Friday 27 October 2023

An (Almost) A to Z of Knitting Needle Brands

Back in 2014, the volunteers working on the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection had a week of concentrated work trying to sort out the hundreds (or thousands) of knitting needles that had been given to the collection but weren't at that point organised in any way.  We called it Hook and Needle Week, but in fact we didn't get beyond the straight, single-pointed needles until much later. The photo gives you an idea of the task we were faced with. 

During the week, one of the other volunteers decided to try to put together a set of needle brands for every letter from A to Z.  It wasn't quite possible, but almost.  This September, I gave a talk on the collection at the Guild Convention weekend, and showed an A to Z set of needles as part of the talk.  I have decided to similar needle alphabet here. 

A is for....  Actually, lots of needle brands, the most obvious being Aero - still the most common brand if you look at the knitting needles on sale in charity shops, although new Aero needles have not been on sale for many years. But here A is for a much rarer brand, Anlaby

Anlaby needles, size 4, 10 inch 

Although it is almost invisible, the needles have ANLABY REGD. 4  engraved or stamped into the plastic, and then filled with some sort of ink or paint that has almost worn off.  It is white on pink, anyway, so can't have been very obvious even when new.  Anlaby was a brand of knitting wool in the 1930s - I only know that because we have two Anlaby pattern leaflets (not in very good condition), one shown below.  

The company making Anlaby wools would not have made the needles themselves  - I imagine that they were commissioned from a knitting needle manufacturer, for sale in shops that sold the wool, as a way of promoting the brand. 

B is for Bonette - full marks for making the brand and size easily visible on the needle.   Bonette needles were advertised in 1957, though they may have been made much earlier.  They were made by a London company, and I think only made plastic needles - whereas the traditional needle manufacturers around Redditch were originally metal workers.  The name may have been intended to suggest that the needles were similar to bone (only better, presumably).  Bone was a common material for knitting needles and crochet hooks until the 1920s, when it was replaced by the early plastics. (See here for an account of how bone needles were made).  The cream colour of this pair may be intended to reinforce that, but Bonette needles were made in other colours too, though perhaps later, when bone needles were no longer made.  

Bonette needles, size 2, 12 inch 

Cronit was a brand of rayon for crochet and knitting (hence the name) in the 1940s and 50s.  Like the Anlaby needles, the Cronit needles would have been made for the Cronit company, to promote the brand. 

Cronit needles, size 8, 10 inch

These needles may have the brand name and size marked on the needles, but if so, the marking is completely invisible.  They are only identifiable because of the paper label. 

D is for Duralite.  The paper label reads Shrimpton's Duralite, so this was a brand name of Alfred Shrimpton & Son, a long-established needle manufacturing company in Redditch.  The needles are coated aluminium. 

Duralite needles, size 13, 10 inch

They have a flattened area towards the head, embossed with Duralite on one side and the size on the other.   There are Duralite crochet hooks in the collection, too, which are marked in the same way. 

I know nothing about Ezeenit needles.  We have a single needle in the collection, along with a very discoloured pair - the photo shows both ends of the single needle. It is rather soft plastic, which makes it very bendy, though in its favour, it is clearly marked.    

Ezeenit needle, size 9, 12 inch

Flora MacDonald
was a brand name of Abel Morrall Ltd., needle manufacturers in Redditch.  The name was originally used only for sewing needles, but then applied also to these unusual knitting needles.  

Flora MacDonald needles, size 7, 12 inch

The needle is only the stated size (7, i.e. 4.5 mm.) for a short length (about 4 inches) at the pointed end, the rest is much thinner.  Oddly, the narrow part of the needle is steel, while the thicker part (and the head) are some other (non-magnetic) metal.  Possibly it is an aluminium alloy, since knitting needle ads sometimes claimed that pure, uncoated aluminium could discolour knitting wool.  A size 7 needle entirely in steel would be heavy, as well as liable to rust, but I don't know why the Flora MacDonald needles were not made in the aluminium alloy throughout - as Stratnoid needles were, for instance.  It seems a bit of a gimmick - and I don't think that Flora MacDonald knitting needles were current for very long.  

