Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Benbow Knitting Pin

In 2014,  I wrote a blog post about a mysterious pair of knitting needles in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.

The following year, crazyhaberdasher from Australia added a comment on the post, and said that she had seen an ad for the needles in a Weldon's magazine from the 1920s.  Here's the ad, with her permission, taken from her blog post:

So it definitely is a pair of knitting needles (I originally wondered if they might have some other purpose entirely).  Here's the text of the ad.:

A 9-inch "Benbow" holds as much as a 12-inch ordinary.
A 12-inch "Benbow" holds as much as a 15-inch ordinary.
The  illustration shows 212 stitches, 106 being in the curve.
THIS PIN is specially designed to take the place of the 15-inch KNITTING PIN, and is advantageous in many respects. For instance, when the worker is ready to commence the sleeves and shoulders, no matter how wide the garment may be, she can allow one-half of the stitches to retire into the CURVE, thus preventing any complication, and when inclined to put her work aside, can draw the whole of the width down to the CURVE, and will find no fallen stitches on resuming same.  Made in UNTARNISHABLE ALLOY, ERINOID, VULCANITE, and CELLULOID. 

Ours are some sort of plastic, so Erinoid or celluloid. (I imagine that an expert in early plastics would be able to identify the material.  Not me.)

The registration number, 700,735, dates the design to 1923, and I've recently found a description of the needles in a 1923 newspaper (The Sheffield Independent of 15th December),  The article is headed "Novelties for the Knitter", the Benbow Knitting Pin being one of the novelties:

The knitting pin, with curved top, is specially designed to take the place of the 15-inch knitting pin.  A 9-inch model has 12-inch capacity, and a 12-inch one 15-inch capacity. The idea is that by having a semi-circular curve at the end of the pin, 106 stitches can be compressed into this space and afford the knitter of a garment the comfort and convenience of a shorter pin. 
This is clearly the Benbow knitting pin, even though it's not named.  I guess that the author didn't want to stray into advertising by giving the name, but as it is, I don't think the description would help anyone wanting to buy a pair.  It seems to have been a very shortlived novelty anyway.  Awkward to manage, I imagine - you would have a lot of weight on the end of the needles, where the curve is, and if you like to knit with the right needle under your arm, like me, it would be a bit uncomfortable to have all that bulk there.

(I'm slightly curious about the name "Laughton B Lilley", too - Laughton was the name of the company that made Stratnoid knitting needles, and Harry Lilley was the patentee of the original duralumin Stratnoid needles.  But Laughton B. Lilley sounds made-up to me.)

The other 'novelty for the knitter' in the 1923 article is "a winder with a knitting-pin gauge":
The wool or silk winder is made in the form of a maltese cross, of two strips of thin material, and can be closed when not in use, to save space; but the most important part of the patent is the gauge holes to measure knitting pins.  When anyone is engaged in knitting an article they naturally settle on the thickness of the pin they wish to use for that purpose, but having a number of pins of various sizes to hand it is a very simple mistake—lacking a measure to test the size of the needle—to use a needle of the wrong gauge as the work proceeds, and thus possibly spoiling an otherwise perfect garment.
We don't have anything like that in the Guild collection, but we do have cross-shaped holders designed for winding artificial silk on to, like these:

I wrote here about the need for something like these for winding art silk, or rayon yarn, because it is so slippery. And I have seen something like the 'novelty' described in 1923, illustrated by Susan Webster.  Susan's winder has two cross pieces, pivoted in the middle, which open out to a shape like the two winders shown above, except with squared-off ends to the arms.  And two of the ends have holes in, to measure knitting needles.  Susan dates the winder to World War 2, but if it is the one described in the article, it's much earlier. 

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

A Cowl and a Pair of Socks

I haven't written for quite a while about what I've been knitting, but I have finished two things in January and February, so it's time to present them.

I haven't knitted many pairs of socks so far, but decided a while ago that maybe I should knit more of them, and I made a pair for my daughter for Christmas. I also decided that I ought to try wearing hand-knit socks myself, instead of knitting them just for other people. (Can't say yet how that's going to turn out.)

So I bought some sock yarn in November from Loop, in Camden Passage, for a pair of socks for me.  It's Lang Jawoll Sock Yarn, in Caramel.  The pattern is from Cat Bordhi's book, Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles (although actually I knitted my socks on one circular needle, using the magic loop method).  The pattern I chose has a design of Bavarian twisted stitches - I went to a workshop on Bavarian twisted stitches two years ago and have been looking for a suitable project to do more.

