Thursday, 18 December 2008

19th Century Handkerchief Case - Finished!

I have been searching for a reproduction button to put at the center of the lower part of this handkerchief case but have not been able to find a suitable one. The case could be used as is, without a button and loop to close so I am considering it as finished. The body is 10" long by 11 1/2" wide, and is lined with an imitation pink satin. The stitch and thread details may be found in my earlier post of March 3, 2008.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Desolation Island Mittens - Finished!

These are the warmest mittens I have ever worn and I would like to think that Louisa Wogan knit with similar wool for Stephen Maturin or those American whalers who brought her back to the United States. I finished them three ways, first with a squared off top, then a pointed one and finally settled on a rounded edge by knitting two together around in the last three rows until there were only three stitches left which I ran through with the tail of wool. Since we have no description of the mittens, let alone Louisa Wogan’s knitting techniques, the mittens are open to interpretation and are more of a tribute to part of her seagoing output than a reproduction of an early 19th century style. The wool, handspun, from an unknown breed (it was a gift to me), is dense and thickly spun.

The mittens were photographed on a nearby beach. Not quite resembling Desolation Island ( but looking appropriately bleak, I quite like it in the winter, when the wind is blowing and the air is so invigorating.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Matching Materials

The Wool Winder
(probably 1759)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze
(French, 1725-1805)
Oil on canvas, 74.6 x 61.3 cm
ID Number: 43.1.148
The Frick Collection
New York, New York

Finding the right materials with which to knit a reproduction of an item is, perhaps, the most difficult part of the process. I knit over four and a bit centuries, from the 16th to the present day. Many of the objects that I reproduce are made using the original one as inspiration or a model whether I can examine the piece myself or am working from photographs or paintings. The 16th through early 19th centuries are the most challenging. I am continually searching for wool, linen, silk and cotton that will resemble those of the past. Contemporary versions possess a very taut twist, all very much looking machine made. If I am knitting in the Industrial Age, I am still wondering if my materials resemble machine spun threads of that era.

Wool offers more choice and accessibility. I can spin or have wool spun for me to my weight or plying specifications. I am also able to obtain naturally dyed wool, that is, wool being dyed with indigo, cochineal, vegetables and plants using 18th century methods. It is possible to find commercial wools that will pass in reproduction knitting. Jamieson’s, Morehouse, Blackberry Ridge, Harrisville Designs offer fine weight wools in acceptable colours after careful research. I have also recently added some glorious undyed Wool out of Wales to the reproduction stash.

Nineteenth century knitting is, of course, much easier to replicate as by the late 1830’s and early 1840’s, patterns, although laconic, were appearing and knitting materials (type of needles and wool or cotton) were often suggested. This continued throughout the century even, sometimes, with the suggestion of colours for their durability to retain their dye through wear and washing and not always as a fashion statement. The range and accessibility of materials were, thanks to mass industrialization, much wider. Wools, silks and cottons were specifically named and needle sizes begin to be standardized. Books and periodical publications about needlework from this era are still widely available online, in facsimile and original editions in libraries. The last mentioned often have a section describing materials, in less or more detail, such as found on

Some of my reproduction knitting takes me through the early 20th century right up to the 1930’s and by then it is much easier to match wools and cottons if not actually find them sometimes. Damaged vintage garments can be unraveled for period knitting. I was lucky enough to have inherited wool in different weights from the 1950’s and 1960’s and poking about in antique shops has yielded vintage fine cotton. My dream, however, is to find some (silk) twist from c. 1800!

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Garment is Growing!

One leg, almost up to the knee, and the second one cast on. A similar item has been sent to the model, who lives quite far away, for fitting, and knitting will resume as soon as the sample garment is returned. Having ripped out the leg eight times and almost worn holes in the pages in my pattern log while editing it, I am hoping that this fit will be the required snug one.

Although a great deal of contemporary knitting is currently making demands on my knitting time, I have also begun the upper body of TG with a false cast on using scrap yarn so I will have live stitches to connect to the last row of live stitches on the waistline of the lower part of The Garment. This upper body part will be knit back and forth, the two fronts and back as one piece, up to the underarms. The original Garment was probably constructed out of loom knitted pieces and then cut and seamed to fit Stephen Maturin's body but I cannot I bring myself to cut steeks in my knitting, I will knit the upper part of the fronts and back separately as I do when making Icelandic, Scandinavian and Fair Isle garments after knitting them in the round up to the underarms.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

More Aubrey/Maturin Miniatures - Spoilers

"My wool garment? You have noticed it, have you? I had forgot, or I should have pointed it out. Have you ever seen anything so deeply rational?"

Post Captain, Chapter Twelve

This miniature version of the life/man size version that I am also knitting was worked in Dritz Sport (sock) yarn which I believe is from the 1950’s, on 1.50mm needles with 14 stitches/inch. The mini-Garment is 7 ¾” long and the sleeves and legs are extra long and there is a cowl for the neck and head. It would be stepped into pulling the legs up to the hip, then slipping the cowl over the head. The arms would be slid into next, pulling the torso section up over the shoulders and fastening, like a shirt, down the front, pulling up and buttoning the fall last. As Stephen Maturin further explains, “See, I can withdraw my head entirely: the same applies to the feet and the hands. Warm, yet uncumbering; light; and above all healthy – no constriction anywhere.”

The black headed pins are simply holding The Garment in place and are not part of it.

“’But no exposure to the sun as yet – I recommend the wearing of a close Welsh wig.”

