Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Free Form Crochet Inspiration

A stunning crochet dress from the 1967 film, Camelot is a wonderful inspiration for freeform crochet. Worn by Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, the dress is on show as part of the Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the V&A. Looking closely at the dress, you can see why designer John Truscott won the 1967 Academy Award for best costume design.
Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Guinivere, Camelot, 1967

Described as being made from wool, silk and pumpkin seeds, most of the dress is made of 'finely crocheted woollen spider webs' that are laid over silk. At the centre of some of the 'webs' are tiny shells and behind them are hints of metallic crochet. Pumpkin seeds were dried then stitched to the silk train of the dress.
Pumpkin seed detail on Guinevere Dress
Crochet detail on Guinevere Dress
Crochet samples based on Guinevere Dress

Friday, 16 November 2012

Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft

Introducing her new book, Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft, in a lecture at the V&A on Thursday 15th November 2012, Professor Sandy Black began by asking the question, 'What is knitting?'

Using the four sections of her book to answer the question, Sandy showed us how she had been inspired by the V&A Collections. Here are some of my highlights.
Part One: The Origins of Knitting, 3rd Century to late 19th Century. 
Knitting can be said to have begun with heads, hands and feet! Sandy showed us several examples including Coptic socks found in Egypt , Tudor caps from London and ornate silk stockings for men, before moving on to a stunning 17th Century boucle jacket. The highlight of this section for me was an 18th Century item, the 'Dutch Petticoat'. The origins of the mechanisation of knitting began with William Lee's knitting frame in 1589.
Coptic Socks (source: V&A)
Part Two: Livelihood and Industry in Hand and Machine Knitting, 17th - 21st Century. 
During this time period, whole families knitted to supplement incomes. Knitting was taught in schools and workhouses to 'keep idle hands busy'. Detailed instruction manuals containing tiny examples of knitting were used at this timeDuring the early 20th Century Fair Isle knits became a fashion classic when worn by the Prince of Wales and Dr Jaeger began his business with 'hygienic' socks featuring separate toes. Couture knitting in the postwar period was illustrated by the Maria Lick Szanto designs (a review of Sandy's talk on the Szanto designs appears in an earlier post).
Instruction Book (source:V&A)
Part Three: Knitting in the Home from the 18th Century to present. 
Knitting patterns gradually became more widespread and Sandy showed us some lovely examples from Welsons in the 1890s, Woolcraft in the 1920s and Patrons & Baldwins in the 1930s. The radical changes in home knitting were shown by examples from sportswear, WWII knitting, 1950s glamour knitting, home machine knitting through to Freddie Robbins' Odd Gloves. 
1940s Knitting Pattern (source:V&A)
Part Four: Classics to Couture 1900 to Now. 
Over this period, knitting has constantly moved in and out of fashion, from the Polka jackets of the mid 19th Century, Chanel and Schiaparelli designs of the 1920s through Bill Gibb and Kaffe Fassett to Biba and Missoni and on to Kenzo, Sonya Rykiel, Mark Fast and Peter Pillotto to name only a few. Using these examples and more, Sandy took us on a rapid journey through the engineering possibilities of knitting.
Missoni Knitted Dress (Source: EV photo)
So, was the opening question, 'What is knitting?' answered? It certainly was and in such detail and in so many interesting ways that I cant wait to read even more in the book itself!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Twined Knitting in the Knitter Magazine

Lise Warburg examined the geographical spread of twined knitting in her talk at the Knitting History Forum. Although I had heard of twined knitting, I knew little about it and Lise's talk certainly made me curious. I was very pleased to find an article in this month's Knitter Magazine by The Dutch Knitters, which also takes a look at this traditional technique. There are photos of knitted examples, a brief history of twined knitting and descriptions of yarn and technique. A pattern for mitts that uses twined knitting, Annika, is also in the magazine with helpful, step by step picture instructions for getting to grips with the complicated parts!

The Knitter Issue 51 with Annika Mitts shown

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Maria Luck Szanto Designs at the V&A

Having enjoyed Sandy Black's talk about Maria Luck Szanto at the Knitting History Forum, I realised that I had been lucky enough to see a Barbara dress during a visit to the V&A stores a few years ago. Although the dress appears seamless, Sandy explained that many of the Szanto designs were hand knitted in several pieces, sometimes by different knitters, then expertly grafted together in the workshop. I was very taken with this dress and would gladly have worn it straight away! My photos are of the dress lying flat, but this link to the V&A collections shows the dress on a model.
Barbara Dress cross over back

Barbara Dress front panel

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Knitting History Forum

Making a link between a complex traditional knitting technique and the route of the Viking explorations was one of the fascinating ideas presented yesterday at the Knitting History Forum Conference, held at the London College of Fashion.
Lise Warburg, an independent scholar from Denmark, presented a paper entitled 'Knitting With Both Ends of the Ball - the Geography of Twined Knitting'. Using specific examples of garments and knitted fragments from her detailed research, Lise established geographic locations of the twined knitting technique and plotted this on a map of the Viking Journeys (800-1200AD).
Examples of Modern Gloves and Mittens with Twined Knitting at cuffs.

Example of Traditional Mittens made with Twined Knitting

Edwina Ehrman, Lead Curator of the Clothworker's Centre at the V&A, Blythe House, showed us the new storage, research and conservation facilities that have been built during the £3.5million redevelopment of Blythe House, Olympia. Around 47,000 textile and fashion objects are in the process of being moved from the old storage rooms at South Kensington to this new, purpose-built facility which will be available for booked visits from October 2013.
Jane Malcolm-Davies, from the Tudor Tailor, discussed the advantages of research through a multi path, multi contributor working group. She used this approach to develop and create knitting instructions for 16th Century Children's clothes for her new book, the Tudor Child (to be published in early 2013).

Mary Hawkins told us about her search for Eric Passold's recreation of William Lee's knitting frame. She had tracked down his actual recreated frame to the Science Museum in London and after much correspondence, received photographs of the frame. These photographs raised a number of issues: what was the scale, which way was up and where was the actual frame itself? Although notes have been left on the file at the Science Museum, the search continues.....
Barbara Smith's research on 'The Invisible Knitting Pattern Designer', Elizabeth Forster illustrated that knitting patterns during this time period (1940s to 1980s) were rarely attributed to designers. Her recent discovery of a huge archive of Elizabeth Forster's work, including 200 sample garments, may mean that some of her designs can be matched to these unnamed and undated patterns.
The conference concluded with Professor Sandy Black's presentation on 'Couture Handknitting in the Postwar Period - Szanto Models'. At one point, Maria Luck Szanto had between 500 and 600 knitters all over the UK producing detailed and complex garments. Using images from her new book, Knitting and from the V&A archives, Sandy talked us through some of Szanto's amazing designs involving lace, beading, brocade, pleating and incredible attention to detail.