You are faced with the problem of finding woollen undergarments…

My lovely old Knitting For All book, presents some dilemmas which no longer occur in everyday life… for example, being faced with the problem of finding woollen undergarments… I actually cannot imagine anything worse than woollen undies!

In the chapter on Everyday Underwear (smart, warm, sensible), there are knitting patterns for vests, panties, brassières and knickers,  and the ‘not quite so “everyday”‘…

You think it’s a charming pattern, but you don’t like knitted shoulders to your vests? To ring the changes and turn it into an opera-top vest is very simple. You work exactly as given for the original vest as far as the beginnings of the neck and armhole shaping. Here you cast off right across. Work back to correspond, then join the side seams and work the picot edge as given in the instructions all round the top. Thread ribbon through the edging and sew on the shoulder straps.
There are not a few of you who really do feel the cold severely, and unless you wear woollen underwear are never properly warm. You are faced with the problem of finding woollen undergarments sufficiently fine and well fitting not to spoil the line of frocks. This vest and pantie set can be adapted to your particular needs
“Who cares if it snows?” Certainly no-one if they’re wearing this variation of the vest and pantie set. It is knitted of such fine wool that it can be worn under s fitting frock, and it is so warm you can laugh at a north-east wind…

I am not convinced…

… and men don’t escape the knitted undies either!

My family story in ten objects… number 4

Object 4 – a pair of men’s knitted socks

With this object, it is not so much the object itself but a lot of associations knitted round it… my feeble pun is part of the story, not in itself but because we grew up in a happy family, a jolly family, where there was laughter and jokes. We weren’t a family who was noisy, there was not a lot of teasing (teasing had to be gentle and witty, not cruel or unkind) there wasn’t a lot of shouted laughter, we were more smiles, chuckles and giggles… a lot of giggles. The humour came from words and stories, so using a pun is a gentle and silly way of nodding towards my childhood.

My parents married after the war and neither came from affluent families; my father’s parents had a pub, but it was not their own, they held the license, my mother’s parent’s lived in what could be described as genteel poverty – where there was an appearance of middle-class comfortability (is there such a word? If there isn’t maybe there should be!) but my mum’s father always spent more than he earned and was known for ‘borrowing’ ten bob or so (ten shillings)

So as  children we grew up in a house very rich in love, fun, interesting things to do but not necessarily a lot of material things. We lived in a rented flat – but we had a wonderful landlady who lived upstairs, and we had the whole of the nearly one hundred yard long garden, half of which grew fruit and vegetables. My dad tended the garden, my mum sewed and knitted our clothes. My mum did most of the cooking as she was at home, but my dad was an excellent cook too. We went to the excellent local primary school, and we had a week’s holiday at a holiday camp (think ‘Hi-di-Hi’) and occasionally visited friends in Nottingham for a weekend.

So, to the knitted socks. My my mum knitted, jumpers and cardigans, but it wasn’t a passionate hobby, it was a practical job which she enjoyed, and as with everything she did, she was very good at.

I have very clear memories of sitting on a little pouffe (which we called a humpty) holding a skein of wool between my hands, while mum wound it into balls… later, when I was older, I wound the balls as well… I never really got into knitting, although I can knit. In these memories, I’m sitting by the open fire, the curtains closed, on an autumn or winter’s evening, because knitting was mainly to create winter woollies!

Going back to the socks… My dad was a person who needed very little sleep, so late to bed and up with the sun. In the summer he would go out and do the gardening, and make the milkman a cup of tea – they would sit chatting in the kitchen at about five o’clock… but in the winter, he would listen to the radio, catch up on yesterday’s newspaper, and sometimes knit! I don’t know what set him off knitting – I have a feeling someone must have said ‘you can’t do that, men don’t knit‘ (not my mum!) and he would have taken up the challenge. So he knitted socks…

Men knitting… in many communities in the old days, men as well as women knitted, sometimes only men knitted, so it actually isn’t unusual… however it was when my dad did it, unless there were men who did it in private as an almost guilty secret!

I’ve told this story not just as a reminiscence, but as an example of the way we lived our lives, growing and making things, mostly because we couldn’t afford to do anything else, but also for the pleasure of it and because what was made or produced was better than what could be bought – clothes made to measure, meals tailored for fussy eaters (I’m thinking of such things as thickness of gravy, texture of sauces, thick shreds of marmalade for example) We didn’t have a TV, we didn’t have a car, but we had great fun, and a very happy family life, and if no-one but dad wore the socks he knitted… well that was fine too!

The featured image, by the way, is from a wonderful 1946 knitting book I have…

My mum never wore anything like this

… she never ever knitted anything like this, and none of us would have worn it if she did… an elaborate joke maybe!

No, dad did not have knitted underwear…

…nor did mum!

Warm.light and comfortable

I cannot imagine anything more ghastly than knitted underwear; I know in difficult times, in 1946 after seven years of war and rationing everything was in short supply, but if I had been a handywoman, I think I would have made undies out of old shirts, rather than knit them… imagine how itchy! Imagine how hot!… Actually,, I don’t think I want to imagine much further than that…

In my old book ‘Knitting for All’ published in 1946, there are pages of knitted underwear ‘Brassière and knickers and variations of design, including Camiknickers‘ and for men ‘vest and pants‘… yes, knitted underpants for men… ‘warm, light and comfortable – the three essentials for men’s underwear are fulfilled in this knitted vest and pants set.

img003Doing the daily dozen. The active man needs underclothes that will fit and that will give him freedom of movement. The vest and pants set was designed along these lines. It is economical in material too, for it is knitted in 2-ply. The pants are fitted trimly into the waist and are finished with elastic braid.