Friday, 10 October 2014

Some Vintage Knitting Resources

In my journeys around the internet I have discovered some vintage knitting patterns and resources that I thought worth sharing.  Although I knew about Trove*, the free online archive of Australian newspapers and magazines, which contains many free patterns, it was only recently that I came across the collection of digitised knitting books put up by the State Library of Victoria, Australia.  The Australians truly are good to us.


Among the books I have found in the State Library's online collection is the 1933 edition of Woolcraft, a thoroughly useful publication containing a wide range of patterns, particularly strong on socks and baby clothes.  I have started gradually adding the patterns to Ravelry and they can be seen here; it is going to take me a while to get them all up there.  Incidentally the 1915 edition is among a range of books available here.

My personal favourite is the 1948 Woman's Knitting Book which features this dashing reindeer jumper on the cover, which unusually for the period is fully charted.  You can see the woman's role in society in flux between the wartime working women, as seen in a knitted suit, "designed primarily for the business girl or traveller" and the 1950s ideal housewives, as seen in a brightly smiling advert for "Raco Aluminium Ware", "Bright Kitchens Happy Homes".  There is a good range of patterns for all the family, including a man's skiing jumper, baby's layette, gloves, cardigans and socks.  I have added the front cover jumper to Ravelry as I thought it might appeal to those looking for a retro Christmas jumper.

woman's knitting book

Given the age of the collection it is unsurprising that there are various booklets of "service woollies" or "knitted comforts", the austerely covered booklet P&B (Patons and Baldwins) Knitting Made Easy from 1941 is part pattern catalogue, with tips on knitting for the forces and a handful of patterns.  There is also a booklet from the Australian Comforts Fund dating from 1940 and a booklet from department store Coles, Knitting for the Forces.

The last item I will mention for today is the Viyella Nursery Book, listed as dating from the 1940s and containing a great many patterns for babies and children up to five years old.  Some of the patterns are perhaps knitted with finer yarns than we might use today, but a little adaptation could make bigger garments.  There are a great many other baby booklets such as From 2 to 5: 11 smart and practical new styles, Smith's Ideal Baby knits and Toddler knits and Baby Knitting 6 months - 2 years.  Also included are a great many baby books by a lady called Ella Allan but I shall go into them in another post.

I hope you enjoy these resources as much as I have been.

P.S. My crochet blanket is making slow but steady progress.

*There is a Trove group on Ravelry whose members have been doing an amazing job of locating patterns and adding them to the pattern database.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Year in Books: September

During the commemorations for the centenary of the First World War last month I decided that I should re-read Vera Brittain's memoir Testament of Youth sooner rather than later.  There was, of course, the usual trepidation one feels when approaching a book one first read as a teenager, but I am happy to say that it has more than held up to my memory of it as a magnificent book.  Vera Brittain left Somerville College, Oxford after one year to serve as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse (or VAD) during the war and the book covers her life from her birth in 1893 until 1925, when she married.  Testament of Youth is particularly valuable in giving an impression of the state of mind of the British in the run up to the war, throwing some light on why it was such a cataclysmic event and so very shattering to those who lived through it.

The first clue to this is given in the preface written by her daughter, the politician Shirley Williams, who writes that one reason we are so haunted by the war is, "the total imbalance between the causes for which the war was fought on both sides, as against the scale of the human sacrifice".  Brittain's account of the parts of the line, in the early part of the war, where neither side could see the point in killing one another and so had a small voluntary truce, shooting into the air and no man's land, is just one illustration of this point.  Why this war in particular has caught our collective imagination and is such an important part of our collective story is a question I have often pondered.  Our collective remembrance of war is still, a century on, so strongly shaped by the First World War, with our Remembrance Day poppies and our misty-eyed reading of Rupert Brooke and "age shall not weary them".

Brittain's book is a true help to understanding this question, by providing a solid pre-war background she is able to show how shattering the war was to her generation.  There seems to have been a deep complacency and belief in progress, running alongside a belief in the spiritual good of war, testing us and even (in a way that would seem shocking to a post-1945 audience) purging the population.  Brittain's account of attending speech day at her brother's public school in July 1914, with its military manoeuvres, shows the incredible militarism of the pre-war public schools, whence came most of the politicians and leaders of Britain.  The Arnoldian* curriculum of Officer Training Corps, sport and extensive study of Classics** lent itself to a romanticised, spiritual view of war; it is after all a small leap from the Pass at Thermoplyae to the poetry of the early part of the war.  However, these ideals failed to live up to the realities of trench warfare where death came at random from a shower of shells and bullets, killing indiscriminately the strong with the weak.

Testament of Youth has more than lived up to my teenage memories, it is an epic read, but not only is it worth reading, it is engrossing, so that you do not realise that you have somehow read a hundred, or two hundred pages.  According to the biography of Brittain at the beginning of Testament of a Generation (a collection of her and Winifred Holtby's journalism) she found the book extremely hard to write, but I am immensely glad she persevered.  I cannot recommend this book enough, do go and read it, it will enrich your understanding of the First World War immeasurably, but you will also spend time in splendid company.

