Knitting History News

Joyce Meader Open House 2016

Joyce Meader With Her Reproduction Crimea War Jumper, Presentation At The Knitting History Forum Conference 2014. Photo By I N Eliatamby
Joyce Meader’s presentation at the Knitting History Forum Conference 2014

Joyce Meader is holding another open house event at her home in Hampshire on Tuesday 19th April 2016. Once again she has graciously invited Knitting History Forum. Joyce, of The Historic Knit, is an expert on historical knitting whose amusing but instructive lectures, on knitting for the military and on the history of commercially-printed knitting patterns from 1800, are always very popular. Her wonderful, extensive collection of knitting patterns and knitted items ranges in date from the 1817 to the present day. This is a rare opportunity to see these historical survivals close-to! For details please contact Joyce via the KHF Yahoo group, via her post on Facebook or email us via the Contact Form and we will pass on your enquiry.

Meanwhile, here is a taste of Joyce’s collection from 2014

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Elizabeth Hawes Jumper

The unusual 1968 sleeveless jumper or jumper shown above, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was knitted in wool by American designer, writer and political activist, Elizabeth Hawes (1903-1971). Despite working in the fashion industry, Hawes was a vocal critic, publishing a semi-autobiographical commentary “Fashion Is Spinach” in 1938 and championing dress reform. The seemingly innocent telephone number knitted into the jumper is in fact the numerical representation of an obscenity. This jumper seems strongly proto-punk in spirit, a reminder that the later subculture was influenced by earlier twentieth-century movements.

The accession number is 1980.490.2 and further details are available on the MMA website.

Study Day : Authenticity in Culturally-Based Knitting

Shetland Museum and Archives are hosting a free study day on Saturday 5 March 2016, from 10:00am – 4:00pm. “Authenticity in Culturally-Based Knitting” will be the last event from the programme “Knitting in the Round: Hand-Knitted Textiles and the Economy of Craft in Scotland”.

The event aims to explore the promotion, branding and marketing of so-called ‘authentic’ Shetland knitwear, and how a strong basis in heritage affects designers and industry alike. Speakers include Professor Lynn Abrams, Roslyn Chapman, Dr Carol Christiansen, Frances Lennard, Rhoda Hughson, Kathy Coull and Helen Robertson. For more details and a programme, visit

Booking is essential. Tickets are still available via or by phoning Shetland Museum and Archives on 01595 741562.

Info - Shetland Museum Study Day : Authenticity in Culturally-Based Knitting
Info – Shetland Museum Study Day : Authenticity in Culturally-Based Knitting

If you are unable to attend, you can watch a live broadcast which can be viewed online for free. Check – a link to the live feed will be added there when available. You can also participate by joining the Q&A session by tweeting questions directly to the Museum, prefixed by @ShetlandM&A.

Introduction to Historic Knitting

Introduction to Historic Knitting course, Weald & Downland Museum, September 2016
Introduction to Historic Knitting leaflet

Click to download this leaflet for historian Ruth Gilbert’s one-day ‘Introduction to Historic Knitting’ at the Weald & Downland Museum in Sussex this September 2016.

“A brief practical history of knitting in Britain, looking at the products, techniques, and social history of knitting and knitters from the 16th to the 20th century. We shall be learning to ‚Äėknit in the round‚Äô and to use a knitting sheath, and trying out a number of different techniques. Pictures, samples and items from the Knitting and Crochet Guild Collection illustrate the wealth of resources. This is a course that we hope will inspire you to have the confidence to raid the past in your future knitting projects. Some previous knitting experience would be helpful on this course, but is not essential.”

Friday is already fully booked but Ruth agreed to run another on Thursday 1 September, 2016 as well. Spaces are filling up so hurry to book yours!

A Short History of Machine Knitting

Mary Hawkins, a long-standing member of Knitting History Forum, has spoken more than once at KHF conferences and meetings on framework and machine knitting, still a mainstay of the modern garment industry. She also volunteers at the Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington. Mary has kindly offered us a very brief tour through the history of machine knitting, from William Lee’s invention of the knitting frame in 1589, to the technological advances of the post-war period. A Short History of Machine Knitting is available to read in the Resources section.

