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 (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21032). 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 http://www.geocities.com/vintageconnection/VintageConnection--KNITladysmitts.html. 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 (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21032). 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 (http://www.knitting-and.com/knitting/patterns/counterpanes/shell.htm), 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 (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21032)

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: (http://www.geocities.com/vintageconnection/VintageConnection--KNITKneeWarmers.html 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 - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O108312/jacket/) 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.