HSF Challenge 2: Innovation
The theme for this challenge is to make something which was an innovation in its day. My first thought was how fun it would be to make a Victorian bathing outfit, to celebrate how the innovation of sea bathing had become popular. But I don’t have a pattern for one and only two weeks before the challenge is due, I couldn’t order one in time, especially from across the pond. So that idea can wait for another challenge maybe 🙂
My next thought was that it was an innovation in early Victorian times to have published patterns and instructions for knitting and crochet, so I trawled free pdfs on these two fascinating sites to find something early that I wanted to make and thought was within my skill set.
The earliest ones are quite challenging as they tend not to provide pictures. Also the instructions, sometimes called receipts which is an old term for recipes, can be somewhat basic and confusing, assuming you know what they mean. For example, for night stockings, ’54 stitches on large pins, turning every other stitch, and lessening a little gradually towards the end.’ That’s it, that’s the whole instructions for that item. I guess you have to know what it is to look like, without a picture! The turning is another word for purl, so it’s basically a 1×1 rib, tapered, but then what?
That is from one of the very oldest, which itself claims to be the first, “The Ladies’ Knitting and Netting Book” published in London in 1838: ‘At a period when all Fancy Works are so justly appreciated, and highly patronized, it is presumed that this little volume, the only one hitherto published on this subject, may be valuable.’
It is from this book, then, that I wanted to find something to make. Since my arthritic knee has been playing up a lot in this cold weather, when I saw the pattern for ‘Knee Caps’ on p.10 of this little book, and it looked relatively doable, I decided I had my pattern.
‘Begin with 36 stitches; knit 8 or 12 rows, according to the size wished for; knit 15 stitches, make a stitch, knit 6, make a stitch, knit the rest. Add 2 in the same manner every other row until you have 52 on the needle. Knit 12 or 16 rows, and decrease in the same proportion in which you augmented. Sew the ends together.’
I found another book, an American edition from ten years later, which had many of the same patterns, including this one, verbatim but with the additional information that it should be worked on ‘very coarse needles’. Not knowing what constituted coarse in those days, I have begun my first attempt using brown DK felting wool and 4.5mm needles. Some of it can be judged as you go, so I can add rows, or leave rows out, as I choose. If it is totally wrong, I shall have to scrap it and start again in a different size. This slightly later book also has some definitions of terms so is more useful. I suppose that is also an innovation.
I began knitting and did the first 8 rows, but when I reached the instruction to make one, I had to check if they had a preferred way to do this. The early book did not say, the later one had instruction for both YO and knit in front and back loop, I took the easy option of YO, as you can see by the holes. Now I am going off to do more, as the cat has come to meow at me, saying she wants a cuddle 🙂
I found another knee cap pattern in a much later book, from 1886, which is more complicated, on p.53 of this book. It is a much smaller gauge, worked in the round, ribbed. I might try and make one to compare them, but for now the easier one will suffice.
Later update: I have now finished. I conclude that I did indeed have the wrong needle size. I was misled for quite a while, as the pattern produces a nice, kneecap shaped bulge of about the right size, but then I had to do lots of rows to get the ends to meet. The pattern implies no extra ones, though I suppose a very skinny person might just have managed, my knee gets quite swollen. I think it safe to assume that ‘coarse needles’ were bigger than 4.5mm in those days. I might try again some time and make one in chunky with 7mm needles (which would be more like a bent tube than a tube with a kneecap bulge), but this one works, fits and is comfortable, so I regard it as a success 😀
I did make one other minor change, in that I narrowed the bit under the knee slightly, to 30 stitches, and then increased it back to 36 sts. This saves it wrinkling. It does slip down a bit when walking. It is also a bit itchy. I dare say if it was worn over period stockings both problems might be solved. I made it as tight as I dared, since my knee is not so swollen today and it has to fit when swollen as that is when I will need it most!
The Challenge: Innovation (published knitting patterns)
Fabric: pure wool DK yarn, dark brown.
Pattern: “The Ladies’ Knitting and Netting Book”
Notions: 4.5mm knitting needles, crochet hook to join together, scissors to cut yarn
How historically accurate is it? pretty accurate, except the gauge being way off, which must have happened then too!
Hours to complete: I forgot to count, several
First worn: today
Total cost:less than £1 because the yarn was a bargain.
It looks a bit uneven here because I took it off for the photo and it is slightly stretched. Note the ubiquitous cat hair, as Pebble likes to help me knit by lying on me at awkward angles, and sometimes keeping my feet warm. I might have hoped tabby hair might not show up so much on brown…
This one shows the knee bulge: