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.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Handbag from 1917

I mentioned a while ago that I had spent a day in the British Library in London, reading bound volumes of Woman's Weekly from the First World War, looking to see how the magazine was helping its readers cope with the war.  I was expecting to find patterns for knitted comforts for soldiers and sailors, though there were not very many of those.  But there were articles on war work for women, and later in the war cookery features on how to cope with food shortages.

One thing that caught my eye was a crochet pattern, aimed at readers who had a sweetheart or a brother in the Army. It appeared in the March 24, 1917 issue, and is headed "The Latest Crochet Handbag - Make it in the colours of “his” regimental ribbon."



The illustration with the pattern is, of course, not in colour, and the description begins:
"I wish I could show you on this page the delightful blend of colours used in the making of this bag.  It is quite of an Oriental tone; but now that everything of note is regimental, many of you will prefer to use the colours of the regimental ribbon in which you are particularly interested. You can arrange the colours any way you wish.  A few strips of each colour in turn can be worked, or the bag can be divided into the number of colours required, so that there is an equal number of each. Or you can begin with a neutral colour, such as Navy blue or black, to match your costume; then have a band of the regimental colours near the top, finishing with the main colour as at base of bag.... Quite a medley of colours was used for the bag illustrated, as follows:  Bright red, Royal blue, emerald green, cinnamon brown and gold."
Not subtle, then.

I decided to try to make one, to illustrate my talk  "Useful Work for Anxious Fingers - Knitting and Crochet in the First World War".   We have a few pieces of WW1 crochet in the Guild collection at Lee Mills, but it is all household crochet, in white.  This handbag would be a nice contrast - and I have just finished it.



It was a bit of a challenge to make.  The pattern specifies "Star Sylko No. 8 with a No. 4 steel hook"  ("but of course, those who can afford real silk will do so.")  Star Sylko was a crochet cotton, and I made the assumption that 'No. 8' would mean the same now as it did then.  I bought a mixed selection of Anchor crochet cotton, No. 8, which is fine and slightly shiny, and I think it has worked out very well.  I have no idea what size a No. 4 crochet hook was, so after consulting a couple of modern books with patterns for fine crochet, I chose a 1.5 mm hook.

 I have never crocheted anything so fine before.  In fact, as I said in a post last December, I hadn't done any crochet until then for 30 years or so, and then only in double knitting wool. And in December, I had to sit with 'How to crochet' instructions next to me - I couldn't remember how to do doubles, trebles, etc.  So  I wasn't at all sure that I would be able to make the bag successfully.  The pattern did say  "IT IS JUST CROCHET IN CIRCLES AND SO EASY TO WORK!"  which was somewhat reassuring, but even so, when I managed to crochet fairly evenly after a bit of practice, I was pleased and relieved.   

 As usual for patterns of that date, the instructions aren't very precise about measurements.  After you start decreasing towards the top, the pattern says you should continue until it measures 6 inches across the top, laid out flat, or "until long enough".  In fact, it is more than 6 inches across the top, but I did decide it was long enough, and it's possibly a bit longer than shown in the illustration.  (The tassel should be the same size in both.)  My drawstrings are not as long as in the illustration, but I thought that the bag would be worn over the wrist, and so I have made mine a suitable length for that. 


And I did choose regimental colours, as Woman's Weekly suggested.   Royal blue, green and white, are, I believe, the colours for the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.  My grandad, John Potter,  was in that regiment in the First World War.  (The other colours, claret and purple, are intended as a background.)  I've also attached  Army buttons to the drawstrings, following the pattern.  They are the right era, but not KOYLI buttons, I'm afraid.  

I'm not sure I'm ever going to use it as a bag, but it will be on show several times over the next few months when I give my talk.  I certainly couldn't use it as an everyday handbag, when I think of all the things I carry around with me -three sets of keys; mobile phone;  packet of tissues; lip balm; purse with money and debit & credit cards; bus pass; wallet with assorted shop & cafe loyalty cards, library cards, etc.; mirror.  Etc.

What did women carry in their handbags in those days?  I consulted The Secret History of the Handbag and found a cartoon from the early 1910s, of an elegant lady with a huge leather handbag over her shoulder, and the rhyme:
Elsie, why this monstrous bag?
Don't you think it rather swanky,
When you know that it contains
Hairpins, powder puff, and hanky?
So there you are.  It would be a perfectly adequate little bag for those things, with room for a small money purse as well.  

Monday, 6 October 2014

My Favourite Tea Cosy



I've said before on this blog that I don't need a tea cosy as I don't drink tea. Even so, I do have a favourite tea cosy.  She is in the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, and she is definitely she, not it - she is a china half doll, with the cosy forming her skirt.  Admittedly, she would look much less elegant with a teapot under her skirt - a handle and spout sticking out at the sides would not really suit her.  

She has recently featured in the second edition of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits, a special issue of Piecework, published by  Interweave Press.  We were sent a copy for the collection, because it has a photo of our tea cosy.  (It may not otherwise be available in the U.K.)  Susan Strawn, who writes regularly for Piecework, has designed a tea cozy (American spelling) for the new Downton Abbey edition.  It's intended as the  personal cozy of Mrs Patmore, the cook, to use when she has a minute to sit down and enjoy a break from cooking.

