Knitting History Forum Conference 13th November 2021 – Abstracts

Extended abstracts of papers presented at the Knitting History Forum Conference on 13th November 2021.

From fleece to fez in fifteen steps: an interpretation of the 1571 Cappers Act in the 21st century
Kirstie Buckland – Hon President, Knitting History Forum, UK

Woollen caps and British cappers were widely appreciated from the 13th century to the changing fashions of the 16th century. Cappers guilds performed in the Corpus Christi pageants, prosperous members equipped shops, endowed manufactories, and became burgesses, aldermen, mayors and politicians.

The little information written about the cappers comes from other people, notably from the many statutes passed to control or encourage them. These established standards of quality and price. The late 16th century decline of the ‘craft, trade or science’ formerly employing 8,000 people in London, twice as many in the land beside’ threatened to increase poverty and crime. Were there really that many? While fifteen distinct callings were listed in the manufacture of caps (with ‘cappeknitters’ recorded from 1422) cappers combined with cardmakers, wiredrawers and pinners who provided some basic materials.

In 1571 unsuccessful legislation to enforce the wearing of woollen caps was intended to keep the country’s knitters working. As fashion changed exports dwindled, and cappers struggled to survive despite Queen Elizabeth’s helpful intervention.

It is impossible to know exactly how cappers worked, did they knit as we do now? Did they call it knitting (always spelt with a ‘k’). Who did what in the industrial hierarchy before mechanisation took over? The fifteen callings start with ‘Carders, Spinners, Knitters’ often seen as women’s jobs and obviously using woollen spun, short-stapled downland fleece, finishing and dyeing were more specialised, they were forbidden to make ‘any caps of any cloth not knit’. The use of ‘web yarn’ or of ‘cloth yarn’ was condemned as ‘deceitful practice’. 15th century scribes were not familiar with the word and it is often added above the line (Monmouth and Ripon) but most surviving caps found in museum collections are, in terms of present practice, knitted, fulled, raised and shorn, with some showing traces of dye.

Many were dispersed from early 20th century London excavations, others survived in small provincial towns, bogs in Ireland or Scotland, and shipwrecks such as Henry VIII’s warship the ‘Mary Rose’, or HMS de Braak.

We now have the scientific means to examine, analyse and provisionally date the surviving specimens which continue to surface, but cheaply made, easily seen and interpreted, knitted wool berets are still effective and adaptable in military, civilian and commercial use. (Montgomery, Che Guevara, Twiggy), More than 200,000 were made annually by a single French factory, except where the traditional ‘fez’ remains popular. On holiday in Tunis, just before the Arab Spring, I wandered through the souk where rows of identical shops in one area were selling identical fezes in various colours. To my surprise these fezes were knitted and finished using exactly the same methods that I think our cappers used. This was a working environment not a tourist show, the men were working on stacks of half-finished caps, using both traditional native teasels and metal ones (and their teeth) and delivered a mutter of angry Arabic at being interrupted. I was also unpopular with our group of tourists who did not share my excitement!  I bought my fez, carefully measured to fit, also a just-made undyed knitted ‘bag’ and a discarded metal fulling teasel.

Any Cap, whate’re it be
Is still the sign of some Degree.

(Elizabethan Ballad)


Inlandic, Foreign and Speckled Stockings – Harlingen hosiery shops in the 17th century
Gieneke Arnolli – 
Former curator, Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands

The basis for this paper is six inventories, from between 1637 and 1668, of hosiery shops in Harlingen, the mo st important harbour town of the Dutch province of Friesland. Harlingen was the northern gateway of the Republic of the United Netherlands.

Knitted stockings or “hose” could be bought ready-made in the 17th century, as opposed to other kinds of clothing, which were made to order. This made the stockings an early form of ready-to-wear clothing, as well as both in- and exported commodities. That Dutch stockings from that period are still extant is exclusively thanks to archaeological finds, such as the woollen stockings excavated in 1980 at Spitsbergen, (Svalbard, Norway) when archaeologists were in search of the clothing of whalers.

In the Harlingen shops amongst others English, Norwegian and Icelandic stockings were to be found beside Inlandic woollen stockings for men, women and children. However, skippers from Harlingen mainly transported stockings from the Netherlands to the Baltic region, as is shown by the registered passages through the Sound Tolls in Denmark.

The craft of knitting (of stockings) was plied by men as well as by women, who were members of a guild. The names of eight “hose knitters” can be found in 17th-century sources in Harlingen. Female knitters remained unnamed most of the time, but in the 1658 inventory of Antie Jans the name of a female knitter is mentioned, because of an outstanding debt which had to be paid to her. The prominent presence of women also becomes clear from the fact that most of the Harlingen stocking shops were held in the name of the (married) woman; and there were always two women involved in inventorying, as licenced valuers. The stockings’ prices varied from five stuivers (a stuiver –penny- is 1/20 worth of a guilder) to more than three guilders per pair, whereas the average daily wage of a craftsman amounted to one guilder at that time. Examination of the Harlingen inventories demonstrates how important the role of women was in the economic life of the town.

However, from the inventories much may also be deduced about the stockings themselves: for example that stockings traded in the shops were nearly always made of wool. This means that not only knitters, but also wool-combers and spinners were indispensable for the production. The wool-combers took care of preparing the fleeces for spinning, after which the wool was taken to spinners, mostly women, who would spin knitting yarns of various thicknesses from this.
Knitting yarn was available in greater or lesser amounts in all the shops. It isn’t clear whether this was intended for selling or as a stock for working with. There was a bunch of “walvisch bien” (whalebones) for making knitting needles in the shop of Isack Pytters Verhagen (1656). Iron wire was present for the same purpose in Jantien Cornelis’ shop (1657). The stocking shops were more like workshops, which is also apparent from the presence of “formen” (moulds) in the shape of a leg, for stretching the knitted stockings around. There will also have been pupils at work there, but no traces of them can be found in the inventories.


From anecdote to statistic: in  search of quantifiable data for the volume of production and trade in hand knitted stockings made from wool in England in the later Elizabethan and Jacobean periods
Lesley O’Connell Edwards
 – Independent Researcher, UK

Knitted items were becoming increasingly common through the sixteenth century in England, especially stockings.  However, little work has been done to put numbers to this expanding industry: Thirsk’s research nearly half a century ago suggested each person wore out at least two pairs of stockings a year, and Croft included figures from the London port books of the period in her research on the stocking export trade.  This paper aims to rectify that situation, and show that it is possible to provide far more quantifiable data.  After touching on the amount of wool that might be needed for a pair of stockings, the paper will concentrate on the number of stockings being produced and traded, both within England and  as exports, and reveal who the traders could be.  It will then consider knitters as a socio-economic group and produce an estimate of how many there could be in the early seventeenth century.  Finally, it will show how sometimes different categories of records can be brought together to paint a broader picture of stocking knitting, using (fine) jersey stocking knitting in Norwich and Yarmouth as a case study.

There is no one source of evidence for hand knitted stockings, as knitting was not a structured industry.  Material is scattered across a wide range of sources from national government papers, such as customs accounts and pardons in the patent rolls, through local government records to personal records, including letters, account books and inventories. Sometimes one has to ‘read between the lines’ – evidence is not neatly laid out, but needs to be deduced, such as realising that a number of stolen stockings was too large for household use, so the owner may have been intending to trade in these.  People’s lives were complex, and they often had multiple income streams: creating or trading in knitted items was only one of these.

