Friday, 24 August 2018

"It doesn't look like the photo", or, New knitter disappointment

The most frequent question I get asked by new knitters is what they've done wrong. They pull a crumpled handful of knitting from their knitting bag and offer it for inspection. In every case, the knitter has carefully followed the instructions, and the piece of knitting they offer is as the pattern intended. The difference is that it doesn't look like the photo.

In knitting books and magazines the instructions end with some vague reference to follow the instructions on the ball band. There is little or no detail of the blocking required, and with British written instructions there is often a lack of a diagram with measurements to block to. At least charted patterns usually include a diagram with measurements.

My theory is that the knitter born since the 1970's lacked the inherited wisdom of watching parents knitting, washing, blockings and pressing knitting to create the finished fabric. The 'skipped generation' knitters often learn from magazines, videos, or knit-and-natter sessions. They see experienced knitters display their perfect finished garments that look just like the photo that accompanied the original pattern. The gap in knowledge of the unknown finishing tasks creates a gap in confidence.

There is a lack of experience witnessing the casting off a piece of knitting, and observing the following work required to turn a curled piece of knitting into garment fabric, and the sewing-up that turns the fabric into a garment. Most knitters think of these activities as rather dull and uninteresting. The space and steam required makes this an activity difficult to being along to a knitting club or social knitting session. Sewing up is often a tv-watching activity, as it is a slow and time-consuming to match up markers and patterns, and ease seam allowances around shoulders and necklines.

To try and mitigate the worry and concern, here are some photos that are all taken after various stages. The following photographs are of a gauge swatch, and the resulting cotton machine-knit t-shirt.

Straight off the knitting machine:

 After 24 hours of allowing the stitches to relax:
 After washing and allowing to dry flat:
 Finished garment after sewing up:
 After washing and laying out flat to dry:

Some helpful videos demonstrating post cast-off activities:

Cheryl Brunette - Sweater Finishing 101: Easy Finishing for Pullover Sweaters (5-parts)
VeryPink Knits - Knitting Help - Steam Blocking

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Cataloguing archive boxes containing fancy work and knitting patterns in the John Johnson Collection

There is an element of treasure-hunting the unknown when cataloguing archive boxes. As each box is laid down on the reading room table, there is an air of expectation of the treasure that may lay within. That you may be the first person to look in this box since it was neatly put away on a shelf in the archives many years ago.

I experienced this excitement cataloguing five boxes of archives in the John Johnson collection of printed ephemera held in the Bodleian library in Oxford. The collection absorbed the prior Constance Meade collection, and the boxes of fancy work and of knitting and crochet patterns were combined. A lack of funding, combined with the triviality often associated with knitting patterns ('trivial' was the word used by Potter in her bibliography), resulted in these five boxes not being catalogued up to now. As I have a research interest in the contents (studying a part-time MA in History), I took the decision to spend two days at the archive, rather than just one, so that I had the time to catalogue all the contents, and not just the contents relevant to my research. I'm currently in the process of reviewing and correcting my catalogue notes, and slowly submitting the details and photographers, box by box, to the collection, in the hope that they are of sufficient quality to be absorbed to the existing online catalogue, to aid future researchers.

As with any cataloguing process, there are surprising and unexpected finds, as well as disappointments. I had hoped to find a pre-1820 copy of the 'Knitting Teacher's Assistant', but that was not to be. However, I did find sheets of metal, a puzzle label, postage, and plenty of doodling and marginalia. Here are a couple of examples found in 'The knitting and crochet workbook', 2nd edition, published by Thomsons Brothers (year unknown).

There was also the satisfaction of reuniting a cover and title page located in box 6, that had been separated from the book contents in box 4. To clarify, I didn't do the reuniting myself. I followed the correct procedure and informed the Archivist on duty of my find in Box 6 that matched a book I had seen in Box 4 that was missing a cover, and it was the Archivist who did the actual re-uniting, and appropriate documentation.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Miss Frances Lambert biography in progress

In the last blog post it was noted that reviewing knitting books from the nineteenth century was in progress. The review resulted in a successful application to study a part-time MA in History at the University of Reading to investigate the wider issues of gender, class, and socio-economics of knitting book publishing. Since starting the course, the research has widened to include all knitting books published prior to World War 1. Reading has, within the Special Collections hosted at the Museum for English Rural Life (MERL), several copies of texts from this period. Reading also has strong research experience with gender history, book publishing history, corpus linguistics, and printed ephemera, including recent collaboration with the John Johnson collection at the Bodleian.

