Oldest Western Knitting Images

 

Most representations of knitting in art have been produced from the 18th century on. The earliest ones are knitting Madonnas.  The Holy Family, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, c. 1345, shows Mary knitting, but what she might be making is not clear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3c8e17f881dba2917b93bcdbb016c9f6This is a detail from a polyptich by Tommaso da Modena, whose dates are 1325-1375). Mary is knitting something in the round using four needles. I believe this is in Bologna.

 

The next painting, by Meister Bertram von Minden, Germany, was done c. 1400-1410, in
the right wing of the Buxtehude Altarpiece.  Titled “The Madonna Knitting Christ’s Seamless Garment”,  it represents the Virgin Mary making a tunic in the round, using 4 needles. The tradition of the seamless garment describes a scene at the crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers cast lots to win possession of it, not wishing to tear up such a valuable item of clothing. Two churches, the cathedral at Trier and the parish church of Argenteuil, claim to have possession of the actual garment. Trier claims that it was brought to them by the Empress Saint Helena, who also is supposed to have found the True Cross. The French believe that theirs was brought there by Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor. Both claims date from the 1100’s. Most probably, Christ’s clothing was woven, not knitted. But it’s a lovely painting and a lovely thought.

 

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The Madonna appears to be knitting a sock in this altarpiece painted by Nicolás and Martín Zahortiga, c. 1460 for the Museo de la Colegiata de Borja in Spain.

Does anyone know what the other two women are working on?

 

 

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Knitting History: What are Buff Mittens?

Good question. What are buff mittens? I’ve never heard of them before, but today, Knitting Daily e-newsletter featured an article from PieceWork magazine that was published in Fall 2011. The following is quoted from that article, “Annis Holmes’s Buff Knitting: Preserving and Updating a North Country Tradition.” The North Country cited includes  New England, which increased my interest, being a lifelong native of the region.

According to author Joanna Johnson,  “In winter during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, warm, windproof, and waterproof mittens, deemed ‘buff mittens,’ were a mainstay for loggers and others laboring in the woods of the Adirondack region of New York, New England, and neighboring Canada….The term ‘buff’ may refer to the felted pile or to the undyed yarn that typically was used to make the mittens.”

Curious about the term “buff”, I checked it out in several dictionaries, but none of the definitions I found relate to mittens or even to knitting. Instead, a soft, thick leather with a napped surface, often made from buffalo skin, was known as buff. Then there were the more common meanings, such as a brownish yellow color, a polishing process, bare skin, a devotee of some particular subject or activity, or the slang for physically fit. Interestingly, American colonists in the 17th century wore a short, thick coat made of buffalo leather, called a buffcoat.

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But back to the mittens. For PieceWork’s 10th annual Historical Knitting Issue, available now, Joanna designed the child’s buff mittens seen in the photo. If you want to know how that soft fuzzy surface is made, you can order a kit, or read about it in the magazine. Basically, it involves knitting the fabric with loops on the surface, then cutting, trimming, and fulling the finished product. Sounds like the embroidery technique of Turkey work, aka Ghiordes Knot, for which there are numerous tutorials online.

More info about this project, including where to get the mitten kit, is available right over  here .

(Wonder how these mittens hold up after multiple washings and wearings. They recall to mind some dusting mitts my mother used to have.)

Before and After Felting -When Size Does Matter

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I’ve been doing different kinds of felting for several years now, and people sometimes ask how I know how big to knit something when I want it to be a specific size after it’s felted. The simple answer: it depends. You have to know your wool. Some yarns, like Paton’s merino, shrinks for me by about 1/3, so I always knit things made with that yarn about 1/3 larger. Other yarns, like those specially designed for felting, I’ve found shrink far more, at least by half and sometimes more. The only way to relative certainty is to knit a swatch, measure it, felt it, then measure it again and calculate the difference. I know this is heresy in the eyes of some felters, but I’ve been known to spin wet knits in the dryer set on medium, let it tumble for about 2 minutes, take it out and check the size, and repeat as necessary. Works for me.

This bag was knitted with Lion Brand Monet yarn, which unfortunately has been discontinued.

Historic Knitting: Our Boys Need Socks

Red Cross poster circa 1918. Reproduced and available for purchase at The Library of Congress online shop.

As during the War Between the States, knitting played an important role on the home front, providing those left behind with a purpose, and those fighting with a few comforts. The American Red Cross played a vital role in organizing knitting drives across the US.

Below is a link to the socks pattern distributed to volunteer knitters by the Red Cross. This page features a clip of one of the newspapers in which the pattern was originally made available to the public. There are numerous other vintage patterns available on the net.

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