Friday Night Vi-EWE-ing – Knitting Pretty
Good evening Wovembering friends, Louise here. You can probably tell by now that I do like a good archive film or sound recording. I think what I love about archive material is that it’s a glimpse of the past that has been Foreverware-ed for posterity. Some show us a now-disappeared tradition, or way of life, or cultural object; others show us how these have evolved over time.
Last week I found you some Pathe films which covered the mis-use of the term wool. When looking for more archive film on wool and knitting I was really struck that the narration was usually male – an authoritative voice on wool and also…sometimes a bit sexist” Perhaps not perceived as such then, but what do you think of the language in this film from Pathe from 1955?
“making lovely women lovelier…revealing a back it would be a crime to conceal…come again soon ladies, we’ll be waiting!”
While we can’t deny the wonders of wool and how beautiful they are in these pieces, there are more mentions of the loveliness of the ladies than there are mentions of wool.
As well as an observer of lovely ladies who happen to be wearing wool, the male narrator of yore was also an authoritative expert. Some of you may remember Felix’s post last year with the film The Wonderful World of Wash and Wear, where Jeffrey Lynne (no ELO connections) – after a crude rundown of natural fibres and their difficulty in washing – gives us all the expert know-how on caring for fibres and modern fabrics. “If I get a little technical, will someone ring a bell!” Poor old wool is quite decidedly hung out to dry here by the Whirlpool expert.
One film I found stood out from the rest of these films though and it comes courtesy of the Yorkshire Film Archive. Knitting Pretty was made in 1955 by Bradford based film makers C H Wood. It features the work of Knitting Adviser Patricia Scott, who works for Lister’s mill. Lister’s Mill was one of the largest textile mills in the north of England. They produced Lavenda wools in the 1940s and the film is an advertising feature on their yarn.
Due to copyright licensing I can’t embed the film here, but if you click on the image below you will be transported to the YFA website and you can watch it there.
Patricia travels to yarn shops where she can be best placed to help knitters, from getting started to best wool and stitches for the purpose. She discusses the various colours and characteristics of the Lavenda wool range and takes us on a short journey to watch the raw wool become yarn and then discusses the best garments to use their yarns for. There are practical tips on different stitches before, finally there is a demonstration of how you should wash and care for your woollen items.
As far as the approach to knitting goes, of course, nothing has changed in terms of choosing the right wool, needles, patterns, and how to wash and wear our garments. However I think this film stands out the narrator is not an non-participant observer and – advertising aside – it really is a breath of fresh air to watch a film about knitting from this time period where the woman in the film is knitting and narrating. The female voice is the authoritative voice talking us through our choices when it comes to wool, tips for knitting and wool care. Her description of the spinning and carding process and the different grades of yarn and of it’s versatility is also expert; although she confesses to not have much knowledge of the raw product, this proves that she is also an honest narrator too! [Do note too that the wool under close scientific control is also at the hands of two women too]
As far as I know Patricia Scott could be a thoroughly made up person, voiced by an actress, but to me her narration is reliable and certainly more relatable to me, as a knitter, than of other films and newsreels of this time.
When she speaks of the Botany wool I love how she says it is best for your “smart knitteds” and I do so love the care and attention she gives to the washing of woollies – particularly her emphatic “For Heaven’s Sake! Don’t RUB it!” and later “Don’t, for pity’s sake, hang it up to dry!” You would be lead to believe that this narrator has washed and worn her fair share of woollen items.
Don’t get me wrong, there is no mistaking that this is an advertising film, plenty of reminders of Lavenda’s products…and I do like the wool-clad man at the end taking a horseride to a cliff edge, where he then does some abseiling – Oh! The things that wool can do! But their advertising is really bang on when you think about it, they know their audience and connect with that audience very effectively.
And of course, Patricia is dead right when she concludes, “Choose your wools for the special job you want them to do, that is for fitness of purpose and not by price […] When you think of the time and skill you spend on knitting, not to mention money, it’s so worthwhile to use the best wool”. Those are wise words to knit by!
Before I go, I found this image of a Lavenda shade card on the V&A from the 1950s. Those colour really do stay bright and true over the years, don’t they!