The name Flora MacDonald name is stamped into the head of each needle. The thicker part of the needles is stamped with the size, and a registered design number, 703016, which dates it to 1924. 

Registered design no. 703016

The only pair of Golden Spinning Wheel needles in the Guild collection are a slightly translucent yellow (or gold) - I assume in reference to the name. 

Golden Spinning Wheel needles, size 5, 15 inch

I searched for "Golden Spinning Wheel" in the newspapers in FindMyPast,  and found a few ads for the shops of John Smith & Co. (Wools) Ltd. from the 1920s and later.  Further searching found this article on the company.  The main shop was evidently in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, though later there were shops all over Scotland, and in England too.  The Sauchiehall shop had a golden spinning wheel as its shop sign.  The shops sold knitting wools, as well as ready-made clothing, and many other things as well.   I don't know for certain that these Golden Spinning Wheel needles were made for sale in the John Smith shops, but I think it's very likely. 

H is for Hella.  (You would think that it would be fairly easy to find knitting needles brands beginning with H, but this is the only pair in the Guild collection.) The needles are metal - not steel, so I guess an aluminium alloy.  I don't know anything else about them.   
Hella needles, size 10, 12 inch

I is for Ivoree.  (I guess now it would be spelt Ivori - equally annoying.)  We only have one Ivoree needle in the collection.  It is cream plastic,  presumably to imitate ivory, but it is not as smooth as ivory, or bone either.  

Ivoree needle, size 7, 12 inch

To represent J, I have chosen Jaeger needles.   

Jaeger needles, size 7

The Jaeger company started selling knitting wools in the 1930s, along with pattern booklets produced in association with Leach's, who published many needlecraft booklets at that time.  I wrote about one of the Jaeger pattern booklets in the collection here. The lettering on the needles dates them to the 1930s as well. 

K is for Kirven.  No idea about these. 

Kirven needles, size 8, 12 inch

Ladybird needles are white plastic, like several of the other plastic needles shown here.  We only have one pair of Ladybird needles, so I don't know if they were made in other colours too. 

Ladybird needles, size 5, 12 inch 

As well as the paper label, the needles themselves are marked, not very clearly.   

I searched (as usual) in the newspapers in FindMyPast, and found a couple of ads from 1935 mentioning Ladybird needles.  The ads were for Anchor Tricoton knitting & crochet cotton, but had a footnote in small print reading 'Always use Milward's "Ladybird" Knitting Pins and "Archerite" Crochet Hooks.'  

I think that our Ladybird knitting needles are the ones mentioned in the ads, though Milward's was one of the big needle manufacturers based in Redditch - making plastic needles would have been a significant departure for Milward's at that time. 

In the 1960s and later, there was a Ladybird brand of knitting wool associated with the Ladybird children's clothing made by the Pasold company, but I'm sure our needles are not from that time.  

I've just mentioned Milward's and we next have Milward Disc needles for the letter M.  

Milward Disc needles, size 14, 12 inch

These are grey coated aluminium needles, introduced in the late 1950s, and in production for many years.  A 1961 ad explained their advantages: 'Size recognition is easy and immediate, with the bold, clear, permanent numbers on "DISC" Knitting Pins. And with the plastic "KEEP", provided free with every pair, pairs of a size are kept together with no trouble at all.'  Milward Disc needles were produced in the same design for a long time, and were still current when metric sizes were introduced in the 1970s.  The larger sizes were made in plastic, also grey.  Milward Disc needles are still very common in charity shops.  

With M, we have finished the first half of the alphabet.  That's enough for one post - I'll finish the A-Z in the next.   

