Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A special find in the Charles Hasler collection

Auditing is an every-day sort of activity in the life of a museum worker. It involves sifting through objects, ticking off numbers and making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. The other week I was thus employed with a box of magazines from the Charles Hasler collection. Pencil in hand, I ran down the inventory list: Two editions of Radio Times – check, eight editions of the Observer check, and two copies of the first edition of Picture Post, 1 October 1938 - check.

Wait... Can you see what is not quite right here?

Two copies of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1938, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (CH5/2/8/1 and 2)
Picture Post was a British weekly magazine that ran for 13 years until 1957. It is considered a pioneering publication for photojournalism. It was founded by film maker, cameraman and editor Stefan Lorant with the financial backing of publisher-millionaire Edward Hulton. Hulton become aware of Lorant through his editorial work on the lad's mag Lilliput (MoDA has editions from 1934 to 1956). The story goes that a dummy run of Picture Post was knocked up on a weekend in the autumn of 1938 and the magazine scheduled for release in September of that year

Which brings us to this curious case of our not-quite-first edition here in the Charles Hasler collection. On closer inspection it is clear that one of the magazines is in fact the dummy run. It was used to promote Picture Post to potential investors (companies who would buy advertising space).

The opening page contains a note by Lorant casting the vision for what Picture Post will be:
PICTURE POST will have a definite attitude to the problems of to-day – but it will choose its pictures first for their picture-value and their freshness… The drama of great achievement or calamities ; the private lives and interests of famous men and women ; the high-lights of sport ; the astonishing range of expression on the human face ; the natural grace of children ; the improbable and sometimes terrifying, ways of animals and insects… from this vast field PICTURE POST will take picture-records and picture-stories to entertain and interest its readers week by week.
On the other side, it is down to business: setting out the cost of advertising space, with the enticing special introductory offer of a twenty percent discount.

Page 1 of a dummy run of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1 September 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/1)
It is fascinating comparing the dummy run to the first edition to see who purchased advertising space and which photographs were used or replaced. Take for example Page 8 and 9. The dummy run advertises a full spread on page 8 for £120 and on page 9, four cameramen snap away at a swim-suited beauty up a pole with a caption that explains that 'Picture Post photographers cover the world... Picture Post will portray world events more fully than has ever been done before.' 

Page 8 and 9 of a dummy run of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1 September 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/1)
Regent Chemists Ltd. purchased the full page advertisement on page 8 of the first edition to sell Urillac tablets for rheumatism. On page 9, the swim suit model has been replaced by Hitler and Chamberlain at Godesberg in September 1938, with the caption: 'The Fateful moment: the issue between Peace and War is presented'.

Page 8 and 9 of Picture Post, Hulton Press Ltd. 1st October 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/2)

In his opening note in the dummy run, Lorant speculates that the magazine would have a national circulation of hundreds of thousands. In fact the first edition's print run of 750,000 copies sold out by noon and within six months the magazine's circulation was over 1.6 million. By the Second World War it is thought that up to 80% of the country was reading the weekly publication.

When one factors in the high readership of the magazine and the significant period of history that it covered (the lead up to, the experience of and aftermath of World War Two) it is no surprise that we prize Picture Post as one of the more significant magazines in our collection. MoDA holds editions of the magazine from 1938 to 1957. I would thoroughly recommend it to researchers for it's visual representation of social, political and cultural matters impacting the UK during this time. To get a sneak peak inside the magazine, check out this online exhibition from Getty and this magazine article about one of Picture Post's prominent photographers, Thurston Hopkins.

Now, I will get back to auditing. In regards to the dummy run of the first edition of Picture Post, please do get in touch if you have any thoughts, information or ideas about this special find.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Butterflies, bacon and other things left behind in books

There is a famous story within library circles of a book discovered in the Duke University Library with a rasher of bacon as a bookmark (later the Guardian uncovered a similar case in Worthing). More often it's mundane and less fatty materials that get slipped between pages as markers, reminders or supplementary information for later readers. 

At MoDA we often find things like newspaper cuttings, bus or theatre tickets and sometimes on rare occasions, pressed flowers in books. See the example below of the contents of Miss Bracegirdle and Others which includes a sweet wrapper and recital programme.

Ephemera found in the book by Stacey Aumonier, Miss Bracegridle and Others, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923 , Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3031

The other week, we were looking through Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics by Arthur Twidle (Twidle was also the illustrator for many of the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle). 

