Monday 25 November 2019

Bridget's Blunder

Last year, I posted a rhyme, Anna's Adventure, published by Patons & Baldwins about 1946, to advise knitters on how to wash wool.   Last week, I found another P&B rhyme in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  "Bridget's Blunder" is about the dangers of using allegedly shrink-proof wool, other than P&B's own 'Patonised' wool.  Here it is, with a transcription below:

My story tells of Bridget Whitting
Who loved both plain and fancy knitting,
But though she worked by day and night
Her efforts seldom turned out right.
Friends would say, "Cor! That jumper's posh!"
But when she'd given it a wash,
Instead of snugly fitting Bridget
It seemed more suited to a midget.
One day, when off to see her draper
She saw announced inside her paper
A brand-new wool; was she elated!
For bold as brass the maker stated
"This wool's the best that can be got,
It will not shrink, no matter what!"
So Bridget told her woolshop flat,
"I'll have a basinful of that."
And hurried home with glowing cheeks,
But couponless for weeks and weeks.
Soon willing labour bore its fruit—A salmon pinky jumpersuit,
Which Bridget wore with pride o'er-weening
Till, soiled and creased, it needed cleaning.
Said B., "It won't take half a wink,
The makers say it cannot shrink."
(But they forgot to say—the wretches!—
That wool made shrinkless sometimes stretches).
'Twas washed; the outcome nearly killed her,
It went three times round Aunt Matilda!
And looked in shade like Aunt Euphemia
Who suffers from acute anaemia.
"That's finished it," wept B., "I'm quitting,
I'm through for good and all with knitting;
I'll write at once to my M.P.
About this dire calamity."
Her tale was penned 'midst groans and hisses,
—The M.P. showed it to his Mrs.
Who said, "That girl should be advised
To stick to wool that's Patonised,
Which, used with reasonable care
Will wash and wash, and wear and wear;
Trust P & B, the leading spinners
Only to turn out certain winners.
Just tell her she's a chump to quit
When there's such lovely wool to knit."
B. took the tip, no longer weeps;
That M.P.'s in his seat for keeps! 

The poem appeared in The Nursery World 1st Knitting Book, published I think in 1946, like "Anna's Adventure".  Even after the war was over, clothes rationing in Britain continued until 1949, so the reference to being "couponless for weeks and weeks" after buying enough wool for a jumpersuit is no exaggeration - in fact, I doubt if anyone could afford the coupons for that much wool more than once a year, and even then it would be your main clothes purchase.

I suspect that the shrinkproof wool that stretched in the first wash might have been intended to refer to Emu wool.  Emu started to appear in ads from 1943 (possibly earlier) with the slogan "Knit with Emu and stop thinking about shrinking".  One ad claimed: Emu is the result of scientific research into wool shrinkage.  It is made permanently unshrinkable and easy washing by a secret process called "emunising". I assumed that emunising and Patonising were more or less the same process, but perhaps not.   And in any case, if Patons & Baldwins were indeed referring to Emu wools in "Bridget's Blunder", it didn't do the brand much harm - Emu Wools were very successful, and remained so until the 1980s.  The company was eventually taken over by Thomas B Ramsden (makers of Wendy, Robin and Twilleys yarns), who relaunched Emu Superwash Wool in 2005 (though it seems to have been since discontinued).  So shrinkproof Emu wool evidently had a long and distinguished career.

I wonder if there are any more P&B rhymes from the late 1940s still to be found?  We have had A for Anna's Adventure and B for Bridget's Blunder - was there a C, D, ...?   If you know of one, please let me know.

Thursday 31 October 2019


I'm still catching up on writing about Shetland Wool Week, and this post is about the talk I gave at the Shetland Museum as part of the Wool Week programme.  My talk was on the Knitting & Crochet Guild, but mostly about the Guild's collection. I talked about a few selected pieces from the collection, and we had a display of the actual items at the front of the auditorium, so that the audience could have a close look, before and after the talk.

