Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Knitting From History

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Isabella reporting:

As well as being a Nerdy History Girl, I'm also a Nerdy Knitting Girl, and have been since, oh, all the way back into the last century. This Friday is national I Love Yarn Day, and knitters and other needleworkers are supposed to share and demonstrate their yarn-love however they choose.

Which, for me, is sharing several historical knitting patterns. First up is an amazing book which just might contain the earliest English directions for knitting patterns. Printed in London in 1655, the book has a typical 17th c. doozie of a title: Natura Exenterata: or Nature Unbowelled By the most Exquisite Anatomizers of Her. Any book that has "unbowelled" in the title better be exceptional, and this one must have delivered everything that 17th c. female readers could have wanted. Not only are there directions for knitting and other handiwork, but also medical cures, secrets, and receipts.

The authors are unknown, except as "several Persons of Quality," and the dedication to the accomplished and well-traveled Lady Alethea Talbot Howard, Countess of Arundell and Surrey acted as a kind of celebrity endorsement. Even so, the market for this book must have been small. England still feeling the effects of its Civil War, and books – especially books for women – would have been a luxury only a few could afford. The fancy knitting described here would have been a pursuit for a lady, another accomplishment like needlework. Here's a link to the title page plus the knitting directions, called "Selected Experiments in making Network." For the knitters out there, the directions will make sense once you get the hang of the language.

But if your taste is a bit more modern, here are the directions for a stylish Knitted Winter Spenser from a copy of the American Godey's Lady's Book, published during another Civil War in 1861. For the middle-class readers of Godey's, knitting would have been a useful skill as well as a pastime.

Still looking for more inspiration? Here are dozens of Victorian and Edwardian pattern books.

Above: Woman Knitting, by Francoise Duparc (1726-1778), Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseilles.


Alwen said...

I love Natura Exenterata!

Aside from How to Knit a Hose, most of the network directions are for something hardly ever seen today: decorative network, made in a manner similar to the way fish nets are made.

I have been playing with the network directions on and off for years, and have some of the patterns worked out.

You can see the Broad Arrow and the Diamond here:

and in a smaller gauge here:

I thought for years the network directions were for lace knitting, until one day on the Yahoo Historic Knit list someone mentioned they were netted.

Finally that direction to "pull out your pin" made perfect sense - the pin was the mesh/gauge you use to keep the loops all the same size!

Scrapiana said...

Unbowelled! Love it. I vote we re-title all the '...for Dummies' series accordingly. ;-)

scott davidson said...
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Quinn said...

So glad I found your blog!! I'm another history nerd and knitter :)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

We're glad you found us, too, Quinn. Welcome aboard! :)

Carolyn said...

This lady is actually mending, not knitting, as the title in French suggests.

textilehistorIE said...

Brilliant, love the links! Thanks girls :)

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