Having analysed Esther Potter's bibliography and Richard Rutt's 'A History of Hand Knitting', I was frustrated with the lack of biographical information sufficient to obtain a clear view of the class and socio-economic status of the author Miss Frances Lambert, who was one of the earliest successful authors of knitting, crochet and needlework books. A thorough biographical research project was initiated, which is 80% complete. Sufficient evidence has been collated to confirm when Miss Frances Lambert was born, when she married John Bell Sedgwick (a bedell at The Royal College of Physicians), and the addresses lived at between the marriage, and her death in her 80's. Corrections were submitted to the British Library Catalogue, as some entries had incorrectly been attributed to Miss A Lambert. A full biography is in progress, with anticipation of submission to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which currently lacks biographies of female writers in the nineteenth century.

I have catalogued five archive boxes held in the John Johnson collection at the Bodleian in Oxford. The John Johnson collection absorbed the contents of the Constance Meade collection that is referenced by Potter. The fancy work boxes had yet to be catalogued. The contents have now been logged and photographed, and will be submitted for consideration to be absorbed into the existing online catalogue, to aid future researchers.

The 'In The Loop 2018' conference is taking place at the Winchester School of Art this week. The conference programme is available on the 'In The Loop' website.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Researching the knitting author Miss Lambert

After taking a break from my knitting experiments and research for 18 months, due to a seriously ill member of the family, the knitting machine and Victorian books have been dusted off. In a boost to getting back on track, there was extensive use of mind-maps to identify what I have achieved, and what directions to head off in.

The review narrowed the immediate research to three area:

  • The books of Miss Lambert
  • Building a corpus of knitting texts published between 1800-1850 with the intention of digital analysis
  • Standardisation of knitting patterns for use with virtual and physical 3D visualisations
Miss Lambert's books are at the top of the list. Luckily, Miss Lambert's books were published by John Murray Publishers, who still exist today. The archives of the last 200 years of this fascinating company are now held at the National Library of Scotland. The staff are very helpful and knowledgeable, and they provide a digitisation service for researchers unable to make it to the archives themselves. 

The initial analysis of the original accounting logs shows that the imprints of Miss Lambert's books ramp-up quickly, and provided income.

The initials "F.S." in the preface of one of Miss Lambert's books seems to have been a bit of a red-herring. Research at the London Metropolitan Archives has confirmed entries in the Thompson's business directory, and the Post Office business directory, which I am working through. Rather surprisingly, the census entries for the addresses found in the business directories don't directly link up, providing more questions than answers.

A trip to the archives at Kew is planned, to try to resolve some of these loose ends.

The results so far will be written up as a research poster to display at the Knitting History Forum and conference in November. 

On a more technical front, I'm working on 3D-printing replacements parts for my knitting machine, and intend on writing up a brief article for the Machine Knitting Guild newsletter on the subject, with a detailed blog post to follow.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Victorian knitting with 1mm knitting needles

The Knitting Reference Library at Southampton University has digitised 67 pre-1900 books from the Richard Rutt collection (books that are out of copyright). This is a wonderful resource of a wide range of knitting recipes, advice, guidance, and social history.

The instructions to knit a garment are referred to as recipes, which in current parlance we refer to as patterns. The use of the term pattern seems to infer colour patterns and the yarns used, rather than how to make the garment. There is a lack of drawings or images of the finished items, and no gauges. In a few cases there are instructions to knit for a certain distance, but other than that, no finished garment sizes are provided, and certainly no details for creating the garments in multiple sizes. 

