Twilleys of Stamford - The Incredible Vests!

In December 2011 I wrote a post about Twilleys of Stamford and Health Vests.

Barbara Smith has now written an article for the Slipknot (Knitting & Crochet Guild publication) concerning the Health Vests patterns by Twilleys in the 1960's and she has kindly forwarded me copies of the patterns (unfortunately we do not have these in our archive).

Barbara has kindly allowed me to publish this:-

"Twilley’s Health Vests
Barbara Smith
Twilley’s of Stamford, now part of the Thomas B. Ramsden group, started in the 1930s, producing cotton yarns for knitting and crochet.  The earliest Twilley’s pattern leaflets in the Knitting and Crochet Guild’s collection are from the 1940s or 1950s and are mainly for accessories (gloves, socks, etc.) and decorative items for the home (e.g. luncheon sets, cushions), in fine yarns.  
We also have a 1950s pattern leaflet for two vests knitted in dishcloth cotton.  I assume that Twilley’s were already producing dishcloth cotton alongside their other yarns, as a utilitarian product that previously required no pattern leaflets.  The leaflet quotes a “well-known Doctor” as saying “To avoid colds, wear vests knitted from Dish-cloth Cotton”. 
Twilley’s must have subsequently seen that there was a demand for dishcloth cotton to knit vests.  In response, they produced a “Health Vest Cotton” (which I suspect was simply dishcloth cotton, bleached white) and a range of pattern leaflets.  Judging by the hairstyles, the leaflets date to the early 1960s.  Most of the patterns are, of course, for vests – for men, women and children.  No. 381 seems to have been the most popular, from the number of copies at Lee Mills – and another pattern (No. 395) was exactly the same, but modelled by Bill Brown, the Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper.  (Celebrity endorsements aren’t new – only the celebrities change.)
A Twilley’s booklet combining several of the vest patterns quotes a doctor, promoting cotton underwear, who claims wrongly that wool is “water repellent, so that when we move with any energy at all, we sweat and stay wet and itchy and smelly for the rest of the day.”  (In contradiction to this, merino wool has recently become the favoured choice for a “base layer” for outdoor sports such as cycling and running, replacing synthetic fibres.  It absorbs moisture, but “wicks” it away from the body, and so keeps you warm – and unlike synthetics does not become smelly.  Cotton is not recommended, because although it absorbs moisture, it then holds onto it.)
The booklet also claims: “The principal cause of colds and bronchial complaints is the irregular temperature of the body…these inequalities are smoothed out and neutralised by the unique properties of Twilley’s Health vests!”, and says that the vests keep you cool in summer and warm in winter.  It seems likely that these properties were mainly due to the air trapped in the mesh, rather than the cotton yarn.  The vests were also easier to wash, and probably cheaper, than woollen ones. 
String vests like those in the Twilley’s patterns were not, to my mind, attractive – especially when seen through a (probably Bri-Nylon) shirt.   More attractive are the patterns for “sports casuals” (in white only, of course), such as No. 391.  Perhaps this started a trend for summer jumpers and tops in thicker cotton.  And my favourite pattern is for a horse cooler, to put on a horse under its blanket after working, so that it can cool down gradually.  A marathon knitting exercise, taking 36 oz. of cotton - but the horse does look good in it. "


Huge thanks to Barbara for sharing this with us.  Please take a look at her blog (great article here on Twilleys Echo) and at the Knitting & Crochet Guild.

1 comment:

  1. I was interested in this blog because I have a copy of the 391 patterns, and I was thinking of making this for a present for my neighbour, who is a builder but he feels the cold. In this case, would you know which would be the best yarn to use as the modern equivalent?