Friday 31 December 2021

Helps to Knitters 101

The spinners J. & J. Baldwin & Partners of Halifax and John Paton, Son & Co. Ltd. of Alloa merged in 1920 to form Patons & Baldwins, probably the largest manufacturer of knitting wool in the country.  Before the merger, both companies had published knitting patterns:  Baldwin's Beehive Booklets and Paton's Helps to Knitters series.  In spite of the merger, the component companies continued to operate more or less independently for several years, with the two separate series of pattern leaflets.  But eventually, they were merged into a single Helps to Knitters series.  

Some of the (very few) 1920s Helps to Knitters leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection list the current leaflets on the back.  This is the beginning of one such list:

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)  The jump in numbering after 84P marks the start of the new series, which began with Helps to Knitters No.101. 

(Geeky note: The earlier leaflets had been numbered from 1, but it seems that neither series had reached more than 90 leaflets by 1927, so 101 was a good starting point.  A few of the earlier leaflets remained in print for several more years, but were re-issued as Patons & Baldwins' Helps to Knitters, with their original number.  A 'P' was appended if the leaflets had originally been a Paton's Helps to Knitters leaflet; so for instance, there were two different leaflets numbered 69 (formerly a Beehive Booklet) and 69P (formerly a Paton's Helps to Knitters leaflet.))

We know that the new Helps to Knitters launched in 1927, because Beehive Booklets were still being advertised in January of that year, but then in April  Helps to Knitters No. 102 was advertised:  

Ad for Helps to Knitters 102, April 1927

But the most intriguing leaflet in the list is No. 101:  Hand-knitted spats, in various wools.  Whenever I have seen that entry, I have regretted that we don't have the leaflet.  In the 1920s,  men wore spats over shoes, to cover the ankles and top of the shoe, but they were quite formal, city wear - worn for instance by Bertie Wooster and his ilk in the P G Wodehouse stories, and were definitely not knitted.  So what were the Hand-knitted Spats like, and were they for men or women?  

Then, a little while ago I was looking in the excellent Trove archive of Australian newspapers (for something else entirely, of course) when I found the pattern!  It appeared on the women's page of  The Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania) in April 1927, under the headline "Hand-Knitted Spattees".  I have transcribed the pattern below.  
Paton and Baldwin's Helps to Knitters, No. 101M.
Materials. — 5oz. Patons' super Scotch fingering, 4-ply, or Beehive fingering, 4-ply. Two No. 14 steel knitting needles, 9in. wide elastic.
Measurements. — Length from top to heel (with top turned over), 14in.
Work at a tension to produce 10 stitches to the inch.
Cast on 96 stitches.
Work in rib of (K. 2, P. 2) for 4in.
Proceed as follows: —
1st row. — K. 7, P. 2, * K. 6, P. 2. repeat from to the last 7 stitches, K. 7.
2nd row. — K. 1, purl to the last stitch, K. 1.
Repeat these two rows for 3½in., ending with the 2nd row.
Decrease once at each end of the needle in the next and every following 8th row, until 82 stitches remain.
Work 7 rows without shaping.
In the next row; K. 1, K. 2 tog., work in pattern on the next 35 stitches, K. 2 tog., P. 2, K. 2 tog., work in pattern to the last 3 stitches, K. 2 tog., K. 1.
Continue decreasing in this manner in every 8th row until 74 stitches remain.
Decrease once at each end of the needle in every 8th row, until 70 stitches remain. In the next row work on the first 35 stitches, turn.
Work in pattern on these 35 stitches for half an inch, ending with a purl row.
Increase once at the beginning of the needle in the next and every following second row, whilst at the same time increasing once at the end of the needle in the next and every following 6th row, until there are 61 stitches on the needle. 
Purl the following row. Proceed as follows: —
1st row. — K. 1, increase once in the next stitch, work in pattern to the last 24 stitches, turn.
2nd and alternate rows. — Purl to the end of row.
3rd row. — K. 1, increase once in the next stitch, work in pattern to the last 27 stitches, turn. 
5th row. — K. 1, increase once in the next stitch, work in pattern to the last 30 stitches, turn.
7th row. — K-. 1, increase once in the next stitch, work in pattern to the last 33 stitches, turn.
9th row. — K. 1,. increase once in the next stitch, work in pattern to the last 36 stitches, turn.
11th row. — K. 1, increase once in the next stitch, work in pattern to the last 39 stitches, turn.
13th row. — K. 1. increase once in the next stitch, Work in pattern to the last 42 stitches, turn.
14th row. — Purl to the last 2 stitches, turn.
15th row: — Work in pattern to the last 45 stitches, turn.
16th row. — Purl to the last 3 stitches, turn.
17th row. — Work in pattern to the end of the row. Work 4 rows in plain knitting.
Cast off.
Work on the remaining 35 stitches to correspond. 
Work another spat in exactly the same manner.
With a damp cloth and hot iron press carefully.
Sew up the front seams of the foot. Sew up the back seams. Sew elastic at the instep.
I think there's no doubt that this is copied from the Helps to Knitters leaflet 101, even though it calls them spattees and not spats.   It's clear from the instructions that the spattees start off like knee-length socks, with a turn over, but the foot part is not like a sock, and there's something complicated happening, involving short rows.  I did some digging, and found this 1927 ad showing a woman wearing a knitted 'sports coat', a knitted 'stocking cap' (a cap and muffler combined), and 'knitted woollen spattees in a jacqard design'.     

