Monday 13 July 2020

Washing Socks

Back in February, I went to an exhibition, An English Lady's Wardrobe, at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.  It showed the clothes collected by a local woman, Mrs Tinne, between about 1910 and the 1930s.  It was an astonishing collection - she bought a vast number of outfits which she never wore, sometimes the same dress in different colourways, for instance. She had six children (as well as one who died as a baby) and some of their clothes were on display too.

Sadly (from my point of view), Mrs Tinne doesn't seem to have been much interested in buying knitwear, but I found it a fascinating exhibition even so.  And one exhibit did have a knitting connection: a pair of china feet, described as 'child's sock-dryers'.  They are of glazed earthenware, made by Wedgwood, with a factory mark that dates them to some time between 1907 and 1924. 

The catalogue description says 'Damp socks were drawn over them to dry out', so they were a laundry aid. Perhaps they would balance the other way up, to allow the soles of the socks to dry?  They were a bit baffling, and I had never heard of anything like them for drying socks. 

But then recently I found a reference to china feet for drying socks in an 1895 article in the magazine The Young Woman.  The article, by Mrs Elliott Scrivenor, gives instructions for washing knitted wool garments
"I want to give you a few hints with regard to washing any knitted garments or stockings. First, NEVER let woollen stockings or socks be boiled.  Many persist in this, and it shrinks the wool and thickens it.  They must not be worn sufficiently soiled to require such treatment. ..... Stockings must have soap, but the soap must be made into a lather with warm water, not hot; then wash them gently in the lather, after that wash in two or three waters, the chill just taken off the water, and block them to dry.  A block should be used for everything knitted.  You can now procure china feet for small-sized socks and stockings; other blocks are cut out of box or sycamore wood to the shape and size; they are about half an inch thick, with bevelled edges; the stockings are drawn over them, and left upon them to dry, and in the open air if possible."
So there is confirmation that china feet were used for drying children's socks.  I was interested too in the mention of blocks of wood for drying larger socks and stockings.  Mrs Scrivenor goes on to talk about washing other knitted garments, and says "If you have no block, cover a board with several folds of clean linen, and pin the work out upon it, taking care not to stretch it beyond its right size."  We still talk about 'blocking' a newly-knitted garment as part of finishing it, by wetting or dampening it and laying it on flat surface, adjusting it to the right size and shape.   But if the origin of the term 'blocking' is that blocks of wood were once used, that has been forgotten, as far as I am aware.  You can now buy 'sock-blockers', which are flat sock shapes of plastic or thin plywood, but they are called sock-blockers because they are used for blocking, not because they are blocks of wood.

Mrs Scrivenor also wrote a 'Collection of Knitting & Crochet Receipts' for Patons, then John Paton, Son & Co. Ltd. of Alloa (Scotland), already one of the largest knitting wool spinners in the country.  It was a comprehensive collection of patterns in a book of more than 280 pages, about 9½ by 7¼ inches (24.5cm by 18cm).  The 4th edition, which is in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, is dated 1909.  It is well illustrated with photographs, and looking at some of the children's sock patterns, I suspect that Mrs Scrivenor might have used Wedgwood china feet to pose them on, judging by the squared-off toes. 


But I wonder how practical they were for laundry. How many pairs would you need for each child?  Perhaps not many, even in a wealthy household - Mrs Scrivenor's advice that you shouldn't wear socks until they need boiling suggests that most people didn't change their socks very often. (Poor children probably didn't wear socks at all, and the poorest would have gone barefoot, but Mrs Scrivenor's readers would certainly have been able to provide their children with dainty socks and bootikins like the one illustrated.)  The china feet would take up quite a lot of room, especially in use when they would have had to be in an airy place to allow the socks to dry.  And they are breakable. A full list of the items in Mrs Tinne's Collection is given in the exhibition catalogue, and there is only one pair of china feet.  Perhaps the rest broke, or a single pair was tried as an experiment and not judged worthwhile?  I am not really surprised that they don't seem to have been in common use.

Saturday 23 May 2020

The Viyella Knitting Recorder

Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@barbaraknitsagain) might have seen that earlier this month, I posted about a Viyella Knitting Recorder and Needle Gauge that had just arrived in the post.  I bought it on eBay, to add to my small collection of needle gauges.  In due course, I will probably give it to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, but for now it's mine.

The Viyella Knitting Recorder and Needle Gauge

Viyella was a fabric woven from a blend of 55% merino wool and 45% cotton, introduced in the 1890s by William Hollins & Co., whose headquarters were in Nottingham.  In the early days, it was mostly sold as ready-made clothing, and knitted items such as gloves and jumpers were also advertised.  By 1922, Viyella knitting yarn was being sold directly to the public.   The Queen magazine, in November 1922, said:  
All who know the famous "Viyella" flannel — and who does not? — ought to know of "Viyella" knitting yarn. This, as the name implies, is exactly the same beautiful yarn as that from which the flannel itself is woven, and is, therefore, unequalled for lightness and dainty softness, combined with durability. 

