Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Knitting Again

The casts were taken off my wrists on Monday, hurray.  So now I can use my hands again and not just my fingers.  The wrists are very stiff and achy, but there's already some improvement since Monday.  I still have a brace on my knee - this one allows for some bending.  It's currently set to a maximum of 30°, and that will be increased in stages.  (That's the summary - non-knitters can stop reading now.)

The next question is: can I knit?  I already have a knitting project on the needles since before my accident, but I didn't want to go straight back to that.  I didn't know how easily I would be able to knit, and my tension might be different at first.  And you don't want a change of tension in the middle of a piece of knitting.   So instead, today I knitted a swatch.  It's a lacy scarf pattern, Different Breeze - a free pattern on Ravelry designed by Sachiko Uemura, and a candidate for the Juniper Moon yarn I saw in Ribbon Circus.

It's knitted in 4-ply (fingering) yarn, on 5mm needles, and as you can see, I managed it - with no difficulty, in fact.  I've shown the swatch straight off the needles - it's supposed to be blocked so that it is more open.  But it's useful to see that there's very little tendency to curl, even though it's based on stocking stitch.

And while knitting the swatch, I didn't feel that my knitting style was any different at all - so I think I can go back to my work-in-progress and carry on.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Orenburg Lace

Yesterday evening, we had the monthly meeting of the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild, and I managed to get to it (with some help).  The theme of the meetings this year is 'Around the world in knitting and crochet', and yesterday we were in Russia.  Marie had done a lot of research (and a lot of work) on Orenburg lace shawls, and gave us a fascinating talk on its history.  She had bought a hank of Volgograd goat down yarn to show to us, and had acquired a sample of the original goat down - you can feel how warm and light it is just by letting it sit on the palm of your hand for a little while.  (Or so I'm told - the palms of my hands are still covered by the casts on my wrists, and it doesn't work quite as well on fingers.)  To make the yarn stronger, it's plied with another fibre - silk for the finest shawls.

Marie talked about the construction method used for the shawls: you knit the bottom border first, in a long strip;  then turn the corner, and pick up stitches along the straight edge of the border; then knit the centre of the shawl and the left and right borders all together, side to side; then turn the corner at top right and knit the top border, taking in the stitches from the top edge of the centre part as you go.  then finally at the top left corner, you join the top border and left border by grafting.  Not the grafting that you use on sock toes (aka Kitchener stitch), but Russian grafting.  Which was amazing to me, because I wrote about Russian grafting on this blog way back in 2010.  I had never heard of Orenburg lace back then, and it never occurred to me to wonder what Russian knitters might use Russian grafting for - I just thought it was a really neat way of joining shoulder seams (which it is).   But it is also (and I suppose originally) used for finishing Orenburg lace shawls.

Marie talked about the traditional motifs used in Orenburg lace, and had knitted a lot of samples to show them. The samples are constructed in the same way as a full-size shawl, with a border. Most of them were knitted in Rowan Kid Silk Haze, including the rectangular one at top, and this one with the lovely chain of hearts motif.

Chain of Hearts sample
And to emulate the finest Orenburg shawls, Marie had knitted a sample in an incredibly fine yarn -  Heirloom Knitting's Ethereal CashSilk (70% cashmere, 30% silk).  There are 1500m. of yarn in a 25g ball,  amazingly - it's finer than sewing thread, and I don't know how it's possible to knit with it. But evidently some people can, including Marie.  (Ethereal is an apt name, I think - "Extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world".)

Lace sample in Ethereal Cashsilk 
It was a great evening - I'm so glad I managed to get to it.  Thanks very much to Marie for a fascinating talk, and for all the work she had done beforehand.

Friday, 13 May 2016


I have been reading a new book, Knitskrieg! A call to yarns by Joyce Meader - subtitled "A history of military knitting from the 1800s to the present day" (published by Uniform Press - full details here).   I have met Joyce several times over the past  few years, most recently in Glasgow last year, at the Knitting in Wartime study day, when she gave a fascinating talk, covering a lot of the same ground as the book.  The book is lavishly illustrated - many of the illustrations are from Joyce's collection, and there are also photos of replica garments made by Joyce and modelled by her friends.

Joyce starts with the Napoleonic Wars, represented by a knitted forage cap of the 33rd Regiment of Foot.  The original is in the Bankfield Museum in Halifax - a rare survival, if not unique.

