Sunday, 19 March 2017

Listening to the Wireless

I've cracked the dating of Weldon's Practical Needlework series (by relying on the dates given by Richard Rutt in his History of Hand Knitting - see here).   So now I'm looking at Fancy Needlework Illustrated - similarly undated,  so you have to work out the dates from other clues.

Vintage crochet cotton ad, 1920s
Ad from Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 73

And while doing that, I spotted this very charming ad for Ardern's crochet cotton, in an issue from 1925.  "Could there be any more delightful way to spend the evening hours than to make dainty crochet work while you listen in?"  Four pretty young women are sitting around a wireless set, with a huge trumpet, all busy with their crochet.  The British Broadcasting Company (forerunner of the BBC)  had been set up u 1922.  A BBC website says, "The first broadcast came from London on 14 November [1922], and "listening-in" quickly became a popular pastime."  So although the scene seems quaintly old-fashioned now, at the time it was exciting and new.

Two of the "listeners in" seem to be working on handkerchiefs, making lacy edgings, and the other two are making strips of crochet lace, to go around a tablecloth or something similar.  Fancy Needlework Illustrated and other needlecraft magazines had been publishing patterns for this kind of fancy household crochet for decades.  And perhaps young women such as these did spend their leisure time making household linen for their 'bottom drawer', anticipating getting married.    But by 1925, the magazine was also publishing patterns for jumpers and dresses - knitted and/or crocheted.    The cover of the same issue illustrates the mix of patterns.

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1920s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 73

The magazine gives patterns for the tops worn by the two women in the cover picture, and for the crocheted table cloth border that forms its frame.

And Ardern's themselves have another ad in the same issue promoting their Star Sylko yarn for making 'Beautiful Frocks'.

Vintage 1920s crochet cotton ad
Ad from Fancy Needlework Illustrated No. 73

Going back to the first ad:  I can't tell exactly what the four young women are making.  But I do recognise the pattern for the edging of the tablecloth that the wireless is sitting on.  It was called the 'Dresden' pattern (presumably for Dresden china - the design shows a tea service) and it was published in Fancy Needlework Illustrated No. 26 in (I think) 1913.  

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1910s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 26
It's in filet crochet, which was very popular in the 1910s - it is easy to produce quite complicated pictorial designs in filet crochet.  (In the Dresden design,  I like the corner motif of crossed teaspoons and a pair of sugar tongs.)

Dresden was evidently a very successful design - it was re-published in a later issue of the magazine, in 1920.  The cover says "This number contains a reprint of the "Dresden" crochet lace.  The most Popular Pattern ever published."

Vintage knitting & crochet magazine, 1920s
Fancy Needlework Illustrated  No. 52
  And you could have a matching tea cosy.


Vintage crochet design, 1910s
'Dresden' Tea Cosy Design
I think we have a "Dresden" tablecloth in the Guild collection - there must certainly be many survivors. It's nice to imagine some of the filet crochet in the collection in a 1920s setting like the one in the ad.

More on dating Fancy Needlework Illustrated in a later post.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Lace Yoke Cardigan

Here's what I'm knitting just now.


It's going to be a cardigan.  The design is by Norah Gaughan, from the Holiday 2016 issue of Vogue Knitting.  (The magazine appears in the U.K. as Designer Knitting, with a different cover, and the equivalent issue was Early Winter 2016.)

From Vogue Knitting, Holiday 2016 issue


It is going to look exactly like this, only denim blue.  

As you can see from my work-in-progress, it's knitted top-down, with no seams.  I have got past the complicated yoke, which took a lot of concentration because almost  every row is different - after the yoke it's very straightforward, and I have nearly finished the body.  

The yarn is Aire Valley Aran, spun by West Yorkshire Spinners ("reared, sheared and spun in Britain").  The pattern calls for an Aran weight yarn, though I think the specified yarn must be relatively lightweight to give the specified gauge (21 stitches and 30 rows to 10 cm in stocking stitch on 4mm needles ).  But Aire Valley Aran is also quite lightweight for an Aran yarn, and my gauge is spot on.

I did have a crisis of confidence part way through, though.  One of the advantages of knitting top-down is that you can try on as you go, and I did that, once I had finished the yoke and reached the point where you divide the sleeves from the body.  At that point the yoke looked extremely bulky and much too large.   It doesn't naturally lie flat - especially the cables at the top.   So at that point I pressed it gently under a damp cloth, which was an improvement.  But it was still too large around the neck edge.  The ribbed neckband is supposed to be added as a finishing step, but I decided to pause knitting the body and add the neckband at that point, and that has improved the fit around the neck a lot.  I now believe that it's going to fit me when it's finished, which is a great relief.

Without the neckband, the neck edge was much looser, and was sitting much lower when I tried on my knitting - it would have been difficult to judge the finished length of the cardigan.  So I'd advise anyone else knitting this pattern to add the neckband early, not at the end.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Stratnoid Knitting Pins

I do like a knitting needle with a patent number.  (At least I do if I can find the patent - sometimes I can't, and then it's just frustrating.)  It seems so unlikely that something as straightforward as a knitting needle should have anything patentable about it.  But several brands of knitting needle that we have in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection do have patent numbers, for instance the Double Century needles that I have already written about.

Another brand with a patent number is Stratnoid  (a horrible name).

Vintage knitting needles; patent number 151307; duraluminl

Patent number 151307 was issued in 1919.   The patentee was Harry Norman Lilley, of Astwood Bank near Redditch, and he said in the application:
"My invention relates to improvements in the manufacture of knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like and has for its object to enable such articles to be easily and rapidly produced in such a manner that they are not liable to get rusty or otherwise deteriorated in use as has hitherto been the case.

Knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like have usually been made out of steel and plated or otherwise polished in order to render them rustless and not liable to be deteriorated in use and therefore have to undergo a series of processes whereby the production of such articles by these means requires undue time. To avoid this it has been proposed to manufacture knitting pins and crochet hooks of aluminium but this is objectionable in use as it marks or soils articles with which it contacts.

Such articles need not particularly be made of steel, and our invention ... consists in making knitting pins, crochet hooks and the like of aluminium and manganese alloy which is readily workable, such as that which is known under the registered trade mark "Duralumin", whereby an easy manufacture may be undertaken which effects a large saving both in tools and machinery."  
 It's interesting that aluminium by itself was "objectionable in use" because it would stain the wool - presumably that's why later aluminium needles are anodised in pretty pastel colours.  Also interesting that the patent doesn't mention another big advantage of the Stratnoid needles - they are much lighter than steel needles, but very strong.   In the KCG collection, we have a haberdasher's catalogue of knitting and crochet equipment from 1918-19 (see here), that lists knitting needles made of steel, bone, wood, vulcanite and ivory.  Anything finer than a size 12 (2.25mm) had to be steel, but the thicker needles (more than about 4mm) were only sold in the lighter materials.
   
At the 1911 census, Harry Lilley had been a commercial traveller for a needle manufacturer, so although he obviously understood the pros and cons of different knitting needle materials from the sales point of view, it doesn't seem likely that he knew a lot about metallurgy and the processes involved in making knitting needles by 1919.  But all the patent says, really, is "I think it would be a good idea to make knitting needles out of this new Duralumin stuff."  And in the 1939 register, he was still a commercial traveller, so the patent didn't change his life much.

(In fact, he seems to have got the composition of Duralumin wrong - according to various websites, it was an alloy of 95% aluminium, and 4% copper, with the rest made up of manganese and magnesium, so "aluminium and manganese alloy" suggests that he wasn't very familiar with it.)

The patent was taken up (though I don't know when) by the firm of Stratton and Co., of Birmingham.  According to Grace's Guide, the company was set up in 1911 by George Abe Laughton, who at that time was running a small section of another company, selling coronation badges and flags. "Components were bought in from a small supplier who suffered from the ravages of alcohol and supplies were erratic. Laughton bought the business for £50 and acquired four hand presses and two girl workers. He named this enterprise Stratton, reputedly after the hero in a novel his wife was reading."   A nice story about the source of the company name, but in fact their eldest son, born 1906, was named George Stratton Laughton. So he might have been named for the hero of the novel, and the company named for him.  (And when he grew up and joined the family firm, he was known as Stratton Laughton, not George Laughton.)

