Thursday, 31 January 2013

Quilt for January

As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I make reproduction quilts and my palampore quilt has already been featured here: as well as two tributes to Jane Austen here and here

I not only enjoy making the quilts but also doing the research related to the materials, colours, pattern choices, and stories behind quilts and quilters, some of which also aides my work in reproduction knitting and stitchery.

This quilt, a squares on point, has reproduction prints from most of the 19th century. It is mostly made from samples that came in a monthly mailing club as well as supplements from my stash. The “filler” or  sashing material and the backing were purchased separately. The batting or wadding is a needlepunched cotton which is not only divine to quilt through but gives the quilt the flat-ish look of those of the past. The quilt has a traditional knife edge and measures 47” x 50”. Each square measures 2 ¼”.

I have made quite a few quilts in the squares on point  pattern as it is a quick one to piece, and its simplicity allows the prints to show off their beauty, diversity and colour. The pattern is often found on quilts from the 18th and 19th century.

All of my reproduction quilts are hand pieced and hand quilted.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Penwiper in Shape of A Turkish Fez

Another pen wiper for my joint collection of pens and knitted reproducitions. This one comes from Weldon’s Practical Knitter, Eleventh Series, No. 46, 1889, and can be found in Interweave Press’s facsimile, Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume Four, 2001.
The original pattern called for “pretty coloured Andalusian wool” and “a small skein of black single Berlin wool.”  Knit in the round, “The first six rows make a roll over at the bottom of the penwiper.” The “very tiny tassel” should also be made from another colour of “Andalusian wool.”
The 19th century needles suggested were “four steel needles, No. 17” (modern equivalent 1.75mm/US 00.) I used that size with Knit Picks Palette in Pimento and Paton’s Kroy Socks 4 Ply in Coal. The tassel was made from a bit of pale blue Paternayan Persian wool.
The hat was knit first, turned inside out, and the interior black tassel then attached. Used with a small cloth or rag for wiping ink from the nib of pen after writing, this little hat, measuring 2 ¼” high, would have been a whimsical but useful desk accessory.
All quotations are from Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume Four, Interweave Press, 2001

Sunday, 20 January 2013

18th C Striped Cap

This pattern, 18th C (sic) Striped Cap by Colleen Humphreys, is based on caps in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands and the one on the man in the lower corner of the painting by Johann Zoffany, part of which may be viewed below. The pattern suggests worsted wool but I chose Harrisville Designs Shetland in Scarlet, Sand and Evergreen in double stands of each. I wanted to match the colours to the cap in the painting, and knit with wool that I have successfully used for reproductions. I also adore this brand of wool.

The cap was knit in the round, in a single layer, on 3.75mm/US 5 needles, and measures 9 ½” in length.

David Garrick in The Provok’d Wife (1763-1765) (partial view)
Johann Zoffany,
Oil on canvas
Object Number: OP607
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Wolverhampton, United Kingdom

A view of the entire painting may be found at

Caps at the Rijksmuseum can be seen here:

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Reflections upon Historic Knitting at the End of a Year of Completion – Part Four

The most frequently reoccurring thought which arose or haunted me throughout the past year was the most complex – namely, the reason for reproductions. I have been mulling over it for months, trying to come up with an explanation of why I make reproductions. Not an apology but a concise reason beyond the unknown force which compels me to do it. I have been asked, “Why?” over and over again for years, usually by someone with a puzzled expression on his or her face, and usually after I have received compliments on my work, which puzzles me as to why I am being asked that question. I addressed this issue in a previous post on this blog but that was written after a long tiring weekend of presentations and I was not in the best of moods. (

So why do I practice a type of reverse-material culture, making reproductions for no particular reason or whether or not they are to be worn or sold or used in demonstrations? First of all, intellectual curiosity. History has been my passion since I was very young and I view almost everything through its eyes. I work in its field, and as I enjoy books, music, dance, art, architecture, clothing, needlework and old films, I do so through their relation to history as much as their own virtues. Another reason is that I happen to be good at research and will sometimes spend years in pursuit of an object in terms of images, descriptions, working out its pattern, trying out potential materials or locating surviving examples, should I be so lucky. Then there is artistic curiosity. I have a talent for handwork, and I think the need to create with materials, yarns, threads is an innate one just as writers need to write, artists to paint, scientists to experiment, etc. By attempting to recreate something from the past, combining all of these reasons, and even with substituted materials, I also feel as though I am stealing a glimpse through a curtain into another time and, perhaps, holding, not a real thing but a shadow of that time in my hands, made by me. The entire process, from research to recreation, no matter how lengthy, frustrating or physically painful, is ultimately enjoyable and richly rewarding, on so many levels, in most of its results.

