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.   
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...