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.
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