Friday, March 11, 2005

Knitting in the 17th Century

If you ever visit Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, MA, you will notice all the Pilgrim impersonators wearing beautiful, entirely handmade costumes, with all the age-appropriate details. Few of the garments are hand-knit, most noticeably the long, heavy stockings. I was lucky enough to participate in a workshop at the Plantation a few months ago, where a very knowledgeable lady, in charge of the Pilgrims wardrobe, told us all about knitting in the 17th century, and taught us how to turn the heel on those long stockings in a couple of different ways.

While the knitting itself was very simple, the history lesson was fascinating. And it made me think, not for the first time, how knitting used to be a daily necessity, probably a burden to some, just like, say, vacuuming is to me. Still, many people embellished even the most humble items, like undershirts, in order to transform something ordinary into something special and beautiful. I find that humbling and inspirational.

So the first time I visited the Plantation, I bought a copy of a booklet 17th Century Knitting Patterns as adapted for Plimoth Plantation, published by the Weavers Guild of Boston, 1990, which makes the textiles for the Plantation.

The knitting patterns comprise several caps, gloves, mittens, stockings, an undershirt and two purses. Since I do not walk around dressed like a Pilgrim, I never attempted to knit any of these, until a member of my spinning guild, the HHHC, issued a challenge: to spin all the necessary to knit the Oval Purse from the booklet, so that at some of the guilds event, when the members dress in costume for spinning demonstrations, we could all have an appropriate little bag.

Let me introduce you to my interpretations of the Oval Purse.

Image hosted by

I apologize for the awful photographs*, when I manage to get a decent one I’ll put it in the sidebar. Although my handspun yarn is very uneven and all that, the purse is still pretty, isn’t it?
I felt very Polly-ish while knitting, the purse seems the kind of thing she loves to knit, even though she would have never put up with inferior quality yarn.

To distract you from the bad knitting photos*, look at this:
fresh snow falling in a New England forest.

Image hosted by

Image hosted by

Image hosted by

I do not like winter and cold weather, but this sure beats the grayness that I usually see on my way to and from work.

* Update: I managed to get a better phot, that shows the purse nicely and uploaded it in the text instead that the sidebar.


Blogger melanie said...

It's too bad you don't dress like a pilgrim. You'd make a cute pilgrim!

The purse looks wonderful! And I love your wintery pictures too...

11:32 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Lovely, lovely post. You are so clever, that purse is just beautiful and you did it ALL! Have a great weekend.

4:19 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

I love the purse...wasn't going to make that one (I made the other one you got me thinking...hmmmm, maybe I should! See you Monday!

5:10 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Beautiful snow photos ! And I think your little purse looks very sweet - the yarn looks just fine to me :0)

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Colleen said...

Thank you for the correct use of "comprise"! Why is that so difficult to do for so many people?

Lovely snow photos. You should print out a few and sell them.

I was thinking about knitting as a necessity (sp?) last night, as I was ripping out the neckline decreases for the nth time. I'm not sure I would enjoy it so much if I *had* to do it. In fact, I know that I wouldn't. I think earlier knitters embellished everything so that it wasn't so boring to knit.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Emma said...

A beautiful little purse.I'm sure the yarn is beautiful too.
Such a satisfying project.All your own work,from start to finish.
The snow looks beautiful,but rather cold !

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If knitting were something I was supposed to be doing, I probably wouldn't be doing it!

Would like to see you in your pilgrim get-up, though.

The little purse is so dainty and lovely. No need to apologize for the photo or the yarn! xoxo Kay

11:26 PM  
Blogger alltangledup said...

I love that purse, but you know I only knit them so that I can have a nice bag for my socks. :0)

As for handspun, the unevenness is part of the charm. It's not inferior, just a design feature. Thanks for all the snowy pictures. We had snow this year in london, but not proper snow that sticks and makes for great snowball fights.

1:57 AM  
Anonymous Anita said...

Such an interesting project and the finished purse is so pretty!

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Juno said...

While it is hard for me to think of knitting as the dusting of its day, that is a well made point. I love the purse - and the fact that you used your own handspun makes it even better. I really think it is both lovely and...satisfying in some way, to have used an historic pattern. it is a little window into the past made real.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous coach purse said...

Not too many blogs are doing as well as yours.. I am saying this because I was searching on the search engines for purse & handbag related websites using the keyword coach purse and found your awesome page with the title Knitting in the 17th Century. I am looking for ideas on how to improve my own site using different keywords and was amazed how easy it was to find your site using the keyword coach purse. Maybe we could do a link exchange at some point. Take care.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous purse said...

I really like your blog benedetta. I was surfing the search engines for purse and handbag related websites using the keyword louis vuitton purse and found your awesome page with the title Knitting in the 17th Century. I am looking for ideas on how to improve my own site using different keywords and was amazed how easy it was to find your site using the keyword louis vuitton purse. Perhaps we could do a link exchange at some point. Anyway, thanks for your time and I’m glad I found your site.

5:33 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home