterns the whole jumper is knitted in one piece, but in this case because the lace pattern has a definite direction, the back and front are knitted separately in two T shapes, finishing with several rows of moss stitch (to match the panels of moss stitch between the rose leaf panels).  Then the moss stitch edges are grafted together on the shoulders.   Katrina's scarf also has a graft in the middle, for the same reason - so that the lace pattern is going in the same direction at both ends of the scarf.  All the designs in Fancy Needlework Illustrated are for cotton yarns, as I explain in the article, and the tea rose scarf is also knitted in cotton, so it represents the magazine very well. 

There are some fascinating articles elsewhere in the issue, including several others on needlecraft magazines. or on novels featuring needlecrafts (including a knitted fichu inspired by illustrations to Louisa M. Alcott's Little Women).  Another knitting project that I like very much is a pair of lace fingerless mitts in cotton, based on traditional Russian festival costume.  (Do I have a suitable festival coming up where I could wear white cotton lacy mitts?)  I'm proud of my article and very pleased that the issue is full of other interesting content too. 

Wednesday 3 October 2018

A Scarf in Springtime

Earlier this year, the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection was given several balls of a vintage yarn. They were donated by a Guild member who volunteers in a charity shop.  She bought the yarn when it was brought into the shop, because she thought it looked very old, and had never heard of the make - 'Wakefield Greenwood'.   But when she asked on the Guild Facebook group for information about the company, she was pointed to posts on this blog - I have been gathering information about Wakefield Greenwood for several years, because it was a local company.  She offered the yarn to the Guild collection, and we were delighted to accept it.

The brand name is 'Springtime' - a wool yarn that was made in several thicknesses.  This is 'laceply & tinsel' - very fine, as the name suggests, and composed of 75% botany (i.e. merino) and 25% tinsel.  I don't know what the tinsel is - some sort of metallic thread.

Wakefield Greenwood (aka W. G. Spinners) introduced their wool and tinsel yarn in 1953.  The Yorkshire Evening Post featured it in their report on the British Industries Fair in that year:
Wakefield, Greenwood and Company, Huddersfield, this year features wool with a sparkle.  Each strand is spun with tinsel thread, giving a "brilliant" effect to garments. Though this new product was introduced only eight weeks ago, substantial orders have already been received from European countries, South Africa, and Australia.  In the shops it will retail at about 3d. an ounce more than normal wool. 
We have about 200 Wakefield Greenwood pattern leaflets in the collection, and I looked for any that used this yarn.  Here's one that looks like the same black and gold colourway as our yarn.  It's in stocking stitch, and the pattern specifies a tension of 36 stitches and 52 rows to 4 in. (10 cm.) with size 12 (2.75mm.) needles.  I have knitted a stocking stitch swatch on size 12s and it makes a very nice fabric, with a lot of drape.

W. G. Leaflet 1021
Here's another evening blouse pattern, for the same yarn.  The lace pattern looks very complicated and the result looks almost not knitted.  Maybe I should try it.... 

W. G. Leaflet 1145

These two patterns are from later in the 1950s, but I did find a pattern for Springtime laceply that was advertised in 1953, when the tinsel yarn was introduced. 

W.G. Leaflet 152

According to the leaflet, you could make a short scarf, about 32 in. (81 cm.) long, with only one ½ oz. ball of Springtime laceply (i.e. without tinsel).  I decided to try it, to demonstrate what the yarn was like when knitted up.  I couldn't make a scarf of a sensible length from one ball, as it turned out, partly because the tinsel reduces the length in a ball, and also because I'm not very good at blocking.  So I used two balls - it's still quite a short scarf.  It's knitted on size 6 (4mm.) needles.  I found it absolutely impossible at first, because the only size 6 needles I could find were metal and very smooth -  their weight kept pulling them out of the stitches.  But then I found some bamboo needles of the right size and got on much better.  I put in lifelines, too, but didn't actually need them when I got the needles right.  

You can see that I haven't managed to stretch the lace pattern as much as in the pattern illustration.  In my defence, I think that the tinsel might possibly make it more resistant to blocking, maybe? 

I think it's much easier to relate to a vintage yarn if you can see something knitted in it that is also of the right era.  And now we have an example of something knitted in our 195os yarn to a 1950s pattern.  The scarf and some of the remaining balls of Springtime laceply and tinsel have already been in a trunk show of collection highlights last weekend, and will be included in future trunk shows too.  

Monday 1 October 2018

Chambers' Bell Gauge

A friend has been collecting knitting needle gauges recently.  She found that she had two examples of Chambers' Bell Gauge, so has generously given one to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  Here it is:

The gauge has the Royal arms, "G. CHAMBERS & CO", "BELL GAUGE" and "PATENTED 17 SEPR 1847".  Sheila Williams, in her book The History of Knitting Pin Gauges, illustrates this gauge and a version that gives the address of George Chambers' business:  Priory Needle Mills, Studley, Warwickshire.

George Chambers was the first to make needle gauges in a bell shape, which became almost the standard for needle gauges for a very long time.  We have around twenty, of different makes, in the Guild collection, including these:

The bright green Emu gauge in the centre is from the late 1940s, so that bell gauges were produced for 100 years, following the 1847 patent.

The main difference between the Chambers gauge and later bell gauges is that it measured much finer needles - the smallest size is a 28.  On the old British scale, the larger the number, the finer the needle.  I can't find a needle size conversion chart that goes below a 14 (2 mm.), but the needle sizes were the same as the old British Standard Wire Gauge, and conversion tables for wire give size 28 as 0.3759mm.   (At the opposite end of the scale, the largest size on the Chambers gauge is size 1, roughly equivalent to 7.5mm, so quite chunky.)

