I do research on and recreate garments and objects from the past. My sources range from original items to photographs in books, periodicals, art works, literary references and period patterns. My research also involves the history of knitting needles and related implements.
The portrait in the corner is by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) of Elisabeth Alexeyevna (?), location and ownership unknown.
This is a very easy project from Exercises in Knitting (1846) by Mrs. Cornelia Mee and works up very quickly. The colours are meant to imitate five shades of sable or chinchilla fur. The original pattern calls for “double German wool” whose modern equivalent would be a double knitting or sport weight wool. I used Knit Picks’s Palette. I experimented with various sizes of needles and settled on 4mm/US 6 size needles to get the gauge/tension I needed to make a muff that measured 14" across. The knitting actually measures 15", that extra inch providing the half-inch seam on each underside. The pattern runs from light to dark and then back down through the dark colours to the lightest. Each set comprises a stripe and four stripes “are required.” The lining should be “satin put underneath the knitting of the same colour;” I used a silver imitation satin fabric, and all of the sewing was done by hand.
I hate blocking and did not block this piece, even though it was slanted, when finished. I was able to avoid this step as the knitting was to be sewn onto the satin. I first made a four layer lining with a cotton pillow or sack on the inside, filled with washed and carded merino fleece, and the “satin” on the outside. I basted all four layers together before sewing them and, in fact, basted the pillow every step of the way which, especially when the knitting was attached, helped to shape the stripes and straighten out the slant. The knitted piece was sewn on the satin pillow with the strands of carried wool folded under the interior seam. The pillow was then rolled and sewn along the long edge and the final step was to sew the two white knitted edges together.
I used the muff today in very, very cold weather and it was lovely and warm. There is no extra room on the inside so my hands, in lace mitts, were snug and cosy.
Knitting is my primary passion when it comes to handwork. It is the first kind of handwork I learned, growing up in a knitting household and being taught when I was about five years old. I knit very simple (and often odd-looking) garter stitch items for my dolls and stuffed animals and then around age ten, began to knit hats, gloves (two flat sides with cast ons and cast offs for fingers and then sewn together), scarves for myself and family members. This led to Arans in my early teens and any other type of stitch variation I could learn and use. At the same time, from about age eight onwards, I was clumsily constructing doll clothes of all sizes. None of these, rightly so, have survived but some of my early tandem attempts at stitchery have in various conditions. This is all leading up to explain that a lifetime surrounded with wool, embroidery floss, fabric, linen, canvas and needles of all sizes and shapes has refined itself into a concentration on knitting, quilting, Irish/flame/bargello and cross stichery, most of which has a lean towards reproduction.
I have no other electronic venue to display my work, apart from Ravelry, so I have decided to sprinkle this blog with an occasional piece of alternative handwork. Since today is the birthday of Jane Austen (235 years young), and she is, for many reasons, my most revered author of all time, I have posted a picture of a white work quilt I made in the late 1990s. It was also my first and last attempt at appliqué, an technique obviously to be ranked with my limited skills in drawing. I do, however, greatly enjoy wholecloth quilting. As much as I am in love with printed fabrics, I think my favourite part of the quilt making process is the quilting which comes at the end, and which, like the rest of the production, I do by hand. This little quilt, measuring approximately 20” x 14”, was marked in light pencil using two different stencils. It may not be very apparent but there is stippling (tiny squiggly stitches) all around the appliquéd piece. Another first and last experience as stippling was not unlike knitting the Peterson’s garter stitch hood or flying for many, many hours. Millions of stitches in a feeling of suspended animation, in a twilight zone where nothing seems to be advancing towards completion.
As with almost every kind of stitchery, except knitting, I am self-taught and perhaps that was not a wise choice when it came to appliqué. Nevertheless, after reading and practicing, I chose the classic silhouette image purported to be of Jane Austen and owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London. The fabric is a an imitation silk; the rest of the quilt is made from 100% cotton and the batting/wadding is Fairfield Soft Touch cotton. I use this and Warm and Natural Needled Cotton Batting for my reproduction quilts as they result in a fairly similar texture to the cotton or combed fleece fillings used in the past. They are also pure heaven to stitch through.
This quilt is, however, not a reproduction but a tribute one using cross-hatching, stippling and feathers as motifs reflecting the complexity and yet seemingly effortless gracefulness of Jane Austen’s writing.
Yes, it was tedious, to put it milldly, to knit, and, yes, it is bulky but is it ever so warm! I have worn it during the day, and on several evenings in freezing, breezy temperatures on the banks of a very large, windswept river and have felt nice and cosy all wrapped up in it. With the very cold weather that promises to continue, the hood will be put to much use in the weeks to come.
The photographs show a very ungraceful line on the sides but the hood fits around the neck with these.
In spite of the mindless pattern, I am planning to make another in a laceweight wool. It will be a good summer project and give me a chance again to catch up with reading, DVD backlogs, etc.
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)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
I have written about this painting before (http://historyknits.blogspot.com/2008/03/knitting-in-art.html) I like the it very, very much, not only because of the knitting but for the details of 18th century clothing. The image of it from the Met’s site was, at that time, however, small and only available in black and white which not only did not let us clearly see the fabrics’ colors and textures but also hid the fourth needle from my eyes on my laptop’s small screen. T he current image from the Met's site, used here, is now much sharper. In an effort, though, a few years ago, to get what I hoped would be a better version of the image, I ordered an electronic version of the painting directly from the Met or, rather, the linked service which provides such things. I cannot legally use that image on this blog so the images here are, again, from the Met’s regular Internet site*, including the section showing the knitting.
The “ordered” image, although also in black and white, is, however, richer in the details of the painting. I can now see the beautiful cap and handkerchief of the sitter as well as a huge ball of wool on the table next to a basket containing a work bag with striped ribbons. Both of these items previously looked like food to me in the smaller image on the Met’s Internet site and I was wondering about that dangling thread from the table. With the zoom feature, I can get an even better look at them and hope to reproduce the work bag at some future time. I was also amused by the size of the ball of wool as it is larger than most in most paintings from that and the surrounding centuries.
Most exciting of all was the fourth needle. It lies against the girl’s inner arm where, thin and bent, in the smaller image, it had looked like a crease in her sleeve if it could be seen at all in that older image from the Met’s site. The girl has just started a new row with it so it is largely empty, perhaps only holding a few stitches which are covered by the hand clutching the knitting. What is, though, the curious curl at or near the end of the needle? A wrinkle in her clothing or something attached to her clothing – a part of something similar to a chatelaine?
Oh, dear – a needle found but another mystery, too.