Wednesday, 17 February 2010

“Pine-apple” Purse from The Lady’s Stratagem

The Lady’s Stratagem - A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette, Lavolta Press, San Francisco, 2009, 755 pages. Edited and with Additional Material by Frances Grimble.

This book is a delight to read from cover to cover. There are sections on health, etiquette, beauty, cosmetics, servants, courtship, clothing, millinery, accessories, needlework and much, much more. It is highly defined within the period of time variously known as the “Extended Regency, American Federal Period, Fur Trade Era, Colonial Canada, Bourbon Restoration.”

Chapter XVII, The Art of Knitting, pages 431-458, does not have a great many patterns but does include some things I had not yet seen in publications from this era such as a Beret, Pantaloons, Waistcoats and Night Jackets, and a discussion of “Open-Work Knitting,” which, as a keen knitter of lace patterns from 1830’s-1840s, made me very happy. There are also instructions or patterns for knitting stockings, slippers, gloves, petticoats, mitts and purses.

The pattern for “A Purse knitted like a Pine-apple” appears on pages 445-446. As with other early knitting patterns, there is no recommended needle size or gauge. “Green” and “orange silk” are the suggested materials. There is no illustration of the purse but the final line of the pattern states that when “the purse is closed at the top with drawing-strings, it has altogether the air of a pine-apple” (page 446.)

The pattern is typically, of the era, intuitive. In addition, two different counts of the ultimate number of stitches needed for the top of the bag are given although only one of them is divisible by six and neither by eight, one or both of which is essential for the eyelet openings and the leaves. I increased to a number in between the two suggested numbers that gave me the correct division later on.

The bag begins with the five leaves at the bottom which “take the place of the tassel,” and are knit upside down, one at a time, narrowing the total numbers of stitches down to the very small number of the base of the star which is how the lower green part is knit. No directions were given for the leaves, only that they should resemble “…a little tab like the strap of a slipper.” Shoes were dainty in the 1820’s so these leaves are too. I did not make them very long, though, as they would have been flopping all over the place and the upper ones would have then hidden the small section of orange knitting. This part’s openwork contains a choice of a hole à jour (which I used) or à crochet; explanations of both techniques are given elsewhere in the chapter.

The “drawing strings” are a “flat braid au crochet…made by a kind of knitting, or rather a chain-stitch…(using) a hook, which is an iron instrument two or three inches long terminating in a curved point, and fitted into a wooden handle.” (page 539) I determined their length and the size of the tassels by one of the illustrations of a purse or reticule elsewhere in The Lady’s Stratagem and other period clothing prints. The first ones I made are in the photograph but they came out too long when I gathered the purse's top so they will have to be shortened.

Since silk is out of my price range, I substituted DMC Six Strand Embroidery Floss in Green 935 (16 skeins) and Orange 742 (3 skeins) and knit the bag on 2mm/0US double pointed needles at a gauge of 10 stitches to the inch. The leaves are just over 1 ¼” long each and the purse’s body measures 6” long in total and 6” across at the widest top part of the orange section.

The “flat braid” was badly crocheted (my talents lie elsewhere) on a 2mm/0US hook. I am going to line the lower green part of the purse, perhaps with “white taffety” as recommended later on this chapter (page 450.)

I plan to make more items from this book but I also want to try and track down the exact source of each pattern. The bibliography is helpful and I have also been pointed to the Manuel des Demoiselles ou Arts et Métiers…. whose edition from 1830 is available on Googlebooks and which contains directions for the “Bourses en ananas” on page 176.* My next task is to translate that section and compare it to the pattern above.

*My thanks to Alwen.

Friday, 5 February 2010

An Award!

Much to my surprise, I am a recipient of The Beautiful Blogger Award, nominated by Bygone Knits – thank’ee, ma’am! ‘Twas most kind of you to do so! Please take a look at her wonderful blog - the link is on the left of this post.

In return, I must change the usual theme of my posts and list seven random facts about myself, and then choose seven blogs for nomination.