Wednesday 6 September 2023

The P&B Family Album

Patons & Baldwins became very good at advertising their wares by the 1930s.  They were publishing about 100 'Helps to Knitters' pattern leaflets every year, intended of course to sell their wools, and advertised the patterns widely.  They also published a series of free booklets, each showing many of the patterns currently available.  An imaginative example of  these booklets is the Family Album, published in 1936. 

It shows a fictional family of Mother, Father and four children.  The eldest, Priscilla, is engaged to be married; another girl, Sue, is old enough to drive a car.  Then Timothy, aged about 11, and Bill, who is a toddler.  They all wear woollies made, naturally, in Patons & Baldwins wools.  Priscilla and Sue knit their own, while Mother knits for the others.  

The six characters, plus the fiancé (David), are shown in scenes of everyday life, wearing their woollies. Here are Sue and two of her friends at the country club.  

Jumpers with collars seem to have been in fashion for women in 1936.  Here is the pattern for one of the jumpers.  

P&B 2998

Elsewhere in the album, Sue is wearing another jumper in Beehive Wool Cord:

P&B 2104

Wool cord was a thicker version of Beehive Wool String, described as 'pure wool looking just like string' - perhaps very tightly spun?  In the two jumper patterns here for Wool Cord, it's knitted on size 6 (5mm.) needles, so probably at least as thick as modern double knitting.  

Priscilla and David don't go out much, because they are saving to get married, so instead they stay at home and make a rug together.  Patons & Baldwins sold rug wool, as well as rug patterns, and many of their brochures feature rugs as well as knitwear.  

Like the other men (and Timothy) in the Album, David's knitwear isn't very interesting - they all wear V-neck sleeveless pullovers, though Timothy in one scene is shown wearing a V-neck jumper with long sleeves.  (The V neck is to show the tie, which was apparently compulsory, even for casual wear.) 

Meanwhile, Mother is shown having a morning cup of tea in bed.

How does she manage that - there's a toddler in the house!  And I imagine that Father has gone off to manage his bank - he might possibly have made the cup of tea first, but I can't imagine that he is looking after 'Bill the Baby' while Mother relaxes in bed.  But my reading of Agatha Christie and other 1930s fiction tells me that a bank manager was a well-respected member of the community, and could probably afford a maid, and possibly a nursemaid for Bill, too.   

Mother is wearing a Dressing Jacket that she (of course) made herself.  It's crocheted, with flowers embroidered around the bottom edge of each sleeve.  

P&B 2991

Here's Bill in his nursery (they obviously live in a spacious 1930s villa.)

As well as the photos of the 1930s family, there are little sketches of the imagined ancestral knitters (in the maternal line, I assume), going back to Great-great-grandmother, born in 1785, "the year James Baldwin set up in Halifax".  Great-great-grandmother used Baldwin's wools, and her descendants used 'best wools' - implicitly, the precursors of P&B 1930s wools, though in fact John Paton & Son of Alloa and J. & J. Baldwin of Halifax were separate companies until 1920. 

The main point of the Album is to show some of the P&B Helps to Knitters pattern leaflets current in 1936, and about 65 of them are illustrated, including those that various members of the family are wearing.  Members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild can download the Album from the Guild website here.  Nearly all the leaflets are in the Guild collection and members can request copies from

Monday 4 September 2023

A Novel Wool Winder


John saw this issue of Hobbies Weekly from September 1940 at a collectors' fleamarket, and bought it for me because of the illustration of a Novel Wool Winder on the front cover (he is not, I'm glad to say, a keen fretworker).  It's now in the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  

I wouldn't call it a wool winder, in fact  in the photo, it's the woman who is doing the winding.   We would now call it a swift, though perhaps that wasn't a term then in use, or maybe a skein holder.  Never mind.    

The magazine explains to its readers why this is a useful thing to make: "Every knitter  and this, of course, relates more to ladies  knows the trouble of getting somebody to hold the skein whilst it is turned off into a ball suitable for their own use.  The more independent knitters who use the back of a chair for the same purpose also have cause to complain." (Not sure why  I use the back of a chair, and it works.) 

