Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Vintage Shetland Project

My copy of Susan Crawford's mammoth new book, The Vintage Shetland Project, arrived last month.  It was a lovely surprise - I ordered it at the end of 2015, I think, but publication was delayed because Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer and then going through some horrible treatment.  I had had updates saying that it was about to be published, but actually I had forgotten all about it by the time it was delivered.  It is huge - nearly 500 pages.  There are 27 knitting patterns in the book, based on vintage pieces from the Shetland Museum.  They are gorgeous - mostly Fair Isles, but some lace too.  And there is a lot of background information on the original pieces and the history of Shetland knitting through the 20th century. A lot to read (and a lot to knit) - I have only dipped in so far.



One chapter that has caught my attention so far is on Pattern Appropriation - the 'borrowing' of Shetland designs by commercial companies, especially in the 1950s.  One of her examples is a shawl that Kate Davies wrote about in The Book of Haps: it appeared in a Patons & Baldwins pattern leaflet, number 893, published in 1951 or 1952.  According to the leaflet, the shawl was 'designed by Mrs A. Hunter of Unst'.  The original shawl was bought from Mrs Hunter by James Norbury, chief designer for Patons & Baldwins, and is now in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.

Patons & Baldwins leaflet 893

It proved a very popular pattern, and the leaflet was reissued several times over succeeding decades.

Another example of appropriation illustrated in The Vintage Shetland Project is a pattern leaflet, also by James Norbury, that was a free to readers of the Daily Herald newspaper.   

Vintage knitting pattern leaflet, 1950s
Man's Fair Isle Pullover, from the Daily Herald 
The leaflet was offered to readers in September 1952, and the article describing it makes clear that the pattern was copied from a Shetland original:  "To find fresh ideas for his designs, Norbury, the Herald and T.V. knitter, makes regular trips to knitting centres here and on the Continent.  His latest discovery is [this] authentic Fair Isle pattern...  This design has been knitted in the Shetland Islands for over 100 years.  Norbury first saw it when he judged the famous annual Shetland knitting competition in Lerwick recently.  He brought the pattern back to London and worked out an easy-to-follow pattern chart.  It is a challenge to all knitters who know the feeling of achievement to be had from making a garment in Fair Isle."  The model for the pullover is named as Michael Howard (no, not that one) - apparently a famous radio comedian at the time.

As with Mrs. Hunter's shawl, the pattern was based on a pullover that Norbury bought on Shetland, and the original pullover is now in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection. 

Original pullover from Shetland 

The card with the pullover reads "Shetland Man's Pullover. This is a modern design incorporating the 'Seed of Life' and 'Star of Glory' patterns."  At some time between James Norbury's purchase of the pullover, and its arrival in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, it was put on display with this label. 

It's clear from comparing the pullover with the Daily Herald leaflet that Norbury shortened the pullover, to be more in line with 1950s men's fashions.  He also modified the construction method - the original Shetland pullover is knitted in the round, but in the leaflet the front and back are to be knitted separately, with seams at the sides. But the colours of the original are copied exactly: five natural fleece colours, from white to dark brown, with navy, dark green, yellow, carrot and ruby.   I suppose that Norbury might have argued that the designs in the pullover were traditional, and so could be used by anyone - but copying the colours too seems to me a bit questionable. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

On the other foot (3)

Since I last  wrote, we have been on holiday in Spain -  visiting Seville, Cordoba and Granada, and several other smaller places too.   We had a very good holiday, saw lots of historic sites (Roman and Moorish, mainly), ate lots of delicious food,...  But I had a few days of not feeling very well after we got back, so stayed in mostly, not eating much.  The weather was awful, so staying in wasn't much of a problem, and I did get quite a lot of knitting done.  The final part of the On the Other Foot socks Mystery Knit Along was published just before we went away, so I had the first sock to finish, and hadn't started the second sock.  And now they are finished.