The company started to publish pattern leaflets in the early 1930s, and also developed the "Knitting Recorder and Needle Gauge".  Mine says 'Patents Pending' on the drum; the patent was applied for in 1932 and granted in 1934 (Number GB408594). The patent was for 'Improvements in number indicating devices for the use of knitters, or use as a calendar or for scoring points in a game, or for like purposes.'  The applicants were the manufacturer, William Hollins and Co., and the man who was presumably the inventor, Horace Josiah Ball of Knowle Park House, Kimberley, Nottinghamshire.  In the 1939 register of the British population, Horace Ball is listed as a Typewriter Works Manager; he was named as an applicant on about a dozen other patents, for improvements to typewriters.

The photo above shows that, as the patent says 'numbers are engraved or stamped round the two ends of the cylindrical body in such a position that they are covered by the rims of the end covers, and each of the latter is formed with a single opening so disposed, that by turning the covers each will expose one number on the body at a time.'   The patent suggests that: 'The device may be used by knitters for recording the number of courses [rows?] knitted, and the number of stitches knitted in the last course, or other information respecting the progress of the work, when the latter is laid down, so as to obviate the necessity for counting when the work is taken up again.'  In fact, the numbers run from 1 to 24, which is not what you want in a counter: a counter should start at 0, and probably you would want the potential for counting more than 24 rows, too. 

The patent suggests that the gadget could also be a needle gauge: 'For the use of knitters, the end covers may be formed with a series of holes, which are graduated in size and are numbered so as to form a knitting pin gauge.'  The top of the recorder has holes for British needle sizes 1 to 7  (7.5mm. to 4.5mm.)  and the base 
(below) measures sizes 8 to 17 (4mm. to 1.4mm.). 

Base of knitting recorder, showing needle gauge

The recorder is about 4cm. in diameter and about 4cm. high, and made of steel (I tested it with a fridge magnet), and so is quite hefty, even though the cylinder is hollow.  Perhaps it's too large and heavy to want to carry around in your knitting bag, but it does feel very satisfying in the hand, like a worry egg.   

A Knitting Recorder exactly like mine was illustrated on the back of a Viyella crochet pattern (for a very smart jumper and matching cap) in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  The leaflet was advertised in April 1933.  

Viyella leaflet 144

The description of the recorder doesn't mention using it for counting rows at all. 'The left-hand figure is set on the number of increasings or decreasings to be made.  The right-hand figure begins at one, and is moved up one as each increase or decrease is made, until it reaches the same number.'   A novel idea, but I still feel that starting the count at 1 rather than 0 is liable to lead to errors.
Viyella Two-in-One Recorder, illustrated on leaflet 144
There is another version of the Knitting Recorder, with a drawing of two children on the drum. There are two examples in different colours in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection. 

Viyella Knitting Recorder, with children playing 

I think that this version may be slightly later than mine; although some of this type still say 'Patents Pending' on the drum, others give the patent number. 

Viyella Knitting Recorders are offered regularly on eBay, so they must have sold quite well originally.  But I suspect that they were only made for a few years in the 1930s - I am sure that production would have stopped during World War 2, when steel was a vital raw material.  My needle gauge is a very nice thing to have, even if it is (in my view) not much use as a counter. 

Sunday 10 May 2020

Made in Abyss Socks

Time seems to be behaving very strangely under lock-down.  It seems to be passing very slowly - nothing much is happening, the days blur into one another.  And then I find that it's seven weeks since I last wrote a blog post.

I said in that post that I had nearly finished a pair of socks, and that I would write about them when they were finished.  Well, I finished them a few weeks ago.  (I can't remember when. It was in April.)  Here's the post I said I would write.

To go back to the beginning. When the weather turned cold at the end of last year, I got interested in knitting socks again, purely to keep my feet warm.  And I saw on Ravelry the 'Made in Abyss' sock pattern by the Finnish designer Tiina Kuu.  I liked the look of them - they have a band of little trees (?) in stranded knitting just above the ankle.  (The design is named for a Japanese manga series about a girl and a robot exploring a fearsome Abyss, though I don't know whether the trees have anything to do with the manga.)  I hadn't knitted socks with stranded knitting before, and I though I'd like to try it,  and the heel construction looked really interesting.  (You have to be a really serious knitter to choose a sock pattern for its fascinating heel construction, I think.)

I finished my first pair of Made in Abyss socks in February.  They are in Lang Jawoll sock yarn, in Toffee and Light Grey.  (Tiina Kuu suggests using five gradient-dyed miniskeins, but I think they look equally good in two solid colours.) 

And here's a view of the heel:

The pattern has two options for the heel, one with a gusset at each side of the ankle, and the other with a single gusset at the back. I enjoyed knitting the socks,a nd I liked the end result, so I decided to knit another pair, to try the other heel option.

I made a few other tweaks for the second pair, too.  I did the cuff in double rib, because it's stretchier and I prefer that. I changed the rib section below the band of stranded knitting, so that every round is knit 4, purl 1. In the pattern, alternate rounds are all knit, but I wanted to make that part of the socks slightly more stretchy, too.  I changed the foot part, so that the rib pattern is continued all the way to the toe, because I preferred the look of that.  And finally, I did a spiral toe instead of a conventional toe with a grafted end because I hate grafting.  I did graft the toes on the first pair of socks, but I didn't make a very good job of it.  Really, I much prefer knitting socks toe-up, and it's partly to avoid grafting.   

