Wednesday, 29 February 2012

You Need Not Knit Alone

A Spinster in a Neo-Classical Sitting Room Interior, c. 1835
Russian School (19th Century)
Watercolour with heightening on paper
Private Collection
Source: Charles Plante Fine Arts / The Bridgeman Art Library,
Image Number: CJP107277

This blog is primarily about knitting in an historical context – reproduction of items from the past, techniques, patterns or not, artwork about historical knitting. I must comment, however, on contemporary knitting history, namely, Ravelry, which is making knitting history every day. Not everyone who reads this blog is a member of Ravelry but I would hazard a guess that nearly everyone has, at least, heard of Ravelry. It is a phenomenon in itself and a gateway to a world of knitters, crocheters, spinners, designers, breeders and anyone who creates garments and objects out of some sort of string be it made from wool to plastic bags and heaven knows what else or is just interested in the diversity of materials and creations. There is no limit to the span of the outputs of its members be they multi-talented or a complete beginner in the medium of their choice. I cannot even imagine how many “Groups” there are, let alone the gamut of topics, fibre and non-fibre based, which bounce back and forth and from all over the planet, and beyond, perhaps, for all I know!

On February 29, 2012, the two-millionth Raveler signed up! So much for all of those folk out there who smile at me, often condescendingly, and say how nice it is that I am still doing a dying art which no one seems to do anymore these days, and how sad it is to lose it, etc., etc. (I get that response when quilting or stitching in public, too.) One more piece of ammunition in my response kit bag now. One more reason to think about all of the interesting people I have “met” from so many different locations, who share my passion for textiles, offer assistance and advice, and share their ideas, comments and laughter online. Most of all, one more reason to thank the developers of Ravelry who have given us a place to meet, discuss and visually track and share our projects, stashes, book and pattern collections, and so very much more. They continue to make a terrific site better and better all of the time, and I look forward to celebrating the three-millionth member!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Knitted Bag from the V&A

I am reproducing this knitted bag twice. It comes from the Textiles Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Museum Number T.397-1910.) The original bag is knitted flat in three colours of silk thread, seamed on one side, and lined with silk fabric. It measures roughly 5 ¼” x 6” (13.5 cm x 15.5 cm.)

My first bag, pictured here, was the test piece for the pattern. I have never seen the bag in person and only had three photographs for reference. One from the website (, one from the book Miller’s Collecting Textiles by Patricia Frost, London: Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd., 2000, and the largest image of all from the catalogue of the exhibit of the same name, Knit One, Purl One – Historic and Contemporary Knitting from the V&A’s Collection by Frances Hinchcliffe, Department of Textiles and Dress, London: Precision Press, 1985, which is featured here. None of the images, however, gave me a clear view of the top of the bag so I devised a pattern based on what I think I can see in the last few top rows but am not sure if that is how the bag is actually knitted.

This bag measures 9” x 10 ¾” and is knit DMC Cebelia10 cotton thread (754 – Light Peach/Flesh, 743 – Medium Yellow and 310 – Black), which were the closest I come to the colours of the original bag. The tassels are worked in DMC 761 - pink, 307 – yellow and 310 - black.) Like the original, it was knitted flat and then folded over and seamed on one side and lined with a silky fabric, in this case, a very pale green. The cords are drawstring and the original beads were more ornate than the ones I devised – beading is not my strength. I cannot give any more details of the pattern as the original is in the collection of a museum. I did write to the V&A, asking permission to reproduce another item from the textile collection with the agreement that I would not sell or share the pattern. I received a very nice reply from the museum that granted me permission and came with good wishes that I might enjoy working on such projects.

I am hoping my smaller, more accurately sized second version of the bag (seen on the needles at the bottom of the photograph) will not backfire on me in the same way. The columns of stitches should be in straight, vertical lines, and so they were as I knit them. I did notice, however, that the finished piece of knitting was a bit wider in the sections of the pink columns or, rather, that the yellow eyelets must have drawn in their section. Everything looked fine as I sewed up the seam so I had no idea the stripes were so horribly off until the bag was finished and I laid it flat.

The second bag is being knit in DMC Perle 12 cotton thread on very, very fine needles which is producing a much tighter fabric. I may go up a size in needles for the yellow sections to avoid the fabric being pulled inwards. I may also have to block the finished piece. I do not block, in general, unless I am working on a tricky piece of lace or little scalloped shells for a counterpane.

Years ago, in one of the countries of my childhood, there was a man on the television who taught Aran knitting. The most valuable lesson, however, that I learned from him was his repeated advice that I should have practiced when knitting this bag – namely to “stop and admire your work.” Had I done that, instead of blissfully speeding along, I might have noticed and questioned the discrepancy in size in time to do summat about it.