Sunday 7 July 2024

The good, the bad and the ugly

The last time I posted about my knitting, I mentioned how much I am enjoying the fact that this is something totally new to me, so there is lots to learn. Perhaps I should have been careful what I wished for, as this week has involved a lot of learning!

My knitting needle bag contains my mum's and grandmothers' needle collections, assorted cast offs (no pun intended) from other people, and some which I have bought for specific projects.

Inside my knitting needle bag

They are a mix of old and new sizes, mostly metal, a few plastic. Long-gone brand names like Milward and Aero feature heavily. For the most part, I have just used whatever pair I have found in there which are the right size and length.

My Wondrellas have been knitted on straight metal needles, with the sleeves done on circular metal needles of different lengths.

Wondrella needles

My Dahlia shawl started on straight metal needles, and quickly moved to straight bamboo which gave better control of the yarn. When the rows got too long for straight needles, I discovered interchangeable circular needles, in this case beech Basix from KnitPro.

Dahlia needles

I started Confidette on straight metal needles as normal, but eventually it was easier to switch to a circular needle. The pattern requires a longer circular needle for working the border than I had, so I bought this in Edinburgh and switched to it straight away.

This didn't feel very zingy to me

Sorry KnitPro, but I just couldn't get on with this at all. Even though I use metal needles most of the time, these ones just made my hands cramp up. Very odd.

My local fabric and wool shop has recently got a few interchangeable wood needles in, so once I felt well enough to venture out, I bought these.

These looked promising

The wooden tips were much more comfortable to use, and things were progressing nicely, until . . .


This photograph was taken after I had managed to run an emergency lifeline through what I hoped was most of the dropped stitches. At some point the tip had detached from the cable, and I had been blithely knitting stitches which simply fell off the back end of the tip. About 60 stitches on a row of 210 were just hanging loose.

I did consider just frogging back to the lifeline below, but decided that I would at least try to save it. I had to transfer the remaining stitches off the tip and onto the lifeline, then reattach the tip to the cable and try to transfer the stitches back onto the needle from the lifeline.

Some of the stitches I had only caught partially or not at all, and for these I had to unravel them to the next row down and pick them up with a crochet hook. Once I had rescued all the stitches, I decided to unpick the row stitch by stitch and reknit it, to make absolutely certain that everything was properly in place. Needless to say all this took quite some time, but it did work.

Unsurprisingly, after all that, I wasn't very confident about continuing to use these needles. It was hard to photograph, but the thread for screwing in the cable seems to start quite a long way down the tip, so I'm not sure how well the two are fastened together.

The start of the screw thread is just visible right at the bottom

I turned to Ewe and Ply, who saved the day by speedily sending out a set of KnitPro Ginger tips and a cable. Like the Basix, these use a key to make sure that the tip is properly attached, and they are really comfortable to knit with.

Back on track

So this week I have learned that not all knitting needles are created equal, and that there's more to it than just grabbing the first pair of the right size from my bag. On the plus side, I'm now a fair bit more confident in my fixing skills if something goes wrong.

Sunday 30 June 2024


Unfortunately, among the souvenirs I brought back from Edinburgh was a particularly bad cold/flu thing. There has been no sewing or knitting since I got home. On the first day, I felt too ill to even make a cup of tea. (To anyone who knows me IRL, this demonstrates just how bad things were!)

So for this week's post, some photographs of sewing machines in Edinburgh.

Starting with this wonderful carved sign on Candlemaker Row

There seemed to be a great many machines on display in various shop windows, but reflections made it hard to get decent pictures.

I'm a sucker for a pretty decal

Two more, plus bonus biscuit tin

Things were easier in the National Museum of Scotland. Seven machines of various makes are on display in the Window on the World, a four-storey high installation in the Grand Gallery.

Different ages, makes and stages of manufacture

Of course, the main connection between Scotland and sewing machines is Singer. Its Kilbowie factory was the largest in the world when it opened in 1885, and at its peak it produced more than one million machines a year. This connection is recognised in the museum's Science and Technology wing, with a display of three machines from different eras, a 12K from 1881, a 222K from 1958, and a 518 from 1978.

