Sunday 27 January 2019

Steve's Jumper

The Knitting & Crochet Guild collection is moving to new premises very soon, which is exciting but involves a lot of work.  We have been busy tidying up - all sorts of things that were put to one side to deal with on another day.  On Friday, I brought home a box of 'miscellaneous publications' to sort out.  When I first started working on the collection, there were many, many boxes of very miscellaneous publications, but we have gradually worked through almost all of them - this is the last one, I think.  (I hope so.)  I have riffled through this box at various times and taken out all the things that can be easily placed elsewhere - magazines, spinners' pattern leaflets, booklets, and so on.  And the contents of other boxes have been amalgamated with this one. What was left in the box finally was a very random lot of stuff - mostly things that don't belong in the collection (sewing and embroidery leaflets, etc.) or out-and-out rubbish (creased and crumpled plastic pockets, booklets with no covers and pages missing).  But it was worth going through carefully, because there were some things worth keeping.  And one thing that I have been looking out for, but didn't ever expect to find.

About three years ago, my friend Stephanie (known as Steve) came to Lee Mills, where the Guild collection is stored at present, and showed us a jumper that her mother knitted for her when she was a teenager in the 1950s.   She demonstrated that it still fitted her, though I'm sure she hadn't worn it for many years.  She later gave it to the collection, and it has featured in several trunk shows that I have done since then.

Steve in her jumper, as a teenager

It is knitted in emerald green, with bands of stranded colourwork in cream and tan - very 1950s colours. It's a complicated knit, and very well made.

Steve thought that the pattern had been published in Radio Times, in the late 1950s.  I looked through the Radio Times archive in Manchester Central Library, but I couldn't find it (though I did meet several characters from 1950s BBC television like David Nixon the magician and Lenny the Lion).  Memory being fallible, I decided that Steve was wrong and that it was published somewhere else.  But I hadn't seen it in a pattern leaflet, and if it was in another magazine, there were so many possibilities that it would need a lot of luck to find it.

And then I found it in the miscellaneous box that I brought home on Friday.  It was indeed published in Radio Times, in a supplement to the November 21st 1958 issue.  (Perhaps the supplement had not been archived, and that was why I didn't find it in Manchester.) 

It's especially interesting to see the pattern, because Steve's mother changed the construction.  According to the pattern, it should be knitted in one piece, starting at the bottom of the front.  You cast on stitches for the sleeves either side, so that the stranded colour band is knitted in one piece from cuff to cuff. Then you make an opening for the neck, and carry on, knitting the second stranded colour band from cuff to cuff, cast off the sleeve stitches, and then knit the back.  You pick up stitches around the bottom of the sleeves and the neck opening for the ribbed cuffs and neckband, and finally sew the side and sleeve seams.

Steve's mother apparently didn't like the fact that at the side seams, you would have to join two stranded colour bands going in opposite directions, i.e. the one on the front knitted upwards and the one on the back knitted downwards.  She probably thought that the difference in direction would show - I think she was probably right.  She wasn't worried about the bands on the sleeves, because they don't meet at a seam - in fact you wouldn't usually see them next to each other.  So instead of knitting the body and sleeves entirely in one piece, she stopped after the sleeves were finished, and put that piece aside, leaving the stitches for the back on a spare needle or a length of wool.  Then she cast on again for the back; she knitted the welt and then the stranded colour band working upwards, and then the rest of the back up to the armholes. Then she grafted the two pieces together, which I think is extraordinary.  We had spotted that the two stranded knitting bands on the back of the jumper were knitted in opposite directions, and so we had found the graft, though it's very neatly done.  I don't think I have ever seen such a long graft in such a visible place, and I was surprised that a 1950s knitting pattern should be so ambitious.  But now I know - it wasn't.  The graft was Steve's mother's idea.

So having the pattern as well as the jumper tells us that Steve's mother was an expert knitter and a perfectionist - she saw something that she didn't like in a pattern that she wanted to make, and she fixed it. 

This was the last thing she knitted for Steve - she died in 1959, only about six months after the pattern was published.  I'm sure that Steve kept the jumper for that reason.  Steve herself  is very sadly no  longer with us - she died in 2017, not very long after giving her jumper to the Guild.  She would have been very pleased that the pattern for her jumper has been found.  (I think she would also have been a bit cross with me for doubting her memory that it was in Radio Times - sorry, Steve,) 

Detail of Steve's jumper, showing stranded colour work and basket stitch 
PS I have only just noticed, after writing the above, that the colour work bands in Steve's jumper are not exactly the same as in the pattern - the flowers are spaced further apart, because the intervening abstract design is doubled up.  I can guess how it happened - the chart shows a flower pattern with the abstract design either side, to show how it would look overall.  But you were only supposed to repeat the flower design and the following abstract design, not the whole chart.  Equally acceptable either way, I think.

Saturday 19 January 2019

A Few More Patterns

Last weekend, I was knitting at Sheringham, on the north Norfolk coast - the Leighton Buzzard branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild hold an annual weekend at the Youth Hostel there.  A busy weekend, with a yarn swap, a quiz, talks and workshops.  Alongside the workshops, I did a couple of sessions on tools and gadgets from the Guild collection which were innovations in their time, and have a patent number attached - such as the Double Century needles.  I took a few knitting patterns with patent numbers too. (You might not think that you could patent a sock pattern, but it has been done - I'll write about it some time.)  There was time to look around Sheringham and visit the shops, including the two yarn shops.  And of course a lot of knitting was done (or crochet, for those that are that way inclined).

During the weekend, a Guild member gave me some pattern leaflets and booklets from a friend of hers, as a donation to the collection - a mix of styles and dates, from the 1930s to the 1970s or 80s.  It's exciting to look through the very old patterns - there's often something fascinating that we don't already have in the collection.

The two oldest patterns in the new donation are Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores leaflets from the early 1930s. Their leaflets at that time were 'given free' - presumably if you bought the wool.   The first is for a 'Gentleman's Pullover', with or without sleeves.   It has a band of stranded knitting above the welt, and another around the V neck - in a rather boring colour combination of brown on fawn.

Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores B 4

The other is a children's pattern, size 24 in. (61 cm.) chest. There is a boy's pullover, with a V neck, and a girl's pullover with a square neck, buttoned on the shoulder.

Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores B 38
We have some of the Scotch Wool Stores pattern leaflets from the 1930s in the collection already, but there are a lot of gaps, so it's good to be able to fill in two of them.

I'll show a few of the later leaflets too.  From the 1950s is this elegant double-breasted jacket.

Lister 299 6d
And this leaflet is from the 1960s: 

Prismar 1024

It's aimed at teenagers - the girls on the cover are evidently fans of jazz and the Beatles. There was a time in the 1960s when every teenage girl wanted a ribbed sleeveless sweater with a polo neck, just like the one here.

And representing the 1970s is a 'poncho style shawl', crocheted in dishcloth cotton.

Twilleys 1024

Some very nice additions to the collection.  I bought another myself, in the Salvation Army shop - a Bestway pattern from the 1940s that I thought we didn't already have, and I was right.  (I could actually have checked the list of Bestway patterns in the collection on my phone, but it's more fun to wing it, and see if I'm right later.)  And a pair of Barnet knitting needles in a junk shop - not a make I had heard of.

Bestway 624

I mentioned that there was plenty of time during the weekend for knitting and crochet.  I was knitting a pair of socks for my sister - both socks at once, in line with my New Year's knitting resolution. They are progressing nicely - this is how much I had done by Sunday evening:

It was a very good weekend - and Sheringham 2020 is already planned.

Thursday 10 January 2019

Knitted Garters

Over Christmas we were trying to do the King William's College quiz in The Guardian.  It is fiendishly difficult, even with the help of Google - the questions often seem to be carefully designed so that there is nothing obvious to search for.  And of course, I didn't expect to find any questions or answers that had anything to do with knitting.  But I did.

One relatively straightforward question was "Which gentleman of Worcestershire received a huge pike from Will Wimble?"  - straightforward, because searching for "Will Wimble" gave the answer quite easily.  (Sir Roger de Coverley, by the way. Which is also the name of a dance, how confusing.)

William Wimble appears in an essay by Joseph Addison published in The Spectator magazine in 1711.  He is a member of the aristocracy, but is a younger son and has no title or property of his own.  His interests and abilities would make him very suited to a career in trade or commerce, but because of his social standing, his family won't allow it.  Addison describes how he spends his time:

Will. Wimble is younger brother to a baronet, and descended of the ancient family of the Wimbles. He is now between forty and fifty; but being bred to no business and born to no estate, he generally lives with his elder brother as superintendent of his game. He hunts a pack of dogs better than any man in the country, and is very famous for finding out a hare. He is extremely well versed in all the little handicrafts of an idle man: he makes a May-fly to a miracle; and furnishes the whole country with angle-rods. As he is a good-natur’d officious fellow, and very much esteem’d upon account of his family, he is a welcome guest at every house, and keeps up a good correspondence among all the gentlemen about him. He carries a tulip-root in his pocket from one to another, or exchanges a puppy between a couple of friends that live perhaps in the opposite sides of the county. Will. is a particular favourite of all the young heirs, whom he frequently obliges with a net that he has weaved, or a setting-dog that he has made himself: he now and then presents a pair of garters of his own knitting to their mothers or sisters; and raises a great deal of mirth among them, by enquiring as often as he meets them how they wear? These gentleman-like manufactures and obliging little humours, make Will. the darling of the country.
I noticed the reference to knitted garters, of course.  I'm guessing that garters were usually either knitted by women for themselves, or they were bought, and so were made by professional knitters, possibly including men.  William Wimbles' other activities seem entirely suitable for men, and I assume that knitting was too - the mirthful part is that because he is a gentleman knitting for ladies, he can ask how they wear (which a tradesman could not, of course).

But I have other question, too.  What were the garters knitted in, what did they look like, how were they fastened?  1711 seems a bit early for knitted cotton, though I know very little about knitting at that time - maybe linen?  I'm imagining a strip of knitting, tied round the leg, but that may be completely wrong. And of course, they must have been knitted in garter stitch, surely?

So then I wondered when the term garter stitch was first used - I don't think I have seen it in 19th century knitting books.   The Oxford English Dictionary (available online in some libraries) gives supposedly the earliest use of any word or phase in print, and its first reference for garter stitch is from 1909.  That's very late, and I easily found a much earlier one (through the online newspapers in FindMyPast) in 1854, at the time of the Crimean War, in a letter to the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser:

SIR, Will you kindly insert in your Friday's paper the following simple directions for knitting comforters, &c., as they may be useful to those who wish to work something for our soldiers in the Crimea.
For Comforter — Cast on 70 loops on middling-sized pins, with wool called "wheeling,"  Knit brioche stitch (O, S,T, repeat).
One shilling's worth of worsted will make a good-sized comforter, and an ordinary knitter will be able lo knit one in three or four days. The same wool and stitch, or even garter stitch, may be used for muffetees.
Saturday is the school-girls' holiday: could their leisure hours be better occupied than in working something for our gallant men in the Crimea?  Let each girl purchase four-pence worth of wheeling and knit a pair of muffetees, and she will have the satisfaction of feeling she is contributing a little to the comfort of her brave and suffering countrymen in the East.
December 14, 1854. 

[The red for garter stitch is my addition.  I have corrected 'briothe' to 'brioche'. Muffetees were I think fingerless mitts. The abbreviations O, S and T were not standard at the time, so these would only have been comprehensible to someone who had a knitting book that used them - in fact the directions are altogether a bit sparse.]

This letter suggests that 'garter stitch' was a term that knitters would understand at the time.  But it's still a very long time after 1711, so doesn't tell me much about William Wimble's garter knitting.  I'll report back if I find out any more.

Monday 7 January 2019

Rosedale Socks

I have finished my Rosedale socks  - in fact I finished them in time for Christmas.  The pattern is from Ann Kingstone's Cable Knits book, the yarn is Countess Ablaze sock wool in the colourway Grey Skies in Manchester. 

I made a few changes to Ann's pattern.  I used the heel from her On the Other Foot socks, because those socks have a gusset and fit me very well.  I also replaced the picot cast-off edge with a ribbed cuff because I prefer it.  And the pattern has a complicated rose-like cable at either side of the ankle, just below the picot edge - I left those out, and substituted a simple circle.  Another change was unintentional - the cables are supposed to be sometimes right over left and sometimes left over right, but I didn't notice and did them all the same way.  By the time I realised the mistake I had gone too far to want to go back and correct it, and I think it's fine to have them all going the same way.

The cable design is perhaps not as visible as it might be - it would show up better perhaps in a lighter solid colour.  But the cables are perfectly clear to me when I'm wearing the socks and looking at my feet, which is all that's necessary.

I made another minor mistake in the second sock, which I'm not going to tell you about.  It wouldn't have happened if I had been knitting both socks at the same time (or else I would have made the same mistake in both socks).  So my New Year knitting resolution is to try knitting two socks at the same time - I have already started a pair, in fact.  I could have been more ambitious, e.g. resolving to finish all my unfinished projects before starting another, but let's be realistic.

So I have a new addition to my growing wardrobe of warm, well-fitting hand-knitted socks.  As I said, I've started another pair already, but those will be for my sister.
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