Master and Commander, Chapter Eight

This was knit in Morehouse lace weight wool on 1.25mm needles at a gauge of 15 stitches/inch. It is 1 ½” wide and almost 1 ¾” long.

“Jack…put on a comforter knitted by his wife, still full of warmth and love though somewhat mangled by Brazilian mice…”

The Far Side of the World, Chapter Five

I knit this in tapestry/needlepoint wool from the 1970’s on 1.50mm needles with 12 stitches/inch. It is almost an inch wide and 8 ½” long. I cut holes and pulled it about a bit to create the mouse damage.

Vanity Fair and the History of Knitting

Vanity Fair, Chapter IV - The Knitted Purse

Beware Spoilers

“…this arrangement left Mr. Joseph Sedley tête-à-tête with Rebecca, at the drawing-room table, where the latter was occupied in knitting a green silk purse… And as he talked on, he grew quite bold, and actually had the audacity to ask Miss Rebecca for whom she was knitting the green silk purse? ….”For any one who wants a purse,” replied Miss Rebecca, looking at him in the most gentle winning way.

[And the next day:]

“…Jos was left alone with Rebecca, who had resumed her work, and the green silk and the shining needles were quivering rapidly under her white slender fingers… “What a beautiful, byoo-ootiful song that was you sang last night, dear Miss Sharp...…my dear Miss Sharp, do sing it”…”Not now, Mr. Sedley,” said Rebecca, with a sigh. My spirits are not equal to it; besides, I must finish the purse. Will you help me, Mr. Sedley?” And before he had time to ask how, Mr. Joseph Sedley of the East India Company’s service was actually seated tête-à-tête with a young lady looking at her with a most killing expression; his arms stretched out before her in an imploring attitude, and his hands bound in a web of green silk, which she was unwinding.

In this romantic position Osborne and Amelia found the interesting pair, when they entered to announce that tiffin was ready. The skein of silk was just wound round the card; but Mr. Jos had never spoken.”

Two highly significant scenes in one of the masterpieces of English literature. A young lady engaged in demure yet useful work about which questions may be asked and conversation made without impropriety in an atmosphere fraught with tension, unease and expectation. Rebecca is knitting a purse, a mindless project, which, retrospectively, is amusing as Becky Sharp is one of the most calculating and ruthless women in literature, completely worthy of her surname. The purse may serve as an innocent (that is, a not too personal) gift and a display of her domestic talents apart from its monetary and sexual symbolism. That she chose to knit this specific item while husband-hunting is appropriate especially since she can only provide the purse and not the fortune thus handicapping her in the marriage stakes. Her attempts, however, to entrap the foolish Jos Sedley with her carefully planned “gentle winning way” and later with “his hands bound in a web of green silk, which she was unwinding” fail miserably for Rebecca but those interested in the history of knitting gain quite a bit of information. The “shining needles” which “were quivering rapidly under her white slender fingers” must refer to metal needles. I picture those commonly seen in paintings from the 18th (see my posts from March 4th and March 18th, 2008.) The silk was purchased in skeins and was then to be wound around a card. Was this a card of home production or a shop or distributor’s card? Was the “web” merely a literary analogy or had Rebecca dropped the skein (conveniently, I would think) and then had to request assistance to untangle it, or was she merely winding the length of a regular skein around a card. What was the length of these skeins? Becky had already knit a considerable part if not almost all of the purse for she refused to sing again (a coy trick) in order to finish the purse, implying that she preferred a productive instead of an entertaining use of her time. She was, perhaps, winding the last needed skein unto a card. How many skeins did a purse require? As for the colour, green was a traditional choice for this kind of purse in the belief that it brought good luck though not for Becky in this case.

In A History of Hand Knitting (Interweave Press, 1987), Richard Rutt mentions that modern editors of Thackery suggest that since Vanity Fair was published in 1847, this image of Becky knitting may not be an accurate one of a young woman's drawing room activity of thirty some years before. This interests me especially in relation to other knitting in the novel which I shall discuss in a future post.

I cannot find a knitting silk that is fine enough to reproduce Becky’s purse so instead I am using dark green DMC 25 Mouline Special embroidery floss on 1.75mm needles at a gauge of 10 stitches/inch.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Double Rose Leaf Lace Nightcap - Finished!

This nightcap is from Weldon's Practical Knitter, Twenty-Sixth Series in the book Knitting/19th Century Sources, edited by Jules and Kaethe Kliot, Lacis Publications (no date.) The pattern also appears in Interweave Press's facsimile series, Weldon's Practical Needlework, Volume 9.

The pattern was easy to follow except for a few typographical errors in the rose leaf section. The three layer frill was made by first knitting a ribbed section with a frilled edge (fourth photo.) This section was folded back and stitches were picked along the folded edge for the second frill of six rows plus a bind/cast off row. The third frill was picked up at the base of the ribbed section, near the hairline, as well as around the rest of the cap. I did not care for the decorative edges on the original long knittted tapes so I left them off.

The cap was knitted in white J&P Coats Royals Classic Crochet Thread (Size 10) on 3.25mm double point and single point needles with a gauge of 11 stitches/inch.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Tools and Totes

Mademoiselle Brongniart (1788)
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Oil on oak, 65.1 x 53.3 cm.
The National Gallery, London

Over the course of knitting for many, many years, I have amassed a huge collection of knitting tools. (We will not even begin to discuss that other component of knitting, “the stash.”) Needles that number in the hundreds, made of different types of woods, horn, bone, bamboo, plastics and metals. Just as the wand chooses the wizard, the project, in my case, always chooses the needles. My Aran sweaters have always demanded strong (now vintage) Aeros, fine lace work those sharp metal Inoxes and socks now glide into existence on recently acquired glorious Harmony Wood dpns. Reproduction knitting over two centuries in historically accurate ways in public also requires specific needles. At this point in my knitting career, however, I know what I like and what I need so many needles have been passed on to other knitters as my new policy concerning everything in life is to only keep what I absolutely need or will expect to use.

