Friday, 27 April 2012

Knitted Bath Sponge

The late 19th century saw many publications filled with patterns for all sorts of fashion and household accessories in all kinds of media. The material culture of any era can speak volumes beyond its appearances and uses some of which are lost in time but should not be ridiculed or mocked for a lack of understanding in later times. A dainty item such as this lacy sponge tells of a society highly concerned with cleanliness, and which also had the time to create, let alone use, such an object, and treat it carefully, as the pattern states that it should always be “hung up where the air can pass freely through it.” Many kinds of lace were popular in this era, again, for fashion and household accessories. This piece is knit in two lace circles which are then attached by double threading the blue cord though the outer eyelets. The pattern also suggests that “When necessary, unpick the blue stitching, which is purposely made conspicuous, wash and thoroughly dry the knitted sections, and again sew together.” The pattern comes from Weldon’s Practical Knitter, Number 130, Thirty-Second Series (1896), published in Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 11, Interweave Press, 2004. The original pattern called for “unbleached knitting cotton, No. 8” and “four steel needles No. 9” whose modern equivalent is 3.75mm/US 5. I used DMC Baroque Crochet Cotton in Ecru. The interior is filled with “scraps of white rag” according to the pattern. The blue cotton cord, in Aunt Lydia’s Classic Crochet Size 10, was crocheted with a 2.50mm hook.
Weldon’s suggests a size, “if loosely worked, of nine inches across,” and mine came out at considerably smaller at just over 6” wide.
In spite of its name, the recommended use of this object is for cleaning windows. {Note: All quotations are from the facsimile edition of Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 11, published by Interweave Press, 2004.}

Friday, 20 April 2012

Knitted Petticoat from the V&A

One of the greatest mysteries in the world of knitting lies in the stitches of a magnificent petticoat, hand-knit in two-ply cream wool, depicting animals, plants and foliage and what looks like insects, which is in the textile collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Museum Number T.177-1926;

As the museum online catalogue entry states, it is “an extraordinary feat of knitting skill unparalleled in any other known collection.”*

The first mystery is that it is knitted in the round, with no seams, measuring roughly 122” in width and almost 30” long which would seem to be too large to knit by either hand or frame. “Despite the large surface area, the pattern does not repeat.”* which is another breathtaking element.

All of the knitting is done in plain (stockinette) or raised (purl) stitch, creating seed stitches in some areas, all on a background of stockinette. The raised stitch was the most common way of creating a design on knitted items in the 18th century, knitted lace existing but rare and twist or cable stitches slowly emerging, more so in the 19th century. Another mystery is the size of the needles/wires, both in width and length. The petticoat is also catalogued as “unfinished”* but this may mean it does not have a waistband sewn on – I cannot say as I have never seen the piece in person.

The V&A has classified the petticoat as possibly being of Dutch origin from the first half of the 18th century, stating that a “similar garment was a petticoat knitted in a variety of abstract patterns within a diamond-shaped grid. Sold at Christies auction house in 1981, it too dated from the early 18th century and had both Dutch and English connections.”*

Had it ever been worn, it could have been under a skirt that was split open in a triangle or rectangle (depending on the fashion) in the middle of the front, displaying the fine knitted design as quilted petticoats were, as well as providing warmth over linen undergarments.

There are at least twenty-two different birds and animals depicted, including a rhinoceros and an elephant, many of them in the distinctive style of those found in printed images of the eras. The graceful lines of the plants and branches as well as the tails of the birds are also reminiscent of the prints on palampore hangings or drapery for beds and windows, often reproduced in the fabulous crewel stitchery of the 17th and 18th century. I have to admit these patterns are favourites of mine whether I am stitching or quilting them as seen in this palampore quilt I made about fifteen years ago.

I have, however, long wanted to knit some of the images in this petticoat. The main problem with doing that is that so little of it is available in photographs, and those always in sections. In the catalogue from the exhibition, Knit One, Purl One (Victoria and Albert Museum 01/01/1985-31/12/1985), the featured photograph, spread over two pages, shows the largest area that I have ever found but the catalogue itself is only 8 ½” tall by 8” wide. The images are very small and thus very, very difficult to see in order to count the stitches. Using the other few available images from the web, I have been trying to chart some of the creatures but then decided to begin with an easier version.