I picked some things that had a particular connection to Wool Week, including a few that originated in Shetland.  But this post is about one of the pieces on display that has nothing to do with Shetland, or wool, for that matter.  I chose it because it's relevant to 2019 - it was made exactly 100 years ago, in 1919.

Cloth with 'Peace 1919' filet crochet border 

It's a tea cloth with a filet crochet border, and a linen or cotton centre with drawn thread work.  There are doves with sprigs of olive in their beaks along the sides, and 'Peace 1919' in each corner.

We know that the First World War ended on November 11th 1918, but strictly speaking that was the day of the Armistice between the Allies and Germany.  Formally, the war ended with the Peace Treaty signed in 1919 - so that many war memorials in Britain give the dates of the war as 1914 to 1919. (The Shetland war memorial in Lerwick does, in fact.)

There were peace celebrations in the summer of 1919, and someone must have made the 'Peace 1919' tea cloth then, and perhaps used it at a celebration tea party. Before I went to Shetland, John and I set up a tea party setting, with the tea cloth, and a filet crochet tea cosy that was also made in 1919, with the slogan '1914 1919 Victorious Peace'.   You can also see a set of First World War medals on the table, that belonged to one of John's grandfathers.  The cloth only fits a very small table, as you can see, so it must have been an intimate, rather low-key tea party.

Here's a better view of the 'Victorious Peace' tea cosy:

I wrote about the tea cosy here, after I had found the pattern for its other side (which shows a very decorative, slightly Art Nouveau teapot) in a 1918 issue of Woman's Weekly magazine.

I hoped then to find the pattern for the 'Victorious Peace' side of the tea cosy in a 1919 issue of Woman's Weekly, and on a later visit to the British Library I looked through all the 1919 issues.  I didn't find the tea cosy, but I did find the pattern for the 'Peace 1919' table cloth, on the front cover of the April 19th issue.

The magazine gave instructions for a corner, and for one of the doves along the side of the border. So you could make your table cloth as large as you wanted, just by adding more doves.   For comparison, here are a corner and a dove from the edge of our tea cloth. 

And I did eventually find the pattern for the 'Victorious Peace' tea cosy - not in Woman's Weekly, but in another weekly magazine for women, Home Companion, in the August 2nd issue.

(Home Companion is long gone - it ceased publication in 1956 - but Woman's Weekly is flourishing, and still publishes knitting and crochet patterns. )

The Peace 1919 tea cloth is a really excellent piece of work.  The crochet is very even, and the border fits the centre cloth exactly.  I'm not sure how that was done: it would be very difficult to make the border to a precise size, I think, so perhaps the cloth was made afterwards.  Not sure. And though I know almost nothing about drawn thread work, I am very impressed by the quality of the work in the centre of the cloth.  Here's a corner of the drawn thread work, and a close-up of a detail - so painstaking, to weave the fine cotton around the threads to make something quite solid again.

Making the cloth must have taken many hours.  And I wonder how often it was actually used - perhaps a few times in 1919, but maybe not much after that?   It has survived in very good condition, which suggests that it might have spent most of the last hundred years in a drawer.  Now it commemorates not just the end of a dreadful war but the skill of its unknown maker, too.

PS Apologies for the quality of the photos. The cloth is actually quite white, even though it looks grey-ish in the photos.  Flash washes out the detail, and increasing the contrast after taking the photos looks artificial.  Ignore the grey, and just imagine that it's white. 

Saturday 19 October 2019


While I was in Shetland for Wool Week, I went on a tour of Jamieson's Mill at Sandness. It's about 30 miles from Lerwick, on the west side of Mainland.  A coach picked us up in Lerwick, for a 50 minute drive across the island.

Garry Jamieson gave us a tour of the mill (in two groups, so that there was plenty of time to look around the shop, too).  It was fascinating to see all the processes involved in converted the raw fleece into balls of knitting wool, all in one building (as well as weaving and knitting, too). Garry showed us one of the fleeces, in the state that they arrive in, and talked about the quality of the wool.

After washing, the wool is dyed. The dyepot looked like an enormous pressure cooker, gently steaming.

Bales of dyed wool
Later, it goes through a carding machine...

... and out the other end.