Knitting! At The Fries Museum

The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, has opened major new exhibition on the art of knitting. ‘Breien!’ or ‘Knitting!’ celebrates knitting in all its forms. Historical and contemporary work are placed in ‘conversation’ with each other. Items of traditional dress, fishermen’s jumpers, twentieth century knitting patterns, finely-knitted eighteenth century mitts and later caps or the oldest knitting sheath, for example, can be seen alongside the knitwear of Starsky and Hutch and contributions from artists and designers including Zo√ę Landau Konson, Christien Meindertsma, and Bas Kosters. Sarah Lund’s jumper makes a notable appearance! The setting is fresh, modern and intentionally quirky, with pieces mounted on mannequins with animal heads; installations such as ‘City of Stitches’, by Isabel Berglund, which enfolds the visitor in a knitted structure; dioramas of historical and modern knitting; touch trail routes and other methods of display invite engagement with the exhibits at all levels of interest: this is a child-friendly exhibition. This short video offers a taste of the exhibition:

Knitting! opened in October and runs until 28 August 2016. For more information, visit the Fries Museum website.

KHF AGM and Conference 2015

The day began with our AGM, showcasing KHF successes of the past year, as well as suggestions for improvements going forward. Positive feedback highlighted the growing need for the network for knitting history, which we hope KHF events, our discussion group, the website and social media presence provide. The Show and Tell was, as always, an eclectic mix of early to modern knitting, with contributions from members’ collections and historical reproductions from members’ needles.

Sandy Black introduces Carol Christiansen at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015
Sandy Black introduces Carol Christiansen at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015

Carol Christiansen’s much-anticipated presentation explained the process of creating historically accurate reproductions for the Shetland Museum, of late seventeenth century knitted items found with the Gunnister Man find. Exhaustive testing of the originals and experimentation with modern fibres was necessary to accurately recreate or simulate the variety of textiles, not all of which had come from Shetland. The different colours were due primarily to peat-staining and the original shades of the natural, undyed wool.

Kirstie Buckland brought her considerable knowledge and experience to bear on early Spanish knitting, particularly the finely-knitted silk cushions recovered from thirteenth-century tombs at the monastery at Las Huelgas. Kirstie also shared a medieval image she tracked down from a reference, showing the Virgin and Christ, accompanied by industrious saints. One of the saints knits a patterned sock on five needles, but no stitches in the painting connect the sock with the knitting needles – how miraculous!

Chatting at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015
Members at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015

Lesley O’Connell Edwards presented her research into the work and identities of the Hope family of Ramsgate, early Victorian knitting pattern designers or compilers, and publishers of several books on knitting, including patterns for essential items such as Magic Penwipers and Magic Puzzle Kettle Holders. Lesley recounted her trawl through reviews, advertisements and census records as well as hunting for clues in the knitting books themselves. A fascinating, ongoing investigation with as many twists and turns as a detective novel.


An innovative representation of Swaledale sheep and wool by Zoe Fletcher at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015
An innovative representation of a Swaledale sheep and its wool by Zoe Fletcher at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015

Zoe Fletcher presented a summary of her recent work into the possibilities of British wool, researching the properties of wool from different British breeds of sheep and how these properties could be exploited in knitwear design. She also demonstrated how this could be applied using Shima Seiki CAD and design systems, a marriage of traditional and modern technology. The project focussed on the 72 British breeds promoted by the British Wool Marketing Board and Zoe surprised and delighted all with her innovative approach to presenting the information in a way that is accurate, accessible and beautiful.

Jane Malcolm-Davies presents a paper at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015
The Revolution Will Be Knitted: Jane Malcolm-Davies presents a paper at the Knitting History Forum Conference in November 2015

Finally, Jane Malcolm-Davies introduced the research project Knitting in the Early Modern Era, or KEME. As we related last month, KEME is based around detailed examination of surviving sixteenth century knitted caps, the wider aim of the project is interdisciplinary research, creating an economic map of early knitting and laying a foundation of terminology information on which further scholarship on knitting in Early Modern Europe may be built. In an informative and amusing presentation, Jane discussed the work so far, the methodology they would establish and invited contributions and assistance.

