Saturday, 15 July 2017

Guild Convention in Birmingham

It's been a busy week, so I am only just getting around to writing about the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention which was in Birmingham last weekend.  The Convention is an annual event, though Birmingham is a new venue.

On view was the Guild's display for this year's shows, on the theme of 'Passing on the Passion'.

It features a few items from the Guild collection, including a Kaffe Fassett 'Foolish Virgins' jacket, a crocheted top from C&A, and a knitted crown.

That's one of the very few photos I took at the Convention - I was too busy knitting most of the time.  (I bought some Rowan Felted Tweed in John Lewis, and started knitting a Heidi Kirrmaier cardigan, but that's another story.)   I also spent some time looking around the centre of Birmingham - it's not a city I know well.  The hotel was in the Chinese Quarter, with the Bull Ring markets nearby.  Around the corner are the National Trust Back-to-backs, which are fascinating.  Several of us who arrived a day early for the Convention went on a tour.

And I spent a lot of time in the Museum and Art Gallery.  It has wonderful collections, including a new display of the Staffordshire Hoard, which is amazing (and very difficult to photograph through the glass cases - I tried).

At the Convention, as well as the Guild's AGM, we had three very good talks.  Betsan Corkhill, of Stitchlinks, talked about the role of knitting in healthcare.  The second talk was by Emma Price of In the Woolshed, which produces natural dyed yarns.  She talked about her career to date, initially alternating between accountancy and spending time in India with people practising traditional crafts, before starting In the Woolshed.  She now also leads textile journeys to India.  And finally, Denise Musk, a life member of the Guild, brought along some of her machine knitted garments in amazingly complex fabrics, and talked about how they developed from her initial ideas.

As well as the talks, there were two workshop sessions led by Guild members, with six topics on offer in each session.  But I skipped one session in favour of the Staffordshire Hoard and Pre-raphaelite paintings, and so only did one workshop.  It was on Moebius Knitting, with Fiona Morris.  Fiona brought along some very inspiring samples, and taught us how to cast on - a surprisingly quick technique.  I didn't get very far past casting on in the workshop, though I did finish one round and I've subsequently done a few more.

It's very satisfying for anyone with a mathematical background that it is a genuine Moebius strip, with one edge and one surface.  But my sample isn't very tidy and I'd like to do more practice and then try one of the very nice cowls that Fiona showed us.

I contributed to the Convention, too.  There was a 'show-and-tell' session on Saturday evening, when members could show something they made during the past year.  I took the summer scarf, started in April, which is now finished - I'll write about that later.  And Maureen and I did a short presentation on 'How to do a Trunk Show'.  I had brought two items that haven't previously featured in trunk shows and talked about them - but those are two more stories for the future.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Practical Knitting in 1886

I was sorting out some miscellaneous Weldon's publications in the Guild collection this week.  Several of them had lost their front covers, or probably had them removed  - the covers generally just had a summary of the contents, and the rest was ads, so they were often discarded.  But it makes life difficult for a cataloguer, because sometimes, as with the Practical Needlework series, the number in the series is only printed on the cover.  But eventually, with not too much cursing, I got most of them into the right place.  In the process, I found one of earliest issues in the Practical Needlework series, from volume 1, dated by Richard Rutt to 1886.

Victorian knitting magazines
Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2
It's number 2 of Weldon's Practical Needlework, and also number 2 of the Weldon's Practical Knitter subseries.  I have to admit that that's a bit confusing.  But never mind  - it has some interesting things in it.  Here are a few that caught my attention.

First is a pattern for a knitted quilt square in Foxglove pattern, described as 'exceedingly pretty'.

From Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2, 1886

I recognised the image immediately, because I  had seen one very like it when I was trying to find the pattern used for a 19th century bedspread  - I found the image in an Australian newspaper, the Australian Town and Country Journal, published in Sydney, also in 1886. And now that I compare  the two, the images are exactly the same - the Australian newspaper lifted both the text and the image from Weldon's Practical Needlework, in a cut-and-paste job.  And I can't see any acknowledgement to Weldon's.  To a former academic, that's really shocking behaviour - blatant plagiarism.  On the other hand, much of the wording of the pattern is taken in turn from an earlier book, Needlework for Ladies for Pleasure and Profit by 'Dorinda', though Dorinda didn't illustrate it.  So Weldon's aren't entirely innocent of plagiarism themselves.  Victorian morals weren't quite as pure as some people claim.