And then gets spun. I think this is what's going on here:

And after two strands of the spun yarn are plied together (Jamieson's Spindrift is 2-ply), it's ready to be wound into balls.

(The blur in the middle is the wool moving very fast.)

Finally, each ball gets a ball band, and 10 balls make a pack of wool...
... all ready to be sold.

Apologies for any inaccuracies - all due to me, and not to Garry's tour.

A couple of eye-catching things around the mill. 

And as I said, there was a shopping opportunity.  I had already bought the Shetland Wool Week Annual, which is mainly a book of patterns, beautifully illustrated with scenes of Shetland, and decided that I'd like to knit the Seaweed Slipover, designed by Wilma Malcolmson.

The background colour is pale grey, which I like a lot, but I decided that I wanted the other colours to be slightly lighter and brighter versions of the ones in the Album.  These are the ones I picked from the Jamieson's shop:

It's hard to get an accurate rendering of the colours, especially the pink (Lipstick).  These are from Jamieson's website:

I have knitted three Fair Isle jumpers or pullovers before, though a long time ago, but this will be the first one knitted properly, i.e. in the round, with steeks.  It will be my next project, after my current one.

I forgot to mention in my last post that while I was in Shetland, I realised that I had somehow missed one of Ann Cleeves' Shetland novels.  (Not the last one, so I don't know how I missed it.)  I bought a copy in the Shetland Times Bookshop in Lerwick, and read it on the way home. And now I'm re-reading the other seven.  Many of the places mentioned in the books are real places, and so it is lovely to read about places I went to.  There is a scene, for instance, where two people have a drink in the bar of the Mareel, the arts centre in Lerwick, near the Shetland Museum. I did that too!   I'd really like to watch the TV programmes again, as well, because I know that they show wonderful scenery, and now I've seen some of it.  The programmes don't seem to be available just now, but I'll keep looking.


Thursday 10 October 2019

Shetland Wool Week

Last week I was in Shetland, staying in Lerwick, for the 10th Shetland Wool Week. I had never been to Shetland before (or in fact anywhere that far north), so it was a fascinating week, quite apart from all the knitting-related activities. And we were extremely lucky with the weather, which was mostly dry and often very sunny, while back home in England it was raining for most of the week - a lot.

Walking along the Esplanade at Lerwick every day, there were wonderful views of boats anchored, and the sound beyond, dividing the mainland from Bressay island. This was the view over Hay's Dock, in front of the Shetland Museum, on a beautiful evening. 

I arrived on Saturday, and my first Wool Week event was the Welcome on Sunday evening.  500 people were there - so as there were 1,000 people attending Wool Week, a lot were disappointed.  I wrote here about knitting my Wool Week beanie, in this year's design.  At the Welcome, almost everyone was wearing their beanie, and there was a group photo at the end of the evening.


A photo of the Wool Week Welcome evening from BBC News.  I was there, wearing my Roadside beanie, though I can't see myself in this photo.

I spotted a couple of beanies that had substituted an image of something else for the fishing boats. A bicycle:

or a plane. Actually, I was told, a Bristol Blenheim, which has a WW2 Shetland connection.

Most people attending Wool Week wore their beanies whenever they were outdoors (and it was cool enough that you wanted to be wearing a hat anyway).  It was a useful way of identifying fellow knitters too, and starting a conversation.

I hadn't booked any of the classes, partly because John had intended to come with me, but couldn't in the end.  So we had planned to see Shetland together.  One Wool Week event I had booked for both of us was a bus tour west to Vementry, and to Ollaberry and Islesburgh in North Mainland. It was a (mostly) fine day, and a good opportunity to see more of the Shetland landscape.  You never seem to be far from a loch or the sea on Shetland.

Gathering sheep at Vementry
At Vementry, we saw their prize-winning Shetland sheep, mostly moorit (i.e brown), and Shetland ponies. It's a beautiful spot, overlooking the shore, and (I think) Vementry Island in the distance.

