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.)
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