Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Linens and Lace

I have a small but growing collection of vintage 1912-1925 women’s magazines, books and booklets devoted to the gentle art of needlework. These included now long-departed publications like The American Needlewoman, Hearth and Home, and Modern Priscilla, just to name a few.

Although there was usually at least one dressmaking article in each issue, by far the most popular patterns were for household linens. Magazines and how-to books like these, targeting the female audience, were firm on the subject of the minimum housekeeping requirements for respectable families.

“Dining room linens,” according to the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, “usually should include from three to six table cloths, one of large size with 1 dozen dinner napkins to match, 1 dozen napkins for ordinary use, one or more luncheon sets, and as many buffet covers, center pieces, and doilies as one’s allowance will permit.”

“Kitchen linens should include at least a dozen dish towels and as many dish cloths. Bedroom linens should be regulated in quantity by the number of the family. As a rule, one dozen sheets, one to one and a half dozen pillow slips, three or four bed spreads, three blankets, three comfortables, and three or four sets of dresser covers are ample for two bedrooms.”

“For the bathroom, at least one dozen towels for ordinary use, one half to one dozen bath towels, one half to one dozen guest towels, one dozen wash cloths, and one or two bath mats are none too many.”

Beautiful and plentiful linens were more than a matter of pride. “Money for a rainy day is essential and a genuine satisfaction, but having the money when the clouds begin to gather can give no more real happiness to a woman than can well supplied chests of linen for beds, for table, and for general household use,” admonished the Woman’s Institute.

A woman’s character, as well as the welfare of her family, was inextricably tied to her ability to manufacture towels, tidies, bedspreads and other essentials. As an editorial contributor to Needlecraft magazine wrote in 1920, “I wonder if all women realize how much of refinement is centered in a handmade doily or scarf, or other of the many things used in the household? I am not sure but they have their good effect, too, on the morals and health of a family!”

Thus, the woman who filled her linen closet with the works of her own hands not only scored points against her neighbors in the home-making field, she was also subtly guiding her family away from the temptations of the billiard parlor, the saloon and the dance hall, and laying the foundation for a virtuous, healthy and strong nation.

I’m not sure of the moral value of these patterns, but they’re pretty and easy to make. They come from Home Needlework, a little booklet that apparently started out as the house publication for an American silk mill, expanded into a full-fledged magazine in it’s own right, and merged with Modern Priscilla in 1917. If you were a homemaker or bride-to-be during WWI, you might have knitted these to trim your tidies, towels and doilies.

Edging #1 was published in July of 1914 and was contributed by Miss Sarah T. Converse. It is simple and versatile, and because it is knitted horizontally can be made as wide as you like. It is also reversible; in mohair on size 8 (US) needles it would make a lovely stole or throw. If this is your first foray into lace knitting, try it in alpaca on #5 (US) needles as a scarf as shown.

Cast on a multiple of 10 stitches plus 1.
Row 1: *k1, yo, k3, sl1, k2tog, psso, k3, yo.* repeat from *, end k1.
Row 2: knit across.

Knit as many rows as required for the width you want. If you are making a scarf or throw, bind off in pattern to retain the scalloped edge. If this is for an edging, end with 2 rows of garter stitch and bind off.

Edging #2, “Lace for a Small or Large Spread,” came from a Mrs. Tonge in January 1915. The sample shown was knit in #5 DMC tatting cotton on size 2 (US) needles. As shown it will make a pretty edging for a bath or hand towel. In a finer thread, it is suitable for dresser scarves or doilies.

Cast on 16 stitches.

Row 1: sl1, k2, (yo, k2tog) 4x, k1, yo, k2tog, yo, k2.
Row 2 and all even rows: knit across.
Row 3: sl1, k2, (yo, k2tog) 4x, k2, yo, k2tog, yo, k2.
Row 5: sl1, k2, (yo, k2tog) 4x, k3, yo, k2tog, yo, k2.
Row 7: sl1, k2, (yo, k2tog) 4x, k4, yo, k2tog, yo, k2.
Row 9: sl1, k2, (yo, k2tog) 4x, k5, yo, k2tog, yo, k2.
Row 10: bind off 5, knit to end. You should have 16 stitches on the needle.

