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.