Thursday, 24 April 2014

"Waistcoat Tailored in Knitting"

Many of the items in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection have no provenance - we don't know who made them, whether the maker designed it or used a pattern, and if a pattern which one it was.  But occasionally we manage to pair up an item with its pattern, and sometimes donors gave the pattern with the item.  Here's one of those.   

Patons 943

The pattern was issued by Patons around 1950, and the knitter made it (I think) for her husband.  She left off the two patch pockets, but otherwise followed the pattern closely.  The waistcoat has obviously been well worn - there's an area on one armhole edge where the cast-off edge has begun to fray.   

There seems to have been a fashion for men to wear yellow woollies in the early 1950s - earlier posts showed Roger Moore modelling  a yellow pullover  and a yellow cardigan.   Having said that, I don't believe my father ever wore yellow in his life. 

The pattern is titled "Waistcoat Tailored in Knitting" and says "the stitch cleverly reproduces the effect of woven fabric".  The fronts of the waistcoat are in linen stitch, which does give a woven effect on the right side, while the reverse resembles moss (or seed) stitch. The back is in single rib, for stretchiness - linen stitch is a very un-stretchy stitch. 

If you don't know linen stitch, it's a 2 row pattern.  On an even number of stitches: on row 1,  (knit 1, bring the yarn to the front, slip 1, take the yarn to the back), and repeat to the last stitch.  On row 2, (purl 1, take the yarn to the back (i.e. right side), slip 1, bring the yarn to the front), and  repeat to the last stitch.  So on each row, you knit alternate stitches and take the yarn across the right side of the fabric when you slip a stitch. 

The waistcoat is knitted in 3-ply wool: here's a close-up.  I reckon that there are about 12 stitches and 20 rows to the inch.   Linen stitch is very dense:  not only does it take 2 rows to work all the stitches on the needle, but also slipping stitches has the effect of contracting the work sideways to some extent.  The pattern leaflet only gives the tension in stocking stitch:  7½ stitches and 9½ rows to one inch.  It says optimistically: "If you knit to the correct tension in stocking stitch, you will knit naturally to the correct tension for any stitch in this book."  Really?   In linen stitch, I suspect that knitters with the same stocking stitch tension might differ quite a lot in how tight they pull the yarn across each slipped stitch. 

      
So knitting this waistcoat must have taken a very long time.   Even when the main part is finished, the button band is knitted separately - 68 inches (1.73 m.) of single rib on 11 stitches, which would be very tedious.  And then you have to sew it all  on.  Altogether a lot of work - but on the other hand, the finished waistcoat has lasted in pretty good condition for 60 years so far.   

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Cycling & Recycling

Horse chestnut leaves emerging 
 Friday was a beautiful spring day, with a bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds.  John and I went for a walk around Mytholmroyd in the Calder valley.  Trees were just coming into leaf, and there were celandines in the woods.  (And lots of dandelions in flower, too, but we don't talk about them.) 

Sycamore leaves and flowers 
Celandines
 The walk did a loop either side of the road up Cragg Vale, which will be part of the Tour de France route in July - it's a well-known cycling challenge.
  

It was a nice walk, with a mixture  of woods, fields, and open moor.  Towards the end, we crossed a small area which is now permissive access land, and has been furnished with a new fence and new gates.  And the fence and gate posts have all been topped with an assortment of re-used plastic containers - coleslaw tubs, washing-up liquid bottles cut in half, the bottoms cut of milk bottles, etc.   They have all been nailed on to the posts, and I assume that it's intended to protect the wood (although the gates appear to have been treated with preservative as well).  



Reusing and recycling plastic is a good thing in other contexts, and you see a variety of re-purposed plastic on allotments (bottles, pots and tubs of all shapes and sizes, odd bits of string).  But in the countryside it just looks ugly.  

Thursday, 17 April 2014

My 1914 Hat



Here's a hat I knitted last month, and already mentioned here. (I'm still trying to catch up with myself.  It won't happen.)   The idea came from all the knitting and crochet patterns from the First World War that I was collecting together to send to the costumier of the "Tell Them Of Us" film.   One of the sources I used was a  Weldon's Practical Knitter magazine, issued in 1914, with patterns for a lady's knitted coat and hat. I really liked the look of the hat (after mentally adjusting the picture - in 1914, women had lots of hair and hats were worn very big so that they wouldn't crush the hair-style).  


  
When I read the pattern,  I found that it's a very simple idea.  The preamble to the pattern says: "This cap is knitted in "bag-shape", which is at present the most fashionable wear for ladies and children.  It is very easy to make, being simply a piece of knitting, about 28 inches wide and 24 inches long, and sewn up in the form of a bag.  The brim is folded in place, the top corners are brought down and lightly stitched over the edge of the brim on each side of the cap, and a fancy button is sewn on each point."  That's the essence of the pattern, although it then goes into more detail - and I think there is a mistake in the measurements quoted, because a piece 24 inches long would give a circumference of 48 inches, which even for 1914 hairstyles is much too big.  The detailed instructions say to knit 112 rows, which is more like 12 inches.  

