Wednesday 24 April 2024

Little Dorritt wools

I saw a skein of knitting yarn in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection recently - Little Dorritt 100% Nylon.   I remembered that I had also seen a pattern for Little Dorritt wool and nylon sock yarn among all the patterns in the collection, so I brought the two together and tried to do some research on the maker. 

Little Dorritt 100% Nylon and leaflet No. 156

The company that published the pattern and manufactured the yarn is named as George Raw Ltd., of Bingley (West Yorkshire), 'Spinners of Top Quality Hand Knitting Yarns", and the address on the pattern leaflet is Harden Beck Mills.  The valley of Harden Beck is now a pleasant wooded area of countryside, but at one time there were several textile mills along the valley, originally water powered.

I haven't managed to find out much about George Raw Ltd.  The company was certainly at Harden Beck Mills in the later 1930s.  Little Dorritt wools were advertised by a shop in Hartlepool in the early 1920s - presumably made by George Raw Ltd., and definitely wool at that point, long before nylon was introduced.  Little Dorritt wool and nylon sock yarn was more widely advertised starting in 1953 (when I think the pattern was published), and George Raw Ltd. was still at Bingley in 1958.  And then in the 1980s, Little Dorritt yarns were advertised by a completely different company - Sejeant Textiles. with the address Tobits, Werneth Low, Hyde, Cheshire.  Then it gets more mysterious:  Ravelry lists Little Dorritt 3-ply and 4-ply sock wool, both discontinued.   There are several illustrations of the 4-ply, one which is clearly the 1950s George Raw version, with "Little Dorritt" printed on the ball band in the font used on the ball of 100% nylon above, and the others the later Sejeant version. But Ravelry says that they are both King Cole yarns, (though some of the ball bands give the Sejeant name as well/instead). I guess that at some point, Sejeant took over the Little Dorritt name  and later still Sejeant started making Little Dorritt for King Cole. All very hard to disentangle.  

But the Little Dorritt 100% Nylon is worth looking at.  In the early 1950s, nylon for knitting was a revolutionary innovation. It was mothproof, didn't shrink, and washed easily.  Pure nylon knitting yarn fell out of favour fairly quickly - it is often not at all nice to knit with, and catches on the minutest irregularity in your fingers.  Wool sock yarn with nylon was also introduced in the early 1950s, like the Little Dorritt sock yarn in the pattern leaflet, and sock yarn still usually has a proportion of nylon for durability (75% wool and 25% nylon, commonly). 

Little Dorritt 100% nylon actually feels quite woolly, at least in the skein, and it might be quite pleasant to knit with (though I don't propose to try).  And although I first thought it was a small skein or hank, it is actually ready wound.  (Can you call it a ball when it's that shape?  I don't know.)  

The yarn advertises its virtues on the back of the ball band: 

A Knitting Luxury

"Little Dorritt" 100% Nylon Knitting Wool is made specially for Knitters who prefer something different.

Here is an exquisite 3-ply knitting yarn made from Nylon which is lovely to handle and extremely hard wearing though soft to the touch.

Garments made from this yarn dry quickly after washing, they do not shrink and the colours do not run.

The ball band also refers to the way the yarn is packed: 


I'm not sure how keeping it in your pocket and using it from the outside would work - a centre pull ball is more amenable to being used in a yarn holder (or pocket) in my experience, but again, I'm not going to try it with the Little Dorritt yarn - it deserves to be kept as it is. 

Although this is a very minor, forgotten byway in the history of knitting yarns, I think it's interesting that so many yarn companies were active in the mid 20th century.  They have mostly disappeared, but they evidently survived for some time - Little Dorritt yarns, apparently under the ownership of George Raw Ltd., were in production from the early 1920s (and possibly much earlier) to  at least the early 1960s.  But small companies had to compete with some very big brands (Patons & Baldwins, Ladyship, Lister and Sirdar, and later Robin, Emu and Wendy, amongst others).  The big brands had big advertising budgets and published pattern leaflets prolifically - at least 200 designs a year, in some cases.  But the little brands somehow kept going and kept introducing new yarns and new ideas, even if eventually they failed.  Well done, George Raw, whoever you were.    

Saturday 23 March 2024

An (Almost) A to Z of Knitting Needles, Part 2

In the last post, I showed knitting needle brands with names beginning A to M - here I'll show the second half of the alphabet.

You might think that it would be easy to find a needle brand for N, but the only ones we could find in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection are a pair of Novi needles, stamped 'Novi Norway' on the head. I assume that they were made to be sold in the UK, because the word 'Norway' is in English not Norwegian.  They are the only needles in this alphabet in a metric size, and so I think they were sold here after we adopted metric needle sizes in the 1970s. Otherwise, I don't know anything about them.  

Novi Norway needles, size 3mm, 35 cm.

O is for Ostrich

Ostrich needles, size 9, 12 inch

Ostrich needles were advertised in Pins and Needles magazine in 1951.  The ad says they 'are ideal in every way being made of specially finished light alloy which gives strength and lightness.'  It goes on to say that 'their grey finish is restful to the eyes'.  That might be a reason why grey knitting needles became so common in the 1950s and later, though I suspect that it was as much to do with some advantage in manufacturing.  

Ostrich needles were made by James Smith & Sons of Redditch, who had also made Double Century needles from the 1920s until the start of WW2.  Double Century needles had a steel core coated in cream plastic (always cream), and I wrote about them here.   Steel for knitting needles wasn't available during WW2, but ads in the late 1940s showed that the company was trying to start production again.  It appears that the company switched to making Ostrich needles instead - and maybe stopped making knitting needles altogether some time in the 1950s.  
Ad for Ostrich pins & crochet hooks, 1951

Pelican needles, size 3, 10 inch

needles - no idea about these. 