So here's my second pair of Made in Abyss socks.

The colours are the same Light Grey as before, with Charcoal. I do prefer these to the first pair, just because of the changes I made to suit me, but I like both pairs a lot.

The Lang Jawoll is very nice wool - good to knit with, and it comes in a huge range of colours.  However, each ball has a spool of matching reinforcing thread in the middle.  The idea is that you can knit the heel and toe of your socks using the wool and the reinforcing thread together, so that the socks will last longer. This is supposed to be a bonus. I have tried using the reinforcing thread in an earlier pair of socks, though I decided that it's unnecessary and fiddly.  But even if you want to use it, I don't think you need as much as one spool for a pair of socks, and you get two. (A pair of socks takes two balls of Jawoll, and so you get two spools of reinforcing thread.)   It's wasteful, and the thread is wound onto a plastic bobbin - even if you have a use for all the thread, you're left with waste plastic. Regretfully, I shan't be buying Jawoll again, for that reason.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Strange Times

Thursday is usually a knitting day for me.  In the morning, I meet a group of friends to knit in Cafe Society in Huddersfield.  In the evening I meet another group of knitting friends, except that on the 3rd Thursday of the month it is the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild branch meeting instead, at the Town Hall - and this week was the 3rd Thursday.  We couldn't physically meet for either of those events, but we did the best with technology and had virtual meetings.

Instead of going to Cafe Society, we all sat at home, drinking our own coffee, knitting and chatting via Messenger.  It worked surprisingly well, and hopefully next week we shall all have Skype working and we might be able to see each other too.  Here's what I was knitting this week. 

The pattern is Made in Abyss by Tiina Kuu.  This is the second pair of socks I have knitted to that pattern, and this is the second sock of the second pair, so I have nearly finished, and then I'll write about both pairs.

In the afternoon, between knitting groups, John and I went for a walk around Blackmoorfoot Reservoir, on the edge of Huddersfield.  It was a beautiful afternoon, quiet and peaceful.  The bird you might just see in the photo is a grebe - it seemed to be successfully catching something (presumably a small fish) every time it dived. 

For the branch meeting in the evening, we had planned to have a talk from Marie Wright on the March sisters, from Little Women, and another 19th century family, the Ryder sisters. Instead of the scheduled meeting in the Town Hall, Marie and her sister Ann Kingstone live-streamed the talk from Ann's house via the Guild Facebook group.

Marie talked about what the March sisters knitted in the Louisa M. Alcott books, and also the knitwear in the recent film, especially what the four sisters are wearing in this still:

 In the world of the book, anything knitted that any of them wore would have been made in the family.  Beth is wearing a Sontag, a shawl worn crossed over at the front and tied at the back, all four of them are wearing mittens, including some fancy colour-work on Jo's,  and Amy has a ruffled collar, apparently on another wrap-around shawl.

The Ryder sisters, on the other hand, were a real family of four sisters (and two brothers), all born in Ecclesfield in South Yorkshire.  Marie pointed out some parallels between the two families.  After their father died, the family moved to Richmond in North Yorkshire. Two of the sisters, Henrietta and Elizabeth, published knitting patterns and books, from the 1860s to about 1900 - Marie and Ann have acquired some of the Ryder sisters' works, and Ann showed us a pair of socks that she has knitted, with a colour-work band around the top in a clover leaf design, inspired by a stocking-top pattern of Henrietta Ryder's. (You can see the socks on Ann's blog.)  It was a fascinating talk, and I was very grateful to Ann and Marie for setting up live streaming, as well as preparing the talk.

In spite of having to avoid everyone except the two of us, Thursday was a good day for John and me.  And I did go to two knitting groups on Thursday after all - it wasn't as good as meeting in person, but far better than not meeting at all.  No doubt this sort of work-around will become normal in the weeks ahead.

Thursday 27 February 2020

Jumpers and Sports Wear in 1931

 Leach's Sixpenny Knitting Series was published from 1920 to 1935, according to the British Library catalogue - I wrote about one of the series in my last post.  We have a few of the issues in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, including the 'Jaeger Hand Knit Jumpers and Sports Wear' shown above.  It is marked as one of Leach's Sixpenny Knitting Series on the cover, though without a number, and also as 'Jaeger Hand-Knit No. 7' - there was evidently an arrangement that Leach's would publish Jaeger pattern booklets in this way.  There is no date explicitly given in the booklet, but a Jaeger knitting competition is advertised with a closing date in January 1932, so it must have been published in 1931. 

The booklet has several patterns for women, all very smart as you would expect from Jaeger.  There is the 'Attractive Sports Three-piece with matching beret', illustrated on the cover - a cardigan and skirt in a flecked wool to imitate tweed, and a very nice collared jumper in dark brown with orange spots. Also shown on the cover is a 'smart over-blouse', in camel colour with blue diamonds.

Of the other patterns, the most interesting technically is a Fair Isle jumper.  The pattern is headed '"Fair Isle" Patterns are Still in Favour' - the fashion for Fair Isle sports jumpers had started in the early 1920s, so perhaps it was noteworthy that they were still in vogue in 1931. 

