Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Trunk Show in Mayfair

Yesterday Angharad and I went to London on the train with two large cases.  We were doing a Trunk Show of items from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, for a joint meeting of the London branch of the Guild and the Knitting History Forum.  The meeting was in a room at the back of the Grosvenor Chapel - an unexpected quiet corner of Mayfair with the huge plane trees in Mount Street Gardens towering behind it.

We enjoyed the meeting - the people there were very interested in what we had brought, asked lots of questions and told us some things we didn't know in return.  Well worth the day-trip to London.  Here are a few of the things we included.    

Tam or beret, hand-knit in Shetland, about 1950

Knit and crochet jumper in art silk, ,about 1920 

'Mr and Mrs Panda'

Shawl or sampler of Shetland lace stitches

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Emu gadgets

Last June we had a Hook and Needle Week at Lee Mills, to make a start on sorting out the tools and gadgets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  We found a lot of needle gauges, including more than a dozen varieties of bell gauge.   According to the Victoria & Albert Museum, the first bell-shaped needle gauge was patented in 1847, and many later variants exist.   The Emu gauge illustrated is probably the latest in the KCG collection - I think it was made in the late 1940s.   It is different from earlier bell gauges in having holes in the middle rather slots around the edge (down to the tiny 1mm diameter hole for a size 19 needle), and it's anodised aluminium, in a beautiful green.

Then recently we found another Emu gadget.  It's a very neat little counter, about 2 inches/5cm. long. There are two circular holes in the purple plastic at the back, just visible, and we think that the plastic would bend enough to allow a knitting needle to be threaded through both holes (though we're not going to try it, for fear of breaking it).

The Knit-Count has a registered design number - 846860, which corresponds to 1946-7.   And I found another Emu gadget on eBay, with registered design number 846859 - a plastic ruler and needle gauge, to measure knitting needles from the old UK size 1 down to 16.  

In theory, the Knit-Count and ruler/gauge could have been manufactured long after the design was registered, but I think they are likely to date from the late 1940s.

Emu was a yarn company that seems to have appeared just after the war.  There are some very nice Emu knitting patterns from the late 1940s and 1950s in the collection - I showed a few here.
Early ads claim that unlike other yarns, Emu knitting wool won't shrink.  For instance, a 1945 ad says:
'Emu is the result of scientific research into wool shrinkage.  It is made permanently unshrinkable and easy washing by a secret process called "emunising". Send for a copy of "Science and Wool" booklet, which explains why Emu Wool is unshrinkable.'  
We don't have a copy of the booklet in the collection, so I can't tell you the explanation.

Emu ran a long series of ads with the slogan "Knit with Emu and stop thinking about shrinking".  The two illustrated give the address "Emu Wools  Ltd., Emu House, Oxford Circus, London W.1."  I wonder where Emu wool was spun - obviously not at Oxford Circus.   Any information gratefully received.

From Vogue Knitting 29, Autumn 1946

From Vogue Knitting 30, Spring 1947

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A 1930s Fair Isle Sweater

We were admiring a Fair Isle sweater at Lee Mills yesterday.  It has seen a lot of hard wear - it has been mended in several places, and the neckband and cuffs are a bit ragged.  And it's been attacked by moths too - there are quite a few little holes in it.  Even so, it is a beautiful piece; very well knitted, and the colours are as fresh as if it were made yesterday.  

It was donated to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection a few years ago, and had belonged to the donor's father.  He came from a farming family in Banffshire, in Scotland, and it was made for him in the 1930s, by one of his aunts.  He wore it for more than 20 years, and from the signs of wear must have been one of his favourite garments.  The short waist is typical of sweaters of that date that were intended as working clothes.  

In some Fair Isle designs, a different pattern is issued in every band, but here the Greek key pattern, in two shades of brown, is re-used in alternate bands.  I guess that helps to tie together the overall design.  It's interesting to see how the different combinations of colours work together.  At first glance, the colours in each of the wider bands are different, but in fact the same colours are re-used - they just look different because of the way they are combined.  ( I think there are 9 colours in all, including the two browns and two shades of green.)

On the inside, you can see that the knitter wove in the colour not in use, rather than stranding it across the back of the work. It's very neatly done.

