Knitting History Forum (KHF) AGM and Conference 7th November 2020

Due to the global pandemic, the KHF Committee decided to hold the 2020 AGM and Conference virtually and to extend a welcome to attendees from all time-zones around the world. The response was extremely enthusiastic and tickets were booked up very quickly. Approximately 120 attendees joined via Zoom from countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland and the Nether-lands.

Alongside the excellent presentations, fascinating points and questions were raised by participants via the Zoom chat function. Some of these have been included in this report. However, there is no doubt that the discussions will continue on the KHF group discussion forum, https://groups.io/g/knittinghistory. Please join in!

The morning began with a warm welcome from our Chair, Professor Sandy Black. After the AGM, which will be reported separately, participants joined one of two breakout groups. The first group was a show and tell open session, exploring “What I made during lockdown”. This session began with Susan North’s amazing crochet toys. During lockdown, Susan has so far crocheted forty-three different critters. Her creative and colourful creatures range from a selection of urban pests to an English beaver, a Highland cow and a Louisiana alligator. Her wide range of subjects also includes sea creatures, monsters and dinosaurs and her next project is a “creepy critters” collection!

Roxanne Richardson shared the extensive learning opportunities from knitting a 1920’s knitting pattern. The 1920’s jumper can be viewed on Ravelry https://www.ravelry.com/projects/Rox/indian-slip-on-no-13a and there is an accompanying video https://youtu.be/4cxNbJoWXB4. A link to a 1904 pattern ‘Edwardian Sweater’ can also be viewed on Ravelry. https://www.ravelry.com/projects/Rox/columbia-sweater

Kirk Dunn, a textile artist who apprenticed with Kaffe Fassett, shared three hand-knitted stained glass windows that took 15 years to create. http://www.kirkdunn.com/knitting#stitched-glass

Marleen Laag shared that the company EE Exclusives made a knitting wall-hanging for King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, which had a lot of media coverage. https://www.ee-exclusives.com/portfolio/furniture/for-sale-bouquet-v-a-unique-double-sided-wall-hanging/

The second group attended two presentations by PhD candidates.

Michelle Hanks, London College of Fashion, considered knitting as a thinking tool in her presentation “I’ll have to knit about it”. Michelle selected four items from her research to illustrate her ideas and processes. A large knitted blanket project was a fascinating record of her own mood and feelings as compared to the same day’s Twitter headlines. A double-sided, reversible sweater with mirror-imaged lettering “Good enough” was extremely thought-provoking, especially when Michelle revealed her discovery that the words on the inside of the sweater became readable in selfie photographs. The links between the complexity of knitting project and an individual’s mood and feelings provided fascinating insights. Maintaining control over the knitted stitches was also considered as an important element linked to well-being.

Emily Rickard, Nottingham Trent University, introduced us to her free knitting experi-ments. These knitted responses are used as a means of exploring the use of creative, open-ended knitting as a form of journaling to record emotions, with consideration for mental well-being. A discussion point raised during the presentation suggested that free knitting has parallels with “automatic writing” and with Julia Cameron’s “morning pages”. Emily developed her free knitting proposals though interviews with knitters. This allowed her to establish clear parameters for her research. At the end of her presentation, Emily made a request for new participants to join her research. If you are interested in finding out more, please do contact her on emily.rickard@ntu.ac.uk.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Director of the Textile Research Centre (TRC), Leiden, The Netherlands, opened the afternoon Conference with her presentation about knitted highlights from the TRC Collection. In particular, the Socks & Stockings Exhibition (2019) featured exhibits from many different countries, and the results of the Texel Silk Stocking project led by Chrystel Brandenburgh. This exhibition included a wall of socks created with items borrowed from Annemor Sundbo’s Ragpile Collection in Norway https://annemor.com/. Gillian showed a surprise object in this section — a knitted snake! This snake had been constructed using seventeen different styles of sock heels, demonstrating just how many techniques exist within only one aspect of sock knitting.
https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc/index.php/en/
https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc/index.php/en/2-uncategorised/840-socksastocking-a-world-full-of-surprises