I was surprised to see that the knitter is advised to knit the body, up to the armholes, on a circular needle, 'which makes the knitting very simple'.  I knew that circular needles were available in the 1920s, but had not previously seen them specified in a pattern. Here's an ad from 1923 for Flexiknit needles:

The sleeves of the Fair Isle jumper are also to be knitted in the round, from the cuff up, but on double pointed needles, I think because small diameter circulars were not available, and the cables were wire, so not flexible enough for magic loop or any similar technique.

Another novel feature of the Fair Isle jumper is that there is a band of stranded knitting sandwiched between two bands of corrugated rib in the cuffs and the lower edge.  I don't think I have ever seen that before - an interesting idea.  The suggested colours of the jumper are camel for the background, with orange, dark green, dark red, navy blue, Saxe blue, peach, brown and green. 

Another garment in the booklet looks surprisingly modern - 'A Jumper-Coat in Two Colours - a fastens smartly with a zip fastener as many of the newest models do'. 

According to Wikipedia, although zips had been invented in the 19th century, they only began to be used on clothes around 1925, initially on leather jackets, so this knitted jumper-coat would have looked very new.

Another outfit with a matching beret has an unusual side fastening to the jumper, and the skirt ribs imitate pleating.  (I like her fancy shoes, too.) 

And 'note the uncommon trimming on the beret':

There are a few other patterns in the booklet, too, for a V-neck jumper in cashmere, and a couple of cardigans - all plain and simple, but smart.

Finally, I mentioned in an earlier post that I had found a pair of Jaeger knitting needles, and that I thought that they were made around 1930 because of the lettering.  Here's the evidence, in an ad for Jaeger Floss in this booklet:

Same lettering.  QED.   I don't think I have seen that logo anywhere else. Here's a logo used elsewhere in the booklet:

For anyone who likes 1930s knitwear, or would like to look at the patterns in detail, a scanned copy of  'Jaeger Hand Knit Jumpers and Sports Wear' is on the Knitting & Crochet Guild website for Guild members to download. 

Sunday 23 February 2020

A Prize Winning Jumper

When we were in London two weeks ago, I spent a few hours in the British Library (one of my favourite places).  I had ordered some periodicals in advance, including Leach's Sixpenny Knitting series from 1923, partly to help with dating some issues of the Sixpenny Knitting Series that we have in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection. Now I know that numbers 25 to 38 were published in 1923.  But, much more exciting, I also recognised a jumper shown on the front cover of number 38. 

The jumper on the right is clearly the original of a jumper in art silk (or rayon) that we have in the KCG collection.

What's more, it was "The Jumper That Won £100".  The pattern instructions inside give more information: 'This lovely model won the first prize in a recent competition. You can copy it for less than twenty four shillings!'   The competition was organised by the manufacturers of Celanese artificial silk (rayon).  In an earlier issue of the Sixpenny Knitting Series, there was an ad for the competition:

The ad shows three garments, with references to where the patterns could be found (in the Sixpenny Knitting Series, again).  So it appears that the entries to the competition were to be judged on the quality of the knitting and crochet, not the originality of the design.  But printing the pattern for a prize-winning jumper does suggest that the winner might have designed the jumper, as well as making it to a very high standard.  Either way, the prize of £100 is an astonishing amount of money, worth over £6000 now.  The total prize money on offer would be worth over £90,000, and the ad promises that "Every Garment will be returned, and a useful and attractive Souvenir will be given to every Entrant" - the costs of sending the garments back would also be borne by the company, I assume.  Of course, all entries had to be made in Celanese art silk, so the manufacturers must have been confident that the additional sales resulting from knitters wanting to enter the competition would be worth more than the prize money.

The ad for the competition doesn't give full details, but I did find an ad in the Falkirk Herald newspaper, for the Falkirk & District Co-op Stores, which told me a bit more.  (The competition obviously benefitted retailers, as well as the manufacturers of Celanese.)  They mention four classes, three with first prizes of £100, second prizes of £50, third prizes of £25, and 40 consolation prizes of £5. The fourth class had smaller prizes, though still very worthwhile.   Even the consolation prizes of £5 would be worth £300 each today.

I also found a piece in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in August 1923, announcing a local winner:
Mrs Shoveller, of Boxmoor, Weald View-road, Tonbridge, is to be congratulated on having won the first prize in Class "D" of the Celanese Knitting Competition, the results of which were published on Tuesday.  Mrs. Shoveller, who was most surprised at this unexpected good fortune, entered a set of baby clothing, comprising coat, bonnet and gloves.  These were made with the loop stitch, one of her own invention.  The value of the prize was £50, and considering the enormous number of entries, which came from all parts of the United Kingdom, it was undoubtedly a well-earned reward......   Miss Ethel M. Curtis, of the Royal School of Needlework, acted as the judge.
I guess that Class "D" was for a baby outfit, and it appears that Mrs. Shoveller designed her prize-winning outfit herself.

Back to the pattern.  Alongside the instructions are photographs of a model wearing the jumper, which give a much better idea of what it should look like.  (Thought the lighting wasn't very good for taking photos, I'm afraid.)