Another pattern in the magazine is my favourite lace pattern.  I started out thinking of it as Print o' the Wave, but I now think that that is only its Shetland name - in Victorian knitting books, it seems to have been called Leaf and Trellis (if it was given a name at all).

From Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2, 1886

The description says: ' This is a very favourite old pattern for window curtains, cotton antimacassars, bread-tray cloths, and other articles. It is here rearranged and improved, and the veining of the leaves is carried symmetrically upwards."    (Following a tradition beginning with Mrs Gaugain, the sample is shown upside down, with the cast-on edge at the top - I suppose because it looks more like a pattern of leaves that way.)   The claim of symmetry in the pattern is because some of the decreases are right-leaning (knit 2 together) and some are left-leaning (slip 1, knit 1, pass the slipped stitch over) so that in the 'leaves' you get a line of successive decreases, all leaning the same way, and then a line leaning the other way.  In earlier versions of the pattern (Jane Gaugain's, for instance), all the decreases are done by knitting 2 together.

So it may be that, as claimed, this is an innovation, and the first version of the pattern to have symmetrical decreases.  Or it could be that the magazine has 'borrowed' the improvement from an earlier publication - I'm reserving judgement.

And the other pattern that I particularly noticed was for a Balaclava cap, 'a most comfortable cap for gentlemen travelling or for shooting excursions.'  

From Weldon's Practical Needlework No. 2, 1886

 It's knitted in navy blue Berlin wool (merino), with red stripes, on No. 10 bone needles.  I would like to believe that the pattern was written for this magazine, but the image seems very familiar - I'm sure I've seen it before, but can't remember where.  Maybe I have seen it in a later publication, but I'm not very confident - this might be another case of 'borrowing'.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Designs by Marjory Tillotson

I wrote in February (here) about small collection of a dozen booklets and leaflets from the 1920s, that I had just been sent for the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection.  Most of them were completely new to me.  They deserve to be shown in more detail, so here are a few of them, designed by Marjory Tillotson. 

She designed the earliest pattern booklets that were published in this country, for J. & J. Baldwin & Partners, of Halifax.  The first 'Beehive Knitting Booklets' appeared in about 1910, and Marjory Tillotson stopped working for the company in 1920 when she married.  But some of the booklets she designed evidently stayed in print for several years, or were reissued in a 'New & Enlarged Edition'.  All the ones I am showing here date from the 1920s, by which time the company was part of Patons & Baldwins Limited.

1920s vintage crochet pattern
Beehive Booklet no. 13

The first booklet (no. 13) has a dozen designs for babies' garments - although it's called a Beehive Knitting Booklet, they are all crochet patterns.  An impressive array of bonnets, caps, coats, and bootees, all trimmed with satin ribbon bows, even those for boys.  

The second booklet (no. 14) has a range of sports sweaters, for women and men, girls and boys.

1920s vintage knitting pattern
Beehive Booklet no. 14

The cover shows a woman wearing her sports sweater to play tennis, but I think that sports sweaters were often worn as casual wear and not just for sports.  (As sports wear is now, in fact.)

From Beehive Booklet no. 14

The booklet includes sweaters for Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, and says that both are the regulation pattern.   'Each Girl Guide should knit one of these sweaters.  It is of the regulation pattern, easy to make and neat, warm and durable in wear.'  (Boy Scouts were not, of course, expected to knit their sweaters.)

Booklet 16 has patterns for nine 'House Wraps' - a range of garments to wear at home, including bed-jackets.

1920s vintage knitting & crochet pattern
Beehive Booklet no. 16 

The cover design, 'Florence', is a knitted nightingale - a type of bed wrap invented by Florence Nightingale.  They were designed to be very easy to make from a length of woollen fabric (see here),  and many nightingales were made for the sick and wounded during the First World War.  Marjory Tillotson replicated the design in knitting. The booklet describes its construction: 'The graceful "FLORENCE" Wrap is made in one length (in a fancy knitted pattern) like a shawl, the collar being formed by turning back the two corners of a slit-like opening in one of the long sides.'  The making up instructions say: 'For the cuffs, turn back the corners of the long side opposite the collar, folding them over and fastening at the folded points while leaving sufficient room through which to pass the hands.  Finish off with dainty bows.'