Arthur Twidle, Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics, London: R.T.S., 1920, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA2208)

Between the pages, and alongside some of Twidle's colour illustrations of action-packed butterfly catching, we made an unexpected discovery: a beautifully preserved butterfly with iridescent wings sitting on a padded board beside a pressed fern.


We make an effort to keep all things found in publications at MoDA and so this butterfly will be repaired and stored either in or close to the book. Obviously we have to be careful that anything found inside books isn't going to do any damage, however one can never be too sure if these remnants could reveal information in the future. 

The little scraps found in books - be they butterflies or newspaper cuttings - act as identifiers, reminders or clues to past readers. One may pick up a book on birds, with the intention of some ornithological research but on discovering a theatre ticket, a little scrap of paper with a hand-drawn sparrow, it reminds us that the book had belonged to someone else once. It had been enjoyed, read and used in other ways.

Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics is part of the Silver Studio's reference collection and would have been used by the Studio's designers when working up designs. Perhaps real specimens like the one found in this book, aided the development of patterns such as the design for a dress silk below. For now, the butterfly and how it came to be in the Silver Studio collection, remains somewhat of a mystery, but a beautiful one at that. 

Design for a silk by Winifred Mold for the Silver Studio, 1923. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD2764.1)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

ColourColourColour


We've recently focused our attention on objects related to the topic of 'colour'. We've grouped these together and created a new online 'Theme', which you can look at here.


Through this new colour theme we hope to showcase our collection to those working in what is a very broad and interdisciplinary research field. Organisations like the UK Colour Group help to bring together researchers studying colour across a range of disciplines. It is a very broad subject, of interest in equal measure to chemists and engineers as to fine artists and fashion designers.

MoDA has had assistance identifying objects in our collection which could be of use to researchers from  Gwen Fereday,  lecturer in Fashion and Textiles at Middlesex University.  Gwen is currently researching the phenomenon of Grapheme-colour synesthesia.

One of the books in our collection she discovered is The Laws of Contrast of Colour from 1868 by the French chemist Michael Eugène Chevreul (Incidentally as well as as introducing the idea of a systematic approach to seeing colour, Chevreul also discovered the fatty acid that led to the invention of margarine). If Chevreul is of interest to you, I'd recommend checking out this re-enactment of an interview between Chevreul and the great photographer Felix Nadar in 1886 where they discuss photography, colour theory, balloons and how to live to 100.

ME Chevreul, The Law of Contrast of Colour, translated by John Spanton, London: George Routledge & Sons, 1868. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA2289)


Perhaps the most obvious use of MoDA's collection for those researching colour, is investigations around the developments of colour choice, style and taste in home decoration. From turn-of the-century best-selling author Mrs JE  Panton (an authoritative voice on home-making) right through to DIY magazine columnists of the 1960s, MoDA's collection contains a wealth of opinion on colour choice. Often these opinions tended to insinuate that decisions about tones and shades for the home also communicated things about the personality or temperament of it's occupants.

In Nooks and Corners, the companion book to Kitchen to Garrett, Panton advises on the right colour scheme for halls, recommending her personal favourite 'yellow' and condemning the use of terra-cotta or real green.
I cannot and never do recommend either a terra-cotta or real green wall; the latter is such a nondescript and uncertain colour that the use of it in the entrance appear to me to strike the keynote to the character of the inhabitants, who are thus pronounced uncertain in their ideas, and not particularly satisfactory...'
The 1951 publication Designs for Living: Colour in Home Decoration illustrates to the reader through a series of colour photographs, 'appropriate application of colour and pattern', whilst also claiming to assist with planning a colour scheme to suit ones' personality. Below is an example of a colour scheme for a 'smartly conservative' personality.

An example interior for the 'smartly conservative', from Effa Brown, Designs for Living; Colour in Home Decoration, Chicargo: Wilcox and Follett Co., 1951, page 11, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA938)
A 1950s paint chart from the Ripolin collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture(BADDA4024)


We hope that our new thematic group is a helpful 'way in' for those wanting to make use of MoDA's collection to study colour. We would be very interested to hear from anyone who might have other creative ideas about to use our collection to explore this theme.




Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Inside the covers of Pilgrim's Progress

John Bunyan was born on this day in 1628. A tinker who turned to preaching and writing, Bunyan was arrested and imprisoned several times for preaching without a licence. During his time in prison it is believed Bunyan began the Christian allegory and his most famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress.

