AND MAYBE THE LAST Knitting Song – Jim Henson Muppets (1983)

It’s neat and it’s sweet
It’s a ding dong treat
Knittin’ socks for little feet
Just sittin’ with your knittin’ all day long
You know knittin’s friendly
And knittin’s fun
Knittin’s good for everyone
And that is why we sing this knittin’ song
Well it’s knit one pearl two
What’s a Doozer gonna do
With a gol-darn
Ball of yarn?
It’s stitch three drop four
Pitch that knittin’ out the door right now
There’s a green there’s a red
There’s a knot in my thread
A knitter needs his noggin read
So don’t come ’round and speak to me of yarn
You can k-nit all day and k-nothin’ fits
‘Cause only k-nitwits like to k-nit
And k-nittin’ k-needles just ain’t worth a darn
Well it’s knit one pearl two
What’s a Doozer gonna do
With a gol-darn
Ball of yarn?
It’s stitch three drop four
Pitch that knittin’ out the door right now

And ANOTHER knitting song: Knitting – Arthur Askey (1939)

Comedian Arthur Askey was born in Liverpool in 1900 and served in WWI where he also performed in army entertainments. After the War he went into the theatre and eventually built a career on the radio, becoming well known by the late 1930s. His comic song Knitting was recorded in 1939.

SPOKEN: Knit one, purl one, knit one, purl two. Sorry to keep you waiting, playmates, but I must finish this sock. I’m just turning the elbow, so amuse yourselves for a minute, will you? Won’t be long now! Knit one purl one, knit one— Oh, curse! I’ve dropped a stitch. Aren’t I a silly girl?

Some like football; some like darts.
I like kitting and the simpler arts.
Half a dozen needles, an ounce or two of wool,
Fills me cup of happiness chock full.

I’m a little knitwit, knitting all the day.
That’s how I keep dull care away.
Hemstitch, lockstitch, plain and purl,
A pleasant occupation for a good little girl.

I knit jumpers, pretty little jumpers,
Very high jumpers as well as very low.
I’ve knitted jumpers for test-match stumpers.
Never had a misfit, oh, no!

Knitted one for father, the color of his eyes,
Perfect style and immaculate size,
Filling ev’ry crevice, …(?) ev’ry joint,
Sitting like a glove upon his embonpoint.

Knit one, drop one, flip(?) one, drop one,
Neat a bit of work as you ever did see.
Put one, take one, boil one, bake one,
Put it in the oven for mummy and me.

I’m a little knitwit, knitting with a will,
Mitts for little Audrey, socks for Bill,
Three-ply cable, plain and purl,
A useful occupation for a nice little girl.

I knit jerkins, nobby little jerkins,
Who says a jerkin with little squiggly bits.
I can wheedle(?) a jerkin needle
As good as any knitwit what knits.

Knitting is a sedative, soothing to the nerves,
Develops good points and graceful curves.
Sit and take it easy, planning this and that,
Where’s me googly(?) wool gone? Darn that cat!

Rib one, space one, lose one, chase one,
Knit a pair of night socks for any wee tot.
Mufflers, hose-bags(?), cosys, nosebags,
A comfy little cover for your hot-water bot.

I’m a little knitwit, knitting with a verve,
Getting all cockeyed but I do not swerve.
Neckbands, arm-hole, plain and purl,
A charming occupation for a sweet little girl

I knit babies, bonnie little babies,
I knit babies’ bootiekins and hats.
I knit a … for … makers,
Natty little neckties and spats.

Perky little pilchards(?), the pinkest ever seen,
Suitable for weddings up at Gretna Green.
Pilchies(?) à la West End make for heavy wear.
I don’t know how they put them on and I don’t care.

Coaches, skirties, shorties, shirties,
Keeping all the wearers up to scratch,
Blue bags, grey bags, full-sized hay bags,
Does anybody want to try a needle match?

I’m a little knitwit, knitting all the day,
When I’m out a-gathering nuts in May.
Hooks and eyelets, plain and purl,
A simple occupation for a plain little girl.

I knit, knit, knit, knit, knit, knit, knit to drive dull care away.

SPOKEN: Goodbye, playmates. Knit one, purl one, knit one— (fade)

ANOTHER Knitting Song – Sophie Madeleine (2009)

I’m going to knit myself a sweater.
A sweater that will keep me warm at night.
Just how many days here must I weather?
Just biding my time…
’cause when I call you on the phone,
I’m still lost, I’m still alone.
Who’s going to make it right? (Oooh wah ooh)
Who’s going to make it right? (Oooh wah ooh)I’m going to write myself a letter.
A letter that will make me feel alright.
I’ll read it to myself five times or seven.
But I can’t deny
I’m going to need a little more than just some thought that I adore to keep me warm at night. (Oooh wah ooh)
To keep me warm at night. (Oooh wah ooh)Nine days don’t amount to much when you cross them off a wall.
And I thought I was out of luck ’til you came along and made me fall.
Now there’s nothing more to say, since you left and gone away.
And I just don’t think I’ll get through the night.Because I need a little more than just some thought
that I adore to keep me warm at night. (Oooh wah ooh)
Oh keep me warm at night. (Oooh wah ooh)Because I need a little more than just some thought that I adore to keep me warm at night. (Oooh wah ooh)
Oh keep me warm at night. (Oooh wah ooh)

Fashion in Song – The Knitting Song (1964)

Bill Oddie was one of a trio of British comedians known as The Goodies – the other two Goodies were Tim Brook Taylor and Doctor Graeme Garden. Oddie’s The Knitting Song was released on Parlophone (R5346) in 1965. That same year he appeared on the cover of an EMU knitting pattern wearing a sweater with the pure wool yarn logo – a campaign that was launched that year by the wool industry. Oddie also wore the sweater and performed The Knitting Song that year on “Thank your lucky stars”, a BBC TV pop show that ran from 1961 to 1966.

German Knitwear Manufacturer Bleyle

I recently found this boy’s knitted suit in an antique mall and was happy to find lots of information about its German manufacturer – Bleyle.

Thirty-five year old Austrian-born Wilhelm Bleyle bought a knitting machine in 1885 to make knitted clothes for his six children. Four years later he founded his yarn shop that offered knitted goods in Stuttgart Germany. He began the enterprise with five knitting machines and eight employees. What he offered that was different from most knitted garments at the time was sewn construction made from knitted pattern pieces. This technique produced a better wearing, easier to make garment suitable for active wear.

Left: Company stamp with image of similar suits as one pictured above, I originally thought the suit was 1920s, but now I wonder if it could be early pre WW1 1910s…

Knitted sailor suits were especially popular for young boys at the time and by 1901, his business moved to a full factory building to produce 12 different styles of sailor suits. Manufacturing branches opened in other cities in 1905 and 1912. In 1913 Wilhelm handed over the company to his sons Max and Fritz, as well as his brother-in-law Arthur Weber. Wilhelm died in 1915.

The best wool stocks were seized by the army in 1914, and Bleyle chose to cease making civilian knitwear in 1916 due to the poor quality of wool allowed for civilian production. The company made uniforms and later in the war was retooled for making armaments. Clothing production was difficult in the postwar German economy, but by 1924, the company was once again producing clothing for children, as well as suits, coats, and sportswear separates for women. 

The company left Bleyle family management in 1939 but still exists today with production centred in Italy.

Wit Knits

I am stealing these images from Messy Nessy Chic because they are too good not to! These illustrations come from a 1986 English knitting book entitled Wit Knits – and modelled by British celebrities (at the time) including Joanna Lumley:

Message in a sweater

I ran across this fascinating story from a local history blog and couldn’t wait until November 11 to post it… Jim Alexander was a resident of Hespeler, Ontario and a Corporal with the Li­ncoln and Wel­land Re­gi­ment in WWII. In March 1945 he was in Veen, Ger­many when he was or­dered back to En­gland to be decorated by the King for bravery.

330 Image41Al­though great­coats were supplied to sol­di­ers when needed, Alexander’s re­gi­ment was await­ing sup­pl­ies, in­clud­ing great­coats, and so he gave his coat to a fellow soldier before leaving for England. Upon ar­riv­ing in rainy, cold Al­dershot, Alexander went to a Red Cross Centre where he picked out a khaki, hand-knit wool sweat­er. After re­ceiv­ing his medal for brave­ry, Alexander re­joined his re­gi­ment and was given a new great­coat. The sweat­er was pac­ked away in his kit.

When Alexander returned home to Hespeler in Janua­ry, 1946, his mother found the sweater as she sorted through his clot­hes for laundry. She recognized it as one she had knitted herself and proved it by snipping the seam between the double collar to reveal a two dollar bill with a hand written note in her hand requesting the recipient to write her to let her know how he was doing. Apparently it was common for women who had knitted socks, scarves, and sweaters for overseas to include money and notes in the hems and seams of their garments. It was pure coincidence that Alexander had picked the sweater his own mother had knitted and yet never looked inside the collar.

Added 19.9.14: Here is a similar story about a note found in WW1 kilt.

The Knitter, c. 1848-1851

I found this print at our local antique mall last week. It’s rare to find images of women doing needlework, and as the price was $12.00, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. The print was glued to its matting, but after prying everything apart I was pleased to discover it was an original period-coloured mezzotint published November 1851.

Preview of “Microsoft Word - the knitter.doc”The engraver was James Faed who was active from 1848 to 1898 and the original painter was Francis Grant, a Scottish artist known for portraiture, who was active between 1830 and 1878. The sitter knitting the shawl was Grant’s own daughter Mary Isabella Grant, born November 1831, making her about 18 – 20 years of age at the time of this painting.

On March 11, 1852, Mary Isabella married Francis Geary (who would become the 4th Baronet of Oxenheath in 1877.) Sadly Mary died well before, in January 1854, and this portrait of her knitting is the only known surviving image of her.

Canadian Fashion Connection: The Sweater from Paris…

(Originally blogged April 11, 2010)

Colour advertisement for Mary Maxim sweaters, mid 1950s. Curiously, the patterns and catalogues were never dated.

Unlike most Canadian cities that share their name with a foreign capital, Paris Ontario is not named after the City of Lights but rather the lime gypsum found in the area that was used to make plaster (as in plaster of Paris.) Despite the namesake’s lack of prestige, there is at least one important fashion based in Paris Ontario – the Mary Maxim sweater.

It all began when Willard and Olive McPhedrain of Sifton Manitoba opened a small woollen mill in 1937 to make blankets and work socks. In 1947 Willard felt that Sifton Products didn’t portray the right identity for his goods so he advertised his goods under the name of Mary Maximchuk, an employee of the McPhedrains (the name was later shortened to Mary Maxim.) At the time, using women’s names was thought to give a product a more homey, comforting feel; the most famous woman’s name brand was probably the fictitious Betty Crocker who first appeared in 1936.

Catalogue showing some of the earliest designs for men including beaver, curling rocks and brooms, totem poles, and bulls

By 1950, everyday knitting was falling in popularity – it had become associated with the Depression and World War II when the craft was more of an economic necessity. In the post war world of the 1950s, store-bought socks were more desirable but there still remained an appreciation for hand crafted fashion items. In 1951, Alma Warren from Woodward’s department store in Edmonton Alberta suggested to McPhedrain that his company make bulky yarn sweaters. She suggested he look at sweaters made on Vancouver Island by the Cowichan band of the Coast Salish Natives; Cowichan sweaters were made with Native spun sheep wool in a circular knitting method using European Fair Isle style patterns with totemic motifs worked into the designs.

Later that year, McPhedrain hired Barry Gibson as his manager/designer and the two then laid the groundwork for the Mary Maxim 4-ply wool sweater style and its distribution through department stores across Canada. The company created and copyrighted designs based on outdoor activities and Canadian emblems and hired Stella Sawchyn to design a sweater with a Reindeer motif. Sawchyn and Gibson created a graph style pattern for Mary Maxim sweaters and soon reindeers, prancing horses, curling brooms, beavers, and totem poles were appearing on men’s women’s and children’s sweaters.

Graph pattern for Three Little Pigs sweater

The graph style patterns were a hit and created a new international standard for knitters who preferred to work from graphs than words. The company quickly found success and in 1954 Mary Maxim was officially incorporated. The new headquarters were in Dauphin, Manitoba with a branch office opened in Paris, Ontario, managed by Earl Shaw, the McPhedrain’s son-in-law. In 1956 an American office was opened in Port Huron, Michigan, managed by Willard McPhedrain’s son Larry. By 1958, Barry Gibson had left the company but Mary Maxim continued to expand when Earl Shaw opened an office in Leicester, England. That same year the McPhedrains moved the company’s headquarters to Paris, Ontario to be near its largest fibre supplier, Spinrite Yarns in Listowel, Ontario.

Antique cars pattern, one of the later patterns, c. 1960

The Mary Maxim sweater era was coming to an end when Earl Shaw left the company to buy a woollen mill in St. Thomas, Ontario in 1964. By the time Willard McPhedrain died at the age of 68 in 1971 the sweaters were considered kitschy and were no longer popular. However, Cowichan sweaters increased in popularity throughout the 1970s, spurring on copycat styles in earthy-coloured wool using a combination of totemic and Fair Isle motifs. The classic Mary Maxim style sweaters depicting everything from antique cars to oil rigs never found the same popularity they had from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. There was a small revival in popularity for Mary Maxim sweaters in vintage clothing stores in the 1980s when collectors and museums began to appreciate their designs and they have remained a collectable vintage clothing style ever since.

The company continues to operate, selling a variety of yarns and their graph style patterns. Rusty McPhedrain, the grandson of the founders, currently runs the company after his father Larry McPhedrain passed away in 2002.

Update November 7/17: The Port Huron branch of Mary Maxim closed November 4, 2017 so the company now sells only via online, or through stores in Paris and London Ontario.

Comments »

1. I have always loved the patterns that Mary Maxim did!! I own one myself and it is a timeless and super warm sweater!! I recently listed a fabulous Robin Hood design Mary Maxim pattern in my etsy shop…it is one of my all time favorites! Comment by Bonnie — April 11, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

2. Great information. I had no idea the company was still in operation. Comment by Lizzie — April 20, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

3. My family has been bringing patterns to the world forever, this was a wonderful piece to read. I dare say Mary Maxim’s is a little bit of Americana. While I did not got into the ‘family’ business I spent 5 years working the warehouse and art department. It’s what got me into advertising. Thank you to everyone who has shopped the catalogs and stores both here and in Canada throughout the years. Thank you from our family to yours it has meant much to my father and my family. Comment by Gregg McPhedrain — May 9, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

4. In the ’70’s I worked for the Nelsons at THE KNIT SHOP in Anchorage, Alaska. We called them Alaskan sweaters and they were greatly popular during that time. Marge Nelson loved to visit with Larry during her buying trips. The first project we gave beginning knitters were your sweaters because they could learn most all the basic stitches while completing a beautiful sweater. We did repairs on very old wool sweaters for fishermen and they served them well for many many years. I, myself have lost count of how many I’ve made, well over 60, I’m sure. I now make them for our 15 great-grandchildren. Oh how I miss Northland wool. And what happened to Titan? I’m sad that you no longer offer the nylon liners, too. I would love for you to bring back all the pattern kits in your catalog again. Comment by Mrs. C. Wilson — June 14, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

5. What a wonderful piece on the founding of Mary Maxim in Paris Ontario! My sister took me there & it’s truly a wonderful store. Loved the article on the start of a wonderful business in the 30’s. Comment by Heather Mattice — July 20, 2010 @ 7:21 am

Canadian Fashion Connection – NONIA

(Originally blogged January 22, 2010)

Grenfell mission hooked mat made from silk stockings, c. 1930

One of the goals of the Fashion History Museum is to create a Canadian fashion databank that will keep information and images on all Canadian designers, manufacturers and retailers, past and present. In all my years of collecting I have had only a few items go through my hands with Newfoundland labels, but I recently had a hand knit sweater cross my path. The label ‘NONIA – Newfoundland’ meant nothing to me but a quick online search turned up a history of the NONIA label.

Sweater by NONIA, c. late 1950s – 1960s

Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishing industry was based in small isolated coastal communities accessible only by boat. In 1892 a Dr. Wilfred Grenfell arrived in Newfoundland and began to work on improving medical services for the inhabitants of these villages. He set up the Grenfell mission in 1900 and in 1908 began to raise money for the mission by organising the production and sale of hooked mats, a popular local craft tradition. Between 1918 and 1931, Grenfell mats were popular folk products, traded and sold for the benefit of the Grenfell medical mission. The Depression of the 1930s decreased sales and Grenfell mats had ceased being made commercially by the time Dr. Grenfell died in 1940. The mats were made from silk stockings, and the shift to nylons after the war ended the remains of the tradition in the post war years.

NONIA Newfoundland label from sweater

However, when Grenfell mats were just becoming successful, they were an inspiration for the creation of the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association (NONIA), founded in 1920 and incorporated as a non-profit business in 1924. It was also established to assist Newfoundland communities by creating better access to health services, raising money from the sale of hand-knit garments to pay the salaries of public health nurses. The health care portion of NONIA’s operation was taken over by the government in 1934 but the industrial side was maintained and continued on. Today, NONIA employs approximately 175 knitters and weavers across the province to knit sweaters, socks, hats and mitts, and weave scarves and table linens.

Addendum March 22, 2018: A recent article about NONIA