I am very pleased with them - they fit very well and are the most luxurious socks I have ever worn (wool and silk!). Though I should maybe take a better photo on a lighter background.

 I did make a couple of modifications to the pattern.  The cables and lace option I chose for the ankle part had a few bobbles in it, but I have a strong aversion to knitting bobbles, and didn't like the idea of bobbles on my socks, so I left them off.  (Sorry, Ann and Sarah, but they are my socks.)   And the options for the cuff sounded interesting, but were quite narrow. I like a deeper stretchy cuff, so I knitted mine in a twisted rib instead. (My socks.)

I guessed that the lace and cables options I had chosen were those designed by Sarah, mainly because the socks I knitted for Susie for Christmas (described here) to Sarah's pattern The Chain featured one of the stitch patterns used in On the Other Foot.  But I saw Ann at the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild meeting last week, and she told me that I had actually chosen the options that she designed - the colour work options were those designed by Sarah.  You can see two pairs of socks, one using Ann's options and the other using Sarah's, on Ann's blog here.  The colour work socks look very good, too - and several of the projects on Ravelry have mixed the cables & lace options with the colour work options, and that also works well.

And just to prove that we have been to Spain, here's a photo of me looking in the window of a yarn shop in Seville.  (I didn't go in, though.)

 

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

On the Other Foot (2)

It's now week 3 of the On The Other Foot Mystery Knit ALong run by Ann Kingstone & Sarah Alderson.  I'm up to date (though only with the first sock) so I've finished the toe, foot and heel stages.  Here's the sock so far.


I chose the option that has a cable and lace pattern on the instep, to go with the cable and lace pattern I had already knitted for the foot.  (Though in theory you can choose either option at any stage.  Some people made the other choice following a cable and lace foot, and it looks fine. So does the colourwork foot with a cable and lace instep.)

Part of the point of Ann and Sarah's MKALs is that you learn new techniques, and they provide tutorials to help.  The heel with the option I chose is very neat, and completely unlike any heel I have knitted before (in my limited experience of knitting socks).



I'm really pleased with the result, and it was very straightforward to knit - just following the instructions.   It uses German short rows, which I've never tried before - I've only done wrap-and-turn short rows before.  There was an easy-to-follow  tutorial with clear diagrams with the pattern, which I found quite sufficient, though I think that Ann or Sarah may have done a video tutorial as well.

Finally, here's a photo of the instep pattern, which doesn't show up well in the first photo because my ankle was bent.  (Taking photos of your own foot in mid-air to show the detail of your socks is not easy.) 


I'm looking forward to seeing what part 4 brings.  I'm still undecided about introducing another colour, though on reflection it might have been nice to do the toe and heel in a contrast colour.  But I couldn't tell until I had done it, and it wasn't clear at the outset whether you could do just the heel in a different colour with this option.  Another time, another pair, maybe.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Difficult Knitting

In February, I wrote about finding several balls of Patons Lucelle in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and showed several pattern leaflets for little jumpers knitted in Lucelle on very fine needles.  I thought at the time that the best way to show what the yarn is like would be to knit a swatch, and when we had a lot of snow a couple of weeks ago, and I mainly stayed at home, I decided to do it.

I also wanted to try out the lace pattern in one of the jumper patterns. The leaflet calls it a "Shetland-pattern jumper" and it has three lace panels on the front and one around the bottom of each sleeve.

1950s vintage knitting pattern
Patons 994

As I said in my earlier post, the main part of the jumper was intended to be knitted on size 16 needles (1.6mm.), with the rib on size 17s (1.4mm.).  The smallest needles I have are 14s (2mm.) but I decided for a swatch it wouldn't matter.  Knitting an entire garment on size 16s would be a daunting prospect, even though it has short sleeves, is only designed for a smallish size (34-36in. bust) and is quite short (19¾ in., or 50cm.).