By extension, I have picked up some interesting knitting accessories along the way. The waist hook, which attaches to one’s pocket, belt or apron waistband, the knitting belt from the Shetland Islands and the knitting sheath from I cannot remember where. I just seem to have had it for a long time. Needles do not come in standard sizes and neither do needle gauges so many are needed.

Once the knitting is on those needles, I like to keep or carry it in some sort of textile storage such as reproduction workbags of Indian cotton prints and velvety cotton, 18th century pockets, and modern bags from the gift shops of various museums and institutions. Two of my current favourite carriers/storage bags are a gardening bag with extra tool pockets for the three or four pairs of socks always in progress, and the cloth bucket which stands so tall and holds so much and is the current home of The Garment as well as the Desolation Island mittens. The latest pair of half-gloves, historic or modern, make excellent walking or exercise knitting in their weatherproof nylon bag that clips onto clothing A zippered toile bag or the fold-over clasp bag made from left-over chair upholstery fabric, holds miniature knitting or the latest miser’s purse on the needles. Favourite reproduction fabrics that might never become parts of a quilt are either lining my needle boxes or are turned into more workbags of various sizes.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Nelson's Purse and Another

Martyn Downer’s book, Nelson’ Purse (Corgi Books, 2004) tells the story of a museum or antique professional’s let alone an historian’s dream. A collection that “was not a lost collection because no-one had ever looked for it or missed it” (page 56) comes to light and within it is discovered objects that prove to be of extraordinary historical value including the green purse featured on the cover of the book.

The appeal for me lies in the history (my specialty being the late 18th century/early 19th century with a serious interest in British naval history) as well as the creation of the purse which I have reproduced. It is described as “’Nelson’s pocket purse’…made of woven green silk…” (page 40) and “about 12 inches long and shaped like a tube with a tassel on either end. Coins entered it through a 2-inch horizontal slit halfway along. Two steel rings, each apparently covered in fine strands of hair, were then evidently slid down to the ends of the purse, gathering the material and capturing the contents.” (page 56)

In Appendix I, the author theorises that the purse may have been knit by Fanny Nelson. Allow me at this point to recommend Frances, Lady Nelson – the Life and Times of an Admirable Wife by Sheila Hardy, (Spellmount, Staplehurst, 2005.) Working with letters discovered in 2001 from Fanny Nelson to her husband’s agent, Alexander Davison, Ms. Hardy presents a very different woman from the one previously portrayed in books and on film. There is, however, no mention of knitting purses in this biography but that does not mean that Fanny Nelson might not have knitted the purse in question. In his book, however, Mr. Downer variously describes the purse as knitted, netted, and woven without regard to the fact that these are three very different techniques. I have also received a suggestion that the technique used was nålbinding which raises another interesting set of questions as to its origin. If Fanny Nelson did knit the purse, Mr. Downer suggests that she may have “purchased the necessary silk, or ‘twist’, from Thomas Gardom who owned a shop on St James’s Street which specialized in ‘Purse-Twist, Tassels and sliders’.” (page 465) Another, blue, purse of “doubtful provenance” is also discussed on pages 466-467.

Working with the measurements from the book and by counting the stitches on the purse in the two available photographs as best I could, I was able to reproduce the purse using approximately six skeins of dark green DMC Anchor Pearl Cotton Size 5 on 2.50mm needles, knit in garter stitch in the round, at 7 stitches/inch. It is very difficult to find knitting silk let alone affordable knitting silk. I am, therefore, not satisfied with the result using this cotton as it feels rather bulky. I could not find appropriate metal rings so I used plastic ones, wrapped with dark brown DMC Mouline Special embroidery floss to mimic silk although the rings on Nelson’s purse were wrapped with hair. What Downer calls tassels appears to me to be very small pompoms with curled ends, probably the natural twist of the silk. My pompoms do not, unfortunately, have that attractive twist.

Another purse was knit in stocking/stockinette stitch in nine colours of DMC Anchor Pearl Cotton, Size 5 at 7 stitches/inch also on 2.50mm needles. The plastic rings are covered in silver DMC Mouline Special embroidery floss. I am not fond of jewelry or hanging beads so I did not use either for the ends as was commonly done. I did, however, find a reference to thread ends on page 144 in Labors of Love by Judith Reiter Weissman and Wendy Lavitt (Alfred A. Knopf, 1987) and the ones on this purse are simple knots and tassels. I am currently working on two more purses using the thinner DMC Mouline Special embroidery floss, the challenge being to create a purse with the sheen of silk while not obscuring the delicate patterns by knitting with fine needles and thread.

Monday, 7 July 2008

“Why did you knit that strange thing?”

That was the question asked of me the other day during a demonstration and display of 19th century knitted items. The strange thing was a kneecap warmer and it was one of a varied collection of other strange things. To be fair, the question had been preceded by compliments and intelligent enquiries about the knitted items, and I do not think that the kneecap warmer was being singled out. It happened to be the last item viewed and discussed. The same question has been asked of me many times in a less descriptive way. What it comes down to is, simply, why do I knit these reproductions?

My reasons are several. First of all, I knit. I sleep, eat, wash, dress, work, read, etc. and knit. Knitting is part of the pattern of life. I come from a knitting family and I learned to knit when I was four, and, during childhood, I knit hats and variations upon garments for my toys. My earliest memories of being seriously interested in history date from about age eight and it was not long before a triumvirate of reading, handwork and imagination was born. It is still thriving to this day though now it has years of research as well as trial and error under its collective belt. What it also has is endless curiosity. My interest in history, both professional and personal does involve the major themes of government, battles, architecture, art and music but also, and just as importantly, daily life. Clothing and household items fall under the last category and how better to understand something than to recreate it. As I have said in an earlier post, we cannot truly experience the past but we can catch a glimpse of it here and there. This seems to be the explanation that satisfies most people, especially people who do not knit or do any type of handwork. Speaking of hands, though, on the other hand, why is any explanation necessary? The original question, is after all, rather rude. What is really implied, and sometimes asked, is why do I waste my time doing this kind of knitting? Is knitting objects that may be worn in select environments or never worn at all and are just demonstration pieces or exercises in threads or wool a waste of time? The next question usually is, “Do you knit contemporary things, too?” Replying in the affirmative seems to be reassuring. Is my historic knitting, then, even when it is presented in an historic setting, disturbing or am I just facing a more intense version of the “Why knit it when you can buy it?” query encountered by many knitters or, indeed, by anyone who makes something that can be purchased ready made be it a table or a pair of mittens. What I find unsettling (and sometimes annoying) is just that glint of concern in the eyes of the enquirer (and betrayal when it is a fellow knitter!) as they look into mine and ask, “Why?”

“Why not?” I reply. If anyone can come up with a better answer and not an apology for one’s art, please let me know.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Late 19th Century Double Rose-Leaf Nightcap

This nightcap appears in Weldon's Practical Knitter, Twenty-Sixth series. I found it in Knitting / 19th Century Sources edited by Jules and Kaethe Kliot, Lacis Publications (no publication date.) The pattern also appears in Interweave Press's facsimile series, Weldon's Practical Needlework, Volume 9. It is being knit on 3.25 mm needles, dpns for the back circular piece and spns for the rest of the cap. I am using J&P Coats Royale Classic Crochet Thread, Size 10.

The back piece and the main part that will go around the head are shown. I am currently about halfway through the Double Rose-Leaf pattern. Still to come is the frill around the bottom and then the ruched frill around the front.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Aubrey Maturin Miniatures Update (Contains Spoilers!)

Here is TA, the miniature giant tortoise wearing Stephen Maturin's comforter, knit for him by Louisa Wogan [Desolation Island], and knit by me in Appleton’s crewel wool Red 203 on 2.25mm needles. At the lower left is William Mowett's Guernsey "shirt" [Master and Commander] in Morehouse lace weight wool, blue and natural, on 1.50 needles. This did not turn out to my satisfaction as both the stripes and neck are too broad. I modeled the neck on a woven wool under shirt of Nelson's (more about that in the future), and it should be flatter and narrower. I plan to make another one with adjustments.

Stephen's Garment [Post Captain], in brown Dritz Sports Yarn (wool) on 1.25mm needles, is being knit in two pieces, a front and back, and they are pinned out over each other on a cushion like one of his dissecting projects. I was comparing the waistlines so as to know where to end the fall which can be seen folding backwards with the knitting needle still in it. The two pieces will be sewn together and I will then knit the arms from the shoulders down.

Still on the needles is a Monmouth cap, another Guernsey shirt, Desolation Island mittens, Stephen's blue stockings and Jack's comforter knit by Sophie [The Far Side of the World.]

Friday, 23 May 2008

Miniatures and More - Updated Projects

The knitting for the body of the handkerchief case is complete. Note garter stitch interior horizontal edge. Now I just have to knit some more Van Dyke edging for the two sides, crochet a loop and find an historically accurate button. The case will be lined with the pink silky fabric shown in the photo.

Miser's Purses In Progress

The second purse is knit and now I have to weave in or use the ends in the decoration at both ends. It is still a little bulky so I have started another one in embroidery thread (at right) hoping to achieve a result that will more closely resemble silk. The Nelson purse (awaiting finishing touches) is on the left. Both still need their rings, as well.

Mini-Canonical Knitting

This is purely whimsical, self-indulgent knitting in various stages of progress. I have been creating a very detailed list of all of the clothing in the Canon on this, my fourth voyage through the books. I tend to work on the miniatures when I really should be doing something else. So here it is so far but BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

Stephen’s red comforter knit by Louisa Wogan (DI)
Appleton’s crewel wool Red 203/2.25mm needles

Stephen’s “garment” loom/hand knit by Matthew Paris (PC) - the back and almost up to the neck. I am knitting this in two pieces because of the size. The life-size one is being knit in the round.
Dritz Sports Yarn (wool, lace weight), brown/1.25mm needles

Stephen’s blue stockings (MAC)
Morehouse lace wool/1.50mm needles
I started these in the round but 33 stitches on 8” needles is enough to drive one mad so I switched to a flat leg. The foot, however will have to be in the round.

