Sunday, January 8, 2012

Perfect Pineapple: A Knitted Regency Reticule, c 1800

Sunday, January 8, 2012
Susan reporting:

As we've noted here before, the dramatic change in women's fashion in the late 18th and early 19th c not only meant the temporary end of wide skirts with hoops, but also the invention of a necessary new accessory: the purse. Gone were the days when a woman could tuck all her little necessities in an over sized pocket that tied around her waist and was hidden beneath voluminous petticoats. Much as purses are today, the new bags were often as stylish as they were utilitarian, and added a touch of bright color and whimsy to the ubiquitous white muslin gowns.

Many of you mavens of historic dress (and I know we have many among our readers) will recognize the picture of the gown, left. It has appeared in several of the excellent fashion books featuring the holdings of the Kyoto Costume Institute, including this and this.

The gown is French, c 1800, of silk taffeta with a drawstring waist. The shawl is silk net with an embroidered floral motif and silk fringe, and the hat is also silk net and pongee with a tassel.

But it's the pineapple dangling from the lady's wrist that has always intrigued me. Little bags like this were called reticules, from the French and earlier Latin for a small net or mesh bag. (There's another charming, if unsubstantiated, explanation that the word is a mocking derivative from ridicule, the French word for ridiculous.) Pineapples and other exotic fruit had become a fashion-forward motif thanks to the trendsetting Josephine de Beauharnais Bonaparte, born on the Caribbean island of Martinique. This pineapple-shaped reticule was knitted in yellow and green silk with silver beads for accents, and the top with the leaves pulls open with the tasseled drawstrings. It's a wonderful, witty example of three-dimensional knitting, whether the skilled workmanship of a professional knitter or a dedicated lady.

For a zoomable view of the bag on the Kyoto web site, click here.

The fashion for knitted and crocheted pineapples outlived Napoleon, with directions or "recipes" for them appearing in lady's magazines well into the mid-19th century. One version of the "Pine Apple Bag" appeared in The Lady's Assistant, for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crochetwork, published by Mrs. Jane Gaugain in 1840. Contemporary needleworker/blogger Isabel Gancedo has adapted this pattern for modern knitters, and posted both her version and Mrs. Gaugain's on her website here. Be forewarned: this is a challenging pattern for experienced knitters – but if you're game, the results are delightful!

Above: Photo from Revolution in Fashion 1715-1815, copyright 1990 The Kyoto Costume Institute
Many thanks to Janea Whitacre for pointing me towards Ms. Gancedo's on-line instructions.


Emile de Bruijn said...

How fascinating to read about this pineapple 'fashion moment'. It reminded me of the pineapple folly at Dunmore Park in Falkirk, Scotland, which is more or less from the same Regency/Empire period: For the girl who has everything: a garden pavilion in the shape of a giant up-to-the-minute handbag :)

Shelley said...

I think this might be one of your best posts! I love the dress, the info about the purse, the link to the zoomable picture and the knitting instructions! I'm not a very skilled knitter, and fortunately I'm not fond of the colour yellow, so I won't frustrate myself with attempting the pattern. All these sources of information tied together like this is still very satisfying. Thanks!

Freyalyn said...

You have seen this on Ravelry, I suppose:

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Emile, I love the pineapple pavilion, and I've mentioned it here before:

Whether purse or folly, I think it's all part of the pineapple-as-symbol of luxury and exoticism to 17th-18th c Europeans (but please, no, not hospitality--!)

I liked this recent news story that compared the cost of a pineapple now with what it cost in an English market in 1862 - the equivalent of £149 - which makes it might exotic indeed!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you, Shelley - glad you enjoyed the post. :)

Freyalyn, I have seen the Ravelry page (as a, ahem, compulsive knitter, what would I do without Ravelry?) But since often Ravelry links don't work for those who aren't a member, I didn't include it here - though it is fun to see how many other intrepid knitters have made pineapples of their own. I also see that there was a crocheted version published several years ago by Rowan that is now sadly out of print...

Also interesting that in the Kyoto book, the purse is wrongly identified as being crocheted, though to any knitter/crocheter would clearly see that it's knitted. Funny how often non-needlework folks confuse the two crafts....

JaneGS said...

Intriguing as the pineapple reticule is, it's the shawl I want! Actually, the entire ensemble is perfect.

Now that I've completed two stocking caps, I wonder if I'm ready to knit a pineapple reticule? :)

Sarah said...

Amazing! though I have to confess I agree with Jane and covet the shawl... I am nowhere near competent to knit this. I may however have to see if I can't figure out how to do something similar in crochet...just for kicks and giggles

Rebecca said...

I love that bag, so cool. thanks for the look and link.

SusannahC said...

If I liked yellow or green, I would try to improve upon the modern pattern, at the very least knitting in with lace yarn. The shawl, however, is a possibility.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Have you seen the current issue of Piecework magazine? It (The Historical Knitting Issue, appropriately enough) includes photos of two antique pineapple purses and instructions for an adaptation made in silk thread. It's finished size is 4 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches. I imagine it would be even more challenging than Ms Gancedo's pattern.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I love the comments when I write a knitting-related blog - there's not a knitter now or in 1800 who can't resist imagining a modification here, a change of colors or gauge there....It's what keeps the craft/art alive, and what makes every piece unique to each knitter. Pretty cool! :)

No, I haven't yet seen the new issue of Piecework magazine (which is a knitting magazine devoted to historical & traditional needlework), though someone on FB also mentioned that there are examples of pineapple purses.

Chalk it up to cosmic pineapple synchronicity - I got the idea for this post after a conversation about the Kyoto example with the Colonial Williamsburg mantua-makers at Christmas. Perhaps we're on the verge of another mega-pineapple-moment in fashion....:)

Bonny Wise said...

I had one of these made two years ago! I took it to Bath with me for the Jane Austen Festival and the Regency walk. It is admired wherever I go : ) said...

My theory on the etymology of reticule is that its root is reticulum, the first 2 definitions of which are:

1. A netlike formation or structure; a network.
2. Zoology The second compartment of the stomach of ruminant mammals, lined with a membrane having honeycombed ridges.

So, reticules being bags being net-like and/or being vaguely stomach-shaped.

Mary Guslick said...

Be sure to check out Franklin Habit's blog entry for March 7 and his knitted pineapple purse.

Best regards!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

There are directions for another version of the pineapple back in the new online issue of Knitty. Slightly different in form (the bunched leaves at the top look a little odd to me, but hey, that's a matter of knitted-pineapple-taste)

Here's the link:

Thanks to Mary (above) who also spotted this. :)

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