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!

If you’re feeling spring like…

I’m looking through the delightful 1946 knitting book, Knitting For All, and I’ve come across a chapter I’ve looked at before, entitled ‘The Fascinating Fez’. There is a city of Fez in Morocco, which was once the capital city of the country until 1925 and even now is now the capital of the Fès-Meknès  region. It’s listed as a World Heritage Site and its University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859, is the oldest continuously functioning university in the whole world!

However the fez in the knitting book, is the hat which is so named because that is where the style came from – replacing the turbans Moroccans originally wore. Fezes are traditionally made of felt and are mainly known as being red with a black tassel.

Here is the fez. Just the plain fez, worn as a fez. But that’s just the beginning of the story. With your plain fez, wear a tassel, or if you’re feeling spring like, a bunch of flowers as the girl in the picture above has.

I cannot imagine any ‘girl’ these days decorating a knitted fez with a bunch of flowers, and I struggle to imagine any woman in the 1940’s would! I guess sewing on some knitted flowers might work… maybe…

 The great thing about this fez  is that it’s adaptable; coax it a bit and you can do anything with it. here, for instance, (left) the top is squashed down and rolled – and the scarf has been swathed round like a turban and tied in a cunning knot.
One last disguise for the fez (right). Swathe it round with the scarf, which should be stitched lightly round the lower edge of the fez, and pass the two ends of the scarf through the loop, letting them hang down. Crown of the fez can be high or low as your fancy dictates.

The cunning knot… it all depends on the cunning knot…

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!

A courageous pioneer in headlines

Knitting has become really fashionable again, a really popular hobby – and not just knitting to make garments, but knitting to produce art works. Knitters from the past, mainly women, are now being recognised as really creative people. Retro styles are also coming back, and  a twenty-first century take on 1940’s clothes is everywhere,

I’m not entirely sure that the two-coloured turban will ever be really popular… But just in case you want to start a trend, here, from the 1946 book, Knitting For All,  is something about it:

Tying yourself in knots

Girl guides, scouts ans sailors learn all about knots as a matter of course. it has now become or should become, part of what every woman  knows owing to the prevailing fashion in turbans, and their allied forms of headgear.
Now, as regards this two-coloured turban, it has been suggested that the two ends should be twisted and tucked in. Incidentally, the gathered end may be placed either to the front or to the back of the head, to suit the wearer. It may be found advisable to pin the gathered end in position with a hairgrip before arranging the ends.
To use up odd half-ounces of wool, introduce three colours – one for the wide part and two more for the narrow ends.
If you prefer actually to tie a knot with your ends before tucking them in, the secret of a successful knot is to pad it – tie a pad of cotton wool for instance, in the knot. This is an especially useful tip where the turban is knitted to produce a thinnish fabric and give a streamlined effect. The knot needs to be given bulk, otherwise it may a look a bit under-fed or, after wearing for a while, like a piece of string.
Another idea for the really courageous pioneer in headlines is to tie the knot over an ornamental skewer, the ends of which stick out on either side of the knot and you will add a charmingly rakish air to your turban


It might amuse us, the way this is written, ‘the really courageous pioneer in headlines’ and the ‘charmingly rakish air to your turban’, but the country was just emerging from over six years of war, wool was still rationed, and clothes and the materials to make them expensive and in short supply. After so long with the grey and the dreary, everyone must have been doing all they could by their meagre means to be bright and colourful, cheerful and fashionable.

We live in such a throw-away society, we wouldn’t keep half ounces of anything in case it might be useful, or try and find ways of actually using left-overs… I’m not suggesting we should return to such times, but I think we might want to adopt some of the values! … I’m still puzzling over the ornamental skewer!

Still unpicking, not knitting

Actually, I’m not knitting at all… I’m using this to explain that I’m still unravelling some stories I need to work on before I actually begin to properly write. I’ve just published my latest e-book, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’ which I’ve been editing since January; there is a certain amount of creativity in editing, but it’s not the same as writing something fresh. At fist because it was so boring, all the checking, cutting out, rewriting, I began to write a new novel, provisionally entitled ‘Earthquake’, but I got to a stage where I just had to focus on ‘Lucky’. So ‘Earthquake’ needs finishing – I’m about three-quarters of the way through the first draft… but now I’m free to do it, I realise that it is really muddled – three complex story lines, and I need to have it ordered before I can finish it… so effectively, I’m back editing again. I am also going to publish a short book called ‘So You Want To Write’, and that is in its final stages, but it is still passively editing and rearranging…

It soon will be the beginning of October… one month until November and November is the National Novel Writing Month – an on-line challenge to write 50,000 words of a new book… I have done it for the past two years, and it has been really great – and I would like to do it again this year… so I have to sort out my muddles before I do if I want a chance of success. Because the challenge is to write a new novel, I can’t just carry on with what i have started.

So to go back to my knitting, I feel as if I have the jumble of a half-knitted item, which needs to be a little unpicked and reknitted before I take up my needles and ball of wool and crack on with it. I was never a knitter really, although I can knit. I have  a sad memory of knitting a whole jumper for someone I cared about greatly… sadly the jumper was not appreciated, and nor was I! My mum was more of a needle-worker than a knitter, but she did knit, and so did my dad. In the days before we had TV, in the winter evening when it was too dark for him to do his normal activities, rowing, golf, gardening, fishing, in the evenings he would make things – marcasite jewellery, for example, and knitting!

As a child I liked helping wind the wool from skeins into balls, and we would do what we called French knitting,  a cotton reel with four little pins nailed in, and making a long snake of knitting… I would make yards and yards of it but I don’t remember it ever being made into anything else.

… so back to the unpicking and reknitting, then I’ll take up my needles properly and get going on the next books!

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.

If you’re one of those people who like to begin the day quietly

Do people still wear housecoats? I know pyjamas for day-wear are fashionable, and maybe younger people still wear onesies, and most people have dressing-gowns for first thing or last thing at night… but housecoats?

In the marvellous seventy year-old book, Knitting for All, there is a whole section on housecoats, knitted housecoats… I can’t imagine it, wouldn’t they be very heavy? Wouldn’t they be difficult to wash before most people had washing machines? I suppose in the cooler months in houses without central heating and double-glazing, it was important to keep warm, and a woollen housecoat would be very much appreciated.

The fashionable housecoat pattern requires yellow, brown, rust, blue and grey wools so I guess it would be quite cheery – and maybe those colours were what were in fashion that year, or maybe were what were available since wool was rationed. At the end of the chapter is a short section:

You’d prefer something quieter

If you’re one of those people who like to begin the day quietly, you may prefer a less vigorous colour scheme for your housecoat….(it can be) knitted in two colours instead of five; (for example) the borders in garter stitch and stripes are in maroon, and the background in stocking stitch is in  grey.

This ‘quieter’ colour scheme sounds really nice, but I’m still not sure I’d like a knitted housecoat!

img001 (2)

True sister to Joseph’s coat of many colours, this housecoat is such fun to wear. You’ll be getting up earlier to put it on.