Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Best Selling Pattern Booklet

In working on the Knitting and Crochet Guild's collections, I recently branched out from sorting magazines to sorting pattern leaflets, of which we have thousands.   (Many thousands, we think - hard to tell, when they are mostly in unsorted boxes and haven't been separated into different spinners.)

We have been trying to make sense of the Patons and Baldwins numbering system (so far without a great deal of success).  Patons and Baldwins were two separate long-established spinners when they merged in 1920, and the company still exists (as Patons) in the Coats group.  There are a lot of pattern leaflets and booklets to sort that were issued by Patons & Baldwins from the 1920s onwards, and I have been working on some from the later 1940s and 1950s - 9 boxes of them.

Because they haven't been properly sorted before, there are many that are duplicated, and I think that the ones that we have multiple copies of are likely to be those that P&B sold a lot of.  It's interesting to see which they are - we have catalogues of leaflets from various dates, but they don't give any idea of which were successful.  So what kind of patterns turn up over and over again in the boxes of unsorted leaflets?  The answer is, overwhelmingly, patterns for baby clothes.

One booklet in particular, The Quickerknit Baby Book, I found over and over again and it had clearly been reprinted several times, because there were copies with several different prices.  In fact, it must have been Patons & Baldwins best-selling booklet ever.  It was first published in 1956, and according to Michael Harvey in his book Patons: A Story of Handknitting, it was still selling strongly in 1985 and had by then sold 3 million copies - an astonishing number.  

Why was this booklet so  popular, over such a long period? By chance, I found in the collections a copy of the P&B list of new booklets for February 1956, when SC44 first appeared, and it says that it "is the first publication to feature Patons Quickerknit Baby Wool, Patonised".  Quickerknit Baby Wool is described as "thicker than 4-ply and finer than double knitting" - evidently double knitting was not thought suitable for babies, but this would knit up more quickly than 4-ply.  "Patonised" wool was treated to be shrink-resistant. 

Quickerknit Baby Wool must have proved very popular, and that would explain why the first patterns published for it would have sold well.  But why did SC44 continue to sell for 30 years?   The patterns in it don't seem very unusual or especially attractive.  There are two cardigans, a matinee coat, a pair of bootees and a pram set. The pram set consists of a bonnet, a coat, a pair of leggings and a pair of mitts, so that the baby is clothed from head to toe, literally, in woolliness.  Who was knitting pram sets in 1985?  They were probably very necessary in the 1950s, when babies spent a lot of time in their prams.  (There were far fewer cars than now, so prams were the main way of transporting a baby.  There was also a theory that babies should be put outside in their prams for day-time naps, to get the benefit of fresh air - although before the Clean Air Act came into force, it's doubtful whether there was much fresh air in towns and cities.)   But by 1985, in my experience, babies were no longer wearing clothes of this sort.        

So I don't know why SC44 continued to be such a huge best-seller.  The baby isn't even especially cute. 

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A New Pin

My bronze award pin
I went to give blood this week, and it turned out that it was my 10th donation (at least in recent years).  I was given a "Bronze Award Pack" containing a thank-you note and a pin.

In fact, I have donated more than 10 times - I became a blood donor when I was 18 and a university student, and the Transfusion Service used to come to the university once a term to collect blood.  But later, it got more difficult to find out when and where the donor sessions were, and I gave it up. It's easier now, because the Service keeps track of its donors - you can make appointments in advance, and they send reminder letters.  

I felt quite proud of myself when I got my pin - 10 donations is quite a lot of blood. I'm not likely to achieve my father's record, though - he had a tie-pin of a similar design to my pin, for making 50 donations.    

I'll put my pin on my knitting bag, where there is a small collection of pins already,  including the one that says "I knit therefore I am". 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Felt Slippers

I have worn the same kind of slippers for years - suede moccasins with a woolly lining, bought from the leather shop in the Shambles in York.  I must have bought around a dozen pairs by now.  But my current pair split at the toe when they were still quite new, so I do not love them any more.    I have been pondering what kind to buy instead, and thinking of some (very expensive) felt slippers I saw featured  in a magazine a few years ago, and then had an inspiration:  I am knitting again!  You can knit things and felt them! I can make felt slippers!   I consulted a friend who does a lot of felting and she pointed me to Mindie Tallack's Duffers pattern, free from here.    So I have made a pair.



They are really quick to make - you use super chunky wool on 8mm needles.  You cast on 64 stitches (for the largest size) and work just 19 rows before casting off.   (Of course, there are several increases and decreases in betweeen, otherwise it wouldn't be slipper-shaped).    I used Filzwolle by Four Seasons Gr√ľndl which comes in a range of variegated colours. 



I put them through the washing machine twice - the first time they came out still too big.  So I stopped being careful and put them in a regular wash at 40 degrees with a 1400 rpm spin, with a load of other things - all the things you should never do with untreated wool - and they came out teeny-tiny.  Fortunately, the pattern says not to worry if they come out too small because you can stretch them to fit your feet, by putting them on while they are still damp.

They are really comfortable to wear because they fit so well.  So, no more moccasins!

        
 
Apologies for the slightly weird colour of the photos.  They originally showed the wool as very blue, but overall it's a mixture of greens.  I adjusted the colour, but the slightly green tinge to my feet is not natural, I assure you. 




Sunday, 14 August 2011

Shopping in a Crochet Dress

Back in March, I wrote about the Hand Made Tales exhibition at the Women's Library in London - here's the link to my post.  One of the items in the exhibition was a copy of Stitchcraft from March 1965, and the caption said that the dress featured on the front was designed by Eve Sandford, a knitwear designer who had fulfilled a long-standing ambition to have one of her designs on the cover of Stitchcraft

Stitchcraft, March 1965
That issue of Stitchcraft has now come to light at Lee Mills, so I can show Eve Sandford's design.  It turns out that it is actually crocheted not knitted, but I suppose I shouldn't be prejudiced against it for that reason. The man is wearing a knitted cardigan, and it looks as though they have been shopping.  He seems to have bought a barometer, and what looks like a bronze statuette.   I can't work out what she has bought - it isn't very heavy, evidently.  There are green leaves sprouting out of the top of the bag, and possibly a trowel handle.  Maybe they have been to a garden centre combined with the 1965 equivalent of an antiques fleamarket.



He is clearly very proud of his new barometer, because he is next shown posing next to it - he has found a good place to hang it in their house.  The cardigan is very smart - just the thing for weekend shopping in the mid sixties, with a knitted tie.


 










Later, they go to a drinks party, and he swaps his cardi outfit for a jacket, and a less casual shirt and tie, whereas she decides that the dress is smart enough for day-into-evening wear. (I think she should have added some jewellery though.) They appear to be swapping opinions on the other guests - not very sociable.



Given the fashions of the time, the dress seems to me a successful design.  Although it now looks too long (to me anyway), the below-knee straight shift dress was very current in the mid-sixties - Mary Quant was only just beginning to introduce the mini-dress that we tend to think of as typical of the whole decade, and Stitchcraft readers would not have been trend-setters.   I think Eve Sandford was quite justified in feeling proud of her achievement.