Repeat rows 1-10 until edging is of sufficient length.

Miss Jessie G. Lane submitted edging #3, “A Knitted Pillowcase Border,” in January 1916. For a neater edge, slip the first stitch of every even numbered row. All yarn overs are double, and are knitted on the following row as k1, p1. The sample shown was knit in #10 crochet cotton on size 0 (US) needles.

Cast on 22 stitches.
Row 1: knit. This is the set-up row and will not be repeated.
Row 2: k3, yo2, k2tog, k10, (yo2, k2tog) 3x, k1. (26 stitches on the needle)
Row 3: k3, p1, (k2, p1) 2x, k12, p1, k3.
Row 4: knit across.
Row 5: knit across.
Row 6: k3, (yo2, k2tog)2x, k12, (yo2, k2tog) 3x, k1. (31 stitches on the needle)
Row 7: k3, p1, (k2, p1) 2x, k14, p1, k2, p1, k3.
Row 8: knit across.
Row 9: k3, k2tog, (k1, k2tog) 8x, k2. (22 stitches on the needle)
Row 10: k3, (yo2, k2tog) 9x, k1. (31 stitches on the needle)
Row 11: k3, p1, (k2, p1) 8x, k3.
Row 12: knit across.
Row 13: k3, (k2tog, k1) 9x, k1. (22 stitches on the needle)
Row 14: k3, (yo2, k2tog) 9x, k1. (31 stitches on the needle)
Row 15: k3, p1 (k2, p1) 9x, k3.
Row 16: knit across.
Row 17: bind off 9, knit 21, ending with 22 stitches on the needle.

Repeat rows 2-17 for pattern.

General notes on lace knitting:


2. Always slip the first stitch for a neater edge

3. Do not get wrapped around the axle about needle size and gauge if you are making one size fits all items like stoles or doilies. As long as the needle is neither too large nor too small for you to knit easily with the yarn you’ve chosen, you’re fine.

4. If you can get your hands on them (and can afford them), Addi Turbo lace needles are the very best.

5. If this is your first lace project, use a decent thread or yarn. Stay away from the cheap stuff until you are more experienced as it will drive you mad.


T-Mom said...

I love your blog, I love where you live, I love your dog! (I have 2 GSDs, a little older than yours and frequent stars of my blog.) And thanks so much for posting the pretty lace edgings. I never sew them on to anything, but I love to knit lace edgings--once you get the pattern, you can go on and on, and it makes nice, light, cool summer knitting.

And I'm not so sure that all that needlework didn't have some good effect on the house and family. At least, one of my grandmothers did a lot of needlework--quilting, applique, sewing, crochet, tatting--and the other one didn't--and i was always entranced by the beautiful handmade things in the house of the grandmother who made things. They weren't wealthy, but the quilts and doilies and tablecloths made things look so homey and comforting, somehow. Those memories inspired me to carry on the needlework tradition, and I cherish the things I inherited from her through my mother.

Thanks again!

Shay said...

I grew up with GSD's and married a man who grew up with GSD's....they are the ONLY breed, so far as we are concerned!

If you believe the old saw that idle hands are the devil's playground, then all that needlework must've kept our ancestress' out of mischief.

GDad said...

Wow. I admire knitters. The results are so beautiful, and the process seems so Zen.

My late great-uncle was, by most accounts, an accomplished knitter, and my mom knit stuff when she was pregnant with all my brothers, but none of us kids got bitten by the bug.

Valerie said...

triple wow ! all I can say (admiration !!!)

Shay said...

Valerie, faut que je vienne en Bretagne vous apprendre a tricoter!