For Whom the Bell (Gauge) Tolls

Materials – Three ounces of three-thread fleecy wool; pins, No. 14.

So starts a pattern for a Woolen Chemisette from 1857.  There are many challenges facing a knitter when looking at a pattern written decades ago.  The most obvious is the language. Today, there’s an accepted phrasing for knitting patterns, terms and phrasing that are common and used with great frequency; technical editors help pattern designers ensure terminology is correct and consistent.  Reading and understanding a pattern from the 1800s isn’t nearly as clear as understanding modern patterns.

Once you get used to the lingo and understand what the pattern is wanting from you, the next challenge is figuring out the materials.  ‘Pins, No 14.’ While reading about historic knitting needles and trying to understand their sizes, I discovered the Bell Gauge, named as such for its distinctive bell shape.

Today, needle gauges are valuable tools, helping knitters discern their needle sizes, that is if it isn’t handily printed on the side, and they aren’t a modern invention.

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T.276-1979: Bell Gauge, from the Victoria & Albert Collection

It appeared these handy tools started creeping into popularity in the early to mid 1800s. It was in the mid 1800s when Henry Walker created his gauge, and commonly, patterns for the late 1800s call for knitting pin sizes based on the Walker’s Bell Gauge. According to Sheila Williams, a Walker’s gauge can be (somewhat) easy to date in that after 1876, their gauges feature an archer as the logo, where before 1876 and the death of Walker, it featured the Royal Coat of Arms, indicating royal patronage.

Interestingly, a book from 1885 recommended using a gauge to determine needle size, but also admitted that “many do not consider it necessary, especially as gauges are somewhat expensive” (Jane Cunningham Croly, Knitting and Crochet: A Guide to the Use of the Needle and the Hook, 1885).

Thankfully, there are knitting historians who have done far more research than I into methods from the past.  Colleen Formby researched and written quite notably about knitting during the US Civil War era, and she has shared information about needle sizes and their historical equivalent.  This is where I’m going to just insert my own personal opinion – a standard needle size would make oh so much since.  Being Canadian, I am very biased towards the metric measurement, but I’d be very accommodating if we could all just get along and come up with a universal standard, but I digress. Formby states that the size 14 that Godey’s was calling for may translate to a size 0 or 2mm – aka very tiny needles.  I plan on starting this chemisette, and perhaps writing another blog into the history of this undergarment, and knowing what materials to use is a great start.

I would love to add a vintage bell gauge to my collection of knitting paraphernalia, so I’m keeping my eyes open at thrift shops and antique shops.  It would be not only a good tool for future reference but a fun trinket from days gone by.


References:

Jane Cunningham Croly, Knitting and Crochet: A Guide to the Use of the Needle and the Hook, 1885, accessed from: https://books.google.ca/books?id=PUdFAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA51&ots=q-XkcKWlqp&dq=bell%20gauge%20knitting&pg=PA9#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Colleen Formby, Everyone His Own Knitting Needles, accessed from: http://www.raggedsoldier.com/knitting_1.pdf

Bell Gauge, Victoria & Albert Collection, accessed from: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O108412/bell-gauge-needle-gauge-g-chambers-co/

Sheila Williams, The History of Knitting Pin Gauges (Melrose Press, 2006), accessed from: https://books.google.ca/books?id=Y2gmkFgUEcwC&dq=walker+bell+gauge&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Woollythoughts.com

 

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Just Thrumming Along

While watching the Canadian Men’s Snowboarders take both the SILVER and the BRONZE MEDALS Saturday night, I was keeping my hands busy trying a new pattern and new technique – thrumming.

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The start of my thrummed mitts, two rows of thrums complete

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been a miserable Canadian winter.  There’s been snow, and lots of it, and on some days, the temperature has dipped to the mid -20s°C.  In short, Canada’s been Canada-ing. I’ve been wanting warmer mittens for a while now and have been rather intrigued by the idea of thrumming.  So, after a visit to my LYS and riffling through my stash, cast on.

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Preparing the roving to make thrums

This technique has its roots in Newfoundland and Labrador, because, Canada.  Joking aside, the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador has long been tied to the fishing industry, and these mittens would have been excellent for fishery workers, spending time hauling nets and working on the northern Atlantic coast.  A ‘thrum’ refers to waste yarn/fibre from weaving and spinning, and engineering knitters ‘from the Rock’ realized they would make an amazing insulating layer inside the mitt when the thrum is knit with a regular stitch in the pattern.  Some sources say this technique has been in use for hundreds of years; today, I’m quite happy it’s still around to help me combat this Canadian cold.

The pattern I used was Thrummed Mittens by Tanis Lavallee.  If you’ve never done this technique before, I’d recommend either watching a video or two, or perhaps giving this article by the Yarn Harlot a read.

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A peak inside the mitten – just look at that fluffy warmth!

In all, I wouldn’t recommend this pattern, and when I thrum again, I’ll find a different one to make.  It’s written as if you know exactly what the designer means when they say ‘Knit 3, Thrum, repeat to end.’  Never having thrummed before, I had to google to ensure I was doing it right.  It uses the afterthought technique for the thumb, certainly not my favourite (exhibited by my cursing and repeated ‘I hate this’ while removing the waste yarn), and I think I prefer the fit that a gusset provides.  Finally, if you knit the pattern exactly as written for both hands, you’ll end up with two right mitts.  Long story short, the pattern needs updates, but once finished, I’ll certainly have warm fingers.


Want to read more about thrumming and its history?

 

A Sontag by Any Other Name

When historic patterns are on Raverly’s Hot Right Now page, my day is made. This happened last week when the Ladies’ Knitted Hug-Me-Tight, or Zouave Jacket made it to page 1 on Hot Right Now. As any good history nerd would do, I followed the link and started reading the book where it was originally published, made available online at archive.org.  The book was The Art of Knitting published in 1892 by the Butterick Publishing Company.

From my quick flip through, it appears to be a fascinating publication.  The first part is what we might call a Stitch Dictionary, with many interesting lace work and other stitch patterns to follow.  The chapters that follow look at different articles of knitwear, tips on how to work them, and patterns that one could make, provided that knitter is fluent in patterns from the 19th century.

My quick flipping was interrupted in the Useful Articles for Children’s Wear chapter as one pattern provided was for a Child’s Chest Protector.  Here’s the image accompanying the pattern:

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Child’s Chest Protector, The Art of Knitting, p. 112; accessed from archive.org

Why did this pattern catch my eye? Because it looks awfully similar to Godey’s Sontag, a pattern I’ve made so many times now I can basically knit it in my sleep.

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Originally from Godey’s; image from http://katedaviesdesigns.com/2013/06/28/sontag/

 

 

The ‘Child’s Chest Protector’ has incorporated the garter ridge into the actual design and pattern notes, rather than with Godey’s where the border (garter ridge or otherwise) was added after the main piece was completed.

The pattern reads:

To begin the protector – Cast on 30 stitches and knit back and forth plain until there are 7 rows

To make the first row of blocks – after finishing the first row, turn and knit as follows: knit 10, purl 5, knit 5, purl 5, knit 5 (in knitting the rows, 5 stitches must be knit plain at each site of every row, in order to firm the boder seen in the engraving). Turn

Knit 10, p 5, k5, p5, k5. Turn

K 10, p 5, k 5, p 5, k 5. Turn

Knit back and forth in this order until there are 6 rows, each formed by knitting across and back. This completed the first set of blocks.

To begin the second set of blocks – (These blocks must alternate with those of the first set). Knit 5, then widen by knitting a stitch out of the next stitch, but to not slip it off the needle; then purl out of this same stitch and slip it off; purl 4, k 5, p 5, k 5, now purl 1 out of the next stitch, but do not slip it off the needle, to widen, and then knit 5. Turn.

K 7, but do not slip off the last stitch; p 5, k 5, p 5, k 7 but do not slip the last stitch off the needle; p 1, k 5. Turn.

Complete this set of blocks after this manner, widening as described at each side between the blocks and border. Then make a set of blocks to correspond with the first set, widening as in the second set, and so on until the widest part of the protector is reached.