A Guernsey frock, maybe Babbington’s, but have not yet fully decided so no book is cited.
Morehouse lace wool, grey/2.00mm needles

Blue and undyed wool for a Gurnsey “shirt” which may have been loom knitted, worn by Mr. Mowett (MAC)
Morehouse lace wool, blue and undyed/1.50mm needles

Still to come:
Monmouth cap
“Silk” stockings
Gloves (DI) and more!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Purse Update

This second purse is coming along a treat. I am trying out different patterns I have seen on various purses and I will put tassels or loops of yarn at each end. These purses were sometimes decorated with beads or other ornaments similar to jewelry but since I actually dislike jewelry, I shall decorate mine with the yarn used for the knitting of them. I am knitting the middle section as a solid one in the traditional green. I still am not happy with the texture but I do like the colours which I based on ones found in decorative arts (furnishings, china) as well as clothing from circa 1800.

Many thanks to my friend Karen for the photo.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

1800 Purse

Just a teaser. I have to say that I am not very happy with this one. The DMC Pearl Cotton Size 5 is too thick. It moves comfortably on the 2.50mm needles (those gorgeous (visually and physically) Harmony Wood ones) but I do not like the look of the finished knitting. I will try this style of purse again but with embroidery floss for a closer match to silk, and then, again, in lace weight wools. There is plenty of inspiration for patterns in the collections of various museums, especially the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Invisible Knitters

Josephine Knitting (1916)
Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938)
Oil on canvas
Bequest of George M. Oyster, Jr. 24.2
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

This painting, although suggesting the isolation or, perhaps, invisibility, of women, has always had a calming effect on me. I love the light, the related tones, the open doorway and corridor or room beyond. Josephine, unfortunately, is composed of the same tones as the walls and furniture but that also reminds me of how knitters are often largely ignored especially in public. I have knit in public for many years and have found that people often think we knitters are so absorbed in our work that we are not aware of what is going on around us or are even interested in anything but our knitting. A few sensitive observers have said to me, "I hope I am not disturbing you" or "I hope you are not counting" and then ask a question or make a comment. The invisibility factor, however, does sometime buy peace on crowded trains and buses. Think, too, of Miss Marple who quietly knits away, absorbing and collecting clues all of the time, perhaps, also using the steady beat of her needles to sort out in her mind the various suspects and motives in a crime. As for Josephine, I also like the way she is sitting and holding her knitting. She truly looks as though she is knitting unlike many other models in paintings with *knitting* in the title. I choose it for all of those reasons and also because we cannot see the knitting. Just like the readers of this blog. No knitting posted for quite a few weeks. There are a lot of things on the needles and some of them are even approaching completion! Nelson's purse, another purse from his era, the lace handkerchief case and a homespun stocking. A few contemporary projects have also invaded the historical knitting sphere but they will soon be dispatched to their recipients and then I can settle back down in the past.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

What Is She Knitting?

Young Knitter Asleep (1759)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze
(French, 1725-1805)
Oil on canvas, 68 x 58 cm
Huntington Library, Art Collections,
San Marino, California

I love this painting for many reasons: it is from the 18th century, the child is sweet, the colours are soft, and the knitting is intriguing. Once again, as in "A Serving Girl Knitting," the fourth needle is not visible although its presence is implied under her left hand wrist. There seems to be a considerable amount of knitting in her lap, too much for a stocking. Could it be a shirt, heaped on her lap and a sleeve, knit from the shoulder down, on the needles? Or is it, in fact, a pair of stockings, the upper part of the one on the needles on the (her) right side of her lap, and a finished one, for reference, perhaps, on the (her) left side, the thigh hem's thin edge hanging downwards at the extreme right? We also cannot see any strand of yarn. There is a partially round shaped white object in her basket. Is that the yarn for this knitting and the strand is hidden under between her basket arm and her lap? Since there is no yarn wrapped around her fingers, did she sit down, take out her knitting and close her eyes for few minutes, and then fall asleep before knitting a stitch? Or is she like many of the young girls' from this era, whose journals contain daily entries about knitting so many mandatory rounds of a stocking a day, bored with her knitting?

I would like to think it is a knitted shirt as I have been doing extensive research about that kind of garment in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries for the past few years. The more I look at the painting, however, and given the limited repertoire of knitting at this time, the more the two stockings seem to take form. Are there any other opinions?

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Knitted Infant Jacket or Waistcoat with Tapes

I knit this infant jacket or waistcoat (three month old size) with long garter stitch tapes over ten years ago. My construction notes have vanished yet I know that I based it on a late 18th century painting or print I saw in a book at some point. I can still see the baby, wearing a cap, long gown and wrap-around or tape-fastened jacket/waistcoat (probably not knitted but made of linen), sitting upright on a woman's lap in an informal group setting. I do believe there were other children in the picture as well as another or several women. I do not remember a male figure but that does not mean there was not one. I was obviously completely absorbed in the infant's clothing. Perhaps someone reading this entry has seen that image or a similar infant garment.

The yarn is an undyed Morehouse lace weight wool and I would guess I used 3mm needles. It is knit in three pieces (two fronts and a back) from the bottom up (no ribbing or garter stitch edging) with eyelet holes at either bottom side seam for threading through the tapes. After seaming the shoulders, the sleeves were knit down from them to the cuffs as flat pieces and then seamed, as were the two body sides. The long tapes were knit in garter stitch and sewn on to the lower pointed front edges.

Knitting in Art

A Serving Girl Knitting
Attributed to André Bouys (French, 1656–1740)
Oil on canvas; 36 1/4 x 28 1/2 in. (92.1 x 72.4 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917 (17.120.211)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

I am constantly searching for images (artworks, photographs, etc.) of knitting for research purposes as well as pleasure. This is one of my favourites especially as it is an 18th century image and the knitting is visible. I like the clothing and the slightly impatient expression of the woman as if she has been interrupted while knitting, perhaps in the midst of counting! She appears to be making a stocking but I can only see three needles. I have never seen this painting in person and can only find a black and white image. The missing needle(s) may be on the table to the woman's left but the shadows make it difficult to distinguish what is on the foreground of the table.

I have also seen Internet links citing this painting as attributed to Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699 – 1779)

Monday, 3 March 2008

Desolation Island Mittens - Warning - Spoilers

"Pray try this mitten, for the size."

Desolation Island, Chapter Nine

So says Louisa Wogan to Stephen Maturin towards the end of this book. She has already knit him a comforter, knits him another and seems well stocked in wool; indeed, baby Leopardina, born at sea, who goes into her care, sleeps snugly in a box of wool. She keeps her fellow female prisoners busy with their hands, telling Dr. Maturin that they "...have been a gaggle of women all together, knitting without a moment's pause and trying to keep warm." I will not describe too many of the circumstances of this book in case of spoilers but I have given thought to Louisa Wogan and her knitting. She knew she was going to make a very long voyage to a place where she would not have the same access to goods and clothes as she did in England and America. Did she bring a supply of wool to knit things she would need or just to pass the time and keep her sanity? Her convict situation would limit social exchange so she knew she would be much alone. She knits for different people in an age without printed patterns so she is obviously somewhat accomplished in this art. Is she knitting with the typical needles of this era, namely fairly thin, metal, very sharp double pointed ones? She must have, like any conscientious knitter, stocked up on needles before leaving on her voyage or already had them in her possession as she seems to have supplied the other three (correct me if I am wrong) surviving women. These needles, however, like my reproductions, are veritable weapons in the wrong hands, especially this collection of dangerous female hands.

There are other knitters in the POB canon and I will, no doubt, be discussing them in the future along with their sisters and brothers in literature but for now I must credit Louisa Wogan, in spite of all of her other faults, for being one of the fold. Like those of us who will not lose a moment to knit whenever we can, she knits through storms and crises, and is generous with her output. The last time Stephen Maturin visits her before her escape, he notices "how the whole place was curiosly trim, almost bare." Even the table on which she had kept "Stephen's stockings to be darned" was swept clear. Stephen, of course, knows that she is about to make an attempt at flight but what I would like to know is did she take her knitting needles and wool with her to the American ship? In spite of being free, I would like to imagine her still knitting on her way home, this time, perhaps, for the crew of the whaler who would be grateful for any replenishment of woolen wear.

The wool in my Desolation Mittens is a hand spun that was given to me and I do not know its origns. Louisa Wogan had red and blue wool, and she might also have had an undyed thick and gloriously warm yarn like this one. The mittens are knit on 3.50mm double pointed bamboo needles with a gauge/tension of 5 stitches/inch. The cuffs are reminiscent of the 18th century style of garter stitch edges found on stocking tops and early knitted waistcoats/undershirts, and I have made them extra long and narrow for added warmth. They are a variation upon rather than a reproduction of ones of that era as I cannot document the style.

Muffatees, Mittens and a Mitt, oh my!

The muffatees, or wrist warmers, in the upper right are the Corkscrew Pattern Muffatees from Exercises in Knitting (1856) by Cornelia Mee ( They were knit on 3.75 bamboo double pointed needles in Pomegranate Nature Spun Worsted wool.

The 18th century gauntlet gloves are adapted from various patterns and information on discussion sites on the web, and fitted to my own hands. They have a garter stitch edge (no ribbing) and are knit in undyed hand spun wool from local historic breed of Dorset-Wiltshire sheep on 3.25mm double pointed needles with a gauge/tension of 7 1/2 stitches/inch.

The idea for the pattern of the brown mitts may be found at This pattern, however, is an example of several historic ones that I have found that do not match the illustration and contain errors in the text. There are no instructions for a bracelet cuff as shown in the illustration. The cuff is a plain stocking/stockinette stitch edge. I chose to knit two garter stitch rows on my edge. I had to rewrite the second part of the pattern, correcting the errors, but did not like the look of it when finished. After ripping out the glove back down to the upper blue design, I redesigned it to tightly fit my own hand and worked out a diamond pattern that is larger than the original one but a better fit numerically into my stitch count. These mitts are being knit on 3.00mm double pointed bone needles (not pictured) in some wonderful old Beehive brown wool and a dusky blue Morehouse lace weight wool at a gauge/tension of 7 1/2/inch.

The upper photo is of gauntlet mittens, with an historically incorrect/undocumented inner ribbed cuff, knit on 4.00 wooden double pointed needles in Brown Sheep's Lamb's Pride wool/mohair blend from my stash with a gauge/tension of 4 stitches/inch. They are extremely warm and I wear them almost every day in the winter.

Lace Handkerchief Case

This wip will be a satin-lined handkerchief case with a Van Dyke edging. It is being knit in one long strip that will be folded over to close. It is based on a nightdress case from Weldon's Practical Knitter. The lace pattern is from Knitting Lace by Susanna E. Lewis (1992), #29, on 4mm bamboo needles in ivory Coats Opera 5 cotton. The edging pattern is a Very Pretty Vandyke (sic) Border from Exercises in Knitting (1856) by Cornelia Mee ( It is knit separately. The edge on the top flap has already been sewn onto the long strip. The other edging will be sewn along the finished folded body. A spool knitted loop will be attached to the front flap to wrap around a mother of pearl button to close the case.

The needles in the photograph are reproduction 19th century bone single pointed ones.

Clamshell Counterpane

Knitted counterpane patterns were many and varied during the 19th century. Squares, circles, octagons, triangles, etc. with lace, raised leaves and all kinds of textures suggestive of patchwork and appliqued quilts. The clamshell pattern above (, unblocked, is knit on 2.25mm steel needles in white DMC Baroque cotton. Each clamshell measures about 5" across and 3 1/2" down.

The green Narrow Vandyke (sic) edging sample is knit on 3.00mm steel needles in thin crochet cotton. The pattern is from Exercises in Knitting (1856) by Cornelia Mee (

Kneecap Warmer and Gentleman's Underdrawers

The green and blue kneecap warmer is based on patterns from Weldon's Practical Knitter and the one in this link: ( It was knit on 4.50mm wooden needles in Nature Spun Worsted wool. The original pattern is from Peterson's Magazine, May, 1868.

The Gentleman's Underdrawers are half-finished. One side is complete with the button band. The other half and the gusset are on 4.50mm wooden needles. The wool is Nature Spun Worsted and the choice of colours are those suggested in the original Weldon's Practical Knitter pattern.

More Lace Sampler Patterns

The two burgundy reticules or purses were made from thin and thick crochet cotton using Pattern #15 from Knitting Lace by Susanna E. Lewis, on 3mm and 4mm needles respectively.

18th Century Child's Brown Stockings

The 18th century child's brown stockings are made of unlabeled wool of uncertain date that I found in my stash which dates back thirty years. They were knit on 3.50 mm double pointed needles at a gauge/tension of 6 1/2 stitches/inch.

The top of the stocking has two sets of garter stitch rows and the heel and gusset are typical of stockings from this era. The pattern was adapted from photographs of 18th century stockings from various museum and other institutions' collections.

17th/18th Century Infant Waistcoat or Jacket

This is my reproduction wip of a hand knitted infant waistcoat or jacket in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (No. T30-1932 - based on a photograph from the catalogue, knit one, purl one, published by the V&A c. 1985 in conjunction with the exhibit of the same name. The museum catalogue entry dates it as 17th to 18th century, knitted in two-ply cotton, "knitted in one piece in the round and was then slit down the front and the edges hemmed. It is knitted in stocking stitch with bands of geometric patterning in plain and purl, and the false seam lines are knitted in. "

I am knitting it on 2.00mm metal needles (11 stitches/inch) in ecru DMC Baroque cotton. I will not be slitting the front but will leave it as is and explain the procedure instead.

Sideways Spencer

When knitting contemporary garments or items, I often borrow from the past. The Sideways Spencer is such an example. Designed by Annie Modesitt and published in Interweave Knits (Fall, 2004), it is knit from wrist to wrist as one continuous garment. It is not a reproduction of a specific spencer but a way to wear a style from the past with contemporary clothing. My research so far has never yielded a knitted spencer, let alone cable knitting from the era of the spencer. I include it here, however, as it stretches its arms over two centuries.

The Sideways Spencer was knit on 4.50mm and 5mm needles in Aurora 8, Karabella Yarns, Extrafine Merino Wool.

Lace Samplers

Susanna E. Lewis's book Knitting Lace (1992) is a goldmine of historic patterns. I have used many of them for contemporary projects (hats, scarves, gloves, mittens, infant clothing, purses and handbags.) Her charting of the 91 patterns and hem of the "early to the mid-19th century" sampler of probable southern German or Austrian origin is a fascinating exercise in knitting. I started the sampler on 3mm needles using ecru DMC Baroque cotton and am currently up to pattern 39. I am also knitting it on 1.25mm needles using white Cebelia 30 cotton which duplicates the original 3" or so width and am up to pattern 9.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Knitting in the Past

I am a process knitter. That is, I like to knit but I am equally interested in the construction of the garment/object, the diversity of stitches and techniques and materials. I knit to knit, rather than always to wear or use. Sometimes, however, this interest in a project only lasts as long as the novelty of any or all of the above. Hence I currently have more than sixty knitting projects in various states of progress or wips (works in progress.) From lace pincushions to handbags to cardigans to the full body Garment. As this has been a lifelong habit, I can assume that as long as I have breath and ability, the projects, as in the past, will all be eventually completed at some point.

Roughly half of my output is contemporary knitting, clothing and accessories for myself, friends and family, and charity knitting. The other half is historic knitting which is definitely a process exercise in many cases. Some of the knitting is from historic patterns but the word pattern is rather loosely used. These may vary from a suggestion of a stitch pattern (a few sentences of text without illustrations, needle size, type of yarn) to an illustrated (drawing or photograph) pattern with needle sizes and, sometimes, the kind of needle (steel, rosewood, bone, etc.) and the kind of yarn, quantity and colour. Other knitting is transcribed from extant historic garments or photographs in books or on the web from institutional collections. This means choosing similar materials from modern sources, and working out gauge/tension, needle size and actual size of the finished garment or object. Colour images are a blessing as black and white ones can be a tease. Scraps of information from diaries, letters, journals, merchant and runaway servant and slave advertisements are invaluable. Paintings and other artworks are less reliable as researchers are at the mercy of artistic whim or ignorance of the art and tools of knitting. By pulling all of the above together, I try not only to recreate a garment or object from the past but also sample the same experience of creation. The phrase "The past is a foreign country" is frequently heard in historic reenactment or interpretive circles. No one can truly understand what life was like for anyone, even the people of a generation ago, let alone a century or more, no matter how much we study or demonstrate in historic clothing. We can, however, at least get a glimpse into the past, as if passing by quickly, by recreating something in the same way, to the best of our knowledge, as it was done in another time.