Another design I'm quite taken with is Cicely - mainly because it's called a Breakfast Jacket, and it seems such a ridiculous idea to have a special garment to have breakfast in.
From Beehive Booklet no. 16

It's also completely impractical - the sleeves are very loose with big frilly cuffs, and they would trail in your Weetabix or bacon and eggs. But perhaps you could eat a light breakfast of tea and toast (if someone else buttered it for you) without getting  in a terrible mess.

Finally, there is a booklet of vests, plain and ribbed. There are patterns for women, men and children, from size 22in. chest upwards.  Not very exciting designs, but the illustration in the front cover is charming.

1920s vintage knitting pattern
\Beehive Booklet no. 25

Although Marjory Tillotson could not work for Patons and Baldwins after she married, she did continue to design knitting patterns for other companies, until well after the Second World War.  She also wrote books on knitting, including The Complete Knitting Book.  It's wonderful to have these very early booklets, with her name prominently displayed on the cover - I think they are now very scarce, and it's amazing that these copies have survived in such good condition.

J. & J. Baldwin's trade mark, from Beehive Booklet no. 25

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Making Bone Knitting Needles

In the previous post I showed two ads for knitting needles, from 1921.  Both ads mentioned bone knitting needles, implying of course that the advertised needles were far superior.  Since I wrote that post, I have found a description of how bone knitting needles were being made in the early 1920s, at a factory in Gloucestershire. (I was browsing in some historic newspapers online, looking for something else entirely.)

By the 1920s, the process was highly mechanised, though still requiring a great deal of skill,  But it was also doomed - the article mentioned that a factory nearby was making casein, an early plastic.  The writer thought that it "has probably affected the bone trade in no small measure, but there still remains an extensive demand for knitting needles and other like articles manufactured from bone."  Not for much longer, I think.

We have a lot of bone knitting needles and crochet hooks in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and  I picked out a small selection today. Here are two pairs of straight needles, a set of four double-pointed needles, and a crochet hook. The needles are sizes 5mm. and 5.5 mm. - bone could not be used for fine needles.  It's hard to measure the size of the crochet hook - it tapers along most of its length, so I don't know where to take the measurement.  

Vintage knitting needles; vintage crochet hook; bone; 1920s
Bone knitting needles and crochet hook
The bones for knitting needles were a by-product of the meat trade, and I had assumed that they came directly from butchers.  But evidently they didn't - they were collected by rag-and-bone men, largely I assume from private houses after the meat had been eaten.  I remember a rag-and-bone man making regular appearances on our street, with his horse and cart, when I was very little, but he was just part of the background, and I never thought about what happened to the rags and bones.  Later, if I had thought about it, I might have guessed that the bones were converted into bonemeal for fertiliser, and possibly some was, after the more useful pieces had been selected for destinations like the needle factory.

The article describes the initial preparation of the bone - which must have been a very smelly business:
The bones collected by the rag and bone merchant—or the tatter man—eventually find their way to the mills, and one section of the bones which are the result of stew are sawn off and are ready for use at once. The remainder, however, have to be thoroughly boiled. This is done in large tanks, the bones being boiled in steam-heated water for some 24 or 48 hours, as the case may require. Having been thoroughly boiled, which renders them soft and possible to handle easily, the bones pass on to the second process. This consists of sawing them into square strips—a most tricky and tedious business —and they then go to a series of machines through which the square strips are run emerging at the other side of the machine in the round. The bone is converted from the square to the round by means of a small revolving knife, through which the bone is drawn. This done the round strips are next placed in vats containing a bleaching chemical, and on being removed from this the bone, which was previously a creamy colour is perfectly white. 
The bone strips were then taken upstairs to the skilled needle makers:
The bones are now in round strips about eight inches long and bleached white. They next pass to the first floor of the factory, and here the strips are finely polished. To do this the pieces arc placed in the end of a rapidly revolving spindle, one at a time, and as they revolve they are polished by means of a piece of emery paper held in the hand of the operative. The points are then made, a revolving emery wheel being used, and the knobs for the other end having been turned out by a special machine, are attached by glue, the finished needles tied together in pairs, and packed ready for the purchaser. 
Knobs for bone knitting needles

A disadvantage of bone, mentioned in the Double Century ad, was that to make long needles two pieces had to be joined together by splicing. Evidently bone would only yield lengths of about 9 or 10 inches (23-26 cm.)  The article explains how pieces were joined to make longer needles:

Needles of 12 inches [31cm.] or more in length have to pass through an additional process—that of splicing. Bone cannot be obtained in long enough lengths to enable needles of this size to be made in one piece, and so two short strips are taken and cut at the ends in such a manner that they may be strongly spliced together with the aid of fine string and a specially prepared cement. When the needle is complete it is almost impossible to discover the joint, so perfectly is the work finished. 
I didn't know until I saw the Double Century ad that bone needles might be spliced, and I looked for some long needles today to see if I could see the join.  And indeed, the double-pointed needles shown above are just under 12 inches long, and they are all spliced, if you look very carefully.  The join is still almost invisible after all this time, and is perfectly smooth.  (Look for the faint diagonal line in the photo below.)

Splice in a bone knitting needle

The factory described in the article also made crochet hooks (or crotchet hooks, as they are called throughout):

The first stages of the manufacture of crotchet hooks is identical with that of knitting needles. On arriving at the finishing department, however, the pieces of bone are polished and then one end is slightly tapered. This accomplished, both ends are rounded and the hook made. The making of the hook is an operation which needs no little skill on the part of the operative, for the slightest mistake as the bone is placed against the revolving disc which performs the operation would immediately destroy the piece of bone on which the hook is being made. The hook is polished once again, and is then ready for packing.
The better class hooks are decorated on the handle, and this is done by a specially constructed machine, and also requires great skill on the part of the worker. 
The crochet hook shown above is one of the 'better class', and is beautifully decorated.

Decoration on bone crochet hook

I'm really pleased to have found out how bone needles and hooks were made, at the tail-end of the history of working with bone.  It had been a raw material for making tools and decorative objects such as sewing needles and combs for hundreds of years.  By the 1920s, perfect knitting needles and crochet hooks made of bone could be mass-produced  - and then bone was completely superseded by new materials like anodised aluminium and plastics.  I don't know when the factory described in the article closed down, but I think it must have been within a few years.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Advertising Knitting Needles

I wrote a post two years ago about Double Century knitting needles, which had a metal core inside a plastic coating.  The original idea was patented in 1913 by Emily Doubble, although she seemed an unlikely inventor, as she was a widow in her 70s at the time. But this week, Emily's great-granddaughter commented on my post and said "she did invent a knitting needle which her son, Theodore, patented for her. My aunt told me that she was fed up on her fine needles breaking and had the idea of putting a metal wire in them. She was a great knitter, embroidery and wood carver!"

(One of the best things about writing a blog is that sometimes people give you fascinating information in comments - sometimes several years after the post first appeared.)

Belinda's comment reminded me that at the time I wrote the post, the earliest ad I had seen for Double Century needles dated from 1945, though it was clear from the wording that the needles must have been in production before the start of World War II.

But I've since found a much earlier ad.  It appeared in Needlecraft Practical Journal, and I date it to 1921.  (I'll write later about dating issues of Needlecraft, because it's not at all straightforward.)

1921 ad in Needlecraft Practical Journal; vintage knitting needles

At that time, bone was a common material for making thicker sizes of knitting needle, and you could also get ivory knitting needles, though they were of course much more expensive.  Double Century needles were always a cream colour, and this ad shows that it was because they were imitating the colour of bone or ivory.

In the same issue of Needlecraft, was an ad for Stratnoid knitting needles - another brand based on a patent.

This is also an earlier ad than I had found previously.   The patent (to make knitting pins from duralumin, an aluminium alloy) was granted in 1919, so the manufacturers were quick to get the idea into production.

The claim is that Stratnoid knitting pins are "STRONG - FLEXIBLE - LIGHT AS BONE - STRONG AS STEEL".  As with Double Century, bone was one of the materials to compete with.  It's interesting that they are claimed to be flexible - the finer ones will bend a bit, but you'd need a lot of force to bend the thicker ones.  And the ad doesn't mention their other big advantage over steel - they don't rust.

And with both Double Century and Stratnoid needles, you could knit faster, allegedly.  I've tried both, and they are very nice to knit with, but I don't think I can knit faster than with other needles.  Perhaps I should be comparing with rusty steel needles, wooden needles with splinters, or bone needles with  snags, but if so, I'd rather not do the experiment - I'm convinced already.    

Monday, 5 June 2017

Disco Sweaters

One of my favourite blogs is The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done, by Orange Swan.  She reviews knitting magazines, and often exactly nails just what's wrong with a design.  And occasionally she has a post collecting together photos of unusual (aka seriously weird) knitted garments.  Her most recent post is one of those:  Lederhosen and Tutus and Other Knitting Fables.  It included this knitting pattern:

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6065
Her caption is "Penelope had come up with the perfect way to get men to buy her drinks when out clubbing."

