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Knitting Documentation


Knit Works
Lady Emeline l’espicier

Knitting has been found in Egyptian tombs, and the use of spinning fibers has been found as early as 4000bc, it is there fore obvious that I take up knitting as a period craft. Brass rods that date back to the Iron age, it all speaks to me of a time honored tradition. Latvian mittens, ecclesiastical gloves, socks to keep babies feet warm in the winter, these all scream to me of history, and what it means to be part of the SCA. It is my own personal way of playing the game that I take what aspects of history I love, and recreate them myself.

The history of knitting has been well documented with every one from Richard Rutt, to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pictures of knitted fragments appear in the tombs of Pharaohs that speak of mystery to our modern perceptions. The knitting brass pins, found would look familiar to us, and although the knitting styles we use now, would look alien and advanced to our ancestors, they would find comfort in our tools.(Rutt pg 37)

The origins of knitting can sometimes be hard to trace, some saying Persia is the center and heart of it, others saying it was else where. The bottom line is, Knitting is old, knitting rocks, and knitting should be done often, if for no other purpose than to keep people in the DMV from being randomly yelled at.

Knitting stitches for the first 1500 or so years of it’s life were, to us simple. Knitting in the round, and color work were the way forward to our ancestors. I cannot find it in my heart to disagree with them. Egyptian socks, knitted with wool and cotton, showing elaborate designs with Muslim prayers, often written in arabic in bands upon the socks show up around 1000 or so AD. It was not that long after, that beautifully knitted ecclesiastical gloves show up all over Europe. (approx 1400AD)

However, the earliest mitten has been dated proximately 1000AD and has been documented as being from what is now Latvia/Estonia area. Pictures are at this point almost impossible to obtain, however in early to mid 2011 there will be a huge exhibit open in Estonia on the history of these mittens.

A good many archaeologists seem to think that all early knitting is actually a form of naalbinding, I cannot find it 100% true, although yes there is a good amount of evidence that it was more wide spread than just through Scandinavian countries. I am still of the belief that the needles found, and the techniques are there that prove knitting is in fact a very ancient art.

I have chosen two different styles of knitting to show, the first being the pre literate sock. It is important to remember that knitting creates warm, comfortable garments and has as early pictures of the Madonna knitting show, been used for everything from socks to under tunics. When people cannot read or write, they turn to folk lore, and oral history, that I believe is how this sock pattern came to be used by people all across Europe, and is still completely viable today as a way of making socks for our warmth.

The pattern is pretty simple, you knit a gauge swatch and find out what your gauge is. If it’s 5 stitches to the inch that’s what you go with. Then you measure around your calf just below the knee, so if it’s 20 inches, you multiply 5×20 and cast that many stitches on. Work till a hand span beneath your knee, and decrease every row until you have reached your ankle, divide the stitches in half, work the heel in one big flap (till it is as wide as it is long) braid the stitches together, pick up heel stitches from either side, knit till you reach your toe.

I chose two different toe shapes, one flat as the pattern originally called for, another pointed mainly for my own experimentation, to see which I like the feel of on my foot best. I would not use such heavy weight yarn the next time, I have also learnt from knitting these stockings that one color work is boring, with out the luxury of cables, or even a purl stitch to lighten the blank sheet of canvas, I grew restless and had to “punish” the socks in a box for 6 months before I could finish the work of an hour.

The next is a pattern of a latvian mitten, the history of these mittens is absolutely fascinating to me, there were certain songs song through the sheering of the sheep, the processing of the wool, spinning, dying, knitting all had meaning. The symbols chosen for them had special meaning as well, which cross you chose, what borders, all of that had to them, mystical properties. It was considered lucky to give these mittens, and so brides would give them to their mother in law, father in law, husband, mom, and dad. (http://www.rigasummit.lv/en/id/cats/nid/697/) shows a good explanation of what the symbols mean, and how they were used.

I started these mittens on double pointed needles. The pattern calls for color work done in purlwise. This is torture to me pure and simple. As such I elimenated that part of the pattern and worked it up. The gloves however reminded me of a pair of mittens a monk wore doing scribal work, of course his fingers had to be free in order to do his intrical work. I realize those mittens had probably been whole at one point and had been cut down when the tops grew too worn to be used any more, however that is why I made these fingerless, as that’s the look I was going for.

Fingerless gloves don’t truly make a purposeful appearance until around 1750AD so out of the sca time period, it is still my belief that nothing was thrown out until it was so worn no part of it could be used. The mitten, though fingerless would have kept the monk’s hands warm enough that he could concentrate on his task at hand. The gloves I’m working on were originally intended on being given as a gift to a scribe, who often scribes at events. I thought she might need a way to keep her hands warm in often drafty places. It turns out she is allergic to them, still I think for sca purposes they would make excellent heralds gloves, so fingers are still free to turn pages, or scribal gloves.

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