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!

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kathleen,
Wow! What a great project! As a spinner, knitter and librarian, I will follow this blog with great interest.

Heather said...

Me too - I am very keen to preserve old patterns and techniques :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is so exciting. I am grateful to this knitter for leaving this legacy. I would hope that other knitters might follow her lead, even if it just takes the form of making notes in the margin of a book of present-day patterns. As you can see, I am not one of those who consider it a sin to write in a book. I have written in cookbooks for years and now I do the same in knitting books. I am going to follow along with your journey. Thank you for this work.

yoel said...

Wonderful! I can't wait to see some of these old lace patterns. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

sounds wonderful to me - thanks for sharing
I wonder if you should spray the pages with archival spray - it neutralizes the acid in the paper and my prevent further breakdown from aging

BadCatDesigns said...

This looks like a wonderful find and project. I look forward to following your progress!

Miss T said...

Very, very cool. Thanks for doing this!

Nurhanne said...

What a treasure - looking forward to following this.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! I'll post about this on my blog to help spread the word.

Kathleen Taylor said...

What a wonderful project! I am looking forward to watching the progress. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

How exciting! I also LOVE to find old patterns and knit beautiful things with them, mostly stoles and shawls,and such. I wish I lived further north than Dallas so I could wear more wool lace than I do. I'm so hot natured I can only wear it in the cold part of the winter which here isn't often. Can hardly wait to watch what will be on offer.
Ann Carpenter
P.S. Lucky you

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing what you post! And I was interested to see that you found the book in Rantoul--I grew up not too far from there (in Iroquois County).

Carrie said...

I look forward to seeing your progress--what an opportunity for all of us to learn from your incredible find!

Anonymous said...

I too am excited about your find and grateful that you are willing to take the time to share your treasure with the rest of us.

Kathleen Taylor said...

I gave you a shout out on my blog today.

nettlefly said...

Wow, this book is an amazing treasure! I look forward to seeing how this project goes on!

Unknown said...

How exciting! You were so fortunate to find this book. I'm adding this blog to my Bloglines right now.

quiltcontemplation blogspot said...

Sounds exciting. I am looking forward to following your progress.

Anonymous said...

What a treasure!!! I love what you're doing.

Unknown said...

What an exciting project. I will be following your blog. Do you plan to post the patterns as you figure them out?

vintagekathleen said...

Thanks to all for your interest and support!
I am just about done with the transcription process, and I hope to be able to post a new pattern (with charts, verbal instructions and photos of the samples) every one to two weeks starting in early January.

Anonymous said...

What a great fun. I'll look forward to seeing what history brings to you!

Anonymous said...

How wonderful, what a great project for 2009. I will eagerly await your posts. I plan to knit along, perhaps not with the fine materials used but at least so I can try the patterns. Bless you. Gerrie P.S. I found out about this on Kathleen Taylors site.

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased your going to be posting your progress online. I'm looking forward to following it with you. Good Knitting :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, how wonderful, what a treasure. One of my challenges this year is to learn to felt - to be able to do that I first want to resurect my ability to knit. I love lace edgings and will try and keep up. I've never knitted from charts before --- however it's all learning.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, yes, I have already opened a new folder and downloaded the pattern in it. No 1. Ready to go. I saw the detailed instructions thanks. Could you give me a hint what cotton you used and what needles. Truly I am a novice and need all the pointers I can get. Will post the results in time.

benne said...

What a wonderful find! I am thankful you, another lace knitter, found this book. Thank you so much for preserving the history and lacework. It is very generous of you to share this fascinating book. Lovely lace patterns.

Mrs. Neu said...

wow.... just wow. and i thought my 1912 crochet pamphlets were old! i will definitely be following your work and trying them out for myself!

Norm Deplume said...

I am so very very glad I found this (via your Ravelry's Piecework group post). I'm working on a presentation for our local Historical Society about knitting history in Central Illinois. I get chills just looking at this book-- I love that you get to actually touch the past like that.

vintagekathleen said...

Norm - How serendipitous! I hope the presentation goes really well!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm Brazilian and a patchwork tb do a bit of knitting, I am delighted with this book did you think! And I am very curious about its contents, I will follow your blog. big kiss

Isa Biondo

NessaKnits said...

You hit gold that day! I buy old patterns. Someone has to preserve them!

Unknown said...

I just found your amazing blog. Nice work! Christine

Angela Rockwood said...

I inherited some of the knitted lace collection of my second great grandmother, Celinda Jane Twitchell Olson. Her posterity (numbering in the thousands) has grown up with her stories and lace samples, but very few of us knit well enough to replicate them. I am a lacemaker also and have been searching for her patterns. Six of her patterns were nearly stitch for stitch documented in this handwritten journal. What a precious jem! Thank you! Thank you for transcribing them and working them out, documenting them and publishing them. I have never seen these patterns anywhere else. My great grandmother Celinda would have been contemporaries with the girl who wrote the journal. As a young girl herself, my grandmother received knitting lessons in exchange for helping a mother in the community with her laundry. The patterns she learned were never written down to our knowledge. This is the first time we've seen them written. Grandma Celinda lived 103 years, most of that time in a one room log cabin near Manila Utah--along the Utah Wyoming border. She had kerosene lamps, was snowed in during the winter, and could knit by feel in the twilight. She created hundreds of delicate pillowcase edgings and other treasures with size 70 sewing thread-- all from just a handful of precious patterns she probably kept in her head after learning them as a little girl. Her lace is one of the most precious things we still have of her. I found your site at 1am this morning, and what a treasure it is. Thank you, Thank you, for helping us continue her unique art!

Marieta said...

Thank you, Kathleen! An amazing and wonderful gem. I read the whole blog with great pleasure and I am realy impatient to try to knit all the projects that you have shared with us in your research and describtions to be preserved in time and to remain alive for future generations. Admiration for your work, it made me happy. Thank you and I wish you great knitting projects!

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