Vintage Knitting, Retro Dressmaking, Make do and Mend, Original and Vintage Inspired Knitting Patterns, Vintage Inspired books

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vat Changes from 1st January 2015

Many of you will already know about the fiasco that is the Digital product VAT directive which comes into effect tomorrow. If you haven't I would suggest you google 'vatmess', pour yourself a long drink and be prepared to be bewildered by the nonsense the various EU vat authorities have dreamt up. A very thorough analysis of the situation was also written by Woolly Wormhead recently. (Please note there have been some updates to the situation since this post was written).

I won't bore you with too many of the details here but the bare facts are that digital downloads and ebooks to EU member states will have to be sold with vat added based on the country that the purchase is being made from. This along with complex audit requirements make the act of processing a sale extremely complicated. I have looked at potential options for my business and over the next few weeks you may see changes and potentially, glitches, on the website as Gavin and I rebuild our shop on a new platform that can better deal with these new vat requirements.

We don't know exactly how things will work in the first instance, but we will remain open for business throughout the switch-over and as the customer you will hopefully not be affected other than ultimately we hope to have a better, more streamlined website, shop and blog.

Due to additional processing costs incurred as a direct result of the new VAT rules I will have to increase prices on digital patterns and ebooks very slightly. These will be introduced over the next few weeks. I will keep these increases to an absolute minimum but the new system imposed creates a substantially increased administrative and processing burden on my business, that I just can't afford to absorb completely.

My patterns and e-books will also still be available on ravelry as before but again slight changes will be seen when you checkout and VAT may be applied dependent on where you, the customer, is based.

I will also be introducing 'hard copy' versions of a number of patterns to purchase via the website for those of you who would prefer this to a pdf download.

My apologies in advance for any complications during the switch over but as I said previously, we remain very much open for business! Its not the best way to be starting a New Year, but I'm determined - as always - to carry on.

With very best wishes for 2015

Susan xx

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Phew, what a busy few weeks building up to Christmas have been. I'm sure you all feel exactly the same so I just want to wish every one a relaxing, peaceful and happy Christmas with lots and lots of opportunity to knit!

I'll be back in a few days time with the story behind my 'appearance' in the Daily Mail but in the meantime the shop will remain open and despatch of orders will recommence on Monday 29th December.

But for now,

Peace and Goodwill,
Susan xx

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 1930s: The Decade Between

When I posted The Bright Young Things, I always thought I'd want to write about what came after the Roaring Twenties. We humans like to think of decades as clearly defining cultural or political phenomena, but real life is rarely that clear-cut.

The Roaring Twenties really ended in 1929 with the infamous Wall Street crash. From a cultural point of view, the reaction to the economic downturn is really interesting. People demanded escapism and the result was the rise of glitzy Hollywood musicals (made possible with the invention of "the talkie" in 1927). This Busby Berkeley number from 1933 is incredible: economic woes, American values, risky outfits, imaginative choreography, and an adorable Ginger Rodgers.

I love the contrast between the glitz of Busby Berkeley musicals and the British equivalent. The Gracie Fields musical, Sing as We Go, was written by novelist J.B. Priestley and was the story of a young girl laid off from her work in a mill who decides to go to Blackpool in pursuit of her dreams. Pay attention to Gracie's wonderful jumper in this excerpt!

The two clips make for good companion pieces because they tell the same stories in two different settings. the world was a darker, more uncertain place and people faced real hardship as they were trying to 'make it'.

Fashion was more grown-up as well. The boyish silhouette of the 1920s gave way to a feminine, more fitted look with a high waist and puff sleeves. The young, carefree girl had grown into a hard-working, smart woman and fashion trends reflected that. Tailored ensembles, mid-calf skirts, and form-fitted blouses with detailed neck-lines were all staple wardrobe items. The 1930s also became one of the most exciting ages in which to be a knitter. Jumpers were hugely fashionable and knitting became a way of making fashionable clothes for yourself on a small budget. You can read more about 1930s knitted jumpers in A Stitch in Time, vol. 1! Some of the most cutting edge designs in the book are indeed from the 1930s. Just look at The Rose Jumper with its dramatic neckline and beautiful sleeves coming to points immediately above the cuff.

The most dramatic piece of all has to be Concentrate on the Sleeves with its 'sharks fin' pleats at the top of each, already dramatic, leg o' mutton sleeves.