3rd Foot forage cap, in the Bankfield Museum, Halifax

(A digression: I went to a talk and demonstration recently by John Spencer in the 33rd Foot re-enactment group. He said that the group had had a set of replica forage caps made - you can see them in one of the photos on their website.)

The forage cap was part of the official uniform; in later wars, the emphasis of the book switches to unofficial knitting, of  'comforts'.  The Crimean War of 1853 to 1856 was the first war that Britain was involved in that was reported almost as it happened, and was notoriously badly managed.  For the first time, the British public were concerned at the plight of the men fighting on their behalf, and the terrible conditions in the Crimea, especially during the winters.   Joyce writes about the book of knitting and crochet patterns, Comforts for the Crimea, published in 1854  by Mlle Riego de la Branchardiere, a prolific author of books on needlecrafts, and describes aristocratic ladies frantically knitting comforts to be sent out to the troops in the Crimea.  

Later chapters cover knitting comforts in the American Civil War, the South African War of 1899 to 1902, and the First and Second World Wars.  One or two original patterns are given in each case, in the original words, which are sometimes more or less incomprehensible, though Joyce also gives 'translated' versions of a few patterns at the end of the book.  I was delighted to see a photo of a gentleman with a suitably military moustache wearing the striped sleeping helmet that Joyce showed in Glasgow.  (If you feel inclined to knit a striped balaclava, there is an updated pattern using modern yarn and needles in the book.)

Photo: Uniform Press
The Second World War chapter shows pattern leaflets produced by the spinning companies (American and Australian as well as British) for a wide range of Service woollies.  There are also more unusual illustrations, such as a combined 'Knitting and Recipe Leaflet' from Batchelor's Peas, with the message "Save Time by using Batchelor's canned ready-cooked foods - spend it in knitting for yourself and the Services!"   And some ephemera which must be very rare - a chit from the Board of Trade allowing a representative of a comforts group to buy wool in Service colours off ration,  and little brown paper packets used by spinners to send out samples of Service wools.

(Another digression: I remember Batchelor's Peas from when I was a child - they were usually marrowfat peas, aka processed peas, which were dried and then soaked and cooked before being canned. They were a lurid, unnatural bright green.  Canned garden peas, which were fresh before they were canned, were a bit of a luxury.  You can still buy both - as well as Batchelor's canned mushy peas.)

There is a chapter on later 20th century wars that Britain was involved in:  Korea, Rhodesia and the Falklands. This includes a section on the virtues of 'string' vests, and another on the Guernseys issued to British soldiers in the Falklands.  The book comes right up to date covering Iraq and Afghanistan, and knitting by soldiers, as well as for soldiers.  Joyce also mentions knitting used to protest against war, and her pattern for knitted Remembrance Day poppies is illustrated with white peace poppies as well as red.

Photo: Uniform Press

Joyce has an enviable collection of military knitting patterns, equipment and ephemera, as well as all the replicas she has knitted, and has put them to good use in this book.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Ribbon Circus, finally

Back in February, I went to a fund-raising sale for Ribbon Circus in Hebden Bridge, one of the many businesses and houses in the Calder Valley that was flooded last December.   The shop re-opened in March, and I intended to visit shortly afteerwards, but it snowed on the day I was planning to go, so I didn't.  But finally, last Saturday, I got there.

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm spring day and Hebden Bridge was busy - it was great to see so many visitors returning.

And there were some very tempting yarns in Ribbon Circus.  I didn't buy any - it would be too frustrating to have new yarn when I can't knit.  (Due to two broken wrists, if you missed the earlier post.)   But I will.  The Juniper Moon 75% alpaca, 25% nylon was especially enticing - I'll be going back for some of that.  (It's sock yarn, but would be wasted on socks if you ask me - I'm not much of a sock knitter.)

Helen of Ribbon Circus, me with my casts, and lots of lovely yarn

Two more weeks until the casts come off my wrists, and the splint on my left leg gets changed for something that allows some bending of the knee.  Can't wait.  

Saturday, 23 April 2016


An unusual jacket came to light in the Guild collection a few weeks ago.  The style is unusual - I don't remember any time when I've seen women wearing jackets of that shape.  And the yarn is unusual too - the surface of the fabric is covered in little curls of wool.

We know that the jacket was knitted in 'W B Kwiknit Astrakhan Wool' - helpfully, it has a ticket from one of the skeins attached to it.   I recognised 'Kwiknit' as a brand name of William Briggs & Co.  from the 1930s, because I have seen it on pattern leaflets.

It would normally, of course, be very odd to leave a paper ticket (or nowadays a ball-band) attached to something you have knitted, but we discovered from the records that the jacket was knitted as a replica, specifically for the collection - it has never been worn, and the ticket was attached as an easy way to keep the yarn information with the garment.

I don't know how 'Astrakhan wool' was made - was the original fleece curly, or was the curl introduced in processing it?

I looked through William Briggs leaflets that we have in the collection from the 1930s, and found the jacket pattern too.

Penelope 902

So the garment was knitted quite recently, although the yarn and the pattern have both survived from the 1930s.

I don't think that the short-sleeved option illustrated on the leaflet would have been very successful.  The sleeves look too big and a bit shapeless, whereas in the long-sleeved version, the slightly puffed sleeve caps are balanced by the close-fitting lower sleeves.  And the astrakhan yarn is very thick, warm and heavy - not suitable for wear with a tennis outfit, I think.  

While looking for the pattern, I found another tennis jacket which I think is a much more practical design, and very stylish.   It's also in Kwiknit, but the plain smooth wool, rather than the Astrakhan.   I think it would be much lighter to wear - the Astrakhan jacket is surprisingly heavy.  (I should check the weights given in the two leaflets when I can access the leaflets again.)

Penelope 890

Back to our replica jacket.  The proportions may look a bit odd when it is seen laid flat - the shortness of the body makes the sleeves look too long, which they aren't.  It reminds me of early 19th century spencer jackets - very short waist and long sleeves, close-fitting except that they are slightly puffed at the top.  The sort of jacket that the Bennett sisters wore in Pride and Prejudice - and I am, of course, talking of the BBC TV adaptation, with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Mr  Darcy.  

In the Guild collection, we have very few knitted pieces in wool from the 1930s - I think most of them would have been worn into holes, or unravelled and reknitted, during the long period of clothes rationing in the Second World War.  It's amazing that a jacket's worth of Astrakhan wool somehow survived unused though that time too.  So although it's a replica and not a 1930s original, we are very pleased to have it.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

1926 Baby Outfits

Today is the Queen's 90th birthday, so I thought I would show you what a 1926 baby might have worn,  (I had that thought before I broke my wrists, so fortunately had already scanned the images for this post.)

Beehive Knitting Booklet No. 27

In the mid-1920s, babies were dressed in several layers of woolliness, at least according to the spinners of knitting wool.  (Possibly a biassed view.)  The Beehive booklet illustrated, for a 'Knitted Outfit for Baby' was I think issued in 1925.  (Although Patons and Baldwins had merged in 1920, the two parts of the company continued with their separate series of Beehive Knitting Booklets (Baldwins) and Helps to Knitters (Patons) for several years after that.)

The baby on the cover is (visibly) wearing a bonnet, a coat, mittens with thumbs, and a garment covering everything below its waist - 'overall drawers'.  There would be at least one more layer of wool underneath the visible layer.

Altogether, the booklet has patterns for 15 garments:  a vest; a 'knicker pilch' (to go over the nappy); a petticoat; bootees and gaiters; three coats; a Dutch bonnet and a cap; mittens, with and without thumbs; overall  drawers; a shawl and a pram cover.

I assume that the booklet was intended to cater for both boy and girl babies, and I think that all the garments are intended for either, except that possibly the Dutch bonnet is for a girl and the cap for a boy.

Pram Cover

And every single thing, apart from the shawl, is trimmed and fastened with ribbons, which would now be considered a strangling hazard, surely?

Most baby photos back then were taken indoors, often in a studio, and the baby was in a dress or wrapped in a shawl.  So we don't usually see the full range of baby clothes that they would be put into to go out in the pram, say.  But we can try to imagine 90 year olds, such as the Queen, David Attenborough (90 next month), and my aunt Beryl, as tiny babies all those years ago, and being dressed in an outfit like the one in the Beehive booklet.  Perhaps not quite so much woolliness, most of the time, except outdoors in winter.        

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Knitter's Friend Revisited

[This was written, apart from minor tweaks, before I broke my wrists. As John said in the last post, I shan't be doing any  knitting for a while.  I might be able to write posts about one or two of the pieces in the Guild collection, but I'll see how it goes.  Broken bones are quite tiring, apparently.  Now read on....]