This was I think my 6th pair of socks (apart from a heelless spiral pair), and the previous pairs were knitted toe-up.  But this pair were knitted top-down.  That is the traditional way to knit socks, so I'm perhaps a bit backwards to start knitting top-down at this stage.  The heel shaping is also, I'm told, a traditional method, with a heel-flap, and a sort of triangular base to the heel.  I don't much like it, to be honest - the triangular piece doesn't seem very natural.  It's also the first time I have grafted the toes of socks.   They are very nice socks, but I think I'll go back to knitting socks toe-up in future. 

The other thing I have made since Christmas is a Moebius cowl.  I went to a workshop at the Guild Convention last July, led by Fiona Morris, and I've been intending to knit a Moebius cowl ever since.  I bought the yarn at the Knitting & Stitching Show last November - a discontinued Debbie Bliss super chunky yarn called Winter Garden, which is a surprising mix of llama, wool, silk and linen.  The colour is called Copper.

A Moebius strip is a surface with only one side and one edge.  You can make one from a strip of paper, and joining the two ends after putting a half-twist into the strip.  And you can knit a Moebius cowl in the same way - knit a rectangle, twist it and join the ends e.g. by grafting.  But it's much more satisfying to a knit a Moebius strip directly, with one side and one edge, and you can do that.  The cast on becomes embedded in the middle of the knitting, and isn't an edge - the only edge is created by the cast off.

  (I've posed it on an up-turned mixing bowl, in case you're wondering.)

Fiona suggested a diagonal rib as a possible stitch pattern that would work well.   It's a bit mind-boggling that if you keep knitting a diagonal rib, always going in the same direction, you get a cowl with a chevron pattern.

To repeat: the cast on is in the middle, between the ribs going in the opposite directions, and the cast-off edge is at the top and bottom, but is actually just one edge.  Best not to think about it too much.   

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

More Knitting Needles

As part of the Big Clear Up at Lee Mills last week, we did a lot of work sorting out knitting needles. They were left over from Hook and Needle Week in 2014, when we did a lot of sorting out of not just crochet hooks and knitting needles, but all kinds of tools and gadgets, such as yarn holders.

We must have had thousands of knitting needles at Lee Mills before Hook and Needle week, donated over the years.  Many weren't paired up, so a lot of the work in 2014 was putting pairs together and identifying the odd ones.  Quite a lot of different makes of knitting needles were extracted for he collection at that stage.   At the end of Hook and Needle Week, I think everyone was tired of sorting knitting needles, and so the rest got put aside.

Last week, we returned to them and sorted through a crate of mostly grey needles - mostly enamelled metal, some plastic.  A lot were the very common Aero and Milward needles, but occasionally there were other brands in the crate, so we were picking those out.  We are disposing of all the duplicates, but we found several dozen pairs that should go in the collection.

Some of them were branded with the names of spinners that I know from pattern leaflets - Copley, Vyella, Don Maid, Jester, Cronit.  They are mostly represented by just one pair of needles, but a couple are more common:  Robin (and Robinoid),  and Beehive Brand (Patons & Baldwins). 

Robin knitting needles
There are a lot more brands that I never heard of before - and to be honest, they are are pretty similar grey enamelled metal needles, with only the brand name to distinguish them: Bienna, Ibex, Fearnside, Poppy, Pixilite, Bouquet, ....

Poppy knitting needles 

One name I knew already is Stratnoid: in the 1920s, Stratnoid needles were made of duralumin, an aluminium/manganese alloy.  They are very nice to knit with - light and strong.  And shiny, a pleasant change from grey. But last week, I found needles of a much later Stratnoid design, which are the usual grey enamel, sadly.

Stratnoid knitting needles

But at least this design is different from most of the others because I can approximately date it, from an ad in 1968.

We have now worked through all the assorted metal needles.  A lot (the duplicates) will be re-homed, and we have expanded the knitting needle collection with the rest. 

All week, I was hoping to find a knitting needle brand not listed in Susan Webster's mammoth list of knitting needle brands, that you'll find here.  But whenever I looked in her list for some strange name I had never heard of, I found that Susan was there before me.  With just two possible exceptions: AKE and Vulcan. But I quite expect to find that they are just variations of brands that she already knows.... 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Patons Lucelle

Whatever happened to January?  It doesn't feel like we've had 31 days since the New Year, and yet here we are, past the end of January and galloping through February. Anyhow....