The brim in the illustration is a garter stitch border at each edge of the 28 inch wide piece, and the seams are at the sides, underneath the buttons.  I decided that although I liked the overall idea, I didn't want to have the seams at the sides.  The brim would be neater without a seam, so I knitted a tube instead of  a rectangle, starting at the brim.  The seam is instead across the top, from point to point.  I used a 3-needle bind-off and it is quite inconspicuous.   



I kept to the "dice" stitch pattern from the original pattern, i.e. alternating squares of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch, 4 stitches by 4 rows.  I used Wendy Merino DK in dark grey and cast on 120 stitches to fit the circumference of my head.  (It had to be a multiple of 8 stitches, so that the dice pattern would line up exactly along the seam.) 

The buttons are a key part, of course, and here's an opportunity to  use some really special ones.  I chose some Fimo buttons made by my friend Steph  - she sells similar things on Etsy here and also in the Spun shop in the Byram Arcade in Huddersfield, which is where I bought these.  



You can see that I wasn't trying to achieve an authentic 1914 look - I would hardly have chosen Fimo buttons if so. 

The Weldon's pattern said that this was a fashionable shape for hats in 1914, and I did in fact find several similar hats in my search for WW1 patterns.   There is even a doll's crocheted coat and hat which is very cute.  
Doll's crochet coat and hat
 The crocheted golfing outfit (below) features a similar hat, but it's a cone shape rather than a rectangle, with only one point fastened to the brim rather than two.  


Crochet coat and useful cap
And you could buy similar hats ready-made - the Pryce-Jones ad from the Girl's Own Paper of March 1914 that I showed here offers a cap to match the sports coat, for 10½d  (about 4p).   


Pryce-Jones ad, Girl's Own Paper, March 1914.

I made my 1914 hat because it is a beautifully simple idea that I thought would look good (and it does).  I wore it a couple of times last month while it was still cold enough for a woolly hat, and it will come out again next winter.  And although it is not entirely authentic, I love the fact that it is essentially a 100 year old idea.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Holiday in the Peloponnese

The lighthouse at Cape Tainaron
The lack of blog posts for a couple of weeks is due to the fact that we have been on holiday in Greece (and then it's taken me a week to catch up with things).   We went with 13 friends from our walking group, and had a wonderful time.  It was planned to be a mixture of walks, history and nature - all organised by Gareth Trewartha of Naturally Greece.   There were spring flowers everywhere, and we saw birds on their migration north from Africa.  The weather was mostly lovely - sunny and warm, but not too hot.  (The exception was a hailstorm while we were visiting the temple of Apollo at Vassae - altogether a rather disappointing experience as the temple is now under a vast tent to protect it from the weather.)   We ate vast quantities of delicious food.   And Gareth taught us a bit of Greek on the coach journeys, so I can now say please, thank you, hello, good morning, and count to 20.  (Knowing some geometry helps with the counting - e.g. dodecahedron and icosahedron.)  I took lots of photos - here's a small selection with an extremely brief summary of what we did.

We visited Olympia first - walking to the ancient site from our hotel in the countryside a couple of miles away, through olive groves and orange orchards, and fording the River Kladeos (with the help of a pick-up truck from the hotel).  


The museum at Olympia is excellent, and full of amazing treasures.

Olympia Museum: from the Temple of Zeus
From there we moved on to Pylos (mentioned by Homer), where our hotel overlooked the bay (site of the battle of Navarino, 1827) and the island enclosing the bay (where the Athenians defeated the Spartans in 425 B.C.)

Sunset at Pylos
After Pylos, we went further south and stayed on the coast near Itilo, to visit the Mani, which is the finger of the Peloponnese projecting into the Mediterranean and culminating in the southernmost point of mainland Greece at Cape Tainaron.

A church in Areopolis.
We visited Areopolis nearby, which was once almost deserted, like many other places in the Mani, but now seems thriving.  And on another day we went south to Vathia, still almost uninhabited, and full of the defensive tower houses that are common in the Mani.  (Built by the Maniots to defend themselves from each other.)

A tower house in Vathia

From Vathia, we went even further south, and finally walked to the Cape and its lighthouse from the nearest habitation (a taverna, handily, where we had lunch).

After the Mani, we headed back towards Athens for our flight home, visiting Mistra, an amazing deserted mediaeval city, on the way.

All the week, we were seeing interesting birds, though I didn't manage to take many good photos.  Birds tend to move too fast - the little owl was easy because it was having a rest.


