Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Mystery Crochet

A new idea the Knitting & Stitching Show this year was a 'Stitch by Stitch' feature - a series of free demonstrations put on by the various stall holders.  The Knitting & Crochet Guild members on the Guild's stall did a Stitch by Stitch demonstration every day of the show, and I did the Saturday one.

The main KCG stall had a display of knitted and crocheted lace, and we used the Stitch by Stitch demonstration to show more lace from the Guild's collection.  

One of the items we showed is a beautifully crafted crochet piece, but otherwise a bit of a mystery.  It was bought for the collection in a charity shop, so we have no other provenance for it - we have no idea who made it, or when, and no way to find out.  It is crocheted in very fine yarn, which I thought at first was cotton, but now we think it might be a mixture of cotton and some sort of synthetic yarn.  It might be a tennis shirt.  It is hard to assign a date:  it could be 1930s, though 1930s tops tended to be much shorter.  It could be 1950s, though I would expect more shaping around the waist.  It could be later, though crocheted garments in such fine yarn would be unusual by then.

If we could identify a pattern for it, that would give us a lot more information.  Even finding similar patterns would help.  It's a long shot, but if any reader does recognise it, do please let me know.

We showed about 20 items in the Stitch by Stitch demonstration, and knew more about most of the other items than our mystery shirt.  (Though in some cases it was only that the style allowed us to date them more confidently.) The items that the audience found most interesting were three Irish crochet pieces - we don't know anything about the individual pieces, but they were almost certainly made commercially in Ireland before the First World War, and bought in this country.  The final piece that we showed was the best - an Irish crochet jacket.  It featured in the article on Irish crochet in Rowan magazine 55, and the photo was taken for that article.  It must have taken an immense amount of work, and the women who made it were probably paid very little.  But it is magnificent.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show

I went to Harrogate yesterday for the Knitting & Stitching Show.  I was based at the Knitting & Crochet Guild's stall for most of the day, but had time to look around the rest of the show when it got quieter towards the end of the day.  (Didn't buy anything though.  Not a thing.  I really don't need any more yarn, but I don't always manage to remember that.)  

I spent a lot of time looking at the finalists' entries for the 2014 Knitted Textile Awards - a UK Hand Knitting Association scheme.   Here are a few of the entries I particularly liked (and managed to get a decent photo of, too).  

I liked Camille Hardwick's Oxymoron piece - she won first prize, I later discovered. 

Camille Hardwick

Becca Tansley's jacket was inspired by the rusting steel and rivets of a Victorian railway bridge.

Becca Tansley

And Claire Sams knitted pigeon, scavenging discarded food, is fun.

Claire Sams

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Knitting History Forum

I was in London on Saturday for the Knitting History Forum conference - I've been busy ever since, so this post about it is later than I intended.

The conference was at the London College of Fashion, off Oxford Street.  There was a diverse programme of talks, beginning with Angharad Thomas talking about her researches into the history of two-colour patterned gloves, leading up to the Sanquhar and Yorkshire Dales gloves that she is particularly interested in - see her most recent blog post about Sanquhar gloves, Glove Heaven.  Tom van Deijnen (aka Tom of Holland) talked about his Visible Mending Programme and showed the cardigan in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection that he mended for us a few months ago - I wrote about that here.

I had not met Amy Twigger Holroyd before, though I had seen some of her work the previous day at the Fashion & Textile Museum's Knitwear exhibition - more on that later, possibly.  She talked about her Keep and Share programme  and brought along some of the things that she has made, or re-made, in that programme.  (And she was wearing a very nice cardigan that I recognised later in her on-line store.)   She passed around some of the pieces that she has worked on - commercial knits that she has re-worked into something special, including some 'stitch-hacked' pieces where a plain piece of stocking stitch has been converted into an embossed design in reverse stocking stitch on a stocking stitch background. As every stitch in the area she is working on has to be redone by hand individually, it is painstaking, slow work, but the results are amazing. She passed around a fine-knit vest that she has stitch-hacked - the images are from here.

Amy Twigger Holroyd's stitch-hacked vest.

Detail of  stitch-hacked vest.
The last two talks were on  war-time knitting - I gave a repeat of my talk "Useful Work for Anxious Fingers', on Knitting & Crochet in the First World War 1, that I gave at the Knitting & Crochet Guild convention in July.  This time, I showed the crochet handbag that I made to a Woman's Weekly pattern from 1917.   

And finally Joyce Meader of The Historic Knit showed a selection of garments for soldiers and sailors that she has knitted, following original knitting patterns from the Crimean War onwards.  She had brought some of the pattern booklets, and passed them around.   There were several different versions of a Balaclava helmet, socks, pullovers, sweaters, and so on.  Some odd ones, like knitted puttees, which I think may have been intended as leg-warmers to wear on chilly nights when the days were hot, e.g. in Mesopotamia.   
Some of Joyce Meader's WW1 patterns - image from The Historic Knit 

An enlightening and enlivening afternoon.  (Although battling afterwards along a thronged Oxford Street in the rain was not much fun.)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

More Elizabeth Forster Designs

The first designs by Elizabeth Forster that I saw were illustrated in her book, The Wandering Tattler.  The designs had been published as Wendy pattern leaflets, and a year later I found copies of the leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection - they are illustrated here.

There were three more pattern leaflets that she designed for Wendy in the display of her archive at Norwich Castle Museum earlier this month.  All three date from the 1970s, and I had already picked out two of them as possible Elizabeth Forster designs when I was sorting Wendy pattern  leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection two years ago.  I knew that she had done a lot of work for Wendy Wools and that her designs were often inspired by her travels, so I kept an eye out for likely leaflets. Leaflets 1593 and 1721 were two of those I thought were hers.  (I think that I was probably right about the others that I picked, too, but that hasn't yet been confirmed.)    