Last week we were busy at Lee Mills having a big clear up (or Big Clear Up) - things that had been sorted once but not quite finished, things that had got into a bit of a mess,...  Mostly I spent the week sorting out knitting needles (more later).  And in a drawer that probably hasn't been opened for years, we found a long-forgotten cache of 1950s knitting wool.

It's Patons Lucelle Fine Ply, and as you can see I found some Lucelle pattern leaflets elsewhere in the Guild collection.

Each ball has a ticket buried in the middle:

It is very fine - we should probably call it lace weight now, I think.  The earliest leaflet I found (from 1954) is for a 'Shetland-pattern jumper' and is knitted on 16s and 17s.  I can't find a knitting needle conversion chart that goes below a 14 (2mm), but from a British wire gauge conversion chart, it seems that a 16 is 1.6mm, and a 17 is 1.4mm.  Or to put it another way, the tension specified in the pattern, for stocking stitch on size 16 needles is 54 stitches and 78 rows to 4 inches/10cm.  Here's the illustration, should you feel inspired to have a go.  (It only takes 4oz. (about 100 g.) of yarn, so at least it should be a thrifty knit.)

Vintage 1950s knitting pattern

It has three vertical panels of a lacy pattern on the front, but unfortunately the leaflet illustration doesn't show the lace clearly - you would have to knit a swatch to see what it looks like.

As the ticket with each ball says, Lucelle was a blend of wool, angora and nylon.  It was intended as a luxury yarn, in imitation of cashmere.  It seems to have been introduced in the early 1950s: I found an ad from November 1952, for "PATONS LUCELLE WOOL -- The New Cashmere Wool".  It was priced at 2/6 per ball.  2/6  is directly equivalent to 12½p, so now that seems remarkably cheap, but the same ad gave the prices for 'Purple Heather Wool', 3-ply and 4-ply as 1/5 per ounce (7p) and  'Patons Super Fingering, 2-ply and 3-ply, as 2/- per ounce (10p).  Since Lucelle was sold in ½ ounce balls, it cost 2½ times as much as Super Fingering, weight for weight.

Later Lucelle patterns, like Patons 114, were knitted to a looser tension, on 13s and/or 14s.

Vintage 1950s knitting pattern

And even men were allowed the luxury of Lucelle:  you could knit the pullover or long-sleeved  sweater in Patons 124 below either in 3-ply or in one strand of 2-ply and one strand of Lucelle.  The leaflet says "Lucelle and 2-ply knitted together make a fabric of the utmost affluence -- but there's also a down-to-earth version in 3-ply."  (Though a hand-knitted long-sleeved sweater in 3-ply seems very luxurious to me, and not at all 'down-to-earth'.) 

Vintage 1950s knitting pattern

James Norbury, who was the chief designer for Patons throughout the 1950s, used Lucelle in The Penguin Knitting Book (published 1957) for two evening jumpers.  Here's the nicer one.

Lady's Evening Jumper in Lucelle, from The Penguin Knitting Book, by James Norbury

It has a chevron band around the low neckline, with a small cluster of pearls and sequins on each point - very elegant.  I am sure that James Norbury had a team of knitters at his disposal, so he would have had no qualms about designing a jumper that requires a tension of 42 stitches and 52 rows to 4inches/10cm. on size 13 needles.

The latest Lucelle leaflets I have found so far are from 1960.  Patons leaflet 1054 is for 'Two Lucelle Lovelies':

 I think that by 1960, there were fewer knitters with the patience to knit sweaters with very fine yarns - a new generation of knitters had not had the experience of clothes rationing, when you had to make a very little wool go a long way.  So even 3-ply knitting was beginning to seem like hard work, and I suspect that Lucelle disappeared not long after 1960.  Now we would knit lacy scarves and shawls with such a fine yarn, on much larger needles -- much less work per square inch.

Saturday, 20 January 2018


On Thursday, we had the January meeting of the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild branch.  As last January, we had a quiz set by Marie and Sarah - all the questions were on knitting & crochet, of course.  It was a lot of fun - especially as my team won this time.  (It was a lot of fun for me last year, too, even though my team came 3rd out of four, so it's not just enjoyable for the winners.) 