It's a super example of 1980s picture knits.  I looked for the leaflet in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and found that it's one of a small group of "Disco" knits.  Here are the others:

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6062

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6063

1980s vintage knitting pattern; picture knits
Sirdar leaflet 6064

You were evidently supposed to wear your Disco sweater with skintight metallic lycra in a bright colour, and BIG hair.  But a long-sleeved sweater in a thick yarn (DK) seems very impractical for a disco - you'd boil.  I can see that one or two of them might also do for everyday sweaters - the giant daisy, and the hearts.  Maybe even the butterfly.  (It was the 80s after all, when picture sweaters were normal wear).    But the lips/straw/glass combo - as Orange Swan says, that's just begging someone to buy you a drink.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Holiday in Greece

I haven't written for a while - that's because we've been on holiday.  We went to two of the Greek islands in the Cyclades, Sifnos and Milos, with Naturally Greece, and afterwards John and I stayed on in Athens for a few days. We've had a wonderful time - good weather, beautiful scenery, amazing archaeology, excellent food, good company.   John has come back with thousands of photos to sort out - I would have contributed a lot more myself, but the camera I was using wouldn't recharge, so I only took a meagre 200.  Here is a very small selection of the total.

Sifnos is an island for walkers - still very rural, with few roads, and many muletracks and footpaths.  The hillsides are terraced and scattered with white-painted buildings.  There are 235 (or is it 237?) churches on Sifnos, all well-maintained - even though in many cases there is no road access.  


And here's the transport:

There are dry-stone walls everywhere, which reminds anyone from Yorkshire of home (though the rock is completely different and I imagine the wall-building techniques aren't the same).  Here's one in front of  a very common type of Sifnos building - a dovecot.

I liked the dovecots a lot.  They are usually well-maintained and often still occupied by pigeons, though I doubt if the pigeons are used for food these days.

The dovecots usually have a little turret at each corner of the roof - they are very distinctive.

And everywhere there are olive trees.

The houses on Sifnos have very characteristic ceramic chimneys, sometimes fancy ones specially made for the purpose, but often looking like an ordinary storage pot, re-used.

Then we went to Milos (an exciting journey by small boat, as the ferries were on strike that day). Geologically it's very different - the rocks are volcanic. These are the cliffs at Sarakiniko, where the soft rock is eroded into fantastic shapes.

And at Mandrakis, boathouses have been cut into the rock to shelter the fishing boats in bad weather.

There are many windmills, or windmill stumps, on both Sifnos and Milos.  This hill, at Trypiti on Milos, must have been particularly windy as it has seven:

We went to Plaka, the capital of Milos, a couple of times.  The Red Bicycle cafe claims to have very good coffee (see the blackboard outside) - I can't confirm that, but its ice-cream is excellent.

And later we watched the sun setting beyond the island of Antimilos from the courtyard of the church in Plaka.

We were too late for most of the spring flowers, but the caper bushes came into flower while we were on Sifnos.  We were told that capers cannot be cultivated, but there are plenty growing wild in the dry-stone walls - and there was no shortage of pickled caper buds in the salads served in the tavernas. The flower looks quite exotic.

And at Filakopi, the site of a Bronze Age settlement by the coast on Milos, there were large areas of sea lavender in flower.

And there was bougainvillea flowering in gardens and on houses in the islands, and in Athens.

So then we had four full days in Athens, and visited the Acropolis of course, and the Acropolis Museum, the Agora, the Olympeion, the Archaeology Museum (a wonderful place - we spent a whole day there), the Kerameikos and its museum, the Filopappus Hill....    

Here are just a couple of the less familiar things that I particularly noticed.  First, a strange object from the Archaeology Museum.  It's called an epinetron, and it fits over a woman's knee and thigh, and the rough area on the top is then used to card wool.

It seems a bizarre and not very efficient way to card wool, but is also notable because the lives of women (apart from goddesses and courtesans) are not very evident in the museums of Athens.  The Acropolis Museum has a display on marriage in ancient Athens, and from that and elsewhere it seems that women from well-to-do families really didn't have any life outside the home - and in the home, once married, they ran the household, raised children and did a lot of spinning and weaving.  Not much of a life.

