A few weeks ago, I visited the home of the UK Knitting and Crochet Guild – a fantastic organisation that exists to support and promote the crafts of knitting and crochet.

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The KCG is supported entirely by charitable donation, and is staffed by a group of wonderful volunteers, who administer a growing international membership; organise events and trunk shows; produce a quarterly newsletter; and preserve the guild’s important collections, which are now housed at Lee Mills in Yorkshire.

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The KCG collection – or a particular item in it – was the principal reason for my visit.

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A wee while ago I posted here about this pattern, and asked if any of you had knit it, or knew anyone who had. I received so many wonderful and informative responses, which have helped me in my research, some of which I’ve been able to include in a special chapter in my new Haps book (whose publication is now imminent). The connection between this pattern and the Knitting and Crochet Guild is that its prototype – the hap that was actually its basis – is held in their collection.

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This hap was purchased at the turn of the 1950s by the infamous James Norbury, who was at that time Patons & Baldwin’s chief pattern writer. Norbury visited Shetland several times, and collected many original items of knitwear from there, as well as from elsewhere around the world, which he then used as the basis of the phenomenally popular patterns he created. There are several Shetland pieces in the Guild collection that are of a type we’d now describe as “fancy haps” (about which you’ll hear more in my book.) All were, apparently, the work of the same woman – a resident on the Shetland island of Unst, whose lace knitting Norbury very much admired.

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(the label has been stapled (horrors!) onto the sample probably for use in a trade show display more than 50 years ago. It came to the KCG collection like this and has never been removed).

Norbury mentions Miss or Mrs Hunter several times in his publications. Her identity has heretofore proved something of a mystery to researchers, and for a while I’ve been willing to assume that she was a fiction, or a composite of several different knitters, that Norbury invented to legitimise his work (Norbury was, in countless respects, a master of invention). However, I’m now of a different opinion, and I’m hopeful that (with the kind help and generosity of some of my Shetland friends) I’ve managed to identify the original knitter of this world-famous pattern in my new book.

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I had been looking forward to seeing the original piece for weeks, and it was tremendously exciting for me to finally be able to do so! I wanted to examine it closely because I was interested in how it had been knitted, and to what extent Norbury and his team had altered its fabric and construction when producing their popular pattern.

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The original is still in wonderful condition and has been incredibly beautifully knitted – clearly the work of a lace knitter of talent and experience. The Patons & Baldwin pattern is written to be constructed in six separately seamed pieces, and this is how the majority of knitters work this hap, following Norbury’s instructions. But while Norbury copied the original’s stitch patterns verbatim, he did not copy its construction in any way at all. The original hap, of course, has been made in the customary Shetland fashion – following the method by which most haps were knitted, and continue to be knitted, in those islands today. You will be able to read more about this in my book, where I also suggest how this wonderful hap speaks to a bigger narrative of the systematic re-writing of the original work of Shetland knitters to fulfil the demands of a global, commercial knitterly marketplace. I think it is is an interesting story.

The Knitting and Crochet Guild – who do such fantastic work preserving original textiles such as those collected by James Norbury – have helped me to tell this story, and it is thanks to them that I was able to trace the Patons & Baldwin pattern back to its original source in this this beautiful fancy hap, created over half a century ago by a wonderful Shetland lace knitter. I want to say thanks to all the guild’s volunteers, and particularly to Barbara Smith and Angharad Thomas, for their assistance. I’d also like to encourage you, if you have not already done so, to support the work of the KCG by becoming a member. Membership starts at just £25, brings many benefits (including access to hundreds of free downloads from the guild’s collection of vintage patterns) and you don’t need to be resident of the UK to join.

Thankyou so much, KCG!

45 thoughts on “thankyou, KCG

  1. Fascinating article. I was unaware that Norbury was the chief pattern writer for P&B though. I have his book on knitting in the British Isles and when I started to knit Patons was very common, not so much nowadays. I still have a knitting magazine that they produced on knitting in the British Isles and Ireland covering Arans, ganseys, Shetland and Fair Isle garments. Many of these haven’t really dated (it must go back to the 80s) although these patterns were a more modern interpretation of the classic garments. All of the yarns are no longer available though easily enough substituted. No charts though.