By 1920 (again according to Grace's Guide) the company was making knitting needles, radio receivers and men's jewellery (an odd portfolio).  It then merged with Jarrett & Rainsford, the company that George Laughton had worked for until 1911, and became Jarrett, Rainsford and Laughton.  The Stratton name was kept for such things as powder compacts (vintage Stratton powder compacts are evidently very collectable) and of course Stratnoid knitting needles.    

The earliest ad for Stratnoid needles and hooks that I have found dates from about 1925.  It features a testimonial from a customer: "JUST IMAGINE MY DELIGHT when I discovered 'STRATNOID' -- so light, soft as silk, and never discoloured my white wool as aluminium ones did.  I have several sizes in 'STRATNOID' and they are JUST PERFECT."


Vintage knitting needles & crochet hooks, 1920s
Stratnoid ad, about 1925
The brand continued to at least the late 1950s. In 1955, an ad listed the  "points of appeal about Stratnoid Knitting Pins":
  • Solid heads that CANNOT come off.
  • Polished rounded points that pick up stitches easily.
  • Supersmooth finish for rapid work.
  • Lightweight and unbreakable.
  • Neutral shade that obviates eye strain.
The last point seems a bit of a stretch, but all the others seem valid.  (The head couldn't come off because it was made in one piece with the rest of the needle, I believe, unlike some of the anodised aluminium needles.)  

Here's another ad, from 1958.  At that time, the company often offered free knitting patterns in their ads - if you bought a pair of Stratnoid knitting needles, you could send off for a free pattern.

Vintage knitting needles, 1950s
Stratnoid ad, 1958

And after that, the ads seem to have stopped (if I see a later one, I'll add it.)  But the needles have carried on - as Harry Lilley's patent application didn't say, they are very durable.  (Though we have had several rejects in the KCG collection that were slightly bent.)  I've tried knitting with them, and if you like very smooth needles, these are ideal.  Though I might not go so far as to say "JUST PERFECT", like the 1925 ad.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Spider Wools

I've been working with the pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild  collection for a long time now. A lot of them aren't at all memorable, but sometimes there's a batch that stands out.  One is a small number of "Fair Isle" patterns for Spider Wools, published, I guess, in the late 1940s,

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; child's jumper, beret & gloves
Spider No. 183

Although the patterns are labelled "Fair Isle", they aren't anything like traditional Fair Isle designs.  Especially the one with the pandas:

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; child's twin set, beret & gloves with panda design
Spider No. 192

Spider Wools were produced by the Bradford Hosiery Yarn Spinning Co. We have only a dozen or so Spider patterns, but evidently there were many more, judging by the leaflet numbers.  The Scottie dog and panda designs seem to have been popular - I have seen several copies of each of those leaflets, though for the rest we have only one copy (or more often none).

There's an earlier leaflet, no. 56, for Baby's Rompers, that possibly dates from the 1930s.  They are certainly very 30s names for the designs:  Chips, Bunty and Mick.

1930s vintage knitting pattern; toddler's rompers
Spider No. 56
 
But most of the leaflets that we have were published at about the same time as the panda and Scottie designs.  There are a few other "Fair Isle" designs - all for girls, except the outfit below.

1940s vintage knitting pattern; Fair Isle; woman's jumper, beret & gloves
Spider No. 189

This one would be more attractive, I think, if I could figure out what the design represents.  There are bands of butterflies, and then bands of baskets? or cauldrons? or...?  They might, I have just realised, be bowls of flowers.  But there's no chart, so I would have to decipher the row by row instructions to see if they would look like bowls of flowers in the colours specified.   And I'm not going to.

I have seen ads for Spider wools from the early 1950s.  They evidently didn't publish them very fast - leaflet 211 was advertised in 1950, and leaflet 220 in 1953.

1950 ad


1953 ad

Leaflet 220 was a Coronation design - a purple cardigan and mauve jumper.   Like the other patterns, they are knitted in 3-ply wool.

After that there is a gap until the 1960s. I think that by then the company was part of Coats-Patons. We have a few Spider patterns for mohair from the mid-60s.  Very of their time. but a long, long way from the 3-ply "Fair Isle" designs of the late 40s.


