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.
A second, much lighter weight Knitted Hood from Peterson’s Magazine, September, 1861. I knit this one in Templetons’s H&O Shetland Fleece in Dusky Blue and White on 6.5mm/10 ½ US needles. The monotony of knitting this hood was greatly relieved by the fact that I love this wool so I was quite happy to have it flowing through my fingers.
My other hood turned out rather heavy but was so very warm during last year’s bitter winter. I had used a thicker wool than the original pattern’s 19th century’s “Shetland wool,” which is closer in weight to the Templeton’s. Two separate, identical pieces are to be knit and then sewn together but for this second hood, I only knit one piece and folded it over to sew it up. I kept to the original number of rows but added stitches on both sides to the long bands for tying so I could wrap them around my neck and then tie them in front. I made tassels again, as suggested in the text of the original pattern, and used blue and white wool as stated in the pattern.
The photo below shows another Princess Royal’s Scarf from Godey’s Lady’s Book, March, 1856, knit, again, in KnitPicks’s Palette, this time in Edamame and Mustard, on 4.5mm/7 US needles. I had to add thirty-two stitches to each side again to make it long enough and to match the illustration. I went with long tassels again, and not the spikey pompons (called "tassels" and "balls") as in the illustration. Although I modeled the last scarf I made, I gave it away so this one is for me!
La Tricoteuse Lionel Percy Smythe (1839-1918) English Watercolour on paper Trustees of the Royal Watercolour Society London RWS137244 Source: WikiGallery.org
This painting, undated (late 19th/early 20th century?), is full of hazy summer light and a gentle breeze which blows the skirt and apron of the knitter forward, along with the wool. She seems to have paused in working on a stocking or a sleeve, which, though knit in the round, has only two needles visible in the painting. I hope the other two or three needles are just out of view. I would also have liked to see where the wool is coming from – a basket, workbag?
This is the summer of completion – I hope! Another project is off the needles at last, the Gentleman’s Drawers from Weldon’s Practical Knitter, Eleventh Series (c. 1880s.) I worked from Interweave Press’s facsimile edition of Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume Four.
The drawers were knit in just under six skeins of Nature Spun Worsted, Silver Sage and one skein of the same in Red Fox on 4.5mm/7 US needles. The legs were knit in the round, and the hips to the waist back and forth on straights.
The original pattern called for “light grey or natural colour wool” and “one skein of scarlet wool,” both in “petticoat weight” knit on “four steel knitting needles No. 12” (modern equivalent 2mm/2.5US.) “Should petticoat wool be considered too heavy 5-ply fingering may be employed.” These drawers are described as “very thick and warm.” Petticoat patterns from earlier in the century, however, usually called for the equivalent of fingering weight wool. Hence my choice of Nature Spun Worsted which is a 3-ply wool, perhaps coming closer to the 5-ply fingering. I would have, however, have had a very difficult time knitting with the 3-ply on 2mm needles and if I had knit in a fingering weight wool on 2mm needles, the drawers would have come out in a size to fit a boy and not a man. Swatching in the beginning was essential when playing the all too frequent guessing game of wool equivalency weights during various eras, even within the same century.
This pair of underdrawers measures 49” from waist down to and including the red border of the ankle cuff, the inside leg is 27 ½” and the ankle cuff, including the red border, 3 ½”. The button band is 11 ½” long. The legs are is 20” at the upper thigh, 15” at knee, and 8” (unstretched) at ribbing of ankle cuff. The hips are 40” as is the waist. The drawers were knit in two separate leg and hip pieces and then sewn together up the back. The roominess in the seat of the drawers was created by half rows every sixth row on each side or leg/hip piece. Stitches for a square gusset were picked up from one of the inside crotch sides and sewn onto the other three sides when completed
The final touches include knitted eyelets in the waistband (for braces/suspenders), red flannel lining at the waist down to the hips, scarlet tape and braid for trimming, and stitching in silk thread around the flannel/knitted buttonholes as well as the decorative stitching in the front from the button panels outwards as seen in the original illustration. I did not do any of the above.
I am now knitting the "lace" section of this collar. Once again, it is an eight row sequence which is clearly written and enjoyable to knit which led me to reflect that in less than ten years, the art of pattern writing, including the suggestion of needle sizes and materials, had become vastly improved. The Workwoman's Guide (1840 - Second Edition), which I use for knitting and sewing, still relies upon intuitive knitting and background skills in design whereas this little pattern book for collars, published some six years later is highly specific and includes illustrations which are, so far, accurate. The illustration for this collar, which is a drawing, is, however, truncated in length. I wonder if visual sizing was sacrificed so as to make a larger image of the knitted stitches for which I am grateful.
By the way, this book of collars was in its fourth edition in 1846.