Last week I shared several fans that I discovered in the study drawers of the Donghia Costume & Textiles Study Center at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI. Today I'm featuring another piece from the drawers that completely captivated me: a women's knitted jacket dated from 1630-50.
As a long-time knitter myself, this jacket immediately caught my eye. It's knit of silk in a beautiful green and metal-wrapped thread, with the elaborate floral pattern knitted in, and modern knitters will recognize some of the familiar patterns still worked today. The gauge is very fine by today's standards, probably about 15-17 stitches to the inch. For comparison's sake, the finest modern hand-knitting is worked with lace-weight cotton thread on 000 needles at a gauge of 8-10 stitches to the inch.
The construction of the jacket is simple: knitted rectangles form the sleeves, fronts, and back, and were sewn together, and despite the skill of the knitting, that somewhat clumsy construction probably means it wasn't a luxury garment. There aren't any buttons or other closings, and it's likely that the jacket were pinned together like many other garments of the time. The jacket was likely made in Italy, possibly for import to other countries like England, and was probably hand knit by professional knitters. From the size, it was probably made for a woman.
I know that's a lot of "probably" and "likely", but the jacket's exact provenance isn't known. There are several others similar to it in other collections, but many questions remain for scholars about who wore such jackets and who made them, their purpose and roles as garments (fashion? warmth? masquerade?)
Here are a few notes about the jacket, generously provided by Laurie Brewer, Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles, RISD Museum:
"This jacket is knitted in stocking stitch, a combination of knit and purl stitches using green and gold silk thread, with some of the outlines floral motifs in reverse stocking stitch. The floral motifs were skillfully made, with the gold thread only loosely stranded across the back of the stitches. The basketwork around the hem is in alternate blocks of stocking and purl stitch, and the front edge is in garter stitch.
"We know of two other related works: one at the Cleveland Museum and the other at the V&A....The Cleveland Museum has the most closely related example, in both construction and patterning. Of special note, all three examples employ the basket stitch at the hem of the jackets, and all embrace the Italian design impulse of the meandering, meandro floral motif. The floral motif that decorates the RISD Museum's garment is influenced by contemporary woven silk designs, which nearly always featured flowers."
If you're feeling really adventurous, you can knit yourself a similar jacket with the pattern derived from the V&A jacket in Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns by Jenny Tiramani & Susan North. (Thanks to Samantha McCarty for reminding me of this!)
Many thanks to Lani Stack of the RISD Museum for her assistance with this post.
Top: Woman's knitted jacket, 1630-50, Italian, artist unknown. RISD Museum. Photograph ©RISD Museum.
Bottom: Detail, Woman's knitted jacket, RISD Museum. Photograph ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.