yokekit1

What’s this? Some “Shetland” yarn of very vintage hue, spun and branded here in Scotland?

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. . .and an accompanying pattern? But wait! There’s more . . . .

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Yes, this is a kit to knit your own yoked cardigan or jumper! Having heard of the existence of these kits (from your comments and elsewhere) they have been the focus of a lingering obsession for me for some time. A couple of weeks ago, one appeared on eBay. HUZZAH! FINALLY! I eagerly snapped it up.

Here is the most exciting and intriguing part of the kit – the yoke:

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This is pre-knitted – the label says by hand – and hung on waste threads, ready for finishing:

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The back of the yoke is left unfinished: if you wished to knit a cardigan, you could add bands and button it up the front, and if you prefered a jumper, you could add a small buttoned opening at the back neck.

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There are many things that may seem curious to contemporary knitters about this kit. The first is that the best part – the yoke – has already been knitted up. And the second is that, having missed out on all the colourwork, the knitter is then expected to knit all that stockinette in pieces, back and forth, before a three-needled in-the-round concession enables you to graft the pre-knit yoke onto the body and sleeves. . . . .

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This is the result:

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But the Munrospun fun does not stop there:

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If you wished to be matchy-matchy like these models, you could also whip up a skirt in a co-ordinating length of tweed!

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These kits were produced at the moment when yokes were reaching the high-point of their commercialisation, and having finally seen one, I suppose I find it depressing and intriguing in equal measure. Depressing because all the fun and creativity of a yoked sweater seems to be missing here: though the colours are eye-wateringly bright, the star design is somewhat flat, and predictably standardised – a hazy, shimmering Bohus or skillfully blended, multi-hued Fairisle this most certainly is not. Because the yoke is already made, the fun bit has been done for you, and yet, for the knitters whose job it was to churn out a gazillion Munrospun yokes, I rather doubt they were any fun at all. But the kit is still intriguing because of the way it is addressed to its consumer: the pattern is written, like many comparable commercial patterns of this era, for back and forth knitting with both yoke and sleeves inset. This seems bizarre to many of us now, but was completely commonplace, and indeed is still the case for many yoke patterns produced for UK yarn companies and magazines today. And though it perhaps leaves little to the knitters creative imagination – the yarn, pattern, yoke have all been chosen for you – the kit does also still suggest an enduring level of interest in making something by hand, and in producing for yourself that quintessentially Scottish two-piece of matching yoked sweater and tweed skirt. For how long were these kits produced? How popular were they? I know that many of you have come across similar kits and I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts.

I doubt I’m going to knit this kit up, but I will certainly keep my eye out for a matching length of Munrospun tweed.

72 thoughts on “yoke in a bag!

  1. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and learned to knit as a teenager from a lovely woman in the yarn depart of our local department store. No one in my family knitted. The first time my family went to Canada I got a MunroSpun kit in a most glorious purpley-blue color complete with the lovely tweed fabric for a pencil skirt. I just fell in love with the kit as soon as I saw it. I made the sweater–a cardigan–and my mother made the skirt, and I wore them both proudly. My sister, ten years younger, got a lovely doll, which she still has. The fabric and yarn were of exceptional quality.

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  2. When I started work in Leeds in 1980, the Munrospun Mill was in difficulties. They started selling the sample clothes, and I got some stunning quality clothes, including a Burberry coat and a Saks jacket. I especially loved some glorious fine Yorkshire tweed skirts. Then they started selling off the fabric, and the notions. I still have some bits. I was so sad when finally, ultimately, the Mill closed. It inspired in me a love of wool clothing and the colours wool can take.

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    1. thanks so much for this – its sad that so much of Yorkshire and Lancashire’s textile heritage finally disappeared in the 80s – did you work in the mill or nearby?

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  3. I bought one of those fair isle kits on a trip to Maine in 1990. It was made of Jameson and Smith Shetland wool. I was told they were called “Cheater Sweaters because the yolk had been knit for you. I was a novice knitter at the time and chose to make the pullover version instead of the cardigan. While I still own the sweater it sadly no longer fits. If you would like to view my sweater my rav id is Caelanc.

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  4. I do not necessarily see that the yoke is the “fun bit”. I know many a knitter that lacks skill, confidence and many times imagination to come up with their own design. Never mind time. A kit like that would allow them to make something they otherwise would not. The pieced construction will add stability and I myself have knit a handspun fingering weight raglan sleeved sweater for my husband were the lower body and sleeves were knit in stockinette and flat and all the pieces were later joined for a seamless yoke.

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  5. Oh, and, people probably already know but when a word was in inverted commas (like ‘shetland’) it meant it wasn’t Shetland only ‘like’ Shetland. Probably not at all like and outlawed by The Sale of Goods Act

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    1. You are quite right. The Shetland wool textile industry was destroyed by products made from wool, especially New Zealand lambs wool, grown, spun, knitted or woven in the furthest corners of the world. Our efforts, with help from people like Kate Davies, have given sheep farmers in Shetland a huge boost and we are getting renewed interest in Real Shetland wool products around the world.
      Look for the 3 Sheep logo, your guarantee of authenticity.
      Shetland she farmers are now doing much better than their counterparts on the mainland.
      Best wishes
      Martin Curtis

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  6. Not quite the same but in the 60’s I ordered a kit from mary maxium which had the yarn for a top down raglan sleeve sweater with wool yardage to make a pencil skirt. The sweater’s sleeves were knit flat and had to be seamed. It was knit with circular needles but back and for, a cable down the front next to the band. No steeks.

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  7. I remember my mom knitting one of these kits in the 1970’s. It was a pale blue, and the yoke had a white snowflake pattern on it. I think the kit came from family in the Northeast, or perhaps brought on a holiday. Mom was really happy that she didn’t have to knit the mutli-coloured part, although she did knit colour work on chidlren’s cardigans, I think she felt this was beyond her. I know she was always in awe of her Aunts who could knit these designs without a pattern. The sad thing is I don’t remember it every being worn – although I may be wrong about this. Will have to ask what on earth happened to it…………………….

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  8. My mother brought me back one of these kits when she went to Scotland- must have been the 1980s. The yoke part is red, white and blue and the body is navy blue. I remember knitting the body- it was very boring to do, and I remember wearing the sweater a few times. I’ll look for it when I get my sweaters out.

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  9. In the sixties we had to have matchy skirts and sweaters. In the late seventies I made kits of handspun yarn and handwoven fabric so people could make their own. Never, ever did I think of a yoke sweater; just a standard cardigan or pullover. I would rather someone knit all that stockinette and let me do the fun stuff.

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  10. I’ve been reading your posts about yokes with great interest as I was given a part-made kit of this type. I pulled out the back, front and sleeves as they were very unevenly knitted. I washed and reknitted the garment as a cardigan – and it’s taken most of this year to complete it. It’s oatmeal for the main colour and a fair-isle yoke in several light and dark colours. I really struggled to match the yoke to the fronts and back, and found gentle washing would remove many of the crinkles. You can see this garment (stll not quite complete) on my Ravelry projects. melindaj.

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  11. These used to pop up very regularly in the charity shops of Glasgow’s West End when I was a student a few years ago. I bought a couple out of curiosity but never dared to open them and begin knitting; they seemed somehow more complete whilst still being the components, rather than put together.

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  12. How interesting–and strange! I don’t think I would like knitting a sweater with the yoke finished for me, but I would definitely not say no to a kit where the Fair Isle color scheme had been picked out for me.

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  13. The last time I was in Lerwick I saw a similar kit in the window of Anderson’s Department Store (that was during Wool Week 2013!) Back in the day (high school Virginia USA late 60’s) the yoked cardigan and ‘plaid’ skirt was aspirational for teenage girls. I agree the kits do take the fun out of the knitting. At last year’s Wool Week I was admiring a lovely red cardigan with a beautiful yoke; the owner admitted to hand knitting the yoke then machine knitting the body which is a brilliant way around the boring bit!

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  14. You say a yoked sweater and tweed skirt is quintessentially Scottish – how true, how true! There is a mildly funny story about how I realised for myself that that combination was socio-culturally determined, and not just a happy coincidence of things pulled out of the wardrobe on a given day. On the particular day in question, I put on a vintage fairisle yoked cardigan and vintage tartan pleated wool skirt (not tweed, I know, but similar function) and got halfway through the morning before the memory of my Edinburgh childhood surfaced and I realised that I was dressed in precisely the regular uniform of Maisie, the Morningside kitten… Reflecting on it now, I realise it was also the preferred winter garb of some of the older teachers when I was at primary school twenty years ago – in at least one case with the very Scottish accessory of a polished agate pendant on a silver chain.

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  15. I have a kit that a friend’s mother brought back from Scotland in the 1970’s. The pattern is for a plain sweater, not for colorwork, so it only contained one shade of yarn, but a lot of it. It was stored in a cedar chest for years, so the wool is in excellent condition and I’m almost finished using it to make Paper Dolls (using some modern yarn for the stranded part). The kit also included a matching length of tweed. I’ve been dithering over whether to make a matching skirt, but perhaps now I will.

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  16. If I hardly knew how to knit, and I was very determined, I would have thought this kit was the perfect thing. As a girl, I would have loved this kind of thing. My mum would have probably enjoyed it too. You can always start out by making the one in the kit, and then, after gaining confidence and skill, try one from scratch. To date I have only knit three yoke pattern sweaters, and this is after twenty years of knitting. I don’t think these kits hamper creativity, because the people who might buy them want to make their own, in some way. Well, in a big way really! I mean, the button band placement doesn’t exactly look easy.

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  17. How interesting and very practical in a way. I have never heard or seen this type of a kit and I am sure it had its place. I do love the skirt a bit more but still another piece of the knitting history pie.

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  18. I bought a kit on eBay that had yarn and a length of matching tweed fabric to make a skirt. Unfortunately the original patterns weren’t included, but I am thinking about what kind of smart outfit I can make with it.

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  19. In an earlier response to your request for yoked sweater remembrances, I referenced receiving a kit, much like this, from my mother after whe returned from a trip to Scotland, sometime in the 60’s. I don’t think it was this brand, and mine was made with nice heathery fair isle like yarn. However, the yoke was just like that, with cut steek and live stitches on a string, and it was knit in pieces and sewn (still my preferred method of constructing sweaters). The front and back pieces were shaped to follow the curve of the yoke, which eliminated the contouring I hate about yoked sweaters now. I was flat chested then, and it would not have mattered, but the finished product had a fir much like a sweater with a rectangular body and dropped sleeves. The sizing, as i recall was very close to the body with zero ease, and no room for the round collared oxford cloth blouses we all wore underneath.

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  20. I think I still have one unused kit kept at home home. I can’t remember what company made it, but it was bought in Edinburgh in the mid-’80s.

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  21. Highly amused… about 6 mths ago my mother-in-law produced this same yoked dress kit in blue plus two matching children’s kits (also blue, but sweaters) that had never been touched. Apparently, her mother (who I loved dearly!) had brought them back from a visit to Scotland, sometime in the mid 1970s when my husband and his young brother were small…!! They have survived the years very well but as many others as well as you have said, the likelihood of my finishing them is small, since I’d rather have done the yoke than the boring, tiny needle bits… LOL Also the dress would be too small for me, even if my own grandchildren could wear the (itchy!) sweaters!
    I was delighted with the kits for my collection of retro-knitting-gear, though ;)

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  22. How fascinating, I never know such a thing existed. It does make sense that when people were knitting more for necessity than pleasure that the more complicated bit would be done for you. I couldn’t be bothered with the knitting in pieces element and I would enjoy making the yoke, but I personally love some workhorse knitting of lots of stocking stitch knitted in the round. It is perfect for doing when watching TV as it doesn’t require to be looked at all the time so you can easily combine the two elements of watching a programme and knitting.

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  23. I can guess at the age of those of us who remember! I enjoyed Arans more actually, especially after being gifted with Gladys Thompson’s book. But the Comments made me think back to needlepoint kits with all the fun stuff already done (boring), and the very first English boxed cake mix that my Mum thought was God’s Gift to her (and she was an amazing from-scratch cook/baker). I empathize with the tatting Comment too – taught myself from a 1940s booklet, which accompanied the shuttle flying across the room too. But I did finally master it, and then picked up improved techniques from my 80 yr old Vermont friend. Thanks for the memories, Kate.

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  24. Sorry, but I think that yoke is so lovely, I don’t know if it would work, but would you be able to turn it into a small capelet rather than knit the rest of the jumper or cardigan? Admittedly I’ve not got the foggiest how you would do it, but in my head it would look proper jaunty.
    I’ve got one of those skirt kits, though my brand in Marew. The tweed fabric is an eye popping Kelly green and apricot…it sounds pretty bad but everytime I hold it against myself and look in the bathroom mirror I think “oh yes”…..it’s on my ever growing list of things tto do.

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  25. I remember these so well, and always wanted an opposite one where the body was already knitted. I think I was only a teenager, and remember these from holidays in Scotland – so perhaps 60s – early 70s. I also remember my mum buying lengths of tweed in similar shops, some of them in lovely heathery colours. I wonder if future knitters will look back at our own patterns and techniques and wonder…

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  26. I remember my mother buying one of those kits, the skirt length too, in the early 60s. She was a prolific knitter but always made plain things. I think this was because she was always in a hurry. I suspect that this sort of kit was part of the trend towards everything being ‘labour saving’. Although she made things that were totally different to my projects it is when I talk about my knitting that I miss my mother most

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  27. I have one of these kits, but it’s not a yoke kit – has sufficient Shetland yarn to knit either a cardigan or sweater from the provided patterns, plus sufficient wool tweed to make a matching skirt. No pattern is provided for the skirt, it appears to be assumed that you would most likely already have one.

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  28. I have one of these! Mine is burgundy, with the stars in white, grey and pale blue. I found it in a thrift store in northern BC. Last year I picked up the yoke stitches and started knitting down in raglan, with short rows for the back neck and a button placket for the front yoke. I’m not entirely sure the yoke isn’t just too narrow and conical for me, having stalled out during sleeve calculations. Perhaps I’ll get motivated, finish it and finally block it and discover the truth!

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  29. I think we forget how limited both materials and instruction were before the advent if the Internet. Although ther were many small local wool shops the range was limited and tended to concentrate on everyday colours and styles, if your mother didn’t have a particular technique then access to new skills was limited to something like the fab DMC enclopedia(I have my Grandmother’s 1930’s edition) or something like Stichcraft. I think these yoke kits were often sold mail order from small ads in newspapers and would have been seen as labour saving in times when the only way to access such a garment would have been to knit it yourself. Also am I alone in actually enjoying back and forth stocking stitch, especially in nice springy DK? I have tried learning some skills from the DMC, not a success but I do know how far I can fling my Grandmothers tatting shuttle!

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    1. You are definitely not alone in enjoying back and forth stocking stitch! For many, including myself, it is the only way to knit …. It’s so easy that I can’t think why anyone would want to knit in any other way. I agree that yokes, socks and sometimes gloves are better knitted in the round, but I’ve always found that way difficult and unnecessarily complicated.

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  30. My mother made up one of these kits, probably in the late ’50s when we lived in England. She also made the matching skirt. I still have her collection of knitting patterns, some dating back to the 1930s. I also remember her knitting up a Jaeger kit.

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  31. I had a green pack of wool and checked tweed fabric from Coles (John Lewis) in Sheffield in about 1960 or 1961. The cardigan was rather itchy but the skirt fabric was beautifully soft. I wore it for quite a while but it must have got thrown away. I never saw the patterned yoke kits.

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  32. Kate, you’ve reminded me of a couple of these kits that my mum brought back to Canada in the ’70s on her first trip back home to Scotland. The patterns were more intricate (and nice colours if I remember correctly). She never did finish them (busy working mum) and I remember seeing them in her knitting stash. Next time I visit her I will have to check if she still has them. As the only knitting daughter, I have inherited some old wool (and patterns) from the ’60s and ’70s that she never got around to knitting with. I cherish the skeins I have and have yet to decide what precious pieces I will make with them.

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  33. I was a child in the 1950’s. My first garment was a raglan sweater. Everything was stocking stitch, purl on reverse and then sewn together. I still love stocking stitch; it’s very soothing. Not every knitter enjoyed nor was particularly skilled at colour work. This was an idea that probably appealed to a lot of knitters.

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  34. You know, if I were looking for a kit like this to buy, I would much prefer to purchase the boring piece of the sweater: the stockinette body. That way I would have the fun of knitting the colorwork yoke.

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  35. Wow what a find! I have found a 1970s booklet on knitting in the round, not sure if it’s one you’ve seen or not, it includes a snowflake yoke sweater. The photography is hilarious, I can’t quite work out if it’s for real. https://flic.kr/p/oREjj8 and cable variation: https://flic.kr/p/oRFkr5 (happy to lend it by post if you wanted)
    I was reading a 1953 magazine which had a baby’s dress where the yoke was done in the round, but the front and back were still knitted separately and flat. (ditto)
    I’ve started seeing yokes everywhere!

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    1. I have that booklet and used it a lot for basic v-neck and round neck sweaters for my boys. It was my first experience of circular knitting and I found it very useful. I would say that even then the models’ poses seemed weird! Those sweaters were mostly knit in synthetic yarns that survived the constant trips to the washing machine and were fit to passed on to the next child.
      I remember those Munrospun kits. They were far too expensive for me at the time.

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  36. I do remember these. My mum had one and she started to knit the body and got fed up – naturally. I finished it for her and she put everything together. I also remember her having the skirt lengths. She had one or two made up and I found one in a charity shop about ten years ago and made cushions with it. Fabulous tweed fabric.

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  37. This is so interesting. It makes me think of boxed cake mixes. To me, it doesn’t seem much more challenging to make a cake from scratch, it takes about 5-10 minutes more and the results are so much more rewarding, but I think Paula, the previous commenter was right, this would appeal to the same market. Someone who wants to “make” something with the most minimal amount of work and who isn’t really concerned with quality. I actually think there is a market for a similar kit today. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar sold at Michael’s crafts stores.

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  38. My granny knit yokes for the St Andrews Woollen mill in the 70’s and 80’s, but I don’t think for kits. She could do one in a day – I still have a few of them. I think she got £1.80 for each she did. She saved the proceeds and visited my uncle and family in Vancouver every two years. She was a fantastic knitter and an even better granny.

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  39. The acrylic easy wash sweater was IT in the 70s. And though my family were great at sewing and knitting, it was a real time of de-skilling at home, with ready meals just starting and home economics at school merely scraping the surface, so I think this kind of product would have appealed to many.

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  40. I remember actually making a Munrospun kit when I was young, long ago in a different century. But it was a plain cardigan, no yoke at all, and the kit came with matching grosgrain ribbon for the button and buttonhole bands. The matching skirt length worked best if you were a) slim and b) short. Obviously before the days of miniskirts. There was also a Canadian version of the kits, with yarn and yardage produced (I think) in St. Andrews, New Brunswick–I remember seeing those on a family trip 30 years ago. Now we knitters have the good fortune to look forward to your yoke book!

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    1. GrannyPurple, I remember my grandmother’s favorite ensemble when I was a girl: an amethyst purple to match her amethyst ring,( skirt woven) and sweater she knit with matching wool just like yours. She bought the kit while traveling in Scotland. She was a Georgia-born Harris married to a North Carolina born McGee.

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  41. A propos of your availability question, I bought a monochrome kit with pale blue-green yarn and yardage in Scotland or England in 1960, and I think it was Monroespun. No yoke but same idea. Never did knit or sew it all up tho, and I’m not sure whatever happened to it.

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  42. How fortunate were you to spot this on eBay?! I would love to know who noticed there was a market for this ingenious idea. I do hope it was a group of knitters in a croft somewhere with a pot of tea (with a great cosy naturally!) a peat fire and an enormous amount of skill – a true cottage industry! Is that just too romantic to be true?

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  43. Think how cool this was for a child or young lady who wanted to knit something but didn’t have the time or experience for fair isle – or the busy, busy, mother. CRAZY, but cool, too! These were created in a different world than we live in now!!!

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    1. Yes when days were allotted to certain tasks because the tasks were a bit harder than they are today. Monday laundry, Tuesday ironing, Wednesday bread baking, Thursday sewing repairs to clothes and sheets etc. I loved reading Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt books because she would document these things that needed to be done. Clean and blacken the stove, special formulas for getting the horse dung off the bottoms of skirts etc.

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      1. Wonderful and fascinating find from Detective Kate! What a find! It is absolutely a little slice of the times it represents….. and agree with RJM … it was the same in Australia, starting Monday the copper was boiling for all the whites, then followed by the work clothes, my Father’s shirt collars then rested into a bucket of starch. Each day was allocated to the household chores and my goodness, the cooking that was done…. all the way out to Friday when the house was cleaned starting at the back door and as we came home from school, Mother was just finishing polishing the front doorstep….. we had to tip toe through the house for at least a few hours.
        My wonderful Mother knitted all our cardies and sweaters but no stranded colour work. With four children there simply was not time so it is easy to imagine that a company such as Munro would have had a ready sales market.

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  44. That’s assuming you can match the gauge of course. As a left handed knitter, if I attempted a kit like that, the body and arms would look completely different to the yoke, and possibly wouldn’t graft together very neatly either. How strange to take away the exciting part of the knitting. My knitting tutor once told me that she would machine knit the stocking stitch parts and hand knit the exciting details. I find single colour stocking stitch to be mind blowingly boring and avoid it like the plague if I can, preferring to knit complicated patterns, and colourwork.

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  45. On a recent trip to Lerwick the lady in Jamieson’s told me she had knitted up the wherewithal for 17 modern day kits. This time people wanted to knit up the yokes so she had knitted up all the stocking stitch bits. She commented how glad she was to have finished!

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  46. i have a MunroSpun pack that i found in a charity shop – it has enough 4ply rust-coloured yarn for a sweater, and also includes a leaflet with some basic sweater/cardigan patterns as well as a length of co-ordinating orange/rust tartan tweed – the pattern leaflet also helpfully suggests which skirt pattern(s) to buy to use with your tweed :) i haven’t done anything with it yet but do have plans to make myself a skirt & cardi set someday!! it seemed like such a brilliant thing when i found it, but i’m not at all sure about a yoked sweater where the “fun bit” is already over!

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  47. I remember those. I always wanted one. In Canada they came from somewhere in the Maritimes but I saw them in quite a few shops in Alberta.

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    1. They probably came from Cottage Craft, in St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. They’ve had some trouble with business lately (a long fight over the state of their historic building/shop), so I don’t know if they are still a going concern. But, as recently as 2011, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (Yarnharlot) was there and they were selling coordinated yarn and woven fabric, if not actual kits. (See her blog post of October 5, 2011: http://www.yarnharlot.ca/2011/10/cottage_craft/ )

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