From an ad for Debenham
& Freebody, November 1927,
showing knitted woollen spattees

I think that's what the spats/spattees in Helps to Knitters 101 would look like.  But I was intrigued by the last part of the instructions (labelled as 1st to 17th rows) which use short rows.  After knitting the part which eventually goes round the calf, with a turnover just below the knee, you split the stitches into two lots of 35,  and that's where the short rows come in.  I didn't want to knit a pair of spats, or even just one, but I wanted to find out what the short rows are doing, so I decided to start from the point where you start working on half the stitches.  

The fabric is supposed to be a sort of broken rib, and you are supposed to "work in pattern" as you increase and decrease, but I thought that would be confusing (it would confuse me, anyway) so I used stocking stitch instead.  And to make the shaping given by the short rows clearer, I knitted in stripes of two colours, changing after every two rows. Here's the result:


It's clear from this piece how the spat fits the foot, over a shoe.  The short rows shape the bottom edge of the spat,  The instructions are just to turn at the end of each short row, so there is a row of little holes just above the garter stitch edging - techniques like 'wrap and turn' which prevent the holes weren't in use then.  But in that position, the holes are not very noticeable. 

There seems to have been a brief fashion for wearing wool spattees for country wear, and I found a newspaper article which pinpointed their introduction, in The Scotsman in August 1926:  
Despite the heat and the fact that August has drawn the majority of society folk from London to the moors or Continental holiday resorts, there was quite a number of people who responded to Lady Strathspey's invitation to her "At Home" at the Savoy Hotel on Wednesday. .....

Tea and many delectable dainties for a hot afternoon were particularly acceptable in that cool, shaded room, but Lady Strathspey had arranged a novel interlude for her "At Home" which took the form of a mannequin parade to display the new Highland "spattees" which are to be such a chic adjunct for the sportswoman's wear. They are intended to replace Russian boots, the ugliness of which made them unpopular with most women. The new "spattees" are of shower-proofed wool or tweed and shaped to fit the leg, spat fashion, extending to the knee, with a fancy turnover top. Naturally, the guests were immensely interested in the novelty, and one or two caused no small amusement by trying on the "spattees" then and there. 

Another report of the same "At Home", in the Leeds Mercury, suggests that spattees were not just intended for country wear, but for wet weather in town, too.  The rising hemlines of skirts and dresses in the 1920s had revealed the silk stockings of ladies who had the money to buy such things, and also exposed the stockings to splashes of rain and mud - and the ankles to cold and wet.  

New Ankle Wear.  Many people have complained of the free display of the modern ankle, but even more have complained of its encasement in the unbecoming Russian boot. A cure for both ills was introduced at a reception given by Lady Strathspey in the Savoy Hotel this afternoon. 

This new fashion for protecting silken ankles in wet weather is called the Highland Spattee, and is made of showerproof wool, or wool and cotton, with a fancy top. Being made spat fashion it is easily slipped over the shoe and stockings, and it fits without the heavy creases which make the Russian boots so ungraceful. 