The Art of Knitting – Garments for Today from Patterns of the Past (edited by Eve Harlow, Glasgow and London: William Collins Sons and Company Limited, 1977) contains a pattern for a scarf with a chart of a parrot. The charting for the scarf motif is fairly faithful on a larger scale to the original although the head on the original is far more detailed and the stitch count on the whole original bird is, of course, greater. At least, however, I now have something to work and build out from, and I have already changed some of the stitches for the head to try to better capture the beak and the eye area of the petticoat’s parrot. I was not very successful, though, as far more stitches are required for all of the different textures. I can, however, try this design again, also working from the photograph of the original section in this book, which is possibly the best photograph I have ever seen of any part of the petticoat.

The Art of Knitting’s description of the petticoat varies slightly in measurements and states a gauge/tension of 22 stitches and 36 rows to the inch with approximately 2650 stitches to the row. My segment of the petticoat was knit on 0.75mm/US 00 needles, using KnitPicks Palette in Cream, with a gauge/tension of 12 ½” stitches and 16 ½ rows to the inch, and a slip and seed stitch border all round. The whole piece measures, on the blocking board, 7 ½” tall and 5 ½” wide. The parrot is 6 ½” long from the top of its head to the tip of its tail.

I took many photographs before I was able to get two halfway decent ones which showed the stitches. The tan-toned one at the top was taken in total darkness but is the sharpest in detail, and the one at the end of this blog shows the finished piece though not as clearly as the other image.

In the beginning of this post, I called the petticoat magnificent. It is beyond that but I cannot come up with a better word to describe it. Each time I look at it, I am stunned yet again by the drafting and charting that must have gone into its production let alone the workmanship The Dutch were renowned for their superb knitting but this is beyond spectacular.

*All quotations are from

Monday, 16 April 2012

Thrum Cap

I have always wanted to make one of these caps, not only because it looked life fun to knit but also because of its long connections with mariners.

I used a pattern from Wicked Woolens by Sally Pointer, who is widely respected in the field of historical and reproduction clothing. The patterns from Wicked Woolens not only come with clearly written instructions for the entire process of making the cap but also with extensive and valuable historical background and citations in text and images.

This style of cap can be documented back to the 16th century, in art, literature, personal and documentary writings. The shagginess is created by thrums which are the short lengths or trimmings off the loom or bits of fleece, worked into a knit stitch or knotted on.

For this cap, I used short strands of wool of various lengths of Lion Brand’s Fisherman’s Wool in Brown Heather on 5mm/US 8 needles. The cap is a tall one and is knitted to
a very large size and then fulled (felted) down to the required size. The thrums become solid but flexible and as they stand out from the hat, provide a certain barrier from the elements. If the rain and snow does get through them, the knitted fabric below is thick and durable.

Here is the hat before fulling.

This type of cap was favoured by mariners and often became a designated one for the ship’s carpenter like Mr. Lamb in the film, Master And Commander – The Far Side of the World (2003). *

My thanks to my friend, Russell, for modelling the cap.

*The Making of Master and Commander – The Far Side of the World – The Official Guide to the Major Motion Picture, Tom McGregor, New York/London: W.W. Norton, & Company, 2003

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Rambling - Part 2*

Speaking of crumpled, I then begin to worry about the thrum cap I plan to full in the next day or so as I took a class in fulling and needle felting a few years ago and failed fantastically, exiting with a bag of stretched out, undefinable soggy pieces of fabric. Fingers crossed on that one. Then it is back to the 17th century to finish off a pair of gloves but I do so hate knitting fingers!!!! After making fringes or knitting bobbles, it is my least favourite thing to do with yarn. I realise I am frowning and that makes me smile as I remember how some people at work have recently complained to me about the knitter on my screen saver.

She has made several appearances on this blog. My colleagues claim that she looks bad tempered or impatient, and I tell them that she is because she has been interrupted in her limited free time (she is a servant after all) and her knitting.

This is a new find in my quest for knitting in art and the sitter has a similar expression although perhaps this young lady is merely distracted. I do like her cap and the bent needle in the foreground but until I can get a sharper image, I can only see three needles.

Young Brittany Girl Knitting
Jules Adolphe Aime Louis Breton
Oil on canvas
Sold at auction in 2007 – location unknown

That brings to mind quite a few ladies with cross faces in paintings about knitting but here is a smiling, sweet, industrious girl.

