Showing posts with label Victorian knitting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Victorian knitting. Show all posts

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Richard Rutt Collection

If you love vintage patterns, do I have vintage patterns for you. The University of Southampton's Winchester School of Art has put the Richard Rutt collection of antique knitting books online. Who was Richard Rutt? Well, he was one of those people who can't get interested in anything without pursuing it to some esoteric height of knowledge and landmark level of accomplishment. When he was an Anglican missionary to South Korea for twenty years, he became a founder of what is now considered Korean studies, authoring a number of books on Korea and its culture, among them the co-authored encyclopedia Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary. He became fascinated by classical Chinese and published a translation of a challenging ancient Chinese work, The Book of Changes. When spending some of the later years of his life in Cornwall he learned the Cornish language in order to celebrate weddings in Cornish. He rose within the Anglican church to become a bishop. Late in life Rutt converted to Roman Catholicism, and was soon ordained as a priest, then a Prelate of Honour, with the title of Monsignor, and also an honorary canon of Plymouth Cathedral. I won't list all his accomplishments here, but the Wikipedia entry for Richard Rutt makes for an interesting read.

Richard Rutt also had a passionate interest in knitting, and true to form he couldn't just, you know, make a scarf while he was watching TV like the rest of us. He authored a history of the craft entitled A History of Hand Knitting, published in 1987, which is still in print. Rutt was involved with the Knitting & Crochet Guild from the time of its founding in 1978 and was its president at the time of his death in 2011. He also collected antique knitting books and booklets. And now you can see the Richard Rutt Collection collection of 66 antique knitting books dating from 1838 to 1914, which might just make your rumpled collection of Vogue Knitting back issues look much less impressive than you thought.

All sixty-six volumes are online in their entirety and may be viewed in high quality PDFs and printed off for use as you like. You may find them more interesting from a historical and knitting geek perspective than from a practical one. As I discussed during a recent post on Victorian knitting patterns, a lot of nineteenth century patterns can be difficult to follow because they don't include information such as stitch gauge or yardage amounts. Some of the books, such as the 1838 second edition of The Ladies Knitting & Netting Book, by Mrs. Annesley "the Compiler", the cover of which is pictured above, don't have a single illustration in them, which means the end result of your work may surprise you, and not pleasantly.

Moreover many of the patterns won't be wearable by modern standards. You probably aren't going to want to wear the ladies' silk opera cloak above even if you are a woman who regularly attends the opera. But other patterns are useable still. Baby clothing hasn't changed much in the last century or two, and neither have scarves, gloves, hats, shawls, drawstring purses, men's waistcoats (the ladies' equivalent will require either a substantial rewrite or a corset), or socks. At any rate the collection promises the knitting history and vintage knitting pattern lover many a happy hour of browsing. Vintage knitting patterns don't get much more vintage than this.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Knitting in the Victorian Style

When it came time to write a post for Victoria Day, I kicked myself for having released a post about Queen Victoria and her knitting back in April. I wish I'd thought of saving it for today. However, what's posted is posted, so today's post will consist of my presenting a selection of some authentic Victorian-era knitting patterns that are attractive and useable by today's standards to you for your enjoyment and possible future projects.

Please be aware that these historical patterns, although they often are available on the web for free thanks to the wonderful concept that is public domain, probably aren't for the beginning or even intermediate knitter. Patterns have become much more user-friendly and standardized in the past century, and these antique patterns often don't provide basic information such as required yardage amounts or stitch gauge, and can be generally really confusing. The sizing will also tend to run really small and have to be altered. You'll need to have significant knitting experience and a certain tolerance level required for the frustrating and time-consuming process of figuring out the patterns.

If nothing I've featured here works for you, there are lots of Victorian-era patterns available online. Project Gutenberg has a number of Victorian knitting instruction books and the Antique Pattern Library has an extensive selection of patterns available, all for free. Iva Rose has quite a good selection of restored reproductions for sale. Your local library might also be helpful. And one thing to be aware of when trying to find authentic Victorian patterns is that Ravelry patterns tagged with "Victorian" are usually so.... not.

This beaded purse is from Isabella Beeton's Beeton's Book of Needlework, and was originally published in 1870. The pattern is available for free and would make a lovely evening bag.

This baby bootie pattern is available for free over on Doodles.

This knitted neckerchief is another Isabella Beeton original and is also a free pattern.

This lovely little baby's knitted frock was originally published in Weldon's Practical Needlework: Practical Knitter, Second Series in 1886, but has been re-released by Interweave.

This little vest is for a child of three, and was originally published in Weldon's Practical Needlework: Practical Knitter, Tenth Series in 1888. Again, it's been released in a new edition by Interweave. I'd be inclined to make it in my size.

This design was originally known as "Gent's Knickerbocker Hose" and was published in Weldon's Practical Needlework: Practical Knitter, Twenty-Eighth Series in 1895. Now of course, they're going to be called men's socks and will be worn with, and mostly under, trousers.

This acorn-shaped pattern for an emery cushion was originally published in Weldon's Practical Needlework: Practical Knitter, Thirty-First Series in 1896, which again was republished by Interweave Press.

This reticule is another pattern from Weldon's Practical Needlework: Practical Knitter, Thirty-First Series in 1896. It's 10" x 6" and could easily be enlarged or downsized as the knitter wishes.