Tea Cozy for Cook, designed by Susan Strawn, in The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits

Susan visited the collection at Lee Mills last summer, and saw our tea cosy lady then.  She had just bought a similar cosy herself, in the Shetlands, with a china half-doll and corrugated skirt, and the two tea cosies together inspired her to design another.

The pleated effect, with two colours of yarn, and the yarn not in use being pulled tightly across the back of the fabric, is commonly used in tea cosies, and is a good way to insulate the tea pot.  And as our lady shows, you don't need to use two colours - you can equally well use two strands of the same colour to make the pleats.  

China half-dolls were very popular in the 1930s to 1950s, and used on all kinds of things (including a telephone cover).  I have seen them used in several tea cosy patterns.  Patons & Baldwins' Helps to Knitters leaflet 4/531 from the 1930s has two tea cosies with china half-dolls, and two matching egg cosies.    

Helps to Knitters 4/531

The example in P&B leaflet C-1069 (from the 1950s) is elegant, with a very wide skirt and underskirt completely covering the tea pot - there are no gaps in the skirt for the spout and handle.

P&B C-1069
       
 But I think that our tea cosy's embroidered rosebuds are exceptionally charming.  It's good to see  them adopted for Mrs Patmore's tea cosy.  

Friday, 3 October 2014

Another Rug Wool Gauge

I hadn't seen, or even heard of, a rug wool gauge until friends gave me one a couple of weeks ago,  and now I've seen another - or rather a drawing of one in use. (Of course, I probably wouldn't have noticed the drawing if I didn't already have a rug wool gauge, so it's not really an amazing coincidence.)

The drawing is from the Hand Book on Knitting and Crocheting published by the Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores.  We were looking through the copies of the Hand Book in the Guild collection at Lee Mills the other day, trying to make sense of them.  They are all undated, but evidently there were quite a few different editions.  (They don't have edition numbers either.)   The drawing is from an edition that I think must have been published during the First World War, because there are several patterns for knitted comforts for the Army and Navy.

The booklet has a section in the booklet on Rug and Mat Making, using (as it says on the gauge) Greenock Rug Wool.   The company used the brand name 'Greenock' for its knitting and rug wools - the mill was at Greenock in Scotland.  You could buy the wool, the gauge, a special hook, and canvas in various sizes.   The canvas was not printed with a design, though, as was common later, and the booklet does not give any charts - you had to make up your own design, or (more likely) make a plain rug.

My Patons & Baldwins rug wool gauge is much later than this one, and I thought that such things were only in use from the 1930s to the 1950s, roughly, so it's interesting to see the history pushed back to the 1910s.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Women and the Great War



On Sunday, we went to a History Wardrobe event at the Red House Museum in Gomersal - a talk on Women and the Great War, featuring original clothing.  Lucy Adlington talked about a common idea (though hopefully not as common as it was?) that women played little role in the war. She talked about the shelling of Scarborough and Hartlepool, and the Zeppelin raids, which very obviously brought the war to the Home Front, killing women and children, as well as men.  And she talked about the work that women did during the war.  On show was an original nurse's uniform from the History Wardrobe collection, with a pair of starched cuffs, to keep the uniform sleeves clean, and still marked with the owner's name, W.Ingram.  

The other presenter, Meredith Towne, played the role of a young dressmaker who had lost her job at the start of the war, as customers cut back on luxuries, and eventually became a munitions worker.  She appeared first in a very pretty dress from the start of the war, or just before, and later in a munitions uniform - amazingly, an original outfit, apart from replica trousers.


They also showed a beautiful wedding dress, with a wedding photo to go with it.  (Astonishing that these things have survived!)  The groom and best man were in Army uniform, so it was definitely a war-time wedding.



It was a very entertaining talk, with lots of fascinating information, and it was such a privilege to be able to see so much original clothing at close quarters. (Lucy also has a copy of the British edition of Vogue, from 1918!  And allowed me to look through it after the talk!  What a treat.)  History Wardrobe are repeating the show in various places around the country - it's worth tracking them down.

Lucy has written a book on Great War Fashion and I bought a copy after the talk, though I have only had time to dip into it so far.  It is very well illustrated - a few of the photos are of Meredith wearing items from the History Wardrobe collection.   It looks very well researched, too, and full of useful information.  I'm looking forward to settling down with it for a good read.  

Sunday, 28 September 2014

More Reversible Cables

Quite a while ago, I saw Norah Gaughan's Here and There Cables design on Ravelry.  It's a lovely textured scarf, covered on both sides with cables which wander about, split and rejoin.  It's reversible, so the cables do the same thing on both sides, and I've been trying to figure out, with absolutely no success, how they are done.  But following the reversible cables workshop last week, I had another look.  Still couldn't work it out.  So I decided I needed to get the pattern - I really wanted to understand it, and I wasn't going to do it any other way.

 Here's a swatch:


And the stitch pattern is the same on the other side!

Now that I have seen the instructions, it's actually a very easy pattern to remember, and quite easy to knit.   I feel there's going to be a cabled scarf on my needles very soon....

One downside of finally understanding how the Here and There Cables work is that  trying to work it out in my head was an infallible way of getting back to sleep, if I woke up in the middle of the night.  Perhaps I'll have to try designing some variations instead.