It is partly knitted, in stocking stitch, and partly crocheted.  It is a very simple construction, with no shaping at all: it's made in 11 rectangular pieces, 7 crocheted and 4 knitted, which are then sewn together.  One crocheted piece is the basque, which goes around the hips, below the belt.  Here's a diagram showing how the other pieces fit together, with the opening for the neck in the middle.

Once the 10 pieces are sewn together as shown, the result is folded in half, top to bottom, and the side seams are sewn up, and the sleeve seams, which are just 2 inch seams in the crochet strips at the sides. Then the basque is attached to the body.  The final steps are to crochet around the square neck and to make the tasseled belt.

The jumper is intended to be very loosely fitting: the circumference of the body of the jumper is 50 inches (127cm.).  The cover drawing and the photograph show the jumper with sleeves ending just above the elbow, but actually most of the 'sleeve' is a dropped shoulder.  The loose fit is not unusual for early 1920s jumpers, for instance, the 'Egyptian' jumper, which appeared in Woman's Weekly, also in 1923,  is 46 inches (117cm.) around the body.  (And it has a similar construction, being a rectangle of knitting, with a neck opening in the middle, and a rectangle for each sleeve.)

The basque of the prize jumper, however, is only 40in. (102cm.) around.  The instructions for joining it to a much wider body are: "Pleat the wide strips of knitting [at the sides] towards the side seams both at front and back (these pleats can be plainly seen in the illustrations) and gather the rest of the jumper edge. Then sew jumper and basque together, putting seam of basque to one of the side seams."  Evidently, the jumper was intended to fit someone much slimmer than the 50 inch bust measurement suggests. The 40 inch hip measurement has to allow for skirt, petticoat, etc., so the person inside would have had to be perhaps a modern UK size 8, or 10 at most.

Let's look at the jumper in the collection again.  Although I'm confident that the maker followed this pattern, she did not make it as loose, or as long, as intended. (I'm assuming a woman made it.) The central crocheted panel is narrower, the jumper is shorter from shoulder to waist, and the basque is not as deep.  A bigger change is in the side panels of stocking stitch; instead of having a rectangle which extends part way down the upper arm, she has made this piece much narrower in the body, and added on extra stitches to make a well-defined sleeve.  Consequently, the upper body and the basque have the same circumference - there is no need for pleats and gathers as described in the pattern.

We have no provenance for this jumper, so we have no idea why she made these changes.  We don't even know when the jumper was made, except that we now know it must have been in 1923 or later.  Maybe she made it several years later, when the fashionable silhouette was more close fitting.  Maybe she just didn't like very loose jumpers.  Or she might have been influenced by another photo, showing a back view of the jumper:

This appears to show the jumper with a proper sleeve - in fact, since it doesn't have a sleeve, I don't know how the photo could have been staged.  I think it's possible that our maker saw this photo and liked that shape, and then found that she had to modify the pattern to achieve it.  That's pure speculation, of course.  But I'm very pleased that I have found the pattern - and that the original jumper won a very large prize in a national competition.  I think our jumper inherits some of that glory.       

Thursday 13 February 2020

More Knitting Needles

This post is all about knitting needles, so if they don't interest you, you might like to stop reading now.

Katie at Crafty Praxis, in the Byram Arcade, Huddersfield, has recently started selling some knitting yarns as well as the regular stock of arts and crafts by local artists and designers.  The yarn includes hand-dyed yarns by my friend Steph of Millhouse Designs, as well as some Stylecraft yarn.  Katie also has some vintage knitting needles, and when I was there last week to buy a birthday card, I looked through them and bought  these, to donate to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection:

Obviously, I wanted to pick ones that aren't already in the collection. But we don't have a catalogue of the knitting needles, so I had to choose on the basis of memory and a lot of guesswork. But in fact, now that I have checked, I was right! - they are all additions that we don't have. (Honestly, I amaze myself sometimes.)

I chose a packet of four Aero double-pointed needles (dpns), for knitting socks or gloves. We do have a lot of Aero dpns in packets already. (Metal dpns that aren't still in their original packets are unidentifiable - they aren't marked with a brand name.)   But these are 5 inch (12cm.) needles, which are unusually short.   When I checked, we don't have any Aero 5 inch dpns in the collection (and possibly no 5 inch dpns of any make). You can, I discover, still buy 5 inch dpns, though usually in sets of five, so that you have the stitches on four and knit with the fifth.  Personally, I don't like smooth metal dpns, because they are liable to fall out of the stitches, and the shorter length would make falling out more likely, especially if you have the stitches on only three needles. Perhaps we have so few 5 inch dpns in the collection because other knitters have felt the same.  Modern 5 inch dpns seem to be mostly bamboo or wood, and so less likely to slip. 

The Aero dpns are of course grey, as Aero needles always are.  The packet stresses the virtues of the needles:  'These "Aero"  pins have been produced to meet the insistent demand for a rustless, non-glitter, lightweight metal pin: if stronger pins are required, the "Flora MacDonald" hardened and tempered steel pins are recommended.'  They are made of aluminium with a grey coating of some sort, and were originally made before the Second World War, though these may be later. 

