When I got to Lewis’s yarn department yesterday, my friend Helen was already there, sitting with the Rowan Lady, talking of this and that. She introduced us, and Lindsay said, shivering my timbers for a moment, “I’m afraid we don’t have the Brandon Mobly book.” She reads the blog!
I bought the new Rowan book for a great deal of money. Of that, perhaps, more anon.
But for today: Helen is the friend who bid on my behalf recently for VKB no. 17, and yesterday she gave it to me.
I was surprised. Its date is autumn, 1940. In size and format – and lack of editor’s letter – it’s just like the earliest ones in my collection, from the late 30’s. The covers of all three are photographic – I was wrong about that, a couple of days ago. Three years later, the size had shrunk dramatically, and the cover is a drawing. But the layout and the formatting had become what they were to remain for many years, except that the page size got bigger after the war and cover photographs appeared, in what is essentially the modern style.
(The one on the right is no. 31, autumn, 1947, two years after the end of the war as I hope nobody needs to be told.)
The Battle of Britain was just getting into full swing as no. 17 hit the newsstands – Churchill says that London was visited by 200 bombers every night from late August until the end of the year. So the VK editors wouldn’t have experienced that yet. But they would have known about the fall of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk, which happened in the spring. Britain was alone and the sky was dark. The mood of no. 17 is exuberant, like Evelyn Waugh’s splendid “Put Out More Flags” of the same period.
The war is mentioned specifically more often than in the grimmer issues three years later. Knitters are urged in the ads to make “comforts” – an odd word – for the Forces, and by Vogue to knit oddballs into blanket squares or even, if you didn’t want to do that, to send them in so that the Vogue staff could do it. (Address your packages to ‘Vogue (Knitted Blankets), 1 New Bond Street.)
Austerity doesn’t seem to have bitten yet. There is no mention of clothing coupons – although that doesn’t necessarily mean that rationing hadn’t started -- and the ads imply that it wasn’t all that difficult to buy yarn. Three years later, it clearly was. There is no reference in no. 17, as there was later, to unravelling anything and reusing the yarn. The extent of yarn-famine in no. 17 is represented by a Patons ad: “If your woolshop hasn’t the exact shade you want, take an alternative and don’t grouse.”
The patterns are distinctly sensible (for those with a 33” bust and 38” hips). In no. 15 there are some jolly intarsia blouses, like the famous Schiaparelli of some years earlier, with, for example, a faux collar and tie knitted in. Number 17 has nothing so frivolous, but on the other hand there is no knitted underwear yet, either.
The first pattern in No. 17 is for a hooded coat: “For the shelter, the country or the car”.