Friday 24 August 2018

Perfectly Plain Socks

Last month,  I knitted myself a pair of socks, though I have only just today sewn in the ends.  It hasn't  been sock-wearing weather, but I got around to finishing them today so that I could take a photo.

They are perfectly plain stocking stitch.  I wanted to knit again the spiral toe and German short-row heel from the On the Other Foot pattern.  The spiral toe suits the shape of my foot (though I find the cast-on very tricky - I think  I should try the one I used for knitting pence jugs, except that I can't remember what it was called. I'll fill it in here when it's come back to me. [I looked it up - it's Emily Ocker's circular cast on.  You'll find tutorials on YouTube.])  And the heel is well-fitting and easy to do and altogether satisfying.  But I also needed some straightforward knitting, suitable for doing while listening to talks, not the cable and lace pattern of my original On the Other Foot socks.

Putting the toe and heel into a plain sock was just what I needed: I knitted the first sock at the Guild convention at the beginning of July, and the second sock at the In the Loop conference later in the month.  The yarn is Opal sock wool, in the colourway Geburtstagstorte (though it doesn't remind me of a birthday cake in any way).  I got both socks out of one ball, with quite a bit left over.  I didn't do anything to make sure that the paler stripes are in the same place on both socks - that just happened.  I'm really pleased that it did - I was prepared for mismatched socks, but wouldn't have been happy about it. 

They aren't very exciting, and I don't think that putting them on will fill my heart with joy.  But they fit well and will be warm and comfortable, so that's OK. 

Monday 20 August 2018

James Norbury in Woman's Own

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a book fair with John.  On one of the stalls, there was a pile of Woman and Woman's Own magazines from the 1950s, in good condition, not expensive.  I bought several of them - selecting ones with interesting knitting, of course.

Two of the Woman's Own magazines, from 1955, advertised knitting patterns by James Norbury on the front cover.  James Norbury was then the chief designer for Patons, but the main draw for Woman's Own readers, I'm sure, was that he had a TV series on knitting.

In one of the magazines I bought, from January 1955, there is a double-page spread with the heading "Famous T.V. knitting expert James Norbury joins Woman's Own" - evidently intended to be the first of a series of features.

Woman's Own, January 6 1955.
The two patterns in this issue are billed as "To wear at the weekend".   Both are (of course) knitted in Patons wools - the man's is in 4-ply (sport weight?), and the woman's in 2-ply (super-fine?).  The black and white photo of the man's dolman-sleeved pullover doesn't really show it adequately - it is knitted in black and grey, mainly, but uses oddments of four other colours - suggested are green, scarlet, white and royal.  The colours are used in the band from cuff to cuff; the fancy pattern at the lower edge of the band is in green on black, and then there are stripes of red and white, with three rows of stranded knitting in white and blue sandwiched between the bands of stripes.  I'm having trouble visualising that - it sounds much too busy to me. 

And then there's the woman's jumper - just right "for the girl with the 'what shall I wear when  my guests come tonight' problem", it claims.  (Though frankly, if that's your problem, it's a bit late to start knitting a jumper in 2-ply.)

In its favour, it has two wide bands of my favourite print o' the wave/leaf and trellis pattern back and front.  Apart from that I think there's far too much going on - there's a different stitch pattern up the centre, and the frills round the sleeves and neckline are too fussy.   And her waist is ridiculously tiny!  Though actually I think it's partly that her skirt has stiff petticoats underneath to puff it out.

You can see from the photo that there's a lot of shaping above the welt.  There's also shaping in the rib, to accommodate the width of the skirt - the rib is first knitted on size 11 (3mm.) needles and then on size 13s (2.25mm.)

I think the whole jumper is awful - and such a waste of effort to knit something so complicated in such fine yarn.  But I'm quite prepared to believe that some people will like it.

Woman's Own, October 20 1955.
Another of the magazines from the book fair was a Woman's Own from later in 1955, with three more James Norbury patterns.  Designs for women, all using lacy stitch patterns.

