Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Year in Books: May

Yet again I have left it until the very end of the month to write this, procrastinating and not getting around to things as usual.  Anyhow, here goes: this month's book is The New Woman: An Anthology of Writing by Women, 1880-1918, edited by Juliet Gardiner.  The anthology begins by defining how, “the 'New Woman'... with her demands for education, economic independence and sexual equality – and soon for the vote – offered a challenge and a threat to the established order” and outlining the debate surrounding the term.

Next the anthology turns to a discussion of education, which was (and is) a vital building block of progress for women and what the purpose of women's education should be: would it make her discontented with a married life of domesticity? This question of education also impinged on marriage and the expectations brought to marriage.  As Sarah Grand wrote in her 1888 novel Ideala:
“The girl has been taught to expect to find a guide, philosopher and friend in her husband. He is to be head of the house and lord of her life and liberty, sole arbiter on all occasions.”
But many women found that this was not so, how could it be? The same piece goes on to discuss the need for an equality in marriage and makes the wonderful comment that once women have secured higher education for themselves they should work to secure it for men! Many of the writers condemn the economic dependence in which marriage placed women and the problems faced by those who did not or could not marry. In order to pay men a “family wage”, women's wages were generally half that of men's wages, meaning that “the wages paid to women were barely sufficient to sustain independent life”.  The Women's Dreadnought records in October 1924 that qualified women typists and bookkeepers could be expected to work for as little as 4 shillings a week, meanwhile other women engaged in war work could earn as little 6 shillings a week working ten hours a day, six days a week plus overtime.

Students in a lecture at the Royal Free Hospital in London

Naturally there is a long section on the fight for the vote, but what this book illuminated for me was that what the women of this period were fighting for was much more than just the vote. I studied women's rights in history lessons at school but the late Victorian and Edwardian period was viewed solely in terms of “Votes for Women”. This book demonstrates that these women were fighting for rights in every field of life, true the vote was crucial, so that women could no longer be “safely neglected” by the male Parliament and have a say in the laws being passed, but the suffrage movement was part of a wider movement to bring women education, equality, respect and freedom. This anthology does what any good anthology does, introducing the reader to a wide range of voices, some familiar, some new, around a subject, providing insights and debate; I most highly recommend it.  It is not all serious, there are some moments of levity, such as Ethel Smyth's account of learning to bicycle on the gravel sweep outside Lambeth Palace and teaching the Dean of Windsor how to ride.  I exhort the publishers to re-issue this book, because it is an excellent read and because the issues discussed within it are sadly still relevant, as is shown by websites such as Everyday Sexism.  It is still available second hand mercifully, I came across it in our local library, the place I have discovered so many of my favourite authors.

Edwardian lady with her bike

I leave you with this forceful argument about the very nature of woman and an interesting counterpoint to Rudyard Kipling's famous poem.

If, after four or five generations of freer choice and wider life, woman still persists in confining her steps to the narrow grooves where they have hitherto been compelled to walk; if she claims no life of her own, if she has no interests outside her home, if love, marriage and maternity is still her all in all; if she is still in spite of equal education, of emulation and respect, the inferior of man in brain capacity and mental independence; if she still evinces a marked preference for disagreeable and monotonous forms of labour, for which she is paid at the lowest possible rate; if she still attaches higher value to the lifting of a top hat than to the liberty to direct her own life; if she is still untouched by public spirit, still unable to produce an art and a literature that is individual and sincere; if she is still servile, imitative, pliant – then, when those four or five generations have passed, the male half of humanity will have a perfect right to declare that woman is what he has always believed and desired her to be, that she is the chattel, the domestic animal, the matron or the mistress, that her subjection is a subjection enjoined by natural law, that her inferiority to himself is an ordained and inevitable inferiority. Then he will have that right, but not till then.
From Marriage as a Trade (1909) by Cicely Hamilton

As an after note, knitters may find the following poem interesting, although I do not entirely agree with the sentiment, it reminded me of Kate Davies' posts about images of knitting.
Oh it's you that have the luck, out there in blood and muck:
    You were born beneath a kindly star;
All we dreamt, I and you, you can really go and do,
    And I can't, the way things are.
In a trench you are sitting, while I am knitting
    A hopeless sock that never gets done.
Well, here's luck, my dear – and you've got it, no fear;
    But for me... a war is poor fun.
Rose Macaulay, 1915

Saturday, 24 May 2014

A Set For A Special Baby


I like knitting brightly coloured clothing for babies and I think this yarn is truly excellent for baby clothing.  It is Aire Valley DK, a 75% British wool, 25% nylon blend from West Yorkshire Spinners, soft, washable and excellent value; I could see myself using this for many more baby knits in the future.  The pattern is the classic Baby Surprise Jacket by British born, American ground breaking knitter Elizabeth Zimmermann.  As you knit the jacket looks nothing like a garment, but a neat piece of folding and two short seams later it has magically transformed itself, the closest knitting gets to origami.  This yarn is just right for showing off the mitres in the pattern - Elizabeth Zimmermann adored mitred corners - and it has made a cosy, colourful jacket, without being utterly overwhelming (to me anyhow).


