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.
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 (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O75483/bag/), 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.