Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Knitting and Genealogy

John has been browsing the family history magazines in the local library, and pointed out to me an article on Knitting Ancestors by Penelope Hemingway in the current issue of Family Tree. Amongst other  interesting bits of knitting history, it has a wonderful early photograph of two Cornish girls knitting (ganseys, I think).   You can see and read all about the photograph on her blog, The Knitting Genealogist.  She dates it to the early 1870s, and has done some census research to show that the two girls became professional knitters.

She has also just started publishing a series of articles in Yarn Forward, also called The Knitting Genealogist.

In the Family Tree article, I found the snippets of information on the history of knitting interesting for their own sake, but it would be wonderful to find professional knitters in your own family tree.  It's not likely to happen to me, though - although I'm from Yorkshire, I don't have any connections with the Dales area, which was well-known at one time for its skilful knitters.  All the ancestors that I have been able to trace came from  further south - Derbyshire and the Midlands.  My own knitting genealogy only goes back to my Grandma, as far as I know.      

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Matchy Matchy

"The Match Game"
One of the early 60s American Vogue Knitting magazines that I bought earlier this year on our Oregon trip included the sweater in the picture. The caption reads: "For separates with real color harmony, you can buy sweater yarn and  matching skirt fabric in a kit by Munrospun."  It reminded me that my sister Margaret bought a Munrospun pack in 1969, or thereabouts.  That should be quite surprising -  Munrospun packs were the sort of thing that my mother's generation aspired to, whereas  M was about 18 and very fashion conscious, and it was the era of the miniskirt.

But she found a Munrospun pack in a sale in Cole Brothers, very cheap, in a beautiful blue, and persuaded Mother to make it up for her.  (Historical note: Cole Brothers is now called John Lewis Sheffield.  This was a few years after it had moved to its present building from Coles Corner, famed in song and story.) 

Instead of a skirt, M wanted a pinafore dress - inspired by this photo.  (Look! A slightly chubby model!)  It was a Vogue dress pattern featured in the Spring/Summer 1969 Vogue Knitting described in an earlier post.

A dress out of a skirt length was quite a tricky proposition.  A Munrospun skirt length was, I think, 45 inches of 54 inch wide fabric (i.e. about 115cm. x 138 cm.) So it was just as well that Mother was a very clever dressmaker and the dress was supposed to be short. She made up a pattern that didn't have very much to do with the original inspiration - it had a yoke, and a zip up the back, and she had to make a seam in the centre front as well.  She made a feature of all the separate pieces with top-stitching.  There was no spare fabric for facings, or even much of a hem.   

Mother knit the matching jumper too - I still have the pattern, though it is rather battered. It had the cable up the front (though it didn't show under the pinafore dress) and she added a polo neck.

The result was a very successful outfit,  that M wore a lot.  Unfortunately, the only photo I can find only shows part of it.


M in Munrospun

In those days, it was very smart to match all the separate parts of your outfit - an exact match of plain colours, or a plain colour matching one of the colours in a check or tartan fabric, and the Munrospun packs were designed to make it easy.  Now that rule has been relaxed, and I think people are better (or braver) at putting together colours that don't match.  (Though I do tend to work on the principle that black goes with everything, which isn't very sophisticated.)  In fact, too much matching looks wrong now - I saw an elderly woman earlier this year wearing jacket, skirt, blouse, hat, gloves, handbag and shoes all in matching or toning shades of olive green.  She clearly felt very smart, but it looked a bit odd, if not obsessive.  Much too matchy matchy.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A mesh cardigan

I have recently finished a light summer cardigan in a simple lacy stitch - I haven't written about it before because I wasn't sure if it was going to work out, but I'm pleased with the result.  So fortunately, I don't have to disown it as a failed experiment , and I am wearing it a lot.


Sirocco DK
 The yarn I used is Stylecraft Sirocco, which is an 80% cotton, 20% linen mix, and is very crinkly and irregular.  It feels very rough to knit with, and your fingers feel as though they have been sand-papered after a knitting session, but it is comfortable to wear.  The colour is Pampas, a soft pale green. Because it is so uneven and slubby, this yarn clearly wasn't going to be suitable for a complicated lace pattern - it wouldn't show the pattern well, and it would be too difficult to see what you were doing.  So I used a really simple stitch pattern of alternating yarn-overs and decreases. 


The pattern is distantly based on Blithe by Marie Wallin, that appeared in Rowan magazine 47.  But that is designed for an Aran weight yarn (Rowan Summer Tweed) and I have used a DK yarn, and I have used a much simpler stitch pattern, and I wanted to make it longer and not so loose around the waist. So not very similar at all. 

Another change is that I wanted to try knitting the button band at the same time as the cardigan fronts. Knitting a separate button band and sewing it on afterwards is one of my least favourite jobs.  (Picking up stitches to knit the button band sideways is even worse.)   I knitted the bands in garter stitch - not a stitch I usually like, but it seemed appropriate for this yarn.  It turned out to be a good choice.  A recent issue of The Knitter (Issue 21)  has a pattern with built-in button bands, and the magazine discusses when they are likely to work: "Do you wonder why so many patterns ask you to work a separate button band and sew it on so that it fits when slightly stretched?"  Yes I do. "It's necessary to stop the bands from flaring out at the edges."  It goes on to say that you can get the same stretching effect in a built-in button band if you choose a stitch that has more rows per inch than the body of the cardigan, and so then the band will lie flat.  Garter stitch does have more rows per inch than both stocking stitch and the lace stitch I used for the cardigan, so my button bands have worked.  I did still have to knit the last few inches to go round the back of the neck, separately, and then graft them together,but that's not too much of a chore.  On the fronts, the button bands look well, and  I think it would have been hard to achieve such neat results if they were sewn on. 

Sewing with this yarn was clearly not going to be possible.  The advice that I have read for this situation is to use a yarn of similar weight and composition, but I think that in general I would rather use a sewing thread - easier to find a good colour match, and likely to be cheaper too.  In this case, the yarn was constructed with an even thread of similar thickness to sewing thread wrapped around a much more irregular ply, so I unspun (?) it to extract lengths of that thread and  used that for sewing up.  That has the advantage of being an exact colour match, obviously.

A couple of things I would change if I were knitting it again.  The sleeves are rather loose, which I think is due to the derivation from Blithe, judging by the Blithe projects posted on Ravelry.  On the other hand, that means that I can easily wear the cardigan over a top with sleeves, which is useful now that the weather is turning chillier.   The other thing is that the stitch patttern is not symmetric, and so the fabric is not quite square (though that wasn't evident from my test swatch).  But I am putting up with that, and hoping that no-one else notices.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Fun guy

This week I bought a birthday card for a friend.  It has green glitter, an awful pun, and hand-knitted mushrooms.  What more could you want?

It's from the Knit  & Purl range by Mint Publishing   - "Lovingly hand-knitted for you by Avis and Aileen and all the ladies from the Harborough Ladies Knitting Circle."  I like the "HA PEA BIRTHDAY" card from the same range, too -  I'll leave that one to your imagination.