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Hope family of Ramsgate:  Isaac Hope, his wife Margaret and their son George Curling: they kept a fancy goods store in Ramsgate in the 1840s, that also sold Berlin wool and other needlework supplies.

Mrs Hope and George Curling Hope between them wrote or edited several books on knitting and crochet in the 1840s, one of them being The Knitter's Friend, which was first published in 1844, but ran to several editions.  It was promoted in The Knitter's Casket, a later book by Mrs Hope:  "This book has an unprecedented popularity;  it is the clearest book on its subject, and is welcomed as a 'friend' by every knitter." (But she would say that, wouldn't she?)

My copy (illustrated) is one of the later editions - it dates from 1847.  

The title page says that it was edited by Mrs. Hope.  I don't know what editing involved precisely, but  a notice at the end of The Knitter's Casket says:
"In return for an original receipt in knitting or netting forwarded to the editress for publication, she will be happy to send free to any part of the kingdom a copy of the volume in which it appears.
None can be accepted which are not original, and a small specimen would be an advantage."
So I guess that the books edited by Mrs Hope were compilations of patterns that she had collected.  A free copy of one of her books (price 1 shilling, or 5p) doesn't seem a great reward in exchange for a pattern, but presumably the scheme of asking for patterns from readers worked.  It couldn't have been used for The Knitter's Friend, being Mrs Hope's first book, but perhaps in that case the 'receipts' were solicited from her customers in Ramsgate.

Mr Hope's role in  The Knitter's Friend is clear: he was the publisher.   He also used the book, in my edition, as a platform to promote another enterprise of his, Hope's Protective Labels.

(Click on the image for a larger view).  Some of the text is below:

They are cheap—readily affixed—instantaneously recognised—save time—prevent confusion--protect from robbery—may be had of all Stationers throughout the kingdom. 

Annexed are a few extracts from some of the Notices of the Press, "A very neat and simple invention has been made by Mr. Hope, of Ramsgate, in the matter of Passengers' Luggage Labels. The label is adhesive, and it is distinguished from any other label of the kind yet introduced, by the diversity of patterns, strikingly dissimilar, obtained from the combination of colours, designs, and numbers. It is a very useful and ingenious contrivance, and is calculated to add considerably to the comfort and convenience of those who are travelling."—Sunday Times, May 9, 1847.
"The Protective Label, invented by Mr. Hope, of Ramsgate, renders luggage readily recognisable, for the labels are of multitudinous designs and colours, so that no two persons can have their packages similarly distinguished."—Douglas Jerrold's Newspaper, May 15, 1847.
"The object of the publisher is to prevent a certain class of gentlemen from appropriating parcels by mistake."—Penzance Gazette, July 1, 1847.

and so on.

Passenger rail travel had become increasingly popular in the 1840s, as the network of railways spread across the country, and these luggage labels were evidently addressing a problem that had arisen, though I'm not sure whether the main problem was that passengers couldn't recognise their own luggage, or that it was getting stolen.  And was the luggage unaccompanied, or travelling with the passengers but in the luggage van?  I can't imagine what the labels looked like - I'd love to know.  But I think that they can't have been very successful - I have seen no later mention of them.

So that's Margaret (editress) and Isaac (publisher and advertiser).  What of George Curling Hope?  He used The Knitter's Friend to advertise his Cornucopia knitting needle gauge.  I think that he also did at least two of the illustrations that accompanied the receipts in the book, because they are signed with his initials, G C H, though in both cases his initials are followed by something illegible.

Kamschatka Body

Opera Cap
If he did draw these, I think he might have drawn other illustrations too, because the captions look to be in the same hand-writing.

Round Scotch Cap for Pence

George Curling Hope probably designed the covers of both The Knitter's Friend and The Knitter's Casket as well, because his monogram appears in the bottom corners of the back and front covers - the same monogram as on the Cornucopia gauge, though with added plant tendrils to fit in with the rest of the design.

Helpful words are embossed around the edges of the cover, in similar rustic lettering:  PERSEVERANCE, PATIENCE, APPLICATION, INDUSTRY - four very useful virtues, but sounding very dull.

So The Knitter's Friend (and later The Knitter's Casket) was not just Mrs Hope's work, but a Hope family enterprise.  Both can be downloaded from the Richard Rutt collection in the Winchester School of Art library here and here.  I'll talk about the other works produced by Mrs Hope and George Curling Hope in the 1840s in a later post.