I think that spattees for town wear may have been a very short-lived fashion - the despised Russian boots (knee-length leather boots, I think) would have been much more practical in wet weather.  Suppose you went out for afternoon tea wearing your spattees in the rain, and took them off while you had tea.  Imagine how horrible it would be to put the wet, muddy spattees back on to go home again. But for country wear the fashion might have lasted longer.  And if you wanted a pair of knitted spattees, making your own would have been easy and economical.  The pair shown in the Debenham & Freebody ad, for instance, cost 19 shillings and 6 pence - almost £1.  Taking inflation into account, that would now be worth more than £60.  If they were hand-knitted (it doesn't say), that might be justifiable, but making your own would be much, much cheaper. 

It would still be good to have Helps to Knitters No. 101 as it was published in the U.K., if only to have an illustration, but failing that, the Trove pattern is nearly as good.  And it's fascinating to see that designers in the 1920s were quite able to use short rows to make complicated shapes like these spats.  

P.S.  Since writing this post, I've done some more digging in Trove, and found an ad for Helps to Knitters 101M, from June 1927. 

 This confirms what the spattees looked like as part of a complete outfit (though it shows them with a coloured stripe on the turnover, which doesn't exist in the instructions given earlier in the post).  It also again gives the number as 101M, and not 101.  I now think that this was an Australian version of the  leaflet (M for Melbourne, perhaps, where P&B's Australian base was) and a separate printing might have been necessary to allow the leaflet to be free in Australia, whereas the British version cost 3d.  

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Stitchcraft Number 2

Stitchcraft magazine was published every month for 50 years, from 1932 to 1982, except for a few years during the Second World War when paper shortages meant that it was published less often. The Knitting & Crochet Guild has copies of most issues, and I have put a pdf version of the 2nd issue, from November 1932, on the Guild website.  (The first issue, from October 1932, is there already.)  Members who are interested can download it, and maybe knit something from it. Here I'm outlining what's in this issue. 

Stitchcraft, November 1932

The cover shows that it was "for the modern woman and her home", and covered Knitting, Crochet, Embroidery and Rugwork.  Stitchcraft was owned by Patons & Baldwins, and the main purpose of the magazine was to sell the company's wools.  All the garments shown on the cover are made with P&B wools.  The company at that time also sold embroidery wool (used for the stool top) and rug wool, used for the nursery rug, embroidered in cross-stitch.   

The main image on the cover is the jumper with red and white diamonds - 'a gay colour scheme for grey November days'.  For me, it's the most attractive of the designs in the magazine, and the stranded knitting would make it very warm. 

Another of the cover designs is shown there as striped.  A note with the photo inside the magazine says: "it is a pity that, owing to the fact that blue and grey photograph alike, the striped pattern of this  charming little jumper does not show up in this illustration of it."  Sounds like someone made a mistake there. It certainly looks much more interesting on the cover, where the stripes are clear.  Although the photo doesn't show the two colours, it does show that the stitch pattern creates some texture in the fabric too. 

The other striped garment on the cover is crocheted, in three colours. I think I would like it better if the model's pose in the photo didn't look quite so awkward and uncomfortable - though a short jacket, fitted to the waist, is not something I would want to wear anyway.

The cover also shows a very charming outfit for a little girl - a dress with yellow ducks around the lower edge, and a pair of knickers to wear with it (though actually they look more like rather baggy shorts).   

The top right of the cover shows a V neck pullover and long socks.  These are intended as "Christmas presents for men who are critical!"  Perhaps it sounded rather different in the early 1930s, but I think that anyone who is critical of a hand-knitted Christmas present doesn't deserve it.  (On the other hand, knitting something as a gift for someone without checking first that it's what they want is a bit risky.)  Stitchcraft's suggestions for these undeserving men are, first, a sleeveless pullover. ("A pullover must be conservative in style to make a masculine hit, but a touch of difference in stitch is permissible.")  Then, "golfing husbands and brother will appreciate the extremely well-shaped golfing stockings", which are shaped to fit the calves, rather than relying on the stretchiness of the knit. Finally, there's a nice-looking plain cardigan with pockets, in Shetland wool (not shown on the cover).  "A rather bright navy blue is the colour that well-dressed men are choosing for their cardigans this winter."

There are several other knitting and crochet patterns inside the magazine.  The one below looks quite practical, because it's knitted in thick wool (as long as you don't mind a jacket that finishes at the waist).  "Paris sponsors short, snug-fitting jackets for winter walks. This particularly fascinating example is given especial cachet by wide ribbing, gleaming clip fasteners and the casual chic of a large soft collar. To go with it, there is a cap in the turban shape that is so smart and so universally becoming. The thickness of the attractive wool the coat and cap are knitted in make them particularly quick work."