Next is a pair of plastic Robinoid needles, size 5, with a paper label.  The label is in poor condition, but clearly says 'Made by blind people - Hand polished smooth - Hand made points - Firm knobs'.  I knew that we had Robinoid needles in the collection already, but this is a colour we didn't have.  I think they date from the 1930s, and the name possibly indicates that they are made of celluloid.

Then a pair of Jaeger needles, in a very stylish colour combination (as you would expect from Jaeger).   I knew that we didn't have any needles like this in the collection, because I would have remembered.  I think these date from around 1930, because I have seen an ad for Jaeger yarns from 1931 that uses the same lettering.

The brighter blue needles are Durex, size 3.  We have Durex needles already, but not this colour or style.  These are in excellent condition and look almost unused.

 Finally, a pair of Glydon needles.  I knew that we didn't have any needles of this make in the collection, because I had never heard of it before.   They are of a lightweight metal, uncoated.  I assume that they are not pure aluminium because I have seen several references asserting that aluminium needles would discolour and stain wool.  They may be an aluminium alloy, like Stratnoid needles, in which case they were presumably made after the Stratnoid patent expired. 

Glydon needles aren't listed in Susan Webster's excellent and comprehensive list of knitting needle brands, either.  This is partly a good thing, because finding a needle brand that is unknown to Susan Webster is an achievement, but it's also a bad thing because it means I can't find anything about them from her list. So if anyone can supply any information about Glydon, I'd be very pleased to hear it.

Sunday 2 February 2020

Mary Quant at the V&A

Last week we were in London for a few days and I took the opportunity to go to the Mary Quant exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, before it closes on 16th February. (It's then going to the V&A Dundee, I believe.)

The exhibition was busy, with many visitors who were old enough to remember the 60s, and who were reminiscing about the styles.  I was a teenager in the 60s myself, though I also remember that stockings were only replaced by tights quite late in the 60s, and stockings were horrible garments — for me, that made some of the early designs look less free and easy than they might.  If you were already grown up in the early 60s, I'm sure that in comparison with 1950s styles, they were much less constrained.

Apart from the spectre of stockings, I enjoyed it very much and thought it was an excellent exhibition.  Many of the garments on show had been given or lent by the women who had worn them when they were new, and had treasured them ever since.  Often there was a photo of the owner, wearing the garment, perhaps for a special occasion, and often a page from Vogue or Harper's Bazaar, showing how it was originally portrayed in the fashion press.  It was helpful that the prices were translated into modern values&nbsp— in the early 60s, when Mary Quant was designing clothes for her Bazaar shop in Chelsea, the clothes were made in small quantities and were expensive.  It was only later, when her designs were mass-produced, that they became more accessible.

I was, of course, on the lookout for knitting. I know that in 1965 and 1966 Mary Quant produced  two collections of designs for hand knitters (and crocheters) that were published as knitting pattern leaflets — we have many of the leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  I wrote here about the Patons pattern leaflets with Mary Quant designs, and I knitted a Mary Quant short-sleeved jumper from a Lee Target leaflet myself a few years ago, which I showed here.   The exhibition had a case devoted to the knitting patterns, and to the dress patterns for Butterick also designed by Mary Quant.  (My mother made a dress for me from one of the Butterick patterns, in the mid 60s, but the dress is long gone, and I don't have any photos of it, sadly.)

Several of the knitting patterns were on show, and an actual dress, knitted to a Sirdar pattern. It's one of the 1966 collection, with Mary Quant's daisy motif in the background, and also on the pocket of the dress.  (The exhibition label gives  'Candytwist' as the name of the design, but that is actually the name of the Sirdar yarn that the leaflet specifies — unlike Mary Quant's other designs, those in the knitting patterns don't have names.)

Sirdar leaflet 2353
The model on the pattern leaflet is Jill Kennington (now a photographer), who appears on several of the other Quant knitting patterns too — I liked the fact that exhibition names the model in many of the photos that publicised Mary Quant's designs.  There are several models that appear over and over again in knitting pattern leaflets, so you recognise their faces, but usually you don't know their names — it seems a great pity to me that they aren't better known.   As well as modelling for the 1960s leaflets, Jill Kennington appears in a video made for the exhibition, talking about the experience of being a model for Mary Quant, and the contrast with the 1950s, when models were elegant, stately and aloof.

Here's the dress in the exhibition that was knitted to the Sirdar pattern.  (I'm sorry it's not a very good photo, through the glass of the case.)  The dress has been given to the V&A and was knitted by the donor's mother, for the donor, who described it as "a labour of love". 

I looked for knitwear elsewhere in the exhibition, too, but the only knitting I spotted was part of a dress, designed by Mary Quant in 1964.  Most of the dress is made of checked flannel, but the sleeves, collar and belt are hand-knitted in cream wool.

It was featured in Harper's Bazaar magazine in August 1964, where it was described as "Tattersall check flannel shirt dress with knitted sleeves, collar and skinny belt by Mary Quant, 15gns. at Bazaar."  In the magazine, it was modelled by Grace Coddington (now creative director at American Vogue), and there's also a photo of Mary Quant wearing the dress, posed with Vidal Sassoon trimming her fringe.  15 gns. (guineas) is equivalent to £15.75, which doesn't sound a lot, but its value today would be over £320.  As the exhibition notes, it was not a suitable design for mass-production.

But of course, there is plenty of other material in the exhibition, from underwear and make-up to quite formal evening wear.  Some of the early designs, made in small quantities, are beautifully made, with details that would be impossible, I think, to mass produce.  Well worth seeing.  And there's a very well-illustrated book to go with the exhibition, too.  (See top photo. Yes, I bought a copy.)

Friday 31 January 2020

The Wristlet Crochet Ball Holder

The volunteers working on the Knitting & Crochet Guild Collection have selected 100 objects to show the range of the collection — including knitted and crocheted garments, books, pattern leaflets, gadgets, and many other things. Currently, the objects are being posted on social media (the Guild website, the KCG Facebook group here,  and on Instagram, user name @kcguild), one each day.  Today's 'object' (number 10) is a group of holders for knitting wool or crochet cotton, that hang from the wrist on a bracelet, including a crochet ball holder like the one in the photo below; here's some more information about it.

We have several in the collection of the same design, some in their original cardboard box, saying either 'The "Ownlee" Practical Crochet Ball Holder',  or 'The Wristlet Crochet Ball Holder' on the lid. The holders have a patent number (on the base of the flat circular disc) and some of the boxes, like the one on the photo, still contain printed booklets, so it's possible to find out quite a lot about their history.

The "Ownlee" Practical Crochet Ball Holder in its box, with booklet

In case it's not obvious, here's a drawing showing how it's to be used.

The idea was patented in 1912, by George Garratt Kent, who lived in East Finchley (London).  Crochet cotton, then as now, was sold ready wound into balls.  The crochet ball sits on the metal disk, with the bent wire going through centre of the ball.  The holder can swivel freely, hanging from the bangle.  An improvement, patented in 1913, that the disc is not rigidly fixed to the bent wire, but hinged.  George Garrett Kent was born in 1875, and in the 1901 census, he is listed as a wood engraver.  In 1911 and 1939 he is listed as a commercial clerk and then an estimating clerk, but with a mention of illustrating and engraving, so his occupation would have given him the practical skills to design the ball holder and make a prototype.

The crochet ball holder was sold through the Practical Novelty Company of Hatton Garden, London (centre of the UK's diamond trade, though I'm sure the Practical Novelty Company didn't deal in diamonds).  Someone in the company, I imagine, must have written the little booklet in the box, which tells a story of how the holder was invented:

The history of the “Practical" Crochet Ball Holders begins like a fairy tale, with "Once upon a time", but the "time" which this "once" was upon, was only a year or so ago, and this is not a fairy tale, but a true story. A man and his wife went to the seaside for a holiday. "Little drops of water, little grains of sand" got all mixed up with the lady's ball of crochet cotton because, like Humpty Dumpty, it "had a great fall" and rolled about on the beach. Along came Old Mother Hubbard's dog, which had "none" (meaning bones) and playfully attempted to carry the ball home to his empty cupboard. When a big "spider sat down beside her" and frightened the lady away, the man could stand it no longer. He dived into the recesses of his productive British brain, and Jack-Horner-like, pulled out a "plum" which was the original idea of the Practical Wristlet Crochet Ball Holders.
Naturally, the lady was pleased with the clever little contrivance which kept her ball just where she wanted it, and she showed it to her friends. So, like a snowball, which is formed with a handful of snow, and then set rolling down-hill, moving faster and growing bigger every moment, so the "Practical" Crochet Ball Holder started, gaining popularity every day, each sale resulting in the sale of many more, until it has become necessity to everyone who does crochet or knitting work, and is sold in nearly every country on the globe. 
Presumably, it was George Garratt Kent who was at the seaside with his wife, and inspired to invent the crochet ball holder. The booklet goes on to show two related gadgets that were patented jointly by George Garratt Kent and The Practical Novelty Company.

The "Practical Wool" Holder is the result of a demand for something to hold a ball of wool, as wound from the skein. The Table Stand is also an evolution, and appeals to ladies who prefer to keep their ball in place on the table, instead of on the wrist.

I don't think we have either of those in the KCG collection, which suggests that they weren't as successful as the Wristlet Crochet Ball Holder.  The booklet goes on to give prices for the Wristlet Crochet Ball Holder in various materials, from an Electro Plate Bangle with a Nickel Plated Base, at one shilling (5p) — 'quite good enough for ordinary use, at home or at the seaside or country, where one works a great deal out of doors, and the damp air is fatal to ornaments.'   The most expensive is either a Sterling Silver bangle with silver plated base, or Rolled Gold, both at 5 shillings (25p) — for 'those who wish to give a pretty present to those near and dear. Young men find them just the thing for the "dearest girl" and fond parents present one or the other to the young lady daughter who likes all the appointments of her work basket to be dainty and attractive.'   Finally, the booklet mentions the "Ownlee" crochet ball holder, shown in the photo above, which is the cheapest option, at 6½d  (about 3p).  I think that all the ones that we have in the collection are the cheaper ones.  (For comparison with prices of modern gadgets, 5 shillings in 1913 would be worth about £30 today.)