I had assumed that, apart from the lace panels, the jumper was knitted in stocking stitch, but got an unpleasant surprise on reading the instructions - the background is a lace mesh stitch pattern.  Barbara Walker calls it 'Star rib mesh' in her book A Treasury of Knitting Patterns.  It's a 4-row repeat, and on alternate rows you just purl, so it's relatively simple.  Even so, it's a lot harder than stocking stitch.  I certainly wouldn't ever be able to knit it without watching what I was doing, as I can with stocking stitch. 

The main lace stitch, in the panels, is much more complicated.  It's a 40-row repeat, for one thing - though again, on wrong side rows you just purl.  (I might have given up otherwise.)  What's more, the number of stitches changes constantly.  You start with 23 stitches, but sometimes you have as many as 31 stitches, and other times it goes down to 17 stitches.  Which is pretty crazy.

After I had done the first pattern repeat, plus a few more rows, I was a bit puzzled about what it was supposed to look like.  (I made a small mistake half way up - it's supposed to be completely symmetrical.  But apart from that, I followed the instructions correctly, I assure you.)  There are some things that might be intended to look like leaves, and some smaller shapes that might be petals?  or smaller leaves?   Altogether it doesn't make much sense to me.   


So I went back to the pattern leaflet and had a closer look. 


 I thought that in some places, the photo seemed to show two leaves, a four-petalled flower, and some smaller leaves either side.  Hard to tell. It looked as though there perhaps should be a central disc in the middle of the four 'petals' - like a sort of daisy. So for the second pattern repeat, I changed one row of the pattern to make it look more flower-like.


I don't know.  It's quite pretty, I suppose, but I'd like it to look a bit less random.   And it is much too much work to want to repeat it. 

Here's my complete swatch.  I do at least now have something to demonstrate what Lucelle is like when it's knitted up.  I do wonder, though, whether anyone ever knitted this jumper, apart from the sample knitter.  Who was, I hope, paid more than the usual rate for it.




   


Saturday, 17 March 2018

On The Other Foot

Two years ago, I knitted a pair of fingerless mittens in a Mystery Knit Along, run by my friends Sarah Alderson and Ann Kingstone.  You can see my (almost) finished mittens here.  (I did finish them, and posted some photos here, but the colours in that post look a bit murky - they are in fact much nicer than that.)   Now, Sarah and Ann are running another MKAL (Mystery Knit ALong) - this time a pair of socks.   I signed up for it, and looked for some suitable sock yarn.  I haven't found an actual bricks-and-mortar shop near here that sells sock yarn, except the stall in Huddersfield Market Hall, which has some in very basic, utilitarian colours like dark grey.   And a lot of sock yarn is self-striping, which won't do for this project.   But I have now got some very lovely yarn online from Eden Cottage Yarns



It's their Titus yarn, in a mottled brown called Compost.  (I'm new to hand-knitted socks, and almost all my everyday, shop-bought socks are black.  Occasionally black with stripes of another colour on the toes and ankles.  A few thick pairs in grey or fawn.   So I can't suddenly start knitting brightly-coloured socks and expect to feel comfortable wearing them.  Baby steps.)

The MKAL has several stages (five?) and two options at each stage.  (One designed by Sarah, the other by Ann, but we don't know which is which.)   The first stage (last week) was the toe, with a choice of two unusual construction methods.  I chose the spiral toe, which has four evenly-spaced sets of increases spiralling out from the starting point. 

We were told at the outset that there would be colour-work options, but that it would be possible to knit the socks all in one colour.  I do have another colour available, but I haven't decided yet whether to use it.  We are currently on stage 2 (the foot part), and yes, one of the options uses stranded knitting with two or three colours, but I've chosen the other option, which is a lace and cables pattern.  I think there will still be a possibility of using two colours for the ankle, but I'll wait and see what the options are before deciding. 


  
There's still quite a bit more of the foot to do, but it should be finished by next Friday when the instructions for stage 3 will be published. 

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.:


 THE "BENBOW" KNITTING PIN.
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.   



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