John Bunyan by Thomas Sadler, 1684 (NPG 1311Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Pilgrim's Progress was on its tenth print run by the time Bunyan died in 1688 (he's buried in Bunhill fields, London). It has been translated into over 200 languages and remains in print even today. Literary critic Martin Seymor-Smith and others after him, have ranked it amongst the most influential books ever written.


Today on Bunyan's birthday, we have pulled out of the collection store a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress from the JM Richards collection. It is a lovely, leather-bound edition with gold tooling on the spine and cover as well as beautiful marbled endpapers, with the same pattern extending over the text block.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress,  Uxbridge: William Lake, 1822, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture
 (JMR 1374,)
Book design is relevant to MoDA because both the Silver Studio and Charles Hasler worked in this trade (you can see some of the Silver Studio's designs here), We thought rather than exploring the social and cultural significance of The Pilgrim's Progress, we would take a closer look at our copy in terms of book design, and more specifically end paper. It seems relevant considering many different designs for this book have been released over the last 340 years.


End paper from John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress,  Uxbridge: William Lake, 1822, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR 1374)

MoDA's edition of The Pilgrim's Progress was published in 1822 by William Lake, Uxbridge at a time when book binding was only just entering an age of industrialisation and mechanisation. Marbled end paper like that in our copy was a common feature of book design in the period.

End papers function to hold text blocks to book covers and MoDA has a wonderful array of these in our collection. They can be highly illustrative and sometimes informative, including maps and supplementary text but mostly end papers are beautiful patterns that greet the reader upon opening a book.

End paper in Oscar Wilde, House of Pomegranates, London: James R. Osgood McIlvaine, 1891. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3128)

End paper in Stuart Chase and Marian Tyler, Mexico: A Study of Two Americas, illustrated by Diego Rivera, London: Bodley Head, 1932. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR614)

End paper in Sir Osbert Sitwell, Laughter in the Next Room: being the fourth volume of Left hand, right hand! : an autobiography, London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1949. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR 1016)

A collection of end papers from the Charles Hasler collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/4/2)

The Pilgrim's Progress was an influential book in its day. The British Library note that by the late nineteenth century it was still widely published and featured in most homes as essential family reading. For a time, The Pilgrim's Progress was a staple of bookshelves and for this reason, many well-made and decorative editions exist. Do you have similar books on your bookshelf, perhaps passed on as family heirlooms? Take the time to open the covers and see if any interesting end papers are revealed.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Jessica Kelly: Doing the Lansbury Walk



Middlesex PhD student Jessica Kelly is our guest blogger this week.  Jessica is working on the JM Richards collection held at MoDA, looking in particular at the journal Architectural Review, (edited by Richards between 1935 and 1971), within the wider context of public discussions about architecture.  So, she's interested in all aspects of architecture and the build environment, and particularly the gap between how places are imagined by architects, and how they are experienced by those who live in them.

Jessica takes up the story:

In July this year BBC Two aired a series called The Secret Histories of Our Streets, which looked at how London’s streets have changed since Charles Booth’s 1886 survey of social conditions in the city. The first episode, on Deptford High Street in South London, looked at slum clearance and re-housing after the Second World War. Although reconstruction was intended to improve people’s living conditions the programme showed that many people, who were moved out of their homes into modern flats or New Towns, felt angry at the lack of consultation with the architects and planners.

map at the entrance of the estate today

This really resonated with my research into the Live Architecture Exhibition at the Festival of Britain. JM Richards was a member of the organizing committee for the exhibition which, as the name suggests, was more than a traditional exhibition of architecture.  It was a real housing estate, funded by the London County Council and used to re-house local residents whose houses were destroyed by bombing or demolished in slum clearance projects. 

the Festival Inn pub, completed for the exhibition
The Lansbury Estate (named after the late George Lansbury, former Labour MP and Mayor of Poplar) was intended to act as a model for new post-war urban communities. The design of Live Architecture Exhibition reveals the roots of this problem of poor communication between architects and the general public. The houses, flats, schools and public spaces that made up the exhibition were designed on architects' ideas about how people should live, rather than evidence of how people did live. JM Richards and his colleagues at the Live Architecture exhibition were so preoccupied with persuading the public to appreciate modern architecture that they left space no for the public to voice their own ideas. 




Market Square, completed for the exhibition





Houses and flats on the estate, completed for the exhibition

This lack of real participation had a lot to do with social class – architects and architectural critics of Richards’ generation had little knowledge or experience of the lives of the people they were re-housing. For example, when he was asked in an interview about the houses and flats he had designed in the 1950s, Lionel Escher, the architect of Hatfield New Town, said that he had failed to understand that ‘ordinary English people’ wanted ‘to paint their house any colour they like’. This lack of understanding between architects and their public is really at the heart of the ongoing problems of urban housing today.


Clock Tower at Market Square.
During the exhibition it could be used as a viewing tower for  views across the estate.


You can find out more about Jessica's research on JM Richards on her own blog, Ardour of the Layman.  



Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Inspiring the next generation

In the last six weeks we've had over 200 visitors pass through the study room, the majority of whom are first year Middlesex University Art and Design students. It will continue to be a busy time for MoDA in the lead up to Christmas but we thought today we'd take a breather and fill you in on what's been happening here in Beaufort Park. .

BA (Hons) Fashion, Design, Styling and Photography students (FDSP) were some of the first visitors this term. They made their way down from Hendon campus in groups of 16 to look through a selection of objects in our collection and gather ideas for a still-life composition project.




Hot on their heels were Fashion students who were given a brief introduction to the collection and set to work analysing a specific object. In groups of twos or threes they had to interrogate their object and find out key facts. What is it? Who made it? When was it made? Where was it made and what was it used for? The task drew out some interesting ideas and was an fascinating exploration of the assumptions, speculations and analytical skills we employ to make sense of objects.




MA/MSC Creative Technologies students paid a visit last month and were introduced to some of the highlights of the collection by our curator, Zoe Hendon. The students have been given a brief to develop a site-specific 'digital intervention', enabling users at Hendon campus to gain access to and engage with MoDA's collection. It's not often that we get the opportunity to work with science and technology students. We look forward to sharing some of their ideas with you at a later date.



Second and third year Illustration students have been visiting the study room each Friday in groups of five. They are working on a specific project to study one box selected at random and develop a creative piece inspired from its contents. This work will form the basis of their Arthur Silver Award entries for 2013.



It hasn't all been group visits. Individual researchers, students and design professionals have continued to book in to see the collection (and are welcome to do so, please contact us to make an appointment).


Nearly all the visitors to MoDA's study room, be they students or professional researchers, come armed with cameras. They snap away, gathering images of objects to use as reference for their work later on. This month it was a delight to have one student arrive with their (make-shift) pencil box, pull out a range of coloured pencils and start sketching from sight. Subsequently we have noticed some Illustration students doing the same. I'm sure there are benefits to drawing directly from the source. What do you think? 



Friday, 19 October 2012

Arigato Japan! MoDA 'Katagami Style' objects come home

Back in March we mentioned ten objects from MoDA's collection were on their way to Japan for Katagami Style: an exhibition about a type of Japanese paper stencil (Katagami) and the profound influence it had on Western decorative arts from the mid-nineteenth century.

Katagami Style was organised by Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo and Nikkei Inc. It was shown in three venues: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and Mie Prefectural Art Museum in Tsu-shi. Visitor numbers and Twitter comments testify to how well the exhibition was received over the six months. Last week it finally came to a close and I flew to Tsu to bring the loaned MoDA objects home.

Moving crates beside some Silver Studio designs in the Mie Prefectural Art Museum as Katagami Style prepares to come down (Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)
Precious items from a range of international collections were included in Katagami Style. As I walked up the hill to Mie Prefectural Art Museum I wondered how such a complicated exhibition was to be dismantled. This question was answered in the efficiency and skill of the technicians and conservators working in the gallery. In no time, everything was checked and I was left with several days in Tokyo awaiting the flight home to London.



Maybe it was a case of ''Katagami on the brain' but in the last few days exploring Tokyo,  I spotted numerous references to the stencil art. It's clear Katagami has an enduring influence on Japanese design. This was actually something they touched on in the exhibition by displaying Unimo Sushi shop's laser etched sushi.

Wall panels in the Tokyo station subway tunnels (MoDA)



On my last day, I met Miya Suwa, who is a designer. Miya had seen Katagami Style when it was on in Tokyo, after finding out about it through an iphone app called 'Museum Cafe' which showcases the latest exhibitions in the city. She said, 'The exhibition was good for my work, for getting inspiration for what I do next: I'm always looking for my style'.


Miya took me along to see the Interior Lifestyle Living Trade Fair which showcases current Japanese designers working on products for the home. Again, I couldn't help spotting Katagami influences as we walked into the trade hall, for example some ceramics by Miyama with a patterned design inspired by Kimono (a traditional Japanese garment which was decorated using Katagami stencils) and Yuugi Isegata which uses traditional Katagami designs and enlarges them for furnishing fabrics.

Homeware by Miyama (MoDA)
Furnishing fabrics by Yuugi (MoDA)
If you're interested in seeing the Katagami stencils in MoDA's collection, you are welcome to book a visit to the study room (I'll be back next week!).  Until then, I'll sign off with a Tokyo travel recommendation: the Japanese Folk Craft Museum is a treat, nestled off the main tourist route and well worth a visit.



Monday, 8 October 2012

My Home magazine: a diverting read

Mondays can be tough for some, so we thought we'd help ease you into the week by introducing the newest addition to MoDA's collection: A magazine series called My Home which makes for a fantastic and distractingly good read.

My Home is a typical woman's consumer magazine of the period with articles on cooking, household management, beauty, fashion and the latest news on film and theatre stars. What may be particularly interesting to MoDA researchers is the home interiors section. This is the only part of the magazine with colour printed pages and it showcases the latest fashions in home decorating with information about cost and suppliers.





My Home was a monthly publication that ran from the 1920s. In 1965 it's name changed to My Home 
and Family. Eventually it went out of print, but it's sister magazine, Woman and Home continues today. MoDA has been generously donated seventeen bound volumes of My Home covering the period December 1939 to December 1956.

Other regular features in each edition include knitting patterns, advice columns, fashion pages and of course, the fiction serial. The latter is always a love story, with beautiful heroines and a steady rotation of beaus: soldiers, sailors, vicars and of course  - a dashing doctor.


My Home is going to be a valuable resource for visitors to our study room. However, researchers be warned that you have to be very disciplined if you are going to use this magazine as primary source material: the content is very diverting and you will easily find yourself poring over text and images completely off-topic from what you came to study. If you have the self-discipline to thumb past the monthly romance series most likely you will come undone on the advertisements. Here is a selection::

   


We're pleased to add My Home to MoDA's collection. To see other magazine and journal titles we hold, click here.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Word and Image: Happy Birthday TS Eliot


"Trams and dusty trees
Highbury bore me.
Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.
My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised 'a new start.'
I made no comment. What should I resent?"

These are verses from 'The Waste Land' by TS Eliot - one of the most significant literary figures of the twentieth century. Eliot was was born on this day in 1888.


Poems 1909-1925, T.S. Eliot, Faber and Gwyer Ltd, 1925 (JMR1065 Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

We mostly remember Eliot as a writer: the playwright and poet of key literary texts in the Modernist Movement, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. He is lesser known for his long-standing role as the first editor and later director of publishing house Faber and Faber.

Recently, MoDA ran a project identifying significant book cover designs in our collection (we made an online exhibition of some them, Illustration Nation). During the project, as we perused shelf upon shelf in the collection store,  Faber and Faber books consistently stood out; grabbing our attention with their distinctive covers.

Book jackets have always been more than simple paper wrappers protecting printed text inside. Publishing houses like Faber and Faber have consistently used their covers to illuminate the written word. Through shape, colour and form, book cover designs visually explain, communicate and express core ideas of the text they wrap around.



Books in MoDA's collection published by Faber and Faber or Faber and Gwyer Ltd (JMR517; JMR295; JMR486 and BADDA2406, MoDA)

Eliot's poetry book shown at the top of this post, Poems 1905-1925, was one of the first publications  when Eliot started as editor at what was then Faber and Gwyer. Fast-forward to 2012 and the publishing industry is rapidly changing as it squares up to the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. Some feel that in this new high-tech environment book covers are becoming less relevant.

Considering the beautiful book covers produced during his time as an editor, I'm sure Eliot would be sad to see this aspect of publishing completely die out. It's heartening therefore, to hear of the success of Faber and Faber's recent app: The Waste Land for iPad, which is an artistic interpretation of Eliot's famous poem through objects, film and spoken word. On a day when we are remembering the birth of a great literary figure, we'd like to also give a big thumbs up to his old publishing house which is breaking new ground: using multimedia to visually express the ideas and content of literary publications in the way book covers did in the past. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Looking to the past to inspire the future


We're constantly delighted by the different ways that students and researchers use MoDA's collections to create exciting new stuff.  Felicity Ford's Sonic Wallpapers, for example, takes MoDA's wallpaper collection into a whole new, previously unexplored, audio realm.  

But though people like Felicity use MoDA's collections in innovative ways, the idea that students and designers should use museum collections to support their studies is nothing new.  In fact, many design and/or decorative art museums originated from the idea that students needed to be able to look at and learn from real stuff as part of their studies. Museums like the V&A were initially established as educational institutions, with the goal of improving both the standard of training for designers of manufactured goods, and of raising the 'taste' of consumers.  

Arthur Silver, founder of  the Silver Studio, was himself an enthusiastic champion of museum collections for practising designers.  Looking at real examples of textiles was in his view vital for anyone wishing to be able to design textiles.  With this in mind he created the 'SilvernSeries' of photographs, consisting of images of items from the South Kensington Museum (now known as the V&A).  He intended that these photographs as an educational tool for other designers and manufacturers, looking for an understanding of technique and for visual inspiration.

Silvern Series photograph No. 185, 1889.
showing a textile which is V&A Museum no. 5662-1859
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture 
 (SE535)

Today's students continue to use MoDA's collections in a similar way to that in which Arthur Silver used the South Kensington Museum: as a source of ideas.  The suggestion that wallpaper could be used as the basis for sound pieces would almost certainly have been far beyond  Arthur Silver's wildest imaginings.  But he would certainly have applauded the use of collections for creative inspiration.  With the new academic year starting soon, we're looking forward to seeing what innovative ideas anyone comes up with next.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

I'm talkin' about (before) the revolution


According to the word on the street, there is a revolution afoot. Aided by social media sites, guerrila tactics (yarn bombing) and organised metropolitan gatherings, the twenty-first century knitting revolution continues advancing to the rhythm of clicking sticks winding through fancy new cashmere/alpaca/bamboo/kitten blended yarn. The Guardian foretold the rise of the knitter nearly a decade ago whilst other newspapers are picking up the point as the trend begins to enter the mainstream.

As more and more people take up sticks and wool, we thought we would cast our minds back to a time before knitting podcasts and quirky yet extremely popular instruction books for making a woolly Royal family. We have selected a few items from MoDA's collection that show other sides of knitting, before it became a contemporary fashionable phenomena.

Knitting for All Illustrated: practical knitted garments for all the family: making, renovating and repairing, Margaret Murray & Jane Foster, Odhams Press Limited, 1941 (BADDA3267, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

During the First and Second World Wars, knitting was a practical expression of support from the Home Front for troops abroad. Consider this poster from the Imperial War Museum -‘Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks - Please Knit Now’, or this photograph of a family gathered at a hearth whilst the mother ‘Jill knits a scarf for her solider uncle.’ Wool companies released books for those wishing to contribute socks and balcalavas to the war effort.

Knitted Comforts for Our Sailors, Soldiers & Airmen in "Greenock" Service Wools, published by Fleming, Reid and Co. Ltd., Scotland for Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores, 1945. (BADDA4134, MoDA)

During the past century, knitting was as much about domestic economy as recreation. Here is an example of a 1960s book of family knitting patterns by Keynote, offering a cost-effective means of kitting out mum, dad and the kids. Note the little boy in blue: a decade later and the style of wrapping every inch of your baby in homemade knits continued, as illustrated by the 1975 Sunbeam pattern for a Cosy Pram Set.


Knitting for the Family, Keynote, ca.1960 and Cosy Pram Set knitting pattern, Sunbeam, 1975 (BADDA4816 and BADDA4808, MoDA)


Last winter the fashion magazine Elle clocked the rise of ‘the statement sweater’and Grazia noted a growing obsession with novelty jumpers sparking bespoke knit sites such as Where's Me Jumper. MoDA certainly have a lot of sweater patterns which would fall into this category (such as this fine example of a Space Invaders sweater), but they were by no means the cutting edge of fashion in their day. It was garments like this from Woolworth’s Knitting Magazine which stood out: ‘A Poncho-skirt – the newest idea from America – for the Groovy.’

 
'Mexican double', Woolworth's Knitting Magazine, page 3, Woolworth's PLC, 1970 (BADDA3515, MoDA)

Whilst there is a growing community of male knitters online, generally speaking knitting has been a consistently female dominated art and industry. Books, magazines and patterns in MoDA’s collection reflect this point. In ‘The Art of Needlecraft’, RK and MIR Polkinghorne describe knitting as ‘a delightful occupation for spare time and for long winter evenings... It is said that those who can knit or crochet are never lonely or discontented, and perhaps this is true.’ I would hazard a guess that this statement is as true for Polkinghorne's audience of 1935 as the male and female knitting revolutionaries of 2012.

You can browse other homecraft items in MoDA's collection here.