All in all, it was another interesting event. The Knitting History Forum thanks our speakers for their engaging and informative presentations. Thank you also to everyone involved in organising the event and to all the delegates, members and non-members. This year’s symposium proved once again that the study of knitting history, while deeply interesting and often highly entertaining, is also vital both to our understanding of the past and our development of future textile technologies.

The speakers and their papers are listed in Knitting History Forum Conferences.

KHF Conference 2015

KHF Chair, Prof Sandy Black, introduces speaker Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd, at the 2014 Knitting History Conference
KHF Chair, Prof Sandy Black, introduces speaker Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd, at the 2014 Knitting History Conference

It’s not too late to join us for the KHF Conference 2015, on Saturday 14th November 2015, at the London College of Fashion. Tickets available at the door or reserve in advance via the website. See Knitting History Forum Conference 2015 all the details and to book your ticket.

KEME: Knitting in the Early Modern Era

A new interdisciplinary research project will be taking a closer look at early knitted caps. The Centre for Textile Research or CTR in Copenhagen and Dr Jane Malcolm-Davies of The Tudor Tailor have been awarded a prestigious Marie SkŇāodowska-Curie Fellowship for “Knitting in the Early Modern Era: materials, manufacture and meaning“, or KEME. Based at the University of Copenhagen, the KEME team will be investigating in detail more than one hundred extant knitted caps from the Early Modern period, submitting them for technical examination and analysis, compiling an economic map of early knitting and clarifying terminology as a basis for future research to build upon. A database will be developed to make the information gathered in the project available online.

Jane will be speaking on “A knitting revolution? A scientific survey of sixteenth century knitted caps” at the Knitting History Forum Conference 2015 in London, Saturday 14th November. Her paper will introduce KEME and she will be appealing for knitters, volunteers and collaborators to participate in the project. A blog, Facebook page and Ravelry group called Strickersvej (Knitters Way) are to launch in November.

Read more at the Tudor Tailor website. And don’t forget to book your place at the Knitting History Forum Conference, to hear Jane speak on the KEME project, its aims, methods and how YOU can help.

Dr Karen Finch

Since 2006, Dr Karen Finch OBE has been Honorary President of the Knitting History Forum. As textile conservator and specialist, Dr Finch’s warm personality and depth of knowledge enlivened early meetings. She delivered a paper on Needle Knitting in 1996 and spoke again in 2006 on archaeological finds from Copenhagen. Kirstie Buckland, a founding KHF member and herself an authority on early knitting, visited Karen at her home earlier this summer:

Dr Karen Finch OBE. Summer, 2015. Photo by Kirstie Buckland.
Dr Karen Finch OBE. Summer, 2015.

Karen Finch was born to a farming family in Denmark in 1921. She trained as a weaver and textile specialist, then married Norman Finch and moved to England in 1945. Here she quickly established her authority through the Royal School of Needlework and the V&A, voicing her concern about the lack of proper scientific conservation methods for vulnerable textiles. She began holding training classes for conservators in their beautiful house in Ealing but these classes quickly outgrew the house and in 1975 premises in Hampton Court Palace were secured for this purpose and the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) took shape, culminating in purpose-built studios being attached to Winchester School of Art.

Dr Karen Finch OBE. Detail of a Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) 40th anniversary tribute volume. Photo by Kirstie Buckland.
Dr Karen Finch OBE. Detail of Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) 40th anniversary tribute.

Dr Finch was the founder and first Principal of the TCC, known, respected and admired worldwide. Her contribution over the subsequent forty years was marked this summer by a ceremony when a unique volume of comments, extracts and pictures compiled by some of those conservators was presented to her. We are fortunate that at my suggestion to re-establish the former Early Knitting History Group (1993-2006), Karen immediately agreed to stand for President and was unanimously elected to that position at our inaugural meeting.