One of the things I love most about the 1930s is the music. As per usual Hollywood took advantage of new technology and as a result they made many splendid musicals while radio and gramophones made stars of touring "dance band" orchestras. Many "standards" started life as big popular hits in the 1930s: I Got Rhythm (written by George & Ira Gershwin), Cheek to Cheek (written by Irving Berlin), and Begin the Beguine (written by Cole Porter) among others. You also saw the rise of crooners like Bing Crosby (Pennies from Heaven) and a very young Frank Sinatra (Night & Day).

What about literature though? Writers like John Steinbeck, George Orwell, and Ernest Hemingway wrote angry, realist pieces about every-day life, but again you see a lot of escapism. The 1930s were the Golden Age of detective novels with writers like Agatha Christie (whose Miss Marple series started in 1930), Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. All wrote genteel mysteries featuring nice and definitely not so nice, middle-class and upper-class people. What better way to assuage the trials of toils of every-day life than curl up a good mystery where the villains eventually are brought to justice? Likewise, it is no coincidence that science-fiction and fantasy began to take off (J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World were all published in the 1930s) nor that the biggest literary success of the decade was Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind!

Nowadays I think we tend to forget the 1930s a little bit because it was the decade between the Roaring Twenties and the devastation of World War Two. I think it is a fascinating period of time filled with strong women, interesting books, and the start of mass pop culture.

Did I forget your favourite piece of 1930s culture?

for now,
Susan xx

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cecilia's Stranded Knitting Adventure

Last weekend I went on a lovely trip to see my good friend Cecilia, who lives high in the Cumbrian countryside. Cecilia is a spinner and hand dyer of the highest level and she has very kindly (or foolishly) been teaching me to spin. In return, she asked if I would help her improve her stranded knitting skills.

As well as both living on farms and being obsessed with wool and knitting, Cecilia and I have another thing in common. We were both supporters of our mutual friend,  Felicity Ford's 'Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook'.

Helping Cecilia to improve her stranded knitting skills seemed the perfect moment for us also to explore Felix's book and launch Cecilia into a project.

Before I arrived I had set Cecilia some homework based on Felix's book. She was to study her surroundings and choose something around her as the inspiration for her piece of stranded knitting. She was then also to extract the colours from this and create a colour palette from which she would knit.

As a hand dyer inspired by her environment on a daily basis, Cecilia decided to turn things on their heads somewhat and chose a skein of her beautiful hand dyed yarn as her inspiration. This in turn had been inspired by a view by the near by lake early this year. You can read more about Cecilia's processes in this interview on the Wovember blog in 2013.

 She then chose a selection of Jamieson & Smith 2 ply jumper weight Shetland wool that reflected the colours to be found in the skein.

Felix's book helps you to see the range of colours and patterns in everything around you and then shows you how to take those colours and patterns and turn them into beautiful samples of stranded knitting. I would recommend you looking at Felix's website at just some of the truly amazing images of completed works that people have sent to her.

Felix has herself been using a photo I had taken of my farm, Monkley Ghyll to create the most stunningly, rich swatch. Here it is in progress.

Here is the photo which Felix has used to create this incredible swatch.

And so, once colours had been identified, Cecilia took up her needles and set about learning to create stranded knitting. Sitting at her kitchen table we talked and drank tea oblivious to the day darkening outside; the only sound disturbing us that of Cecilia's two new Old England goats who have been relentlessly trying to escape since coming to live with her.

Initially awkward, the rhythm of working stranded knitting with a colour held in each hand began to make sense and Cecilia's speed and accuracy improved dramatically.  At the end of the day a small but perfectly formed swatch had begun to appear on her needles. Cecilia is going to continue with this and at our next meeting I will hopefully be able to share with you her completed project.

Felix's book is inspirational in the true sense of the word and yet also manages to be fabulously instructional as well, releasing often un-noticed patterns and colour combinations for us to use and admire.

If you haven't already got yourself a copy of the Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook I would highly recommend you do so. Take a walk, look at the everyday things around you and begin to create your own works of knitted art.

Felix's book can be purchased via her website here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Alconleigh - from the Knits for a Cold Climate collection

Folowing on from her incredibly popular design, Clemmie, Tess Young has created Alconleigh for the Knits for a Cold Climate collection. Following on the heels of Nancy, Asthall and Noblesse Oblige the collection is really coming together and there are still more exciting new designs in the works.

Image Copyright Susan Crawford 2014
 Alconleigh is a stylish ensemble of hat and gauntlets heavily influenced by 1920s design. Again knitted in Fenella and with the pattern providing the instructions for both hat and gauntlets. I'll now pass you over to Tess who will tell us more about her design inspirations for this fabulous set:

"When discussing Knits for a Cold Climate with Susan I knew I wanted to design a hat. After all during the 1920s and 30s it would have been considered vulgar by most women, across classes, to leave the house without a hat.

Whilst cloches are often thought synonymous with the 20s, they had already been popular before this point and were far from the only style of hat worn during this period. Many designers produced popular more flamboyant and exotic hats drawing on oriental influences, popular since the opening of Tutankamun’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922, and Russian embroidery and styles brought to western Europe by those fleeing the 1917 Revolution.

What was more consistent in the 1920s was the way in which hats were worn; deep or low over the head to frame the face, itself a canvas for the new trend in striking make-up.  However, the trend for fuller more glamorous hairdos, demi-waves and perms in the 1930s saw hats softening, pushed back a little, and brims broadening.

And of course, along with hats went matching gloves.  Day dresses tended to be worn with short gloves and evening dresses with long gloves.

In terms of colour, Paul Poiret set the trend reintroducing vivid colours in his collections in the 1920s and these stronger colours replaced Edwardian pastels. Colour was also used in bold blocks reflecting the influence of the cubists and fauvists on textile design and fashion during the 1920s.

Drawing on these influences the Alconleigh hat uses deep stripes or blocks of myristica and myrtle separated by accents of Jonquil, a favourite of Poirets. It has a deep hemmed brim, and gentle folds achieved by changing needle size between the colourwork and plain sections. This is topped off by a striking colourwork crown which can be worn to the back or at a jaunty angle to the side. Alconleigh frames the face just as I hoped it would and this makes it a very flattering hat to wear.

Image Copyright Susan Crawford 2014
 The gloves similarly have a hemmed cuff and folds along the forearm and can be worked pulled up of with gentle ruches. The colourwork on the hands reflect that on the crown of the hat.

Image Copyright Susan Crawford 2014
Image Copyright Susan Crawford 2014

Alconleigh is named for the setting of much of Mitford’s 1945 novel, The Pursuit of Love , the first of the trilogy that includes Love in a Cold Climate and The Blessing. The novel begins with its narrator Fanny recalling childhood Christmases at Alconleigh. The fictional Alconleigh is largely based on Asthall Manor (link to Susan’s post) home of the Mitfords in the early 1920s. It does not receive the most sympathetic treatment in the novel, the house reflecting the character of its inhabitants, or perhaps its Lord, Uncle Matthew or Lord Alconleigh, a loud, crass, bullying, blood sports enthusiast. It would be tempting to suggest that he is a parody of a particular element of the aristocracy of the time, but actually he seems to be a rather close representation of Mitford’s own father and there are parallels with the Mitford family biography throughout the novel. Alconleigh is described as both metaphorically and literally cold and a warm hat and gauntlets would be equally suitable for wear in both the house and across the estate!"

Image Copyright Susan Crawford 2014

Pattern details:

You can buy the PDF  pattern from the Susan Crawford shop here


You can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. (You do not need to be a member of ravelry to make a purchase from the site.)

The PDF pattern costs £4

You can also purchase or take a look at all the possible colour combinations of Fenella on the shop here and a kit will also be available from my shop here. Check

Materials Required:

Hat Only (in 4 sizes to fit 46, 51, 56, 61cm, 18, 20, 22, 24 in.)
1 (1, 2, 2) skeins of shade Myristica
1 (1, 1, 2) skein of shade Myrtle
1 (1, 1, 1) skein of shade Jonquil

Gauntlets Only (in 2 sizes, medium & large ladies hand)
2 (2) skeins of shade Myristica
1 (2) skein of shade Myrtle
1 (1) skein of shade Jonquil

Hat and Gauntlets
3 skeins of shade Myristica
2 (2, 2, 3) skeins of shade Myrtle
1 skein of shade Jonquil

Needles and Notions Needed:

Set of 2.75mm (US 2) double pointed needles or 40cm (16in) circular needle
Set of 3.25mm (US 3) double pointed needles (gauntlets only)
Set of  of 3.75mm (US 5) double pointed needles or 40cm (16in) circular needle (hat only)
2 Stitch markers
for now,
Susan xx

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Noblesse Oblige - and a little something about Language

Noblesse Oblige is the latest pattern in the 'Knits for A Cold Climatecollection.

And I am extremely excited to announce that it is designed by my good friend and collaborator, the extremely talented designer, Karie Westermann. Karie is not only a marvel at designing but has an incredible knowledge about the English language. When we decided on the name for this design it seemed to make perfect sense that its name would therefore be Noblesse Oblige.