The gadgets were widely advertised in needlecraft magazines, with a warning to beware of inferior imitations.  But I don't think it was advertised after the First World War — a pity, because it's an ingenious idea which would still be useful now for anyone who uses crochet cotton.

Finally, we have a photo in the KCG collection which shows someone using a Wristlet Crochet Ball Holder, or something very like it.  It's a charming portrait.

Thursday 23 January 2020

A Chic Jumper in an Egyptian Design

Woman's Weekly, July 28, 1923
There is a free knit-along in progress on Facebook at the moment (here), hosted by Ellie Reed (@drelliereed on Instagram). She has been working on the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection for the past year, scanning and cataloguing the knitting and crochet patterns in the pre-1950 domestic magazines.  As part of the project, she is running the knit-along, based on a pattern in a 1923 Woman's Weekly. The pattern is for a jumper with a band of camels, pyramids and palm trees in stranded knitting.  It's described as "A Chic Jumper Worked in a New Egyptian Design", and it was probably inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in November 1922, which sparked a huge interest in Egypt and its antiquities.  Ellie has knitted it already, for herself, and very successfully, and she is now knitting another for the knit-along.

The construction of the camel jumper is very simple.  The front and back are knitted in one piece, starting at the front with the colour-work band.  There are no shoulder seams: the front is split either side of the V neck, and at shoulder level the two pieces are rejoined, casting on stitches in the centre for the back neck.  There is no shaping for the waist and armholes: apart from the V neck, the front and back are just a long rectangular piece.  Each sleeve is also a rectangle.  It was common in the 1920s to make the back and front in one piece, and often the sleeves would be worked at the same time as the front and back, so that the only seams would be the side and under arm seams. For instance, here I showed a quite elaborate knit and crochet jumper pattern with that construction.

I plan to change the construction altogether, and knit front and back together, in the round, up to the armholes.  I don't like working stranded knitting flat, I don't like seaming stranded knitting, and I don't like the idea of having the front band knitted bottom to top and the back band knitted top to bottom.  Knitting in the round will fix all that.

The way in which the colour work is incorporated is also unsophisticated, to an extent that would be unacceptable now (certainly, I don't like it).   The most obvious thing that I think needs changing is that the band of camels and pyramids is not centred:  the pattern repeat is 46 stitches, and you cast on 110 stitches for the body, which means that in each band, front and back, you get two complete repeats and part of the third, finishing part way through the pyramids.  To fix that, the number of stitches will have to be a multiple of 46, which is a bit tricky to manage.....

The pattern says that the tension should be 4½ stitches to the inch, on size 6 needles - in modern parlance, 18 stitches to 10 cm. on size 5mm. needles.  The needles seem very big for what seems to be quite fine Shetland wool, possibly a 4-ply (fingering weight) - the whole jumper is supposed to take only 8 ounces of wool (about 200gm.)   I'm ignoring the stated tension - I'll work out my own tension, and then decide how many stitches I need from that (with some adjustment to make it a multiple of 46) .

Another issue concerns the edges  - the lower edge, the sleeve cuffs and the neck band. The jumper is knitted in stocking stitch, which of course will curl, given the chance.  In the original pattern, there are 4 rows of garter stitch at the lower edge, front and back.  In my experience, that's not enough to stop stocking stitch curling up.  So I plan to make a hem at the lower edge. I have so far knitted a swatch to try it, and to see what the camels, pyramids and palm trees look like.

I decided to use something like a 4-ply, and a more usual needle size for that weight.  The yarn I have used is Rowan Felted Tweed in Ginger (a rusty orange), left over from the tam I knitted for Piecework.  The main colour is a silver grey, which I thought was also Felted Tweed, left over from knitting Louisa Harding's Old Moor design. But actually, it's Brooklyn Tweed Loft, left over from my very favourite Boardwalk pullover.  (I like silver grey a lot.)

Here's my swatch for the camel band.  It was knitted in the round, with a steek - the first time I have cut a steek.  I made a picot edge to the hem, also a first.  I'm pleased with how neat it looks.  And the hem lies perfectly flat.  (John points out that Egyptian camels have one hump and not two, but never mind.)

There are narrow bands of stranded knitting around the V neck, on the sleeve cuffs and along the tops of the pockets.  I think the sleeves and pockets will also need hems to make them lie flat.  The band either side of the V neck on the front is especially problematic.  The contrast colour is joined in for the 7 stitches either side of the opening, and Ellie found that it's difficult to make the colour work  neat. And apart from that, the edge will curl - she bound the inside of the neck opening with petersham ribbon to make it lie flat.  I'd rather change the pattern so that the knitting behaves itself without the aid of petersham.  So I knitted a swatch to try out making the bands separately and sewing them either side of the front neck opening.  The colour work could be a bit neater - I'll change it a bit next time.

That may seem like a lot of changes to the pattern, but they are all in the spirit of the original design, I'd say.  I'm not going to knit the jumper for the knit-along, because I've got too many projects already (on the needles, or yarn and pattern all ready to go).  But I do plan to knit it some time soon.   And I shall look exactly like the sketch in the magazine.

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