She is still greatly loved by her many friends, amongst whom I hope I can be counted. We first met over a Grenadier cap in 1975, and have since shared a lot of information and fun. Karen now lives with her daughter and family in Walthamstow where her spirit and sense of humour continues to engage all who go there.

Kirstie Buckland, September 2015.

All photos courtesy of Kirstie Buckland.

Knitting History Conference 2015

Reconstruction Knitted Sanquhar Glove courtesy of Kirstie Buckland. PLEASE DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION!Join us for the Knitting History Forum 2015 Conference and AGM on Saturday 14th November 2015, at the London College of Fashion, 20 Princes St.

The Knitting History Conference starts promptly at 2.00PM. Speakers and papers for 2015 are:

  • ¬†Carol Christiansen on ‘Late seventeenth century knitwear from the Gunnister Man find‘;
  • ¬†Kirstie Buckland on ‘Saintly Socks and Silken Pillows ‚Äď a glance at the mysteries of some medieval knitting in Spain‘;
  • ¬†Lesley O‚ÄôConnell Edwards on ‘Who wrote what when? A study of the publications of the Hopes of Ramsgate in the 1840s‘;
  • ¬†Zoe Fletcher on ‘Designing for breed: Enhancing the potential for British wool in UK knitwear manufacture, through design, new technologies and marketing strategy‚Äô and
  • ¬†Jane Malcolm-Davies on ‘A knitting revolution? A scientific survey of sixteenth century knitted caps‘.

There will be time for questions and further discussion from 5.00PM, after all the speakers have delivered their papers.

Doors open at 10:30AM for registration. The first session from 10:30 to 11.00 is Show and Tell so please bring items for discussion. The AGM for KHF members runs from 11.00AM to 12:45, followed by a break for lunch. Lunch is not provided so please bring your own or buy locally. The London College of Fashion is just off Oxford Street so there is plenty of choice!

We welcome non-members and new members! Tickets cost £25 and can be booked in advance or on the door. If you are not a KHF member, you can use the PayPal button below to buy your ticket. See payment methods page for alternative ways to pay.

Knitting History Conference 2015 Non-members’ Ticket

Attendance at the Knitting History Conference is included in the KHF membership subscription, only £15 annually. Members may renew or subscribe on the day.

Knitting History Forum the international society for the history of knitting and crochet. Eight-pointed star, a common motif in knitting across many cultures. Smaller.
Knitting History Forum, the international society for the history of knitting.
Keep up with the latest in knitting history news here on the KHF website, Knitting History, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@KnitHistForum).

Scottish Handknitting Industry Thesis

Cover of Helen Bennett's 1981 doctoral thesis "The origins and development of the Scottish hand-knitting industry", University of Edinburgh. Copyright Dr Helen M Bennett.
Cover of Helen Bennett’s 1981 doctoral thesis “The origins and development of the Scottish hand-knitting industry”, University of Edinburgh. Copyright Dr Helen M Bennett.
Helen Bennett’s ‘Scottish Knitting’ is a frequent entry in bibliographies of knitting. Her 1981 doctoral thesis, “The origins and development of the Scottish hand-knitting industry”, is now available online from ERA, digital research archive of The University of Edinburgh.

Dr Bennett’s introduction states “The purpose of this study […] is to examine the evidence for the antiquity of the wearing and making of knitted garments in Scotland, and to establish a framework for the emergence of the industry in different parts of the country”. Ruth Gilbert, who kindly sent in this link, describes the thesis as the best general background available free online and we agree!

KHF AGM & Conference 2015

Knitting History Forum the international society for the history of knitting and crochet. Eight-pointed star, a common motif in knitting across many cultures.
Knitting History Forum, the international society for the history of knitting

A quick reminder that this year’s KHF annual AGM and Conference is on Saturday 14th November 2015. The venue is the London College of Fashion on John Prince’s Street, just off Oxford Street and easily accessible by Tube or bus.

The Knitting History Conference is open to anyone. You don’t have to be a member to attend. Tickets will be available for purchase¬†in advance or on the door, but are included in the annual KHF membership fee, still only ¬£15. The papers are wide-ranging and thought-provoking – see a list of past speakers and their papers – and the conversation stimulating. The line-up is yet to be confirmed but details will be posted here in due course. Book Saturday 14th November in your diaries now!

Southern Knitting in the US Civil War

Emerging Civil War, a website devoted to the American Civil War, published an interesting post on knitting for the troops in the 1860s. ‘Knitting in the Civil War South‘ offers an insight into the Southern home front.

Some of the many women ready to contribute to the war effort by knitting for soldiers were surprised to find the task more difficult than they imagined, and their exertions unappreciated. Newspapers lamented the quality of some of the items sent to the front by their female readers, complaining that they were too small for soldiers’ feet or even that they were misshapen. The Charleston Mercury remarked, ‚ÄúThe formation of some of the socks which they have produced does not indicate a very exact knowledge of human anatomy. I saw one last evening, which I am told, was intended for the foot of the entire Southern Confederacy. From its size, I judged it would make a rather loose fit.‚ÄĚ

The guest post is by Hannah McClearnen, currently taking a Masters degree at West Virginia University. Read the whole article here.

The Textile Museum, Iceland

Source: Iceland ‚Äď the textile museum | ella Gordon

An interesting post about the Textile Museum in Blönduós, Iceland, by Ella Gordon, with photos of some of the exhibits from her trip earlier this year.

The underlying theme of all the museum’s exhibitions is “√ěr√°√įur‚ÄĚ or the “thread” connecting all textile techniques, past and present. Traditional knitting is featured, beyond the ubiquitous Lopapeysa or Icelandic jumper popular since the 1950s, including mitts, shawls and the patterned insoles used in traditional fish skin shoes.

The museum also has a space called “Halld√≥rustofa” or Halld√≥ra¬īs Room, devoted to the textile collections and work of Halld√≥ra Bjarnad√≥ttir, a twentieth-century champion of women’s rights, home crafts, textile education and traditional Icelandic textiles. See Gudrun Helgadottir’s 1991 paper, ‘Halld√≥ra Bjarnad√≥ttir And The Development of Textiles As A School Subject in Iceland’, from the Proceedings of the 3rd Nordic Research Conference in Sl√∂jd, G√∂teborg, Sweden.

Ella Gordon, a textile maker who also works at Jamieson & Smith and is a trustee of the Shetland Textile Museum, writes about her knitting, her collection of vintage knitwear and life on Shetland at her blog

Knitting, Technology And Gaming

1980s brochure for Nintendo Knitting Machine.
1980s brochure for Nintendo Knitting Machine.

Students of knitting history are well aware the craft has long proved adaptable in the face of innovation. In the last thirty years, knitting and technology have had some interesting encounters. According to this article from 2012, in the 1980s Nintendo worked on an add-on device for the Nintendo Entertainment System that would have enabled users of the NES to create their own designs and knit them. A brochure from the time includes the bold statement, “The Nintendo Knitting Machine is just one more example of the innovative thinking that keeps Nintendo on the cutting edge of video technology. And your customers on the edge of their seats.” The brochure boasted, “Of course we should probably mention that no other video game system offers anything even remotely similar.” In hindsight, there may have been a reason for that. Despite the confidence of the advertising copy, the Nintendo Knitting Machine was shown at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas in 1987 but was never released.

On a related theme, ‘A brief history of yarn in video games‘ briefly mentions this same story and further electronic, yarn-related surprises, including an iPhone knitting game from 2009, an unusual subject for future knitting history research. The language in this article may be offensive to readers.

The Vintage Shetland Project

The Vintage Shetland ProjectKnitting designer Susan Crawford, with the assistance and support of curator Dr Carol Christiansen, spent several years studying hand-knitted garments and accessories in the rich collection of the Shetland Museum and Archives for The Vintage Shetland Project. Susan, co-author of ‘A Stitch in Time’, has now selected twenty-five pieces from the 1920s to 1960s for development into comprehensive, multi-sized knitting patterns. These will be published in a book with full-colour pictures, accompanying essays about each of the items and the knitting traditions of Shetland, and a chapter about the book’s creation, the history of the Shetland Museum and a foreword by Dr Christiansen.

Vintage Shetland Project - Susan Crawford examines a garment at the Shetland MuseumThe Vintage Shetland Project took four years and involved repeated trips to Shetland; recording the construction of vintage items stitch by stitch; the creation of custom software for ‘translating’ the stitches and the development of a new 2-ply wool yarn in the old style, ‘Fenella’, manufactured in a range of colours to match the garments from the archives.

Our followers on Twitter (@KnitHistForum) will already have read about a crowdfunding campaign towards the cost of self-publishing the book. Every day of the campaign, which ends 8 August 2015, Susan Crawford will be posting pictures from The Vintage Shetland Project on Instagram. The initial, modest target was met in a matter of days though there’s still time to donate and help cover further costs as detailed on the campaign page. Donations vary from low to high and each has an appropriate reward. Details, pictures, a video by Susan and an excerpt from the book can be found at

Vintage Shetland Project - detail of a hand-knitted garment from the Shetland Museum
Detail of a hand-knitted garment from the Shetland Museum


Costume Journal – Free Access

Costume Society Journal 1965-2015
Costume Society Journal 1965-2015

The Costume Society was founded half a century ago. In honour of their fiftieth anniversary, fifty articles from the Society’s journal Costume have been digitised by publisher Maney of Leeds and are available free online to the end of July 2015. Many seminal, scholarly articles on the history of dress can be downloaded for free, including “The Englishman’s Swimwear” by Richard Rutt, published in Volume 24, 1990. While not specifically covering knitting, styles and construction of knitted garments and hand-knitting patterns are briefly (no pun intended) discussed. The article is a must for anyone interested in the serious history of men’s bathing costumes and swimming trunks, so often the subject of vintage knitting patterns.

Another article of interest currently with unlimited access is “The Hodson Shop” by Sheila B. Shreeve, from Volume 48, 2014, on a twentieth-century draper’s and haberdasher’s shop whose surviving stock is now kept at Walsall Museum. Small shops of this type throughout Britain sold supplies for knitting, crochet and other needlework as well as affordable, ready-made clothing including, no doubt, rayon jumpers of similarly unfortunate proportions to those sold in Edith Hodson’s shop! The article contains little information relating directly to knitting, but this evocative glimpse into a shopping experience common to many British knitters is invaluable.

To download these and other articles on costume history, visit Maney Online.

European Textile Forum 2015

The¬†European Textile Forum is being held again in Germany this November. The theme for 2015 is “Non-Woven Textile Structures”, a topic covering a broad range of textile techniques such as braiding, netting, nalbinding and of course, knitting. This year’s speakers include Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ruth Gilbert.

The European Textile Forumallows textile professionals, historians and textile workers with no academic background to explore and discuss early textiles. The programme usually includes a mixture of academic and practical presentations – in 2009 they ran a practical experiment testing the influence of spindle whorl, fibre and spinner on spinning. In 2015 the following presentations will be included (in no particular order):

  • Ruth Gilbert: On the terminology of non-woven textile structures and techniques, and why it matters
  • ¬†Anne Reichert: A lime bast textile find from Lake Constance in a singular technique
  • Ruth MacGregor: Demonstration and hands-on session on working with silk cocoons
  • Micky Schoelzke: Silk reeling demonstration/workshop
  • Heather Hopkins: Lightening talk presentations of unpublished findings from Pompeii, and a round-table discussion of these subjects
  • Rachel Case and Beatrix Nutz: Reconstruction project of extant garments from Lengberg Castle, focusing on the non-woven parts (paper and workshop)
  • Jane Malcolm-Davies: Knitted caps and knitting as a key innovation of the Early Modern era (paper and round-table discussion)

The conference runs from 2-8 November 2015 at the Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology in Mayen, Germany, the experimental archaeology research center of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM). On-site accomodation at the Laboratory is restricted and the conference can only accomodate a few more delegates but spaces are available. Please visit the European Textile Forum website for more information and to register for a place.