I do research on and recreate garments and objects from the past. My sources range from original items to photographs in books, periodicals, art works, literary references and period patterns. My research also involves the history of knitting needles and related implements.
The portrait in the corner is by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) of Elisabeth Alexeyevna (?), location and ownership unknown.
It came out, however, rather too big in the body and much too big in the waist. I am thinking of letting the ribbed part fall down on my hips and sewing on a wide satin waistband, probably drawstring. If it is all still too big, I will have to make another one, this time in a fingering weight wool which I already have. That weight is closer to the original in the pattern but I wanted a dense, warm petticoat so I decided to use the sport weight instead.
There are, of course, what seems like hundreds of ends to sew in! Tedious as that sounds, I spent about an hour working on just that and got half of one seam finished so another four or five hours should do the trick. I will have to space this part out over a few days or I shall run mad! Even though I am a quilter and do 98% of my piecing and quilting by hand, and also do canvas work, crewel and embroidery, I hate the sewing part of any knitting project. The panels are meant to joined in “single crochet” but that, combined with my skill in crocheting, would truly drive me over the edge.
The petticoat was knit on 3mm/2.50 US needles, in Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport, using five skeins of Scarlet and two of Snow. The original pattern is from Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1864. It does not suggest a needle size, gauge or garment size but does recommend “four-thread scarlet fleecy” (laceweight modern equivalent)
This piece is from “The Knitted Lace Collar Receipt Book,” “Arranged by Mrs. G.J. Baynes, “ “Fourth Edition,” “1846.” These are the “Fancy Row(s)” part of the collar. After this, I have to knit the “Lace” section and then some finishing rows.
The eight row pattern is logical and, without interruptions, I can knit six sets in about an hour. It is still, however, slow going; note the yellow wool markers that are close together which mark one set of eight rows and measures just under 3/8”. The other, longer yellow wool marker is at the half-way point of the collar, approximately 9 ½” long. The width is just over 1”.
Mrs. Baynes suggests “Needles, No. 16” and “Clarke’s Paisley Cable Laid Thread, No. 38 or Boar’s Head Cotton, No. 44. There is also an illustration for each of the four collars. Such an abundance of information! All that is missing is gauge/tension.
I am knitting this collar with DMC Cébélia, Blanc No. 10 on 1.75mm needles which are roughly the equivalent size of the “No. 16” of the pattern. I say “roughly” as my printed guide to conversions lists the Bell Gauge sizes of 15-17 as 1.75mm and my own Lacis Gauge is letting my Inox 1.75mm needle jiggle around a bit in the 1.75 opening but will not allow more than the tip into the 1.50mm hole.
I need to do more research on collars from this era to see if I am close enough in size. I do not feel as though I have captured the delicacy of lace in the illustration which, so far, does resemble the stitches that I am knitting.* The pattern is visible but will probably need a dark garment underneath to show it clearly. The collar also feels a tad heavy. The next one I knit will be in a thinner cotton weight.
This pattern is from The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant Designed for the Use of the National Girls’ School, printed in 1817. The facsimile edition, which I used, is available from Robin Stokes (www.robinstokes.com) In the introduction to the facsimile edition, Ms. Stokes writes that she believes this instruction book is the earliest printed pattern currently available. As of May, 2011, there seems not to be anything earlier that has survived in English. Ms. Stokes also writes that “The original purpose of this book was a charitable effort to teach the poor to knit for extra income.”
There are patterns for five sizes of stockings and three sizes of socks with a “scale” (sizing/stitch chart) at the end for both stockings and socks. The pattern, itself, is presented in a question and answer format, e.g., “Q. How do you cast on the stitches? / A. I take the worsted that is on the ball in the right hand…” The stocking is not difficult to knit and the older knitting language is easily interpreted.
I knit the smallest size stocking. There are also patterns for a man's stocking and socks, respectively, knit in lambswool.
In keeping with the times, there is no tension/gauge or needle size stated although “coarse worsted and large needles” are suggested. I followed these instructions by using 3.25mm/3US needles which are larger than the usual sizes I use for reproduction stockings. I also chose Harrisville Designs’ Shetland (two ply) as it is twice the thickness of the usual finer weight wool I use for 18th/19th century stocking; it gave me 7 ½ stitches to the inch. I adore knitting with this wool and, in this case, the gorgeous Marigold color was so bright and cheerful, a definite antidote to Second Stocking Syndrome.
There is no welting or rows or panels of garter stitchs. "Six rounds ribbed" (italics in the original pattern) of "three stitches plan and turning three" (knit three, purl three) instead. Do the italics stress the departure from the older style of stocking top? The narrowing or decreases were knit two together on the right side of the turn or seam stitch, right leaning as is typical of the era, and on the left of the seam stitch, a knit one, pass the next (unknitted) stitch over the knitted stitch. A single knitted stitch, as usual (although I have seen two), was left on either side of the seam stitch on the leg.
The foot had and extra stitch knit “in the loop” either side of the instep “to prevent holes in the corners.” There were also instructions for widening the “heel sides,” as is evident in the photographs from the outward slope on the bottom of the flattened feet.
The toe decreases are not the usual every alternate row but are done in different numerical sequences.
When starting a new ball of wool, it is suggested that the "end of the worsted" be "knit in with the first three stitches."
I followed the exact directions throughout (which is unusual for me) and thought that the leg was a bit short in proportion to the size of the foot. I am 5’3” and have legs in proportion to that height but the stockings only come up to my knee and do not go over them at all. On the other hand, or foot, so to speak, my shoe size is 37 ½ mm/7US, and the foot of this stocking is a good 2 ¾” longer than my foot. It is also a bit roomy on either side of my foot as a result of those added side heel stitches.
The final measurements for the stockings are 10 ¼” around the leg under the ribbing, 8” around the ankle, 10” around the widest part of the foot and 8" around the narrowest part of the foot, between the two sets of decreases. The stocking, from the top of the ribbing to the bottom of the heel measures 18 ½”.
I plan to make the socks, next, but will adjust and fit them more to my foot so I can wear them.
The technique is similar to the Sortie Cap in that it is striped and stitches are dropped and pulled to create the lacy effect. I did a swatch to estimate the length based on the image in Godey's and one that would fit me, ultimately adding 64 to the original 130 stitches.
The original pattern did not specify the weight of the wool but did state "No. 15" sized needles (modern equivalent is 1.75mm/00US. After experimenting with the smaller needles and working my way up to a size which gave me that lacy effect in the image, I ended up with 4.50mm/7US needles - quite a difference. I also did not like the "tassels" in the original image, which looked like fuzzy plants of some sort and opted, instead, for the stranded style.
The wool is Knit Picks Palette in Blush and Silver, using one skein of each, with about a third of both left over.