To go with the jacket I made the matching bootees and bonnet, which are less startlingly made but still fun knits, I will be interested to see how well the bootees fit and crucially stay on because that seems to be the crux of the matter with baby footwear.  I would recommend these patterns, the jacket is available as a separate pattern from School House Press and in the UK from the Knitting Parlour and Knit'n'Caboodle does kits.  All three patterns appear in her book The Opinionated Knitter, well worth the price, like all her books it is an enjoyable read in its own right as well as containing lots of useful information and great patterns.  School House Press have recently brought out a more detailed version of the pattern too, for those who find the original writing style a little short on detail.

Now I want to knit another, there's something curiously moreish about garter stitch in brightly coloured wool.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Knitting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has just released 400,000 images into the public domain so I have done what any knitter would do - gone to look at the knitting images, below are a few of my favourite finds.

Shepherdess Knitting by Jean-François Millet (1862) - similar to the pictures of Shetland women knitting while going about their work.

German knitted rug (1751) - according to Richard Rutt's History of Handknitting these were sometimes made as 'masterpieces' as part of qualifying for craft guilds and sometimes for customers.  I cannot imagine knitting anything so intricate!

Sampler, German (nineteenth century) There are more here, incredibly beautiful items.  The V&A in London has a good collection of them too

Sweater, American (1895) I could see something like this working today, a very dramatic silhouette

There is vastly more to look through, so much detail of the history of knitting

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Actual Knitting Content

Now we have not had much actual knitting content in a while have we?  Most neglectful on what was originally supposed to be a knitting blog.  So, on the needles, Dad's jumper very much on the back-burner, more to the forefront is a cute 1950s cardigan from a pattern I bought in a charity shop.  I am extremely pleased with this purchase, not least because it contains the pattern for the matinee jacket with hearts and embroidery featured on last year's BBC 4 programme Fabric of Britain.


The cardigan I am making is called Rogue in Raglan, a name I suspect inspired by the wonderful expression on the little model's face in the photograph.  My alteration to this neat little textured cardigan has been to lengthen the cardigan by a good few inches to make it a full length cardigan, although as it is it would make a lovely cardigan to go over a girls' empire line dress.  The pattern is fun to knit, now I have got the hang of how it works, creating a very stretchy variation on rib; it would work well on socks, something I may have to consider in the future.  I am using the delightfully soft Patons Fairytale Dreamtime 4ply, in a discontinued colour I got for £1 a ball at Black Sheep Wools ages ago, I do love a good bargain.  For authenticity and practise in making up I am making it in pieces, even though a raglan cardigan is so easy to do top down.  May Elizabeth Zimmermann forgive me!


As the summer is upon us I have resurrected the double v cardigan I put away last year after it went wrong one too many times at a point in the year when I was never going to have it ready for that summer.  Mercifully I managed to sort out the problems I was having, despite initial confusion over whether the piece on the needles was a front or a sleeve and I am powering on nicely with it.  Part of a front and one sleeve left to go, then making up and hopefully I will have a new summer cardigan.  The yarn is Nikkim by Vinni's Colours from South Africa, bought at Purlescence, the colours are gorgeous, although it is hard on the hands being 100% cotton.


If I get my act together and sew on some buttons there may soon be a Baby Surprise Jacket and attendant bonnet and bootees to show off soon.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

On the difficulties of photographing bees

The ceanothus in our garden is in full bloom and the bees are in paradise, you can hear them buzzing as they nimbly work from flower to flower.  Looking closer you can see that their pollen baskets are bright yellow and full, so full sometimes that I wonder how they can still fly.  But while the bees are great fun to watch, they are most difficult to photograph, being small and fast moving.  My camera is good, but not state of the art, so it struggles to focus fast enough and accurately enough.

Despite being a failure at its main aim, I rather like this photograph as it shows the problem, the bee appears as a sunlit blur in the centre of the picture, while the camera has focussed on the flowers.


These are probably my best pictures of the lot.  I think I shall have to send my sister out there with her big camera while I read up in the manual of my camera to see if there is anything I can change in the settings to make photographing these amazing creatures easier.


Then my next challenge will be learning to identify the different varieties, I find that a real struggle.