Top to bottom: 518, 222K, 12K

But the exhibit which thrilled my nerdy little heart the most wasn't actually a Singer. It was one of the first six of the 1846 type lock stitch sewing machines made by Elias Howe.


While the basic principles of the stitch-forming mechanism haven't changed much since, how the fabric passes through the machine certainly has. Here, the seam to be sewn had to be pinned or held onto the large grey metal ring just visible at the bottom left (click here for a much better image), which rotated a little with each stitch. So of course, the operator had to stop frequently to pin more of the seam in place. Thank goodness for the invention of feed dogs and flat bed machines!

Sunday 23 June 2024

Ramsay & Edinburgh Fashion

The exhibition Ramsay & Edinburgh Fashion, at the Georgian House in Edinburgh looks at the importance of fashion as a key signifier of good taste in the 1700s. It brings together a number of portraits by the artist Allan Ramsay, and looks at the fashion trade in the city in the middle of the century. Also on display are two items of dress from the period, as well as a modern recreation of the dress worn by Katherine Anne Mure when she sat for her Ramsay portrait.

The portrait and the newly-made dress

The dress was made over the course of six days in early June by a team of volunteers led by Rebecca Olds, who also ran the Wedding Dress in a Weekend project. As with that project (and as would have been the case when the original dress was created) it was made on the intended wearer - in this case another National Trust for Scotland volunteer. The work was carried out in the Georgian House, and was open to the public to watch. Unfortunately for me, this took place while Taylor Swift was performing in Edinburgh, so accommodation was impossible to find! Instead I had to visit a little later. However, this had the advantage that by then the dress was on display on a mannequin, where visitors were encouraged to examine it in detail.

Not the sort of label one usually sees

Dress front and stomacher

Dress back

The trimming was all made by Rebecca from strips of silk. She used a cutting tool like a shaped chisel, which was hammered into the silk to cut out a single scalloped shape. More details can be found on Rebecca's Instagram account here.

Trim detail

The other items on display are an exquisitely embroidered apron from 1740s and a sacque gown from the 1760s.


Sacque dress

The sleeve flounce shows the underside of the silk

Fly braid and patterned sections of the silk are used in the trimming

Ramsay & Edinburgh Fashion runs until 24 November 2024, and entry to the exhibition is included in the admission to the Georgian House.

Sunday 16 June 2024

Pattern detective work

I've had a chance to start looking through my 1950s (?) Style counter catalogue. There's lots of inspiration, of course, but I'm intrigued by the age and appearance of some of the patterns. According to the pattern index in the catalogue, the oldest pattern is 4415 and the newest is 1177.

1176 and 1177

Style seems to have had an aversion to putting dates on things, but some of my Style patterns in the 4400 and 4500 number ranges have a reference to the CC41 regulations printed on the envelopes, which indicates that they were issued during the period of clothes rationing. The numbering appears to have gone up to the very early 5000s, and then started again at 100.

All of the four-digit patterns beginning with 4 in the catalogue are for nightwear, underwear, or children's clothing. So are most of the low numbered three-digit patterns. Which makes sense, as these are not going to be much affected by changing fashion.

4415 - this was school uniform for decades

Slips and nighties are timeless

Occasionally a detail in the illustration hints that this pattern has been in production for a while. The stocking in this illustration has the square top at the heel which was common in the 1940s and replaced in the next decade by the pointed top.

Cuban heel stockings

The oldest adult pattern which I could find which isn't nightwear or underwear is this suit, 171.

171 ties in with the other styles shown

I have the pattern for this, and the artwork has clearly been completely redrawn for the catalogue, to make it more up-to-date. The hair has changed, the hat has been removed, and the version with the collar has been relegated to a small sketch.

More jewellery, fewer hats

468 has undergone even more of a makeover, however. I recognised the design as another one in my own collection, but my copy is numbered 4462. The 1940s hairstyles of rolls and snoods have been updated and so (rather oddly, for a garment which isn't normally worn with a bra underneath) has the bust shape!

Spot the differences

I’m intrigued now. I shall be keeping an eye out for these older patterns online, to see how the artwork has changed.

