Wednesday, 28 February 2018


Just recently I've been a tiny bit obsessed with these little things.

Welcome to the world of the weavies. These are small crochet circles with twelve holes round the edge. By threading yarn through the holes in various combinations of straight lines, you can make all sorts of patterns. Little woolly works of art.

In case you're thinking "looks a bit like Spirograph to me", well you'd be right. Want to see my new toy?

This was one of my favourite toys as a child (although my set was much more basic than this one), even though the patterns were frustratingly hard to do. Guess what? They still are. I'm not quite sure why I thought it would be a good idea to get a big set with fancy pieces this time round as it's all I can do to cope with the basic wheels and rings.

Having said that, I have found a few things to help. Following the advice on Spirographic Art, I replaced the blu-tack (which in turn replaced the original pins) with rare earth magnets and a thin sheet of metal. You put the metal sheet under the paper and the magnets, which are very strong, hold the rings in place.

The other thing that's improved in the Spirograph world since the 1960s is pens. Actually, the ones that come with it work pretty well.

But I couldn't resist an excuse to go pen shopping. I've found that Papermate InkJoy gel pens work really well for drawing the patterns and I use Staedler Triplus Fineliners for colouring them in.

My only attempt at layered patterns so far

I hadn't really thought about using the patterns for colouring before but it's fun - even if some of the shapes are ridiculously intricate. 

Should you be wondering (and I only know because I looked it up), the grown-up name for Spirograph patterns is hypotrochoid or epitrochoid patterns. The ones you do inside the ring are the hypotrochoids and the outside ones are epitrochoids. So now you know.

Anyway, back to the crochet. No danger of your pen slipping with these. The crochet part is pretty basic really - a few rounds to get to the right size, then a round of eyelets to take the weaving yarn. I finished them off with a nice crab stitch border, not that you can really see that here.

You'll have to take my word for it when I tell you that it gives them a fluted edge, reminiscent of jam tarts (or maybe that's just me). The patterns range from simple ...

... to the slightly more complicated.

Now I got a bit carried away with this whole project and ended up making 24 of these little things - three each of the eight designs I came up with. You may be wondering what on earth I'm going to do with them all. Well, I've made a little mat with seven of them and two lots of bunting.

Oh yes, and I made a big one too, with 24 holes instead of 12; I particularly like that one. 

Now it may be that I'm the only person who wants to make this sort of thing but - just in case I'm not - I've turned this whole adventure into a very long pattern and you can download it here. I've included instructions for the eight patterns I did but you could design your own too. 

What with these and my venture into knitted stones recently, I think it might be time for me to design something a bit more practical. I do enjoy working on the weird stuff though.

Mandala Stones

Friday, 23 February 2018

Trees and Snowdrops

After days of greyness and rain, last Thursday was bright and clear which was just as well as I'd planned a visit to Batsford Arboretum. I go for a walk there several times a year and there's always something exciting to see. At the moment it's the snowdrops' turn to take centre stage.

There were carpets of them everywhere, between the trees and along the streams.

They may be tiny flowers but seeing the first snowdrops is always exciting, a sign that Spring will indeed come.

The arboretum is set on a hill so it can be steep and muddy walking but there are lots of things to chance upon. This little waterfall for example.

The path runs nearly through it so you have to move quickly to avoid getting wet. Then, right at the top of the arboretum, there's a cave.

I always think that the Swallows and Amazons would have made very good use of this. They'd have had a fire lit and broken open the pemmican as soon as they found it.

There are two rather special trees that I always visit at Batsford, both with historical connections. The first is this one.

I know it doesn't look particularly exciting at the moment but this is the Anne Frank tree. During her years in hiding from the Nazis, one of the few links with the outside world was the chestnut tree that she could see from her window. She watched it through the seasons and wrote about it several times in her diary.
13th May 1944. 'Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.'
Anne's tree blew down in 2010 but chestnuts from it had been planted and the resulting seedlings were sent to schools and other organisations around the world. This one was planted at the arboretum by the Girl Guides who were celebrating their centenary that year. It stands on the edge of this field, with a herd of red deer for company.

Further up the hill stands this not very exciting Cypress Tree.

But this is another tree with a story. In November 1852 an Eton schoolboy was among the crowds in London watching the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington. A cone fell from a wreath which the boy picked up and later planted at his home in Hampshire. A cutting from the tree he grew was sent to Brayfield in Buckinghamshire. Then, just over a hundred years after Wellington's death, a cutting from this second tree was planted at Batsford. Which makes this tree the great-grandchild of the funeral wreath. I wonder how many people have picked up cones to grow the next generation of Wellington's tree.

The arboretum is part of the Batsford Estate, based around this rather fine house.

This is perhaps best known as the home of the infamous Mitfords, although they sold the house after the First World War. This is the view down towards the house from the top of the hill. On the other side of the house is this rather peaceful lake (complete with a duck house on the island).

Sometimes there are black swans swimming on the lake but there were none to be seen this time.

If there's one thing I love, it's a picnic and the spot I found for my lunch had a beautiful view.

I have no idea what I was looking at but there was certainly a lot of it. It was so good to just sit and breathe in all that green-ness, even if it was a bit cold. My trusty flask of tea was much needed.

Next time I visit it will be warmer and maybe the Magnolias which are in bud now will be blossoming. 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Patterns from the Past

I've collected old knitting patterns for years. They're a good way to combine a love of social history and craft, as well as still being ridiculously cheap. Only a few days ago I added two beautiful baby patterns to my collection which cost me all of 50p. Charity shops are the best places to find vintage patterns; the really old ones are normally buried at the bottom of a box of more modern patterns and are often much cheaper than the new ones.

Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to take photos of some of my collections and share them here. Most of them are in these three old suitcases (apologies for the poor quality photograph - they're in a dark corner).

As you can see, they're being guarded by my knitted Teddy Bear and Ferdinand the wooden sheep. He was carved for me by my daughter; he has a lamb but it's fallen down the back of the bookcase and I haven't got round to moving everything to rescue it yet. By the way, that's me in the photo on top of the suitcases, aged about six with our lovely dog Buster.

It turns out that it takes a long time sorting through and photographing old knitting patterns so I think this is going to have to be the first of a series of posts. Let's open the smallest suitcase first.

On the top are my Stitchcraft booklets. These were published by Patons & Baldwins and I should think they date from the 1950s. They are all collections of patterns for babies and children.

Aren't the covers wonderful? Just look at the baby in the pink dress, beaming happily. And what about the two children on the cover of the Nursery Knitting Book?

Children still enjoy blowing bubbles but they don't use proper little pipes like those nowadays. Inside this book, there's a lovely pattern for Norwegian style hat, scarf, glove and mittens which would look just as good today.

Here are some more P&B booklets, including some of the 'First Woollies' series and some 'Beehive Baby Books'.

These two patterns from the red Beehive Baby Book (SC14, price 1/6) show what would have been old and new style patterns at the time of publication.

First there's a pram blanket knitted with Patons Double Quick Knitting and edged with ribbon. Most of the other patterns in the book use thin baby wool, 2, 3 or 4 ply, so this was definitely a bit different. Worked in a cable stitch pattern, it would have been nice and warm.

The baby on the other page is wearing a ribbed vest and pilch, described as a 'Basic for Babies' set. This is much more traditional knitting, worked in thin yarn. In case you're wondering, a pilch was a knitted cover to go over the top of the nappy - patterns for these were as common as those for vests and booties.

A couple more Stitchcraft booklets ...

'Schooldays' and - with apologies to all the men who knit - 'He-knits that she knits'. The back covers of these two are good as well.

This is the back of 'Schooldays'. I know this is what we would now think of as a teenager dressed as a middle aged woman but the clothes themselves are beautifully designed. Here's the back of 'He-knits' ...

Nothing quite like the smile of someone who knows he's got someone to knit his jumpers for him. The only surprising thing about this picture is that neither of them is holding a pipe. Men with pipes feature a lot in old knitting patterns - "I may be a knitwear model but look, I smoke a pipe like a real man". 

Underneath the booklets are two big piles of mostly single knitting patterns. They're all either Bestway or Weldons patterns.

These are small patterns, about 8 x 5" or so, the older ones in black & white, the more recent ones in colour. I think they're all pre - decimal which dates them to before 1971. What shall we start with? I think the Bestway Booklets at the top of the picture.

'Gloves and Mitts for the Family' has patterns for everyone and every season. Those were the days when a lady never went out without her gloves, even if they were lacy ones for warm days.

The booklet on the right, 'Fair Isle Motifs for Childrens' Woollies' comes complete with charts ...

... while you'll be glad to see that the boys in 'Boys' Knitwear' aren't letting standards slip. They may be hanging round on a street corner, but they're still wearing their ties.

The individual Bestway patterns are for everyone and every occasion. Naturally, there are lots of baby patterns. 

I especially like the one with the baby in pink, I think it's the combination of colours - pink, turquoise, lemon and lime green - I'd like to knit something with all those colours in. There are also a few patterns for bonnets and booties.

When my first baby was born in the 1980s baby bonnets were still called 'helmets' if they were for baby boys - so much more macho. There are lots of cardigans and slipovers or waistcoats in the childrens's patterns; most of the models don't exactly looked relaxed.

But when it comes to artificiality, you've got to go a long way to beat some of the women on the Bestway patterns.

The one in yellow is definitely smiling through gritted teeth. The hairstyles are pretty tortuous too. As for the men ... as promised, a man with a pipe.

You can see the styling starting to relax a bit between these two family patterns.

The man and boy in the pattern on the right may still be wearing their ties but at least their jumpers are a bit more casual. This is one of the few patterns to use chunky yarn which would have seemed very thick to a generation of knitters used to working with thin 4 ply yarn.

There are a lot of old sock patterns around, like this one for schoolboy socks. I think the stripes on the socks would have been worked in school uniform colours. 

