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?


stellaluna said...

I think you are right about it being a stocking that she is working on. That looks like a stocking top to the left.

When I looked for an enlarged version of the picture (found at www.allposters.com)
it looks as if there is a thread of yarn between her hands, going off to the left. Her left index finger is pointing at it.

Great site, by the way! Do you have a pattern for the gauntlet gloves, or did you make it up yourself?

One More Stitch said...

Thank you for your kind remark and for finding a larger version of the painting. I should get a poster of it, or, better yet, try to see it in person one day!

I don't have a pattern for the gauntlet gloves as I made it up myself based on the width of my hand and the gauge of the wool on the needles that felt most comfortable. I then worked out the lower flare of the outside cuff and the decreases at the top. I knit the gloves from the flared part upwards and when I reached the upper most place in the wrist (right above that round outside bone) where I wanted the top of the inner cuff to be, I ran very thin dpns through the set of dpns I was working with and with yet a third set (one size smaller than the hand size), I knit the ribbing rows which fall downwards when worn. Then I just continued knitting the glove upwards, thumb, etc. I based the design on gloves I had seen in books, museums and on the web.

A Homely Heroine said...

I couldn't say what she's knitting, but I do like the picture. I've often wondered what knitted stockings would feel like, too warm? too itchy? how would they stay up? I love that scene in M&C when Maturin considers wearing one pair over another.

One More Stitch said...

It depends upon the material of the stockings. The wool ones that I knit are fairly thin and they do not feel bulky in my 18th or early 19th century shoes. I hope to make a silk pair later this year.

As for holding them up, garters woven as tape or ribbon (I prefer a coarse weave) or knitted (I have a 19th century pair on the needles) wrapped twice around the leg just above or below the knee and then tied, will keep the stockings up. Sort of. They do need adjusting during the day. Not all that good for circulation, either. Men wearing knee length breeches can use the buttoned leg cuff for stocking support as the stockings come up over the knee.

I have seen 19th century hand knit cotton stockings that are very thick and very heavy. They would have to be made to fit the leg exactly. I would not want to wear those.

The M&C stocking scene is delightful! The silk stockings were probably white so the (blue) hole would show through! Too funny!

Aaron said...

It looks to me very much like a frock or gansey with the sleeves knitted from the shoulder down.

The problem is that before 1800, a whole variety of conditions resulted in fewer articles of clothing surviving so that we do not know the full inventory of clothing types produced.

The fact that someone painted her suggests that her family is well to do and she is knitting because young ladies must learn how to knit in order to properly supervise the staff. She is clearly too plump and well fed to be a piece work knitter.

A clever girl that grows up knitting socks and ganseys for her brothers can knit pretty much anything she can dream. Tell me what a whaler with need and time could not knit.