I cannot imagine knitting with anything finer than 1mm. - less than 0.5mm. seems impossible.  What thread could you knit with such a fine needle?  We do have very fine crochet hooks in the Guild collection, where the hook part at the end is barely visible, but I don't know whether the Chambers' Bell Gauge could have been used to measure crochet hooks.  (The sizing of crochet hooks in the 19th century is in any case very mysterious, as far as I'm concerned.)

Sheila Williams says in her book that George Chambers died in 1865 - his company was in financial difficulties before that, and seems to have disappeared shortly after his death.  Well before the end of the 19th century, other companies were making bell-shaped needle gauges. One that became very common was Walker's Bell Gauge, with sizes from 1 to 24 (0.56mm.) - there are still many surviving, and knitting patterns around the end of the 19th century often specified this gauge to measure needle size.   

But evidently for some people, Chambers' Bell Gauge remained the standard long after George Chambers' death.  'Muriel', who wrote a column called 'Feminine Fancies, Foibles and Fashions' in the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph in the 1890s and 1900s, sometimes gave a short knitting or crochet pattern and specified that the size of knitting needles or crochet hooks should be measured using Chambers' gauge.  Here is one of her offerings, from December 1895, appropriate for the approaching cold weather:

A most useful gift at this time of year is a pair of night socks, and the directions that follow are so simple that any child, boy or girl, can carry them out, and produce a most acceptable offering to those they love, for without distinction of age, or sex, night socks add much to the comfort of all who suffer from cold feet. Tiny children's comfort can be provided by diminishing the number of the stitches. The size quoted is a medium size, and the colours named can be substituted by any others that may be preferred. Take steel pins No. 13, Chambers' bell gauge. Two needles only required. 1 oz. red, single Berlin wool, and 2 oz. black ditto, or any good contrasting colours. Cast on 72 stitches; knit 2 plain and 2 purl alternately for about two inches, then commence with red wool, and knit about an inch and three-quarters; then go on with the black wool for three inches. After that knit with red for another inch and three-quarters; then use black wool, knit two inches. Cast off, fold the knitting together, and join the ends.  Run a narrow piece of elastic inside, about an inch from the top of the sock: finally ornament with a bow of ribbon. When the foot is put in it the sock shapes itself.  Among the sick and aged poor gifts of these inexpensive sleeping socks would find ready and grateful acceptance. 
[Muriel evidently didn't have a great repertoire of knitting patterns, for she repeated this one exactly in 1902, and again in 1912, when she called them American overshoes - "a great comfort to travellers by road or rail, and they serve as sleeping socks also."  At the end of the pattern, she says " When finished, this sock looks exactly like a small bag, and as unlike a foot covering as possible, but on inserting that member the bag resolves itself as if by magic into a handsome and shapable shoe; it will keep the feet warm in bed and on the carpet, and drawn over the shoes in car or tram will be found most comfortable.  I have made many pairs of shoes in different colours for friends and for bazaars, where they sell very well.  The shoes contract or expand according to the size of the feet they cover."  She's not convincing me, I'm afraid.]


Friday 21 September 2018

The Bijou Knitting Register

Yesterday we had the September meeting of the local Knitting & Crochet Guild branch, and I gave a talk on 'Ingenious Inventions' - innovations in knitting and crochet that were patented.  I took items from the Guild collection to illustrate the talk, mostly tools and gadgets - knitting needles (including my favourite Double Century brand), crochet hooks, stitch holders, and row counters.  But also a carton for a ball of knitting yarn, and even a couple of knitting patterns. 

While looking for items to include in the talk,  I found a few things in the collection that I hadn't seen before, including this row counter:

I didn't include it in the talk because it is very small  (less than 3.5cm. long) and is badly worn - the original pink paint has worn away to the bare metal in places. 

The photo below shows what the back looks like.  It's designed to fit on a knitting needle:  the needle goes through the holes at either end and then under the two curled strips of metal, which hold it tightly in place.  (I think - I haven't tried it, in case it's not very robust.)

The design of this counter was patented - it isn't marked with the patent number, but I recognised it from the drawing in a patent I had already seen. (That's pretty nerdy, I have to admit.)  Patent 533615 was granted in 1941, to Reginald Langbart and Isabel Kreizer, both with addresses in north London.  They had previously been granted two other patents for row counters.  Patent 520604 had only been granted the previous year, and the patent application for the new device says that it was intended as a simplification and improvement of that (though it looks completely different).

I imagine that if the inventors felt that the previous device needed improvement, it was never manufactured, but the counter in patent 533615 clearly was.  1941 was probably not a good time to start making an inessential metal gadget, so perhaps they were first produced after the war.  There is no maker's name marked, though it is stamped with 'MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN' and '"BIJOU" KNITTING REGISTER'.

Reginald Langbart and Isabel Kreizer had previously been granted another patent for a row counter, in 1935, which ultimately proved much more successful than the "Bijou" Knitting Register.   The original patent was granted in 1935: here's the drawing from the application.

We have several examples of these cylindrical row counters in the Guild collection, including the three here:

Reginald Langbart (without Isabel Kreizer) patented an improved version in 1958,  and further improvements were made, up to at least 1984.  A variant has an embedded tape measure, and the later versions have polygonal ends so that they don't roll.  And you can still buy row counters that are recognisably descended from the original 1935 device.  Counters of this type were made for a long time under the name Ro-tally - here's an ad from 1950.

Given that the 1935 patent and its later developments were so successful, it seems odd that Langbart and Kreizer went on to invent the "Bijou" counter.  But perhaps manufacturers did not adopt the Ro-tally type at first.  It may be that it only became successful after the war, when new plastics became available - while the "Bijou" Knitting Register seems to have gone out of use very quickly, leaving few survivors.

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