Queen Bee needles, size 7, 14 inch 

For Q, we have Queen Bee needles, made for Patons & Baldwins. They are the usual metal needles - an aluminium alloy with a grey coating.   In the 1930s, P&B advertised Beehive needles, which were plastic, in bright colours, and they were often mentioned in P&B knitting patterns.  I think that Queen Bee needles were introduced in the early 1950s, and knitting patterns often recommended both Beehive and Queen Bee needles - e.g. 'Two No. 12 and two no. 10 Beehive or Queen Bee needles, measured by the Beehive gauge', in a pattern for Patons & Baldwins wool that appeared in a newspaper in 1956.  (In fact, size 12 needles (2.75 mm.) in plastic would be quite bendy, and metal needles would be much better, though also inclined to bend. I wrote about the Patons & Baldwins beehive trademark here.

Robinoid needles were made for Robert Glew & Co. of Robin Mills, Queensbury, near Bradford, a spinning company which made Robin Brand knitting yarns.  The company first published patterns in the 1930s, and specified Robinoid knitting needles and crochet hooks.  The paper label on this pair of Robinoid needles have a 1930s look, though the needles continued to be mentioned in Robin pattern leaflets into the 1960s. The needles themselves have 'ROBINOID' and the size stamped into them, with a white filling, barely visible on the turquoise needles. 

Robinoid needles, size 6, 12 inch

I wrote about Stratnoid knitting needles in 2017 here. They were patented (you can see the patent number in the second photo below) and are made of an aluminium alloy, according to the patent.  They are shiny, rustproof and light, and are some of  my favourite needles to knit with.  In spite of those advantages, which made Stratnoid needles almost unique, in the early 1960s, the company that made them (Stratton) changed the design and made them of the same grey enamelled aluminium as many other knitting needle brands.  But you can still find the original Stratnoid needles in charity shops - they were made to last. 

Stratnoid needles, size 6, 15 inch

Tightgrip needles are made of brightly coloured plastic with a black plastic head.  It was evidently quite difficult to ensure that the head would stay on a plastic needle. 'Tightgrip' says it all.  

Tightgrip needles, size 3, 12 inch

I could not find any knitting needle brand for U, but for V we have Viyella.  Viyella was originally a wool and cotton blend woven fabric, and eventually developed into a fashion chain, but in the 1930s, the company started to produce knitting yarns, with supporting pattern leaflets. Viyella knitting needles are not common, but I suppose were intended as an additional way of advertising the brand. 

Viyella needles, size 6, 12 inch

Wimberdar is, I think, one of my favourite knitting needle names. (Stratnoid is my least favourite.)  They were made by Critchley Brothers, of Stroud, who originally made pins, but diversified into all kinds of small items made of plastic (probably casein) in the 1930s.  They had two mills near Stroud, Wimberley Mill and Dark Mill, and the names were combined to give Wimberdar.  All the Wimberdar knitting needles I have seen are plastic, in many different colours, but the company did also make metal needles under the 'Quaker Girl' brand - the usual grey enamelled aluminium.  According to Grace's Guide, the company moved into making plastic fittings for the electrical industry after WW2, and later plastic pipes for land drainage. In the 1970s, manufacture of aluminium knitting needles was abandoned (again according to Grace's Guide) - presumably this was the Quaker Girl brand, and they had already stopped making the Wimberdar plastic needles. 

No X or Y, but for Z we have Zephyr needles. There are two pairs of Zephyr needles, still with their paper wrappers, in the KCG collection.  But the name Zephyr is not marked on the needles - they only have 'GAUGE 5'  engraved into the plastic.    Plastic needles marked in that way are quite common, and usually knitting needles lose their paper wrappers.  Perhaps all plastic needles marked just 'GAUGE n' are Zephyr, or perhaps there are other makes marked in the same way - who knows? 

Zephyr needles, size 5, 12 inch

So there we have 23 needle brands, from A to Z (except U, X and Y).  Only the Novi needles are marked with a size in mm., so the others pre-date the introduction of metric sizes in the UK in the 1970s.  And I think most of these needles are much earlier, from the 1930s to 1950s.  
Some of them were made by the needle and pin manufacturers based around Redditch, the traditional centre of the trade - Duralite (Alfred Shrimpton & Son), Flora Mac||Donald (Abel Morrall Ltd.), Ladybird and Milward Disc (Milward's), Ostrich (James Smith & Sons).  I would also include Stratnoid, made by Stratton & Co. of Birmingham. 
When plastics were introduced and became a common material for knitting needles and crochet hooks in the 1920s and 1930s, many companies were set up to make them.  I know that Wimberdar needles were made by Critchley brothers of Stroud, but often it is very difficult to find out anything about the makers of plastic needles. The names Bonette, Ezeenit, Ivoree, Tightgrip suggest that these needles were made by manufacturers who claimed some particular advantage to their needles, reflected in the name, but I don't know who made them, or where.  
Other brands were made for manufacturers of knitting yarns, presumably as an additional way of advertising - Anlaby, Cronit, Jaeger, Queen Bee, Robinoid, Viyella - or in one case (Golden Spinning Wheel) the needles were made for a shop  
And as I have said, some brands in my alphabet I know nothing at all about  - Hella, Kirven, .Pelican and Zephyr.  If you have any information about any of these brands, please let me know via the comments.  
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