What quantifiable data are available?

This paper shows that there is numerical evidence for a number of aspects:

  • How much wool / yarn was needed for a pair of stockings
  • Evidence of volume of trade from official records
  • The shaping of trade – what types, and how many stockings were individual merchants trading?
  • Who were the knitters?

How much wool / yarn made a pair of stockings?

The paper will discuss the usefulness of a generalisation of one pound of wool producing two pairs of stockings, which appears in several sources, and consider evidence from modern recreations of extant sixteenth century stockings in the Museum of London.  It will also discuss the proposed enterprise of Walter Morrell, who claimed he had obtained five pairs of stockings from one pound of wool, and was intending to train others to do so.

Evidence from official records.

The Tudor administration reformed the aulnage tax and customs systems in the latter half of the sixteenth century. Both of these reforms resulted in knitted stockings being added to the list of items on which duty was payable, which suggests that the government was aware that these were being produced in sufficient numbers to make it worthwhile taxing them.

Aulnage was a duty paid on finished items made from wool: how many evaded this duty is unknown.  Only two records have been traced: one from Norwich for 1580-1585 and one from Ipswich for 1594-1595.  The Norwich records are quarterly and the paper will use these to reveal the volume of stocking production, and also to suggest that there was no obvious seasonality to production.  Although the Ipswich document is simply a total, the paper will show that it demonstrates the types of stockings being made, and who was trading in them.

Port books can detail specific cargos that were being transported – but not all of these do, especially in the sixteenth century.  The records become more detailed after the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the paper will show that it is possible to put numbers to the export trade.  The paper will briefly show that the other end of the export trade can sometimes be traced, drawing on the data in the Danish Sound Toll registers in the period.

The shaping of trade – what and how many stockings were the merchants trading?

Port books also provide evidence of quantities that merchants were obtaining, and sending.  The numbers of stockings in a cargo was very variable – some merchants were sending as few as six or eight pairs, whilst others sent over 1,500 pairs.  The paper will use specific port books to show the range of quantities and types of stockings that were being exported, as well as other information about the traders; and to highlight the differences between London and other ports.

A range of other sources will be used to demonstrate how much stock a person trading in stockings might hold, and the range of types and values, including personal inventories, and pardons for theft in the Calendar of Patent Rolls.  Other evidence, such as personal correspondence, will show how the trade might simply be informal.  Traders must have had ways of obtaining stockings in quantity, and the little evidence that exists as to how they might have done this will be discussed.

Information about numbers of knitters

The paper will discuss the few sources that show information about knitters as a socio-economic group. This will include two surveys of the poor, made in Norwich in 1570 and Ipswich in 1597, which demonstrate that knitters were poor but could be of any age, or marital status.  Other evidence such as civic initiatives to train the poor to knit in order to earn a living and not be a burden on the poor rate, such as that in Salisbury in 1625, will be briefly discussed.

How many knitters might there have been in England?

The consensus amongst contemporaries was that a full-time knitter made two pairs of stockings a week (ignoring size and yarn type), and knitted for fifty weeks a year, excluding the Christmas period.  However, many knitters might only work in the slack periods in the agricultural period, or have other occupations as well as knitting, as the Norwich census reveals.

The paper will show that we can expand on Thirsk’s estimate of a minimum of 90,000 knitters creating two pairs for each of the minimum population of 4.5 million at the end of the sixteenth century.  It will utilise data for the early seventeenth century to arrive at an estimate of the number of knitters that includes those needed to produce the stockings for export.  It will also show that where the number of a group of knitters is known, such as in the Norwich census of the poor in 1570, then an estimate can be made of the number of stockings they would produce.

A case study: jersey stocking knitting in Norwich and Yarmouth.

Finally the paper will show that sometimes different records can be brought together to paint a broader picture of stocking knitting, and provide numeric evidence, using the example of jersey stocking knitting in Norwich and Yarmouth.  The paper will utilise different types of records to reveal the possible volume of this trade, including potential amount of wool used, who the knitters might have been and their wages, the volume of the trade, and those who were exporting the finished stockings, and discuss the reliability of the different sources.  These records include the writings of Thomas Wilson, a government official, and Walter Morrell, an entrepreneur, a return on official wool usage to a local J.P., the 1600-1601 port book for Yarmouth, and a Norwich inventory of 1617.


“3 pounds Wostid in niting”: Knitted garments in Stuart accounts
Pat Poppy – Independent researcher, UK

An ongoing project has created a database of information on clothing from the Stuart period (1603-1714). The database contains around 23,000 references, only a few are to knitting or to knitted garments. These do however provide an insight into what was being produced and how. The bulk of the garments are stockings, followed by small numbers of gloves, cuffs, a waistcoat and a doublet. The paper will examine the changing terminology, particularly around references to stockings, and if the textile description can indicate whether they are knit or not. It will also examine the extent to which knitted items were purchased, or ordered to be knitted, and the values put on the finished garments, to cost of yarn and the cost of knitting.

A 1611 seller of points, garters, and girdles, has two pair of knit stockings in stock.1 One hosier in 1623 has in stock five pairs of knit stockings, the rest of his stock are referred to as hose, raising the question of whether they are breeches or stockings.2 As late as the 1630s breeches could be referred to as hose, the King’s suits are described as doublet, hose and cloak.3 By the later part of the seventeenth century references to hose are almost certainly to stockings, a widow Agnes Noble in 1679 has in stock well over 100 pairs of hose, and some are referred to specifically as women’s hose.4

The 1623 hosier has Irish hose in stock, which are almost certainly cloth stockings. Irish stockings were the preference for American colonists at the time, as being, “much more serviceable than knit ones.” 5  Later suppliers do not mention whether or not the stockings are knit. Cloth stockings can be identified by the name of the textile, a 1661 seller has “paire dowlas stokens & on paire of Cotten stokens”.6 Stockings described as yarn or thread, are almost certainly knit as, in all probability, are worsted stockings. A 1691 wool comber not only has three pounds of worsted out “in niting,” but also large quantities of worsted wool with spinners, similar large amounts of worsted yarn in stock, and at least 74 pairs of worsted hose.7

References to items being knitted appear in several household accounts. In 1625 the Howards of Naworth Castle pay “for knitting 2 pair of stockings for the children 6d.”8 In 1645 John Willoughy in Devon paid “for knitting a pair of stockings of coarse melly yarn 2s 4d.”9 His Devon neighbours the Earl and Countess of Bath at Tawstock had several items knitted for their servants, as well as stockings there are references to “paid for knitting Mr Harris stockings and gloves 2s” and “paid for knitting cuffs 6d.” At least one item was knitted for the Earl himself, “paid Eliz: Umbles for knitting my Lord’s socks 2s”.10 James Master in the 1650s lists several payments both for the knitting of items and for the purchase of thread, “for 1 po[ound] and a hal[f] of thred to make 2 pair of stockings 4s 6d.” and later “for knitting 2 pa of stockings for Jack 2s 6d”.11

Apart from the 1611 points seller and the 1623 hosier it is sometimes difficult to tell if stockings in stock are knitted or not. The 1691 woolcomber’s stock is almost certainly all knitted. His hose for youths and women are 2s a pair, but other hose are listed at 2s 6d a pair. In 1668 in Kent George Johnson has socks at 4d a pair, children’s stockings at 5d a pair, boy’s grey stockings at 7d a pair, and men’s woollen stockings at 1s 0½d a pair.12 Earlier in the century in 1619, John Robinson, who describes himself as a yeoman but is selling both stockings and gloves has in stock “ninetien payer of wosted stockings £3 13s 2d, wollen stockings thirtye fower payer 57s 8d” and “thirteen payer of stockings for children 7s 7d”.13