Young Girl Standing in a Doorway Knitting (1863)
Meyer von Bremen
Oil on canvas
Private Collection
Source: The Bridgeman Art Library
Image ID: BAL 98647

Shifting my position in my chair, I am reminded of this terrific painting, fascinating not only for the knitting and the work basket at the sitter’s side but also for the very clear details of clothing and furniture. I also love the repeated use of stripes, lines, and the colours black and red.

Knitting a Stocking
Sir Francis Grant
Oil on canvas
Location unknown

And finally, a glance out of the windows tells me that I should take a break and enjoy this lovely spring day. If it is too windy to sit and knit by the water, I can do some extra walking and clear the cobwebs from my mind and plan more projects or just how I am going to get the current ones wrapped up!

Girl Knitting Amidst Flowers (1921)
Daniel Ridgway Knight
Medium unknown
Location unknown

*This blog had to be posted in two sections due to the size of the images.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Rambling - Part One

In Bedford Jail – John Bunyan (1626-1688) and his Blind Daughter
Alexander Johnston
Oil on canvas
Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Lancashire, UK
Source: The Bridgeman Art Library
Image ID: BKB 100459

As I keep mentioning, I am determined this year to finish off a very large number of projects and more keep slipping onto the list. Right now, I am in the midst of completing some 17 and 18th century projects. Some of them are fairly simple, repetitious patterns so, as I knit, my mind tends to wander hither and far. Thinking about future 17th century projects, I remember the painting of John Bunyan and make a mental note that I must more closely examine what his daughter is knitting, get a better look at her workbag on the floor, and do some research on her life.

Then my mind ambles back to how knitting was considered a source of income for the poor and the blind and those School Stockings I made last year and the pair of socks I have on my needles from that book about teaching the poor to knit. But, no! That project is from 1817 and is not on this or next week’s schedule and so must be pushed aside for the moment.

Interior with a Woman Knitting, a Serving Woman and a Child
Pieter de Hooch
Oil on canvas
Harold Samuel Collection
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London
Source: The Bridgeman Art Library
Image ID: GHA 34463

The 17th century is always very much on my mind this time of the year as the tulips are out and then I think of the Dutch and this painting springs to mind. It is a difficult to see what the lady is knitting but isn’t she lucky, perhaps, in that someone will mind her child for a while so she can get on with her work with her cat for company.

My mind roams further onto the late 19th century and I remember this lovely painting by Carlton Alfred Smith, many of whose works conjure up images of the cottages of Lark Rise to Candleford so it must be time to re-read and watch that all over again.

A Young Girl Knitting
Carleton Alfred Smith
Medium unknown
Location unknown

No, no – most of April is devoted to the 17th and 18th century so back to this baby jacket ( which is now being knit on single pointed needles which makes it easier to see the pattern as it evolves and use it for reference as opposed to my previously knitting it in the round which also crumpled it.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Knitted Flap for Back of Corset

I began the year 2012 with about sixty-five historical knitting projects currently in some state of progress, mostly very much unfinished. As of today, the beginning of the fourth month of the year, thirteen are completed and a few have appeared on this blog. Today’s entry had absolutely no excuse for lingering on the needles except that it was cast on, knit up a bit, measured against this corset, found to fit nicely and then put aside to start another project or two or twenty. When I finally sat down with it again, it took less than an hour to finish and even less than that to pin and whip stitch for summer removal. This interesting addition to my collection of handmade accessories and clothing, was suggested for “Many ladies who leave their corsets loosely laced down the back” and could be a substitute for the usual flannel, lacking the disadvantage of becoming “crumpled with wear,” like the flannel. It can also be sewn further inside the edges to fit underneath fully closed lacing just to give some warm extra back support.

The pattern for this “band of ribbed knitting” comes from Weldon’s Practical Knitter, Number 130, Thirty-Second Series (1896). It is also published in Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 11, Interweave Press, 2004. As usual, no gauge or tension was stated but there was an illustration. The original pattern called for “soft white wool, single Berlin or 4-ply fingering” (19th century weight) and “a pair of steel knitting needles, No. 12” (modern equivalent 2.50mm/ US 1½.) I used KnitPicks Palette in White on the stated sized needles.

The finished panel is 2 ¾”wide and the “strip of knitting” was made “to the length of the corset,” 11” on mine. It fully measures up to the “many advantages,” namely that “It cannot curl up as does the flannel, preserves the wearer from cold, and is so elastic as to set well if the lacings are loosened or tightened.”

Note: All quotations are from the above mentioned facsimile edition of the pattern in Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 11, published by Interweave Press, 2004