The arms of the holder can be closed up to save space, fortunately. 

The magazine says: "When complete and nicely finished with stain, polish or paint, the article is worth a great deal more than it costs to make, and will be most acceptable to any ardent knitter.  Or, of course, it is just the thing to complete for a Sale of Work, or for private sale to those who are or are likely to be busy knitting comforts for the Services."   

I'm not sure how well it would work in practice.  The skein of wool has to be put on the holder when it is at least partly closed, so that the skein will fit on, and then moving the arms so that they are at right angles — as far as I can tell from the instructions, the design relies on friction between the two arms to keep them in position, which doesn't seem a very robust approach.  But it seems that whoever bought this magazine in 1940 did make the wool winder, because the promised paper pattern sheet to make it is no longer in the magazine.  The pattern would need to be cut up and glued onto the wood, before cutting the pieces to shape with the fretsaw, and I assume that's what happened.   

The reference to knitting comforts for the Services is a reminder that Britain had been at war with Germany for a year by September 1940.  Elsewhere in the magazine there are instructions for making a "safe and simple shelter lantern", i.e. a lantern for the Anderson Shelter in your garden. "A light of some kind is very essential in an air-raid shelter as it is no joke sitting in such places in the pitch darkness.  The most suitable and safe form of light seems to be the humble candle.  For this reason, a candle lantern, suitable for shelter use, has been designed".  

It's made of wood, of course, with glass panels in the side, and a candle holder made from a piece of tin. Maybe safer than an uncovered candlestick, but not much, I think.  

There are also instructions for making an ash tray, decorated with a fretwork elk, from one of the small glass jars used for meat paste. Misplaced ingenuity, it seems to me, but then if you have to find several new ideas for fretwork every week, it isn't surprising that some of the designs are a bit daft. 


Thursday 31 August 2023

Queen Mary's Petticoat


Child's Crochet Petticoat

This crocheted petticoat for a little girl was given to the Knitting & Crochet Guild in 2016. The donor had bought a chest of drawers in an Exeter antique centre, and found inside it several pieces of lace and the petticoat.  Rather than throwing them out, she looked for suitable homes for both the lace and the crochet - the lace was offered to the Lace Guild, I believe.  

The petticoat doesn't look very exciting: it is 15 inches (38 cm.) long, and simply constructed in thick wool, with an opening at the top and a ribbon threaded through the top edge as a drawstring.  

Detail of Petticoat

But it has a paper label sewn to it, saying that it was worked in 1910 by H.M. the Queen of England.   

Petticoat label

In May 1910 Edward VII died, George V came to the throne and his wife became Queen Mary.  They had been living in Marlborough House (the address on the label) and stayed there until the end of the year - Queen Alexandra (Edward VII's widow) did not move from Buckingham Palace to Marlborough House until 1911.  So I am confident the the Queen of England referred to on the label is Queen Mary.  Besides which, the KCG collection already had an almost identical petticoat made by Queen Mary in 1921.  (That one has been kept in a glass case, but is unfortunately badly discoloured).  The 1921 petticoat was, according to its label, sold for charity, and we can guess that the 1910 petticoat was also made for charity. 

There are newspaper records of Queen Mary making garments for charity in that year  (1910).  She was Patron of the London Needlework Guild, founded in 1882 to provide clothing for an orphanage, and later 'useful garments for the poor', distributed through hospitals and other institutions.  

In April 1910, The Gentlewoman paper advertised for ladies willing to become Associates of its own Group of the London Needlework Guild, and said:

The object of the Guild is to distribute clothing, household linen, or any articles suitable for the sick and poor among the Hospitals, Nursing Institutions, Missions, Refuges, and Parishes in London.  The only obligation undertaken by an Associate is to supply at least two useful articles every year, but they may send as many more as they choose.

Queen Mary's mother was the original Patron of the Guild, and she became Patron in turn after her mother's death in 1897.  It was renamed Queen Mary's Needlework Guild (QMNG) on the outbreak of war in 1914.  The Guild still exists, now as the Queen Mother's Clothing Guild

Queen Mary was an active member, not just a figurehead, for many years.  There was an exhibition each November of items collected during the year, usually reported in the newspapers.  The 1910 exhibition was reported on by The Times newspaper: 

“The work done during the last twelve months by the members of the London Needlework Guild, which has the Queen for its patroness, will be on view at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington, to-day. …. Neatly stacked in carefully classified piles ….are 54,050 garments - the largest number sent in for many years.  Of this total the Queen, who spent two days at the Imperial Institute supervising the classification and arrangement of the garments, is responsible for the collection of 15,333 garments, this being more than 2,000 in excess of her contribution last year.  

Among the contributors to the Queen's group were the King, who presented 1,000 garments, Princess Mary, who gave 700, the Prince of Wales and his younger brothers, the Princes Albert, Henry, and George.  Many of the garments included in the group has been made by the donors.  The Queen had knitted several little woollen petticoats.  Princess Mary had made three woollen baby's hoods, and the young Princes, with the aid of knitting frames, had made a number of warm woollen scarves and comforters." 

However, the Sheffield Telegraph, reporting on the same exhibition, describes “some very pretty crochet wool petticoats, Her Majesty’s own work.”  Probably The Times reporter did not know the difference between knitting and crochet.  (I imagine that the garments provided by the King were bought in.  A report on the Guild exhibition in another year says that his contribution was men’s flannel shirts, which he would not have made himself.) 

We don't know for certain if our petticoat is one of the garments made for the Guild, but it was almost certainly made to the same pattern.  If it was indeed made for the LNG, how it came to be kept, unworn, is a puzzle.  It should have been distributed with the other garments in the exhibition, and given to some child who needed a warm petticoat. 

Perhaps someone decided that it was more valuable as a piece of Royal handiwork than as a useful garment?  Or perhaps it was made to be sold for some other charity, like the 1921 petticoat?  But in either case, it has been kept in good condition because of its label. 

Apart from its royal origin, it is a very ordinary garment that would not normally have survived.  If it had been given to a poor child as probably intended by the Queen, it would have been worn every day and passed on to a succession of other children until it wore out.  It makes a striking contrast with the Irish crochet from the same period which has survived because it was expensive, and so was carefully looked after.  And it is ironic that it is valuable today as a rare example of a very mundane garment, as much as for the fact that it was made by Queen Mary. 

Thursday 27 July 2023

1920s Woolly Jumpers

 In the last post, I wrote about outfits in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection that were knitted in the early 1950s from 1920s patterns.  Here's another, based on the same set of Beehive Recipe Cards.   

And here is the photo from the card.
From Beehive Card No. 51 (1923)

The jumper is partly knitted and partly filet crochet.  The knitted parts (the front and back) are stocking stitch, with evenly spaced columns of pairs of eyelets (i.e. knit two together, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, knit two together).  The photos make the construction fairly clear, I think.  The front is straight up to the armholes, then you increase each side for the sleeves.  The neck opening is made simply by dividing the stitches into two halves and knitting each half separately. There are five pieces of filet crochet as well, one for each shoulder, one for each sleeve, and one for the waistband. 

To put the jumper together, 'sew the pieces of insertion to the front shoulders, then join to the back, leaving a space for the back of the neck.'  The shoulder insertions are made to to the same length as the front shoulders, and the back is wider than the front, so that there will be a space at the back of the neck. 

And finally, 'make a twisted cord of the wool, thread it through the spaces at the waist, attach pom-poms (when threaded) at each end.'  The spaces are in the knitted part of the jumper, using the eyelets.  As with the dress in the last post, there are no instructions for making the cord, or the pom-poms.  (And that's not what I'd call a pom-pom - it's a crocheted ovoid, stuffed with something.)   Cord belts on jumpers, with tassels, pom-poms, etc. were very common in the early 1920s, and some patterns do give instructions for making stuffed crochet balls to go on the end of the belt, so perhaps the person who made the replica in the early 1950s had access to one of those patterns - or else just worked out how to match the photo on the recipe card.  