Silk stockings are far more expensive. James Master pays 9 shillings for a pair black silk knit tops, probably for boot hose.14 The silk stockings purchased for the Earl and Countess of Bath ranged from 19 shillings to “a pair of green silk stockings for my Lord £2 10s”.15

The colours of the stockings are rarely mentioned, though silk stockings appear to come in a much wider range of colours than wool stockings. In 1699 a mercer divides his stockings into grey and coloured.16 Another mercer a year later in 1700 has stockings in blue and red as well as “dyed woosted at 2/1” a pair.17


  1. Atkinson, J A., et al eds. 1993, Darlington wills and inventories 1600-1625. Publications of the Surtees Society, vol 201, 111-114
  2. George, E. and S. eds. 2002, Bristol probate inventories, Part 1: 1542-1650. Bristol Records Society publication 54, 36
  3. Strong, Roy. 1980 Charles I’s clothes for the years 1633-1635. Costume, 14, 73-89
  4. George, E. and S. 2005, Bristol probate inventories, Part 2: 1657-1689. Bristol Records Society publication 57, 12
  5. Wood, William. New England’s Prospect. (London, 1639)
  6. George, E. and S. eds. 2005, Bristol probate inventories, Part 2: 1657-1689. Bristol Records Society publication 57, 12
  7. George, E. and S. eds. 2008, Bristol probate inventories, Part 3: 1690-1803. Bristol Records Society publication 60, 8-10, (Online at
  8. Ornsby, G. ed. 1878 Selections from the Household Books of the Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle. Publications of the Surtees Society, 68, 225
  9. Gray, Todd. 1995. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 1 Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 38, 257.
  10. Gray, Todd. 1996. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 2 Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 39, 62, 102 & 103.
  11. Robertson, S. ed. 1886. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 2, 1655-1657], transcribed by Mrs Dallison. Archaeologia Cantiana, 16, 241-259, 253
  12. Lansberry, H. C. F. ed. 1988. Sevenoaks wills and inventories in the reign of Charles II. Maidstone: Kent Archaeological Society. 75
  13. Phillips, C. B. and Smith, J. H., eds. 1985. Stockport probate records, 1578-1619. Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. 124, 138-41
  14. Robertson, S. ed. (1887). The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 3, 1658-1663], transcribed by Mrs Dallison. Archaeologia Cantiana, 17, 321-352, 340
  15. Gray, Todd. 1996. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 2 Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 39, 153
  16. Trinder, B. and Cox, J. 1980. Yeoman & Colliers in Telford: Probate Inventories for Wellington, Wrockwardine, Lilleshall and Dawley, 1660-1750. Phillimore, 305
  17. Trinder, B. and Cox, J. 1980. Yeoman & Colliers in Telford: Probate Inventories for Wellington, Wrockwardine, Lilleshall and Dawley, 1660-1750. Phillimore, 315


“There are few ladies who cannot knit stockings” – Printed instructions, norms and practice in the nineteenth century
Hanna Bäckström
 – PhD in Textile Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden

In research on the history of knitting, stockings are often mentioned as a key item. Extant stockings are often described, while the development of printed instructions on how to make them has not been as thoroughly explored. In this paper I study the norms and practices surrounding the act of knitting a stocking during the nineteenth century, by examining how the publication of instructions for knitting stockings changed over time. The sources range from the well-known instructions in The Knitting Teachers Assistant (1817) to lesser known manuals published in Germany, Denmark and Sweden from the early nineteenth century to the 1870s. To further explore how the act of knitting a stocking could express social identity other printed sources and portraits are also considered.

Part of the investigation was included in my newly published PhD thesis that explore the emerging market for printed patterns for knitting and crochet in the middle of the nineteenth century, Förmedling av mönsterförlagor för stickning och virkning. Medierna, marknaden och målgruppen i Sverige vid 1800-talets mitt (The mediation of patterns for knitting and crochet. The publications, the market and the target group in Sweden in the mid-nineteenth century).

In the early nineteenth century a market for printed knitting patterns first developed in the German speaking area. The first patterns for knitting were in the form of coloured grid patterns that conveyed motifs, such as a garland. These were sometimes combined with written instructions to communicate how to create a distinct form or a structure, such as a lace stocking. However, more often than not the the grid patterns were not accompanied by any written instructions. Prior knowledge on how to form a stocking, and how to incorporate a lace pattern or border on it, was expected of the target group of the patterns. An early and rare example of written instructions on how to knit stockings were included in Johann Friedrich Netto’s and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann’s popular manual Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange (The art of knitting in its entirety), published in several editions around the year 1800. The instructions are hard to understand today, and whether they were understandable for a German reader of that time can be discussed.

During the 1830s and 1840s there is a shift from manuals mostly containing grid patterns, to manuals where a combination of written instructions and illustrations are used. At the same time the function of the patterns change, from communicating how to form motifs, to communicating how to form shapes and structures. Basic instructions on how to form the stiches that make up the motif and pedagogical, step by step instructions first became a frequent part of the manuals in the 1840s. A standardised language of how to describe the craft was also developed during the 1840s.

One of the most prolific German authors of needlework manuals in the 1840s was Emma Hennings, whose manuals were also translated to Dutch, Danish and Swedish. To illustrate the instructions for knitting stockings from the mid-nineteenth century, Emma Hennings’ Anweisung zur Kunststrickerei (1843–1847) (Instructions in art knitting) is compared with the instructions of Danish knitting manual author Sine Andresen, Strikkebog til Skole- og Huusbrug (1845) (Knitting book for use at home and in schools).

In the mid nineteenth century knitting of stockings was common in all parts of society, both as sustenance and as a part of everyday household chores. Most of the printed manuals were aimed at middle and upper class women, and in these publications the knitting of stockings was framed as a fashionable, graceful and feminine activity, tied to bourgeoisie gender ideals. In the manuals, norms regarding what kind of objects should be fabricated, why, and by whom is also expressed. The target group, “fruntimmer” (ladies), are constructed as persons that had the means, time and need for a pastime, but this pastime should also be productive or beneficial – such as knitting thin cotton stockings for your family. By relating to established notions of gender and class, knitting is presented as important and meaningful occupations in the everyday life of middle-class women.

The ways in which knitting is described, for example as both productive and entertaining pastimes, can be viewed as part of the publishers’ strategy to make the manuals into desirable and fashionable commodities. In the manuals, the concepts of usefulness and entertainment are conspicuously tied to each other, making a convincing argument for a middle-class woman of the mid-nineteenth century to engage in knitting.

The connections between knitting and bourgeoisie gender ideals can also be seen in German and Danish portraits of bourgeoisie women, who were frequently depicted holding a knitting. The shape and colour of their knitting suggest that it was the making of cotton stockings that was depicted, rather than any other object that could be knitted.

Satirical articles in fashion journals and weeklies further emphasize that the knitting of stockings was a quintessential occupation for fashionable women. While stating that the stocking was present in the hands of women in all parts of genteel social life, the practice was also criticized for making girls antisocial, passive and inattentive to the courting of men. When performed too much, a task that signalled feminine virtue could also have the opposite effect.