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  2. So interesting!
    I have some Shetland top here. Once I spin it up, I plan to make a hap out of it – maybe this one, as it looks beautiful and has such a long and interesting history.

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  3. Hi Kate, have you read Susan crawford’s most recent missive about her vintage Shetland project and her discovery of Mrs. Henry? I thought at first that maybe you were travelling on parallel paths (but then realised that no, hunter is a different name). I think that you would find what she has been working on very interesting.

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  4. Dear Kate, I hope you don’t mind if I plug a project I have just read about on a bluestocking knits: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1419318354/hidden-histories-of-a-million-wartime-women It is a crowd funding request to enable the scanning of all the wartime reportsof the WVS. The RVS plans to make them freely available on the internet. I am sure many of your readers will be interested.
    On the blog I mentioned, there was something about collecting dog combings to spin into yarn!
    I have donated, and am spreading the word.

    Thanks for your always fascinating blog,
    Dawn

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  5. What a fabulously interesting story. It would seem that that shawl holds so many memories and such great importance for so many people. It has been lovely reading through everyone’s comments and thoughts. i am not a great lace knitter, but I would like to be !

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    1. Yes it is knitted in 5 pieces, my dad knitted this one and had to wait for my mum to sew it together, he then decided it took her so long that he picked up the stitches as he went and the only bit sewn was the boarder ends. When people look at my one they think it was knitted in one piece. He was a very clever man my dad ;-)

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  6. Thanks very much, Kate, for promoting membership of the Guild. We do have a huge collection of publications, including nearly all the Patons pattern leaflets published since about 1930. We have permission to copy Patons leaflets (except current ones of course) – far too many to put on the website for immediate download, so they’re sent by email on request, and there are some pattern catalogues on the website. In particular, if any Guild member would like a copy of the shawl pattern, Patons 893, just ask me – barbaraknitsagain at gmail.com

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  7. So fascinating! I had no idea of the wide influence of the infamous James Norbury, even having spotted his name on patterns. Sounds like he was determined about the right or wrong way to knit – there are still a few folk around like that!

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  8. Oh how this brought back memories. I have that actual pattern ( it’s now very tattered and in two pieces, but well loved), It was my dad’s, who knitted every baby in the family a shawl. My mother used to enter his work into the local shows (not putting ‘Mr’ on the entry) and he always won. I still have the shawl he knitted for my first daughter, almost 35 years ago, sadly 2 years later he passed away, 7 days before the birth of my son, he was too sock to knit one for him. I went on to have two more children and they have each been wrapped in that shawl when they came home from the hospital and when they were christened. It is indeed very special to me. Now I have grandchildren of my own and yes I knitted the same pattern. I now live in Australia and found it hard to get the type of wool my dad used but when I find it I will knit a special one from it. I hope you like my story.

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  9. I’ve been knitting now for about 65 years [I learned before I even went to school]. Although I come from England originally, I’ve been in the US for 50 years now. My question is what is a hap??

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  10. It’s fascinating that you have managed to trace the history of the shawl in the KCG collection – I look forward to reading the story in the book. Interesting that James Norbury changed the method of construction completely – we also have a Fair Isle pullover from Shetland that he acquired and used as the basis for a pattern. Again, although the original pullover was knitted in the round and steeked, in Norbury’s pattern, the front and back are knitted separately. He was very dogmatic about the right way to do anything, so I don’t know how he squared that with abandoning traditional knitting methods.

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  11. Goodness – I wonder if it’s only a non-knitter that staples labels to delicate items of knitted lace; one who sees it for its commercial value only – labelled like a scientific instrument rather than a work of art or showcase of talent and culture.