Incidentally, reading Testament of Youth alongside Testament of a Generation has provided an interesting counter-point and each has cast some light on the other.  Aside from the impression that feminism has not advanced that far from the 1920s and that in politics little changes, each book has provided flashes of insight that have illuminated aspects of one another.  I was particularly interested to read an article discussing, in 1929, calls for the abolition of Remembrance Sunday, some apparently feeling that 11 years was quite sufficient to have remembered the war.  Likewise her horror at finding her children's nanny fixing a poppy on baby Shirley's cot for Remembrance Day throws light upon the gulf Brittain felt between her generation and the one that followed it; for her the poppy was a symbol of war and grief, but for her young nanny it was another "flag day" like any other.

You can see the rest of The Year in Books entries here

*Dr Arnold of Rugby School, whose reforms set the pattern for public schools in the 19th century and whose influence is still felt today, cf. Tom Brown's School Days
**Many of the texts studied were decidedly martial in flavour such as Homer, Thucydides and Caesar

Friday, 12 September 2014


My swatch

For a while now I have had a box of double knitting weight super-wash pure wool sitting in my room waiting to become a blanket, I had tried doing granny squares but got bored, especially of constant colour matching decisions.  So instead I am trying my hand at the ripple pattern from Attic 24's blog and I can see why so many people have made blankets like this, it is great fun!  My other projects are now suffering as I hook my way up and down the stripes.  As you have to look at what you are doing more with crochet than knitting (in my experience anyway) it makes for a relaxing and immersive experience.  I would recommend it.  Five stripes done, only 80-something to go, hopefully I will feel as enthusiastic by row 70 or 80!

The real thing

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Coronation Stitches

Once again I have ventured onto eBay, that dangerous treasure store, and emerged with a copy of the March 1953 edition of Needlework Illustrated, published by Weldon's, an edition intended to help its readers make their Coronation souvenirs.  The front cover is brightly adorned with knitting, embroidery and wonderful little felt toys of a soldier, a sailor and an airman.


The centrefold contains a wonderful double page colour picture of the embroidery transfer of the month (which is still extant with the magazine), with the Coronation coach and horses processing across the bottom. It would still make an attractive embroidered cushion or wall picture, I rather think my embroidery skills would need work first though!


Naturally I was most interested in the knitting patterns; it was one of those, for a man's jumper with a Fair Isle border, which interested me in the first place.  It is the sort of jumper I could imagine my father wearing, though hopefully he would accept it in a colour other than fawn, as I do not relish acres of stocking stitch in fawn!  The accent colours are red, green and blue, rather than the red, white and blue I would have expected.  Elsewhere there are a couple of women's patterns, including the twin set from the cover and a very sweet dress and bonnet set for a toddler.  The yoke of the dress is knitted in the round on a circular needle, which is earlier than I had previously come across their use, certainly in a mainstream British knitting pattern.  However, I did then wonder why the skirt of the dress was knitted flat in pieces.


Other features include table mats, some small items for gifts or bazaars - including a charming kangaroo sewn in felt and a crocheted tea cosy in an "Elizabethan" design.  In addition there is a schools' page with a simple embroidery design and a small piece at the bottom advertising Weldon's historical costumes for pageants, as seen in Weldon's Fancy Dress, price 1 shilling.  As in any old magazine the adverts are fascinating, mostly related to needlework, as you would expect and include holiday guides, knitting machines, children's clothes, fabric remnants, embroidery cloth and threads, knitting wool and a postal dress making course.  The best of the adverts is, of course, on the back cover and is for a series of Coronation Hats in Strutt's Candlewick Cotton. Many of the designs look more to me like something a French Revolutionary would have worn to man a barricade and the thought of them made in the same material as those old Candlewick bedspreads such as my grandmother used to have makes my mind boggle!


Anyhow, there we have it, a small piece of social history.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Year in Books: August

This month's book is actually a children's book, Grace by Morris Gleitzman, a British born author who has lived in Australia most of his life.  My sister and I had a few of his books as children, I particularly remember Blabbermouth and Two Weeks with the Queen.  His books are unconventional and like Jacqueline Wilson he is not afraid to tackle big issues, so when I spotted Grace on Audible I thought I would give it a go.

Morris Gleitzman

Grace and her family belong to a very strict church who believe that only they are going to heaven and that they must keep themselves away from the world to avoid "catching sin"; Grace herself is an engaging narrator, trying to do the right thing but often committing the sin of thinking for herself and asking questions.  Gleitzman captures the atmosphere of a very tight-knit, controlling community, while managing to keep his protagonists from appearing monsters, through Grace we see that the people who are hurting her family have been hurt in their turn.  The church has a very Old Testament focus, presenting God as demanding above all obedience, but I found it notable that in this Old Testament world, Grace's parents, the (comparatively) free thinking rebels, had given their children names with a more New Testament flavour.

