Given that you’re here, and assuming that you’re not right now scratching your head and thinking “Hang on, this isn’t the blog about oxy-acetylene welding that I was searching for,”* it’s probably safe to assume that you’re partial to looking at a bit of knitting/crochet. (I used to call it ‘yarn p♥rn’, but then I noticed that a few folk were landing here via some questionable search terms – and no doubt being deeply disappointed when they arrived – so I gave that up.)
One of the best places to look at yarn you-know-what is deep in the historical archive of the much under-publicised Knitting and Crochet Guild (KCG), up in West Yorkshire. If you saw my last post about our Stylecraft Blogstars meet-up last weekend, then you’ll know that we were very kindly treated to a trip to the archive on the Friday. I sincerely wish that you could have been there with us, because it was fascinating. But I did bring back some photos to share with you. Would you like to see?
The KCG archive houses thousands of knitted/crocheted items and patterns as well as knitting/hooking tools, dating from as far back as 1826, although most are from the twentieth century. They’re all tucked away in an unprepossessing industrial unit behind a housing estate in Scholes, West Yorkshire. And as I stepped through the door with the other Blogstars, I had very little idea of what to expect.
I should mention at this point that this is an archive and not a museum, and so what you see when you enter is mostly shelves (and shelves, and shelves) of boxes with intriguing labels such as Vogue Knitting, 1970-1990.
There are a very few items on display, such as the vintage Singer sock-knitting machine that caught our imagination, but what you really need in this place is a guide, or better still, three guides. Permit me, please, to introduce Angharad (third from left, navy jumper), Barbara (red jumper at the back), and Alex (far right, navy jumper).
These wonderful women are volunteers at the KCG, and from deep in the archives they fetched some choice exhibits to share with us. Do I even need to tell you how grateful and intrigued we all were? Would you like to see what they showed us? Yes? OK, take a pair of white cotton gloves from the box so that you can safely handle the artefacts, and let’s begin.
I’m guessing that a fair few of you will know immediately who designed this knitwear. Yup, you’re looking at Kaffe Fassett’s ‘Foolish Virgins’, circa 1989. One of the KCG volunteers is a rare genius at matching pattern to knitwear/hookwear:-
And here’s a granny square shawl from 1955, a Vogue Knitting pattern to be worked on 2.25mm hooks in 3-ply yarn. Somebody had a lot of time on their hands to make and join all 250 squares:-
Gorgeous, no? And here with the pattern:-
It was fascinating listening to the archivists talk. They told us about samples of Patricia Roberts’ stranded designs that were held in the collection, in which you could examine the reverse and see the knitter’s progression from clueless leaver of l-o-n-g floats to confident float-trapper and all-round stranded expert.
And just look at this crochet!
It was made in 1930 by someone with disturbingly exceptional patience, and it’s stunning. The yarn is mercerised cotton at some insanely fine gauge, and the tiny squares are sewn together. Here it is with its pattern:-
Oh, and see this below? This was made by Queen Mary, but we weren’t particularly encouraged to photograph it because it’s not very good!
There are also hooks, needles, and other equipment in the collection.
And if you thought that circular needles were a new idea, then think again. Here’s one from the 1930s. It’s rather springy and has a mind of its own:-
As the daughter of a patent examiner, I was fascinated by the patent declarations for strange and unusual innovations, such as knitting needles with measurements along their lengths:-
I do like this crochet hook:-
Here’s a very early 20th century yarn holder. (It’d be perfect for my walking-the-children-to-school knitting.)
There is so much that I could show you.
But I’m saving the best (IMHO) for last. Would you like to see what’s inside this box?
There’s no point in asking you to guess, because it’s THIS:-
Now there are three reasons why, to me, this is the most amazing piece of knitting ever:-
- It just is. How stunning? How original?
- Only slightly behind knitting and crochet (and well ahead of running) in the list of stuff-I-love is geology. I’ve even let it sneak into this blog a little, eg here. My idea of a heavenly day out involves walking up a mountain and poking about in the strata. So, knitted rocks? I’m in love.
- This objet was knitted by none other than Jan Messent. Have you heard of her? She’s here. She’s more into embroidery than knitting these days, but I first discovered her when I found an old book of her eccentric knits/crochet in a second-hand bookshop. I was intrigued by her crocheted/knitted gardens, and they were part of the inspiration behind my ridiculous chair project. Look, here’s a shot of some of the work in her book:-
So yeah, I was very happy to see this stunning creation in the archive.
The Knitting and Crochet Guild website is right here. You can join for a mere £25 per year, and access a whole wealth of history, information, and expertise. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
∗In which case, you’d be better off trying here. You’re welcome.
Wow, so much history! Thanks for sharing it and keeping it alive.
Mrs Craft says
Oh my goodness, I’m a little jealous of your trip. It looks really interesting. It’s amazing how well preserved those pieces look too. Thanks for sharing ?
What a delightful and inspirational set of photos! I’m sorely tempted to ask for a membership for my birthday now!
Oh wow, what a lovel trip out. And yes I know what you mean about accidentally searching for the wrong thing…I rather naively searched for blanket **** the other day…big mistake!
Three guides, needed in a archive for needlework is it. They know all the yummies. Perhaps, one day.
Sue Scarfe says
Such lovely photographs…the Jan Messent made me dribble a bit!
What a wonderful, wonderful place.
Ann Shepherd says
This post, and your own lovely chair, reminded me that I have copies of Jan Messent’s ‘Have You Any Wool’ and also ‘Knit a Fantasy Story’. I’ve never really had a good excuse to actually use them other than to ooh and aah over but you’ve made me think – who needs an excuse to knit up something just for fun? Surely everyone is entitled to a little woolly dragon or a unicorn or a farmyard or a castle, aren’t they?
Am a big fan of Jan Messant, no idea that she started in Knitting.
So pleased I was able to visit the KCG archive last July as part of my attendance at the KCG Convention in Sheffield. I can recommend joining and keeping membership of the Guild, I have learnt so much from meetings, the convention and from Slipknot, the magazine. There are no adverts., just helpful, professional and fascinating articles.
leelah saachi says
thanks so much fo sharing this. i am one of those who loves just to read and look, and are not so good with recipes. now i have feasted on your photos abnd i am all aaaaahhhhh sigh aaaahhh
Georgy Evans says
Wow! What a wonderful resource the KCG is – immediately joined up. Thank you for showing us what it does. Also for introducing me to Jan Messant. 🙂
Chris Scholes says
Remember the cooking programme Two fat Ladies?
I got quite a different view of them when I keyed that in!
Cricket Fox says
WOW, What an amazing day
Brilliant as always! Also, very interesting oxy-acetyleneinformation.. ?
Amazing. I am so happy to know there are places where knitting and crochet items are being preserved and treated with the respect due all great art.
How wonderful – thank you so much for sharing. Nothing’s new, is It?
Seems like an amazing place to visit! I love craft history.
Thanks Phil for this splendid blog post. I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoyed your visit and seeing a few of the highlights of the Guild collection. I hope you’ll come back some time for another visit. To be fair to Queen Mary, I should point out that there is nothing wrong with her crochet – the petticoat that she made looks horrible because it become stained over the years (I think because it was stored badly, long before it came to the KCG). She made a lot of clothes for charity, and inspired many other people (including her sons) to do the same, so we shouldn’t think that she wasn’t any good at it!
I LOVE the little yarn holder ! And I wonder why there is a loop on the crochet hook ? Hmmm.
I often wonder, with the fine lace crochet in giant objects like tablecloths or coverlets, how much was done to show of the stitches skill and how much was done out of necessity. They couldn’t afford a large fancy item but could buy a ball of thread every month?