Elsewhere in the magazine, there is an ad for the clip fasteners used on the jackets, declaring "Buttons are finished".  A bit premature, I think.  

The mention of Paris is backed up by a report by Stitchcraft's Paris correspondent, on the hand-knits shown by the Paris designers.  The sketch below shows two designs by Jean Patou, a ribbed cardigan and a zipped pullover, both worn with leather belts. 

Although it mainly carried patterns for Patons & Baldwins products, Stitchcraft gave instructions for making things in other manufacturers' (non-wool) products, too.  From this issue, you could make a "Sunshine set for morning tea".  It's intended for tea in bed: a tray cloth, tea cosy and napkin in yellow linen, with filet crochet trimmings, worked in Ardern's Star Sylko crochet cotton.  And there was a cookery page too - " 'Quick to Make' Cakes for November Teas".   At a time when Patons & Baldwins leaflets cost 2d if there was only one pattern in the leaflet, and up to 6d if there were several, it was very good value for 6d.  

Tuesday 2 March 2021

A 1940s Face

If you look at a lot of old knitting patterns and magazines, as I do, some of the models start to become familiar.  In a few cases, I can put a name to the face - for instance, Patricia Squires, who often appeared on the front cover of Woman's Weekly in the 1950s, modelling one of the knitting patterns in the magzine.  Some models are famous for other reasons - notably Roger Moore, who was a knitwear model briefly in 1952 before his acting career took off, and I have occasionally seen Joanna Lumley on 1960s knitting patterns.    But usually, these familiar faces are anonymous.

One of the models on 1940s knitting patterns is particularly noticeable because she usually wore her hair in a very distinctive heart-shaped style.  It reminds me of a medieval headdress (called I think a hennin, or possibly an escoffin).

Bestway 1480

She appeared on several Bestway leaflets in the late 1940s, and the hairstyle varies slightly, though her hair is always long, and almost always swept up.  (How would you get it to stay put without copious amounts of hairspray, which I'm sure didn't exist in the 1940s?)

Bestway 1326

Bestway 1685

She sometimes appeared on pattern leaflets for knitting wool brands such as Copley's.... 

Copley's 1579

.... La Laine, by Bairns-Wear .....

La Laine 2178

.... and Patons & Baldwins. The leaflet below was advertised in 1943.

Patons & Baldwins 875

She appeared in magazines, such as Woman's Weekly, too. 

Woman's Weekly, 6th February 1943

I kept seeing images of this woman, without knowing who she was.  But by chance, I found out some time ago, from a magazine in the British Library.   (This was of course in the Olden Days, when you could go to London for a few days and stay with friends. And visit museums!  And spend a day in the British Library!)  I've been collecting together some images of her since then, to show in this post.   

Woman and Home in July 1944 showed a photo of her wedding, with the caption:

"Do you recognise in this lovely bride the Joan Felce whom you have so often admired in our knitting pages?   Now you see her photographed with her bridegroom, Lieut. D. C. Nurse, of the Royal Marines - a handsome pair. "

Joan Felce must have been aware that her hairstyle had a medieval look, because it goes on to say: 

"The beautiful, medieval-style gown was designed by the bride herself, and she had it in readiness for three years awaiting the bridegroom's return from Overseas.  So this is a story of patience and faith with a very happy ending!"

We are also told: "Her bridesmaids were two fellow Service women from the W.R.N.S." - the Women's Royal Naval Service, or Wrens.  From the end of 1941, single women could be conscripted into war service, and many joined the women's branches of the Army, Navy and Air Force.  

I don't know how she managed to carry on with occasional modelling work while being a Wren. I assume that she was based in England - some Wrens would have been doing clerical work at the Admiralty in London.  She may even have been able to get leave, if modelling was considered important morale-boosting work, though that seems unlikely. In the summer of 1944, she appeared in a very appropriate feature in Woman magazine, which I found on the same visit to the British Library. It was a double page article "Woman plans a treat for a Service girl", and begins "When a Service girl comes home on leave she looks forward to a very special list of treats, her holiday aims are the little homely things which she can't get in Service life and which she hankers for all the more. She's been doing her part in the fight - let's see that the rest she so much deserves is the kind a Service girl would enjoy most of all."  In the rest of the article, Joan Felce is shown enjoying the prescribed treats - meeting her friends on the first evening, breakfast in bed, a picnic tea in the garden, a date with her boyfriend (though that wouldn't be possible if he was serving overseas, as Joan's fiancĂ© had been).   

