Monday, 6 August 2012

19th Century Knitting from a Painting

Figure (1856)
John Dawson Watson
Oil on wood
Atkinson Art Gallery Collection, Southport, Merseyside, England

I like this painting for many reasons. The details of the girl’s clothing and hair, the lush green in the background, the cloudy weather, and, most of all, that very intriguing piece of knitting, which, with its bright colours, leaps out of the painting. So much so for the knitting, that I searched through my stash and found similar colours of wool as I just had to recreate that piece of work.

What is she knitting though? It seems to be a long bag or sack, knitted in the round, in a pale custard yellow, red, blue, cream or undyed natural light coloured wool and a dark brown or grey natural, undyed wool. Could it be a long workbag or a storage bag for wool, not yet carded or skeined or rolled into one of those very large balls at her feet? Even that is odd as in many paintings I have mostly seen (but not always) wool wound into smaller balls, the size of a large orange or smaller, sitting on laps, in workbaskets, rolling on the floor, etc. The one in this painting is such a gorgeous, loosely wound shape, barely even a ball.

Was the bag be intended as a market wallet but with only one end open? Or was it to be a long snap sack, with a belt or strap attached later?

Just how long this bag was going to be, we do not know. I knit an eyelet row, with a hem of four more rows and then the cast/bind off row, for threading a ribbon or cord through for closing. The finished length is 29 ½” and the width is 16” around.

The needles in the painting are double pointed and look homemade or well used, one with a distinct curve to it. I can only see three needles – perhaps one is tucked under her arm, although they are rather short for that but then the girl is young and small. The work is also bunched together in her hands, rather than having the needles splayed – the whole technique portrayed with more artistic license than a comfortable method of knitting.

 I have studied and studied several images of this painting that are available on the web. The stitches seem very large, too large for the size of needles being used unless the girl was a very loose knitter. Based on her physical dimensions, I estimated the size of each section by colour, and experimented with several sizes of needles to get a loose gauge but not overly loose so as to sag or be too lacy. Even so, I probably have at least twice as, if not more, rows per section in my version.

This bag was knit on 5.5mm/US 9 sized needles using Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted in Winter Blue, Natural, Red Fox, Charcoal, and Lullaby.

{Please read the comments attached to this post.}


Joanne said...

That's a lovely reproduction you've made there.

Lynn S said...

My guess? A tubular scarf. I've seen those in the antique pattern books and I've knit a couple myself. Is possible?

=Tamar said...

I'm fairly sure it's a stocking cap, the kind that is closed at both ends and doubled up on itself. That would explain why she is finishing with a plain, undyed section for the inside, with bright colors outside.
Also, since she is wearing shoes, is neatly dressed, and has what shines like a silver pin on her apron, I believe the hovel in the background is a cow-byre.

=Tamar said...

P.S. Using thick needles and making big, loose stitches makes the hat felt down to a nice texture afterward.

One More Stitch said...

Thank you, all, for your comments and suggestions.

I am leaning towards the stocking cap - should have remembered all of those outstanding examples on the net and from museums. I guess this means that I will be going back to this project to do more knitting!