I would now like to pass you over to Karie to tell you a little more about her fabulous design:

"When I was given the design brief by Susan, I knew I wanted to use the wonderful colour range in Fenella. Inspired by my recent forays into knitting archives, I began sketching Fair Isle bands but it was not until I uncovered a photo of a 1930s knitting pattern that I decided upon the colour scheme. The jumper is charming, but I fell in love with the red/green/yellow motif. Could I use these colours in a more traditional setting?

After several attempts, I hit upon a 1930s inspired hat and scarf using that red/green/yellow combination, but also tempered by a soft porcelain blue and a delightful creamy white. The jaunty beret features two Fair Isle bands that counteract each other to create a sense of dynamism.

The scarf comes in three sizes - you can make it a neckerchief, a small scarf or a full-sized shawl. To optimise knitting pleasure, the scarf does not use Fair Isle bands but features narrow stripes in a colour sequence that calls back to the beret. After much discussion, Susan and I agreed that small, felted pompoms would add a delightful finishing touch.

Naming the pattern was harder. I wanted to use one of Nancy Mitford's book titles, but neither Christmas Pudding nor Pigeon Pie seemed appropriate! Finally, Noblesse Oblige seemed to suggest itself - it is a collection of essays and I rather enjoyed Nancy Mitford's essay on the English language. So, Noblesse Oblige. A lovely hat and scarf set. I hope you will enjoy knitting it.

But let's talk about Nancy Mitford's essay briefly.

Found in Noblesse Oblige, "The English Aristocracy" is her most famous essay. Nancy Mitford had recently read an academic article by a British linguist and was inspired to write her own examination of how the British upper class ("U") and the middle class ("non-U") spoke. The essay is very much of its time - apparently only non-U people would speak of telephones! - but that is also part of its appeal. It is a snapshot of a world in transition where old notions of class and importance are slowly eroding. It is particularly interesting to compare Mitford's essay to Grayson Perry's TV documentaries about Class in Britain. The economic barriers between the classes may have eroded, but cultural markers such as language and taste have not.

"The English Aristocracy" is an early example of what we know today as sociolinguistics. A "sociolect" is a type of language associated with one socioeconomic class, age group or gender. The British 1990s sit-com Keeping Up Appearances uses Mitford's little U vs non-U markers and sociolects to great comic effect. The main protagonist, Hyacinth Bucket, insists her surname is pronounced Bouquet, and she keeps grasping at big, fancy words in her attempt to sound more refined (something Mitford notes is the true mark of a social climber - why use the word "lavatory" when "loo" is perfectly adequate?). The underlying class anxiety so evident in Mitford's 1950s essay is very much visible even forty and fifty years on.

If you have half an hour to spare, I suggest you read Mitford's little essay in Noblesse Oblige - I assure you that you will notice amusing little things about how you and the people around you speak."

Thank you so much Karie for sharing the thought processes behind your design with us.

Now for the important pattern details:

You can buy the PDF  pattern from the Susan Crawford shop here


You can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. (You do not need to be a member of ravelry to make a purchase from the site.)

The PDF pattern costs £4

You can also purchase or take a look at all the possible colour combinations of Fenella on the shop
here  and a kit will also be available from my shop here.

Materials Required:

Beret Only (both sizes)
1 skein each of shades Myrtle, Atomic Red, Chalk, Jonquil, Porcellana
Neckerchief/Scarflette/Shawl Only
1 (2, 3) skeins of shade Myrtle 1 skein each of shades Atomic Red, Chalk, Jonquil and Porcellana
Beret plus Neckerchief/Scarflette/Shawl
2 (3, 4) skeins of shade Myrtle 

1 skein each of shades Atomic Red, Chalk, Jonquil and Porcellana

Needles and Notions Needed
Set of 2.25mm (US 1) double pointed needles 

Set of 3mm (US 2) double pointed needles 

1 pair of 3mm (US 2) needles or 3mm circular needle 

Stitch markers 
Pom pom maker or small piece of cardboard

I hope you'll agree with me that this is a truly beautiful ensemble. Later this week I will share my blocking tips for the beret and also how I made the felted pom poms.

for now,
Susan xx

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Edited 8.40 am Sunday: The page is now finally beginning to be populated with the sale items. As I upload them it is taking about 24 hours for them to appear on the page and as a new vendor I am limited to how many I can add at any one time, but I'll be slowly working my way through. Some items have sold almost as soon as they appeared on the page so do keep looking if there's a particular favourite that you're waiting for.

Original post 21.50 pm Saturday:
I have begun to list samples on my ebay page and these should have been published by now but unfortunately ebay hasn't yet updated them to show them on my page. If you are following the page ebay should hopefully notify you when items 'appear'. To be doubly sure I will post on the blog again once the page does update.

