Friday, 21 October 2016

Canadian Knits

Yesterday evening, I did a combination talk/trunk show on Canadian Knits for the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild branch.  Not all Canadian knits everywhere, ever, obviously, but focussing on Cowichan and Mary Maxim sweaters.

We have three sweaters in the Guild collection that came from the Coats archive, and I think must have been bought in British Columbia around 1950.  One is definitely a Cowichan sweater, and has a label to prove it.

I really like this one - it's soft  and has an interestingly nubbly texture. Like all Cowichan sweaters, it's hand-knitted from handspun wool, in natural colours.  Also like all Cowichan sweaters, it is made without seams:  knitted back and forth, probably  on several straight needles, up to the armholes, fronts and back then knitted separately, and knitted together at the shoulder.  The sleeves stitches are picked up around the armholes, and the sleeves knitted downwards to the cuff.  The stitches for the shawl collar are picked up around the neck opening.  And following the Cowichan tradition, the colour not in use is woven in, rather than being stranded across on the wrong side as in Fair Isle knits.

Another Canadian sweater is also I'm sure Cowichean, though there is no label to say so in this case.

I like the deer (elk?) and pine tree design, but the fit is a bit odd on this one - it's very long, and the bottom edge is very narrow.

These sweaters were acquired by Patons & Baldwins as possible inspiration for their own designs, presumably under the direction of James Norbury who was the P&B chief designer at the time. James Norbury also had a BBC TV series on knitting, in the 1950s, and BBC Radio 4 included a still from one of his programmes (at least I assume that's what it is) in March this year.

And it shows the Guild's sweater!  (I tried to get more information from the BBC, but didn't get a reply.)

In 1953, Patons & Baldwins issued a pattern based on the sweater, in a booklet of Moorland Handknits, calling it a "North American Indian coat".  

Moorland was a DK weight wool, so to get it thick enough, the pattern specified using three strands together.  (Later on, about 1960, when Patons started to sell a chunky yarn, the pattern was re-issued.)

Our third sweater from British Columbia was made by a Semiahmoo knitter - the Semiahmoo, like the Cowichans, are Coast Salish people.

It's interesting that this one uses dyed yarn (the green and possibly the black).  But it doesn't feel as nice as the others - it's very stiff and a bit harsh.

I'll maybe say something about Mary Maxim another time.  But now I'm off to Blackpool!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Print o' the Wave, But Not Quite

As I said in a recent post about the Print o' the Wave lace pattern, I've been researching its history, and along the way I've been looking out for examples of it in use, outside Shetland.  I haven't found many, so far, but I did spot a few from the 1930s and 1940s, from the Patons archive.

In fact, they aren't quite the standard Print o' the Wave pattern as used in Shetland.  As well as the zizag openwork panels and the part that I think of as seaweed fronds, there is another panel of plain stocking stitch, which is pulled into a zigzag by the rest of the pattern.   I should I suppose  knit a swatch, but instead, here is a close-up from a another pattern I found - for a twinset, in Woman magazine from 1948.

(I spent a day at the British library recently, reading copies of Woman and Woman and Home from the 1940s.  Fascinating!  I'll write some blog posts about it.  Some time.)

Back to the 1930s.  The Lady's Jumper (the design is called Brenda) has a square neck - a good choice for a complicated lace pattern like Print o' the Wave.  It could be difficult to make a round neck look neat, when you have to fit the decreases into the lace pattern.  The sleeves have a long ribbed cuff, then there's an increase row, and then you knit straight to the top of the sleeve,  That's a common 30s sleeve shape (by which I really mean I've seen another one like it, to be honest...) but also it avoids having to fit sleeve increases into the lace pattern.  There is shaping at the top of the sleeve, but the pattern tells you how to do that, row by row, rather than just leaving it to the knitter.

Patons Helps to Knitters 332

The other pattern is a little girl's dress ('Joan' design - a very 1930s name), with the same variant of Print o' the Wave.  The skirt is just two straight pieces of lace, followed by a lot of decreasing to gather the skirt onto the bodice, which is in moss stitch.  It's a very pretty dress.