There are hundreds of Greek vases and other ceramics on display in the various museums of Athens - mostly from tombs, or votive offerings to temples.  The workmanship is astonishing, and here are two vases from the Kerameikos Museum that demonstrate that:  they are only about 4 inches or 10cm. high.

The one on the left shows Athena wearing what the Acropolis Museum says is her aegis - a goatskin cloak with snakes around the edge.   (Don't try this at home unless you are a goddess.)   But how the potter made such tiny vases and then painted such detailed images on them, I can't imagine.

And finally, another aspect of women's lives: pots of face powder, again from the Kerameikos Museum and again from a tomb.

But how do they know it was face powder?  And why would you wear face powder if you never went out?  I don't know.

We did also see some interesting wildlife in Athens - a kestrel from the Acropolis, a couple of tortoises on the Filopappus Hill.  And, most exciting, we heard two hoopoes calling to each other, and eventually saw one of them on a dead branch at the top of a tree.  It spent several more minutes hoo-hoo-hoo-ing to the other bird, so John got some good photos of it.

A wonderful holiday.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

More Knitting Needles

Through the local newspaper, the Huddersfield Examiner,  I have been trying to find out more about Wakefield Greenwood, a Huddersfield business that sold knitting yarns to stores throughout the country, and elsewhere, in the 1940s to 1960s.  I got a few replies to my appeal in the Examiner for information, and a couple of weeks ago I met someone who worked for the company for more than 20 years.  She has given me a lot of fascinating information, so I am gradually getting a more complete story, ... and she gave me several things for the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, including a box of knitting needles.

I've definitely turned into a knitting needle nerd, I now realise, because I got quite excited by some of the makes.  Several of the pairs still had their original paper labels - not because they were unused, but because the donor liked to use the labels to keep the pairs together.

Here are the labels:

The needles at the top are Wimberdar brand - along with three other pairs of green/blue/turquoise plastic needles in the box. Wimberdar specialised in brightly coloured plastic needles, though they made other things too.  There are several pairs of Milwards Phantom needles in the box, in both grey metal and mauve plastic.  Then a really exciting pair - the Ivy needles.  I had never heard of Ivy needles before, and more surprisingly, neither has Google, as far as I can see.  There is no clue on the label as to who made them, except that it says "Made in England".  There are no marks on the needles or head, apart from the size, and IVY written on the head, not very clearly - barely visible except in a strong side light.

The labels on the Stratnoid needles read "The New Stratnoid Knitting Pins", The needles are the usual gray enamelled metal, like several other brands, and so are no longer the shiny duralumin of the original Stratnoid needles.  So 'new' in this case means 'just like everyone else' - a bit disappointing, when they started out being different from everyone else.

And of course there was a pair of Aero needles, made by Abel Morrall of Redditch - they must have been the commonest knitting needles in the country.

One pair of needles which did not have a label was, even so, particularly exciting,  I hadn't heard of the make before and the needles were marked with a patent number.  (I do like a knitting needle with a patent number.)  The make is Jouvenia, and they are the usual grey enamelled metal, so don't look very interesting.

Here's the head, with the patent number:

Patent 395307 is a British patent granted in 1933 to Joseph Jouve, a Frenchman.  The reason for the head being offset is that it has a hole in it, alongside the needle itself, where the point of the other needle can be inserted.  So the pair of needles can be joined together like this:

 (Although actually it is not at all easy to get the points of both needles at once into the hole on the opposite head.)  The idea is that fixing them together like this will keep the knitting securely on the needles, as in this drawing from the patent application.

A Google search for Jouvenia found a couple of ads for Jouvenia needles in the French magazine Tricot Journal in 1936, and a sheet of headed paper from the Jouvenia factory in Paris, so it seems that Jouvenia needles were made and marketed in France, in spite of the British patent.  Yet one pair at least ended up in Huddersfield.    