I'm so sorry for the inconvenience if you are waiting to see the listings, but unfortunately I don't have any control over the ebay system. If its not sorted tomorrow however I will find another way to list them for sale.

for now

a slightly irritated
Susan xx

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sample Sale

Since moving back in March, I have been attempting to re-organize, clear out, streamline the amount of ‘stuff’ that I have. For a considerable length of time prior to this, I have been concerned about the number of sample garments I need to store. Added to this is the imminent arrival of a hell of a lot of books in less than a week's time (more on this in a day or two), so I have finally made the decision to sell some of them.

A significant number of the items are from A Stitch in Time Volume 1, and all are sold as seen. Some have been used as display garments over the years but all have been stored in dry conditions, and in a smoke, pet and moth free environment. There is only one of each item and they are only available in the size specified and colour shown. As much information as possible will be included on the sale page for each product.

To give everyone an equal opportunity to acquire one of these beautiful knits I have opened a basic ebay shop where I will list each item. The shop will ‘open’ at 7pm (GMT) on Saturday evening - that’s the 29th November.

 Here is the link:

Nothing will be listed on it until the specified time on Saturday, but if you follow the page you will be notified as soon as items begin to go live.

I'm afraid I can’t reserve or hold things for people so if you do want one of these gorgeous knits you will need to go through the ebay shop.

To whet your appetites here are a few of the garments that will be up for sale:

New Cowl Neckline

It Cannot Fail to Please

Fair Isle Yoke

Sun Ray Ribbing

Its going to be hard to let these garments go but I know they will all be going to good homes and the time is right to say goodbye.

Good luck!

For now,
Susan xx

Monday, November 17, 2014

Come and say hello at the Knitting and Stitching Show!

I'll be having at stand at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate again this year. The show commences next Thursday - the 20th of November, and runs until Sunday the 23rd. The stand is in a completely different place to last year and if you're trying to find me in the programme, I'm afraid I'm not listed.

So if you would like to visit the stand you can find me in Hall A, stand number A130



I've got a number of fabulous new kits and designs available for the first time, including:

Blodini - an extremely snug yet elegant tubular stranded knit cowl in Excelana DK. This design was originally released in Dreaming of Shetland by Deborah Robson.

Marit - Scandinavian style mittens based on a traditional Norwegian mitten pattern knitted in Excelana 4 ply

Day at the Races - Vintage Fair Isle beret available only as a kit and knitted using 5 shades of Fenella - more about this design very soon!

and very exciting indeed is the exclusive release at the show of two new designs from the "Knits for a Cold Climate" collection, with a design each from my marvellous co-designers, Tess Young and Karina Westermann.

Tess Young's exquisite design uses innovative techniques and clever use of structure to create Alconleigh, a fabulous slouchy hat and gauntlet set knitted in three shades of Fenella.

Karina's playful and stylish set features a gorgeous stranded knit beret with felted pom pom. Teamed with this is the choice of a triangular neckerchief, scarflette or shawl in a co-ordinating stripe pattern, also with optional felted pom poms. Again knitted in Fenella, this pattern provides so many options - particularly useful for Christmas present knitting. Intriguingly entitled Noblesse Oblige.

You'll hear more about both of these designs when they are 'formally' released when I get back from Harrogate, but in the meantime the only place you can buy either of these patterns is from my stand.

I'm also very excited that due to popular demand, Diamonds are Forever will be available as a single pattern for the first time - and is now knitted in Excelana 4ply. Modelled here by the lovely Anna, who agreed to model for me only a few days ago and did a fantastic job on a very chilly day. Thank you Anna.

Kits for the very popular Nancy and Wartime Farm patterns will also be available on the stand along with much, much more.

 Phew! Listing them like that it sounds like a lot of new stuff! So don't forget, Hall A, stand A130.

If you've not yet purchased your tickets for the show, the organisers are offering a discount of £2 on every ticket purchased, if you enter the code EX14 at the checkout Alternatively you can call 0844 848 0155 and quote the same code.

I hope to see some of you there!

for now,
Susan xx 

All images copyright Susan Crawford

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lest We Forget

It is now two years since I first told great uncle Herbert's story and on this day, 96 years to the day since the 'Great War' ended, it seems appropriate to reprise his story - lest we forget.

From April 2012 -

In the autumn of 1914, a 19 year old John ‘Herbert’ Ogden, from Blackpool Lancashire, enlisted in the newly formed “Kitchener’s Army” to fight in the “Great War”. Like hundreds of thousands of other young men Herbert firmly believed it was his duty to fight when his country called.

