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.
….. that feature cutsie pictures of kitties. But I couldn’t resist showing you this.
In an earlier post I wrote about buying yarn in Florence. I’ve just spent five days on a short holiday in Berlin and although I spent most of my time in the fabulous museums and art galleries (and the fassbender and rausch chocolate store!), I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to check out one of the yarns stores. A quick look on line showed several that looked promising but the one I most liked the look of, and which was within reasonable distance of where we were staying was Die-Woll Lust.
It’s in a quiet street, Mittenwalder Strasse, not far from the Gneisenaustr U station. It was a small shop front but an enticing one. The window display showed that the lace shawl craze has certainly caught on in this corner of Berlin.
Aren’t these gorgeous?
A clever touch – there is a comfortable bench outside to park waiting spouses! I left my husband reading a book and went inside.
A closer view of the window display from inside the store.
What a lovely store! At a table a small group was taking a sock knitting lesson. Although I speak no German I instantly recognised the gentle burble of a small group of knitters chatting comfortably over the needles. It must be international!
I was amused by these little knitted socks on the chair legs!
Just look at that wall of colours! And this is just a small part of the stock. The shop is not enormous but packed with the most enticing yarns. I would say that the shop is particularly strong on luxury quality lace weight and fingering weight yarns, much of it by Filace. They also had a good selection of sock yarns – Regia, Trekking and others. They also had roving and yarn for felting. They had a good stock of knitting needles, crotchet hooks and other tools by Knit-Pro, and a small but beautiful selection of shawl pins.
.Did I buy anything?
Come on, what do you think?
It was difficult to choose. But I’ll show off my purchases in my next post.
It’s hardly original to comment about Citron – 10,916 Ravelry members have made one and it’s in over 7,500 queues. But it’s such a great little shawl, originally published on Knitty by Hilary Smith Callis. I made mine after sitting behind someone wearing one on a training course. I could hardly wait till the break to ask about it. And after seeing mine my sister also made one – so it appears to be a very seductive little garment. To see it is to want it!
I made mine in Juno Alice Lace in a colour called ‘Pot pourri’ which is just the right name – the semi-solid soft pink puts you in mind of the china bowls of slightly dusty dried rose petals you see in English stately homes. This yarn is beautifully soft and silky so my Citron is a real comfort on chilly days. Best yet – Juno is a small British dying company based in Devon. The colours are lovely.
I tend to wear it slightly scrunched up as a scarf. Because the yarn is so soft and fine it is easy to wear under a coat. And because it is so light it also works very well as something to pop on when it starts to get cool at the end of a warm day. (I do just about remember a few of those last summer!)
OK, it has to be admitted that the miles of stockingette might not be to everyone’s taste but somehow it gets a bit addictive. And it’s pleasant TV knitting.
Be warned that towards the end of this project the rows get VERY long! I made the mad decision to end with a picot – I didn’t calculate how many stitches this involved but it took two evenings to complete. Having done that I was pleased I had as the resulting edge does not roll the way the original design does. It’s a matter of personal taste though.
The Gawthorpe Textiles collection is one of the heritage gems of the North West of England. It deserves to be better known. Fabulous embroidery, quilts, lace and costume. The collection is housed at Gawthorpe Hall, a lovely JacobeanNational Trust property in Padiham, not far from Burnley.
This year they are running a series of artist-led workshops. Eager to try something new I spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon at a knitted wire jewellery workshop. The workshops are held in the lovely library which was very tantalising as there were so many enticing textile history lining the room. However there wasn’t time to browse as we had a project to complete during the afternoon.
The workshop was led by textile artist Claire Ketteman who inspired us by showing some head-dresses she had made for dance performances. Check out her lovely blog, Textile Alchemy.
Our project for the afternoon was a pair of earrings in the form of fuchsia flowers. First we tried out knitting with wire. For many of us, including me, a big part of the pleasure of knitting is the tactile enjoyment of lovely soft yarn so knitting with fine wire is a very different type of experience.We were provided reels of red and purple copper wire to make the fuchsia flowers. I didn’t quite finish a pair but I’m proud of the one I made! (below)
The earring hooks, wires and beads were provided and Claire helped those of us who were new to jewellery making put the earrings together. They dangle just like real fuchsia flower heads do. You can see a perfect example on Claire’s blog.
I haven’t been to many knitting workshops – a couple at Rowan in Holmfirth – and this one. But when I do I always wonder why I don’t do it more often. There is something about sitting round a big table with needles and yarn that is very conducive to amiable chatter.
As well as workshops the Gawthorpe programme also includes ‘Exploration Days’ with opportunities to look closer at parts of the collection with a curator. Sessions on lace, quilts and embroidery are coming up this summer – I’m sure they’ll be a real treat for historic textile enthusiasts.
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.
However 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.
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
My first knitting memory is from when I was about six or seven. I was in bed with a sore throat knitting a piece of stocking stitch – maybe a scarf or blanket for a doll. I could do knit stitches but not purl. My mother came into the room every so often and sat on the bed to do the purl rows for me.
Later we did knitting in my Scottish primary school. One afternoon a week the boys went off to do something mysterious with wood and nails while we girls did sewing and knitting. After the first rudimentary sewing trials – cross stitch on strange fabric with holes in it – our first important project was making a ‘lap-bag’. This useful item was basically an apron with a deep full-width pocket. Mine was cream. The teacher had a half a dozen dark brown shiny card templates and we were all able to choose one as a motif to embroider on the pocket. She traced round the template onto the fabric and we sewed running stitch in one colour of stranded cotton and then laced another colour through it to make a solid outline. Mine was a rabbit.
Once we had a lap-bag we could do knitting.
Knitting lessons started with us tying on our lap-bags. Our ball of wool remained in the pocket while we knit. When the lesson ended the knitting on the needles was stowed away and the lap-bag rolled up with our work safe inside, and tied into a bundle with the waist ties, ready for the next week.
The first school project I knit was a pan holder from two contrasting squares of DK garter stitch sewn together with blanket stitch. Mine was red and green. My mother was unimpressed when I gave it to her. ‘Red and green should not be seen, except upon an Irish Queen’ she said.
I don’t know how we got from pan-holders to socks, but we did. A later memory is of knitting socks in 4 ply on 4 needles. We had a choice of grey or fawn wool. When we finished the cuff the teacher sat at the front of the class and read the instructions out and we simultaneously turned the heel. I don’t remember what we did about the toes. Perhaps the teacher grafted them for us. I do remember they were gathered in at the end because when we came to claim them my pair, in fawn, was missing and a grey pair was left on the table. Classes were big in those days – there were 42 in the whole class so there must have been about 20 girls so I expect finding the right home for 20 grey or fawn pairs of socks was always going to be a bit hit and miss. I was miffed though.
The lap-bag was an important piece of kit for us girls. I often think, as I retrieve my yarn from under my chair, how useful it was. Mine has been lost in the intervening years. I think of it fondly from time to time.
Q. Do you remember learning to knit? And does anyone use a lap bag any more?