Here's my prize, in a tiny carrier bag made by Marie - a set of heart-shaped buttons from Sarah, a set of stitch markers, a 10g. ball of Opal sock wool, and a bracelet that you can use for counting rows.  The bracelet has nine beads in each of two colours, that you can slide from one end to the other through a loop in the middle, and so count up to 99.

Ann Kingstone was in my team, which helped a lot.  One set of picture questions was about some of the very popular patterns in Ravelry - patterns that have generated thousands of projects.  We had to give the name of the pattern and the name of the designer.  I did recognise the Hitchhiker shawl/scarf (over 28,000 projects), because I looked at it when I was choosing a pattern for a similar scarf in Louisa Harding's Amitola, but couldn't remember the name Hitchhiker, and had no idea of the designer.  And I recognised the Color Affection shawl (15,750 projects) because I have knitted that one myself, and knew that the designer is Finnish and her name begins with 'V', but  couldn't remember 'Veera Välimäki'.  So I would have done very badly on that section - but Ann knew most of the answers there.  I did much better on dating designs from different decades.  And as Ann said, if I didn't know where Beehive yarn was first produced, I ought to lose my job. (Halifax, by J. & J.Baldwin & Partners).  (And as someone else said, I haven't actually got a job as such - I'm a volunteer.)  There were other sections where the other members of the team stepped in - one on references to sheep, knitting, needles, etc. in popular culture, including Game of Thrones and Zootopia.  I was annoyed that I couldn't remember the author of The Friday Night Knitting Club, even though I have read it (Kate Jacobs) - I am very bad at remembering authors of books.  And Ann and I were hopeless at remembering the early branch meetings, even though we were both there.  We couldn't even remember the topic of the first workshop that we had, so it was a bit shaming to find out that it was on feather-and-fan - taught by Ann herself, and I wrote about it here

It was a really good sociable evening - thanks very much to Marie and Sarah for compiling the questions and providing the prizes.

Monday, 15 January 2018

A New Yarn Shop in 1919

I was browsing some online newspapers today, looking for something else, when I found an account from May 1919 of someone opening a wool shop. The woman concerned had been in uniform during the war, and wanted to carry on being financially independent.  Employment for women was scarce, with all the men returning from the war, so setting up her own business was a way round that.

It seems from the article below that wool shops had not been flourishing before the war, though the huge effort in knitting comforts for the troops must have helped the trade.  In 1919 a new 'knitting craze' was foreseen - correctly, as it turned out, with knitwear becoming very fashionable in the 1920s. So it must have seemed an auspicious time to start a wool shop.

I was particularly interested in this account, because the Wakefield Greenwood company started out in  just the same way:  in June 1919, Clara Greenwood and Harold Wakefield (who were engaged to be married at the time) set up a shop in Huddersfield, selling knitting and crochet yarns, and all kinds of needlework supplies.  This could almost have been their story too:



Somehow talking about wool shops seems to suggest "Cranford" and Jane Austen, and those early Victorian days of terrible gentility when one of the few things that a poor woman could do for a living was to keep a shop for the sale of Berlin wools and crewel silks. Those times have changed, however.  At the outbreak of war period it required some searching to find a shop where such commodities were the principal feature.  Wool and fancy workshops "went out" at the beginning of the century, but the war has helped to bring them back again.
At least, they are on the way.  There is, I think, a decided opening for them in many parts of the country.  I happen to know, because I have just received the experience of a woman who has established one.  Her home is in a little country market town not very far from London, a fairly busy place and popular with holiday makers.
 The Business Rest Cure. 
"When I came out of khaki,"  she told me, "my doctor advised me to stay at home and take things quietly for a while, and in answer to my protests at enforced idleness, he said jokingly: 'You'd better take that empty shop in the High-street and turn it into a wool repository, like it used to be when I was a boy!  The papers say that there is a wool craze ahead, and that women will soon be knitting all their own clothes, so you ought to do well!'
"It was meant as a joke, but it seemed to supply just what I had been trying  to find—an idea for 'something different' from my pre-war work, something that would give me some independence and which would not demand a terrifically large initial outlay.  So I did it.
"The empty shop which had been a Berlin wool shop in my grandmother's young days became mine for a moderate rental: it was painted and cleaned and made to look pretty, and one bright morning it was opened with some wools and fancy work goods arranged artistically in the window and myself behind the counter.  Since then it has been opened continually, and now there are two 'young ladies' in the shop as well as myself, and things are more promising and prosperous than I ever dreamed.

