Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Waist Coats & Vests

If we look at the standard references on clothing, waistcoats and vests were made from woven material.

However, Mary Thomas gives a stranded knitting technique (weaving) that she said was much used for Victorian waistcoats. In Weldon's Practical Knitter, we see a large number of  patterns for waist coats, vests and under vests, some of which are long sleeved. 

Thus, it is clear that the Victorians wore knit vests and waist coats without this practice intruding into fashion history.

One advantage of weaving is that it produces a warmer fabric with less need for knitting tightly. For the same warmth, a waist coat of this kind of knitting requires more wool and is heavier and bulkier than a waist coat knit with long needles and  knitting sheath of the same warmth.

When I knit with circs, I did some weaving  and as I moved to long needles/knitting sheath, because it was very easy.   However, as I came to understand how warm fabrics knit on long needle with a knitting sheath could be, I stopped weaving because it added weight and bulk to an already warm fabric.

It is interesting that directions for weaving do not appear in the Weldon instructions. 

And when we look at Colonial trade of Maryland, 1689-1715 (1914) by M. S. Morriss, in Appendix II, (imported from England) we do find  both cloth and “ worsted” stockings and both wool and worsted waistcoats, which I take to mean that there were knit waist coats. The book is reprinted in The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science (1914) by Herbert Baxter Adams 

Taken in the context of the  above imported garments, the material at tells us that a sailor’s waistcoat could have sleeves, be called a jacket, and be worn outer most.  This is certainly consistent with seamanship texts from 1750 to 1840.


Anonymous said...

I am enjoying your blog, thank you.
As a knitter and a weaver, I see where the reference to worsted waist coats could be knitted or woven from worsted process wool yarn. I think you make an interesting point, but perhaps not a definitive one.
Thank you for your continued work and experimentation.

=Tamar said...

There are many problems in Colonial history and terminology. The distinction between "woolen" and "worsted" may have to do with the way the yarn is spun and not with the way the fabric was made, or with the basic material, worsted being wool and thread being linen (or hemp, but that's a whole different argument). "Weaving" was commonly used to describe knitting stockings on a knitting machine. While Europeans had some machine-knitted fabric made into what I would call a frock coat and trousers (and there are extant examples), some reenactors vehemently insist that nobody ever had one on the North American continent. Etc.

Jane said...

Your comment: "worsted waistcoats, which I take to mean that there were knit waist coats."

I'm sure you'll be interested to know that the term 'worsted' has its roots going back to the 12th century and derives from the village of Worstead in Norfolk - an important centre in medieval English wool production. It actually refers to WOVEN cloth and is still a well known term in the UK. I think one of the differences, apart from the fact that the wool from longwool sheep breeds was combed and then spun worsted rather than woollen, is that the woven fabric wasn't fulled. This is one company that has been making worsted cloth since 1750:

Anonymous said...

You are clearly unaware that the word "worsted" i sused in several different ways and does not necessarily imply that a garment was knitted.

Anonymous said...

It is so difficult from older sources to even know what garment they refer to, let alone figuring out how it was constructed! A waistcoat is even today called a vest in the U.S., but a vest can also be a sleeveless (under)garment (and for warmth and easy fit one would hope that it is knitted!). In Dutch "vest" means a cardigan, thus a very similar garment to a knitted waistcoat with sleeves. Good luck finding out what garment the sources actually mean as pictures are so scarce! Best, Jolanda V.

Aaron said...

The first meaning of "worsted" is a style spinning. And then anything fabricated from such yarns.

Aaron said...

In Victorin and later times,we came up with all of these fancy words for seaman's sweaters. I am coming to think that such warm objects knit with long needle were common, everyday objects,and were called "shirts", "jackets", "frocks","waistcoats",and so forth. It is only when such objects become rare that special names were assigned to them.

When the British Admiralty says "knitted worsted jacket", it is hard to think that it was woven. When they say it in two different documents, we know it is not just a typographical error.