Lynn Abrams, University of Glasgow, presented an excellent overview of “From Fleece to Fashion: researching the history of knitted textiles in Scotland”. The following quote is from The University of Glasgow knitting and textile history blog, where you can find out more about Fleece to Fashion and other research projects. There are also links to the University’s own Cochno yarn. “This project’s aim is to transform understanding of a) creativity: the relationship between materials, designs, techniques, and skills used to produce knitted textiles across Scotland; b) authenticity: why and how knitted textiles have become synonymous with Scottish heritage and c) sustainability: how knitting has survived — through adaptation — as both an indigenous craft and industrial practice from the late-eighteenth through late-twentieth centuries, and what is required for its survival in the twenty-first century and beyond.”
http://knithistory.academicblogs.co.uk/university-of-glasgow-wool/

Jade Halbert, University of Huddersfield, drew on her own family experiences in her fas-cinating talk, “Knitting for Money: homework in Glasgow and beyond in the 1980s”. Using interviews with her aunts and her mother, Jade described small-scale knitwear businesses that were set up and run within the Easterhouse area of Glasgow in the 1980s. Using knitting machines, her aunts made sweaters and cardigans and sold them to local residents. Jade highlighted the contrast between this machine-knitted garment production and her mother’s experience of hand-knitting garments for a “designer” shop. These ob-servations showed the difference between what the garment knitter was paid and how much a garment could subsequently be sold for. Several participants shared their own family experiences, including teaching machine-knitting and making garments for shops and local communities.
https://pure.hud.ac.uk/en/persons/jade-halbert

The 1980s theme continued into Sandy Black’s presentation,” On being a knitwear designer in the 1980s”. Sandy’s creative use of a wide range of different inspirations, including landscapes, texture and colour in her work, prompted many admiring comments in the chat. Sandy was also asked about her background in mathematics which prompted a discussion of the strong links between maths and science and knitwear design. The presentation concluded with the exciting news about Sandy’s forthcoming Crowood Press book! For the book ‘Classic Knits of the 1980s’, Sandy has recreated some of her favourite knitwear from the 1980s, placing them in context with the inspiration for the designs. Another of Sandy’s excellent books, ‘Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft’, is currently available from the V&A bookshop.
https://www.arts.ac.uk/research/ual-staff-researchers/sandy-black
https://www.vam.ac.uk/shop/knitting-fashion-industry-craft-110124.html

The next two presentations explored the subject of knitted gloves. In “Two pairs of 18th Century Abbess’s gloves from Prague”, Sylvie Odstrčilová, an independent researcher from the Czech Republic shared her fascinating research. The audience were entranced by Sylvie’s detailed examination of the construction of the gloves, especially the differences between the pairs of gloves that became apparent upon close viewing. For example, slits present on the thumb and two forefingers of each glove had several possible uses. Each were carefully considered by Sylvie before reaching the fascinating conclusion of linking them to rosary beads. Sylvie’s research will be published in the Archaeo-logical Textiles Review (no 62) at the end of the year. It will be free to access online from early January 2021. https://ctr.hum.ku.dk/articlesbooks/atn/

Lesley O’Connell Edwards and Angharad Thomas, both independent researchers from the UK, introduced us to their current shared research, “Holy Hands: studies of knitted liturgical gloves”. In one section of their talk, they explained the development of a protocol to record observations where there are a large number of elements to be included. Deciding on a consistent approach to the order of examination is key to gaining an understanding of the gloves. When considering the reconstruction of a glove, several challenges emerged including charting the motifs and patterns, as well considering how colour-work was handled. The extremely fine gauge of the knitting was also highlighted. This prompted a fascinating discussion of the tools required to knit with this fine gauge silk. A participant suggested that fine smooth needles could have been supplied by goldsmiths or armourers. The project will also be written up as a work in progress report in Archaeological Textiles Review (no 62). Liturgical gloves can be found in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Glovers. http://www.glovecollectioncatalogue.org/

For the final presentation of the day, we were joined by Emily Whitted, PhD candidate from the University of Massachusetts, USA. Emily presented her Master’s research, “Made in Germantown: Analysis of an Early American Frame Knitting Industry”, tracing the life cycle of Germantown stockings as they passed through the hands of their makers, users, and repairers in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. To gain an understanding of frame knitting machine operation, Emily undertook hands-on research at Ruddington Framework Museum in the UK. Learning to set-up and make her own samples on a frame knitting machine showed her the complexity of working in this way. Her descriptions of carrying out repairs to the knitting machine and actually making the spare parts were in-sightful.
https://www.umass.edu/history/emily-whitted
https://www.frameworkknittersmuseum.org.uk/

Thank you to the KHF Committee for organising and hosting this excellent event.

Please do keep in touch with Knitting History Forum through the following links to continue the excellent discussions and conversations started during the Conference.

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

http://knittinghistory.co.uk
https://groups.io/g/knittinghistory
https://twitter.com/KnitHistForum
https://www.facebook.com/KnittingHistoryForum
https://www.instagram.com/knittinghistoryforum/
https://www.ravelry.com/groups/knitting-history-forum

2019 Knitting History Conference Report

Knitting History Symposium
Conference organised by the TRC Leiden and the Knitting History Forum
Leiden, November 2, 2019

Or

A Knitting Weekend in Leiden

Almost a year ago I spent a fantastic weekend all about knitting in Leiden, taking part in the Knitting History Symposium on the 17th century “Texel Silk Stocking” on Saturday and visiting the TRC Leiden where the KHF AGM was held on Sunday, as well as some of the sights of Leiden. I was so busy taking notes I did not take any pictures at the conference itself but I did in the exhibition on Sunday, which showcased most of the samples and reproduction stockings of the project.

The keynote lecture of the symposium was about the reconstruction of the 17th century Texel stocking finds by a citizen science community, under Chrystel Brandenburgh.

The stockings came from wreck number BZN17, and we now know it was an armed Dutch merchant ship that sank about 1645-1660.

The two goals for the project were to involve people who are not normally part of archaeological research but have the expertise needed for a reproduction, in this case experienced knitters, and to be able to repeat the experiment. More than a hundred people volunteered!

The original stocking was made from reeled, not spun, silk, and knitted in the round. It was examined with a Dino-Lite microscope. All information was gained from that examination, the stocking was not turned or otherwise disturbed.

The citizen science project involved knitting test swatches with different types of silk (some already de-gummed, some still containing the sericin, and different size needles, 0.7mm and 1mm, to find the right material and gauge for the reconstruction. The original measured 83 stitches and 100 rows for a 10cm square! The test pieces measured 5x5cm and took on average 5 hours to complete, and required 15m of silk, which means a stocking would need 1080m.

After the test swatch stage, about 40 people continued with the experiment by knitting a complete stockings, and as of the date of the conference 27 stockings were finished. Knitting with the silk that still contained the sericin proved easiest and quickest, and blocking the stocking after removing the gum also brought the most uniform result.

Using a wooden former to shape the stockings after washing (and de-gumming) was based on the existence of an extant example of the period in Denmark, and English records mentioning wooden stocking formers. Uneven knitting and a certain amount of difference in gauge did not matter after removing the sericin and blocking the stocking.

It is impossible to tell how long it would take to knit a stocking in period. Those knitters that knitted more than one stocking reported that the time it took to knit the second one was almost half of the first, showing how much familiarity with the material and the way to knit speeded up the process.

The papers in the Knitting History conference itself were all connected to the Texel Stocking project. The first section was about stocking production in Europe, showcasing current research in knitting history:

  • Lesley O’Connell Edwards’ “A hidden workforce: hand knitters in 17th century England” focused on evidence of who was knitting and what was being produced, and the research is centred on Norfolk and Suffolk. There is less information available on this topic for the 17th century than for the 16th century, and council and probate records are so far the best sources. Items produced by knitting included caps, gloves, petticoats (short jackets), stockings or hose, and waistcoats. There was no guild for knitters, but knitting was something taught, not necessarily learned in the family. Interestingly, although men were listed as teachers, very few men were listed as being taught. Silk hand knitters are mentioned in 1619 but there is not much more information about this aspect of knitting.
  • Sylvie Odstrcilova’s paper “Early modern stockings from the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries: The story continues” offered a fascinating glimpse into the variety of extant stockings in this area, and built on her research published in NESAT and ATR. Her findings of the similarity of the stockings of Imrich Thurzo in Orava Castle to the Texel stocking opened questions regarding manufacture and import of silk stockings throughout Europe.
  • Hanna Backstrom’s paper “The earliest printed knitting patterns” compared what the printed patterns looked like and who they were made for, to a hand written 17th century notebook, possibly from a knitter’s workshop. This was one of the highlights of the conference for me. It raised lots of interesting questions as to how they used the charts, diagrams and sketches contained in this book, especially in contrast to the printed books which seem to have been designed for a different audience.

The first afternoon section was dedicated to projects inspired by the Texel Stocking project:

  • Art Ness Proano Gaibor’s “Dye experiments on the Texel Stocking” was an interesting paper on how period dye recipes can have an impact on our modern lives, and how diverse the period recipes for dyeing black were – some doing more harm to the fabric than others.
  • Geeske Kruseman’s findings of her report “wearing 17th century knitted silk stockings” really surprised me. Two people wore two pairs of the stockings produced by the citizen science project with period reproduction shoes in everyday life and recorded their subjective and objective observations. Although the experiment was cut short, they still got some data. The stockings showed no signs of wear after an accumulated 139 hours of wear, kept their shape after washing, and were comfortable to wear in hot and cold weather. Afterwards everyone with the right foot size (European 38) got a chance to try the stockings , and I personally loved the experience! The stocking is very light and smooth to wear, you sort of forget you have it on, and the lack of stretch that we have come to expect from wool stockings wasn’t missed due to the garter holding the stocking up, and the fact that the stocking fitted me perfectly. It would be interesting to repeat this experiment with a wider range of participants.
  • Sally Pointer reported on her experience of making a replica for the re-enactment market based on the Texel stocking and using a 19th century knitting machine. She started with a wool version to test the design and then made a version with spun silk. She had to alter the key features to work with the much lower stitch count possible with the knitting machine, reducing the patterns produced by the purl stitches by about one third, and producing a stocking with a similar pattern but clearly different to the original. key question: “Though we can do it, should we?” The stocking she produced is much quicker to produce than the hand knitted ones, but still took a considerable time to make and it leaves the question how it would compare being worn to a non-patterned, machine-knit silk stocking and the replica hand knitted ones.

The last section consisted of papers based on Citizen Science Projects:

  • In “How not to knit: Sourcing silk, research and reconstructions reviewed” Susan North shared with us her insights into the problems encountered and mistakes made when making reconstruction silk stockings for the Original Practice at the Globe Theatre, and how difficult it was to find any information on tools, materials, and methods.
  • Jane Malcolm-Davies’ paper “Modern Slavery and the early modern work ethic: Lessons learned from volunteer participation in knitting in early modern Europe” gave insights into the experiences made by her and the volunteers in the Knitting in Early Modern Europe (KEME) project. She discussed how using volunteers in knitting (a notoriously underpaid work activity) raises the question to what extent Citizen Science is exploitative, and how much can be learned from the knitwork produced, and the process of knitting it. The focus has to be on what the benefits for the volunteers are as well as the researcher/scientist, and it is interesting that the KEME volunteers listed a similar range of benefits as the Texel stocking project participants.

The following panel discussion followed along similar lines, and I loved the new-to-me emphasis on the social aspect of taking part in a Citizen Science project, and the emphasis on being mindful of the nature of these experiments versus lab experiments, and that there have to be mutual benefits for the researcher and scientist as well as the volunteer.

My stay extended to Sunday for the Knitting History Forum AGM, and so I had a chance to visit the exhibition about the stockings in the Textile Research Centre, showcasing all the finished stockings, the former, all the samples and the ingenious holders some of the knitters had come up with to keep the cone of silk from unravelling while being able to knit off it easily. Also part of the exhibition was a treasure trove of patterned socks and stockings, and sample boards of different heel and toe varieties, as well as other knitting samples. I came away with so much inspiration!

We also were given a short tour of the facilities, making me want to come back to study some of the beautiful knitted and crocheted items in the collection. In the afternoon we visited the weaver’s house and the Laakenhal museum, all places I am looking forward to visiting again!

Christine Carnie

Early Seventeenth Century Knitting from Copenhagen

“The materiality of textiles and clothing – under the surface” was a recent two-day workshop organised as part of the research programme, Costume, Clothing, Consumption and Culture. CCCC is investigating early modern textiles and dress and is run jointly between The Centre for Textile Research and the National Museum of Denmark.

Delegates from universities in Denmark, Finland, India, Great Britain and Italy, curators, conservators, students and a multi-disciplinary network of scholars gathered

Early seventeenth century knitted hats and gloves on display in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Photo by Paula Hohti
Early seventeenth century knitted hats and gloves on display in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Photo by Paula Hohti

to visit the National Museum of Denmark and the Museum of Copenhagen, taking in the Renaissance exhibition, attending talks, discussions and a shoemaking demo. They also viewed early textiles from the reserve collections and excavated finds in the process of being conserved.

Paula Hohti has posted a well-illustrated report, including large pictures of early knitted hats, stockings, gloves and mittens not commonly seen outside Denmark.