On the Wave  of Fashion. 
"No doubt the recent and present craze for woollen garments and trimmings has had something to do with it; all sorts of wools can be bought at my shop.  Embroidery silks, too, either for working cushions or frocks, besides all sorts of fringes, bead trimmings, braided work, and various made-up passementeries, for which there is a greater demand now than there has been for a quarter of a century or so.  Lately I have added some pillow and various English cottage laces to my stock, also lace-making equipment, and the results already have been very encouraging.
"One of my assistants is a good embroideress, and I have some 'outside workers,' who will do work to order, so that it is possible for me to take orders for work to be done—in particular, I find many women are glad to give orders for special dress trimmings of an everyday order, also for hat bands, children's clothes, and such like.
Lessons in Knitting. 
"To a lesser extent, too, unfinished work is completed; some orders are taken for knitted garments in special colourings, etc.; while the demand for lessons in knitting, lace-making, and embroidery of all sorts, is far greater than the outsider would imagine. It is so great. indeed, that I am seriously thinking of taking a clever friend into my business who will confine herself to teaching.
"It is an old idea which was dead and has been resuscitated, but it is worth reviving.  My wool shop is a flourishing concern: so is one on exactly similar lines which is run by another woman friend in a London suburb. And one hears people who drop in saying: 'How I wish someone would open a shop like this where I live.' "
The popularity of hand knitting lasted until after World War 2, and beyond.  When I learned to knit as a child, there seemed to be little wool shops everywhere.  In Huddersfield, Greenwoods closed long ago, when Miss Greenwood (aka Mrs Wakefield) retired in the 1960s - until then it flourished and expanded into the wholesale yarn business, run by Mr Wakefield.  It would be good to think that the woman in the article did well with her shop, too. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


This year is the 40th anniversary of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, and Guild members are being encouraged to make something to recall 1978 - maybe something from a 1978 pattern, or adapting a 1970s trend. And to wear the result at the Guild's Convention in July.  (I still have a sweater that I knitted in the late 1970s - my Cream of the Crop sweater from a book of Patricia Roberts knitting patterns published in 1975.  So in theory, that's me sorted - though as it's very warm, it won't be wearable in July.)

By 1978, Patons pattern leaflets had copyright dates, and we have permission to copy them for Guild members, so I have made a catalogue of the Patons leaflets published that year. (Available to Guild members from the KCG website.) 

Quite a few of the designs are not distinctively 1970s - basic sweaters, cardigans, scarves and so on. But some features recur several times that wouldn't be so usual now.  There are a number of big, loose tops in simple T shapes - described as oversweaters or overtops.  They typically have wide sleeves, dropped shoulders and slash necks. 

Vintage 1970s knitting patterns
Patons 1536

Most of Patons 1978 designs are knitted, but there are crochet patterns too.

Vintage 1970s crochet patterns
Patons 1518

And many are designed for all the family. (The slanting pockets in Patons 1575 are another recurring feature.)

Vintage 1970s knitting patterns
Patons 1575

Patons 1505 has the loose, dropped-shoulder, over-sweater style translated into a jacket.  The combination of colours in the sample doesn't work well, it seems to me, but with a different choice it could look good.

Vintage 1970s knitting patterns
Patons 1505

There are some lighter styles too - like this lacy sweater with a big frilly collar.  (Note the draw-string hem, also a feature of Patons 1518 and several others.)

Vintage 1970s knitting patterns
Patons 1617

There are a couple of waistcoat patterns which would be practical for a cool July day (and most July days in England seem to be cool).

Vintage 1970s knitting patterns
Patons 1581

There's one pattern that stands out, though - Patons 1595, for a unisex 'Fair Isle' waistcoat and pullover.  I think it was a very popular design at the time - we have two waistcoats and a pullover knitted from it in the KCG collection (see this post for a photo), and two more pullovers appeared in the Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood exhibition in 2015.  And it's proving very popular now - since I put the catalogue on the KCG website, it's been asked for more than any of the others.

Vintage 1970s knitting patterns
Patons 1595

It would be easy to make something quite wearable from one of the Patons 1978 patterns - there are none of the worst 1970s horrors.  No knitted trousers (no knitted patchwork trousers, even worse), no knitted shorts, no leg warmers....    (We do have such patterns in the collection, if anyone feels tempted.) 

So if you're a Guild member - happy knitting!  I look forward to seeing the results in July.

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