Can all of that be so very strange

Friday, 18 January 2013

Reflections upon Historic Knitting at the End of a Year of Completion – Part Three

Costume Parisien (1802)
French School
coloured engraving
Archives Charmet

I have been knitting and making reproductions since childhood. My techniques and research skills as well as the availability of patterns and access to surviving objects for study have increased over the years but so have some bad habits. During the course of knitting so many historical reproductions this past year, I have had pondered the whole process, and in this penultimate post on this topic, I would like to offer a few guidelines that I will try to better adhere to this year.

ONE: FESTINA LENTE -Hasten slowly. I have always remembered this from my schoolgirl Latin classes but I so often fail to follow it.  I should work it in cross stitch as the first project of the year, and frame and hang it where I can always see it.

Handwork is a part of my daily life. Hardly a day goes by when I do not do some kind of stitching. I grew up in a home where my mother knit almost every day so it has been a lifelong custom and part of the family culture. Perhaps this is where  false confidence comes from? Just because one does something daily it does not mean that everything one tries will work out well. I know that much to my frustration. Look at the expression on the face of the lovely lady with the oversized knitting needles. I often have that fed up look on my face when I jump into a project after reading what seems a straightforward pattern or spending too little time with the sketchbook. My projects then become a trial and the needles burdensome, like hers.

TWO: Think out projects carefully in terms of yarn, needles, materials, and be prepared to do several versions and change needles or yarn until it seems to be right. I have had to do this quite a few times. As a quilter and fairly mediocre seamstress, I take multiple measurements before cutting. Knitting, however, is more forgiving, can be ripped out and, therefore, more friendly to risks. I also have to stop starting things late at night when all seems possible but rarely works out or makes me wonder what in the world I was thinking of when I look at the knitting the next morning.

THREE: Write or type out patterns.  I have done for years even when the pattern is composed of four simple lines, or so I think. By this practice, I can choose my size of “font” for my poor eyesight, lay out the pattern’s sentences on separate lines (easier to read and mark then in paragraph format often found in 19th century patterns) and become familiar with the stitches even before knitting. Knitting terms from another century simply need to be understood, not translated, a term I dislike in reference to patterns and which implies difficulty. Foreign languages, too, do not have to be a barrier whether they are ones that have been studied or can be translated by a service on the Internet or through a group on Ravelry.

FOUR: Do test knitting. I often try out a pattern on much bigger needles than called for in the pattern with an acrylic yarn which will stand up to being ripped out multiple times. This works especially well for patterns of lace on low metric/multiple zero-ed sized needles. I can then become familiar with the pattern and get an idea of what it should look like since many of the patterns I knit from have no images or, those who do, may not be completely accurate. As well as that, things often don’t come out in the size one expects especially as I almost always knit in the recommended size of the needles, when available. Are some of these patterns often merely a guideline, as the learned Tamar has suggested? After reading many, many patterns from the past, I am beginning to agree. I also tend to knit in centuries (even up to the 1970s) that did not produce patterns with gauge or tension so test knitting and swatching is essential.

FIVE: The materials are the biggest challenge when making a reproduction, and this will not change. Without samples of yarns from the past, it is extremely difficult to accurately reproduce an item. I have been able to study many extant stockings, garments, etc., and that helps, but I would dearly like to find some 19th century Strutt’s Cotton or Zephyr let alone the “thick soft floss wool” suggested in The Workwoman’s Guide of 1838.

SIX: Do not set unrealistic deadlines. Twenty years ago, I could whip up a cardigan in a week in spite of a much busier day and evening schedule. Now  sleep creeps up unawares. and my production time is also more limited by life’s current circumstances so I need to recognize that when planning projects.

Many of the reproduction projects I have made were and are knit on very fine needles, laterly from 0.75/6-0s to 3mm/3.25 US.  This kind of knitting, often worked in threads or cotton, also slows me down, and there have been projects that have rows that can take up to ten minutes or even longer each to knit. Extra time is sometimes needed for the completion of an object as the knitting may only be a part of the process.

Mistakes will also happen. I tend to be a perfectionist and will gladly rip rather than live with what might be to others a small, but to me, a glaring error which my eyes will always fix on every time I see the object. With this latest round of reproductions that policy, though, was eased, and I left in errors due to knitting too fast, falling asleep or, as I like to call it, failing to admire my own work as I knit in order to check it. I have, however, studied extant garments and items from the past that have errors in them so I am not that fussed over a few mistakes here and there in items for my own use.

Finishing touches, as mentioned above, such as making and sewing on a handle, covering closure rings with thread or crochet work, cutting and sewing lining, weaving ribbons, sewing on buttons, loops or borders of lace, which also have to be knit, will substantially increase, if not double, the projected time of work.

SEVEN: Physical comfort. Fine needles and non-springy cotton threads and yarn do not only cut down on production time but can cause pain, which can affect not just in the hands but also other parts of the body. I highly recommend frequent breaks, swimming and Pilates as complimentary habits to handwork. All of those cramped muscles in the hands, neck, back, legs brought on by sedentary habits and repetitive motions need stretching and better care to produce more projects.

