Thursday, July 28, 2011

A bit of history.

I was looking into vintage patterns the other day. Not because I have any interest in knitting them, but I suppose I had been doing a bit of thinking about that Mary Frances knitting and crochet book I reviewed and I got to thinking that it would be interesting to find more old knitting brochures.
I found an amazing website called the Antique Pattern Library, which has scans of old pattern books and keeps them as free PDF downloads for anybody to see.
An example is The Lady's Book of Knitting which boasts "Compiled and edited by a Lady Expert who has conscientiously tested all of them."
So far, I've been reading quite a bit from "Beehive Knitting Booklet Number 9 Woolcraft" which is from 1915.

Totally printed out the cover page and put it on my wall.
 As in the Mary Frances book, I found a bunch of charming but useless information about how the thicker a needle the smaller its number and how it is impossible to chemically alter wool so that it doesn't felt without destroying all tactical aspects of it.
Again, I have no desire to knit any of these vintage patterns. They're unflattering, often in a ton of garter stitch, require finishing I don't have time or patience for, are badly written, and call for yarns I either have never heard of or simply cannot obtain.
What's interesting to me is the history. It's amazing. In each book, there is always a page with pictures of a woman demonstrating the knit stitch. That same knit stitch- even though I work it differently- has been carried on through hundreds of years.
Printed in 1886
It's also awesome to see how things have changed. Pattern books are no longer all squished together with bold print at random. No longer do we see patterns calling for "Wheeling" or "Vest Wool." Also, in the 1886 booklet (it's 114 pages so I haven't gone through it yet so it might turn up yet) there is no mention of gauge. By the time 1915 rolls around, the concept of gauge is in place:
"To successfully use the directions with another Wool requires great care, any difference in thickness between the one subsituted and that used for the original recipe being sure to produce a corresponding difference in size in the finished garment. The difficlty is reduced to some extent by the system of working to measure."
The author then goes on to mention that if you are using a wool with more stitches to the inch than the reccomended wool, you will end up with a garment too small and that if you use a thicker wool you will end up with a garment that is too big. Of course, it ends saying "the safer plan by far is to, whenever possible, use the exact material reccomended."

I can't wait to delve even deeper into this.
It makes me think of something Meggie Reghetti said, in Knitting in Plain English. She encouraged all the knitters who read her book to contact the people who produce and print the patterns and demand more comprehensive patterns with clear photographs and intelligible instructions. In the end of chapter 5 (Some Words About Patterns and Instructions) there is this encouraging Author's note:
I salute you. You are wonderful! You have changed the way knitting patterns are presented. You insisted on and got better directions. Since the original edition was published, the hand-knitting-yarn industry has changed its ways. And what a difference! Now you get better-written instructions, graphic layout drawings, dimensions of the finished garments, and honest photographs. Congratulations. You deserve a round of applause and a bouquet of red roses.

Knitting is changing. The knitting world is changed. Ravelry is a Google rank 6. That means, out of ten, Google rates Ravelry's importance at 6.  There are 2000+ knitters on Ravelry right now. With the internet comes a whole world of resources! And so much of it is free... This is a good age.

You know, I'm not much of a person for making goals in life but if I did have a goal I'd like it to be about knitting. There's no way I could be as influential as someone like Elizibeth Zimmerman or Debbie New. I'm not a knitting philosipher like Stephanie Pearl Mc Phee. I'm not an amazing knitting machine like Margaret Radcliffe or Cat Borhdi. I can't create my own hit patterns like Cookie A. But I can be a knitting historian. You know how sometimes you're watching that episode of history detectives or whatever and they go to the expert on World War 2 Japanese Internment camp hand crafted canes? That guy exists! There's a guy who's passion is dung beetles. And when you want to write about dung beetles, you go to that guy and you interview him and he knows a ton about them. I want to be that guy. Only, not dung beetles of course.

You know, the best resource I've found in book form on the subject of knitting in history is Richard Rutt's "A history of hand-knitting," and you know what? It's a little....reminiscent of the patterns from 1915. All squished together and bolded at random. It's kind of out of date, and I guess that's because there isn't a lot of interest in knitting as history. Everybody wants the mason-dixon knitting book, or stitch and bitch. But it seems like I've read all the new books and I still want to learn more!

And it's funny because I want to learn about knitting I would never really attempt. I rented a book from the local library on traditional Norwegian mittens and read it cover to cover. I read the patterns. I didn't knit a single thing from that book. I don't want too! They look too hard and I don't live somewhere where I really need mittens and also I don't like the immobility you get with mittens. But reading about them was worth it to me. Each area of the world that had its own knitting specialty- fair isle, estonian lace, aran sweaters, anything!- I want to know more about it all. The funny thing about it is that....I really actually suck at knitting. I buy way too much yarn and I buy way more books than I have room for, and I knit when I could be cleaning the bathroom, and when I'm not knitting I'm reading about it or blogging about it or thinking about it and why???

I don't know. But at least I have a passion. Right?

And now, a poem, plucked from the pages of "Knitting and Crochet- a guide to the use of the needle and the hook." And by plucked I mean, since it's a PDF, I copied the whole thing and hand-typed it here for you to enjoy. (Never before have I wanted more readers.)________________________________________________________________________________

To knit a stocking, needles four,
Cast on three needles and no more;
Each needle stitches eight and twenty,
Then one for seam stitch will be plenty.
For twenty rounds your stitch must be
Two plain, two purl alternately,
Except the seam stitch which you do
Once purl once plain the whole way through.
A finger plain you next must knit
Ere you begin to narrow it;
But if you like the stocking long,
Two fingers' length will not be wrong.
And then the narrowings to make
Two stitches together you take
Each side the seam; then eight rounds plain,
Before you narrow it again,
Ten narrowings you'll surely find
Will shape the stocking to your mind;
Then twenty rounds knit plain must be
And stitches sixty-five you'll see.
These just in half you must divide,
With thirty-two on either side:
But on one needle there must be
Seam stitch in the middle, thirty-three.
One half on needles two you place,
And leave alone a little space;
The other with the seam in middle,
To manage right is now my riddle.
Backward and forward you must knit,
And always purl the backward bit;
But seam stitch, purl and plain, you know,

And slip the first stitch every row.
When thirty rows you thus have done,
Each side the seam knit two in one
Each third row until you feel
That forty rows are in your heel.
You then begin your heel to close;
For this choose one of the plain rows;
Knit plain to seam, then two in one,
One plain stitch more must still be done.
Then turn your work, purl as before
The seam stitch-two in one, one more;
Then turn again, knit til you see
Where first you turned a gap will be.
Across it knit together two
And don't forget one plain to do;
Then turn again, purl as before
And sew til there's a gap no more.
The seam stitch you no longer mind,
That, with the heel, is left behind.
When all the heel is quite closed in,
 To knit a plain row you begin,
And at the end you turn no more,
But round and round knit as before.
For this, on a side needle take
The loops the first slip-stitches make;
With your heel needle- knit them plain,
 To meet the old front half again.
This on one needle knit should be.
And then you'll have a needle free
To take up loops the other side,
And knit round plain and to divide
The back parts evenly in two;
Off the heel needle some are due:
Be careful that you count the same.
On each back needle, knit round plain;
But as the foot is much too wide,
Take two together at each side.
On the back needle where they meet
The front to make a seam quite neat.
 Each time between knit one plain round,
Till stitches sixty-four are found;
And the front needle does not lack
As many as on both the back.
You next knit fifty six rounds plain,
But do not narrow it again;
'Twill then be long enough, and so
Begin to narrow for the toe.
Your long front row knit plainly through,
But at its end stitches knit two;
Together and together catch
Two first in the next row to match;
Then to the other side knit plain

Half round, and do the same again;
That is, two last together catch,
Two first in the front row to match.
At first knit four plain rows between,
Then two, then one, ultil 'til seen
You've done enough to close the toe;
And then decrease in every row,
Until to stitches eight you're brought,
Then break the thread off- not too short-
And as these stitches eight you do,
Each time your end of thread pull through;
Then draw up all to close it tight,
And with a darning needle bright,
Your end of thread securely run,
And then, hurrah! the stocking's done!


Now imagine the people who actually learned how to make socks that way.
Antique Pattern Library. Have a visit. It's not just knitting, but all kinds of needlework.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting ♥