Herbert, aged 18

Herbert was born in Oldham, the second child of Thomas and Edith Ogden. Thomas was a successful licensed victualler  and had sent his son to a boarding school in Scotland. Herbert had three sisters and two younger brothers who all admired the tall, good looking and refined young man that Herbert became. Herbert’s mother had passed away in 1912, so was not there to see her sons join up one by one.

Herbert after joining up

Due to his education Herbert was placed with the Royal Fusiliers 21st Battalion (4th Public School Division) and was sent to Clipstone Camp in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire for his basic training.

In this photo Herbert, in the foreground, is wearing a stylish knitted cardigan

Herbert is on the left of this photo leaning on the post
herbert is standing third from the left looking away from camera in his natty knitted cardigan

By 1916, Herbert had received his ‘commission’ and was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (5th Battalion, Territorial Force).

Herbert on the right looking older and more serious than previously

Herbert fought in the Battle of Arras in France on Easter Monday 1917 and ever since the family, including my husband, Gavin - Herbert’s great nephew - have believed that that is where Herbert died in battle. Herbert’s war record like almost 70% of others from before 1940, was destroyed in a fire at the War Office so details of his movements had been hard for the family to trace. And more significantly, no one thought to doubt handed down oral stories of Herbert’s tale. Where Herbert was buried was sadly unknown.

Only two or three weeks ago an amazing family treasure came to light. Buried in a box deep in the attic, a photo album belonging to Herbert’s sister Edith was unearthed. Edith was also the sister of Florence - Gavin's grandmother. In it are numerous photos of a smiling, handsome, well groomed young Herbert in uniform. Amongst these photos are even a number of Herbert at the training camp in Mansfield (shown above). But one photo in particular made me decide to write Herbert’s story.

Herbert in a hand knitted scarf

This photo of an elegant Herbert was taken in 1915 during Herbert’s training. Under his coat he is wearing a thick, warm looking hand knitted scarf. Knitted by one of his sisters or by one of the hundreds of thousands of women who knitted for the troops during the WW1 conflict? Dorothy Peel in her book “How We Lived Then” (1929) writes of women knitting socks, mitts, body belts, hats, scarves - ‘comforts’ as they were known - for the soldiers. Knitting took place everywhere, in trams, trains, theatres and parks. In “All Quiet on the Home Front” (Richard van Emden and Steve Humphries, 2003) it tells the story of a minister being asked by local women if it was right or wrong to knit socks on Sundays for the soldiers. The minister told them it was quite right, which they were very pleased about. In his “A History of Hand Knitting”, Richard Rutt explains that wartime knitting hit a peak in 1915 and was further fanned by an appeal by Queen Mary for hand knits for the troops in 1916.  In fact, troops apparently received so many hand knitted comforts that socks and gloves were used as dish clothes and tea towels!

Herbert’s simple scarf really doesn’t need a pattern but I went through my patterns anyway to see if I could actually find a pattern for a garter stitch scarf. The most likely place was the first edition of “Woolcraft” published  by J and J Baldwin shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914, and which before the end of the war, four years later, was on to its third edition but I was unable to locate a scarf pattern like Herbert’s. In “Knitted Comforts for our Sailors, Soldiers & Airmen” by Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores is an almost identical scarf to Herbert’s, but the copy of the book I have is much later in date, although I believe it may be a reprint of an earlier booklet as the yarn recommended is “Wheeling”. In Richard Rutt’s book he has described this as a coarse woollen-spun yarn, usually 3 ply, a description which he in turn probably got from one of the earliest Woolcraft’s where it is described as:
“a term applied to a distinctive material which, by reason of its early association with the town of that name, is often referred to as ‘Alloa Yarn’. The word ‘Alloa’ is, as a matter of fact, often used as a synonym for the thick woollen thread or ‘wheeling’ yarn which, for hand knitting purposes is generally sold in 3 ply and in a skein of 2 ozs., eight of which form a head of 1lb. Wheelings, as a class, when of good quality, fill a very useful place as producing warm woolly fabrics specially suitable for heavy socks, stockings and garments for outdoor wear, such as get softer and more comfortable the oftener they are washed. A cheap wheeling can, however, be very deceptive in point of durability and, in this class of material especially, it only pays to buy a good reliable article”.

By the time Woolcraft updated editions were being published in the 1920s this description was no longer being included in the knitting definitions and instructions. This suggests that the use of this word was out of date even for the late 1930s when I believe the Scotch Wool book was printed, and therefore possibly indicates a reprint of an earlier publication. However in the Scotch Wool booklet, Wheeling is described as the same as Double Knitting and “a splendid quality for motor rugs, capes and scarves, heavy weight jumpers and pullovers. The best quality for ‘brushing’”, thereby changing the definition and maybe suggesting Greenocks, who published as Scotch Wool, were using the name in a different way? This is the project included in this publication.

