Aunt Cecilia’s 1917 Corticelli yarn booklet

This booklet is 62 pages of knitted and crocheted patterns, published by the Corticelli Silk Mills of Florence, Massachusetts. The copyright is 1917 and is attributed to Nonotuck Silk Company.

Corticelli was into “olas.” Its floss yarn was Flosola. Its fingering yarn was Knitola. Its angora was Angola. And there’s also “Tezola.” It’s “far superior and quite different from the many so-called Teazle yarns on the market. When brushed up it does not have a shaggy appearance.” Oh. Instead, it has a “long, thick nap similar to Angora fur.” It has a “soft, full, loose twist, and will knit up into a much handsomer looking garment than any other Teazle wool.”

Teazle is actually a genus of tall plants that dry to a prickly tough compact head with protruding small spines. One plant, the Fuller’s Teazle, was often used in the textile industry of earlier times to comb out, clean and raise the nap on fabrics, especially wool. So, apparently these “so-called Teazle yarns” were meant to be brushed into fluffiness. Who knew?  Thanks to my co-worker’s husband’s Great Aunt Cecilia, I am learning about knitting in the World War I era.

Corticelli offers this advice for washing wool garments:

Wash in tepid water in which pure white soap has been dissolved. Do not rub but knead and squeeze the garment between the hands.  Do not at any time raise the garment above the water as the weight of the water tends to stretch the wool. When perfectly clean lower a pillow slip into the water, push in the garment and hang on the line where it wil be exposed to the sun and high wind.  Change the pinning of the slip every hour until the garment is thoroughly dry, then remove the garment, shake thoroughly and leave it in the wind for fifteen minutes. It will then look like new and retain all its original loft. Do not press.

Yipes. Washing a garment was basically an all-day task.

The booklet contains patterns for all ages, mostly sweaters, vests, caps, and gloves. Mrs. Vernon Castle models “Sports Vest No. 512,” knitted in Teazola. FYI the photo shows a fabric that definitely looks very shaggy. But Mrs. Castle likes the finished project. She advises that “for motoring, golf or mountain resort, this Sports Vest is ideal” and her “opinion on matters of this kind is always le dernier cri.” (Google translates that phrase as “the latest.”) We are informed that “Mrs. Vernon Castle’s taste in dress is exquisite.”

Here’s a sample–a snazzy looking vest and a buodoir jacket (but not modeled by Mrs. Vernon Castle):

World War I would wage on for two more years after publication of this pattern book. There are some specialty items included, apropos of the era. Consider the “Swagger Cane with Silk Bag Crocheted in National Colors.” This is “not a walking stick, but a swagger cane to carry jauntily under the arm. It holds a little red, white and blue silk bag that testifies to the patriotism of the owner.” Wow.  A “swagger cane.”

The last four pages provide patterns for “Knit Garments for the Army and Navy.” The author explains the need:

The following instructions are issued to help the women throughout the country who are at this time utilizing every available moment in making warm and comfortable garments for the boys who have responded to the call of our country in its present crisis. Many women, while anxious to help, are wholly at sea as to what garments are suitable or how best to make them, and much good material and time have been wasted in making garments that are wholly unfit for the service for which they were intended.

Knitters are told to knit “evenly and firmly.” “Drop stitches should be avoided.” “The garments should be free from lumps and knots, especially the socks, as they are liable to blister the feet.” Patterns are included for a sleeveless sweater, two kinds of wristlets, a “sleeping cap,” “muffler,” “cap for convalescents,” an “abdominal belt,” socks, bed socks, knee caps, and a helmet liner that continues on to include front and back garter stitch extensions that would act as a neck warmer.

The price? Fifteen cents.

Aunt Cecilia’s Woolco Knitting & Crocheting Manual, copyright 1916

The explanation for how I came to be acquainted with my co-worker’s husband’s Aunt Cecilia, several years after she died, is explained here. She was a lifelong knitter and hooker (you know I mean a crocheter). I was gifted with her large stash of Italian mohair, some of her books, and her glass cigar tube of crochet hooks. Those of us who love these crafts know that we want our treasured tools and yarns to find a good home after we die. I’ve tried to do right by Cecelia’s stash. Her booklets and books are safely protected.

More of Cecilia’s books surfaced recently and my co-worker gave them to me. The new gift includes this gem from 1916, published by F. W. Woolworth Company, a “dime store” of old. And, in fact, the book cost exactly that: one thin dime. The book cautions, repeatedly, that “to insure success you must use only Woolco Yarns.”  With “a little practice” you will become “a proficient worker.” Then “you will find that the work goes quickly and that instead of tiring you it will rest you and soothe the nerves.”  Indeed.

Several crochet and knit stitches are illustrated and described. There are patterns for babies, children and adults.  There are sweaters, vests, gloves, socks, leggings, shawls, scarves, slippers, and hats (Tam O’Shanter, helmet, toque). While the baby leggings don’t really “speak” to me, the kimono and “porch jacket” are quite sweet:


1916, when this book was published, was smack dab in the middle of World War I. That the war interfered with Woolco’s supply of dye, including for their popular Germantown line, must be the explanation for this plea at the start of the book:

Woolco Yarns have always been dyed with the finest dyes obtainable. The well-known condition of the dyestuffs market at present forces us to buy dyes in small lots so that we are no longer able to maintain our usual uniformity of shades.

It is a condition which we would overcome if it were possible, but as there is positively no remedy we must urge our customers to buy more carefully than has heretofore been necessary.  Buy enough yarn to finish your garment and see that it matches before you leave the store. By doing so you will avoid disappointment for yourself and assist us in overcoming an awkward and regrettable situation.

May we count on your cooperation?

I bet knitters didn’t have to be told more than once that the war had screwed up dyelots big time. I can picture knitters asking for permission to carry their yarn out to the street to be able to see the colors in natural light and make sure the skeins matched.

Tucked into the back of Cecilia’s Woolco book was this 1918 newspaper clipping of a sock pattern, knit on “4-10 yarn” and “Red Cross needle No. 1.”  The author had good advice for handling measurement, splicing, and a somewhat overly specific way (tie finished socks loosely together…) to make sure that there were no holes or dropped stitches:

To measure a garment, lay in on [sic] on a level surface and measure with a dependable measure (wood, metal or celluloid, not a tape).

Always join threads by splicing or by running threads through each other with worsted weight.

Tie finished socks loosely together at the top of leg, in such a way that the hand can be inserted for inspection.

If sock is thin at the point of gusset, reinforce by darning on wrong side very lightly with split thread of yarn.

Still good advice. (Clicking on the clipping, then clicking in to increase the size, will allow you to read a bit more.)

And, flipping the sock pattern over, this slice of life, lopped off in mid-sentence because all Cecilia was preserving was the sock pattern, not what Martin Radilyack, of Gary Indianna had to say about his wartime experience:


“I wouldn’t take anything for the things that have happened to me
during my recent experience with the Hun,” writes Martin Radilyack,
brother of Miss Agnes Radilyack.  Radilyack, employed by the American
Bridge company, who has been “missing in action” since May 1 and who

We won’t know more than that, I’m afraid. But the ad for the Freezone corn removal potion is almost fully intact.  “Try it. No humbug!”


Poor Donald Jr.

Poor-donaldThis, from another  1917 knitting booklet.  The leggings  look like bandages.  The shoes seem to be dress shoes, not fit for play. Same for the shorts.  His sweater is the  only comfortable piece of clothing poor Donald Jr. was allowed to wear that day.  And what of the expression on his face?   Bored?  When the photo shoot was over did he rip that sweater off and head on to a life of privilege.  Or something else?

How about this Cover girl?


She looks more pleased with her outfit than young Donald.  Both sweaters make ample use of the mainstay of knitting–garter stitch.  Plain old knitting.  The first stitch every knitter learns, maybe with a rhyme like this one to help her remember how to do it: “In through the front door, around the the back, open the window, and off jumps Jack.”

1917 Corticelli Cover Girls


Ninety-three years ago, this young woman modeled fashionable knitted tennis wear on the cover of The Corticelli Yarn Book, “Lessons in Knitting and Crochet.”  The book contained an extensive assortment of fashions for men, women, children, soldiers and babies.  It was published by the Corticelli Silk Mills of Florence, Massachusetts.  Odd little crochet do-dads dangling in front, but other than that, somewhat modern styling.  Nice subtle color combination too.  Seems to hold up rather nicely, especially figuring this model was likely born in the 19th century.

“Holding up rather nicely” isn’t what comes first to mind for the “Silk Dresden Sweater” featured on the book’s inner cover page, though.  I don’t think knitters with a vintage knitting bent are going to be lining up to knit this one, “posed” here by “Mrs. Vernon Castle:”


Knitting for Soldiers & Sailors

ArmyKnittingIt was 1917.  The Corticelli Yarn Book, “Lessons in Knitting and Crochet” published by the Corticelli Silk Mills in Florence, Massachusetts provided “instructions to help the women throughout the country who are at this time utilizing every available moment in the making of warm and comfortable garments for the boys who have responded to the call of our country in its present crises.”  Women were cautioned to knit in either “gray (Oxford) or khaki” or “light Oxford” for the Navy.  Corticelli supplied patterns for a sleeveless sweater (above), a “sleeping cap,” two different wristlets, a muffler, an “abdominal belt,” a “cap for convalescents,” a cap and scarf set, socks, bedsocks and a helmet liner (below). A “comfort set” would be the sleeveless sweater, wristlets and a muffler (scarf).  “The knitting should be done evenly and firmly and drop stitches should be avoided.  The stitches should not be cast on too tightly.  The garments should be free from lumps and knots, especially the socks, as they are liable to blister the feet.”

ArmyHelmetToday, Ship Support is “supporting America’s troops deployed in the War on Terror–one stitch at a time.”  The items need to be “closely knit or crocheted for warmth,” knit in colors suitable for men.  “Women in the military prefer these as well.”  Land’s End has teamed up with the Sailors’ Society to have us knit  wooly hats for chilly sailors. Knit for the Navy is looking for afghans.  Knitters are busy knitting glommits (a combination glove/mitten) and gauntlets (shooters gloves) for soldiers in Afghanistan.  The need continues and those who chose to knit for soldier and sailor relief organizations knit because they care.

Does this young one look too ready for the wars to come?  He modeled for Corticelli in 1917.