While the task of knitting stockings was framed as a mandatory and fashionable task for bourgeoisie women in portraits, fashion journals and magazines in the mid nineteenth century, the popular knitting manuals of that period have none or very brief instructions on how to actually perform the task. The German, Danish and Swedish knitting manuals that were issued during the period 1830–1850 contain a lot of patterns for structures that can be used on stockings, such as lace patterns and borders. Technical aspects of how to actually form the stocking, such as instructions on how to form a heel, are often omitted. The omission of step-by-step instructions for knitting stockings in the manuals emphasize the cultural significance of this task, making it into something that the target group was just expected to know how to do. As is stated in both the German and Swedish edition of Hennings’ Anweisung zur Kunststrickerei: “There are few ladies who cannot knit stockings”.

In Sweden the first step-by-step instructions for making stockings was published in the 1870s. This was a translation of The Knitting Teachers Assistant, first published more than fifty years earlier. I will conclude by discussing why there was such a delay in the publication of thorough instructions for how to knit stockings in Sweden compared to Britain.


Heads, hands and feet: Examining the body of evidence for early knitting
Jane Malcolm Davies
– Associate professor of textile analysis, Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Image made up of early modern knitted cap, waistcoat, gloves and stockings to illustrate 'Heads, hands and feet: Examining the body of evidence for early knitting' by Dr Jane Malcolm Davies

A selection of early historical items has been used to illustrate the development of knitting.1 Many of these were made to clothe the head, hands and feet.2 However, so far there has been no systematic study of this ‘body’ of evidence. As a result, it is not clear whether these extremities represent outliers in the data. There are many reasons why extant historical garments fail to illustrate what was actually worn in the past. Extrapolation from the few potentially extreme examples to the general is one of the limitations of current research methodologies in dress history. A more scientific approach may help to indicate their common and potentially characteristic features.3

Dress and textile history has evolved through preoccupations with class, gender, and communication, and via four main analytical frameworks: object-based research; the study of cultural context; personal practice; and production and consumption.4 It has been argued that such research has finally achieved ‘academic respectability’ with the adoption of interdisciplinary approaches drawing on material culture, ethnography, and cultural studies.5

This paper suggests that some of these research methods are not as well developed or integrated as they could be and that critical insights are currently overlooked. It also reports recent initiatives in knitting history research which suggest new ways of interrogating the body of evidence to fill these gaps.

Broadly speaking, data on the cultural context of dress and textiles come from the humanities while data on the material itself (the fibres and their processing) come from the sciences.6 However, between these two data sources there is the study of the object itself. A methodology for this has not been well documented in dress and textile history.7 Curators have published ‘how to’ guides8 and others have hinted at ways for detailed records of garments to be compiled.9 There is some instructive literature on textile structures which has been put to good use in archaeology.10 But a long-standing system for recording woven fabrics is not systematically employed by dress and textile historians.11 As a result, there is a lack of clarity on how to study an artefact as evidence in dress and textile history.

How the raw materials are transformed into textiles is also largely undocumented from an academic perspective (or, in some cases, with alarming inaccuracy)12 and there is a failure to capture garment construction techniques adequately. One of the contributory factors is the almost complete absence of craft expertise in the scholarly discourse of woven and non-woven historical textiles.13 An appreciation of craft practices bridges the divide between the study of the materials (fibres, processing and construction) and the study of meaning (culture and context). But expert craftspeople tend to be located outside traditional academic disciplines which is why their valuable insights go unrecorded. This is despite the fact that the importance of the intangible cultural heritage in craft has been recognised by UNESCO since 2003.14

The lack of both rigorous object-based research and craft expertise in the study of historical dress and textiles are particularly noticeable in research into the evidence for non-wovens and early knitting in particular.15 However, an EU-funded project, Knitting in Early Modern Europe (KEME) has tackled these gaps via a number of research strategies.

The Heads: Object-based research at the macro and micro-levels

A protocol for recording early modern knitted caps was developed with the aim of encouraging a uniform approach to ensure that data from different sources are easily comparable.16 It included specific dimensions such as crown diameter, circumference and brim widths, together with gauge and yarn diameter, which have not been routinely recorded for early knitted items in the past.17 The protocol for caps was then generalised for application to other early modern knitted garments.18 It has now been further tested in the study of knitted liturgical gloves.19

Samples were taken from a selection of the knitted caps to explore how the natural sciences offer potential insights into the objects at the micro-level. The aim was to employ research methodologies which have only rarely been put to the test on historical material20, although they are routinely employed in the archaeological sciences and conservation work. These techniques included USB microscopy to measure fibre diameters, scanning electron microscopy to investigate fibre structures, and radiocarbon mass accelerator spectrometry to attempt more accurate dating of the caps.21

The Hands: Citizen science research into craft techniques

KEME also included a reconstruction project which followed the lead of experimental archaeologists who have drawn on skilled craftspeople to test theories about spinning, weaving and dyeing.22 This ‘experimental history’ project explored the role of fulling in the production process for knitted caps.23 It followed guidelines for using experimental archaeology as a scientific method, which state ‘each test should be performed by at least two skilled craftspeople, in order to secure a more objective assessment of the results’.24 A mix of professional fibre processing experts and a team of citizen science volunteers knitted and fulled circular swatches to test a range of sheep’s fleeces for their fulling potential.25 This pioneering initiative embraced professional and amateur craft expertise in a new way for dress and textile history research. It has now been followed in two other early modern knitting research projects.26

The Feet: The future of online research collections

A major outcome of KEME was the creation of an online collection of knitted items to facilitate remote object-based study. The database now includes 68 caps and 96 examples of gloves but this will expand further to include extant early stockings as soon as funding permits. Some data on significant examples has already been collected and published for this using the KEME protocol.27

The aim of making the digital collection of ‘heads, hands and feet’ available online is threefold: to invite further study by researchers who lack the means to visit the items in person; to showcase material which is unlikely to be exhibited publicly in the near future; and to encourage craftspeople of all skill levels to reconstruct early modern knitted items to provide new insights into the production processes. The online collection conveniently gathers together geographically distant items which benefit from systematic comparison. It also widens public engagement with the evidence and has the potential to build a community of interdisciplinary experts and enthusiasts who can share research ideas.28


Rigorous object-based research (at the macro and micro-level) promised by scientific enquiry and the insights offered by craft expertise now need to be integrated into the interpretive framework of traditional contextual studies of dress and textile history. There is scope for interdisciplinary work on early modern garments as has been undertaken on prehistoric and ancient dress.29,30 The archaeological sciences and experimental archaeology have blazed a trail for innovative cross-cultural academic collaboration.31 Textile and dress history offers similarly fertile ground for new teams of collaborators to harvest new knowledge.