The donor said that her mother had kept it after her father died, for sentimental reasons, and that she found herself unable to throw it away.   It has been very gently washed, but we shan't attempt to mend it.  It is too fragile to go on display or be handled more than absolutely necessary, but it will be treasured.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Mysterious shawl

I had some alpaca yarn left over from the Color Affection shawl I knitted two years ago, and so I have been on the lookout for another project to use up the surplus.  Then a few months ago I read something about a mystery shawl knit-along by Stephen West.  I haven't ever knitted any of his designs but I have seen some and they are very striking.  I read about the proposed shawl - at this stage there were no details, just some information about how much yarn you needed and how to choose suitable colours.  You needed a contrast colour that would stand out against each of the other three colours (which could be my left-over pale grey, orangey-pink (Poinsettia) and light toffee brown (Demerara).  It sounded intriguing and exciting, and I had just enough left over from Color Affection, if I chose a contrasting yarn in the alpaca to go with it.

So I bought an extra ball of black (Liquorice) as my contrast, and signed up for the knit-along.  The pattern arrived in four weekly instalments, and I started happily on week 1, which was just what I wanted - very dramatic and interesting to knit.   It has swooping curved wedges of garter stitch, getting progressively larger, in the three toning colours, and outlined in black. The shapes are created with short rows and the increases are kind of naturally built in to the turns of the short rows - very clever.  And the edge is finished with i-cord - very clever.

But I don't think I'm really cut out for a knit-along - by the end of week 3, lots of knitters could hardly wait for the final instalment so that they could finish their shawl, while I was still working on week 1.    

And then I hit a major snag - when I came to look at the week 2 section of the shawl, I didn't like it.  The week 1 section was all in garter stitch, but then it switched to two-colour brioche.  I didn't really like the look of it, and I didn't think that changing texture in that way was what I wanted to do. (Sorry Stephen, but it's my shawl.)   That's an obvious potential hazard of a mystery knit-along - you embark on a piece of knitting, hoping that you are going to like it, even the parts you haven't seen yet.

Also, by then I had decided that I wanted quite a small shawl, just to wrap around my neck.  I decided to do just a few plain bands of garter stitch, and then finished with an i-cord edging.  (Though actually, Stephen's final section, a zigzagging band of the contrast colour, looks very good   - maybe I should have skipped weeks 2 and 3, and gone straight to week 4.)      

So now I have finally finished it (I finished the knitting weeks ago,  but it was waiting for me to sew in the ends) and it's lovely. Very warm to wear around the neck.  Much more dramatic than almost anything I have knitted previously.  It's amazing how different the three colours that I used in Color Affection look in this shawl.    

And I should say that I am evidently in a small minority (of one?) in not liking the whole of Stephen's design.  The pattern has now been named Exploration Station (available for sale through Ravelry), and it has nearly 1800 projects listed in Ravelry, to date.  There are lots of comments from knitters who especially liked the brioche stitch section.  OK - I'm odd.

I haven't even succeeded in using up my left-over yarn.  Because my shawl is a lot smaller than intended, I've still got some of each colour left (though obviously less than I had), and now have some left-over black too.  So now I need another project that uses small quantities of three toning colours and quite a lot of a contrasting colour...   This could go on indefinitely.  

Thursday, 29 January 2015

1930s Motoring

Patons & Baldwins Helps to Knitters  3/667 

We have most of the Patons and Baldwins pattern leaflets from the 1930s in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and many of the women's sweater patterns are very stylish.  But one of my favourite 1930s leaflets is not a sweater, or something I would want to knit - I like it because the cover photo is such a  period piece.   It reminds me of the Dorothy L. Sayers novels - perhaps Five Red Herrings, which was set in Galloway in southern Scotland, although the book was published in 1931, a few years before the leaflet.  

The two ladies are evidently touring with their car in some beautiful countryside, and ready for hiking, wearing stout shoes and sensible skirts.  And  both of them are smoking - still a bit daring in the 1930s for women, I should have thought, but perhaps not.  Perhaps it's to show that they are independent young women.

The leaflet gives instructions for the beret, scarf, gloves and socks worn by the standing woman, and for the motoring rug over her arm.  

They all look fluffy, or partly fluffy, because they have been brushed with a teazle brush.  The leaflet tells you how to do it:
Where it is desired to give a fur-like surface to knitted fabric .. this can most readily be done by means of a PATONS & BALDWINS  special Teazle Brush.  The process should not be applied promiscuously to knitted and crocheted fabrics but only when recommended  in the particular recipe. 

It goes on to say that "TEAZLE WOOL is especially suitable for fabrics to be finished off with a "raised" surface, and gives most beautiful results when used according to directions", although in fact the yarn recommended in the leaflet is not Teazle Wool but Patons' Super Wheeling 3-ply.

Other Patons & Baldwins publications of the 1920s and 1930s advertised a brushing service - you could send your finished knitted garment off to be teazled by experts.  So I wonder how easy it would be to get good results at home.  And you would have to buy the teazle brush, too - which would bring the temptation to use it 'promiscuously', despite the warning.  The brushing idea completely disappeared later, of course -  perhaps because of the development of angora and mohair yarns which gave a similar effect with less effort.   Intriguing.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Knitting for Soldiers and Sailors

The Lady's World Fancy Work Book, January 1915.

I wrote last year about the April 1914 issue of The Lady's World Fancy Work Book.  In those pre-war days, most of the magazine was concerned with 'fancy work', especially decorative crochet.  But there were also a few knitting patterns, for instance a woman's knitted 'sports coat' - a cardigan, more or less.

By January 1915, the magazine had decided that they should provide patterns for readers who wanted to knit comforts for soldiers and sailors.   The introduction to the issue said, "So many comforts have been knitted for soldiers, but we fear comforts for sailors are being overlooked, and we would remind the home worker of the need of scarves, sweaters, stockings, mittens, etc., that is experienced by the men in the North Sea at this time of the year."  (Though actually if readers had been knitting for soldiers, that was no thanks to the magazine, which had not published any 'comforts' patterns in the previous issue.)  The front cover illustrates four of the patterns.  The body belt is "an absolute necessity for both soldier and sailor".  Khaki wool is specified for the sleeping helmet, so that is aimed at the Army not the Navy.   The other two are specifically for sailors.  The Seaman's Jersey is in navy double knitting wool.  It is knitted in stocking stitch, apart from a patterned yoke, and has a ribbed roll collar.  The Sea Boot Stockings are knitted in the same wool.   Inside the magazine, there is a pattern for a Cardigan Jacket for a Soldier, also in double knitting wool "of a brown heather mixture colour, very suitable for soldiers' wear, although of course khaki or navy blue would be quite as serviceable."   And there is a very simple crocheted muffler for a soldier, in khaki double knitting wool.

Elsewhere in the magazine there are patterns for baby clothes, including a lacy 'matinee' jacket, and cycling or golfing stockings with fancy tops.

And in spite of the cover illustration of comforts for soldiers and sailors, more than half the magazine is still taken up by fancy work.  The biggest project is a chair-back in filet crochet, showing a cherub driving a chariot (full of apples? or oranges?) pulled by a rather depressed-looking lion.   A bit baffling, really.  The chair-back takes 188 rows of crochet, and the instructions for each row are given stitch by stitch.  Six and a half pages of print (a proof-reading nightmare).  Use a chart, people! Would the finished chair-back be worth all that effort?   I don't think so.

There are several ads in the magazines from spinners producing suitable wools for knitting comforts for soldiers and sailors, so perhaps that gives a better indication of what the magazine's readers were really spending their time on.

You can find a pattern from the magazine for a rather strange-sounding combination of cap and scarf, here.    A copy of the whole magazine is available to members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Victorian Double Knitting

I wrote earlier about knitting a pence jug from the directions in Mrs Hope's The Knitter's Friend.  I'm not at all familiar with 19th century knitting books, so I've been trying to get a feel for how easy they would be to use.

The instructions for the pence jug were on the whole clear, and of course having an illustration helped.  But I have been looking at some of the other 'receipts' in the book, most of which aren't illustrated, and some of them are very hard to understand.

For instance, there is a pattern for a comforter which completely baffled me.  In the First World War, a comforter seems to have been more or less equivalent to a scarf or muffler, but this was evidently something different.   The complete instructions read:
Four pins No. 14, and 1/4 lb. three-thread super-fleecy.  Cast on 48 stitches on each of two needles, and 54 on the third; knit three and purl three alternately, till it is a quarter of a yard long; when cast off 75, and continue double knitting with the remainder, until it is a quarter of a yard long also.  
And then what?  How do you wear it?  (A quarter of a yard is 9 inches, or about 23 cm.  At least I can understand that bit.)