Happy Victoria Day!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Flitting into Victorian Times and Knitwear

I can't believe I have somehow gone for more than three years without knowing about the work of Beth Hahn, an artist, writer, and knitwear designer who has written and illustrated in watercolours a series called The Adventures of Miss Flitt, a four-part, steampunk-ish, Victorian mystery novel, each installment of which contains six character-based knitting patterns. I mean, I love mysteries, I love history, I love knitwear design, I especially love knitwear design that references literature and history — how did this happen? However, the situation will soon be remedied. I intend to read the shit out these books as soon as I can get them into my hands, and for those of you who may not be familiar with Hahn's work, I shall try to fill you in.

The narrative follows Emma Flitt into a nineteenth-century New York filled with magicians, clairvoyants, charlatans, and pickpockets, as she unravels the mysterious disappearance of her sister Lucy. Hahn offers patterns for some of the items her characters wear. She has said that she hasn't been strictly historically accurate in her designs so as to keep them wearable for contemporary wear, which just shows good design principles. Let us hope, for instance, that Hahn hasn't offered us an item with pockets that would be easy to pick. But let's have a look at a few of the designs she has proffered in the Miss Flitt books.

This sweater is the Gretel pattern. It's understated and yet with interesting details. The hat is Emma's City Beret.

This is the Séance Shawl. The lacework is lovely and the shawl appears to drape really well.

This is the Nadya Corset and the Nadya Slip. Of course Victorian women would have worn items like these under several more layers of clothing, but you'll be appearing out just like this, like a brazen hussy.

You can read a very good January 2011 interview with Hahn, in which she describes the process of creating the books, on Popshifter, visit the Miss Flitt blog, and Hahn's main web site, and also check out some of her patterns on Ravelry.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Queen Victoria's Royal Example

Queen Victoria was a lifelong avid knitter and crocheter, and she also spun. Though she probably only did handiwork because she enjoyed it, her taste for it had far-reaching effects. Prior to the early nineteenth century, knitting was a folk art and a cottage industry, something the poor did from necessity and to earn a living. Queen Elizabeth I bought handknitted stockings, but wasn't herself a knitter. In the nineteenth century knitting became something all socioeconomic classes did, partly because of the rise of the popular press and the subsequent availability of printed knitting patterns, partly because of technical advances in the production of knitting needles and the introduction of standardized size needles, but also and in no small part because Queen Victoria elevated the status of knitting by setting a royal example. By the end of Queen Victoria's life every properly brought-up young girl in Western society was taught to knit as a matter of course, regardless of her family's economic status. Queen Victoria probably had a very salutary effect on crocheting as well, as crocheting did not even exist long before 1800, but became a common craft in less than a century. In the picture above, Queen Victoria is show knitting in the Queen's sitting room at Windsor Castle while her daughter Princess Beatrice reads the newspaper aloud.

This crocheted scarf is one of eight Queen Victoria made to be awarded to some members of the British military who had served with distinction in the Boer War in South Africa. The scarves had no significance as a military decoration, but must have had their own very special cachet. Not to mention that I find the whole idea of Queen Victoria crocheting these special scarves for her soldiers hilariously maternal and loving-hands-at-home. Can you picture any modern head of state doing such a thing for members of his or her national military? Would Stephen Harper knit bow ties for members of the Canadian military? Would Barack Obama cross-stitch medallions for his soldiers? But then it's my understanding that this sort of thing was typical of Queen Victoria's character. She did live in a bubble of extreme privilege and could be appallingly out of touch with what life was like for her subjects (she was middle-aged before she realized there was such a thing as train tickets, as she'd always simply walked on board herself), but her tastes and mindset could be very middle class. Queen Victoria enjoyed the circus and a nip of whiskey.

In this photo, Queen Victoria is photographed crocheting. I have read that Victoria, as much as she liked to knit, was not all that skilled in the art. There's a story told that on one occasion, Victoria was visiting a Scottish household near Balmoral Castle and presented her hostess with a pair of socks that she had knitted herself. There was an elderly woman also present who was hard of hearing and hadn't grasped the visitor's identity, and who loudly remarked, "If her man gets no better made socks than that, I pity him." Fortunately, Her Majesty was amused.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Meek's Knit-Off

A week or so ago I watched the 2010 movie Meek's Cutoff, which is the story of three couples and a small boy trying to survive a westward trek on the Oregon Trail with their uncertain guide. The movie featured a scene in which the three female characters in the movie were all sitting around knitting. I had to give actresses Michelle Williams, Zoe Kazan, and Shirley Henderson an A for effort, because I bet they all learned to knit for their roles in the movie and they didn't do badly at looking competent and relaxed. However, to an experienced knitter who knows a little about women's needlework in Victorian times, it was a less than historically accurate scene. All three women were knitting quite slowly and had bad form, and all three were knitting what looked suspiciously like a garter stitch scarf, or some other shapeless beginner project.

Most nineteenth century American women knew how to knit well. Among any three given pioneer women, at least one or two would have been highly skilled, fast knitters, and they would all have been working on more technically demanding, recognizable, practical projects: socks or stockings being most likely, or mittens, or perhaps a shawl. The pregnant character would almost certainly have been knitting something for her baby. And why are all three women working on what looks like the same project with the same yarn? It wouldn't have been hard to make up three different, more period-accurate projects and give them to the actresses to work on for the scene, or to just give them mending or other sewing to do, and I don't understand why it wasn't done, especially when this was such a realistic movie in every other way. But then Hollywood doesn't tend to depict knitting in the most convincing way, probably because relatively few actors and directors have any real knitting skills or knowledge. I wonder if there's a need for movie knitting consultants, and if so, how one could become one?