Sunday 9 June 2024

Practical sewing again

A short and not very exciting post this week, as I have been busy making a tote bag to replace the one which I bought in York in 2018 when I needed a way to carry home the three pattern catalogues I'd just acquired! It is now looking very worse for wear, but as it's had six years of near-daily use, I'm not complaining. However, this time I wanted to make rather than buy.

This week's project

The first great thing about making a bag is that you start with the dimensions of what you want to put in it, and work backwards. The second is that it can have as many pockets as you want. As with the lining I added to my recycled cable bag, I went with almost all-round pockets, and sewed them onto the lining before I made it up.

Attaching some of the pockets

There is also a pocket at the bottom, so that I can slip in something rigid for the base, and take it out when I want to wash the bag. I haven't cut this out yet, which is why the bottom of the bag sags a bit. All the materials were pre-washed, so I don't need to worry about shrinkage when I do wash it.

I put some of the webbing which I used for the handles around the top of the bag, to make it a little more rigid.


The outer furnishing fabric and the cotton lining both came from stash.

Another 2.6m used

And that is it. As I said at the start, not very exciting, but I get a great deal of satisfaction from being able to make the everyday things I need, and to my exact requirements.

Sunday 2 June 2024

A new Style Patterns find

My love of Style patterns is well-documented on this blog, so when I found this counter catalogue for sale I couldn't resist. It only arrived recently, so haven't yet had time to look at it in detail. It seems to have been issued in December (but contains an oddly high number of sleeveless dresses, possibly to be used as party frocks?), but despite combing the front and back sections for small print, I've been unable to find a year. My guess is late 1950s.

With 6" ruler for scale

Style pattern envelopes were still only black and white at the time, but the catalogue is almost all in colour. The only monochrome images are of the pattern envelopes of the new releases.

Six of the new pattern issues

The other three

I have the pattern featured on the cover. The bodice darts, an important part of the design from a dressmaking point of view, are barely visible on the envelope art but far more clear in the catalogue illustration.


I wonder how many people made the version of this dress with the massive collar?

Dramatic, but potentially very annoying!

Some, but not all, of the patterns include a schematic of the pattern pieces.

With schematics

There is a fairly even split between designs with very straight and very full skirts.



While most illustrations are on plain white, some have a brief sketch of background.

Simple outlines of a chair and fireplace

As someone whose local fabric shop sells a lot of remnants, I really liked the idea of these patterns.

Patterns for remnants - ooh!

There are lots of things I want to look at in more detail, but that’s it for now.

Sunday 26 May 2024

More adventures in knitting

I have started a new knitting project.

New pattern!

If the yarn looks familiar, that's because it's the leftovers from my blue Wondrella - out of an abundance of caution I had bought far too much. My original plan was to use it up on this project, but then I decided that it was time to work with some better quality wool. This was duly swatched but, when I came to cast on, I had a crisis of confidence about my ability to do it justice. So, I reverted to plan A.

The pattern is Confidette byTasha of Tasha Could Make That. Like Wondrella, it's a design which I could happily have in several colourways, so that pure merino will get used at some point - once I know what I’m doing.

Confidette is a top-down knit, which is perfect for someone like me who has to shorten the torso of any sewing or knitting pattern. It came out some time before Wondrella, but I was put off by the fact that it uses short rows to shape the shoulders. Fortunately, Tasha has recently added an excellent video on short row shaping to her YouTube channel (you can watch it here), and once I watched that, I discovered that it was less scary than I had imagined.

Even so, I still managed to end up with an extra stitch somewhere on my first attempt, and had to frog the whole thing. Possibly trying a new technique late at night wasn't the best idea! A second attempt the next morning went far better. I'm fascinated by the shaping it produces, and the fact that it's barely visible. (One of the things which I'm loving about knitting is that it's all new to me. Sewing is my first love, and always will be my 'thing', but there's no denying that having made my own clothes for over 40 years, I'm fairly familiar with most of what's involved.)

The curved edge is like magic to me

I bought a paler blue for the contrast edging, but it will be some time before I need it.

Even more blue

So for now, it's on with knitting the back.