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.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

2019 Books

I belong to two book groups, and for several years now I have been making Christmas cards for the members of  one of them, showing the books we have read during the year.  I give them out at the book group Christmas dinner in December.  Here's the 2019 card:

We read:

  • The Collini Case, by Ferdinand von Schirach
  • A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
  • Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss
  • The Golden Age, by Joan London
  • The Silence of the Girls, by Pat Barker
  • Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, by Alan Sillitoe
  • Pereira Maintains, by Antonio Tabucchi
  • Take Nothing With You, by Patrick Gale
As usual, there were several books that I'm sure I would never have read (never even heard of, probably) without the book group: The Collini CaseA Gentleman in Moscow, Pereira Maintains and The Golden Age The Collini Case deals with the long shadow of the Nazi era in Germany -  Ferdinand von Schirach's grandfather was the head of the Hitler Youth, and prosecuted for war crimes at Nuremberg. A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of a wealthy aristocrat who is confined to house arrest in a Moscow hotel after the Russian Revolution, and recounts how he survives and makes a life in straitened circumstances.  (It's going to be turned into a TV series with Kenneth Branagh, I read.)  Pereira Maintains is set in Lisbon in 1938, under the fascist dictatorship of Salazar - Pereira is a journalist writing about cultural topics and trying to stay out of politics, until finally he is forced to rebel.  The Golden Age is named after a children's hospital in Australia in the 1950s, where polio cases are sent for rehabilitation.  The main character and his parents have arrived in Australia as survivors of the Holocaust, and the novel also deals with the parents adjusting to their new lives.  I enjoyed all of those, and I think the rest of the group did, too.  The Silence of the Girls was my choice, a retelling of the Iliad from the point of view of one of the women who is awarded to Achilles as a prize, after her home is destroyed by the Greeks, and all her menfolk slaughtered. A really good book, though in our discussion we got into an argument about whether (in the world of the book) the Greek gods actually exist and do things or whether the apparently supernatural events are only supernatural to Briseis, because she believes in the gods.  (It's a work of fiction, so the gods are allowed to exist in the book, in my view, and can preserve corpses from decomposition, or whatever else they want to do.)  

I think I read Saturday Night & Sunday Morning a long time ago, and I'm sure I saw the film, but re-reading it now, I didn't like it.  I couldn't understand the main character - he seems to be unpleasant to people for no good reason, and then suddenly decides to get married.  But other members of the group did enjoy it, so it's just me.   I had read and enjoyed Patrick Gale's book A Place called Winter, inspired by his own great-grandfather's life, and enjoyed Take Nothing With You, too.  It's based partly on Patrick Gale's own experiences of learning to play the cello (not something I knew anything about).  The title is from the protagonist's treatment for thyroid cancer, being isolated in a lead-lined room having taken a radioactive iodine pill - he is advised not to take anything he values in with him, because it will become radioactive.  My husband has had the same treatment - reading a fictionalised account of it was a slightly odd experience. 

This year I decided to make cards for the members of my other book group, too.  (We don't have a book group Christmas dinner, so hasn't been the same prompt to distribute cards, so I  have made them New year cards.)  I used the same format - both groups read eight books in 2019. 

We read:

  • Elmet, by Fiona Mosley
  • Milkman, by Anna Burns
  • If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin
  • The Sealwoman's Gift, by Sally Magnusson
  • Transcription, by Kate Atkinson
  • The Way of All Flesh, by Ambrose Parry
  • The Noise of Time, by Julian Barnes
  • The Red-Haired Woman, by Orhan Pamuk

In the other group, we avoid reading books that any of us ahs read before (unless we decide to revisit a book that most of us read a long time ago, like Cold Comfort Farm or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), but this group doesn't have that rule, so I had already read The Sealwoman's Gift - in fact it appeared on last year's Christmas card for the first group.  It's a fascinating story, based on real historical events.  Some of the other books by well-known authors that had received good reviews were a bit disappointing.  But Milkman (that  won the Man Booker prize in 2018) was worth reading, and I might not have chosen to tackle it but for the book group.   The Way of All Flesh (Ambrose Parry) is not in the same league, but we enjoyed it.  It's a detective story set in 19th century Edinburgh.  "Ambrose Parry" is actually two people, a novelist who has written many other books and his wife who is an anaesthetist.  Several of the characters in The Way of All Flesh did actually exist, including James Simpson, an Edinburgh obstetrician who introduced chloroform as an anaesthetic, so as well as being a good read, the book is very informative about the early development of anaesthesia.  As with other well-written historical novels, you feel that you are being educated as well as entertained. 
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