We had lunch at Ollaberry Community Hall - a lavish spread of homebakes laid on by local women. There was an exhibition of knitwear - some new, some that had been kept carefully, for many years in some cases.  I was very taken with the large lampshade in Print o' the Wave (one of my favourite lace stitch patterns):

I also liked an outfit from the late 1960s, mainly because of its story.  Its owner said that her mother had knitted it for her when she went off to college in Aberdeen. There was a photo of her with friends, about to get the ferry, and wearing the outfit with a much shorter skirt - though actually, she said, she never wore it much because it wasn't really in fashion at the time. And her mother thought it was much too short, and added a piece to make it longer. A very 1960s teenage experience.

We ended the day at Islesburgh Farm, where we saw more prize-winning Shetland sheep, of several colours. (Some sheep evidently think that if they can't see you, you can't see them. They were mostly trying to hide their heads underneath another sheep.)

Another day, I went on a tour of Chris Dyer's croft on Bressay, a short ferry ride from Lerwick.  We saw more sheep - here Chris and his dog are driving them:

Chris has pigs and piglets, too.  And tomatoes, courgettes and peppers growing in a Polycrub, a specially strong version of a polytunnel, designed to withstand Shetland winds. He talked to us about his approach to running the croft, alongside his main job as an archaeologist.

Chris took us to the Speldiburn cafe on Bressay for lunch, where there was another exhibition of knitwear.  Again, some new, some old.  I particularly liked a couple of children's pullovers from the 1950s, both mainly pastel colours on a dark brown background. I don't think I know enough to judge, but that kind of colour combination seems to me to be different from  modern Fair Isle designs.


One day when I had no Wool Week events booked, I went for a walk around Lerwick, first past a group of old houses built almost in the sea, the lodberries, one of which is Jimmy Perez's house in the TV version of the Shetland books by Ann Cleeves.

 On towards the Knab, the headland at the end of the road, where there is a cemetery with I think the best view of any cemetery I have seen.

There are a number of war graves in the cemetery, of men who were stationed on Shetland. So they were not necessarily Shetlanders - some were in fact Norwegian.

Here's the Knab, and the view south towards the open sea.

The path follows the shore from there (towards Tesco).  I hoped to see some seals on the rocks, but there weren't any, though I did see a lot of birds including a group of oystercatchers (called shalders in Shetland).

Another day, I got the bus to Scalloway, a fishing port about 6 miles from Lerwick, with an interesting museum, a castle, and some very picturesque houses along the harbour. 

The base for Wool Week was the Shetland Museum in Lerwick, which is excellent. It has displays on the archaeology and history of the islands, including Gunnister Man, who died about 1700.  His body was found in a peat bog, and his clothes have survived, including some knitted articles.  There is a reconstruction in the museum (hard to photograph because of reflections in the glass of the case). 

There are also displays on Shetland knitting, with many beautiful examples of both lace and Fair Isle.  I recognised one straightaway from Susan Crawford's Vintage Knitting Project book - Jeannie Jarmson's sleeveless rayon pullover, which is one of the patterns Susan re-recreated for the book. (Again, I couldn't get a good photo of it.)

 The Hub, where Wool Week visitors could sit to knit and chat, was in the Museum, as was the auditorium where I gave a talk on the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection on Wednesday evening - I'll say a bit about my talk in another post.

Shetland Museum
And on Fair Isle Friday, two Shetland ponies who have often been photographed in Fair Isle cardigans, were stationed in front of the museum. (Their owner said that they don't really like the cardigans, because they can't walk easily in them.  And they have such thick coats of their own that they don't need to wear woollies.) 

I'll also write in another post about the trip to the Jamieson's Mill at Sandness, where (guess what?) I bought some wool.   But that's enough for now.  I didn't do any of the many classes on offer, but there was plenty to see and do without that.  I enjoyed the week very much (though it would have been more fun if John had been there).  I'm very glad I went.

Saturday 31 August 2019


A couple of weeks ago, a local member of the Knitting & Crochet Guild gave me three bags full of patterns for the Guild collection, including one issued by Vanity Knitting Wools:

Vanity Knitting Wools leaflet 3001

It is in very poor condition, creased, torn, mended with sellotape that is now yellow and brittle - I have cleaned up the scan quite a lot.  But I noticed it immediately because I had never seen a Vanity pattern before, though I had just about heard of the brand.  It was advertised in magazines like Vogue Knitting Book in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  And it is a charming outfit for a little girl, knitted in 3-ply wool, in grey with green, rust and yellow.