The other pattern above is for bedsocks, sized for children and adults and in various styles. I think the knee length ones are probably tube socks, knitted with a spiral rib pattern that means they don't need any heel shaping. My old house is always cold, I could do with a pair of those ...

There are several patterns for gloves and mittens - can you spot another pipe? I think the mittens on the right are great (slip stitch, by the look of it). You could knit those for a child now and they'd look just as good as when they were first published.

What else is there in the Bestway pile? Oh yes, a few elegant ladies in black and white.

I do like a nice bedjacket pattern. One day I'm going to knit a bedjacket. If you live in a warmer house than mine you could always wear one over a summer dress on cool evenings.

This is one of my favourite patterns.

It's an outfit for dolls in three sizes - 12, 14 and 16". I think this would fit my original Tiny Tears who I've had for over 50 years, not to mention the original Teeny Tiny Tears that I haven't got but hope to find one day.

There are several patterns for string bags and a few collections of tea cosies. I do like tea cosies.

And finally, I was struck by these two patterns. I wonder if that's the same little girl and, if so, where she is now?

I've probably got fewer Weldons patterns than Bestways but I think they're my favourites. There's something about their design that I absolutely love. Just look at these womens' patterns.

These models look alive in a way that the Bestway ones rarely do. And isn't that green jacket wonderful? Or how about these hats?

I think all of these look stylish and appealing. Do you think the woman in the Fair Isle set is trying to explain colour photography to her Black & White colleagues? If so, I'm not sure the one in the fuzzy bonnet is quite getting it.

My Weldons baby patterns look more dated but the designs are still interesting. Batwing baby cardigans anyone? I used to knit those for babies as these were easy to get their arms in and out of.

The children's patterns are lovely too. 

That 'Windcheater Pullover' at the top looks very practical (I remember when a certain style of jacket was called a Windcheater - wonderful name). And just look at the little girl in the yellow cardigan, now that's what I call a smile.

I suppose it's in the nature of glove and sock patterns that they don't change much ...

... and you'll be relieved to see that the men are still wearing their ties and holding their pipes.

There are just two more Weldons patterns to show you and these are amongst my favourites. First there's this penguin tea cosy. What do you mean, you don't feel the need for a penguin tea cosy?

And then there's this ...

Yes, that's right, it's called 'Television Knitting, Designed to Knit while you Watch'. There are four patterns: for a bedjacket, a zip up jumper, a short sleeved jumper and a blanket. Just in case you didn't get the point, each picture is framed by a television screen. Now I know I'm laughing at this but look at that blanket. Is it just me or is it very like my Pathways blanket? They say there's nothing new under the sun.

I bet you're thinking we've got to the bottom of that suitcase now but you don't get off that lightly. There's one more pile to show you before you're allowed to go and make a cup of tea. 

This is my collection of Woolcraft magazines, a publication which went through many editions during the 20th century. My earliest copy is the 8th edition which dates from the early 1930s and my most recent is the 17th edition from 1962.

Inside the 8th edition I found a torn out page from an engagements calendar for July 1937 on which someone had written a pattern for a knitted skirt.

It's 31" long and sized to fit someone with 40 - 41" hips. It's called 'Ribbed Skirt' and is knitted with 16 oz 4 ply Excelsior wool and a number 9 circular needle. A circular needle in 1937? I thought they were much more recent than that. Wouldn't it be fun to knit this and see yow it worked out? 440 stitches though ...

For many years, all editions of Woolcrafts had a full page illustration for each section. Here's the one for the baby patterns from this one.

By 1962, those illustrations had been replaced with a more modern look.

But my copy of the 16th edition of 1956 still looks quite like the early editions.

Funnily enough though, my 1962 Woolcraft does have something in common with my edition from 30 years earlier ...

Not a knitting pattern this time but the details of the various pullovers knitted. David's was in lemon 3 ply (maybe that's the wool used to tie the page to the book), Simon and Andrew's were in maroon and Ian and Katie's were in gold. The knitter has made notes of the number of stitches for each part and the individual measurements. I love finding things like this.

While I think about it, I found this book a useful source for information about the Woolcraft magazines. In fact, it's pretty much essential reading for anyone interested in the story of knitting.

This is the late Richard Rutt's A History of Hand Knitting, first published in 1987 and now sadly out of print. If you can find a secondhand copy, do buy it - it's an absolutely brilliant book. As well as masses of interesting historical detail about knitting, it's worth buying just for the appendices alone which include a list of publication dates for the Victorian 'Weldon's Practical Knitter' (another one of my collections) and a copy of the earliest known knitting pattern (it's a sock pattern in case you were wondering).

If you want to read more about old knitting patterns while you drink that cup of tea (yes, I've nearly finished), I can recommend the blog Knitting Now and Then where Barbara writes interestingly about all aspects of historical knitting. I also found a flickr album of Bestway patterns complied by Lucy of the blog 1940s Style For You. You can browse through it here. I'm sure there are lots more resources out there; if you know of any others, do let me know by leaving a comment below.

And now I'd better put all those patterns away again.