Altogether a fascinating little collection of knitting needles.  If you like that sort of thing.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Portable Project

I've just been to Birmingham to do a workshop on twined knitting for the local branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  It was a re-run of the one I've done previously for the Huddersfield branch, and at Sheringham in January.   I went by train on Friday morning, spent the afternoon shopping in John Lewis (lots of trying on, result: one pair of jeans, one pretty Seasalt cotton top).  I stayed overnight with Janet, the convenor of the Birmingham branch, and Francis,  and they took me to a very nice Moroccan restaurant for dinner.  On Saturday morning we went back to John Lewis, because the workshop was held in the Community Hub room there.  The workshop went well - everyone got the idea of twined knitting.  Most people got at least halfway though a wristlet, and one finished it.  (A couple of people weren't knitting a wristlet, because they preferred to knit flat, or else hadn't brought dpns, and so were just knitting a swatch to try out the techniques.)  From my point of view, as the teacher, it was very gratifying. Afterwards, I had coffee and cake with Janet and a few others, in the John Lewis cafe, another brief shopping foray (a pair of brogues, smart but comfortable), and then went downstairs to New Street station, which is handily underneath John Lewis, and caught a train home again.  Altogether a successful trip.

But on Thursday, in between printing off the handouts for Saturday, I had a brief panic: what was I going to knit?  I have finished knitting the Secret Project  (still secret) and the lace yoke cardigan  is at least 80% finished - I've nearly finished the first sleeve.  As it's knitted all in one piece, that means I have to carry around most of a cardigan, and it's too bulky to take on an overnight trip.  I didn't have anything else planned, but I couldn't possibly go to a KCG branch meeting without some knitting.

I thought of starting something with some yarn I bought from the destash table at last year's Guild convention.  It's Rowan Linen Drape (now discontinued) - a linen and viscose mix that I thought would make a nice summer scarf for cool summer days (i.e. most British summer days).  I had already looked around for lacy scarf patterns and hadn't seen anything that appealed.   So finally, as a desperate measure, I decided to take a ball of the yarn and some suitable needles and invent something.  I'm making it up as I go along, which means a lot of backtracking, but I'm pleased with how it's turning out.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Exasperated Skein Holder

Writing last week about the design for a 'novel wool winder' in Hobbies Weekly reminded me of some war-time correspondence I had seen in The Times about why wool was sold in skeins and not ready-wound into balls.  I found it a while ago when I was trying to find out when wool started to be sold in balls.  The letters appeared in 1944, not long after the Hobbies Weekly design was published, and began when a man wrote, under the pen-name 'Skein-Holder', to complain that he was having to hold skeins of yarn for his wife while she wound them into balls, and what a dreadful waste of time it was.  Obviously, he was not a Hobbies Weekly reader, and so hadn't made a skein holder for his wife.  (The Hobbies Weekly 'wool winder' is in fact a skein holder, or swift.   It holds the skein of yarn and makes it easier for a person to wind it into a ball, but doesn't help with the winding - though there are now hand-operated gadgets that do, and can be properly called wool-winders.)

This was Skein-Holder's letter:



Sir,—The Government has recently called on our women to knit a vast quantity of wool into articles required for the forces.  My wife was sent with a lorry to fetch the 2,000lb. [slightly over 900 kg.] of wool from London allotted to the knitters of our county.  The skeins packed in bales were so bulky that the lorry would only hold 1,200lb.  I suspect that had the wool been wound into balls the whole 2,000lb. would have gone into the lorry.
The knitters have now to wind each skein into a ball before they can start to knit the wool.  Each skein takes one or more often two persons at least five minutes to wind.  I have just held a tangled skein which took my wife 15 minutes to wind.  The time which our unpaid knitters spend in winding must add up to thousands of hours.
By 1779 Hargreaves, Arkwright, and Crompton perfected the spinning jenny.  In 1787 Cartwright perfected the power loom.  Yet in the last century and a half the wool trade has failed to produce a mechanism whereby knitting wool can be wound and sold in a ball ready for the needles.  Ever since, as a small boy, I held skeins for my mother I have wondered why.  My excuse for now seeking an answer to this simple question through your columns is that every hour which every worker can save is a factor to hastening the end of this war.  For the reason given above. the answer to this question will interest thousands of your readers if you can elicit it from the wool trade.
I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

A few days later, there was a definitive answer from the Director of Lister's, spinners of knitting wools in Bradford:
Sir,—For many years wool has been wound by machine into balls ready for the needles. The reason for discontinuing this make-up during war-time is that the process is costly both in labour and in the materials and space needed for packing in boxes. 
Yours truly, for Lister and Co. (Knitting Wools), Limited, 
Director. Manningharn Mills, Bradford, Yorkshire. 
Mr Watson's letter showed that 'Skein-Holder' was wrong to think that machines to wind wool into balls did not exist and that 2,000 lb. of wool would have taken up less space if already wound - he claims that on the contrary, it would take up more space.  That should have ended the correspondence, but didn't.  The following day, the Yorkshire Post newspaper joined in:

Banishing the Skein 

Long-suffering husbands will surely be grateful to Times correspondents who have raised the question of winding knitting wool from skeins to a ball.  Someone wrote plaintively to say that he had just held a tangled skein which took his wife 15 minutes to wind, and added that the time which wartime knitters spend in winding must add up to thousands of hours.  "Ever since, as a small boy. I held skeins for my mother I have wondered why." he adds.
So, indeed. have I.  I recall one handy man who, determined to end the agony of skein-holding, made an adjustable wheel on which the skein was placed and pulled off as the knitter worked: to the best of my recollection the idea was a success.  Goodness only knows why some such gadget was not marketed long ago.
Why market wool in the skein, anyway?  Why not in the ball?  Many a man must have asked himself that.
The Yorkshire Post then quotes the whole of the letter from Mr Watson, and finishes with a stirring plea for wool to be sold ready-wound after the war:
So! It can be done. Husbands will grimly note this, and demand that all postwar knitting wool shall be in the ball. That destroyer of domestic serenity, the skein, must be banished from the firesides of Britain.
And a day later, another letter appeared in The Times, confirming that some wool was sold in balls before the war, and then claiming that in any case winding wool into a ball before starting to knit is completely unnecessary.  (Provided that you don't mind being tethered to a chair, or something like that, while you are knitting - carrying about a loose skein of yarn could lead to terrible tangles very quickly.)
Sir,—Your correspondent "Skein-holder" is quite wrong in supposing that no machine has been invented to wind wool.  Before the war at least a score of various brands of wool were sold ready wound----in the "cocoon" style, i.e., with the thread unravelling from the inside, not the outside, and this type of ball has the great advantage of not rolling about.

Admittedly, none of the wool officially issued for "service comforts." is in balls, but it is perfectly easy to knit direct from the skein, provided that it is not tangled to start with.  I did not believe this myself until it was demonstrated to me many years ago by a nun, who knitted dozens of garments annually for an orphanage run by her order.  Since then I have never spent a single moment in "winding." Yours faithfully,
The 'Cocoon' style was used in this country in the 1880s - though apparently only by one small spinning company at that time (see this post).  It's interesting that Ellis Swale could claim that by the 1930s it had become a common way of selling wool.

The final voice in the correspondence went to "A Mere Male":
Sir,—I am not so fortunate as "Skein-holder" in having time on my hands, but may I briefly reply to his letter of February 5.  I suspect from the facts given that the county to which he refers is one in which I also have a knitting interest.
Any member of the wool trade will tell him that (1) It is possible to wind wool into balls, and this is done in the case of special wool, such as Angora.  (2) It is not practicable in the case of wool in general demand, for the following reasons: —(a) An extra process is involved with consequent increase of price. (b) Balled wool is more bulky than skeined, as the balls must be loose. (c) Wool loses its resilience and other qualities expected of it.
As my competence to buy wool or even arrange its distribution has frequently been called into question by ladies of a certain country-wide organization, I sign myself
Rather a nasty letter. I think.  It was mean to suggest that 'Skein-Holder' has time on his hands (and by implication, wasn't doing as much as he should for the war-effort) just because he was helping his wife to wind her knitting wool.  And he had clearly annoyed the women of the 'country-wide organization' (the W.I.?), perhaps by throwing his weight about. 

The Times correspondence ended with a final letter from Skein-Holder, who remained unconvinced by the arguments that winding wool into balls was better done by hand, and in any case unnecessary.   He suggested that if knitters preferred 'in ordinary times' to buy knitting wool in the skein, it might have been out of 'deeply rooted habit'.  It seems more likely to me that if there was a significant cost to the manufacturer in winding wool, then ready-wound wool might have been more expensive for the knitter, and that would have been an excellent reason for many knitters preferring to buy wool in the skein.    

In fact, quite apart from the design in Hobbies Weekly, there should have been several skein holders on the market.  From about 1910 to the start of World War 2, several patents for skein holders were granted.  The illustration shows a complicated contraption in wire, patented in 1913.  It must have been put into production, because we have one in the Guild collection, as well as a few others of different designs.  

So Skein-Holder might equally well have asked why, if knitters had to wind wool from the skein into a ball before knitting, they did not invest in a (mechanical) skein holder, and instead press-ganged husbands (and handy children) into helping.