1940s vintage knitting pattern; woman's beret, hood & hats in mohair
Spider No. 312

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Quick Baby Jacket

A couple of weeks ago, my sister asked me if I would knit something for a new baby - a friend's grandchild, who was then expected imminently. Margaret would have made something herself (she knitted something for the baby's older brother when he was born), but she's finding knitting too painful for her hands. So we got together in the knitting wool department of John Lewis, and chose a pattern and the wool, and I set to work on a baby jacket. And here it is:


Margaret wanted something that would be suitable for either a girl or a boy.  I wanted something quick to knit.  So we looked through the baby patterns for double knitting.

King Cole 3803
The pattern we chose has two versions of a jacket - one is supposedly for a baby girl (peplum, hood) and the other for a baby boy (no peplum, collar).  Margaret decided she would like a combination (peplum + collar), and  picked neutral colours (soft grey and ecru).  The yarn is Erika Knight for John Lewis Baby DK, machine washable wool.  (The baby's mother wanted natural fibres.)  Very soft, good to knit with.

I really dislike sewing up, so I knitted the body in the round up to the armholes, and knitted the sleeves in the round too.  I find it difficult to get seams in cuffs and welts to look neat, so they are best avoided.  I posted the jacket to Margaret earlier this week.  It had buttonholes but no buttons, as in the photo  - adding the buttons is her job.  And while I was knitting it, the baby arrived - it's a boy.

It's very satisfying to be able to knit an entire garment so quickly, and I think it's turned out rather well.  Eli will look very smart.

And the pattern leaflet is now in the Guild collection.  We need to keep up-to-date when we can.
  

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Weldon's Practical Needlework

I was going to write a PS to my last post, but then I thought. "Who reads a PS?"  Probably no-one who's already read the original post.   So I'll write a new post.

Weldon's Practical Crochet, 15th Series, No. 77 in the Practical Needlework series.
 In my last post, I was speculating about the date of this Weldon's Practical Needlework magazine,  recently donated to the Knitting & Crochet Guild, which had ads from the First World War inside, but I thought was much earlier.  I suggested that it might have been originally published about 1895, but kept in print for much longer - and obviously the ads could be updated for every reprint. Hence, 1890s patterns, but WW1 ads.

Then I remembered that Richard Rutt wrote an appendix to his History of Hand Knitting giving publications dates for Weldon's Practical Needlework issues, up to July 1915, when they started to be dated.  Actually, he only gives dates for issues in the Practical Knitting sub-series (he's writing about hand-knitting, after all, and not crochet or macrame or millinery or any of the other things covered in Practical Needlework).  But all the issues were numbered consecutively, and then given another number within their sub-series - so the issue illustrated above was the 77th Practical Needlework issue, and the 15th in the Practical Crochet sub-series.  (Confusingly, this is expressed as "Fifteenth Series" on the cover.)  So we can use the appendix to date all the Practical Needlework issues, not just the knitting ones.  

It's quite simple actually - each volume of 12 issues corresponded to a year, and Rutt dates volume 1 to 1886, so volume 7 is 1892.  And if we want to be precise, No. 77 was first published in May 1892 (because 77 = 12 x 6 + 5).

I don't know whether Rutt counted backwards from the dated issues. or whether he had other evidence too.  But it certainly works by counting backwards.  Here's No. 395, in volume 33.

Weldon's Practical Crochet, 180th Series, No. 395 in the Practical Needlework series.

It's dated November 1918 - that's the '11/18' in the bottom left corner.  (Click on the image to enlarge it.)  And extending Rutt's list of volumes and years, volume 33 does correspond to 1918.  And No. 395 would be the November issue (395 = 32 x 12 + 11).

The magazine continued with only a change of title font into the 1920s.

Weldon's Practical Needlework, No. 478.  
 This issue on Tea Cosies is dated October 1925. (You'll have to trust me on that - the pages are bigger than A4 and when I scanned the cover the date got missed off.)  And again the arithmetic works out - it's volume 40 (so 1925) and issue No. 478 (= 12 x 39 + 10).  In spite of the change of font, the cover design must have been looking very old-fashioned by 1925.  There was a redesign shortly afterwards, and the series then continued - in fact, it was still being published after the Second World War, though then as a Practical Knitting series only.