Wendy 1593

Wendy 1721
 They are very 70s shapes - the hooded tabard looks very dated now.  And shawl-collared belted jackets are a bit Starsky and Hutch, for those who remember 70s TV.  But I like the colour work - though in both cases, the belt breaks up the pattern and tends to spoil the effect, especially in the tabard.

The third Wendy pattern on show in Norwich is not one I had picked as a possible Elizabeth Forster, because it is less obviously 'ethnic'.  But it might be based on a motif she saw somewhere - in a mosaic maybe?  The yoke pattern with its expanding diamonds and graduated colours is a very nice effect, and it's a classic sweater shape that you could knit now with very little alteration.  

Wendy 1815
  There's much more research to be done into Elizabeth Forster's designs, of course - these are just a few examples.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Kagome Jacket

I bought a copy of The Knitter today, because the current issue (no. 77) has a pattern I have been waiting to see published since the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate last November.  It is the Kagome jacket, designed by Emma Vining.   It's knitted in two colourways of a variegated yarn, which share one or two colours, so that they go well together.  But they are different enough that the geometry of the design is clear.  

Emma has had to change the yarn since last year - the one she originally used has been discontinued.  The jacket I saw in Harrogate was in darker, more neutral colours, which I really liked.  I would have to choose a different colourway than the one in The Knitter - the custard yellow and pinky-orange in particular are not colours I would usually choose to wear.  But it's great to see the pattern in print, and it's in a chunky yarn so (a) a quick knit and (b) very suitable for a winter jacket.  I'm impatient to buy the yarn for it - and the Knitting & Stitching Show is at the end of November, so maybe that would be a good place to look, if I can manage to wait that long.  

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Elizabeth Forster Archive

More than two years ago, I wrote here about a visit to Norfolk to see an amazing collection of sample garments and records left by the designer Elizabeth Forster. She designed knitwear from the late 1940s to the 1980s, and after she moved to Norfolk in the late 1950s, she made her living from it. Hundreds of her knitting and crochet patterns were published, in magazine and newspapers, and as spinners' leaflets.  But, like other knitwear designers at that time, her name was unknown to the many thousands of knitters who must have made her designs over the years.  As I said in 2012, it was fascinating to see all the samples and records that she had left, and I thought that it was an immensely important archive.

In 2012, her friends were trying to find a permanent home for the collection.  And now they have succeeded!  They invited me to stay with them last weekend, and to go with them to Norwich Castle Museum on Saturday.  The museum has acquired the whole collection, and on Saturday, as part of a day of activities celebrating fashion and textiles, the Elizabeth Forster Archive was on show to the public for the first time.    

The display was in the castle keep, a very grand space.  Eight of the sample garments were displayed on mannequins - the museum staff had picked some of the most striking and characteristic designs.

One of my favourites is a sweater with a band of interlocking black and white birds around it - she was a keen bird-watcher, so I expect that the birds are a correct representation of some species, though the interlocking design must also have been inspired by Escher.

I also liked a cream sweater with a geometric design in orange and turquoise.  The motif again probably comes from something she saw on her travels - designing knitwear funded her travels, but at the same time, her travels gave her ideas for more designs.

The influence of South America is obvious in some of her designs: on show on Saturday was a coat and skirt, with bands of llamas and other motifs on the skirt.

There were more garments laid out on a table - these were samples which have already been matched up with its published pattern from one of Elizabeth Forster's files.   The samples that she kept were those where the design was published in a magazine - the magazine had no use for the sample, once the design was published .  On the other hand, if a design was sold to a spinner, and published as a pattern leaflet, the spinner would keep the sample - I think that sample garments were lent to yarn shops to display both the yarn and the design.

Saturday was a wonderful day.  It was good to see the some of archive in its new home, and to meet a few of the enthusiastic volunteers at the Museum who are keen to tie together the sample garments with the designs - there is a lot of research to be done.  And it was lovely to visit my friends and see that they have done a great job in securing the future of the archive, and proper recognition for Elizabeth Forster's work.  

Elizabeth Forster and her cat

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Vitamin D

I finished knitting a cardigan back in August, and I've been wearing it a lot.  It's one of my favourite things to wear currently - ideal for a summer's day when it's not too hot.   (So ideal for a British summer.  Or especially warm October weather, as we are having just now.)  And I haven't yet written about it - mainly because I haven't had any photos of it until today.   Anyway, here it is.

The design is Vitamin D  by Heidi Kirrmaier  (no idea why it's called that).    I saw a sample knit in a yarn shop in Portland, Oregon, last year,  where I bought the pattern and yarn for my Boardwalk pullover, also by Heidi Kirrmaier and a very successful knit.  The Vitamin D sample caught my eye at the same time, and I remembered the name.

It's an interesting construction, with no seams at all, a great selling point.  You start at the back of the neck, and  knit it all in one piece from there.  I love the drapy fronts -  the fullness is created with short rows.  The eyelets are functional, incidentally, not just decorative - i.e. every eyelet is an increase of one stitch.

I like the fact that the fronts are drapy without hanging below the back - they don't get in the way, and are tidier than they look.  Heidi Kirrmaier says that it's important to choose a yarn that drapes well, and I picked DMC Natura 4-ply cotton, which I have knitted with before.  It comes in a lovely range of colours (this one is called Indigo), is good to knit with and I think is just right for a summer cardigan.

The back looks good too, and it's long enough for me - I often have to lengthen tops, but not this one.

Altogether a very successful knitting project.