The first is a dress, which takes 24 oz. of 3-ply wool (somewhere between fine and super-fine?) and a huge amount of time, I'm sure.  The description says "An insertion of lace stitch between bands of knit 1, purl 3 rib (the knit stitch is worked through back of loop) forms the skirt of the dress.  It is shaped at the waist and has a panel of lace stitch on the bodice."  It looks quite pretty, though it would be hugely impractical for anything more energetic than watering house-plants, which is what the model appears to be doing.

Then there's a lacy cardigan, also in 3-ply, which I think is very attractive.  The magazine says "this charming cardigan is right for any informal occasion".  (But obviously not so informal that you'd leave off your pearl necklace.)  I like the combination of a fancy rib gradually evolving into a lacy pattern on the fronts and back.

Finally, there's a relatively thick knit, in 4-ply, for "autumn's chilly days".   It's described as a tunic-jacket.  The panels on the front, with a pattern of trailing leaves, are knitted on the bias; that's what the introduction says, though I must confess I can't figure out from the (very complicated) instructions how that's done.   An interesting idea, though.   

James Norbury wasn't short of inventive ideas (even if he sometimes went over the top in putting too many of them into the same garment).  And I assume he had people to knit for him, so he didn't have any problem with designing a dress with a full skirt in a complicated pattern in 3-ply wool. 

Apart from the knitting patterns, there's a lot in the magazines that is absolutely fascinating - it was such a different world.  I was struck particularly by the distressing number of corset ads - you don't get a tiny waist like the model in the first magazine just by will-power and breathing in.    

The descriptions make them sound like a feat of engineering, which I suppose they were, in a way. A typical description is the Kayser Bondor "new all nylon net girdle with wonderful boneless control in criss-cross reinforcements".  That was made in sizes 24-30 in. waist (61-76cm.), so they weren't aimed at the overweight.  The emphasis is on control rather than comfort - though I imagine that the introduction of nylon and better elastication did make them more comfortable than earlier corsets.  Still gruesome though.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Who was Marion Grey?

I've found this pair of knitting needles - not in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, though that's where they are going.  They were in one of my own needle boxes, but I can't remember when I acquired them, or where from - I certainly didn't buy them new.

I must have had them before I got interested in knitting needle makes, and started looking closely at needles for anything that's written on them, because I had never noticed before what's written on these:


This is not a needle brand listed in Susan Webster's catalogue, as far as I can see, which is quite exciting.  I suppose it's possible that Marion Grey was a knitter who had a set of needles with her name on (just as you can get personalised pencils and other things with your name on) - but as someone who loses knitting needles far too often, I think that I'd want to put contact information on mine.  'Marion Grey, Colindale' wouldn't be sufficient to find her easily.  Another possibility, which I think is more likely, is that Marion Grey had a yarn shop in Colindale (an area of north London) and had needles made to publicise the shop.  Or, just conceivably, maybe she had a knitting needle factory?

If anyone knows anything about Marion Grey of Colindale, please do let me know. 

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Metal Boxes

At the Knitting & Crochet Guild convention a month ago, one of the members donated a little holder for a ball of crochet cotton to the Guild collection.

The Crochet Cotton Casket

To give it its proper name, it's a Crochet Cotton Casket - a metal box, beautifully decorated, which separates into two halves in the middle, and has a hole in the top for the cotton thread to emerge from.

It says on the top that it's patented (though I can't find a patent) and registered - that is, the design was registered, and in fact it has two registration numbers on the top, 189723 and 190426, which are both 1892 registrations.  (Though our box could have been made later than that.)  The box itself is a very functional design that could easily be used now - the size and shape of balls of crochet cotton seem not to have changed much for well over a hundred years.

There is also a manufacturer's name on the box - Jahncke.  Information from the National Archives website is that the company made tin boxes at Canonbury Works, Dorset Street, Islington (London).  It was founded in 1873 by Ernest Jahncke.