There is nothing I can do to change what has passed, but it would seem appropriate if people were to knit a simple scarf and remember Herbert. So as I can’t actually find the pattern that was possibly used to create his scarf I have written a simple pattern of my own and so this is “Herbert’s Scarf”. 

You can download the pattern free of charge here which also contains this essay, and if you would, think of Herbert or any other man or woman who has fallen in conflict when you knit from it.

Delving deeper into Herbert’s past finally revealed as much of his story as we are ever likely to know. On 31st July 1917, the Battle of Passchendaele (or Third Battle of Ypres) in Belgium, commenced. One of the most controversial and horrific battles of WW1 began in torrential rain, which refused to stop.

the battlefield of Passchendaele

And since that morning, after going over the top into No Man’s Land into craters of mud, barbed wire, gas, bodies and bullets, Herbert, only 22 years old, was never seen again. His date of death is given as 31st July 1917 but his body was never found. His name however, is carved into a panel in the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, so that he will always be remembered.

Over half a million men, including over 350,000 British and 260,000 Germans, died at Passchendaele, many of them drowning in mud and rain-filled trenches. After surviving the horrors of this battle, the poet Sigfried Sassoon wrote about it in his poem, Mud and Rain -

Mud and rain and wretchedness and blood.
Why should jolly soldier-boys complain?
God made these before the roofless Flood -
Mud and rain.

Mangling cramps and bullets through the brain,
Jesus never guessed them when He died.
Jesus had a purpose for His pain,
Ay, like abject beasts we shed our blood,
Often asking if we die in vain.
Gloom conceals us in a soaking sack --
Mud and rain.

In Memory of great-uncle John 'Herbert' Ogden: 1895-1917

for now,
Susan xx

Friday, October 31, 2014

De-mystifying Blocking - Part 1

As I began to plan this post, it dawned on me very quickly, that there would have to be more than one post dealing with the mystery that is blocking, as varying types of projects and differing yarns require handling differently.

‘Blocking’ instructions are usually found within the making up or finishing instructions in a pattern. Blocking has become a catch all expression which refers to how to finish or ‘dress’ your almost completed project. How to bring out the best from your chosen yarn, how to ensure the correct shape and fit to your project and how to have the desired finish to the surface of your fabric.

As a dressmaker, one of the first things I do when preparing to sew, is to open the ironing board, get the iron out and fill it with water to ensure plenty of steam. Alongside this I usually have a water sprayer and a fine, damp, muslin cloth to protect the fabric. No woven item would ever be produced without the use of some heat or pressure. And yet, when I first began to knit garments, I didn’t initially make this connection and wrongly assumed that once a knitted project was sewn up that was the end of that. Maybe I have some excuse. When I first became ‘pattern aware’ as a teenage knitter, instructions on how to approach what is now called blocking were scanty to say the least. 

Examining a book today from the late 1980s which became a firm favourite, the “Elle” knitting book, there are absolutely no blocking or dressing instructions included. Once the garment was sewn up, it was ready to go. And yet, quite obviously just from the cover image below, some form of pressing or blocking must have taken place on the samples produced for the book.

Interestingly in a number of Margaret Murray and Jane Koster books from the 1930s and 40s, they do tell the knitter to press the pieces using a warm iron, usually on the wrong side and to avoid ribbing, prior to sewing up.

I can find no evidence however of the full process of blocking, including soaking, being recommended to the knitter. This is, of course, all taken from a UK point of view although  I have many Vogue Knitting magazines from the US and Sandra magazines from Germany, neither of which make very much reference to these final steps. It would be really interesting to hear what sort of instruction patterns from the 1930s to the 1990s provided elsewhere.

My assumption is, that this is because it was assumed that knitting would always be washed once it was completed. Coal fires, cigarette smoke and an often, smoggy atmosphere would mean that most knitting would get dirty during the knitting process and would automatically mean it would be washed. Likewise drying flat and patting out to shape was an every day occurrence when natural fibres were always used.

And I think that is probably the key here. With the overwhelming popularity of synthetic yarns in the 1970s and 1980s the ability to use heat and/or warm water and pins to create a permanent shape was forgotten about by many. Coupled with that, patterns assumed a knowledge from the knitter that wasn’t always there. I may be wrong with this generalization. It might in fact, have been more of a disconnection between the washing of the garment being anything more than a need to clean the item once it was produced and the idea that this process could be used to aid the finished appearance or the sizing of the piece. Either way, many of us, including myself, grew up and learnt to knit without these links and lessons being taught or learnt until fairly recently.

