Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Project

A number of years ago I purchased a 19th Century composition book at an antique store in Rantoul IL. The book measures 6" X 7½", and while the back cover is missing, the front cover with its marbled paper is still attached.

The first half of the pages are filled with schoolwork in a flowing Victorian hand-- dates of Revolutionary War battles, algebraic theorems, etc. A list of the admission of states to the Union ends with Colorado, dating this section to 1876.

A large section of newspaper clippings with recipes and household hints follows. And at the back... pure gold for the lace knitter! Twenty-five pages with clippings and handwritten instructions for knitted lace patterns, about 40 in all, primarily edgings and insertions. Most are accompanied by small samples worked in fine thread.

The clippings are glued only along the top, enabling me to lift them up to read the articles on the reverse side. I have been able to trace some of the news events to the year 1884, the height of the "Golden Age" of lace knitting in America.

I will never know the identity of the book's original owner. The handwriting in the earlier history and math notes is the same as in the later sections, suggesting that she was a schoolgirl in the mid-1870s, and a decade later a young bride collecting items useful in running her household. And although the book ended up in east-central Illinois, the place cannot be pinned down with any certainty. The few clues that exist, however, point to that region.

The book is in delicate condition with loose pages, yellowing and crumbling paper, fading ink. It has long been my intention to transcribe, chart and knit the patterns to create my own sample book, so the original may be forever stored away safely in a clamshell box and not be subjected to any more damage by handling.

That time has finally arrived. Throughout 2009 I will be working through the patterns and posting my charts and samples here. (I hope to be able to keep up the pace of posting a new pattern every one to two weeks.) Join me in January for an adventure in historical needlework!