Ultimately Gleitzman does bring a sense of hope and redemption out of these apparently unpromising beginnings.  Reading it from the point of view of a member of a church the book, while it could have been incredibly negative about religion, in fact felt positive and affirming and spoke about what church should and should not be like.  We need to think for ourselves and encourage and enable our young people to think for themselves: Christianity at its roots is a thinking, reasoning, questioning faith.  Exploring the Bible you can see many people grappling with God, with who He is, questioning Him, thinking, considering, from Jacob and Job, right through to Paul.  So we need to be able to take our faith beyond obedience and conformity, faith and reason do not have to be mutually exclusive.

If you want to get a flavour of the book you can read the first chapter on the author's website here, while in this interview he discusses the background to writing Grace.  I think I will be revisiting some of his books, I think adults can learn a lot from children's and young adults' books.

You can see the other entries for August in The Year in Books here

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Radio Recommendations

I listen to the radio a lot, a great deal more than I watch television and it is great to listen to while knitting.  My two staple radio choices are BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra.  I was practically raised on Radio 4 and I have listened to Radio 4 Extra, or BBC 7 as it then was, since its first night of broadcasting.  Even now I can remember sitting on a chair in the dining room sitting right by my dad's then very new digital radio, listening intently and rediscovering Hancock's Half Hour.  Therefore I thought it might be good to recommend a couple of the things I've enjoyed lately on the radio, as you can listen to the BBC radio player anywhere in the world, for free, what luxury!

Having said all that about Radios 4 and 4 Extra, I shall now make my first recommendation from Radio 3 (the BBC's classical music station): The John Wilson Orchestra Prom, Kiss Me Kate.  This orchestra specialises in mid 20th century musicals and associated music and their annual prom has become my favourite.  Although it may not be "high brow" music, it is full of joy, fun and done to an extraordinary standard, Kiss Me Kate swept me through a Sunday afternoon while I knitted the foot of a sock.  You have another three weeks or so to listen, then the filmed version will be on television at Christmas - I went and checked!

Next we definitely are going high brow, with T S Eliot's poem The Wasteland.  I recently bought a copy of his poems as part of an effort to get to know more poetry and I cannot say I understood it, indeed I still would not say I fully understood it, but listening to it has helped a bit.  In particular having two voices, Jeremy Irons and Dame Eileen Atkins, reading the poem helped to underline that it is not supposed to have a meaning as a whole.  By which I mean, it does not begin at point A and end at point B having been on a descriptive or narrative journey along the way, but that it creates its whole out of a series of impressions.  I found the best way to think of the poem was as a series of thoughts wandering through the poet's mind as he tried to make sense of the world after the First World War.  The reading is a delight in itself and I am pleased to see that it is still there for another three weeks so that I can have another crack at it, though I live in hope of a CD or download becoming available of this and Jeremy Irons' reading of Eliot's Four Quartets.

Staying with the First World War, the last recommendation for now is Home Front, an epic project Radio 4 have started this week, a drama with an episode set on this day one hundred years before.  The first two episodes have been very well produced, although they possibly need to watch their idiom, one or two expressions did not sit quite with the period and I already feel that I have learnt something more of the home front experience.

What are your favourites?

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Year in Books: July

Again, scraping in close to the wire, partly this month because for most of the month there was no one book that grabbed me and that I felt I had to write about.  That is not to say there have not been some good books, such as Janet Frame's first collection of short stories, an anthology of comic stories, H G Wells' engaging but slightly strange book Marriage or the ever delightful Psmith.  Instead I have decided on a book I am only half way through: God on Mute: Engaging in the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Pete Grieg, recommended to me by a friend as I have struggled with prayer for quite a time now.  I often struggle to want to pray and I find myself worrying about prayer, particularly in light of all the terrible things happening around the world.  Or I end up feeling that as prayer is one of the few things I can do, I ought to be doing it more or "trying harder".

God on Mute is a book about faith, about prayer, specifically grappling with unanswered prayer and why our prayers might not be answered.  Pete Grieg set up the 24/7 Prayer network and in his own life has had serious struggles and unanswered prayers meaning he writes with power and from personal experience.  Pete Grieg combines this personal material with solid theology, presented in an accessible way and structured loosely around the narrative of Maundy Thursday to Resurrection Sunday.  Some of what it has to say is not necessarily what we want to hear about prayer and about God, but it is what we need to hear.

I cannot fully write about this book or do it justice: God on Mute is honest, godly, transformative.  I am only part way through the book but already feel freer, less worried, with an increased understanding of prayer, how wrestling with prayer can draw us closer to God.  How suffering does not mean we have done something wrong, but that suffering and persisting in prayer through the hard times can draw us closer to God.  It is so refreshing to read a modern Christian writer affirm that life is hard, but God is good.  The world is broken, life is hard, but that is not the end of the story: God is with us, Jesus died and was buried and rose again so that one day things can be different, the battle may rage around us, but the war, ultimately is won.

If you want a taster of Pete Grieg's teaching on unanswered prayer he has recently done a sermon on the subject at his church, which is well worth a listen (also available as a podcast).  Then go and buy a copy of the book, I am thinking of buying at least one more copy so I can start lending it round.

To see the rest of the year in books entries for July click here