Straker Patterns

Catching up on some blog reading I noticed that Knitting Curmudgeon mentioned cutting her teeth on Penny Straker patterns. Add me to the list! Strakers were what I learned on, too.

They were among the first "yarn independent" patterns published. Even the black and white cover pix went a long way to encouraging knitters to make the things up in their own choice of colors. Like KC, as a new knitter I found the Straker patterns to be great learning aids, because most of them had little fold-down knitting tips and tricks panels on the side. One I especially remember was a how-to on tubular cast-on. I use that technique as described on the Straker panel to this day. That’s not to say the patterns are spelled out completely -instructions like "make left side to correspond to right, reversing shaping" were used, but as a beginner, I found them to beclear and easy to follow.

My first complete sweater was a Straker. I don’t see it in her new on-line catalogthough. It was sort of a collared baseball jacket shape, done entirely in a bumpy raspberry texture (trinity stitch?). My reasoning went that even if my stitches were uneven, no one would notice in that bumpy surface. It worked. I wore my raspberry sweater (knit in a mulberry purple) for years and no one ever noticed it as being a first attempt. After that I went on to make a couple Eye of the Partridge sweaters, a couple of Fair Isle yoke sweaters (there used to be a pullover in addition to this cardigan. (I did the first chart as-is, then created my own chart for the second). Over the years I’ve also done her Shalor Aran, Gretel, Innisfree, but none recently until the Inverness Gansey I did last year.That project was the most fun I’ve had with a commercial sweater pattern in a long, long, time.

If you’ve never tried a Straker, I’d encourage you to take a look at the line. You can still find the older editions lurking in local yarn shops, including patterns that are not in the current line of updated reprints. My only caution on the older editions is that armholes fit far more tightly when these patterns first came out, and the earlier editions only range in size up to about a 12/14. I’m delighted to see the new website, and hope that in addition to rehashed older (but timeless) patterns, we’ll see some new designs as well.

Toronto Star from 1945

In other Web-walking I zipped through Boing-Boing. You never know what will turn up there. I found a link to the Toronto Star’s 1945 edition. The entire year’srun is now full-text searchable:

Being an insomniac by nature, I decided to search on "knitting."

Page loading is very slow, but hits abound. I had hoped to find detailed descriptions of war-related knitting efforts, perhaps even some patterns. Instead I found lots of ads for imitation leather knitting bags and yarn (Angora, 59 cents per ball); classfied employment ads (apparently there were several knitting mills in and around Toronto at this time); and many, many passing mentions of knitting in other articles. The Star also had its own needlework department(!), and many of the ads were for patterns that were available for a fee by mail from the paper’s own offices.

The most frequent mention was of course troop knitting, mostly in a recurring column entitled "Women’s War Work." Every ethnic-membership service club, religious or church/synagoguegroup, civic association, recreational club and school had at least one charitable knitting and sewing circle. Sometimes more. Meeting notices included reports on shipment schedules, places where yarn and/or instruction could be obtained, and kudos to specific chapters or groups that had sent off exceptionally large donations. Women’s obituaries were another leading source of knitting mentions, with many mentioning exceptional skill or prolific generousity even in the face of lingering illnesses or extreme age.

In the news pages, I noticed thatknitting was used as a metaphor for domesticity. I came across mention of a woman elected to office. She was shown knitting as she waited for the election returns (early May?), perhaps to show that she was still a real woman in spite of her political ambitions.Grating in toneto be sure, but itwas 1945. There was also a human interest story on a returning wounded soldier – an unmarried manwho adopted an orphaned baby he rescued. Again to illustrate his commitment to hearth and home, he was shown awkwardly knitting booties for the little guy. (some time in April)

I did find one letter to the editor around April that bemoaned the fact that for all the effort expended by women on the home front covering home and work responsibilities, and doing tremendous volunteer work (especially knitting and sewing for troops and refugees), that very little recognition of that effort was taking place. Looking over the paper as a whole, I’d have to agree. Mentions outside the group reports are rare, and even the Women’s War Work column has a distinctly patronizing tone.

Other mini-articles include reports that the former Vichy Chief of Government, Pierre Laval fled to Spain after the fall of Germany’s occupation of France, and a depressed and broken man was spending his time knitting to quiet his nerves (7/24); the wife Clement Attlee,the newBritish Prime Minister whiling away her time waiting to meet the King by knitting (and worrying about how to run 10 Downing Street)(7/27); andcustoms of a local Hutterite community that forewent use of modern conveniences, citing their women’s quaint custom of knitting socks in any idle moment, using tin pails suspended from the wrist to hold their yarn (8/20).

I have to admit I bottomed out around the end of August and didn’t go any further. So if you’re interested in combing through for more bits, that’s a good place to start. The most interesting mentions are listed as News or Editorial. Local News is mostly reports of group meetings, Life/Fashion/Family mentions are almost always ads for mail order patterns. Business mentions are the goings on at the local knitting mills.

The most touching mention to me? Not the obits or the other reports of group efforts. The many small classified ads for lost knitting were the most immediate to me. Stuff like "Lost near [insert street] paper bag containing knitting, a brown sock half-finished;" "Near [another street] basket with baby’s jumper in white, both fronts done and back on the needles." Were those projects ever found and returned? I wonder.

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