I remembered when I saw the name that there is another metal container made by Jahncke in the collection - a knitting pin case, the Mitrailleuse.  It's a cylindrical tube, ornately decorated in blue and gold.

The Mitrailleuse Knitting Pin Case

The other side of the case shows the Royal arms, and says "By Royal Letters Patent" (not sure what that means); Jahncke, London; and "Containing four sets of four pins of each size Nos. 14 to 17".  (Size 14 is 2mm., size 17 is 1.4mm., approximately.)

The cross-section of the tube is divided into 5 sectors. One is blocked off at the end, the others are open.  The cap on the end of the tube has a piece cut out of it, the same size as the sectors of the cross-section.  As you turn the end, the opening either coincides with the blocked off sector, and the case is SHUT.....

... or it coincides with one of the open sectors, allowing the needles in that sector to come out.

Our case only has needles in the size 15 compartment, in fact - but they are a set of four, and so possibly the original needles. 

It's a very clever design - an ideal way to store several sets of needles and keep each size separate.

And why 'Mitrailleuse'?  A mitrailleuse was a type of early machine gun with several barrels, that could fire the barrels simultaneously or in rapid succession (says Wikipedia).  I  suppose the separate compartments in the needle case reminded someone (with a vivid imagination) of the barrels of a mitrailleuse.  And perhaps tipping the needles out of a compartment of the case seemed a bit like bullets being fired out of it?  A very vivid imagination. 

Sunday 5 August 2018

A Knitter's Journey

In the current issue of The Knitter (number 127),  Emma Vining writes about an ebook produced for the Knitting & Crochet Guild's 40th anniversary this year.  The six designs in A Knitter's Journey are inspired by the enormously long sampler in the Guild's collection, knitted by Gladys Jeskins - the sampler is made up of around 900 stitch patterns, and is about 50m. long.

For the book, Emma, Tricia Basham and Juliet Bernard have designed accessories (scarves, hats, mitts,...) based on stitch patterns in the sampler.  Emma describes in her Knitter article how she developed her designs, a scarf and a shawl,  from  one of the sampler stitch patterns. 

The project to make use of the sampler has been in progress for a while - in 2016, volunteer Guild members re-knitted some of the stitch patterns as separate squares. Here's one of the two that I contributed.  (I wrote a post about knitting the squares here.)

 The squares were on display at the Guild convention at the beginning of July - it was fascinating to see them all together and not just my two.  The sample knits for A Knitter's Journey were also on display - knitted in ruby-red yarn, as appropriate for the 40th anniversary.

And the sampler itself was also on show.  It's now kept on a garden hose reel, so that it's relatively easy to unwind and rewind. At one of the sessions, when we were all (about 80 of us) sitting in rows, the sampler was unwound and the end was passed from person to person until everyone had a stretch of the sampler in front of them.  Even then, some of the sampler was still on the reel.

Emma Vining unrolling the sampler
It was extraordinary to see so many different stitch patterns going past (and I was sitting towards the back, so I only saw about 200 of them).  Most of them are quite complex - Gladys didn't bother with straightforward stitch patterns like moss stitch or rib, because she seems to have been exploring stitch patterns that she didn't already know. It made me realise again the infinite possibilities of knitting. 

Gladys Jeskins' sampler being passed to Guild members
I saw so many interesting stitch patterns, but one in particular caught my eye, because I don't recall seeing anything like it.   I remembered its number (there are now numbered swing tags attached to the sampler every 5 stitch patterns), and asked for the instructions later.   I have knitted a swatch, first following the instructions exactly, and then modifying it.  Here's the result after the changes. 

I think it will make a very nice scarf - my sister has already placed an order.  There are so many possibilities to be explored in the sampler - I'm sure Gladys Jeskins would have been delighted to see it being used as a source of inspiration.  And for Guild members, the ebook of A Knitter's Journey is available free from the members' area of the KCG website.

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