Most of the pattern leaflets I showed earlier were published after the end of the war.  But I have not seen her on any leaflets published after the late 1940s, and I think that she must have then retired from modelling.  (Douglas Nurse had, happily, survived the war.)  I am pleased to have been able to put a name to one familiar face, though many others remain anonymous. 

Copies of all the patterns shown above are free to members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild - email to ask.

Monday 22 February 2021

Leach's Newest Jumpers

 I don't know who Mrs Leach was, or if she actually existed, but a lot of magazine titles were published under her name. A monthly magazine called Mrs Leach's Fancy Work Basket was published from 1886 until (according to the British Library catalogue) 1910. The first issue is headed "Practical Lessons in Art Needlework, Crewel and Crochet Work, Knitting and Embroidery". (The first volume of the Fancy Work Basket is available online from here, though be warned that it's nearly 500 pages.)  

By the 1920s, other titles had proliferated, including Leach's Home Needlework (from 1915 to 1929) and Leach's Sixpenny Knitting Series (1920 to 1935).    I wrote about two issues of the Sixpenny Knitting Series here and here.

Leach's Newest Jumpers

There were also other publications under the Leach's umbrella that weren't issued as part of a series.  One of these, Leach's Newest Jumpers, is in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection and I have scanned it to create a pdf version for Guild members.  The jumpers in it were 'newest' in the early 1920s; the publication isn't dated, but I think it was published in 1921 or 22.  

It is always exciting when we can identify the pattern used to create an item in the Guild collection.  One of the favourite garments in the collection is a filet crochet  jumper with a design of butterflies worked on it, and we realised last year that pattern that was used to make it is one of the cover designs in Leach's Newest Jumpers. The yarn specified in the pattern is a mercerised cotton, though we have assumed that the one in the collection is in rayon. 

Butterfly filet crochet jumper

There are another ten patterns in the magazine - some knitted, some crocheted, some both.  The blue jumper on the cover is knitted in wool, though the colours suggested in the pattern are sulphur-yellow, with an edging of smoke-grey rabbit wool (angora) at neck and wrist. The description says that "Shetland shawl patterns are to the fore in the jumper world just now."  

It's not easy to see in the photo, but as well as the lacy basque, there is a panel of feather-and-fan just below the square neck, and the lower parts of the sleeves are done in the same stitch - the Shetland shawl pattern mentioned in the description.  It looks very effective, though I'm not sure how easy it would be to get an even tension over both stocking stitch and lace. 

The green jumper on the cover, with a "ribbed shoulder yoke", is also knitted in wool. The overall style is very unlike the others in the magazine, and unlike our usual impression of 1920s jumpers. The collar, cuffs and bottom edge are finished with a crocheted trimming in gold thread.  Although a crochet edging might look well on the collar (which is in single rib), I think on the bottom edge and the cuffs it would interfere with the stretchiness of the rib - and gold thread on a woolly jumper seems out of place.  

Of the other patterns, one I particularly noticed is partly knitted and partly crocheted, all in art. silk (artificial silk, or rayon).  

I think it's an attractive design, in a very 1920s kind of way, but I would hate to make it. Quite apart from the fact that I am not a crocheter, it requires making a lot of different pieces and sewing them together - I dislike any sewing up in my knitting, and prefer patterns that don't have any seams.   For this jumper, you have to knit seven strips of stocking stitch, shown in the diagram below. 

Then you make 6 strips of crochet.   (That's one fewer than the number of strips of knitting, because the crochet around the waist is only one strip, whereas for some reason the knitted basque is to be made in two pieces.)  Then they are all sewn together, and finally the crocheted strip around the bottom edge is added - mercifully this is crocheted directly onto the knitted basque rather than being made separately and then sewn on.   

One reason that I took special notice of this design is that it is very like a rayon jumper in the Guild collection, below.  

