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.

Monday 19 August 2019


Last Friday was Granny Square Day 2019 on Instagram. The idea was to make a virtual blanket, using Instagram's grid format to combine photos of granny squares posted by individual crocheters.  I'm not a crocheter, so I didn't take part, but it did remind me of a pattern in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection which is an early example of granny squares being used in a garment. (Not under that name of course -  "granny squares" is much more recent term.)

Here's the pattern:
Esplen-d'or Knitted & Crochet Jumper

The leaflet is from the early 1920s, when loose, rather shapeless jumpers were in fashion. It's partly knitted and partly crocheted.  The main part is knitted (in garter stitch) in a T shape, the front, back and sleeves all in one piece.  Fourteen crochet squares are needed, a panel of four squares at the bottom of the front, the same at the back, one square set diagonally at the bottom of each side, and two squares on each sleeve.  The leaflet also has instructions for making crochet balls stuffed with cotton wool - three are sewn to the points of the squares at each side of the jumper, and two more are attached to a crochet chain that is threaded through around the neckline.  So although the basic shape is simple, it's a complicated make. 

Esplen-d'or knitting yarn was art silk, or rayon, very popular in the 1920s.  The ads claim that it was "The most Brilliant Article procurable for hand-knitted Jumpers, Coats, Scarves, etc." (But then they would, wouldn't they.)

Ad in Weldon's Practical Needlework, 1924
I think the elaborate design is quite typical of early 1920s jumpers in art silk - their basic shape is a simple T, with side and sleeve seams, but they are often quite complicated overall, pieced together from bits of knitting and bits of crochet, and trimmed with balls, tassels, belts and cords.

Esplen-d'or knitting yarn was advertised in needlecraft magazines from about 1923, and one particular advantage claimed is that it "is now made up in 4-oz. Balls - wound in a special manner which prevents the threads from slipping."  Rayon is a very smooth, shiny yarn - and very, very slippery. It was usually sold in hanks, but if you wound it from the hank into a ball in the usual way, it would soon collapse and tangle.  Instead, knitters and crocheters wound the yarn onto special cross-shaped winders, made of plywood (or sometimes just cardboard).  I've written before about these yarn winders - here are two of them from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.

If Esplen-d'or really was wound into balls that would be stable from start to finish, that would be a huge help to users.  I assume that each wrap round the ball somehow fixed the previous wraps in place, though I can't really see how.

The ad above gives the price of Esplen-d'or  - 3/3 for 4 ounces (100g.) in plain colours, more for "shaded, mingled and oriental colours".  3/3 means 3 shillings and 3 pence, and is equivalent to about £9.56 now, using the Bank of England's historic inflation calculator.  Other brands of art silk advertised at the same time were, surprisingly, more expensive, even though they were sold in hanks and not ready-wound (and even though Esplen-d'or was the "most brilliant article procurable").  The prices of knitting wools seem to have been much lower.  Art silk appears to have been a luxury product, though presumably cheaper than real silk.

There is little information in the ads or on the leaflets about the company that made Esplen-d'or, except for an address at 84 Queen Victoria Street, London E.C.4.  The ads for Esplen-d'or products continued into the 1940s, although the later ads that I have seen are for embroidery silks, not knitting yarn.  Art silk jumpers were mainly a 1920s fashion, and perhaps the company was thereafter reduced to producing only embroidery silks, and died during the war, though I really don't know.

There are very few Esplen-d'or pattern leaflets in the Guild collection.  Here is one of the others, for a crocheted tam, in stripes of two colours, with a tassel.  The model on this leaflet seems to have had her hair bobbed, so perhaps this is a later leaflet than the jumper pattern. 

I think it looks rather fetching, though I think having a tassel hanging on your shoulder would get seriously annoying very quickly.  And given the slipperiness of art silk, not to mention the weight of the tassel hanging off the side, I suspect this would need at least a hatpin or two to keep it on.  It's not a hat for cold windy weather.

Saturday 10 August 2019

Beehive Recipe Cards

We are now very used to the idea that manufacturers of knitting yarns publish patterns to promote the use of their yarns. In Britain, this practice began just before World War I, when J. & J. Baldwin & Partners, of Halifax, published their first Beehive Booklets, closely followed by J. Paton, Son & Co. Ltd., of Alloa, with their "Helps to Knitters" booklets.  (Other spinners did not adopt the idea until much later.)

In 1920, the two companies merged to form Patons & Baldwins, of Alloa and Halifax. But for several years afterwards, the component companies seem to have operated separately to some degree, placing separate ads for their products, sometimes in the same magazine, and they carried on publishing both Beehive Booklets and Helps to Knitters.

Also in the early 20s, Baldwins started to produce a series of "Beehive Recipe Cards".

Beehive Card No. 34 

While the booklets were at least four pages long, and often more, recipe cards were suitable for simpler patterns that would fit onto both sides of a single sheet of card, with a small photo.

There are only three of the cards in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection: one has patterns for two crocheted hats, a sailor hat and a tam o' shanter. The others are dress patterns for little girls: the 'Nancy' design has a simple dress with knickers (a rather loose pair of knitted shorts), while the 'Isobel' design is a fancier dress, modelled by a glum-looking child wearing an enormous bow in her hair.

Beehive Card No. 54

The cards were advertised alongside the Beehive booklets for a few years, using a drawing based on the photo on the card. Presumably that was cheaper than reproducing the photo, but sometimes the drawing is more attractive than the photo, to my mind.

