HNW - SCA was dyes and colors

Dick Eney dickeney at access.digex.net
Thu Aug 27 08:14:05 PDT 1998


On Wed, 26 Aug 1998, Ross Bentley wrote:
about the following:
>>>I was working from the assumption that *most* SCA folk I know
>>>(myself included) have aristocratic persona.
<...> 
> I don't wish to sound ignorant but can someone tell me what SCA is. 
> [...]     I am assuming that at
> least part of those on here take on the persona of historical persons
> and am somewhat familiar with this as my SO and myself were involved in
> revolutionary war reenactment for one summer [...]

Margo's response gave an SCA website to go to for details; you're close
enough in your assumption, though the SCA is nowhere near as organized and
externally disciplined as other reenactment groups.  This list is not an
SCA list though a lot of us participate in it.  (Society for Creative
Anachronism, Inc. 'limits' :-) itself to pre-1600 AD culture.  I've been
in for ... um... 26 yrs?)

> My interest in HNW is at this time mainly in the knitting and crochet
> aspects of it as that is what I am able to do and would like to find
> documentation of when each was first started and where.

Oh, wouldn't we all! ;-)  This topic comes up regularly, and I'm sorry I
don't know where the archives are except for DejaNews.com   The topic is
one of my hobbyhorses.  Knitting is definitely early, we know that, but
just how early and where is subject to interpretation even by the experts.
Crocheting can only be proven in the 19th century so far, though there is
some highly disputable evidence of earlier work and earlier forms.

History: those of you who have read this before can skip the rest. :-)

  We're pretty sure knitting started in Egypt.  However, an earlier form
of work used an eyed needle to sew yarn into the same pattern that the
earliest knitting makes - a crossed or twisted stitch, still used in some
parts of the world.  This has been called various things but is now
usually called "Egyptian nalbinding".  Coptic socks were made by both
methods as the faster, easier method of knitting was invented.  However,
the earliest absolutely documented knitting is supposedly a half-finished
sock found in a Turkish tomb with the needles still in it, thus proving it
wasn't nalbinding.  This sock is dated to the 12th century, but whether it
was 1101 or 1199 is not certain.  (And none of my expert references ever
gives exactly where that tomb was, who excavated it, etc, either.  Anyone
know?) 
  Since knitting needles are usually made of perishable materials - twigs,
bone - they have not survived well.  Thus the earliest certain surviving
ones were, I believe, copper, and they had hooked ends like the ones still
used in that part of the world.  (However, a pair of smooth-ended bone
needles from several centuries earlier are disputed; some say they are
knitting needles, others don't want to agree.) 

  This leads into the messy question of crochet, which is called 'knitting
with one needle' in many countries and is not considered a different
technique.  (There is also the fact that crocheting is done in two ways
in, e.g., Poland, where one method is called 'making with a hook' and the
other is called 'making with a (single) needle' - both of which are
translated 'crocheting'.  It could be that 'making with a needle' is
nalbinding, but I don't know that.)  In several middle-European countries
(e.g., Roumania, Hungary), festival socks will routinely have a few rows
of single crochet inserted (easily done when you knit with hooked needles) 
and then go back to knitting, because crochet makes a firmer base for
later embroidery. 
  Since needle-looping or nalbinding is a world-wide technique,
independently invented in many patterns in many places, some very complex
patterns have been done with it.  This is the main reason that anything
dubious that is not absolutely proven to be knitted (by finding the
needles in it) is now usually labeled Egyptian nalbinding.  The only way
to tell them apart is by mistakes, or techniques that occur only when
shaping heels or toes, or when a partial piece is found.

  There are a few holdouts; Annie Potter in her book on crochet firmly
insists that a particular item found in an earlier Egyptian tomb is
crocheted, and she has reproduced it using crochet.  I have to admit I
find her theory attractive, because doing it with looping would take an
amazing amount of work and with crochet it's incredibly easy.  However, I
also know that people often do things the hard way.  (I just find it hard
to believe that somebody invented a way to "crochet" the hardest possible
way first and it took 3000 years or more to notice the easier method.  But
I tend to overestimate the average human IQ.)
  However, other researchers have not found anything indisputably
crocheted until the 19th century.  This doesn't mean it didn't exist, but
we have no surviving evidence.  We have very little surviving physical
evidence of knitting, but documentary records help here - court cases of
'soandso, knitter', orders placed for x many pairs of knitted hose in red,
black, and green, etc, and requirements of separately established
knitter's guilds.

The spread of knitting through Europe during the Middle Ages was partly
documented by Irene Turnau, but there is a lot of work to be done (and
she is elderly and no longer working on knitting, having turned to other
aspects of textile history).  So we mostly go by the existence of the
several 14th century paintings referred to as 'Knitting Madonnas', which
show multicolored patterned knitting in the round of various items, one
definitely a shirt, another possibly a sleeve or purse.  And the surviving
artifacts, and the lists: virtually anything you can think of was knitted
somewhere, from shoes and socks to hats, and all articles of clothing
between.

=Tamar

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