The crocheted strips with zigzags of bobbles are very similar indeed, but there are also some obvious differences.  The jumper in the collection has two extra pieces of crochet in the centre of the front and the back; an extra strip of knitting, with a narrow crochet edging, on the end of each sleeve; no crocheted edging on the bottom edge of the basque; and a drawstring waist.   Perhaps the similarity is just coincidental, and perhaps there was another pattern that is the original of the Guild jumper - there were many different needlecraft magazines being published at the time, and there might have been some overlap, deliberate or otherwise, between patterns in different publications.  But another possibility is that the person who made the jumper changed the pattern, perhaps to make it wider, with longer sleeves. And drawstring waists were so common in the 1920s that adding one is something that anyone following the pattern might have done. 

The final pattern that I have picked out is also a mixture of knitting and crochet, but much simpler.  I think it's an appealing design - it wouldn't look too odd today. 

The description is: "A simple model for the jumper novice who wishes to start upon an easy but none the less effective design.  Worked in jumper yarn [i.e. wool] of pale blue or champagne, it is indeed a covetable garment for holiday, home, and office wear. Note the square neck, the long sleeve, and the side opening in the crochet basque."   

For me, these are the most interesting designs in the magazine.  But members of the Guild can download the pdf of the whole magazine from the members' area of the website,  and decide for themselves. 

Monday 8 February 2021


During the past year, while we've been at home doing not very much, I have been adding to my small collection of knitting needle gauges.  I now have half a dozen that are in the shape of a beehive, and were made for the spinners Patons & Baldwins.  I have known for a long time that the beehive was originally the trademark of the Baldwins part of the company, and this post pulls together some of the history of the trademark. 

J. & J. Baldwin was a spinning company set up in Halifax in the late 18th century - in 1785, according to their later advertising.  At some time during the 19th century, the company started to specialise in knitting wool, and began to use the name 'Beehive' for some of their wools.   

The first mention of Beehive wools that I have found so far is in an ad in the Liverpool Mercury in 1879.  The ad is for a shop, Frisby, Dyke & Co., who had just had their first delivery of J. and J. Baldwin's wools, including "The REGISTERED BEEHIVE SOFT KNITTING WOOL, put up for convenience of purchase in 2 oz. hanks."   Towards the end of the 19th century, J. & J. Baldwin started to advertise directly to knitters, in various needlecraft magazines.  They began to use Beehive as the brand name for all their wools, and to use a trademark showing a beehive.

Ad in Weldon's Practical Needlework, 1890s

The Beehive trademark with two bees and two Bs (presumably for Baldwins and Beehive) varies a little.  In most versions, there seem to be roses on the left of the beehive, and thistles on the right. But in some versions, like the one shown below, there also seem to be shamrocks below the hive, and some rather blobby flowers to the right which might be intended to be daffodils.  The flowers in that case would represent the four countries of the United Kingdom.

From an ad in The Lady's World Fancy Work Book, 1910. 

In 1920, J. & J. Baldwin and Partners merged with John Paton, Son and Co. of Alloa, to form Patons & Baldwins.  (You might feel that there should be some apostrophes in there, and I'd agree with you, but the name of the company was generally written like that.)   John Paton and Son was also a long-established company, though not as old as J. & J. Baldwin.  Its trademark was a hand grasping a rose, and Patons and Baldwins continued to use both trademarks until World War 2.  

The panel above, showing the Paton's rose and a simplified Baldwin's beehive, is taken from a 1930s pattern leaflet.    Both trademarks continued to be used on pattern leaflets until paper shortages during World War 2 resulted in a change of design so that leaflets could be produced in a much smaller size.  

Now to needle gauges.  Most of my information on needle gauges in general comes from Sheila Williams' excellent book, The History of Knitting Pin Gauges.  

I have two metal beehive-shaped gauges, one shown above.  Sheila Williams suggests that it might have been made to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the merger of the two companies, since it shows both the Patons rose and the Baldwins beehive.  But as both trademarks were used together from 1920 until WW2, I think it could have been issued at any time during that period.  

It's hard to show the detail of the design of the other metal beehive gauge in a photo, because it is shiny, so I'm showing instead the drawing in a Patons & Baldwins brochure, The Red Book, published in 1935.  According to The History of Knitting Pin Gauges, beehive needle gauges were mentioned in an edition of Woolcraft in the 1920s, but I haven't tracked that down yet. This design of gauge may have been in use for a long time in the 1920s and 1930s - it is certainly much more commonly offered on eBay than the other metal beehive gauge.  

From 'The Red Book', 1935. 