Beehive Card No. 71, advertised in 1924. 
Photo from Beehive Card No. 71
(from the copy in the British Library)

The British Library has 86 of the recipe cards, which seems to be a complete set.  They all have a British Museum stamp with dates between December 1921 and July 1924.  (The British Library used to be housed in the British Museum.) So evidently the cards were short-lived - perhaps the company decided that it was too complicated to keep publishing patterns in two different formats.  A recipe card could easily be expanded to a 4-page booklet - have a bigger photo to fill the first page, add a few washing hints perhaps, and if necessary use the last page to show illustrations of some of the other booklets available.  Though from the knitter's point of view, it seems to me that a single sheet of card is more convenient than a flimsier 4-page booklet.

Here are a couple more photos from the cards, to show that they weren't all underwear or children's patterns. 
Photo from Beehive Card No. 22
(from the copy in the British Library) 

Card No. 22 has room for a description of the garment:
The "Lady Hilda" Blouse Jumper is very light in weight and makes a dainty garment for wearing under a Coat or indoors.  The lacey pattern introduced into the neck, cuffs and border, nicely worked,  makes the garment a very stylish one.
Later cards dropped the description, and the tinting of the photo, and used real models rather than dress stands.

Photo from Beehive Card No. 84
(from the copy in the British Library) 

The Rachael design from Card No. 84 is a crocheted jumper, in Kingfisher Lustre Wool, a wool-rayon mix. The front and back are identical T shapes, typical of early 20s jumpers - as is the cord belt with tassel.

The set of recipe cards give a comprehensive picture of what knitters and crocheters were being encouraged to make in the early 1920s.  Possibly many of the cards only survive now in the British Library - it is a wonderful institution. 

Friday 2 August 2019

Fair Isle Knitting Made Easy

I'm not suggesting that I am about to make Fair Isle knitting easy - the post title comes from a Weldon's Sixpenny Series booklet that I have been scanning to put on the Knitting & Crochet Guild website, for members to download.

Weldon's Sixpenny Series No. 217

Weldon's published over 300 titles in their Sixpenny Series, in the 1920s and 1930s.  They aren't dated, so I might try to assign dates to them myself in a later post, as I did for Fancy Needlework Illustrated. I can at least date this issue, No. 217, fairly confidently to 1930 - it has an ad for a Patons & Baldwins pattern, which also appeared in another publication dated November 1930.

Why did Weldon's claim that the booklet made Fair Isle knitting easy? Largely because the colour patterns were charted, rather than being written out row by row, as was usual at that time (and still common much later, too).  The introduction says :
"In view of the enormous popularity of Fair Isle Woollies, the following "Easy-Way" method of knitting these designs has been devised. This method obviates the use of long and tiring directions which are substituted by simple charts, showing the pattern at a glance. These charts arc extremely clear as each square represents a stitch, and each sign a colour. A ruler laid across the chart above the row being worked, greatly helps in keeping the place."
Here's one of the charts, which now seems perfectly ordinary to knitters:

But Weldon's had to explain using charts to knitters who had never used them before, and probably never seen them before.  It was especially tricky here, because the designs in the booklets are knitted in the round up to the armholes, and then knitted flat up to the shoulders; the sleeves are knitted flat from the cuff upwards.   So the booklet has to explain how to read the chart when working in the round ("the chart must always be read from right to left"), and then how to read them when working flat, with alternate rows of knit ("plain") and purl: "The plain rows, which are the uneven numbered rows, are read from right to left of the charts, and the purl rows, which are the even numbered rows, from left to right."

The charts also show the shaping for the neck, armholes and sleeves, which is also explained very carefully.  (Of course, the patterns are all given in only one size, which simplifies showing the shaping on a chart.)  There's also advice about using a "a piece of coloured thread knitted in with a stitch" to mark the start of each round - which sounds like a separate piece of thread for each round, rather than how we would use stitch markers now. 

The booklet also explains how to hold one strand of wool in each hand when knitting Fair Isle patterns (though only when knitting in the round or on the knit rows in the flat sections).  I was surprised to see this useful advice given so early.  Many Fair Isle pattern leaflets published much later than this leave the knitter to work out for themselves how to work with two strands of wool at the same time.

Now for the designs. The two on the front cover are to "complete your sports outfit".   There are only two different patterns in each, one wide band and one narrow, but "an elaborate effect is achieved by reversing the colours" on alternate wide bands, which is a clever idea.  Here's another view of the  man's sweater:

The instructions say that "this pullover can, if preferred, be worn tucked in, as shown on the cover, in which case a deep welt is worked in place of patterns at the lower edge." In my view, wearing it tucked in is very wrong indeed, so I am glad to see that there is a more sensible alternative.

There is another woman's sweater like the cover design, of a similar shape with patterned bands all over and a V neck (and also shown worn with a beret). It's suggested that this is to wear with a tweed suit, "for sports and general wear".

 And the third jumper for women is the "Heath" design, with Fair Isle bands around the lower edge, around the cuffs, and bordering the V neck. I like this one a lot.

And finally, there is a sleeveless pullover, billed as 'a well-fitting "tuck-in"'.  (Noooo!  Don't tuck it in!)

Apart from the tuck-ins, the designs are very attractive. I think it's interesting, too, that the instructions are so technically advanced.  Many "Fair Isle" patterns published in Britain, even decades later than this one, instructed knitters to work all the pieces flat, with front and back knitted separately.  Recent Fair Isle sweater patterns are more likely to tell knitters to work in the round throughout, with steeks at the armholes and neck.  I don't know when steeking instructions were first published in this country, but I would have been astonished if they had appeared in a 1930 booklet.

I would love to know whether any Shetland knitters were consulted about techniques, or designed any of the sweaters. But it was very rare to name the designers at that time, and this booklet is no exception.

Knitting & Crochet Guild members will find a pdf copy of the booklet on the Guild website under Membership and then Pattern Downloads.  (If you aren't a member and are interested in vintage knitting and crochet publications, you might consider joining - Guild membership is open to anyone.)       
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