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. 


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