The addition of stockings (and eventually waistcoats) to the KEME online collection will flesh out the ‘body of evidence’ available for the study of early knitting. It will also widen participation in the debate about the craft’s origins and development, which are surprisingly mysterious given its relatively late appearance in the history of textile production processes.32


Wool hat (16th century): Bernisches Historisches Museum, Bern, Switzerland – inventory number 742

Silk gloves (17th century): Fashion Museum, Bath, UK – inventory number GCT 2007.25

Silk and gold camiciuola/waistcoat (1550-1600): Stibbert Museum, Florence, Italy – no known inventory number

Silk stockings (1640s): from Texel shipwreck, Museum Kaap Skil, Netherlands


  1. For example, Rutt , R (1987) A history of hand knitting. London: Batsford. Reprinted, Loveland, CO: Interweave Press; Thirsk, J. (2003) Knitting and knitware, c1500-1780. In Jenkins, D. (ed), Cambridge history of western textiles, 1, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 562-584
  2. Black, S. (2012) Knitting: fashion, industry, craft. London: V&A Publishing
  3. Mikhaila, N & Malcolm-Davies, J (2006) The Tudor tailor: reconstructing 16th century dress, London: Batsford, 8
  4. Skov, L & Melchior, M (2008) Research Approaches to the Study of Dress and Fashion. Creative Encounters, working paper 19
  5. Taylor, L (2002) The Study of Dress History, Manchester: Manchester University Press
  6. Conservators have an important role in this too: for example, Margariti, C (2019) FIBRANET database, Centre for Textile Research/University of Copenhagen – see
  7. Object-based studies have been documented from arts and humanities perspectives using models such as Kopytoff, I (1986) The cultural biography of things: commoditisation as process. Appadurai, A (ed), The social life of things, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 64-91. An appeal for ‘the real thing’ to find a place in costume history research was made in Tarrant, N (1999) The real thing: the study of original garments in Britain since 1947. Costume, 33, 12-22, 21
  8. Mida, I & Kim, A (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion, London: Bloomsbury; Edwards, L (2017) How to read a dress: a Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th century, New York: Bloomsbury
  9. Prown, D (1982) Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method. Winterthur Portfolio, 17, 1, 1-19; Kraft, K (2003) Academic puppet plays? For an object-based fashion research. Waffen Und Kostumkunde, 45, 1, 77–96.
  10. Emery, I (1994) The primary structure of fabrics: an illustrated classification. London: Thames & Hudson; Seiler-Baldinger, A (1994) A classification of techniques. Belair: Crawford House Press; Walton, P & Eastwood, G (1988) A Brief Guide to the Cataloguing of Archaeological Textiles. York: Textile Research Associates, 4th edition.
  11. Centre International d’Etude des Textiles Anciens (2006) Vocabulary of Technical Terms: Fabrics, Lyon: CIETA
  12. Kerridge, E (1985) Textile manufactures in early modern England, Manchester: Manchester University Press
  13. A notable exception is Pink, A, Reimann, S & Jöeste, K (2016) Estonian knitting: traditions and techniques, Türi: Saara
  14. UNESCO (2003) Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Paris: UNESCO
  15. There are some studies which have set a good precedent by including essential details such as gauge but omit thread diameter – for example, Maj Ringgaard (2014) Silk knitted waistcoats: a 17th century fashion item. Engelhardt Mathiassen, T, Nosch, M, Ringgaard M, Toftegaard, K & Venborg Pedersen, M (eds) Fashionable encounters: perspectives and trends in textile and dress in the early modern Nordic world, Oxford: Oxbow, 73-104 and Malcolm-Davies, J & Davidson, H (2015) “‘He is of no account … if he have not a velvet or taffeta hat’: a survey of sixteenth century knitted caps” in Grömer, K & Pritchard, F – eds, Aspects of the Design, Production and Use of Textiles and Clothing from the Bronze Age to the Early Modern Era, NESAT XII (North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles), Hallstatt, Austria, May 2014
  16. Malcolm-Davies, J, Gilbert, R & Lervard, S (2018) Unravelling the confusions: Defining concepts to record archaeological and historical evidence for knitting. Archaeological Textiles Review, 60, 10-24
  17. Malcolm-Davies, J (2018) Sticks, stones, fingers and bones: nurturing knitting and the other neglected non-wovens. Archaeological Textiles Review, 60, 3-9
  18. Lundin, H (2018) Knitted fragments of clothes excavated from the Swedish 17th century flagship Kronan. In Archaeological Textiles Review, 60, 64-74; Willemsen, A (2018) Two knitted mittens from a 17th century Dutch shipwreck. In Archaeological Textiles Review, 60, 75-82
  19. Thomas, A & O’Connell Edwards, L (2020) Holy hands: studies of knitted liturgical gloves. In Archaeological Textiles Review, 62, 170-174
  20. For example, dye, and radiocarbon dating and isotopic analysis: Walton, P (1981) ‘The Textiles’, Harbottle, P & Ellison, M – eds, An excavation in the Castle Ditch, Newcastle upon Tyne, Archaeologia Aeliana, 5th Series 9, 190–228; Von Holstein, I, Walton Rogers, P, Craig, O, Penkman, K, Newton, J & Collins, M (2016) Provenancing Archaeological Wool Textiles from Medieval Northern Europe by Light Stable Isotope Analysis (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H). PLoS ONE, 11, 10
  21. Malcolm-Davies, J (2019) Knitting comes of age: the development of a scientific approach to the study of  knitwork. Conservar Património: Studies in Historical Textiles, 31, 133-143; Malcolm-Davies, J (2017) Shedding light with science: the potential for 21st century studies of 16th century knitting. Journal of Dress History, 1, 83-91; Malcolm-Davies, J (2019) Speed Dating or Slow Dating? The Challenges of Interdisciplinary Analysis of Early Modern Materials. Dress under the Microscope: Contributions of Science and Technology to the Study of Early Modern Dress, Dressing the Early Modern Network conference, Lisbon, 12-13 September
  22. Kania, K (2015) Soft yarns, hard facts? Evaluating the results of a large-scale hand-spinning experiment. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 7, 113-130; Zagel-Mache Wolfe, U (2018) Grasping at Threads: A Discussion on Archaeology and Craft. Burke C & Spencer-Wood S (eds), Crafting in the World, Springer International, 51-73
  23. Davidson, H (2019) The Embodied Turn: Making and Remaking Dress as an Academic Practice. Fashion Theory, 23, 3, 329-362
  24. Andersson Strand, E (2014) Experimental textile archaeology. Andersson Strand, E, Gleba M, Mannering, U, Munkholt, C & Ringgaard, M (eds), NESAT X (North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles), London: Oxbow Books
  25. Malcolm-Davies, J & Mearns, R (2018) Finding a fitting fleece for fulling: The knitting in Early Modern Europe project. Archaeological Textiles Review, 60, 36-45.
  26. Texel silk stocking project and workshops at the TRC, Textile Research Centre, Leiden, Netherlands – see (accessed 1 July 2021)
  27. O’Connell Edwards, L (2018) Knitted wool stockings in the Museum of London: A study of 16th century construction. In Archaeological Textiles Review 60, 42-51; Odstrčilová, S (2018) Early modern stockings in museums in the Czech Republic. In Archaeological Textiles Review 60, 51-63
  28. Malcolm-Davies, J (2018) Knitting virtual tribes together: new audiences for cultural objects. Florence Heri- Tech – The Future of Heritage Science and Technologies, IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 364, 012031, 1-9
  29. Sørensen, T (2016) “In Praise of Vagueness: Uncertainty, ambiguity and archaeological methodology”, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 23, 2, 741-763; Pollard, A & Bray, P (2007) A Bicycle Made for Two? The Integration of Scientific Techniques into Archaeological Interpretation. Annual Review of Anthropology, 36, 245–259
  30. Harlow, M & Nosch, M-L (2014) “Weaving the threads: Methodologies in textile and dress research for the Greek and Roman World: the state of the art and the case for interdisciplinarity”, Harlow, M & Marie-Nosch, M-L – eds, Greek and Roman textiles and dress: an interdisciplinary anthology, Ancient Textiles Series, 19, Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1-33
  31. Andersson Strand, E (2014) Sheep, wool and textile production, an interdisciplinary approach on the complexity of wool working. Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean: From the Beginnings of Sheep Husbandry to Institutional Textile Industr Oxford: Oxbow Press, Ancient Textile Series, 41-51
  32. Desrosiers, S (2013) Textile terminologies and classifications: some methodological and chronological aspects. Michel, C, & Nosch, M-L – eds, Textile terminologies in the ancient near east and Mediterranean from the third to the first millennia, Oxford: Oxbow Books, 23-51, 36


Holy Hands: Studies of knitted liturgical gloves
Dr Angharad Thomas
 – Independent researcher

This paper will present the findings of the Holy Hands project, which ran between March 2020 and August 2021, researching knitted liturgical gloves. This was the first systematic study of these magnificent items created for ceremonial use by elite churchmen, such as bishops. An interim presentation was given via Zoom to the Knitting History Forum meeting in November 2020, setting out the aims of the project and reporting on progress. This proposed presentation will give a full report on the findings of the project, which at the time of writing had located ninety-six artefacts (gloves, single gloves or fragments of gloves) in collections in Europe and North America. The presentation will also outline plans to continue the work into a larger scale study. It will be illustrated throughout with material produced in the course of the project and will show examples of the gloves studied. Despite being undertaken in the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Holy Hands researchers were able to fulfil its aims, gathering information on-line and communicating electronically. The availability of high quality images from on-line collections and catalogues made this possible, with the addition of the cooperation of curators and museum staff from many institutions who provided information and images.

The importance of liturgical gloves in the history of knitting cannot be overstated. Liturgical gloves were used in the Catholic Mass by bishops and archbishops and other senior churchmen, from about the 10th century until they fell out of use in about the 19th century. They have survived through different means, some being buried with their possible owner, usually a bishop, and some because of their importance as religious clothing, or their link to a saint. Many were acquired by private collectors in the 19th century and have since made their way into museums.

The earliest examples, from about the 10th century are made with knotting or looping techniques, of which about six pairs are extant. Gloves from the 12th century are however, knitted, the pair in the cathedral treasury of Saint Sernin, Toulouse, France, possibly being the earliest example of a knitted glove. They therefore exist over a period during which textile construction techniques underwent a change from long known methods, based on knotting or looping, to a new method, that of knitting. The means by which this change occurred is little known, although most sources agree that the new method came from the east across north Africa and then into Spain following the earlier Moorish invasions.

The focus of the Holy Hands project, knitted liturgical gloves, are typically extremely fine examples of textile manufacture. Most are complex gloves with shaped hands, fingers and thumbs, showing sophisticated construction methods including finger and thumb gussets. Many have knitted in patterns around the gauntlet, on the back of the hand (often the Christian IHS) and on the fingers. These patterns and other decorations are worked in fine metallic thread, comprising silver or gold wrapped around a silk core. Liturgical gloves are often trimmd with lace or tassels and some have medallions of enamel or embroidery sewn to the back of each hand. The most common colours are red or white with gold or silver metallic thread patterning.

The Holy Hands project had four elements: the presentation will present findings from each of these elements in turn.

Firstly, a database of all known extant liturgical gloves has been constructed. In June 2021 this had 96 entries, mostly pairs of gloves but some single gloves and some fragments, thought to have been gloves. The database records basic information for each entry such as institution and location, but also information such as possible provenance, construction details, measurements, yarns, and embellishments. This database is available on the Knitting in Early Modern Europe (KEME) site and will be introduced live on-line in the presentation, demonstrating its search facility and the quantity of material held in it.

Secondly, a review of the literature, an essential foundation of the study. Also available on the KEME web site, this brings together material from sources in several European languages. The review showed that most literature about liturgical gloves has looked at their role in the church service but that little has been recorded about the sources, manufacture, design and construction of them, thus confirming the value of the project and the gap in knowledge about these gloves.

Thirdly, a protocol has been developed for examining knitted gloves. Building on the documents published in the Archaeological Textiles Review, Number 60, a checklist for examining knitted textiles, and the terminology for describing knitted textiles, the Holy hands protocol adds two sheets, one for recording measurements and the second for recording photographs and notes made, with specific reference to gloves. The protocol will ensure that different researchers in different places will be able to add comparable data to the database, expanding our knowledge of these magnificent artefacts.

Fourthly, some reproduction of elements of liturgical gloves was undertaken by both researchers; Lesley selecting the pattering from the gauntlets of four gloves to chart and reproduce in fine hand spun silk and Angharad designing a pair that reference liturgical gloves in their use of patterns and details, worked in silk and metallic thread. These examples will be shown and the issues of finding appropriate contemporary materials and tools discussed. The value of this type of re-creation in giving insights into both working with the materials and the skills that knitter might need for the making of liturgical gloves is acknowledged.

Plans to extend and build on this study

The Holy hands project was designed specifically to form the basis for further study of liturgical gloves. It has amply shown that there is much scope for further research. By the time of this presentation, it is hoped that plans will be in place to find further funding to continue the work started in 2020-21.

This work might include more detailed study of gloves in collections and cathedral treasuries which are not on-line. When travel is allowed, these will have to be visited to confirm the existence of a small number of gloves in the database and to add observations to it. Many of the extant gloves need to be studied further to establish, observe and record features such as thread construction, dye stuffs used, and knitted construction. Gauge is not recorded for most of the known gloves and this would be noted; neither are yarn characteristics, and knowledge of these would expand our understanding of the construction of knitted fabric.

It is anticipated that a citizen science approach would involve participants in producing parts of gloves, or even whole gloves in a similar way to the KEME caps project, see KEME web site, and the Texel stockings project, Leiden 2019, to develop our understanding of the processes involved in the creation of these gloves.


Project Report. Archaeological Textiles Review, Issue 62, pp 170-174

Article. Journal of Dress History. Association of Dress Historians (in prep.)

Piecework (USA). Glorious Gloves. Feature and companion project for hand knitted silk gloves. Spring 2022. (in prep.)

Presentations made:

Knitting History Forum, November 2020

Knitting & Crochet Guild Oxford Branch meeting, February 2021

Centre for Textile Research Conference, University of Copenhagen, June 2021


From jorab (socks) to dastana (gloves): Tracing provenance of hand-knitting in the Indian Subcontinent
Pragya Sharma,
Indian Institute of Art and Design, New Delhi, India

Hand-knitting is a widely practised craft by women in contemporary India, irrespective of age, culture, or class and this has been the case since the 18th century. The earliest reference to knitting from the subcontinent is from the 17th century by Dutch colonisers (Rutt, 1987). Later known to have its origins in the widespread popularity of European traders and Christian missionaries in the 19th century, this colonial influence left a strong legacy especially in the states of Northern India that experience long periods of cold winter months. Initially introduced to schoolgirls and women to create warm socks (called jorab in Hindi) for winters, the artefacts evolved into hand-knitted blouses (borrowed from the Victorian blouse with the recent introduction of a covering for breasts to be worn with the sari for modesty concerns), caps, mufflers and gloves (called dastana in Hindi). Although the introduction of machine knitting in domestic households in the 20th century slowed down the  of hand-knitting, the technology intervention was short-lived with Indian women continuing the handcraft well into the 21st century.

Deemed as a feminine domestic craft, and having close associations with domesticity in colonial as well as post-colonial India, hand-knitting has evolved as a social and communal activity with women knitting in groups in warmer outside areas during the winter season. This was one of the main ways in which knitting as a social and communal activity, lead to its intense popularity among women. Through the study of the earliest recorded knitting artefacts created in the Indian subcontinent, usually from hand-spun and naturally dyed wool, the paper tries to build the provenance of hand-knitting and its associations with the widespread practice in the Northern India provinces. The craft was also practiced in jails and orphanages with possible influences derived from magazines carried by British women when they visited or moved to India that included instructions to create such knitted artefacts. The colonial influence was not only visible in performing knitting as a craft activity but specific techniques and designs were also reproduced like the Fair Isle pattern, intarsia or argyle cable pattern; such non-geometric motifs were specifically deemed to have a non-Indian origin (Rutt, 1987). Additionally, the paper studies the influence of these designs and patterns in contemporary hand-knitted artefacts with Indian women introducing their own design elements to the pattern based on functionality and use and often inspired by the regional visual language, giving an additional layer to the rich history.

The study incorporates research methodologies of literature review, study of archives and semi-structured interviews with makers. The research is built around Kullu socks – a specific type of hand-knitted long socks made from hand-spun mountain sheep, popular in the Northern state of Himachal Pradesh. Strongly inspired by European aesthetics, especially the pointed-toe design and drawing from the colourful striped pattern of a Kullu shawl, these socks have almost become emblematic of winter in hill stations; the design of these socks is more than a century old. The primary source of information for the study will be interviewing artisans involved in making these socks. Since the sale and popularity of these socks is largely restricted to a smaller region in Northern India, evidence will also be drawn from the domestic practice of hand knitting in other North Indian states of Haryana, U.P. and Punjab owing to their proximity to the Kullu region. The paper is thus an attempt to record the vast reservoir of undocumented oral history that lives with the older generation, stories of their mothers and grandmothers, the research builds the provenance of hand-knitting through the lens of jorab and dastana in 19th century India.

Keywords: Hand-knitting, Indian Subcontinent, Provenance, Kullu, Socks & Gloves


 Rutt, R. (1987). History of hand knitting. Knitting International, 94, 47-8.


Little 16th Century Feet. The hidden secret of Dutch Groningen´s knitted stocking of 1540, excavated in 2000 in the canal Gracht van Alva, Prinsenstraat 11 in Groningen and reconstructed in 2020 in the Netherlands.
Constance Willems – Designer, writer, researcher, The Netherlands.

Reconstructions of both knitted stockings from the canal Gracht van Alva

The small knitted stocking from the Canal of Alva with a length of just under 26 cm, has no back seam and shows no wear marks, not even on the sole of the foot. Most likely the stocking has never been worn at all. Holes in stockings were not repaired by “darning”, a technique not yet known in the 16th century, but by sewing on a woven piece of fabric or closing the hole by sewing it up like a seam. It was not until after 1560 that knitters were able to purl. Therefore, this stocking was knitted in the time before that, around 1540, because it still has a ribbed sole, where 2 needles were used to knit plain stitches. The other parts are knitted round with plain stitches on 4 steel needles.

At the time from which this stocking originated, there was no knitter’s guild in Groningen, let alone a specialized stocking knitter’s guild. In the Groninger tax administration there are no knitters mentioned either. Probably they earned too little to have to pay taxes in the 16th century. Knitted stockings as well as knitted berets were commodities in the Dutch 16th century. Knitted sleeves, like the sleeves on the island of Darken, are very rarely seen. This part of the Gracht van Alva, where the little stocking was found, is the area where tailors and knitters had their workshops at the time.

How knitting was done in those days, and with what kind of needles, becomes evident from this fragment of text by Johannes Schefferus: Lapponia, printed in Frankfurt in 1673. This book was translated into Dutch in 1682: Waarachtige en Aenmerkenswaardige Historie van Lapland en Finland, door Jan ten Hoorn, t´Amsterdam 1682.

“Sheep wool with hair from hares to make hats and sleeves. For they are fine just to take hair out of the hares and knit out the hats, just as one knits silk and wooen stockings in other parts of all Europe, they turn the thread of the wool around and knit with three or four small thin spikes of iron. The hats they make of it are as soft as swan down or the neck of a swan: those hats are wonderfully warm and protect the cold very well. In the same way they also make gloves or a kind of muffs, mittens said, as there is only the thumb on it that can decently withstand the cold.”

The little stocking in Groningen was knitted with a thin, very hard to the touch woollen yarn, using two threads on four fine steel needles. The cast-on of the knitted stocking is a so-called Middle East cast-on, a form of naalbinding that originates from Egypt. The stocking was knitted from the toe upwards. Decorations in the stocking, such as the two ribs at the top, were knitted straight and against the clock. The ribbed heel, which turned out not to be one at all, was knitted with plain stitches on two needles.

Back to my Groningen stocking; as I am reconstructing and have reached the point where I have to decrease the rows of the heel, something very special happens…. and what I thought the heel was, suddenly under my knitting hands, becomes a beautifully shaped part of the sole.

As long as the stocking has been preserved since it was thrown into the canal Gracht of Alva, it was folded in half. This way the beautiful sole part has never been seen. It was only during the knitting process that the secret of the stocking was revealed, almost 500 years later. The stocking has become a little knitted boot!  The sole of the Groningen stocking is 12.3 cm and therefore a current shoe size 20, for ages 12 to 16 months.

I made the reconstructions of the stocking in two colours. The colour in which it was dug up, brown, and a madder red version. The tiny felt knitted piece that was found with the baby stocking is a distinct red/purple colour. Probably the used red dye of the felt piece of fabric has been less water-soluble than the one in the knitted stocking itself.

Due to increasing trade in the 16th century, new dyes were also imported into Europe. Such as indigo from India and cochineal, dried scale insects from Mexico, dyes that were traded at international fairs, for example at the Amsterdam Stock Exchange at the time of Joost van den Vondel and Piet Hein, the Dutch knitting sea admiral, at the end of the 16th, beginning of the 17th century.

Dutch poet and writer Joost van den Vondel, 1587 – 1679, did not earn his money by writing literature and poetry but with his knitted silk stockings business in the Warmoesstraat 39 in Amsterdam. Piet Hein knitted silk stockings aboard his ships, as sea admiral in full armour, on top of the decks while his crew members were scrubbing the wooden floors below as they write in their diaries. See more of this and the story of Joost van den Vondel and Piet Hein in my latest book Mordacious Knits.

In 1993, in a cesspit near the Gracht van Alva in Groningen, an almost intact knitted and felted beret was found among the congealed dung. Dark in color, but similar in shape to the beret of Regnerus Praedinius, 1508-1559, as can be recognized from his paintings. Praedinius was rector at the St. Maartenschool in Groningen, a school that he brought to great prominence. For many he has been a man of great significance. Not only as a teacher and writer was he a central figure, but also for his relatives and friends. Regnerus died in Groningen on April 18, 1559, at the age of 51 and was buried in the Martini kerkhof. In this pit, remains of students and other professors of the Latin school, Sint Maartens, show that pieces of textile functioned as toilet paper. Remnants of cereal grains on the textiles, reveal rye, barley and buckwheat was on the menu at the school.