Leaflet 3007 was featured in an ad in Vogue Knitting in 1948, which gives an address for the manufacturers: J. W. Bastard Ltd., Frog Island Mills, Leicester.

Later ads I have seen, from 1951, show leaflets 3005 and 3011, which suggests a very slow rate of production of pattern leaflets, and also that number 3001 might have been the first of perhaps fewer than 20.

A bit of research into the company, which was actually J. & W. Bastard, led to the entry in Grace's Guide.  The entry shows an ad from 1921, describing the company as "spinners of  every description of yarn for manufacture of hosiery, underwear or knit goods" - but not hand knitting yarns.  It seems that they supplied yarn to other companies, especially the hosiery manufacturers in Leicester, I imagine.

The late 1940s must have seemed a propitious time to branch out into supplying knitting wool - clothes rationing was coming to an end after 8 years. The country was full of experienced knitters who had been managing with very little new wool, making do by re-knitting unravelled old jumpers.  They must have been desperately keen to be able to buy wool in larger quantities, in the colours they wanted - an opportunity for companies like J. & W. Bastard.  Other companies, too, advertised in knitting magazines for the first time - the Jester Company, for instance, also in Leicester, published knitting patterns and advertised in Vogue Knitting from about 1947.  But Jester and Vanity did not continue as knitting wool brands for very long - they both seem to have stopped advertising in the early 1950s.  J. & W. Bastard continued in business until at least the early 1960s, supplying yarn to other companies for machine knitting.  But I imagine that breaking into the hand knitting market, in competition with long-established names like Patons & Baldwins, Sirdar and Wendy, was just too difficult. 

Although the Vanity brand didn't last long, I'm very pleased to have seen a Vanity pattern leaflet.

Thursday 22 August 2019

Roadside Beanie

I'm going to Shetland Wool Week at the end of September - the first time I've been to Wool Week, and the first time I've been to Shetland too.  It's especially exciting, because I'm part of the programme - I'm giving an evening talk on the Knitting & Crochet Guild and its collection.

Every year, there is a special Wool Week hat, with a free pattern, and the idea is to wear it then so that fellow knitters can recognise you.  This year's pattern (available here) is the Roadside Beanie, designed by the Wool Week patron Oliver Henry.  I started mine at the end of April, and finished the knitting months ago, but only blocked it and sewed in the ends last week.  I took it to the Huddersfield Guild meeting on Thursday for the show-and-tell session which we have at the start of every meeting, and a friend took a photo of it.

Here's another photo, posed on a mixing bowl, to show the band of sheep around it, and the corrugated rib:

Back in April, when I was planning my beanie, I looked through the suitable wool that I already had, and found these colours:

The three balls of Jamieson's Spindrift, in Chartreuse, Jade and Parma, I bought a few years ago, when a local yarn shop closed.  I didn't then have any plans for them, but they were a bargain. And now I have found a use for them.   The other five colours were left over from a pullover that I knitted for John more than 30 years ago.  He posed in it for the very first post in this blog, in 2010.

 The pullover is from Sarah Don's book, Fair Isle Knitting, which I bought in 1981.  I used the colours she suggested: moorit, cream, blue, rust, yellow and grey.  As far as I remember, I wrote to either Jamiesons or Jamieson and Smith, in Shetland, to order the wool.  (No online shopping back then, of course.)   When I was looking for wool for my beanie, I couldn't find any of the blue left over, and I didn't in the end use the rust.  Being a conventional sort of person, I did feel that the grass should be green(ish), the sky should be blue(ish), and the sheep should be a possible sheep colour.  I think it's worked out very well, and I particularly like the corrugated rib, with a moorit background and the ribs shading through parma, jade, chartreuse, yellow and cream.   I'm looking forward to wearing it for Wool Week.
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