I hasten to add I always washed my knitting after completion - unless I was wearing it for a night out whilst still sewing on the buttons on the train! I also, always pressed the usually individual pieces prior to sewing up. I too have fallen into the trap of assuming everyone else already knew what to do but over the years as I’ve talked to many, many knitters, I have come to realise that actually lots of knitters are completely baffled by the term, blocking, and what they are supposed to do.

So first of all, lets not worry about a word. Blocking, dressing, or finishing are umbrella terms which are telling you that you need to take further action with your knitting before it is complete. As I have already said, different projects, yarns, stitches require different approaches so I’m going to focus on today on a particular project and explain how I would approach the blocking/finishing of it.

Blocking a Pair of Scandinavian Style Mittens

These mittens are knitted in 100% wool - in this instance Excelana 4ply - but most wools behave and respond similarly and they are knitted using stranded knitting, or Fair Isle, technique. Usually when working a piece of stranded knitting there will always be some irregularity in the surface of the work and until the piece is finished it will never look quite right. Pretty much everything we would do with these mittens we would also do with a stranded garment.

Before 'blocking' to the left and after to the right
These mittens are based on a traditional scandinavian pattern which I found in Annemor Sundbo’s wonderful book,  Norwegian Mittens and Gloves, which I have then adapted - knitted using Cornflower Blue and Alabaster Excelana 4 ply.

Step One

I usually soak the knitting in luke warm, soapy water for about 20 minutes. Use a laundry liquid specifically for wool.

I always use Navia Wool Care hand wash which is an organic hand wash (perfect for those of us on a septic tank) that contains organic lanolin which in turn feeds the wool as it is washed. It does require rinsing out afterwards but that really doesn’t worry me.

 It also only has the slightest scent of Juniper but otherwise lets the natural wool scent dominate. This is obviously a personal choice, but I’m not a one for perfume smells on my knits so this works perfectly for me.  The wool wash is available either from Island Wool's online shop or I also have it available to purchase when I am at events. At some point I will get it added to my online shop too, but in the meantime, I would highly recommend the lovely folks at Island Wool.

During the soaking the wool will begin to ‘bloom’. The wool absorbs the water and each stitch fills out, plumping up, filling in the irregularites and most importantly with stranded knitting, attaches itself more firmly to the stitches on either side of it.

Once you have allowed the knitting to soak, rinse thoroughly then roll your knitting in a towel and firmly yet carefully extract the excess water from the wool.

Step Two

Remove the knitting from the towel. Mittens require careful shaping to get the best results and the way to this is with a mitten stretcher (blocker). These are traditionally made of wood and come in a whole range of sizes. If like me, you are often knitting mittens in a variety of sizes being able to rustle up your own blocker is a really useful thing.

Making A Mitten Stretcher

Get yourself a firm piece of cardboard larger than your hand, a pen or pencil, scissors, a tape measure and some sellotape.

Measure around your hand at its widest point above your thumb. Divide this by two to give you the width needed for your mitten stretcher.

On your cardboard, draw two rectangles about 30cm tall and your required width. Draw a curved shape at the top as similar as possible to the desired final shape of your mitten, then round off the bottom corners to prevent snagging, and cut around your outline. Now for the fun bit. Cover your cardboard stretchers completely in sellotape. This makes them water resistant. The final step is to make a further two small rectangles the size of your thumbs in the same way.

Insert the larger stretcher into the mitt, ensuring the side seams of the mitts line up with the side edges of the cardboard and that the mitt is stretched evenly across the cardboard.

Insert a thumb stretcher into each of the knitted thumbs. Place on a rack or maiden to dry flat.

Once the mittens are completed dry remove the stretchers and hey presto, you have a beautifully smooth fair isle fabric and a perfectly shaped mitten. If you wish you could also apply some steam with the iron if necessary.

I would recommend that only at this point do you do the final darning in of any remaining ends.

Your stretcher is re-usable so write on each piece whose hand the stretcher is for and store for next time.

And there you go, that’s all there is to it. And is it worth doing? Absolutely. There is no comparison between a mitten that has been blocked, dressed, finished and one that hasn't. Its definitely worth taking just a little extra time to end up with such a professional and beautiful finished object. I’ll be back on the subject of blocking in a couple of weeks, when we’ll look at finishing a fair isle garment.

If you are interested in the mitt pattern, you can purchase Annemor’s book from online book retailers or I will also have an updated version of this classic available on my website in the next couple of weeks.

but for now,

Susan xx