Hanna Zimmerman studied the Praedinius beret extensively and was able to reconstruct the knitting pattern. The knitted beret was felted at the same time. The felting technique is known as volting. Volters are very well known from the Southern Netherlands. Cloth hand volters are very well known from the Southern Netherlands. This cloth trade mainly flourished in Bruges and Ghent, now Belgium. The beret, now known as the Praedinius hat, has been reknitted by volunteers around the Aduarder Monastery Museum. The hat was then made into a fitting beret by felting. Felting, which involves considerable shrinkage, was done in the (late) Middle Ages by rubbing (knitted) wool and kneading it with marbles in warm urine. On a large scale, wool was felted by “dancing” on the soaked wool. Current felting techniques are analogous to the ancient method of volters. A hat becomes a fitting beret through vigorous kneading….

Knitting patterns for the little 1540 stocking and the Praedinius hat are available.


Knitwits: Knitting the Bluestockings
Nicole PohlOxford Brookes University, United Kingdom

This paper explores the material culture of the famous eighteenth-century salon of the Bluestockings with a specific focus on the material production and iconography of the ‘blue stockings’. The basis for the paper are the original letters written by the Bluestockings as digitised and edited by The Elizabeth Montagu Correspondence Online (EMCO).

The Bluestockings were a group of men and women who met in the London, Dublin and Bath homes of fashionable hostesses Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey (c.1715-91) and Frances Boscawen (1719-1805) from the 1750s. A second generation took the Bluestockings name into the 1780s. Together these women, and the eminent men who supported their endeavours, invented a new kind of informal sociability and nurtured a sense of intellectual community and potential. These assemblies differed from the traditional card-playing gatherings at the time by nurturing intellectual pursuits, polite conversation, philanthropic projects, and publishing ventures. The gatherings were similar to the French salons, also led by women, in their principles of polite sociability, a limited social mobility based on merit, and equality between the sexes based on rational friendship and intellectual exchange. They allowed middling class and aristocratic visitors to exchange ideas about politics, literature and culture and facilitated matchmaking between patrons and protégés.

The original bluestocking circle included the hostesses Elizabeth Montagu, Hester Thrale Piozzi, and Frances Boscawen. Guests were Hannah More, Mary Delany, Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, Elizabeth Carter, Sir Joshua Reynolds and his sister Frances, Frances Burney, Samuel Johnson, William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath, James Boswell, David and Eva Garrick, Edmund Burke, George Lyttelton, Mrs Ord, Mrs Crewe, and Benjamin Stillingfleet, amongst others.

Firstly, the paper traces back the origins of the iconic name, ‘Bluestockings’.

The general consensus is that it was the regular guest Benjamin Stillingfleet and his informal attire – worsted knitted blue stockings – that gave the salon its name. We will unpack and contextualise this idea that Stillingfleet’s knitted stockings were a sign of informality and possibly, financial deprivation. If we look at another source for the name Bluestockings, we are led to the contemporary and seventeenth-century French salons which were also labelled ‘bas bleus’. Here the colour blue indicated high fashion and wealth in opposition to Stillingfleet’s worsted stockings. Indeed, the colour blue as a dye for silks and wool was not a cheap or easy colour to work with. As this paper will show, the dyeing process was complicated and demanded expert skill.

It was mainly gloves, mittens and stockings that were hand-knitted in the period. Stillingfleet’s infamous stockings were produced from worsted, long staple and smooth yarn, fitting for these kind of garments but we have no evidence if his were specifically hand or frame knitted. In the period, stockings were knitted, either by hand or mechanically on the stocking frame.

Knitting was taught to the labouring poor or financially compromised middling classes in addition to spinning, plain sewing, mending and sampler making to teach also literacy, numeracy and geography. The first recorded knitting schools had been established in Lincoln, Leicester and York in the late sixteenth century.

The first mechanical knitting machine was the stocking frame, invented by William Lee of Calverton, near Nottingham, in 1589 and was widely used in the eighteenth century, as it sped up the production of knitted stockings significantly. This meant that commercial stocking knitting was increasingly mechanised but hand-knitting remained a source of income for the labouring poor until the early nineteenth century.

Knitting, plain sewing, spinning and mending were labelled as ‘work’, ‘plain work’ or ‘plain sewing’ described the making of undergarments and household linen. The Bluestockings were genteel women so they enjoyed the ‘fine’ or what was called ‘fancy’ work such as embroidery, shell and feather work for decoration, netting, and tatting. Decorative objects such as net purses or pincushions were made by well-to-do women to demonstrate their taste and skill. Even Queen Charlotte dabbled in spinning and tatting. These were skills for leisure and display of feminine qualities, not necessity. Even hand-knitting, increasingly became the domain of wealthier ladies who had the time to devote to developing the skill. The classist and Bluestocking Elizabeth Carter knitted and indeed was known for hiding behind her knitting and work basket in company as she was very shy.  A contemporary reported that she appeared in polite society with  ‘a plain undress cap and perfectly flat head , a small workbag hanging at her arm, out of which she drew some knitting as soon as she was seated’. But she herself wrote to her friend Catherine Talbot on October 21, 1751 she was not terribly successful at knitting and took about 1 hour to finish ‘a round’.

Carter’s mention of ‘round’ indicates also that knitting techniques were different in the eighteenth century. Hand knitted stockings were historically knitted ‘in the round’ with no seams at all, with all shaping for the calf and ankle integrated, and a turned heel and foot made.  Knitting needles/pins in the finer gauges were usually made of steel wire. The larger gauge needles used by Scottish bonnet makers were made of wood. And there were knitting needles of ivory and bone, too, which indicated the rank of the knitter. To date we are not sure if Carter or any other Bluestockings used knitting instructions or patterns. These were often amongst domestic instruction books such as recipe/household instruction books (see Lady Hotham’s recipe book, U DDHO/19/3, Hull History Centre), or later in the period, in periodicals.

To return to the point of departure of this paper, we will conclude that the ‘blue stockings’ became a fitting icon for the informal, intellectual, genteel and egalitarian (at least in terms of gender) sociability in eighteenth-century England. The colour blue indicated fashion and wealth and referenced the Bluestockings’ sociable predecessors, the seventeenth-century précieuses. Stillingfleet’s worsted blue stockings underscored the informality of the Bluestocking assemblies which distinguished them from their French counterparts as well as other courtly gatherings in England at the time. The general absence of knitting as an accomplishment favoured by the Bluestockings (except for Elizabeth Carter) also indicates the relevance of rank and financial security that determined women’s relationship to craft,  domestic skills, and the display of femininity.

But the label ‘Bluestockings’ became a label beyond the actual group of women – it came to designate, often pejoratively, a group of learned and intellectual women. A reviewer of the British Critic in 1823 blustered, ‘We heartily abjure Blue Stockings. We make no compromise with any variation of the colour, from sky-blue to Prussian blue, blue stockings are an outrage upon the eternal fitness of things….’ Whilst the Bluestockings in general did favour intellectual pursuits over feminine accomplishment such as ‘fancy’ work or at least did not see a conflict between intellectual and ‘fancy’ work, the increasing limiting socio-cultural milieu of the 1790s resulted in the mounting defamation of learned women. Thus, Lord Byron wrote in 1821 that fellow poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans should ‘knit bluestockings instead of wearing them’.

The paper will close with a brief reference to the designs of Kate Davies, the Scottish knit designer, and the Bluestockings Club established in May 2021.