Monday, 9 February 2015

PS to knitting post

I realise I haven't posted at all this year.  My excuse is that I have not done any textile work partly because it has felt too cold to go into the studio.  However, I do have something to add to the post I did on 17 November last year about NZ women knitting in World War One.  My brother-in-law sent me a photo of this painting which his grandfather, Charles Hay-Campbell, painted in Whanganui in about 1915.  He thinks it was done in the boarding house where his grandfather lived when he first went to NZ while his family remained in England.

This scene echoes what my sisters say about our grandmothers talking of knitting for the troops.  I have very strong memories of them both knitting in the years immediately after the Second World War so I grew up believing that grandmothers knitted and mothers sewed.

My mother made virtually all our clothes - well, not coats, as sewing is what women of her generation did.  The really talented ones did 'tailoring' and did make coats and jackets for their children.  As we were all girls there was no pressure for my mother to do this and we had one or two winter skirts (with bodices) that were made by a professional dressmaker and paid for by my grandmother.  I remember going to this woman's house for fittings and being appalled at the age of about five because she kept the pins in her mouth!  Practically the first health and safety lesson I ever had was to never hold pins in your mouth.  I do not think my mother was particularly fond of dressmaking and really preferred gardening, but when her generation of women were pushed back into the home after the war, sewing, which had always been an integral part of colonial life, became something that almost everyone did.  Bought clothes were expensive but there was a huge range of fabric available.  This fabric was all imported from Britain so we grew up with famous names such as Vyella, Liberty lawn, robia voile and a fine cotton the name of which I cannot spell and which I cannot find  a reference to on the Web.  A trip to town centred on the specialist fabric shops and the department stores and I reckon I could write my autobiography in terms of fabric and dressmaking!   Fashion was approximately two years behind Europe because of the time-lag in receiving the pattern books: McCalls, Butterick, and later Simplicity and Vogue.  You needed to be an advanced dressmaker to make a lot of the Vogue designs so I was quite proud when as a teenager I began to work from the more advanced Vogue ranges.  We were not really knitters in our family and I had to rely on my aunt to teach me both knitting and various sewing techniques because I was left-handed and so was she.  My cousin tells me she also relied on this aunt because of being left-handed.

For Christmas I was given the book; Knitting for Tommy: Keeping the Great War Soldier Warm by Lucinda Gosling.

This is a fascinating read, particularly for those of us who are old enough to remember the sort of illustrations that are shown, particularly the knitting patterns  which my grandmothers were still using when I was tiny.  In the end knitting socks gave way to knitting pullovers and cardigans for the grandchildren.  I think darning died out because socks began to have some nylon in them but I have a distinct memory of my father mending his own socks with the sock stretched over an orange.  Generally his mother did this task (we lived in the same town) but I remember being very impressed with his ability to darn.  I think military life gave men of that generation some useful skills although in theory my father may have learned to darn in the boy scouts.

The book deals with the Empire and the US and there is a photo of the cover of the book I mentioned in my previous post, written by the wife of New Zealand's governor-general.

As Lucinda Gosling points out, absolutely everyone knitted because the need for knitted 'comforts' was so great.  I realised that at that time there were no garments made from man-made fibres as there were later in the twentieth century and the role of Australia and New Zealand in providing wool was very important.  I also learnt that the company we know as Patons and Baldwins was at that point, two separate companies.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, military life did men good - my partner was in the navy and they had regular mending days. And just look at how well that army guy is doing in the current Sewing Bee!