Friday, 29 February 2008

18th and 19th Century Stockings

The 18th century child's gray/burgundy marled stockings (upper left), on 3.25mm bronze needles, are made of unlabeled wool of uncertain date from my thirty year old stash at a gauge/tension of 6 1/2 stitches/inch. The undyed ones below, on 3.25mm birch needles, are made of hand spun from the wool of a local flock of a Dorset-Wiltshire historic breed with a gauge/tension of 7 stitches/inch. The patterns for both are loosely based on stockings I have seen in photographs from books and various museum's and other institutions' collections. Both stockings have the traditional garter stitch rows at the tops, and the undyed pair has a series of openings worked with a Yarn Over/Knit 2 Together combination, so as to create an area where a garter or ribbon can be threaded through the top of the stocking.

The 19th century adult dark brown stockings are on 2.00mm metal needles knit in old, thin Dritz *sports yarn* (wool) that I would love to be able to precisely date. The ribbing (more commonly found in the 19th century) at the top is a *K3, P1* combination with 15 stitches/inch. Still in the design process, they will probably be partially based on a pair in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village (

19th Century Mitts

These elegant mitts are from a pattern published by Circa Knits (1995) based on ones (c. 1863) in the collection of the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California. They were knit on 2.25 mm needles using ivory mercerised cotton. The picot edge is knitted. I intend to knit them again using a more historically accurate lace weight wool or silk.

Monmouth Caps

The Monmouth cap has been evolved over the last five centuries into the style many of us wear today. As Mara Riley explains, "Many of the surviving examples of the 17th and 18th century caps...were knitted larger than the finished size and then heavily felted to produce water-resistant headwear, though this treatment does not seem to have been universal...The term Monmouth Cap seems to refer generically to English knitted caps in the 18th century, some of which resemble Rutt's* cap and others which look more like modern stocking caps but without the ribbing." (

*A History of Hand Knitting"by Richard Rutt (1987)

The yellow one is knit in a vintage, unnamed 3 ply wool knit on 4.00mm needles, and somewhat resembles the 15th century acorn cap. The brim, however, rolls upwards. The light and dark grey ones are both knit on 3.25mm needles in 2 ply wools I bought so long ago I have forgotten their names. The dark gray one can be folded or pushed down at the top. The brim was folded over and knit into the body of the cap at 4 inches. This folding technique is found on some of the few extant caps such as the one in Heart of Oak* and the one worn by the late 17th century Gunnister Man. None of my caps have the *button* at the top or the loop on the brim found on many Monmouth caps.

*Heart of Oak - A Sailor's Life in Nelson's Navy by James P. McGuane (2002)

Stockings for Stephen Maturin

"'...and pull on your stockings, I beg. We have not a moment to lose. No, not the blue stockings: we are going on to Mrs Harte's party - to her rout.'

'Must I put on silk stockings?...Was I to put the silk stockings over my worsted ones, sure the hole would not show: but then I should stifle with the heat.'"

Master and Commander, Chapter Six

This is the second mention of knitted objects in the POB Canon. In the third chapter of Master and Commander, James Mowett is described as wearing "a striped Guernsey shirt, a knitted garment that gave him very much the look of a caterpillar." This garment may have been loom knitted. "Worsted," on the other hand, sometimes referred to hand knit objects so I decided to make Stephen's blue stockings. The debate over the stockings in Chapter Six is followed by the description of domestic chamber music and that its audience, "Mrs Brown and a white cat, sat mildly knitting, perfectly satisfied with the performance."

What was the cat knitting, I wonder?

I chose Blackberry Ridge lace weight wool, Dark Wedgewood, for this project. I like its wools for historic knitting as the colours resemble natural dyes and the texture is like fine hand spun. I will publish the yardage used when I have completed the pair of stockings as I have no idea at this point how much will be needed. I am using five 2.00mm metal double pointed needles with a gauge/tension of 11 stitches/inch. The top of the stocking has the 18th century style of garter stitch rows edging with a stocking/stockinette plain stitch area where the garter or band would go around, followed by another double series of garter stitch rows, hopefully preventing rolling down and slipping of any fastening, and then the stocking/stockinette plain stitch for the rest of the stocking. "S" and "M" will be cross stitched in red (typical colour used for this purpose) cotton (standing in for silk) thread in the upper part of the stocking using lettering common in late 18th century samplers. The body of the stocking is based on the 1765 one and pattern found in Sharon Ann Burnston's book "Fitting and Proper," (1998).

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Garment - The Sketch

It is painfully obvious that I cannot draw. Here, however, is my sketch of TG as I envision it. It will, of course, be a tighter fit all over.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Infant Wear from the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

The infant cap and boots on the left are from Lace from the Attic (1998) by Nanci Wiseman and were knit on 3.00mm, and 2.75mm and 3.00mm needles, respectively. The infant cap, knit on 2.75mm needles on the upper right is from a pattern published by Circa Knitwear (1995) of a late 19th century cap in the collection of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California. The remaining cap in the lower left is a wool (and bulkier) version of the Baby Bonnet by June Ware, published in Spin-Off (Summer, 2000), knit on 2.75mm needles. All three infant caps and the boots were knit with Morehouse undyed lace weight yarn and with double pointed needles.