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.