End of Part Three

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Reflections upon Historic Knitting at the End of a Year of Completion – Part Two

Six file boxes of patterns were tackled next and any missing patterns were re-united with their projects or listed as still missing. Then the computer came under scrutiny, namely saved electronic patterns and the bookmarks of any related subjects.

Now it was time for the spreadsheet of knitting projects in 2012. Even though I love to play with pens and paper, I have used this format for record keeping for the past few years as it has a search feature and I can print out various kinds of lists.  Name, pattern source, category, status (F or IP), date of starting, yarn, needle size, notes, number for addition, completed, historical, historical completed, (historically) related*, (historically) related completed*, started in 2012, completed in 2012 and the month. Of course, I am deeply indebted to Raverly’s project page feature for providing and maintaining this kind of information, thus making it easier for me to pop it into the spreadsheets.

The names of projects still in progress (IP) are in black and the completed ones are in bold red.

As for the results - the numbers for this sheet for 2012 reflect the period between January 1, 2012 and midnight, December 31, 2012 but do not include any of my charity knitting which I do not track on Ravelry or my spreadsheets.

All projects on needles  - 141 (throughout 2012)
Finished – 74 (by the end of 2012)
Added in 2012 – 44; 33 finished. 11 remaining in 2013
All remaining projects – 67

Historical projects – 72 (out of 141)
Finished - 42
Added in 2012 - 10
Remaining - 30

A fairly decent report although I would have liked higher numbers in the finished lines. Such an overwhelming number of 19th century wips also made me feel that I had neglected all of the other eras this year. There is, of course, a much wider choice of things to knit from the 19th century but my sensibilities lie more firmly in the long 18th century and I am homesick for those years. The Year Thirteen shall be more firmly devoted to my projects in all techniques from that period and, I have no doubt, all of those remaining (and new) 19th century projects.

*Items that bear a resemblance to or are inspired by an historical pattern or object but are not a reproduction.

End of Part Two

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Reflections upon Historic Knitting at the End of a Year of Completion – Part One

The Year Twelve was designated by me as a Year of Completion since, at the end of the Year Eleven, I realized that I was surrounded by many, many projects of knitting, stitching, quilting and sewing in various stages of production and it was all out of control. I have spent the past few years giving away or selling vast amounts of quilting material, yarn, supplies, tools, and books but now it was time to corral the remainders and projects. My stashes are reasonably well sorted and boxed but the projects had reached an unmanageable and, sometimes, forgotten, existence.

How did I arrive at this point? Well, various demands had piqued my interest in making some items or mini-mass produce others for sale. There were also a few of those desperate rushes to make an item that I absolutely have to wear three days from putting it on the needles – “Oh, it’s only Wednesday night and I know I can finish this by Saturday morning.” That might sound familiar to some of the readers of this blog. In my case, I usually underestimated myself, adding only to the WIP pile instead of the Completed collection. Plain curiosity, coupled with Startitis, was responsible for so many other languishing projects as well as finding out that the yarn or needles were not suitable or the finished size was completely wrong. There is a certain nightcap that I have knit five times, only getting it right this last time.

Then there is boredom which I don’t mean in a negative sense. It is simply that many of the reproduced items that I make requite very fine knitting and the same two/four/six or highly repetitive group of rows to be knit many, many, many, many MANY times.

Good lighting is another issue and so is the weather. I like to do fine knitting on fine needles in daylight, preferably outdoors in warm seasons, or in the cold winter months, under one of those daylight lamps which provide heat as well as light. Such requirements are limiting, though, and any variation in circumstances (a hot sticky summer, for example) can halt production even with the use of a headlamp.  Another obstacle is physical pain. Years of fine knitting and hand-quilting have not been good for my hands so my daily choice of project is often dictated by health.

All of those issues or excuses aside, something had to be done. My natural sense of order and educational background joined forces with my practice or hobby of tracking aspects of my life in spreadsheets. The first step, however, was to search through every storage bag, box, wooden chest, fancy cloth bag and stack of quilts to find and rank each and every project – “snag it, bag it, tag it” in the words of one of my favourite  television series, Warehouse 13.
Caught up in the whole process of a good clearing out, it was quite enjoyable to sort yarns, threads, fabrics and tools for knitting, stitching and quilting, and then package, label and return everything to its kind or correct storage place.

The knitting was the most unwieldy of all, with the contemporary projects quickly dealt with such as noting cannibalised needles. The historical reproduction projects, the largest section, was ranked and packed into categories such as “Started but not happy with the yarn, needles, size,” “Started” (which here means curiosity sated but then abandoned), “To be started when the weather is warmer/colder, needles are available, when the yarn is skeined, the pattern is printed/photocopied" and many other excuses,” and the simple perpetual “In progress.”