And some birds were actually chimney cowls (also easy to photograph).


We saw many lizards, but often just glimpses of them disappearing.  I found one that was enjoying the sun, and stayed put, before diving back into its hole in the wall.

A lizard on a wall at Mistra
And there were flowers everywhere.  Lots of orchids - I was told the names at the time, but I've mostly forgotten.  I will identify them again in time.

An orchid

Another orchid
Star of Bethlehem growing in steps at Mistra

  
There was very little knitting on the holiday, except for some interesting socks in the folk museum at Andritsaina  (not a good photo, because the light levels were low to protect the textiles, but good enough to show the colour-work).


A really wonderful holiday - we'd like to go back to Greece another year in spring.   

Thursday, 27 March 2014

March 1914

It's hard to look at anything published in the first half of 1914 and not feel a sense of foreboding - they didn't know what was about to hit them. In fact, authors sometimes write about the First World War almost as though they should have, e.g. in later 1914, "Little did they know that the war would go on for another four years."  Well, of course they didn't (except perhaps Lord Kitchener, and little did he know that he'd be dead by then).  Life wasn't comfortable for everyone - and extremely wretched for many - but I imagine that most people assumed that it would carry on in the same way for a good long time.  And in March 1914, spring was around the corner, primroses were in flower on the covers of magazines, and the Archduke hadn't even been shot yet.


The Girl's Own Paper was edited by Flora Klickmann, a prolific and successful author as well as editor. You would expect that she would be sympathetic to women who wanted to be financially independent and self-supporting, with their own careers, because she was herself, and there are some signs of that.  For instance, there is an article on "Quick Steps in Cooking - Suggestions for the Business Woman who has to look after Herself". The recipes in it are designed to minimise washing up - "one of the chief problems of the worker. Only those who have tried the experiment of doing everything for themselves, and earning their living besides, realise the strict economy of plates and spoons and forks and pans which must be maintained if life is not to become an impossible burden."  (Odd that doing your own washing up, etc., is viewed as an experiment, rather than something you had to do because you couldn't afford to employ someone.) The article is aimed at both business women who have a "daily servant for a few hours daily" and also those who attend to themselves entirely.  In either case a meal that doesn't require a lot of attention is needed, so soups and stews are suggested, and risotto - though I have to say that the risotto recipe is not at all authentic.  (You cook the rice by "furious boiling" and then add other ingredients afterwards.)  

Some of the ads in the magazine also seem to be aimed at women who did not have servants - or just possibly who were servants themselves, though 6d for a monthly magazine seems a bit steep for the sort of lowly servant who would have to blacklead all the grates.



But elsewhere, the magazine is aiming at women who don't want to be independent.  One article begins, "Women are said to be the keepers of men.  This being true, it is good to know that there are many women who seem born to the purple of wifehood and motherhood, and they seem to find in the seclusion of their own homes, and by their own firesides, a fuller and more satisfying life than anything the outside world has to offer them.  The need of this world to-day is not for professional women, but for educated, intelligent and conscientious women as home-makers. The world would wag along very comfortably if there never were another woman lecturer or doctor, for all those places would be filled very creditably by men; but it takes a woman to make a home, and the home is the one thing needful for the safeguarding of humanity."

Not altogether consistent, for elsewhere in the same issue an article discusses how difficult it is to find good servants - being a middle-class home-maker wasn't just a matter of comfortable seclusion by your own fireside, but of managing staff, who were then liable to do inconvenient things like leaving to get married.  

As usual in women's magazines, there are features on clothes. In 1914, they were very constraining (on a foundation of corsets, of course) - the silhouette was very narrow, so that if you were really fashionable, it was hard to take more than small steps. There are several pages of illustrations of garments that you could make yourself - paper patterns for dresses, underwear, children's clothes, etc. could be bought from the magazine.  Ready-made clothes are advertised, too. 


And you had to wear a hat.  To be fashionable, it had to be large and highly decorated - but if you were short of money you could refurbish an old hat by dyeing it.
  

Other ads are for sports clothes, which were considerably freer.  Sometimes, a woman is posed in a long narrow skirt holding a golf club and you wonder how anyone could possibly play golf dressed like that.  But the Tootal's tennis dress shows that at least sometimes women's dress could allow a lot more movement. 



The long cardigan and not-too-tight skirt shown in other ads for "sports" clothes were I think what many women wore every day - they were not just for sports.  As the Pryce-Jones ad says "No lady's wardrobe can be considered complete without one of these delightful models, which are so very inexpensive." 

Ad for Pryce-Jones, Newtown, Wales
But... little did they know that in only a  few months the country would be at war, and their world would change completely. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Host of Hats

Last week, we had the monthly meeting of the Huddersfield branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  Everyone was invited to bring along one or more hats and talk about them (or bring no hats and hear the stories).  It was fascinating to see the huge variety of hats that were brought  - old hats, new hats, designer hats, make-it-up-as-you-go-along hats.   Hats that turned out well, and one that didn't. 

