As a habitual knitter and needleworker, I have great empathy for the 18thc ladies who chose to have their portraits painted doing the handwork of their choice, whether sewing, needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, tambour-work, netting, or knotting. Of course, in these paintings the handwork wasn't perceived in modern terms as a hobby or as creative self-expression, but as a symbol of feminine industry and domesticity. It was also considered an attractive way to display graceful hands and wrists (something I'll admit I don't begin to consider while I knit.)
Knotting was favored by aristocratic ladies of the French court, such as Madame Adélaïde, above left, the daughter of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska. (As always, please click on the image to enlarge it.) The thread was knotted at close intervals to create a decorative braid that could then be stitched onto clothing or other items. Silk thread or cord was wrapped around a shuttle, and unwound as needed.As handwork and needlework go, it's not complicated.
Elegantly industrious displays in the drawing room required decorative tools, too. I spotted this 18thc knotting shuttle, top and right, last week on Twitter, and it's a beauty. Knotting shuttles were often made of expensive materials such as tortoiseshell, crystal, mother-of-pearl, and silver. This one must have been top-of-the-line, for it's gold. Delicate enamel work adds further embellishment, with a rural scene as well as simulated stone inlay, detail lower left. This shuttle falls into the same category of luxurious small-goods pretending to be useful such as jeweled snuffboxes, gold boxesfor rouge, and enameled nécessaires- costly little indulgences that the skilled tradespeople of 18thc Paris were so talented at creating.
Still, it's easy to imagine an indulged, aristocratic Parisienne, dressed in silk and lace with her hair perfectly powdered, making witty, flirtatious conversation along with her silk knots as her golden shuttle flashes back and forth....
Above: Shuttle, mid-18thc, French, Wallace Collection. Left: Madame Adélaïde de France Tying Knots by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1756, Château de Versailles.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.