After a week or two of the hay fever season and an attack of … something nasty. I am back to writing about knitting!! Knitting is in fact one of the few things I do even when ill and it takes a serious bout of’ nasties’ to put a stop to knitting which it did so I was officially ill onward…
I am looking forward to Kate Davies’ new book on haps (shawls) not least because it is collaborative, 12 other designers are contributing but also to her research on the history of haps. History has until recently, only ever documented the big and dramatic (and usually male) events. The everyday and mundane or the orally passed on seems to have been so common place as not to need recording. When it comes to handmade crafts they are/were too unremarkable to even get space or waste ink on. The every day ordinariness of clothing to keep you warm true necessities are not the domain of writing words. Ha ha ha all is changed ……..we delight in ordinary and we revel in mundane – now is the time to record the history of real people hahahaha ………… oh sorry manic evil villan moment
Anyway Haps – shawls – Welsh wool got me thinking — I have just finished my version of a hap a red traditional knitted triangle with an old shale border. And a shawl is part of the national costume for Wales. As far as I can tell from the little on the net it was more than likely woven either local wool in checks or a Paisley one (Posh Victorian Sunday best)…. I did find an old photo of a Welsh lady in a knitted shawl, it looked a bit like my Shetland hap with a lace edge. Since many old photos were staged it is hard to tell what ladies wore on a day-to-day basis. But as the local cottage industry was knitting socks it would safe to think that there were at least some Welsh knitted shawls around? The Siol Fagu (nursing baby shawls) were a South Wales tradition but they were a blankets with long fringes not knitted.
So knitting a Welsh shawl may not be a tradition as such like it is in Scotland but there is no reason to suppose that they weren’t made. Long wire needles weren’t used for socks but wire was available in rural communities and we are an inventive lot. Unless it was easier to head for the local weaver? After all knitting a triangle or square shawl is a very simple set of increases. So with the new Cambrian wool waving at me from the shop floor I have started my idea for a Welsh knitted Siol- a plain garter stitch body half triangle with occasional coloured stripes as a nod to the local made blankets and along multi-coloured fringe as a memory of the Siol Fagu . I will remember in about a week just how boring knitted shawls are when I get to the 600 st per row stage but for now it is growing fast…. Photos tomorrow
I recently read another book Kathleen Kinder’s Machine and Hand Knitting – Pattern Design, published Batsford 1990 lent to me by a customer. I’m not a machine knitter, Number One child is and from experience at College. As far as I could see it involved significant use of words my Grandmother would have blushed at. However the process of knitting once the b… machine was set up was significantly quicker. I digress
The first chapters of the above book have the usual ‘History of Knitting/Machine’ what another eye opener? – Ms Kinder suggest that the West with it is history of economic and deep rooted control over skills (think the Guilds of Medieval Society) have left knitters deprived of knowledge and patronised by the male dominated knitting yarn manufacturers –a very shortened summary but – Yikes. The Japanese, the source of all domestic knitting machines during their heyday, had knitting schools which designers and domestic knitters attended. They also had/have a common system for pattern notation which has much to commend it. Which means that they are skilled adapters of patterns to fit them. More stuff I didn’t know ! But wow it explains something – why Japanese and French ladies are so well dressed – their clothes fit them!!
Not that I thought knitting was just knowing how to make the stitches. As a big knitter I am frequently floored by a nice pattern designed for little people. Having to adapt up the sizing – not usually successfully. Many knitters I know are disappointed with their creations because of the fit. This M’s Kinder suggests, is because we slavishly follow the pattern (an accusation also made by Sally Melville) but also because we do not have the skill and are not encouraged not to adapt the knitting to our shape. I make my own sewn clothes and changes and fitting come as a must. When taking the time to making your own garments the obvious opportunity is there to customise the fit, but we don’t – we happily spend 50 or 60 hours knitting a creation without even measuring ourselves or checking tension —- it isn’t surprising many knitters stick to small items and toys – it is a wonder anyone knits at all?
I have a life-long aversion to reading for reading sake. I do read for information and I love the insight books and commentaries have on what we do today. I have to admit I can’t remember having been taught to knit – it was probably my Mum or my Grandma or even Auntie Alice but it wasn’t in school and not by anyone person. I like many people, just know how to knit and have picked up skills along the way often from other people who have tried this or that. Until recent events I knew very little about wool but that is another story. We don’t think about how we learnt about knitting we just knit.
For Christmas I received 2 books on the history of knitting. One was the ‘go to’ on knitting history by Richard Rudd (a Bishop of Leicester ) and the other ‘The Old Hand-Knitters Of The Dales’ by Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby. I have then read chapters from other books which have their own take on knitting it’s history and complexity. There are samples of knit like articles from Egyptian times and old Viking samples of knitwear- knitting is old.
Knitting has a strong association with the poor and with women. Hand knitting was an important income for the poor especially in rural communities. The craft also brought people men, women and children knit together, in the Dales knitters gathered to work together, singing knitting songs, and telling stories to past the time. There is a strong tradition of knitting stockings in Tregaron and Carmarthenshire. They worked fast and with wire needles and a knitting belt. There were Knitting Schools and people even walked while knitting.
Knitting has been influenced by technology – fine silk knitting from Spain was only available after fine wire could be made of consistent diameter to make it, knitting frames are nearly as old as knitting by hand. Did you know sock knitting machines were a pre – Industrial revolution invention? Yes knitting on machines before the industrial revolution. The Luddites smashed knitting machinery in their fight for their livelihoods.
The strong connection with women? – During the Victorian times it became a socially acceptable thing for middle class ladies to do – drawing room knitting. If you knit with a pencil grip to your sticks chances are you have Victorian middle class women in your family tree. Women also began the writing about knitting and sharing patterns. If history is ‘written down’ then they began to record knitting – writing patterns down and writing about knitting ideas.
We are all a little bit of our knitting history whats yours?