Part I

1. I like good, plain cooking – and Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisine.

2. I love black and white films from the late 1920’s-early1950’s, especially anything with Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis or Kay Francis. I also like late 20th/early 21st century literary and historical films and series with fabulous and not too fanciful period clothing.

3. I love art, theatre, ballet, opera, early and classical music as well as traditional fiddle melodies, and have studied ballet and five instruments.

4. I have a large book collection made up of history and biographies (both mostly 16th- early 20th century), naval (more history, biographies, novels), 17th-20th century plays and novels, historic clothing, knitting and quilting, Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, 19th and 20th century books of fiction about dolls and dolls’ houses, and quite a few of the recent various series of future children’s classics. I also like the works of Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark and Anita Brookner, and one of my absolute favourite novels is The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier – time travellers, take note.

5. Although my intellectual home is firmly fixed in the Long 18th Century, I also enjoy studying the Tudor/early Stuart and Edwardian/World War I periods, and the 1930’s as well as the clothes from those eras.

6. In spite of my passion for the past, I am an avid Stargater (SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis) and dream of introducing knitting to other galaxies far, far away.

7. I really do go outdoors sometimes, and I like swimming, kayaking and taking long walks, even outside of museums!

Part II

Nominating just seven blogs was very difficult as there are so many wonderful ones out there. Here are some of the ones I read on a regular basis (and apologies to my internet friends I did not include on the list – I was told only seven!!!)

Travels in Time

18th century blog

A Homely Heroine

Lost Arts studio

In The Past Lane

Joyful Molly

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Romance of Knitting

Winding Up (Alternate Title: Courtship) (1836)
William Sidney Mount (American, 1807-1868)
Oil on wood panel, 18 3/8 x 14 15/16 inches (46.67 x 37.94 cm)
Gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Kansas City, Missouri

With February upon us, and St. Valentine’s Day approaching, I chose a romantic painting with knitting to start the month. Is this, however, another three needle painting like some of the others I have discussed in this blog? The knitting, on the stool behind the girl, appears to be a tubular object – a stocking, undersleeve, long cap, perhaps? Three needles on the knitting are clearly visible but the fourth, and, possibly, a fifth, may be loose and lying on the stool, under the knitting. There are two long dark lines in the middle of the stool but I think they are decorative elements like the work around the side edges of the stool. I can also just see another light line just to the left of the knitting coming out almost over the front of the edge of the stool - could this be another needle peeking out from under the knitting?

The young woman is winding wool that she will use to continue work on the dropped knitting as there is no ball of wool on the stool and only a strand of yarn from the knitting, waiting to be joined on, can just be seen hanging over the edge. She appears to be holding another skein of blue yarn on her arm. I have not read analyses of this painting so I may be repeating what has already been written but I see the skeins and the knitting as highly symbolic. The names of the painting, Winding Up and Courtship should, perhaps, be listed in reverse order. The courtship seems to be at an end, winding up, and the couple, bathed in warm daylight but snug inside of the house, are situated by the hearth, which is suggestive of home and passion. The young woman, dressed in a gown of red (a color of love) and in her apron, engaged in creating clothing, is thus visually promising a future as a dutiful wife. Her knitting, tossed down on the stool, is, however, a progressive object begun, as is her adult life. The wool of her work is hanging over an edge, waiting to be attached to another ball just as the young woman has also reached a possible precipice in her life but seems to be, from the expression on her face, inclined towards the ultimate attachment. Her suitor, who is assisting her with winding her light coloured (natural, undyed, white (the colour of purity)?) wool, will not only help her to complete what she is knitting but the story of her life, this continuation suggested by the second blue skein waiting to be wound up. Could the sharp points of the needles and the dangling strand of wool also be foreshadowings of unpleasant things to come? Let us hope, instead, that the ball of wool that is being wound will soon be attached to that dangling strand on the stool and the future joined life of the two young people in the painting will be as secure and firm as the knitting on the needles.

Click on the painting for a larger view and for an even better image, click on this link: