Sunday, February 21, 2010


I do not give many citations. Suppose I cite British customs taxes from the 14 th century? The few folks that would go to London and check the original customs ledgers know where they are and how to get permission. For anyone who is not going to check the original manuscript, there are variety of transcriptions and summaries of those documents. However they are mostly in collections and you have to go to the library or collection, put on the white gloves and look. Just having the title of the document does not ensure that I did not transpose some numbers when I was taking notes on my little steno pad.
There are a lot of library skills that I take for granted. My dear Readers should take that as a complement.

I said, “that we do not do fine knitting any more”, and we do not. Bug knits is tiny stitches, but it is novelty work. There is a wonderful collection of similar work in a knitting shop on the North Shore of PEI, and I am sure that there are many other similar artists around. The lady on PEI said that each of the little garments required more than 200 hours of work. In contrast, the Pope’s Stocking was a fragment of men’s hose that was designed to be worn.

As late as the start of WWII, a good deal of fine knitting was still being done in the couture houses in Paris. These were finely knit, one of kind objects, which were not publicized. They also required thousands of hours of hand knitting. By the mid-1980s those knitting divisions at the couture houses were phased out. One of the last of those professional knitters now works as a sales clerk at Saks Fifth Avenue in SF. She is one of the few people in the US that I have met that knows how to knit with a knitting sheath, but most of the knitting when she was working in the couture houses was looser, and done with circs.

Folks today do knit gansesys. Gorden knits beautiful ganseys on circs, but he knits for half an hour per day and it takes him a YEAR to knit a gansey. Dawn9163 on Ravelery knit her son a wonderful gansey on circs in only 6 weeks, but at the end, her wrists were sore. The days of "terrible knitters" doing a gansey in a day are passed. I can knit a plain (but absolutely weatherproof) gansey in a week without hurting my wrists. I can knit a good, weatherproof sailor's kit in two weeks. I made many determined attempts to knit such fabrics on circs, and never could do it (fast enough to suit my needs for winter wear). At one time, I had a whole bin of failed attempts. For the first couple of years after I moved to DPN/knitting sheath, I would go back to my circs and make another stab at knitting such fabrics on circs.  I always failed.  No! that is not quite right. I COULD do it, but I could not do it fast enough or long enough at a time to to make it a practial method of production.   I would freeze before I got enough knit to keep me warm.  With a knitting sheath, I can easily keep myself and all my skiing and hiking buddies supplied with weatherproof knit wear.

The French had year-round navy patrols of the English Channel in the last couple of decades of the 14 th century. Why? Who knows? The British Crown was too broke to mount an invasion. Would you have volunteered for winter patrol in the English Channel? Not considering their ships, lack of charts, lack of coastal facilities, poor food, and lack of weather forecasts. No, France pressed their sailors. Press gangs worked later, and they worked just as well in 1380. We know that the Channel Islanders were knitting garments for sea faring men, and some of that product went to France. It is very likely some of it went to the sailors on Channel patrol. Ships are expensive, and hypothermic sailors result in lost ships. No, France bought their sailors tightly knit ganseys so the sailors could keep the ships a float. It is worth noting that 100 years later, France was still one of the largest customers for English wool. Trade routes tend to persist for generations.


=Tamar said...

As I said, I'm not actually questioning your accuracy. However, an out-of-the-ordinary historical statement without a trackable citation is likely to resemble a novel by Dan Brown: interesting, perhaps even plausible in parts, but unlikely to be taken seriously. When trying to spread the word to the kind of people who want peer-reviewed documentation that 2+2=4, I need citations. "A man on the net said he read it somewhere" is strangely unconvincing.

Aaron said...

It is in any text on the history of England or France. It is in the Oxford, the Oxford Shorter, and Willson. Not in the words I used, but the French Navy was on the Channel in winter, and actually attacking the English coast. I was not there, but I believe it was so!

Archaeologyknits said...

statements like "It is very likely some of it went to the sailors on Channel patrol." really do need citations. There is a huge difference between something you think today and something that is recorded or has actual evidence.

=Tamar said...

It isn't necessary for the knitting to have been done in the Channel Islands. According to Irena Turnau's book on knitting history (p.21), the French had knitting guilds as early as 1268 and a French guild of knitters was _reconfirmed_ in 1366. By the late 13th century knitting had spread to Estonia and northern Poland, with simple color patterning; Verona, Italy was also a great knitting center (Rodier, _The Romance of French Weaving_, 1931) So knitting was widespread; the hard part is documenting it for early sailor shirts. Turnau found requirements for knitted shirts in 16th century German guild records but not for the 14th century. So far, no knit-purl shirt patterns have been found from before the 16th century (the Danish star-patterned wool fragments are early 17th century - Rae Compton and SKALK magazine), but a plain or stranded knitted shirt is warmer than nothing.