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.
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