Patons Helps to Knitters  2/485

And here's a leaflet from the 1940s that also features a stitch pattern similar to Print o' the Wave, though this looks less like the standard Shetland version.  The 'seaweed frond' part of the pattern is much wider than in Print o' the Wave, and is in reverse stocking stitch instead of stocking stitch - the overall effect is very different, and not really as nice as Print o' the Wave, I think.

Patons 968

I have been assuming that the lace patterns in these designs were based on the Shetland Print o' the Wave stitch, but I suppose it might not have been. Because where did Print o' the Wave come from?  A friend showed me Nancy Bush's book on Estonian knitting last week, and there are several stitch patterns there that are like Print o' the Wave - the names all seem to have 'twig pattern' in the title (but in Estonian, obviously).   Here's a link to a free pattern for an Estonian lace shawl that has a twig pattern in it - and it does look similar to Print o' the Wave, with added nupps.   So perhaps the Patons & Baldwins designer got the idea from a Shetland shawl, or perhaps it came from a different tradition altogether.  I don't know.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Leeds Print Workshop

On Friday, we went to the opening party for the Leeds Print Workshop, on Vicar Lane.  Our daughter is one of the founder members, so we've known about it from the very beginning.  A good party - lots of people there, good beer, a tombola (I won a bracelet)...  It was impressive to see how much equipment they have already got, mostly donated.

They are still fund-raising to buy more equipment.  On Friday there was a display  of the prints available as perks to donors.

We have already made a donation, and our perk is the second from the left -- 'In the 50s' by Kirstie Williams.  I love it - it does remind me very much of 1950s furnishing fabric, and the colours are just right.

The first programme of workshops starts this week, running on Saturdays  (including two bookbinding workshops, tutored by our daughter).

It's a very impressive start, and I'm sure the Print Workshop will flourish.

A nice article about the workshop, with a photo of the outside of the building, is here.   And just to show that print-making is a messy business, here are some aprons, hanging on the workshop wall.



Saturday, 15 October 2016

Mice in Blackpool

Last October, a group of us from the Knitting & Crochet Guild in Huddersfield went to the Westcliffe Hotel in Blackpool for a Knitaway weekend.  We had a wonderful time, and immediately decided that we should have another weekend away this year.  (Chris Evans interviewed Paula Chew, the owner of the Westcliffe, on his Breakfast Show this week - you can catch it here for another few weeks.)

More people wanted to go this year, so to fit everyone in, we are having two weekends at the Westcliffe, The first was two weeks ago, and I'm in the second group, going next weekend.

As last year, we are running workshops ourselves, this time on lace knitting   Elizabeth Smith, who went on the first weekend did some practising beforehand and made some little mice, wearing lace dresses.  Elizabeth is a very creative knitter - she did a workshop on knitting seaweed for the Huddersfield KCG branch last year.  Her mice are in Jamieson's Spindrift, about 3 inches high (about 7 cm,) and are very mousey.  Their dresses are knitted in Rowan Kid Silk Haze, and are in the three lace traditions of our Blackpool workshops: Shetland, Estonian and Orenburg.  (The Orenburg lace dress is in the mouse paw pattern - Elizabeth says that she was thinking of using the cat's paw pattern until she realised that it wouldn't be appropriate.)   And as you might be able to see, the dresses are trimmed with beads - very splendid gowns for tiny mice.  They are altogether adorable.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Print o' the Wave

I'm doing a workshop on the Shetland lace pattern, Print o' the Wave, next week, and so I've been looking into its history.  I first saw the pattern at the In the Loop conference  in Winchester in 2012, when someone showed a photo of a garden fence on Shetland knitted in garden twine, I think, in Print o' the Wave - it looked wonderful.  (I wanted to buy some twine immediately to knit one too.)

I wrote earlier about the Shetland Museum's Study Day on “Authenticity in 'Shetland'Lace Knitting”. Part of the project looked at 19th century knitting patterns that claimed to be based on Shetland lace patterns.  The online material on the project says “Edinburgh-based Jane Gaugain published the earliest knitting books in Victorian Britain.  Her patterns are also the most authentically Shetland.”  

The Print o’ the Wave pattern appears in Mrs Gaugain’s 1842 book, The Lady’s Assistant in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work, 2nd vol. in “Pattern XXIV, Handsome Square Knit Shawl, of a Thin Lace-Like Fabric”.  The book is available online from the Winchester School of Art library here

Mrs Gaugain says of this pattern “This Shawl is exactly in appearance like the Shetland Shawls, only the centre stitch is more novel than any of them I have ever seen” - the centre stitch is Print o’ the Wave.  Her instructions specify that alternate (wrong side) rows are purled, but she goes on to say “all the pearl rows, like the Shetland Shawls, may be worked as plain rows”, i.e. you can knit the wrong side rows rather than purling them.  It’s not clear whether the version with knit rows instead of purl rows already existed as a Shetland lace pattern - she claims that the version she is presenting is novel, but there may already have been a similar stitch used by Shetland knitters.   

When I first looked at her pattern, I could not understand how anyone could look at it and identify Print o' the Wave - there is no illustration in the book.  But then I found another volume in the Winchester School of Art library, an Accompaniment to The Lady's Assistant, published in 1845, with illustrations of the patterns.  It had an illustration of the shawl that shows the Print o' the Wave pattern clearly (even though it's printed upside-down).

The shawl has a 52-row border to begin with (shown at the top of the illustration), and Print o' the Wave then starts in row 53, with a different pattern at each side. 

It's not easy to disentangle Print o' the Wave pattern from these instructions.  The abbreviations are not the problem, though they look a bit intimidating - you just have to translate P (for Plain) as knit, T (for Take in) as knit 2 together, and O (for Over) as yarn over.  But you have to figure out which are the edge stitches and where Print o' the Wave begins (and ends).  After some puzzling, I managed to extract the relevant part of the pattern and knit a swatch (see above).

The only difference between Mrs Gaugain's Print o' the Wave and modern versions is that all her decreases are done by 'T' or knit 2 together, i.e. a right-leaning decrease.  These days, the pattern is made more symmetrical by using right- or left-leaning decreases as appropriate.  (Though actually the difference is not as obvious as I expected.)    It must have been her deliberate choice to use the same decrease throughout the pattern, because else where in the book she uses  both kinds of decrease. Probably she just used knit 2 together because that was what Shetland knitters were doing at the time.

I found a later published version of Print o' the Wave from the 1880s in Mrs Leach's Fancy Work Basket.  (We have a copy in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, though it's also available online.)   The pattern there is called "Leaf and Trellis Pattern for Curtains".  Like Mrs Gaugain's pattern, all the decreases are done by knitting 2 together, so quite possibly, it was based directly on her book.  (Though it doesn't of course credit her, or mention Shetland.) 

Again, the illustration is upside down. But what's especially notable about it is that the sample is full of mistakes.  It's recognisably Print o' the Wave, but with extra holes added.  I think the instructions might be correct (I haven't checked) because the mistakes are random. It's atrocious.  You'd think that someone could knit a small swatch for publication without mistakes - it wouldn't encourage a reader to knit a whole curtain otherwise.  But Mrs Leach obviously needed a lot of material to fill her magazine, and this pattern is only a few column inches, so  perhaps there wasn't time to worry too much about accuracy.    

Mrs Gaugain did not call the pattern Print o' the Wave. (She didn't call it anything.)  But I guess that the pattern continued to be used by Shetland knitters, and it acquired the name at some time.  I don't know when, but certainly it was certainly before 1938, when it was named and illustrated in Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book.  It is claimed there to be one of only ten ‘truly native’ Shetland patterns.  (The others include Old Shale.) 

I've now knitted several swatches of different versions of Print o' the Wave for the workshop, and I still think it is a beautiful pattern.  I'll have to knit something larger than a swatch next. 

Monday, 10 October 2016


I haven't written anything for a while, because we've been on holiday in Naples.  Actually, we got back over a week ago but it takes me some time to get myself back on track after a holiday.

The plan was to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and other Roman sites from Naples, by train, and that worked out very well.  We started with a day in the Archaeology Museum in Naples, where a lot of the finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum are kept - frescoes, mosaics, statues, .....

