Monday, August 30, 2010

Son of The Project

When I announced two years ago that I had set up this blog to share my 1884 knitted lace sample book project with knitters around the world, my brother-in-law had just one question: What are you going to do with the blog after the mission is complete? At the time I didn't have any idea. Abandon it in cyperspace as a finished work? Chronicle other knitting projects? Take it in a whole different direction? It wasn't long before the answer presented itself. One day while searching for something else among my textile arts books, I stumbled on the perfect thing. It had been right under my nose, and I had completely forgotten about its existence. But there it was on my shelf: another late Victorian knitter's pattern notebook!

The slim volume is bound in tawny brown leather and filled with gilt-edged, lined paper. The flyleaf and possibly a few pages are missing from the front, but by and large the pocket-size (3¾" X 5¾") notebook is in good condition, the pages showing very little signs of age.

There are no samples and no clippings. All of the patterns are copied out in the same hand, and a few include the source, usually a magazine. The dates of publication, where noted, range from 1878 to 1894.

The patterns are more varied than in the previous sample book. There is knitted lace, yes, but also mittens, baby socks, afghans, slippers, even a knitted skirt and an outfit for a boy doll!

A few pages here and there are filled with other notations. There are several grocery lists, but some are more intriguing. A list of money received and spent in early July 1884. Names and addresses, including a source for "indestructible heads for dolls." Also "3 yds - Mrs. Saunders" and similar notes. And then there's this:

Received from Miss B April 19th 3 skeins of yarn

1033 Bedford Avenue Brooklyn

Sent to Miss B one pair of socks and sample on April 23rd 1889

Might the owner of the notebook have made a living with her needlework?

Most tantalizing of all is a page with a floor plan drawing of "862 River St."

Troy NY is mentioned several times in the notebook, including at the head of the received/spent list mentioned above, so that seemed like a good place to start the search for the house. Through the Wonders of Modern Technology (specifically Google Earth), much to my surprise and delight I was able to find the actual building still standing!

It cannot be proved, but I like to think of this as the home of our second anonymous knitter. Here she may have written in this very notebook by gas- or candlelight, and here she may have practiced her art.

And so I propose to embark on a new journey. Going forward I will share in this space the patterns she collected. I will continue to work my own samples of the lace patterns, but I expect many of the larger works such as the afghans will appear without illustration. The adventure continues!

Next time: Directions for a Mitten

Saturday, August 21, 2010

40. New Fancy Work

At the conclusion of my last post, way back at the beginning of the year, I teased that the final pattern in the 1884 knitted lace sample book would be "worth the wait." Little did I know just how long that wait would prove to be. As it turned out, life came between me and my knitting and I am just now getting back on track. Thanks to all who have hung in there.

Our grand finale pattern was published in the newspaper under the title "New Fancy Work" and was submitted by M.M. Niles of East Gloucester, Massachusetts. It appears first among the patterns in the sample book, but I have saved it for last because it is in a class by itself. In the accompanying notes the contributor suggests using it to make a tidy (for more on tidies, see 37. Vine Tidy), but my first thought upon seeing the instructions was "counterpane square." Worked from corner to opposite corner, the design features a raised leaf motif against a garter stitch ground in the lower half of the square and rows of eyelets alternating with reverse stockingnet stripes above.

The edges of the lower triangle of each square are rimmed with eyelets to use in sewing four squares together to form a block with the leaves at the center.

And when multiple blocks are sewn together, the full pattern is revealed: the eyelet rows come together as nested diamonds. A minimum of four blocks (16 squares) are needed to properly show off the arrangement. Since January I have managed to knit only a single block, so in the interest of expediting this post, the image below is actually a digitally created collage.

The rate the stitch count increases varies greatly-- the count rapidly rises in the first 15 rows, remains steady as the leaf motif tapers, and then increases again one stitch per row before reaching 38 at the center of the square. By contrast, the upper half of the square narrows one stitch per row throughout. The disparities make for a rather oddly shaped piece, but it is easily blocked into a uniform square. The 74 rows may seem excessive for what amounts to a little swatch, but since many rows are knit with just a handful of stitches, it is not as daunting as that number may suggest.

Only rarely do the sample book newspaper clippings include recommendations for materials, but Ms. Niles has several suggestions for her pattern. First and foremost: "In doing fancy work always use the best materials." She advises using very fine steel double pointed needles, No. 16 in the sizing system of her day, the equivalent of 1.25mm (US 0000) today. For thread she recommends either Morse & Kaley's four-ply No. 10 knitting cotton ("I can recommend this cotton highly. It is manufactured at Milford, N.H.") or Barbaric Drab Linen Thread No. 30. She continues

Sixteen of these pieces, or four squares ... makes a very pretty tidy, when bordered with some pretty edge. Line the tidy with some bright color.

For a coverlet, the fingering weight cotton and 2.25mm needles I used for my sample would be ideal. The individual squares blocked to 3½" along each side.

If used for a project today, some refinement of the pattern may be in order. Although paired decreases are used to taper the leaf, only K2tog is used to shape the upper half of the square where a left-leaning decrease might be preferred along one side. (And while we're at it, I think I would set the decreases in from the edge, slipping the edge stitch, for a smoother selvedge and easier sewing of the blocks together.) The tip of the leaf would also benefit from a change. As written, the leaf narrows by one stitch per side every other row until it is down to three. From there only one stitch is worked off on each of the next two right side rows. The resulting leaf tip lacks definition. The obvious substitution would be a single double decrease.

This pattern is so large it would be unintelligible without a powerful magnifying glass if the chart, verbal instructions, notes and photos were laid out on a single page as I have done in the past. So I have divided it up in two parts. You can download the chart here and everything else here.

Next week: But wait! There's more!