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  12. So interesting – I hadn’t heard of the KCG before, but I will definitely be joining! Especially excited to hear they are based at Lee Mills – my husband is from Huddersfield in Yorkshire so we are frequent visitors to the area and I know Holmfirth well. Will definitely have to take a look sometime!

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      1. Thank you! I actually signed up for a membership with the KCG last night after reading Kate’s post, and I will definitely get in touch the next time we are down in Yorkshire. :)

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  13. I am enthralled by your academic pursuit of the provenance of patterns and techniques and eagerly await your Haps book!

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  14. oh, palpitations re the story and ‘WHERE’ is your book? Joking, I know it will be coming soon. I just bestirred myself to get into some steamer trunks I have and I found 2 shawls knitted for my first born. One was knitted by my Staff Nurse’s mother who lived in northern Scotland…….how I would love to get in touch with her again!

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  15. That is so very interesting. The shawl is exquisite work. I am always looking for something in crochet and ran across this Beehive Knitting Booklet No 9 Woolcraft, A Practical Guide to Knitting & Crochet, New and Enlarged Edition, Reliable Instructions on the Use of Knitting Wools in the production by hand of Serviceable Garments for Every-day Wear. Halifax, England, Patons & Baldwins Ltd, C 1915 64 pages. In there was a pattern for a crochet Shetland Shawl
    http://www.antiquepatternlibrary.org/pub/PDF/BeehiveWoolcraft2.pdf
    No way as fine and different but a nice find for crochet.

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  16. I found it really spooky because I just discovered the KCG last week and sent of my membership and have joined. It certainly seems to be a fabulous organisation.

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  17. So interesting! I have knitted that shawl, using wool I spun. My mother-in-law was a great shawl knitter and she gave me the pattern. She lived in New Zealand and I was in Zimbabwe at the time, just in case you’d like some foreign connections!

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  18. wow – fascinating research and reading. Interesting that he changed the construction so much – did he think this would make it easier to understand, or more appealing to the less experienced knitter? Hmmm. Really can’t wait for your book now… STOP TEASING US!!!!! :-)

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  19. Kate, This is wonderful and so interesting but I have always felt there was always something special
    about Patons & Baldwin patterns and the wool which came from Alloa,

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  20. Everyone loves a mystery. I’m looking forward to learning more about this hap & all the others. How lucky you are to have found so many helpful “Watsons” to your “Sherlock” as you have been researching this new book.

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  21. Your curiosity and enthusiasm is wonderful and infectious! Thank you for posting your discoveries. I am very excited about your upcoming book ;)

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  22. Fascinating stuff!!! Whilst attending an OKG meeting (Ottawa Knitting Guild) with a friend…we were enjoying a talk on a ~Knitting Tour in Shetland~ by one of our members. The speaker very kindly let us touch a shawl she had purchased in Shetland during said tour. My friend and I were trying to decipher how exactly this hap was made…both of us had several ideas and whilst both of us are prolific knitters; it was not until I knit a hap from the Shetland Guild’s book, that I understood how some of the shawls are made.

    It is truly a great gift you give us, with all this extensive research into my favourite subject….knitting…. many thanks from all of us; who with your help, continue to learn something new about a subject we cherish!

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  23. What an interesting post, Kate! I am so looking forward to your new book. In fact, other than knitting a few items for my grandchildren, I have been holding back on starting any major projects so I can immediately cast on a hap when your book comes out.

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  24. Your research made me think what fun it would be to have a TV show or segment “Knitting History Detectives”. These stories absolutely fascinate me!

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  25. You take my lifelong love of knitting to new places with each pattern and book you publish Kate!
    p.s. I have this pattern :-D

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  26. Fascinating work, wonderful to see your research bought together so thoughtfully! James Norbury is a very interesting person, I think, and I am so pleased his collection is so well taken care of. There is a collection of Patons baby patterns from the 1950s, probably, “created in Spain”, very intricate and lovely. I have often wondered if they were more “made by Norbury”! Look forward to your book.

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