I don't like the fact that the back is wider than the front - that's not a good way to create a V neck.  And the jumper is very short - the belt appears to be higher than the model's natural waist, though that is easily modified.  I like the use of filet crochet combined with knitting, and I'm sure that a modern design could be based on this one.  But not one that I would like to tackle - my crochet isn't good enough.  

We think of 1920s knitwear as long and straight - worn by women with ideally no curves anywhere. But that wasn't always the case especially in the early 20s - as the photo of the recipe card shows, jumpers sometimes were loose and wide, with a well-defined waist (even if not in the right place). Another replica in the Coats-Patons donation is more typical of our view of 20s knitwear.  It is similar to the Eunice design above - it is a T shape, with a draw-string cord belt with pompoms.  But it is much longer, and I think the belt would sit at hip level, so would be pulled in very little.

I have not yet found the pattern for this jumper.  It is not one of the Beehive recipe cards, though some of the designs have a similar look, like those below. 

From Beehive Card No. 67 (1923)

From Beehive Card No. 84 (1924)

The pattern may have been one of the 'Helps to Knitters' leaflets (originally published by John Paton, Son & Co., and later by Patons & Baldwins). But we have very few of the 1920s 'Helps to Knitters' leaflets in the Guild collection, so looking for the original of the jumper will have to wait - I'll report here if I find it. 

Monday 3 July 2023

A 1920s Costume

I wrote about the Coats-Patons donation in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection in my last post, and said there that some of them are knitted from vintage Patons & Baldwins patterns. I have identified some of the replica garments as knitted from  Beehive Recipe Cards, which I wrote about here. Although we only have a few of the cards in the collection, the British Library has a complete set of 86, and four of the replica garments given to the collection can be matched to the cards. Here's the first: 

And here is the illustration on the card:

Illustration from
Beehive Recipe Card No. 31

The description on the card is: 'The "Pauline" Costume, being made in TEAZLE Wool, is suitable for sports wear, it is knitted in two colours which, if tastefully chosen, will make a very distinctive one.  The skirt is worked in one piece and knitted so as to give a pleated effect.  The coat is worked in plain knitting, with a vest  knitted in the same manner as the skirt  fastened into the front of the coat.'   

So although the top looks like two separate garments, it is just one: the 'vest' is actually just a piece to join together the two sides of the coat.  It is not easy to see in the photo, but there is a deep band of fabric showing above the top of the vest  the model is wearing something like a camisole, and the outfit is more modest than it looks at first glance. 

Teazle wool was so called because you could create a furry effect on the finished knitting by brushing with a wire brush, though in this case the finished outfit is not intended to be brushed.  A few years ago, I recreated a tam pattern originally intended for Teazle wool, as I described here, and used Rowan Felted Tweed as a substitute, though without seeing the original Teazle wool it's impossible to know how similar they are. 

The back of the jacket is knitted first, and then continued into the two separate fronts (so there are no shoulder seams).  The broad collar, forming a full-length lapel, is knitted as a separate piece.  The skirt and vest are knitted sideways and the pleating is done by working alternate bands of garter stitch and stocking stitch, alternating the two colours.  

The suggested colours are Light Saxe (blue) and Pearl Green.  There is very little contrast between the colours in the black and white photo on the card, and I think that in colour the stripes would have given a subtle green-blue effect. The colours chosen for the replica are not subtle at all, and even in black and white it looks very obviously striped, but again if it was intended for showing on TV, the colours might have been chosen deliberately to show the stripes.

The Beehive Recipe cards in the British Library have British Museum date stamps (because the British Library used to be housed in the British Museum) showing the accession date.  The dates are December 1921 for cards 1 to 37, November 1923 for cards 38 to 74, and June or July 1924 for the rest.  Yarn shops advertised the cards from January 1921, and I think that the Pauline Costume can be dated to 1921.  