Here's a beautiful bronze statue of Diana as an archer, from Pompeii.  (I haven't shown the whole thing, because her left hand, holding the bow, is missing, and the gaping hole in her forearm grabs your attention.  If you can't see that her hand is missing, she looks as good as new, I think.)

Then we went to Pompeii itself.  There were crowds of people, but it's such a large site that it's easy to find quiet corners.

 Here's a street sign.  The "REG VII INS IV" is modern, but the two men carrying an amphora is original - perhaps ancient Pompeiians gave directions like "Turn left at the amphora carriers."  

A lot of the frescos have been removed from the walls where they were found and moved to the museum, but some are still in situ, like this one in the House of Julius Polybius.

We went to one of the cemeteries outside the city walls  (because of John's interest in cemeteries of all kinds).  Here's a family mausoleum, with some of the portrait busts of the people buried there, still in their niches.    


On another day we went to Herculaneum (modern Ercolano).  The upper floors of many buildings have survived there, and some of the wooden structures on the upper floor that project over the street. Here's one of the streets, with a colonnade either side.  The buildings at the top are in the modern town, so you  can see the thickness of the lava that buried the ancient buildings - and of course the people of Herculaneum.  

Even better in some ways, because less familiar, was Paestum, about 100km. south of Naples.   I knew that it has three wonderful Greek temples, roofless but otherwise fairly complete. The stone is a beautiful golden colour.

But there was a complete town as well as the temples, now mostly just small walls, and the objects that were found there are now in a museum, next to the site.  It has some wonderful things, including a collection of stone tomb panels, two rectangular panels and two gable ends for each tomb, all painted with scenes of banquets, chariot races, mourning, and so on.  They are beautifully drawn, and the colours look so fresh.


We spent time in Naples, too - a favourite site was the cloister of Santa Chiara, which has tiled columns and tiled benches alongside the paths, with scenes of rural life that are very charming.

It is a cool, peaceful oasis away from the busy traffic of the city centre.

The weather was perfect - sunny, warm but not too hot.  And we had some very good meals - some pizzas, of course, but also very good fish. A great holiday.

Monday, 19 September 2016

London's Baking

We were in London over the weekend of the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire, and happened to go to the London Metropolitan Archives, where they had an exhibition to commemorate it. (Although actually the exhibition runs until February next year.)   It's called London's Baking - Bakers, Cakes, Bread and Puddings from 1666, up to the 20th century.  (The connection with the Great Fire being that it started in a bakery, allegedly in Pudding Lane, although the exhibition suggests that is wrong.)   The exhibition featured photographs from the LMA collection featuring various baked goods (making them or eating them), and recipes from 1666 onwards, with comments from people who had tried them with modern tools and ingredients.  (The exhibition said, I'm sure, that the recipes would be available to download from the LMA web site, but I can't find them so perhaps I was wrong.)

Knitting interest: one of the photos on display showed boys eating buns in 1924, all wearing woolly jumpers.  Here's a detail:

It's from Collage, the London Picture Archive, image no. 301891 (by permission of the London Metropolitan Archives, City of London).   It was taken in Hastings in 1924, and the description in the archive says "children sitting in a park scream as they hold cakes in their hands".  I think it's more likely that the photographer asked them to pretend that they were about to take an enormous bite out of the bun in their hand.

They are all wearing jumpers with collars, and the boy on the left, with a stripe on his collar, is wearing matching knitted shorts.  (They may all be wearing knitted shorts to match their jumpers, in fact, but it's hard to tell from the photo.)  The boy on the right looks as though his jumper is a hand-me-down - it looks a bit felted, and the sleeves are too long for him.  The boy in the middle, on the other hand,  has been dressed rather smartly, with knee-socks to match his jumper and shorts, all in an impractical light colour, and a tie.  He's also the only one whose socks haven't fallen down around his ankles, 'Just William' style.

We have lots of patterns for similar boys' knitwear from the 1920s, with illustrations carefully posed and photographed to show off the outfit.  I think this is a nice image of what the outfits looked like on real boys, having fun on a day out.