I took photos of some of them - unfortunately, the lighting in the cafe was not very good for photography, and the colours in particular are sometimes a bit weird.

First, the vintage knits. Pamela brought along two Fair Isle tams that she knitted many years ago, and the booklet that the patterns came from. 




Patons SC104

I brought the Aran bobble that that my mother knitted for my sister in the late 60s, which I wrote about here.



I also brought my latest project, which was inspired by a 1914 pattern, so it is a sort of vintage knit, but also new.   More on that later.



  
Then the designer hats.  There were three designs by Woolly Wormhead.  Margaret has made her Meret beret more than once - here are photos of two, one much slouchier than the other. 







Sarah and Marie both brought their Encircle hat, which was Woolly Wormhead's mystery hat design in 2012.  I knitted it too, and wrote about it here.  

Sarah's Encircle
Marie also brought in Erica, which was WW's 2013 mystery hat. 

Marie's Erica
  
And Lorien by Ann Kingstone.  (She also brought Ann's Ilkley Moor design - the hat to go with the Baht 'At fingerless mitts.  It is beautiful, in the limited edition blue version of Baa Ram Ewe's Titus yarn called Boothroyd - but I didn't manage to get a good enough photo of it  to show the delicate cables.)    

Marie's Lorien
There were several hats that people had knitted to their own designs.  Angharad brought a navy and mauve hat she made to use up wool left over from a pair of mittens - the photo really doesn't do justice to the colours. 



And Marie brought a design of her own in feather-and-fan stitch to show off some yarn she spun herself.  


Marie really likes knitting hats, especially blue ones.  She also brought in the funniest hat of the evening - one that didn't quite work.   Beautifully knitted, though.  And blue.

Marie's disaster
Apologies to those who brought hats that are featured (either because I didn't get a photo, or it didn't turn out well), and to anyone whose hat is wrongly attributed or described - let me know if so.    

It was a very entertaining evening.  I feel inspired to knit more hats.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

In Aran Style, 1959

On Friday I did my talk on "The Evolution of Aran Style" once again for the Leeds branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.   It's the 4th or 5th time I've given the talk, but it changes a bit each time, and I use a slightly different selection of Aran sweaters to illustrate it.  The new entry this time was a jumper that the cataloguers were recording a few weeks ago.  


The donor had included the pattern with the garment - otherwise we might not have felt confident in describing it as "Aran style".   The pattern was published in Woman's Weekly in 1959.  The headline is "In Aran style is this chunky patterned sweater", and the magazine goes on to say "These magnificent husky patterns, so like those from the Atlantic Isles of Aran, make up a Double Knitting jersey we think you will find irresistible."  It is hardly chunky or husky in modern terms, but the description suggests that Woman's Weekly readers were usually knitting with finer yarn at that time - they are assured that because it's Double Knitting, "the sweater will grow quickly on the needles."   In fact, the sweater we have in the collection was knitted in 4-ply, not DK - I think that the knitter followed the instructions for a larger size than she was aiming for, to compensate.  It is a very 1950s sweater, especially as styled in the magazine. 


I used to read Woman's Weekly back then at my Grandma's, and I was always fascinated by the suggested colour schemes for outfits.  It seemed like a glimpse of some profound and esoteric knowledge that the Woman's Weekly writers had mastered, and if only I tried hard enough I could acquire it too.   For this sweater, the magazine declares: "There are appropriate colours to choose" and then lists them: 

  • Leprechaun green jersey, beige cavalry twill skirt, cream silk scarf.
  • Unbleached natural jersey, peat brown skirt, emerald green scarf.
  • Atlantic blue jersey, dark navy skirt, pale lemon yellow scarf.
  • Gypsy red jersey, black and white check trews, pale grey scarf.
  • Gorse yellow jersey, green tartan skirt, dark green headband. 
Too bad if you'd like purple or pink.  

The largest size (40 in.) is intended for a man (who ideally should have an open-topped sports car to go with it) and the magazine advises: "Choose the stronger colours of granite grey, storm blue or unbleached natural if you are knitting for a man."

It's interesting that the possibility of knitting in unbleached wool is offered in both cases - only a few years later, Patons introduced Capstan yarn specifically for knitting Aran sweaters.  It was what we would now call Aran weight yarn, i.e. thicker than DK, and initially was only available unbleached.  After that, Aran sweaters knitted in Capstan or similar yarns, in "traditional" Aran patterns, became extremely popular in this country.  Perhaps the Woman's Weekly pattern shows the beginnings of a trend towards knitting Aran sweaters in unbleached wool.