Elsewhere in the book are directions for double knitting:
Having done as many plain stitches as you require for the edge, bring the wool forward, slip a stitch, * pass the wool back, knit one putting the wool twice over the pin, repeat "bring the wool forward, &c." In the next row, the stitch that was knitted is slipped and vice versa.  
 * In slipping this stitch, take it off with the pin pointing towards you, that is, as though you intended to purl it. 
This sounds  a bit like what we now call double knitting, i.e. creating a double layer of knitting, except for 'putting the wool twice over the pin'.  But if they were not both called 'double knitting' I would not guess them to be the same, from Mrs Hope's instructions.

John bought me another little knitting book at the York Antiquarian Book Fair, The Ladies' Knitting and Netting Book (3rd series) by Miss Watts.  It seems to have been published about the same time as The Knitter's Friend (1840s).  It has instructions for a very similar comforter (a tube of K3, P3 rib, and then a flat piece of double knitting on half the stitches), and describes how it is to be worn:  "The ribbed part is to set round the throat and the double knitting covers the chest."  So that's clear - it's what's now called a dickey.

Like Mrs Hope, "Miss Watts"  (who apparently was at least two women) also attempts to describe double knitting:
Bring the wool forward, slip 1 stitch, pass the wool back, knit 1 stitch with the wool twice round the needle;  repeat to the end of the row.  Every row is the same.
She is (they are) evidently describing the same technique as Mrs Hope, but  I wouldn't want to rely on either set of instructions and be confident of doing what they intended.

Then I found another book, The Comprehensive Knitting Book by Esther Copley (1849).  She gives instructions for stitch patterns, as well as patterns for a huge range of garments. This is what she says about double knitting:
 Double Knitting 
So called on account of its forming a double texture, as if lined with a separate article and confined at the edges. The texture throughout though thick is loose, and is adapted to purposes in which warmth and softness are required rather than elegance of appearance, such as blankets, petticoats, drawers, protectors for the chest, &c.  Cast on any even number of stitches. Begin with six or eight plain rows by way of border.  The number of edge stitches should correspond with those of the border.  Thus, if eight rows of border be knitted, four stitches should be knitted plain at the beginning and end of every row. Having knit the edge stitches, bring the wool in front and slip a stitch; carry the wool back, and knit the next stitch.... putting the wool twice round the pin, once more than it would be in common knitting. 
 These two stitches constitute the whole of the pattern; they are to be repeated till the last four of the row, which are to be knitted as edge-stitches.  In returning, all the long stitches will be slipped, and all the short ones (slipped in the foregoing row) will be knitted.  Every row is alike until the last before the finishing border.  In this, the wool is to be brought in front, the stitch slipped, and the wool returned as heretofore; but the second (and every other alternate stitch) is to be plain knitted, not putting the wool twice round the pin. 
There's a woman who knows what she's talking about.  That description has everything you need:  it tells you what the result is like, what to use it for, and gives very clear directions.  She tells you that you need an even number of stitches (whereas in Mrs Hope's comforter receipt, the double knitting section is worked on an odd number of stitches - which could cause horrible problems to anyone trying to follow it without already knowing about double knitting).  She talks about the edge stitches, which Miss Watts does not, and Mrs Hope only mentions edge stitches at the beginning of the row. She tells you what happens on the second row, i.e. you knit the stitches you slipped on the previous row, and v.v., which is useful confirmation in understanding the directions.  And she tells you how to finish.  

So I was easily able to follow Mrs Copley's instructions and knit a swatch.

Within a border of plain knitting (garter stitch), you get a double thickness of stocking stitch, with the knit side outwards on both sides - so the other side of the swatch looks the same.  As Mrs Copley says, the texture is very loose, because putting the yarn round the needle twice gives a larger stitch than usual.  And I found it very difficult to get the stitches even, so it does not have much 'elegance of appearance'.   It would make a warm soft chest covering for your comforter.

Mrs Copley is my hero.  I haven't read the whole book - it has 208 pages - but what I have read looks very thorough and comprehensive, as she claims.  And the book is available free from Google Books.