To make the Tabs – when the neck edge is reached (in the protector illustrated) pass all the stitches of the border at one side and those of 6 blocks onto another needle; then bind off the stitches of 4 blocks for the neck-edge. Now continue the knitting after the manner directed, to form the tab at one side, making the plain border at each side of the tab and narrowing at the outer border instead of widening as before. Complete for the other tab to correspond.

For the outer Edge – Use Angora wool and crochet shells along the border as follows: 1 single crochet and 2 doubles all in the same space, selecting the spaces so that the shells will be perfectly flat. Fasten ties of ribbon at the sides as seen in the engraving, to tie the protector about the waist.

 

There are slight differences to the patterns – Godey’s has an increase of one stitch every row while Art of Knitting increases 2 stitches every other row; as well, once you reach the arms, or ‘tabs,’ Godey’s has you decreasing on the inner edge while Art of Knitting decreases on the outer edge.  These slight changes aside, following either pattern will result in a garment which will keep your torso warm while your arms are free to move about as you want.

If 100 year old patterns are your thing, or if you’re simply interested in an old read, I’d recommend checking out The Art of Knitting, available to view online.

Warm Woolen Wonderfulness

A number of months ago, I completed my Woolen Undersleeves.  The pattern is from 1862 from Godey’s Ladies Book, and like with other historical patterns, I had to muddle my way through the historic lingo when creating my own undersleeves. I created these undersleeves to wear with my historic costume for work, knowing they would come in handy during any outreach I have to do in the cold weather.

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This weekend, I had my first opportunity to use the undersleeves.  My co-workers and amazing volunteers and I got dressed in our Victorian finest and marched in our local Santa Claus Parade.  After a very warm Friday, the temperatures dipped on Saturday, much more appropriate for Christmas weather. Undersleeves were a necessity.

I am very happy to report that I was able to 5+ kilometres in the chilly weather, and thanks to my woolen undersleeves, I was very toasty warm.  I can happily report, the undersleeves were a success.

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Victorian finest, complete with my Sontag and undersleeves.

The pattern I used was from Godey’s Ladies Book, 1862

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For the modern interpretation of the pattern, please read my original post.

 

Sontag 2 – The Return of the Bosom Friend

Remember that time I knit a wrap from an 1860s pattern? It was called a Sontag. Sontag, you say? What a strange name! Well, I looked into the history of this garment here.  And this is my finished Sontag:

Well, my needles have been busy for the past few weeks, making a Sontag for a co-worker. The beauty of making a project a second time, especially if that second time is a commission, is that you have the chance to improve upon what you did the first time around. I’m very happy with my Sontag and it has kept me warm when I’ve needed a few extra layers with my costume for work, but I also knew there were things I would change if I was to ever make it again. This is my chance.

Firstly, the basket weave.  The Sontag’s fabric is a 5×5 basket weave made up of alternating knits and purls, increasing one stitch at the beginning of each row, or, as Godey directs:

Cast on thirty-five stitches, knit five stitches forwards and five backwards, thus forming the blocks; knit five lines in this way, widening one stitch at the commencement of each line. Knit the second row of blocks alternate with the first.

Don’t you love 19th century patterns.

When I knit this the first time, I worked my increases the same as the stitches before it, like so:

detail basket

The basket weave looks off by the sides of the wrap. Only when you’re really looking at it can you see, and perhaps it’s me being picky, but this has always been something I would change about my Sontag. For Sontag 2, I did.

detail basket2

Look at those new stitches, worked opposite to the ones beside them, continuing with the established basket weave pattern. Much happier.

When making the Sontag, the back is made first, and then the fronts, one side at a time. Again, the pattern wasn’t overly clear on how to go about the decreases:

…Knit up one front, narrowing one stitch on the inside every fourth line for six blocks; narrow every other line for the next six blocks; then narrow every line till you come to a point.

Clear as mud, right.

When I made my the first time, I narrowed every fourth line for 200 rows.  I kept measuring the length of the front against myself, and once I determined it was long enough to wrap around me, I narrowed every other row until 4 stitches remained, using those 4 stitches to make an i-cord 20″ long. The fronts are certainly long enough, wrapping all the way around to the middle of my back. The way I worked the decreases was another thing I would change if I was to make another Sontag, so change I did.

This time, I decreased every 4 row for 120 rows, then decreased every other row until only 4 stitches remain, and again made a 20″ i-cord using those stitches.  Measuring against myself again, this time the fronts come to their ‘point’ around my sides, which I think will make a more attractive wrap.

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My first Sontag, underneath, and the new Sontag on top; note the length difference and shape difference because of the different decreases. Also note the prominence of the coffee mug. Important stuff when knitting.

Front number 1 is done, and I’m 5 rows into the second front. I’ll have this completed in the next few weeks, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to revisit this pattern and improve upon what I’ve done.

Want to make your own Sontag? Awesome! Check out the pattern on Ravelry! Or, here’s a copy of the pattern from the January 1860 Godey’s Ladies Book.

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Originally from Godey’s; image from http://katedaviesdesigns.com/2013/06/28/sontag/

The Idea of North and Lawren Harris

He was born into a family of industrialists, but he became renowned for art, landscapes, and capturing an idea of ‘The North.’

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Lawren Harris; photo from the Archives of Ontario

Lawren Harris was born in 1885 in Brantford, Ontario; he is of the same Harris Family of Massey-Harris (later Massey Ferguson), which at one time was the largest agricultural equipment maker in the British Empire. Harris received a good education, studying at the University of Toronto, and later in Berlin. All this time, he developed an interest in art. In the early 1910s, he befriended JEH MacDonald and Tom Thomson; in less than a decade, Harris and MacDonald would be two members of the noted Group of Seven. That Thomson was a member of the Group of Seven is a common misconception as Thomson died in 1917 before the official formation. His influence upon those painters cannot be understated, as he was passionate about the ‘great outdoors’ and about capturing the Canadian landscape on canvas. After their first show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1920, the Group of Seven began identifying themselves as being in the ‘landscape school of art.’

Throughout the 1920s, Harris and MacDonald, along with Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, and Arthur Lismer (and later A.J. Casson and Edwin Holgate) would commit the Canadian landscape to canvas like no other artists previously. Pieces created by these artists are held at major art galleries throughout the country and abroad, with major collections housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, and the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg, ON.

In the early 1930s, the group felt it was no longer necessary to exhibit as a formal group, and the individual artists continued with their work to great success.  Harris moved to New Hampshire and later New Mexico before moving to Vancouver, BC in 1940, where he would remain until his death in 1970; he is buried on the grounds of the McMichael Art Gallery.

As long as I have known about art and was old enough to recognize and appreciate major works, I have known about the Group of Seven. The mystery of Tom Thomson’s death fascinated me with every trip to Algonquin; their artwork is a favourite when seen in galleries; their pieces and themes were explored as I took my Canadian Studies degree. The artwork by Lawren Harris has always stood out to me, the stark colours he uses, the forms, the simplicity yet complexities (yes, I know that is very contradictory!) in his landscapes. When I learned of a touring exhibition featuring Harris’s artwork, I could hardly wait for it to make its way to Toronto; to learn that the exhibition was curated by Steve Martin, yes the banjo playing comedian Steve Martin, it added to the excitement for the show.

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In mid-July, on one of the hottest days thus far of the summer, I made my way to the Art Gallery of Ontario. The exhibit is different from what toured in the US, expanded to include a Toronto theme, exploring an area called ‘The Ward,’ where Harris spend his formative years.  The Ward, formally the St. John’s Ward, is a neighbourhood bound by College Street, Queen Street, Yonge Street, and University Avenue; today, the Eaton Centre, Toronto City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square and other prominent shops and buildings are found here, but in the 1910s when Harris called it home, it was an impoverished area where recent immigrants would commonly settle.  Divided into three themes, the first and third explored the Ward, first looking at its history, utilizing Harris’ works contrasting with photography from the time, and the third featured contemporary artists examining the changes to the Ward both geographically and socially.  The second theme explored the ‘Idea of North’ and Harris’ iconic works which capture the Canadian landscape.

It is difficult to imagine the centre of Toronto from another time, as the Eaton Centre and City Hall are so dominant in that space, but Harris’ depictions from the Ward helped bring this time and place to life, using bright colours, or dull when appropriate, and the use of figures help put the viewer in the scene.

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I was especially struck by the following image, which again was new to me before this exhibit. Haven’t we all been this poor soul at one time or another?

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Lawren Harris: Approaching Storm, 1911; on loan from a private collection

As I moved through the exhibition, it dawned on me why I’m so drawn to Harris and his art: not only are the forms, shapes, and landscapes he captures, but I am so very drawn to the colours he uses. Blues, greys, teals, purples, whites. His striking colour use is very impactful. The knitter in me kept walking around the space just imagining skeins of yarn dyed with the colours of  Lake and Mountains.

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Lawren Harris: Lake and Mountains, 1928; Art Gallery of Ontario Collection

My iPhone photographs do not do justice to seeing the paintings in person. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, or are planning a visit before September 18, make the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Idea of North a must-visit.

The Earl Kitchener and His Stitch

If you’re a sock knitter, or at least have made a pair or two, you may be familiar with the Kitchener Stitch, a common form of grafting, creating a seamless toe.  To a novice knitter, the Kitchener stitch may appear to be challenging, but once you get the hang of it, the Kitchener stitch is fairly straight forward.  I actually like doing the Kitchener stitch – call me strange, but I find it relaxing and somewhat gratifying. Knit, purl, purl, knit, repeating over and over until the sock is complete.

I had honestly never given any thought to the name, but really, why would I have?  That’s the technique, and it creates a lovely finish to my sock.  But a few weeks ago, I followed a link from the Knitty Blog to a YouTube video, the Secret History of Knitting, where they discuss knitting and World War I.  Well, wasn’t my mind blown when the connection was made – it’s the Kitchener stitch after Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener. *insert sound effect of mind being blown*

Who is the Earl Kitchener?

Born in 1850 in Ireland, Horatio Herbert Kitchener would go on to become a high ranking official in the British army, seeing action in the Franco-Prussian War, the Mahdist War, the Second Boer War, and the First World War.  His image has become a piece of propaganda history as his face was immortalized on the “Your Country Needs You” poster.

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He died in 1916 when the HMS Hampshire, a ship he was sailing on, was sunk by a German mine off the Orkneys (near the Northern Isles of Scotland).

Aspects around Kitchener’s involvement with his ‘stitch’ remain uncertain.  Some claim that Kitchener himself helped to design a sock pattern that included a new seamless method of grafting the toe, however, others say that Kitchener’s actual involvement is rooted more in lore than fact.  Indeed, knitting historian Richard Rutt claims that this grafting technique (known commonly as Kitchener Stitch) was invented around 1880.  Later, in 1918, Vogue magazine published a sock pattern with a grafted toe and called it the Kitchener sock, crediting Lord Kitchener for being a war effort champion, but Vogue did not claim he was the pattern ‘designer.’

I do have to ponder, why would a senior officer in the British army invent a knitting stitch?  One would think he would have more to occupy his time with, what with the largest conflict to date raging on. Kitchener was a strong advocate for the Red Cross and the homefront initiatives, including knitting, and he was concerned that having a seam at the toe could contribute to or worsen soldiers’ foot issues.

Whether he actually invented the stitch or not, sock knitters everywhere are grateful for the stitch that bears his name, the perfect way to finish off your sock.


*Did You Know: Kitchener, Ontario was named in honour of Earl Kitchener.  He died at a time when anti-German sentiments were at a peak in the then-named City of Berlin.  To try to dispel these sentiments, the city was renamed in honour of the popular and recently fallen Field Marshal.


Thanks to Knitty for sharing this video and getting me thinking about the Kitchener Stitch – the article that sparked this thinking is HERE.

There was a fantastic discussion on Ravelry outlining basic info on Kitchener, his comparison to Uncle Sam, and, of course, the ‘Stitch’ and that can be read HERE.

The BBC has a short yet succinct bio of Horatio Herbert Kitchener where can be read HERE.

Finally, other bloggers have looked into Kitchener and his namesake stitch, and you could read about it HERE and HERE (to share only a few of the many sites out there).