Monday, 25 June 2012

School Socks from 1817

This is the sock pattern from The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant Designed for the Use of the National Girls’ School, printed in 1817. The facsimile edition is available from Robin Stokes (  Information about the historical content of the original book and pattern elements may be found in my post about the pattern for and knitting of the stockings (

The pattern is also available from Chris Laning, aka Claning, using modern knitting terminology, on Ravelry at I followed her pattern so as to be able to enter this pair of socks into the Ravelry project’s database. I did, however, make a few changes, noted below.

A third version of this pattern can be found at There are, however, some differences in this reprint of 1881 and I shall be discussing them when I post about the sock or stocking made from that edition. My thanks to SusanA of the Ladies Work-Table Yahoo Group for posting that Link.

In keeping with the times, there was no tension/gauge or needle size stated in the original pattern. Clanning’s pattern did have a gauge which worked out for me at size 2mm/US 0  needles. The sock wool, Paton’s Kroy Socks 4 Ply in Flax, which knits up as a brownish-grey, is also finer than the Harrisville Shetland that I used for the stockings and, consequently, larger needles, too.

The first row is knit straight which happens to be something I do with every piece of knitting no matter what the instructions as it is the only way I will ever create a smooth edge. This was followed by the original 3/3 ribbing in 12 rows (not six as for the stocking), as in the original pattern for socks.

The three things I like best about this pattern are the alternate knit/purl seam stitch which is continued, decoratively, on the sides of the instep to the toe, the picking up/increasing of stitches in the instep and the different numerical sequences in the decreases of the toe. I, unfortunately, was distracted by 22 men playing in the Euro 2012 when I got to the toe of the first sock and completely forgot about that charming sequence, and did the regular every other row decrease on automatic pilot. The second sock had to follow suit.

I also departed from the past by adding Lang Yarns Jawoll Reinforcement Thread, which does contain wool, to the heels and toes. I reinforce all of my socks either with this kind of yarn or doubling the sock yarn.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The “Bachelor’s” Tea Cosy

This sounds like a comfortable little project, all plump and homley and just the thing to whip up in an evening or two.

So it should have been but it was just the opposite.

I rarely dislike things that I make or do not enjoy the process of making them. Some projects can be boring in repetition of stitches or frustrating in some aspect of gauge and its results or deadlines but I usually soldier on and have never really abandoned a project simply out of dislike. Lately, however, there have been two which have qualified in this category. This tea cosy and another one which, I expect, will eventually show up on this blog, have tormented me for years. They have been started, consequently, quite a few times, with different yarns, needles, and attitudes, and finally, in this Year of Completion, abandoned no more but finished. One of them, at least; the other one is still a wip, continuing to drive me mad.

Thw pattern comes from Weldon’s Practical Knitter, Number 84, Twenty-First Series (1892). It is also published in Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 7, Interweave Press, 2002.
The original pattern for this “charming tea cosy” calls for “double Berlin wool for the outside of the cosy” and “single Berlin for the inside or lining” as well as “a pair of No. 4 and a pair of No. 6 bone or wood knitting needles (modern equivalents 5.50mm/US 9 and 4.50mm/US 7) and 1 ½ yards of inch-wide pink ribbon for trimming.” The exterior is knit in brioche stitch and the interior in “plain knitting” (stockinette), two pieces of each that are sewn together and then those sewn together with openings at the seams for the handle and spout. The colours “gobelin blue” and “salmon” were suggested in the pattern.
It all sounds very straightforward. The trouble began with the yarn. My first two attempts were with two strands of crewel-weight wool for the blue part which produced a lacy rather than that squashy pillow-like effect of the brioche stitch. When I next returned to the project, a few years later, I used two whole strands of Appleton tapestry/needlepoint wool which, with two strands produced a knitted fabric that was too rigid – the complete opposite of the first attempt. I finally settled on KnitPicks’ Palette (two strands at once) taking “Berlin wool” as a suggestion of weight rather than type. I tried out several shades of blue before I settled on one called Blue.

Since “salmon” was mentioned for the pink section in the pattern, I began a quest for that shade and KnitPicks’ Peony came closest to that.

The nightmare, unfortuately, continued with the Brioche stitch and it only got worse. I have always liked the look of that stitch but I just don’t enjoy knitting it. I have been making Arans since my early teens and knitted lace for many decades so Brioche should have been a piece of cake. I have, however, never made so many mistakes or, rather, messed up the stitches even when I was counting and examining my work and missed the mistakes until it was too late and I was, uncharacteristically, past caring. The edges, with the YO at the beginning of the row made such a ragged mess that I added an extra stitch at both ends, slipping the first stitch of each row and knitting or purling the last of the first piece. That made even more of a mess of the edges so for the second piece, I knit those extra stitches which looked a bit better but not much. A few mysterious holes appeared in the main body of the blue sections and I knit and ripped them both several times wondering how it could take me so long to knit two pieces that only measure  9” wide by 7” high. The pink pieces were a relief, easily knit in an hour or so, and made an inch longer than the blue ones to create the upper frill.

The top was finished by running “ a drawing thread through the cast-off stitches of the blue” section, adding “a piece of ribbon round, making a handsome bow in front and a smaller bow behind” and (my favourite sentence in the pattern), pulling “out the pink frill at the top of the cosy to the best advantage.”

All I can say is that the best advantage is that it is knit at last. Even a few hours spent at 165 Eaton Place (Series One and Two) and taking good looks at the teapots in their cosies on the downstairs’ table was not enough solace to accompany the recent knitting of this unfortunate project. It may still have holes and uneven knitted and sewn edges, and look like something I might have made when I was ten years old but it is finally off the needles once and for all!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Jubilee Reflections

This week has been one for remembering and celebrating the past.  Knitters can even enjoy a brief glimpse of the then Princess Elizabeth plying her needles in this short link:

History has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember so I am always looking back, whether it was in childhood tours of historic places, my reading, music, choice of related entertainment, and, of course, textiles – all were and are related to the past. I do appreciate the present and its ever-changing technology which allows me spend most of my personal and professional life in the past but I am far more interested in something that is newly discovered about the 18th century than the next e-something about to be released. I also appreciate my vintage wool in spite of the plethora of choices now available from all over the world.

This wool, Patons Totem, is a little younger than the reign of the current monarch, dating from the early 1960s, I do believe, having belonged to my mother and looking like kind she used to knit pullovers for my brother.  Three gossamer fine 3-ply strands make up each of the three strands of the crepe twist and they are skeined by weight. Like most of my wool from the 1950’s-1960s, it is not overly soft but it is not harsh, either. I tend to use these wools for historic projects from earlier eras but I have never knit with this one yet and I don’t have any plans for it. If I do ever use it, though, I will keep the label as there is so much information on it starting with  “CREPE TWIST, DOUBLE KNITTING, WEIGHT 1 OZ  (28.35 GRM) AT STANDARD MOISTURE (my italics), CONTENT IN ACCORDANCE WITH BS.984:1941.” I do hope that “1941” refers to the year as that is the year in the film clip linked above. One side of the main section has a logo with “P & B” within, “ALL WOOL” below that, and “SHADE 5 LOT 69” next to that. The top of the label notes that it is “PRINTED AND TRADE MARKS REGISTERED IN GREAT BRITAIN” and the bottom section states that the wool is “MADE AND GUARANTEED BY PATONS & BALDWINS LIMITED IN GREAT BRITAIN” – guaranteed! The other side of the front of the label advises to “KNIT FROM OUTSIDE” (no pull skein here) and, best of all,  that “IN CASE OF COMPLAINT PLEASE RETURN THIS BAND WITH THE WOOL.”

Now, most vendors and shops will take back unsatisfactory yarn but the labels don’t usually declare so.  I won’t say that it is a product from a more civil past. No era is or was perfect no matter how rosy the glow that surrounds the images or memories. I like, however, to think of objects like this as one of those arms of the past reaching out through history, giving us a tangible but always all too fleeting moment of our own with something or someone from another time. An appropriate find in this week of Jubilee, and a suitable companion for the current modern project on the needles?*

*Tardis Socks by Swallowed by Sky,