Gawthorpe Inspiration

The lovely team who look after the Rachel Kay Shuttleworth collection at Gawthorpe Hall are such an innovative bunch. Not only do they hold inspiring workshops and textile study days, they have cunning plan to use the historic collections to inspire new designs for knitting and crotchet patterns.

Those if us who know our museum history will be aware that this is a role for museums that the Victorians firmly believed in. How many museum studies students have written essays about the founding role of the South Kensington Museum, later the Victoria and Albert, to inspire British designers?

Last Thursday I was able to join a small  group of designers as they pored over a wonderful selection of treasures from the museum collection.


They included Debbie Bliss who turned out to have a quietly wicked sense of humour and Kate Davies who writes one of my favourite blogs,  Claire Montgomerie and Emma Varnam, who encouraged me to start this blog.

I can’t wait to see the designs that materialise from the Gawthorpe inspiration.  Their plan is to sell the new patterns and to have them displayed – with the historic examples which inspired them – in the gallery.  It will be fascinating to see how the designers reinterpret the knitted and crocheted treasures of Gawthorpe for today.

Shown here is a tiny selection from the many examples the curators had set out for us to study.

 Image courtesy of Gawthorpe Textile Collection.  Not to be reproduced without permission.


Images of Knitters – 1880

 No-one told Effie about the sock knit-along

No-one told Elsie about the sock knit-along



























This illustration from a story in The Girl’s Own Paper shows Elsie, a Highland lass.  Orphaned and caring for a sick brother she supplements their meagre earning from growing vegetables by selling her knitting.

Although she went quickly, still she knitted by the way – it had become such a habit  with her, as she went to and fro along the little path to the farm, that she did not feel right unless she had the needles in her hands, and her feet had learned the way without the help of her eyes, which lately had got more into the habit of resting on her work….”

Stories of rural Scottish women knitting as they went about other work are well known.  I have seen photographs of women on Shetland knitting as they carried peat, as Elsie in this story carries her pail of milk.  This story is set in the West Highlands,  I suspect to the 19th century tourists who started to visit rural Scotland (made more popular by Queen Victoria’s enthusiasm for the Highlands and the expansion of the railway) found the sight romantically picturesque. although in reality the life must have been grindingly harsh.

I’m not quite sure how Elsie’s ball of yarn is supported.  It seems to be suspended by something round her neck.  Something to investigate, but if anyone knows do tell me.

Knitting in History – Victorian Baby’s Sock 5

Knitting in History

Knitting in History

Well, it’s finished. What have I learnt from this test of a design published in 1880?

This design is quite sweet but I think a similar effect could be achieved more simply. The stitched on lace      border is charming – see my previous post for instructions – BUT the seam around the leg is quite clumsy.

Adding the ribbon threaded through the eyelet holes around the ankle made a nice finishing touch.


Knitting in History – Victorian Baby’s Sock 4

Knitting in History

Knitting in History

As I mentioned previously the writer of this pattern decided not to give the instructions for the lace at the cuff of the sock as illustrated. So I started this edging wondering what the finished trim would look like and I must say I like it a lot. It redeams the writer in my eyes for the clumsy construction of the sock.

In my next post I’ll show the completed sock but just for now let’s look closer at the lace edging.


Don’t you think it’s a lovely little edging design? I liked it so much I decided to try it out in a couple of other yarns.

The middle example in pink is Orkney Angora – 70% angora, 30% merino 4





ply. I knit it on 3.75mm needles for a more open airy texture. I think it would make a lovely edging for a lace shawl, or maybe the cuff of a cardigan?

For a completely different effect I tried it in Anchor Alida 6 ply crotchet cotton using 2mm needles. I think this might look good as the edging of a tray cloth or on a white pillow case if you like the vintage look.  None of these examples have been washed and blocked yet.

If you would like to try this edging this is the pattern.  I’ve rewritten it to make it a bit easier to follow.

A Knitting Tip from the Sheep

A Knitting Tip from the Sheep


Cast on 9 stitches.  Knit one row.

Start 4 row repeat –

Row 1 – K3, yo, K2tog, yo2*, K2tog, K2  (10 stitches)

Row 2 – M1**, K3, K1 of the stitches made from 2 yarn overs, P the other (this makes the largest hole in the design), K2, yo, K2tog, K1 (11 stitches)

Row 3 – K3, yo,K2tog, K6  (11 stitches)

Row 4 – CO2***, K5, yo,K2tog, K1 (9 stitches)

* yo2 – yarn over twice

** the method for M1 is to knit first into back of the stitch and then knit into front – 2 stitches on needle. The second of these is the first of the K3.

*** Cast off 2 stitches.

The extra stitch at the start of Row 2 and the cast offs at the start of Row 4 form the zig-zag edge.

Knitting in History – Victorian Baby’s Sock 3

Knitting in History

Knitting in History

Well, I’m coming to the conclusion that the writer of this design could have made it a lot simpler, and better.  After knitting the foot and ankle section in the round the writer has us cast off.  The foot sole is then knit as a flap attached at the toe as shown here.

The next steps are to knit a separate lace border and sew it to the cast off top, and to sew the sole piece in place. So there is quite a bit of seaming in this tiny object!

As I have knit it I have concluded that it would be possible to knit the sole first and then pick up stitches around the circumference for the foot. A nice little knitted frill could be grown on from the top of the ribbed section without the need for a seam.

DSC_0113However I’ll continue as instructed for the genuine experience of making this sock as designed in 1880. However I’m planning a new design inspired by this sock with modifications to make it easier.

Knitting in History – Victorian Baby’s Sock 2

Knitting in History

Knitting in History

The baby’s sock is coming along.   The sock is knit in the round and starts from to bottom but leaving the sole to be added later.  The pattern is less clearly written than today’s and I had to pull back a bit when I missed the start of the garter stitch band.

My sample is knit in coarser wool than the original was intended to be and the needles are a tad finer than they could be for this yarn so the sock is possibly more like a slipper than a sock.

From the side the sock looks very like the illustration.



But the illustration doesn’t show the very nice little band that the shapings on the top of the foot forms.  There is a central band of two knit stitched with a slip one, knit one , pass slip stitch over on each side.  If I were to make this sock for real I would make a left leaning decrease on the right side and a right leaning one on the other to balance them.


Knitting in History – Victorian baby sock 1

For my first Knitting from History feature I am attempting to re-create a sock from The Girls Own    Paper from 1880.

The sock is knit in the round.   I am using Rowan 4ply wool and 2.75mm needles which seems to be about the right for a reasonably close fabric.  This is a experiment and not intended for to any tiny recipient to wear.  My main interest is to explore how the pattern works and how the way it is written differs from today’s patterns.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of following instructions that might have been followed by the original owner of my copy of the magazine      over 130 years ago.

As every writer on knitting always says the first step is to read right through the pattern.  The sock is illustrated by a line drawing and the first surprise is that the illustrator and the writer don’t seem to have collaborated very well.  The illustration shows a deep lace edging. That looks fun to knit I thought. The writer had different ideas,  “A crochet edging would make a nice finish, quickly done. The knitted one in the illustration is rather too deep.  The following would be very similar, though rather narrower.

But I’m jumping ahead.  First to cast on 80 stitches and after a foundation row start to work the checked band around the base of the foot.

I’ll keep you updated as the project progresses.

Starting my Victorian baby's sock

Starting my Victorian baby’s sock