Thursday 25 April 2019


I have mentioned that the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection has moved to a new home - we have now been based in Slaithwaite for two months.   You might like to see some photos of the village.

First, a photo of Britannia Mill, where the collection is now housed.

Like many other buildings in Slaithwaite, it is built from the local sandstone, and (as the name suggests) it was originally an industrial workplace.

Slaithwaite is in the Colne Valley, about 5 miles from Huddersfield.  The River Colne runs from Marsden, at the head of the valley, and on to Huddersfield and eventually joins the River Calder.  At Slaithwaite, it is not a very big river, only a few yards wide.

But in the distant past, it made a steep valley, and in the Industrial Revolution provided enough water power for mills to be established along the river.  There are several huge mill buildings remaining, like the one in the centre of the photo above.  Some have been converted to other uses, some are awaiting renovation, and a few are still used as mills.  The most notable example in Slaithwaite, for knitters, is Spa Mills,  the home of Stylecraft yarns and of Yarn Stories. Spa Mills, built in 1907,  is the huge building in the centre of the photo below.  (Notice the fine array of sheds in the foreground.)  The centre of Slaithwaite, including Britannia Mill, is off to the left of the photo, which also shows houses high up on the side of the valley opposite.  Historically, in this area, mills occupied the land in the valley bottoms, and the mill workers lived on the valley sides, which are often very steep.

A few yards away from the River Colne in the centre of Slaithwaite is the Huddersfield Narrow Canal -  you can see how narrow it is in places from the photo below.

The canal runs from Huddersfield, up the Colne Valley to Marsden, where it goes under the summit of the Pennines by way of Standedge Tunnel, more than 3 miles (nearly 5 km.) long.  The canal continues to Ashton-under-Lyne where it links with the rest of the canal network.

The canal was built to transport goods, of course, and several of the Slaithwaite mills were built next to it, but its use for commercial traffic declined until it closed in 1944.  It was re-opened in 2001, and now it only sees leisure traffic.

Here's another view the canal, showing one of the canal locks, and Spa Mills in the background.

The re-opening of the canal has made a huge difference to Slaithwaite, I think.  There are many independent shops and cafes in the centre, a favourite being the Handmade Bakery and Cafe - it's alongside the canal and sells delicious bread, baked on site.

It's an exciting place to work.  I'm still exploring it - this week I found Spa Park, across the canal and river from Spa Mills.  Slaithwaite did at one time have a mineral spring whose water was claimed to be good for you (presumably the spring still exists somewhere, in fact) and a spa based on the spring.  The River Colne runs alongside Spa Park, looking very rural, although it is so close to the village centre.  According to an information board in the park, kingfishers can be seen on the river near there.  I hope that's true - I have never seen a kingfisher, so it would be thrilling to catch even a glimpse of one. I'll report back if I do.

PS I forgot to mention that Slaithwaite has a train station.  The Colne Valley has been on several important cross-Pennine routes at various times, including the canal and the A62 Manchester-Leeds road (though that is now superseded by the M62). And the Manchester-Leeds railway line runs through Huddersfield, up the valley to Slaithwaite and Marsden.  There are trains from Slaithwaite to Manchester and Leeds, and from there connections to the rest of the rail network.  For most people, the collection is now more accessible than it was at our old site.   

 The railway line runs high above the centre of the village on a viaduct, visible in the first photo of Spa Mills.   Here's a photo of a train on the line, well above the Colne Valley Leisure Centre below. 

Monday 22 April 2019

Woollen Stockings

I was looking through some Stitchcraft magazines in the Knitting & Crochet guild collection and came across this striking image of disembodied legs walking downstairs.

Very surreal.  (The apparent tear in the bottom left corner is actually part of the image.)

Model legs like these are still used in shops selling tights and stockings (e.g. John Lewis) so the only question is how the legs were positioned like that.  It is a very bizarre illustration for a knitting pattern though.

The legs appeared in the January 1941 issue of Stitchcraft, more than a year after the start of World War 2 as far as Britain was concerned.  There were bombing raids against British cities every night that winter, though there is little mention of that in the magazine.  But the bombing must have exacerbated fuel shortages (through damage to gas mains, for instance) so keeping warm must have been difficult. Hence Stitchcraft's pattern for knitted stockings.

The introduction to the the pattern says:
"Who would ever have thought that in the year 1941 we should be wearing good warm woollen stockings? Yet so it is, and what fun they are—as dotty and amusing as can be. Gather up all the bright odds and ends of wool you can lay hands on and set to work. By this time you will have had good practice at turning heels after knitting all those socks for the forces, so you should have no qualms about making a good job of these." 
This implies that before the war, women didn't wear woollen stockings.  So what did they wear?  There were silk stockings, but they were expensive and not very warm, I should think, so what did ordinary women for everyday wear in the winter?   

Back to the pattern.  The stockings are knitted on two needles, except for the toe, which is knitted in the round and then grafted.  The leg and top of the foot are knitted in one piece, with a seam up the back of the leg.  The heel, sole and toe are in a different colour in the illustration and are knitted afterwards, with a seam along each side of the instep.  The construction means that it would be easy to replace the foot part of the stocking when it wore out.

The diamonds on the legs of the grey stockings are knitted in a combination of intarsia and stranded knitting.  The blue pair have embroidered clocks either side of the ankle.

There are several other knitting patterns in the magazine, including the jacket on the cover.

Stitchcraft magazine, January 1941.

There are patterns for two "Service Woollies", a sleeveless pullover for a woman, and a polo-neck jumper for a man.
Woman's WW2 Service Woollie 

Man's WW2 Service Woollie

There are a few other 'civilian' knits too, including this pretty jumper in a openwork design.

Although Stitchcraft was a Patons & Baldwins magazine, so its main focus was on patterns using P&B wools, it had a cookery page at that time as well.   And in January 1941, the cookery editor addressed air raids directly, giving recipes for fillings for sandwiches to take into the shelter:

Air raids, unpleasant as they are, offer a good opportunity for an enterprising and valiant woman to show the stuff she is made of. For there is no doubt about it that a little light refreshment does help to pass the time while a raid is going on. Some people are spending a considerable time in shelters, and the packing of a provision basket may need a little thought. There is not only one's own family to be considered, for it is surprising how soon one gets to know people in a shelter, and the offer of a sandwich may prove to be the start of a pleasant friendship. Even in the lower regions of your own house, you will find yourself popular if you can produce something unexpected in the food line. Speaking for myself, I try to see that there is always soup ready in the larder, for this is a great restorative when one has gone through a time of strain. In our cellar we have a shelf on which I keep two small saucepans, a spirit stove, bottle of methylated spirit, matches, tin opener, cardboard plates, unbreakable cups, Oxo cubes, Ovaltine, and so on, and it is only a matter of moments to heat soup or milk. We find time goes much more quickly if we have a little meal to take our attention off the sound of planes or bombs. Another tin holds bars of chocolate, and every morning I make a thermos full of coffee, and this we drink, raid or no raid. So here are a few suggestions, some suitable for a picnic meal in an outside shelter, others for use in one's own house. Some good sandwich fillings to start with, as the useful sandwich certainly leads the way in popularity. 
It was a terrible time, we shouldn't forget.

There is an edited version of the magazine on the Knitting & Crochet Guild website (only the pages with the knitting patterns - if you'd like to try the liver and parsley sandwich filling, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed).  Guild members can access it by going to Membership, then Pattern Downloads, then Stitchcraft Magazines and Booklets. 

Friday 19 April 2019

A Fascinating Check

I haven't posted anything here for a while, so I'll try to catch up a bit in the next week or so.  I have been busy over on Instagram, though, where I have been showing some of my favourite patterns from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  There's a lot of choice - over 50,000 pattern leaflets, not to mention booklets, magazines, etc.   So I don't think I need to restrict myself to just one favourite or just a few - I can have lots, why not.  

Yesterday's Instagram post showed a Copley's pattern from the 1930s.

1930s vintage knitting
Copley's leaflet 331

I wrote an earlier post about similar Copley's leaflets here - the designs are quite appealing, but what I really like is the fashion advice on the front of the leaflet from one of two "fashion advisers", Lady Georgiana Curzon and later the Countess of Chester. In leaflet 331, Lady Georgiana tells you why you should knit this cardigan:   

COPLEY'S FASHION ADVISER says : "Our old and tried friend the cardigan .. how could we live without it ? On the golf course or the moors, in the car or on foot, smart women still cling to that classic style. It modifies slightly with fashion; it raises or lowers its vague indication of a waistline, it alters the number of its buttons, or its length. And it still remains the smartest and most comfortable sports woollie of all. Here is to-day's version; simple, subtle, in a stitch that gives a fascinating check and a Copley wool that will stand up to endless wear and washing. No matter what colour your skirt, you'll find the most perfect match or the smartest contrast among the superlative range of Copley colours." 
All of which still applies, though I suspect that even then golf was a minority interest for women - but it had the right upper class ring to it.  And I think that when Lady Georgiana mentions the moors, she has in mind grouse shooting.

I was intrigued by her description of  "a stitch that gives a fascinating check", because in the photo of the cardigan, it looks like some sort of rib.  So I looked at the instructions, and it's not any sort of rib, or any stitch pattern I have met before.  I knitted a swatch to see what it looks like:

Here are the instructions (not exactly as they appeared in the pattern - I've rewritten them in a way that makes more sense to me).

On an even number of stitches:
Row 1: K1, (yarn over, K2) to last stitch, yarn over, K1.
Row 2:  P1, (drop the yarn over of the previous row, purl the 2nd stitch on the left needle but leave it on the needle, then purl the first stitch, drop both stitches off the needles together) to last 2 stitches, drop the yarn over of the previous row, P1. 

So it's much more like stocking stitch than a rib. The yarn-overs make little ladders separating the columns of pairs of stitches twisted together.

I found it a bit tricky to knit, especially at first. The knit rows are easy, but purling the second stitch on the left needle was quite difficult, especially as I was knitting with my vintage Double Century needles which have rounded tips.  I switched to a sharper KnitPro needle for the purl rows part way through, and that was much easier. I also found that I needed a lot of left-elbow room for that step, so it wouldn't be suitable knitting for a train journey.  (I never need much right-elbow room when I'm knitting with straight needles, because I have the right needle tucked under my arm.)

I wouldn't describe it as a check pattern, but it gives a very nice effect.  It's quite loose - for me, it's looser than stocking stitch, so you would have to be careful of gauge. 

The swatch also gave me an opportunity to try out a ball of Yarn Stories 100% merino DK.  It's a worsted-spun yarn, spun in Yorkshire (in fact, in Slaithwaite, where the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection is now based).  So it's very smooth and gives great stitch definition, ideal for a swatch like this.  And it feels gorgeously soft.  I'll be planning a project to use it some time soon, I'm sure.
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