There's one problem with Richard Rutt's list of dates:  the British Library catalogue says that the Weldon's Practical Needlework series started in 1888.   Hmmm.   One possible explanation for the difference is that I think the British library has the bound annual volumes, not the monthly separate issues.  (Weldon's sold both - and if you can sell it as a monthly magazine and a yearly volume as well, why not?)   You can't produce an annual volume until you have all 12 separate numbers, and maybe volume 1 didn't appear until 1888.  And it has been known for the British Library catalogue to assign the wrong date to undated 19th century publications.  So I'm putting my money on the dates given by Richard Rutt.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Donations

It's been an exciting week at the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  I had accepted two donations of publications and they arrived though the post.  One is a wonderful collection of booklets and leaflets, published around 1920 - most of them I have never seen before.  Here is a selection:


We already have copies of that edition of Woolcraft, but not in such good condition - the other booklets are entirely new.  But this donation deserves a post to itself (later).

The other donation consisted mainly of collections of crochet samples, bound into notebooks.  I will perhaps write more about those in another post as well  (although crochet is not my thing, especially fine cotton crochet of the kind in the notebooks.)  An unexpected bonus with this donation were some very old magazines, including copies of Fancy Needlework Illustrated and Weldon's Practical Needlework.


Fancy Needlework Illustrated is awkward to scan - the printed area is larger than A4.  So the ilustration below is just part of the front cover.  Evidently it was also an awkward size for readers, too - this copy has been kept folded across the middle for a long time. Issue No. 64 is from the early 1920s, I guess.  (They aren't dated.)  Knitted or crocheted dresses often featured in the needlecraft magazines of that time - like the one on the left, with the model soulfully examining a rose. The dresses are so shapeless and droopy - not at all attractive to my mind.  It's amazing that only ten years previously, women were tightly corseted into the very structured Edwardian gowns - now they appear not to be wearing any corsets at all (although I'm sure they must have been).  

Fancy Needlework lllustrated No. 64 (detail of cover)

We think of 20s fashion as a very straight slim silhouette - but I think that's more typical of the later 20s.  At the time of this magazine, dresses seem to have been quite roomy on the hips (it looks as though the models might have been wearing quite bulky petticoats).   I don't think it works - if you're going to have no bust and no waist, you have to have slim hips too.

But as well as dresses, there were jumpers, and these are more successful, I think - they often have a belt, for one thing.  Here are two from the same magazine.

The "Clovelly" Jumper in Knitting and Crochet
 
The "Wingrove" Knitted and Crocheted Jumper

The Clovelly jumper is a T-shape,  in stocking stitch with panels of filet crochet.  The Wingrove jumper also has knitted sections, in stocking stitch with a regular pattern of eyelets.  The crochet pieces are done in a sort of large-scale Irish crochet, in a design of leaves and bunches of grapes.  The drawstring waist was very common in jumpers of that time - and at least it did give you a waist.

In the same parcel was an issue of Weldon's Practical Crochet - no. 77 in the Practical Needlework series.  Our copy has several ads for knitting comforts for the troops, and so must have been printed during the First World War, but Weldon's kept these magazines in print for a long time, and I think it may have been originally published earlier than that.  (A note on the first page of the magazine says "Over 360 Numbers now ready, and always in print.")

Weldon's Practical Crochet, 15th Series, No. 77 in the Practical Needlework series.
 
   It is subtitled "How to Crochet Useful Garments and Articles for Ladies and Children."  It has patterns for babies' and children's clothes, including 'bootikins'  (which made me smile, because that's Mary Beard's translation of Caligula).  There are a couple of household items - antimacassars and coverlets - but no women's clothes except underclothes. And there are patterns for toys, including the very charming elephant on the front cover.


And a toy lamb, too - though I don't think that's as successful.  Perhaps better in reality, in white wool, than in the engraving.


Some of the clothes for babies and children seem needlessly complicated.  Here's a child's dress in tricot (Tunisian crochet?) and crochet.  Not a garment to encourage active play - more suitable to sitting quietly to read an improving book.  

 
This dress and other patterns in the magazine make me think it's much earlier than the First World War.  The Practical Needlework series started in 1888, it was published monthly, and No. 77 is part of Volume 7, so I think it might have been first published in 1895 or thereabouts.  (Which is very inconsiderate to someone like me who is trying to assign a date to a publication and might be seriously misled by the ads.)

More later on the other publications that arrived this week.