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.
The Garment is completely knitted – at last! I finally accepted the fact that I had to stop working with this glorious wool but managed to drag out the last six or seven inches for as long as possible. I shall miss The Garment sitting beside me on the sofa as I worked on its “woolen roll at the top” (hood/cowl) or arms. We are not, however, to be separated soon as two major tasks still remain, namely the sewing in of the yarn ends, 65 in all, and the making and sewing on of the ten Deathshead buttons.
I can, however, give some statistics such as the total measurement of The Garment from the top of the “woolen roll” to the edge of the ankle/feet is 82 inches. Twenty and about a half skeins of Twist of Fate Spinnery* 3 ply natural brown wool, roughly 3,075 yards (or 1.747 miles) were used – twenty-two were purchased so I still have one and a half skeins left over to make something else or keep it as pet yarn.
According to the scale in the post office, The Garment weighs 4.15.50 lbs.
Taking advantage of glorious early spring weather, The Garment and I went out for an airing to one of the benches where I often sat and The Garment grew downwards from the needles in my hands. I did treat myself to a run of Lantern Moon needles (4mm/US 6 throughout) in the variations that I needed as these needles are easy on the hands and wrists, and the good Doctor would not have wanted me to have knit myself into a case of carpal tunnel. Straights for the casting on and the first few rows of the garter stitch cuffs on the feet and then joined with a set of double-pointed needles and onto to a series of circulars, from 16” to 40” and finally back to the 16” circular for the "woolen roll" and upper arm, gussets and all made it a tight fit on the needles. Double-points for the lower parts of the arms, the last sections to be knit, since the sleeves were worked from the shoulders down.
First one leg was knit and then the other with both joined at the lower hip. Two legs gradually gained a torso with the fall in front, based on the style of breeches, followed by a division for the opening at the chest, back and forth knitting here with buttonholes and a band on either side. Decreases and increases for gores defined the waist and chest, and from the underarms up, the front and back were knit separately back and forth and then joined at the shoulders in a three needle cast/bind off. There are not very many extant knitted garments with sleeves from the late 18th/early 19th century but the few knitted jackets from the 18th century that I have seen appear or are stated to be constructed in this way, if not knit entirely as a tube, as in the case of some baby jackets, and then joined at the shoulders, openings for the sleeves cut out, and the front cut open and hemmed on either side. There is also a knitted cotton woman’s jacket in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum with the gores for shaping the waist.
After joining the shoulders, the neck stitches were picked up and closed at the front for the "woolen roll" (cowl/hood) which was knit in the round on 16” circulars. Then it was back to the torso, picking up the stitches around the armholes and the sleeves, as mentioned above, were knit down from the shoulders.
Although the “original” Garment was most likely cut and sewn from a loom knitted piece of fabric, I have used late 18th/early 19th century hand knitting techniques in my version such as the three-needle bind/cast off, picking up the stitches around the arm/shoulder, and knitting down towards the cuff. Knitting in the round was, again, more common due to the fairly limited repertoire of hand knitted items that were fashionable or needed at that time, and most would have be worked on a range of fairly thin four or five double pointed needles. Circular needles, scholars seem to agree, are a very early 20th century invention but the double-pointed needles I used are accurate to the era if a little on the large size, which the wool, expense and my time demanded in order to finish The Garment. The tension/gauges of knitting found in extant objects from this era is usually extremely fine but there was no possible way I could reproduce that scale without buying about four or five, maybe six times the yardage of a very, very fine wool (if I could find it or have it spun, in the right colour), and taking about three times the amount of time to knit The Garment. I note all of this because I searched all over the world for almost two years to find the right wool in the right undyed colour with a not overly modern, tight twist but it was worth in the end.
I will be writing more about the finished Garment and its design and, of course, there will be photographs of it being worn by the volunteer who stepped up to the line. For now, however, set a course for the Deathshead buttons!
Another day of knitting at the beach, me, in three bulky layers of warm clothing and The Garment, enjoying the sunlight in brisk weather.