Patons & Baldwins evidently found the beehive shape appropriate for needle gauges -  perhaps inspired by the bell-shaped gauges that were very common.  But they were also adopting the beehive as the trademark for the whole company, and Beehive as a brand name for the company's wools, and for other products such as knitting needles.      

From Stitchcraft, March 1936

The other beehive gauges in my little collection were produced after the end of World War 2.  A new Patons & Baldwins trademark began to appear in ads during 1946: it has 'P & B' within the outline of a beehive.  

From Home Notes, September 1946. 

Here's a clearer version of the trademark, used on a placard to be displayed in a yarn shop. 

There are two different designs of needle gauge in plastic that show this trademark.  One, which I think is the earlier form, is the same shape as the pre-war metal gauge, but smaller, and measures the same range of needle sizes.   

 I think this gauge may date from the late 1940s, when the new trademark was first introduced.  

The other plastic gauge is smaller still, and the smallest size of needle that it measures is size 14 (2mm.).  This is also the smallest size measured by modern gauges, and is the finest knitting needle size commonly sold.  I would guess that this gauge dates from the 1950s. 

Those are the six beehive needle gauges that I have in my own collection - the two metal ones, and two each of the plastic designs.  Another object in the shape of the Patons & Baldwins beehive was introduced in the late 1940s - the Beehive wool holder. 

I wrote a post about the wool holder here.  The design was registered in 1948, and was probably in production for many years after that.  It has a needle gauge in the base, but I don't have one in my own collection, mainly because I'm only collecting gauges which  are principally needle gauges and not something else, like a knitting needle box. (Also, beehive wool holders are quite expensive - they are attractive objects, and evidently a lot of knitters would like to have one.)   The wool holder in the photo is in the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.    

In the mid 1960s,  Patons & Baldwins changed their image again, and dropped the Baldwins name from their advertising and pattern leaflets.  But the beehive continued to be used as the Patons trademark.  Below, you can see it on a pattern leaflet with a Mary Quant design, published in 1965.    

Patons leaflet 9531

 Patons still uses the beehive as the company trademark today.  I think it's remarkable that the beehive symbol on the label of every ball of Patons yarn has been used in its various forms since the 19th century.  And it commemorates a company founded more than two hundred years ago.  That's a lot of history in my beehive needle gauges.  

Added in July 2023:

I have just been scanning "Knitting from A to Z", a booklet published by Patons & Baldwins in 1952, with information and advice for knitters, as well as illustrations of many of the P&B knitting patterns that were current at that time.  Under G for Gauge appears an illustration of a Beehive needle gauge: 

The gauge shown in the booklet must have been the one that was on sale in 1952, and matches the plastic gauge shown above in red and green.  The smaller plastic beehive gauge (shown above in pink and pastel green) must have been produced later, though I'd guess still on the 1950s.   

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Golden Eagle

Since last March, and the first UK lockdown, I have written very little on this blog. It's not that I don't have anything to say - the problem is summoning up the mental energy to say it.  And writing a blog post on some aspect of knitting history often takes quite a lot of work.  I'll try to do better this year (though it's already more than halfway through January!) but I shan't make any promises. 

 I'll start with a fairly easy post - lots of images, not too many words. Golden Eagle was a brand of knitting wools that was launched in the early 1930s, and I have been putting together an illustrated catalogue of the Golden Eagle knitting patterns in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  The catalogue will go on the Guild's website, so that members who are interested in vintage knitting patterns will be able to ask for copies.  Here I have picked out a small selection.  

The leaflets issued by Golden Eagle were numbered consecutively, as far as I can see, starting  at 1. (You might think that that is the obvious way to number knitting patterns, but actually most spinners did something different, e.g. starting at 101 and restarting when they got to 999.)  The first one that we have in the Guild collection is number 16 - a sleeveless V-neck pullover, with cables.  

Golden Eagle 15

Although it's a common type of garment, the construction of this one is unusual - the back and front are knitted in one piece, starting with the front rib and finishing with the back rib, so that there are no shoulder seams. 

From the ads for Golden Eagle wools, there were some very attractive and interesting patterns published in the 1930s, but we have very few of them in the Guild collection.  Here's one (below), number 84,  for Golden Eagle "Hastenit" wool.  It was a thick yarn, knitted at a tension of 18 stitches and 26 rows to 4 inches (10 cm.) on size 5 (5.5mm.) needles - possibly equivalent to a modern Aran weight.  The collar effect is actually a yoke, edged with darker wool.  

Golden Eagle 84

Golden Eagle 483, c, 1939 

Another favourite pattern of mine is number 483.  I like the cables on the front, which I guess have a function in shaping the front as well as being decorative.  The collar and cuffs are knitted in a contrast colour, and the pattern gives instructions for long sleeves as well as short.  The pattern was published around 1938-9. 

Golden Eagle 549

The design in leaflet 549 is called "Seawaves".  The body and sleeves are knitted sideways - the waist rib is knitted first, and joined on as the rest of the body is knitted.  There are little curls ('pinwheels') of wool around the neck and sleeves, to look like waves - they are made by casting on extra stitches and casting off again 3 rows later.  I'm not keen on the design personally, but some people who have seen it like it a lot, so I shouldn't judge. 

Golden Eagle 604

Like most other knitting wool spinners, Golden Eagle produced patterns for garments for service men and women during World War 2.   Leaflet 604 has patterns for 'Knitted Comforts' for women - gumboot stockings, mittens, a 'great coat scarf' and a balaclava helmet.  I don't think it's possible to look good in a balaclava helmet with ear-flaps, but I'm sure it was very necessary and welcome at the time.   

Golden Eagle 691

Leaflet 691 is also a wartime leaflet, for a jumper with a lacy pattern on the body, cleverly integrated with a broad rib, which is used plain on the (long or short) sleeves. The leaflet was published after clothes rationing was introduced in 1941 - it has a headline inside 'Golden Eagle Knitting Wools Economise Coupons And Cash', which was used on their leaflets during the rationing period.  I think this one dates from 1943-4. 

Golden Eagle 910

After the war, Golden Eagle started to introduce colour leaflets, as many other spinners did - and the designs often incorporate colour work, to take advantage of the colour printing.  Leaflet 910 was advertised in Vogue Knitting Book in 1949.

Golden Eagle 892

Leaflet 892 was probably also published in 1949.  The design is called a "New Look" Jumper - presumably after Christian Dior's New Look introduced in 1947, though it is not much like the silhouette we usually associate with that, of rounded shoulders, tiny waist and full skirt.  I guess that the very full sleeves are the main 'new' feature - they are knitted in stocking stitch, using odd needles, one size 9 (3.75mm.) and the other size 3(6.5mm.).  

Golden Eagle 922

Meanwhile, the men were not entirely forgotten, though many of the men's patterns are for the ubiquitous V-neck sleeveless pullover, as in leaflet 16 at the top.  (I often wonder how many V-neck pullovers one person needs.) But occasionally there are designs for other garments for men - No. 922 shows a rather nice cabled sweater, a re-issue of an earlier design that had appeared in a leaflet for Service Woollies for sailors which was advertised in 1940.   

Golden Eagle 879

Golden Eagle also produced children's patterns, including this very cute coat and bonnet, with a design of blue rabbits - another of the post-war colour leaflets. 

Golden Eagle Couturier Model No. 1

In 1952, there was a batch of four 'Couturier Model' leaflets (though the couturier, if there actually was one, isn't named}.  I find this design rather disturbing, because there is so much knitting in it - a full-length, full-skirted  dressing gown in 2-ply!   I wonder if anyone ever knitted it - apart from the sample knitter, who was paid to do it.  The model, Patricia Squires, looks as glamourous as ever. 

Golden Eagle 1130

Other Golden Eagle patterns of the 1950s are less daunting.  Above is an elegant twin set from 1954-5.  The jumper is beaded, and the matching bolero has a deep beaded band around the lower edge. 

Golden Eagle 1240

The Golden Eagle brand seems to have been discontinued in 1957.  The last ad I have seen is for leaflet 1232, which appeared in Vogue Knitting Book in that year, and the latest leaflet in the Guild collection is number 1240 - quite a smart design, in a 1950s kind of way, even if it apparently makes you want to stick a bunch of flowers in your ear.

It seems that Golden Eagle knitting wool was in production for about 25 years - quite a brief life, compared to some brands such as Patons and Sirdar.  I'll perhaps write more about the history of the brand in a future post.  Meanwhile, if you are a member of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, and would like a copy of any the leaflets shown here, email requests to  And you will be able to see the catalogue of other Golden Eagle leaflets in the collection in the members' area of the Guild website in a few weeks. 
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