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.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if one is in possession of the largest collection of needles in the universe, one must be in want of (read tempted to begin) new projects all of the time, which prodigiously encourages the condition commonly known as Startitis. A New Year’s sorting and clearing out of my knitting, quilting and needlework projects revealed, therefore, an extremely large number of sewing, stitching, quilting, and, most of all, knitting wips, most of those historical reproductions. Since the beginning of 2012, I have managed to finish eleven reproductions and one pair of modern socks but this year simply must be The Year of Completion. Some of the projects date back quite a few years, others are far more recent. Many make up a collection of small household objects and accessories for clothing from the 19th century, begun out of curiosity and, since they were small, “I could always go back and finish them quickly” - except I did not do that.
One of the first to be finished in 2012 is this sweet little pincushion, knit in the shape of an acorn. This pattern comes from Weldon’s Practical Knitter, Number 125, Thirty-First Series (1896) which may also be found in the facsimile version of Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 11, Interweave Press, 2004.
The original pattern called for “pale and dark green knitting silk” and “four steel needles No. 18” whose modern equivalent is 1.25mm/US 0000. I used DMC Mouliné Spécial 25 embroidery floss, in two shades of green 167 for the “pale” and 934 for the “dark,” knitting with all six strands at once. This probably made a larger cushion than one made with 19th century knitting silk.
As with most 19th century patterns, there is no gauge/tension stated in the pattern which is written entirely in text, and there are no charts. There is, however, an illustration. There are also no stated finished measurements except for the stalk (see below.) My acorn measures 2 ¾” long (from the base of the stem down to the tip) and just over 3 ¼” wide under the dark cap.
The acorn is knit in one piece from the bottom up to the cap and is supposed to be filled with emery. The pattern suggests making a small sack in “pale green silk” for the inside filling to avoid leakage through the knitted acorn. I neither made a sack nor used emery but stuffed my acorn with washed fleece. The stem was crocheted with a 1.75mm crochet hook and, although no size was stated for the hook, the stalk should measure “3/4 to 1 inch in length.”
I have been reading 19th century patterns for years, and have come to the conclusion that many of them, in edition after edition, were borrowed from one another which is the most polite way of saying purloined, re-written or updated in fashion. By the last two decades of the century, however, Weldon’s Practical Knitter Series, expanded the selection of clothing and the household items also offer a broader, as well as a recognizable collection of choices. Instead of a short paragraph of general instructions reliant on a basic knowledge of the construction of all sorts of clothing, the patterns have become more detailed, often a row by row, with usually reliable artistic illustrations, and, sometimes, quite chatty. This pattern opens with a recommendation for the acorn-shaped cushion as “a change from the inevitable and not too convenient strawberry which once formed the contents of part of every work-basket. The model before us has no inconvenient beads to get in the way of the needles, and is quite easily made.” There is some purchasing advice as well, namely “If a worker has no knitting silk among her stores, filoselle has the advantage of cheapness, as two complete balls of knitting silk would cost more, and but a very small proportion of each would be used.” Furthermore, “Made in large numbers (in knitting silk) for bazaars, these acorns would find a ready sale, as they are novel, pretty and practical.” The end of the pattern has guidelines for stuffing and shaping “the little cushion,” and not “getting the acorn too long and narrow in shape,” creating that nice rounded bottom. I, unfortunately, could not round out my acorn cushion, so it is rather long and narrow in shape, no matter how much I squashed the stuffing into the end. Perhaps this is a case of the illustration being not quite accurate? If I made this pincushion again, I would knit the bottom more loosely, and that, might allow for the stuffing to expand the width.
Note: All quotations are from the facsimile edition of Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 11, published by Interweave Press, 2004.