Another of the replicas is based on Card no. 26 for a Lady's Knitted Dress.

Here's the image from the card:

Illustration from
Beehive Recipe Card No. 26

The description from the card is "The 'Alicia'  Knitted Dress being light in weight is suitable for indoor or outdoor wear. The skirt is worked in a rib which gives a pleated effect, the remainder of the dress is knitted in a plain smooth fabric, with a simple pattern introduced at the neck and cuffs, whilst a thick twisted cord is used for the sash.  The garment being knitted in one piece — with the exception of the sleeves  is easily made and can be worked by any average knitter."  

Here's another photo showing the "simple pattern" at the neck. 

As the description says, the body of the dress is knitted in one piece, starting at the lower edge of the front, continuing up to the shoulders, casting on stitches in the centre to replace those cast off for the front neck opening, and then knitting the back of the dress downwards.  The sleeves are knitted from the cuff upwards, finishing with a straight edge.  This kind of construction was common in 1920s jumpers, though often the sleeves were also knitted in one piece with the body. 

There are no instructions for making the cord belt.  The card just says "make a cord  with tassels attached at each end", of the same wool used for the rest of the dress.  Evidently in the 1920s knitters were expected to know how to make cords, tassels, pompoms and the like, without further direction.  Personally, if I were making the dress I would like some indication of how many strands of wool to use and how long they should be, because a thick cord with tassels, like that shown on the card, would use a lot of wool, and mistakes could be expensive. 

I think it's an unexciting design, but it must have been so much more comfortable to wear than the fashions of 10 or 15 years previously (let alone Victorian fashions) that I can understand women wanting to wear a dress like that.  Pleated skirts (or rather skirts with a pleated effect) seem to have been popular in 1921, at least according to the Beehive cards.  Here are two more designs from the same  1921 tranche. 

Illustration from
Beehive Recipe Card No.30

The title of Card No. 30 is 'Lady's Knitted Dress', but actually it's a skirt and jumper.  The back and front of the jumper are knitted in one piece, as in Card No. 26, but there are separate ribbed pieces to go either side under the armholes.  I don't know why knitting designers of the 1920s were so averse to shoulder seams.   

Illustration from 
Beehive Recipe Card No. 41

Card No. 41 is another Knitted Costume ("Doreen" design), but unlike the Pauline design, above, the jacket is a proper jacket, without the awkward 'vest' piece.  It has some similarities to the jacket of the Pauline costume - the broad striped collar forming full-length lapels, and the belt going under the lapels at the front.  And the back and fronts are knitted in one piece, as before.  

(What's wrong with shoulder seams?  I avoid unnecessary seams where I can, and often choose to knit jumpers top-down, in the round, in one piece so that there are no seams at all, but these designs have seams elsewhere, just not shoulder seams.) 

If I were choosing a knitted costume to represent early 1920s knitting, I would choose the 'Doreen' design rather than the 'Pauline' design.  And I wouldn't choose the 'Alicia' design because it's not very interesting and doesn't seem characteristically 1920s.  But when the replicas in the Coats-Patons donation were made in the early 1950s, I have no idea what the purpose was, or why particular designs were chosen, so I can't judge.  

In my next post, I'll write about another replica garment that was knitted from a Beehive Recipe Card, and is much more attractive, in my view.    

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Spats Revisited

In 2014, the Knitting & Crochet Guild received a donation from Coats plc of an archive of about 60 garments.  Coats plc at that time owned the Patons brand, previously Patons & Baldwins.  There was not much documentation with the archive, but we think that it was put together in the early 1950s, probably by James Norbury, who was then the chief designer for Patons & Baldwins.  There seem to be several different reasons for pieces to be in the archive, but some of them were evidently knitted from much earlier Patons & Baldwins patterns.  James Norbury appeared as a knitting expert on BBC TV programmes in the early 1950s, and I think it's possible that these reproductions were made for TV.  For instance, in 1951, he presented a series of six programmes on knitting, in one of which (according to Radio Times) he "shows some examples from his collection of historic knitted garments" - possibly some of those were reproductions.  

In this and the next posts, I shall be writing about the reproductions for which I have found matching patterns in the British Library. 

First, a pair of spats. 

Spats, from the Coats-Patons donation

(They came into the KCG collection with an attached label 'Gaiters', but no, they are spats.)   

I wrote previously here about an intriguing pattern leaflet for spats which I knew of but hadn't seen, Patons & Baldwins' Helps To Knitters No. 101.  The British Library, I discovered, has many of the early Helps to Knitters leaflets, and I have looked at the leaflet there.  (It is unfortunately hard to photograph well, because numbers 101 to 130 are bound together in one volume.)  The leaflet is titled "Hand-Knitted Spats from Various Wools".  Here is the illustration taken from the front cover. 

Lady wearing knitted spats,
from Helps to Knitters 101

And here is a rather poor photo of an illustration in the leaflet, to confirm that this is the original of our reproduced spats.    

The leaflet has four other designs too, all similar but with different tops, and of different varieties of 4-ply (fingering weight) P&B wool.  

The colours suggested in the pattern are Light Grey for the main colour, with Dark Grey and Blue, instead of white, red and blue respectively in the reproduction.  The Light Grey is a much more practical choice for an article to be worn out of doors over shoes, but if I'm right that the reproduced spats were intended to be shown on TV, perhaps the colours were chosen to give good contrast when shown in black and white. 

Another difference is that the reproduced spats were knitted flat, on two needles, with a seam up the back, whereas the original instructions have this design knitted in the round, on four needles. (The other four designs in the leaflet are knitted flat.)  I don't know why the change was made - perhaps the knitter really didn't like knitting in the round, or didn't know how, though that would be odd for a presumably professional knitter. 

As I said in the earlier post on spats, the fashion was launched in 1926, apparently at a party given by Lady Strathspey, who called them "Highland spattees".   I thought that the fashion might have been very short-lived, but Lady Strathspey was still promoting spattees in October 1928, when a letter from her appeared in several local newspapers across the country: 
"Last year and also in 1926 [your newspaper] was kind enough to be interested in the highland spattee which I was then privileged to sponsor. Women do not often reserve a permanent place in their wardrobes for a novelty such as this, and it may be that they are becoming less conservative (a point, I understand, upon which all the party managers are at the moment sorely exercised). Certain it is that the overknee gaiter, into which the original spattee evolved last season, appears to be quite firmly established, from Caithness in the North to Cornwall in the South; and also, as I can personally say, throughout Australia and New Zealand overseas. Possibly the explanation is that there was a definite demand for a warm woollen covering, easy to put on, which fits the leg and is waterproof." 
(I like the sly reference to the possible political leanings of women - 1928 was the year that women in the UK achieved electoral equality with men, so that all women over the age of 21 could vote.)

Ads for commercially knitted ladies' spattees persisted into the 1930s.  (Generally, it seems that 'spats' was used for men's wear and 'spattees' for women's wear, but spattees, Highland spattees, spats and gaiters are all used, apparently interchangeably,  for the women's garments.)   On the other hand, I found an article in the Sunderland local newspaper from September 1929 reporting that the weather had turned cold overnight and women had had to change from their summer outfits into something much warmer, including in "isolated cases", "old and the now out-of-date spattees" - so fashion had by then moved on, at least in Sunderland. 

The question remains of why someone in the early 1950s (say James Norbury) should have chosen this design to reproduce.  I don't think that there was any suggestion of reviving spats/spattees in the 1950s, though they do have similarities to the leg warmers of the 1970s.   And if you wanted to choose a few designs that are representative of 1920s knitwear, I don't think you would choose this one.  I don't know.   
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