To start my foray into knitting a Victorian garment, I selected a baby bootee recipe: Baby's Shoes (a very pretty pattern) from The Knitters Companion by Mrs Mee and Miss Austin, which was published in approximately 1840-50. Here is a screenshot from the digital copy:

After some research at the Knitting Reference Library in Winchester, and some looking-up of standard wire gauge measurements, the nearest modern needle size I could find to Victorian No. 19 pins are 1mm DPNs. Not easily available. Most knitting shops only go down to 2mm needles for very fine lace knitting or socks. Luckily for me, the Knitter's Pride Karbonz go down to 1mm (US 00000), and were available by mail order.

Whilst waiting for the 1mm DPNs to arrive, I had a go using 1.75mm DPNs (the smallest I had in stock) and some 2 ply wool from my stash and I produced the first version of the baby shoes.

They came out about the size of a 3 year old's foot. For the second attempt I used 1mm DPNs and Yeoman Yarn's 1 ply merino wool that I had left over from making a Zandra Rhodes machine knit circular jacket. 

This one seemed to come out about the right size, though several friends with babies commented that the size is at the smaller end of baby feet, but suggested perhaps Victorian babies were (on average) smaller than today. The Victorian knitting recipes certainly assume a much higher level of knitting ability from the reader, and in some places are more of a guide than instructions. The finished shoes certainly received warm praise and lots of "ooohs" from the members of the Knitting History Forum at the annual conference last month. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Image conversion - which knitting machine can I use?

A frequent question I get asked is which knitting machines can the draw-scan-knit software be used with. The short answer is that the software I am currently using only works with the Brother KH-950i. This works fine for me, as it is the only electronic knitting machine I own. However, the 950i is not the only electronic programmable machine, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to source a good working model.

The 'hack' that I use is largely a collection of open-source python scripts that emulates the Brother external FB-100 disk drive. The original brianredbeard branch on GitHub, and the adafruit branch, are both configured for the Brother KH-930E, which is a Brother model released in the USA. In the UK, Brother released the 950i. My branch on GitHub is for the 950i model only. The branches are needed due to a difference in the memory size between the 2 machines. I have briefly tried the same software against a Brother KH-970 long enough to determine that it has another completely different memory size.

If you have a 970, or other Brother electronic knitting machine with an FB-100 port, and like playing with Python scripts, then I would recommend doing a compare between the 950i and 930 branch code in order to show where the memory size differences occur. You can they play with your particular scripts/machine in order to find a setting that works.

If you don't fancy messing about with Python scripts, then the wiki is trying to maintain a list of other software that is available for knitting machines (commercial and open-source).

Monday, 8 September 2014

Brighton Mini Maker Faire 2014

The annual Brighton Mini Maker Faire kicked off at 10am on Saturday, and it was the busiest Faire to date. Last year there were waves of creatives asking interesting and thought-provoking questions, but this year it was a constant stream.

As well as my faithful staples of the giant machine knitted periodic table blanket, and the glowing crocheted hat, there were new items of interest including some baby shoes from a Victorian pattern knit on tiny 1mm needles (the nearest equivalent to a Victorian number 19), and a steampunk-style coat made from a decommissioned parachute.

The draw-scan-knit end of the stand was in constant demand, and according to the counter on the scanner, over 40 pictures were knit during the 8 hours the show was open ... a new record for me! (my arms didn't half ache the next day!). The questions ranged from interest in how a knitting machine actually worked, through to some very technical questions from both textile students and keen Makers.

Last year there were a few 'Learn to knit' kits that I had made up from finds in local charity shops. That went down really well, so this year we upped our game. The fabulous Knitting and Crochet Guild supplied knitting needles and both knitting and crochet instruction leaflets (the leaflets are a free download from their website). The crochet hooks, yarn and British-made recycled paper bags were supplied courtesy of a small Arts Council grant. We took enough stock for 150 learn to knit bags, and 50 learn to crochet. A quick look through what it left suggests we gave away about 100 knit kits, and 25 crochet kits. The enthusiastic response was infectious. A few people took the bags away to try and home, but a lot wanted to have a quick go on the spot.