End of Part One.

Monday, 14 January 2013

American Overshoes or Bag Slippers

This pattern comes from Weldon’s Practical Knitter, Number 60, Fifteenth Series (1890). It is also published in Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume 5, Interweave Press, 2001.

“These shoes, which are made exactly in the shape of a bag, are intended to draw over a kid boot for extra warmth when travelling. The Americans wear them over their boots for walking in frosty weather as the roughness of the wool upon the icy ground is a sure preventative against slipping. They are also useful as bedroom slippers...”
The original pattern calls for “Scotch fingering, or single Berlin wool, and a pair of No. 12 steel knitting needles (modern equivalent 2.25mm/US 2.) Ribbon for a bow or rosette on each overshoe is also suggested. The top of the finished knitting is folded double and stitched down, and the selvedges sewn together “to form the front of the shoe.” The lower part is then sewn closed to form a sole of the shoe.
I knit the overshoe on the suggested needle size using Knit Picks Palette in Pimento and Black but it came out very small, narrow and rectangular than the slightly more squat bag-shaped one in the illustration.  Mine would fit a child’s shoe as it measures 6” long and 2”across, both flat. The pattern states that these overshoes would “fit quite closely on any sized foot by reason of the elasticity of the knitting” but larger needles and thicker wool would be needed to make an adult’s overshoe.

All quotations are from Weldon’s Practical Needlework, Volume Five, Interweave Press, 2001

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Famous Knitters – Kay Francis

Kay Francis (January 13, 1905 – August 26, 1968) was one of the most strikingly elegant actresses of her era. Some of her clothes were pure fantasy on the part of the costume designer but no matter – from tailored suits to extraordinary ensembles and accessories, she always looked absolutely gorgeous! 

A real knitter, both behind and in front of the cameras, the photograph above seems to be one of the former.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Sofa Foot Covers, or Warmers

This pattern is from The Workwoman’s Guide by a Lady, London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., Stationer’s Hall Court: Thomas Evans, Colmore Row, Birmingham (1838.) The decorative “bag” or sack would be placed on the sofa with one’s foot inside of it to keep warm. The pattern states that “These are useful for the feet of an invalid, when lying on the sofa” but I can attest to the fact that they are nice and cosy for the feet of those who are healthy, too. Two should be knit, one for each foot but I have only made the one for demonstration purposes.
The cover is worked to the shape of a square in the “double knitting” stitch of the 19th century which creates a two-layered fabric as it is knitted. I used the “No. 1 Double Knitting” pattern, also from The Workwoman’s Guide (there are three different types in this book.)

A border of twelve rows is knit first in a “fancy stitch” of one’s choice. This is continued in twelve stitches on either side to make it stand apart from the double knitting of the central part of the cover/warmer. Two flaps of this border are separately knit at the top opening on the front and the back. I knit a checkerboard of alternating knit and purl stitches, changing the pattern every three rows. The pattern suggests that “a fringe” may be “sewn on all round, to give a finish to the whole” but I dislike fringes so I left that off.

In keeping with the pattern’s time of publication, there is no needle size or gauge/tension stated, nor, in this case, even a type of wool. Based on the number of stitches stated, I worked out the size of a comfortable square bag and settled on 4.50mm/US 7 needles with Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool in Nature’s Brown. I love knitting with this brand of wool as it is not dense, moves beautifully through one’s fingers and looks just lovely when knit up.

This sofa cover/foot warmer measures just over 12 ½” in length and 13” wide, including the borders which are 2 ¼” wide on the side and 1 ½” tall on the bottom and the top. The interior square measures 8 1/2” wide and 9” long.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Famous Knitters – Birthday Images

My interest in films from the 1930s and 1940s, and sometimes as far as the 1960s, may be known to long-time readers of this blog. Apart from performances, story lines and the luminosity of the mostly black and white images, I am still enjoying them for the history of clothing, furnishings, manners, social commentary, etc., as well as the history of film making and rights of actors.

Thanks to the internet, I have created a collection of images of many of the women in these films engaged in knitting, either before or behind the camera. Non-acting famous knitters are also sprinkled within the collection. The knitting needles, bags and projects of these knitters are another reason to take a good look at these images. Some of these women were well-known in their circles for truly enjoying handwork, like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Others may have knit to pass the long times on set between takes, relieving boredom, or were posed for publicity shots, perhaps not knowing how to knit at all.

I shall share these images here on this blog during the coming year with little or no commentary, on the birthdays of the subjects. The first is Loretta Young (January 6, 1913 – August 12, 2000) – 100 years young today!  She seems to be counting stitches in the knitting photograph (1942.) I am more interested, however, in the highly textured cardigan she is wearing in the image found here and wish I could find the original pattern: