HNW - knitted evidence, h-needlework V1 #116

Dick Eney dickeney at
Sun Sep 6 08:57:14 PDT 1998

On Sun, 6 Sep 1998, Margo Lynn Hablutzel wrote:

> Well, now, that just DEPENDS.  There is really NOT a lot of "physical
> evidence" for certain items in certain eras.

So far, yes.  But more exists than is mentioned in most printed sources.

Note: I have rearranged some of Margo's comments for ease of commenting,
because I am commenting on details rather than on the sequence of

> I think this is another sign of "what is period for you?"  And it depends
> upon what the person was trying to represent.
> I think it also shows significant ignorance on the part of the [judges
of the A&S competition/exhibit]

[pictures not always available etc]

I agree.

> Yes, we have one pair of knitted gloves from 13th Century, but most
> others are from 150 years later onwards.  Stockings seem to exist from
> the 10th Century Middle East or mid-15th Century and onwards in Europe. 

Possibly earlier in Europe; Turnau says there is evidence of genuinely
knitted stockings much earlier than mid-15th century, especially in
Switzerland, where medieval knitted stockings and earlier footless
leggings "can be dated between the 7th and 12th centuries." 
  Knitted gaiters are listed in inventories as early as 1320 in the UK. 
There is an order in 1387 of several pairs of "chausses de fine escarlete
_faictes a l'augiler_"  which is considered to mean that knitting was
replacing cloth leggings.

Striped knitted fragments from Poland in 12th-13th century are described
as being local work because they are not "craftsmanlike" in finishing
though "the technique was good."  Turnau doesn't say what they were
fragments of.

Irene Turnau differs from Rutt on the relative antiquity of flat knitting
in Europe; Turnau insists that early medieval knitting was flat before it
was round. pg 18 she says knitted wool fragments were found in northern
Poland and Latvia, and that the ones from Rownina Dolna were dated to the
12th or 13th century.  She lists four pairs of knitted woolen gloves from
Latvia. On pg 19 she says that 'from the early middle ages are found only
flat fragments, e.g., shawls etc.'

The oldest surviving information about the Parisian knitters' guild dates
to 1268, and was later confirmed in 1366, 1380, and 1467.

> I don't know of any contemporary items that look like the sweaters the
> knitting Madonnas are creating (for the ones working on something
> reasonably identifiable).  Only later can we point to an excavated cap
> and a painting and say "look! they match!" 

I don't know of surviving shirts proven to be from the 14th century; there
is a high probability that what the Madonna is knitting is an undershirt
anyway.  The large knitted tunic displayed in a church that is supposed to
be the original 'robe without a seam' is thought to be a medieval fake but
the church won't let it be examined so it is essentially undated.  There
apparently is a surviving 16th century knitted undershirt in the Museum of
London.  Kathleen Kinder < at> helped organize an
exhibit in 1983 which borrowed it; she says that it was stocking stitch
and had "the most clever shaping across the back and to create the
sleeves".  (She has written several book/lets for Batsford, now out of
print, on the subject of early machine knitting.)

> judging the A&S.  If the person entered gloves, for example, there will
> not be a lot of pictures of the actual items and I cannot think of any
> in which a person is wearing actual knitted gloves.

My opinion here:  given that virtually all of the surviving Bishop's
gloves are knitted, and that there is ample written evidence that gloves
were knitted (and earlier ones were done in nalbinding which produces a
similar fabric), one can assume that any picture of gloves that are not
leather or obviously stiff brocade is a picture of knitted gloves.  Also
sculpture... the Marian altarpiece by Wit Stwoz (which is otherwise not
officially considered to represent knitting per se) does have several
representations of high church garb, and the gloves shown are so very
"drapey" that it's hard to believe they could be representing anything
other than the standard knitted silk gloves.

> Stockings are another matter, but you cannot always tell if the fabric
> is knitted, sewn, etc.  And some other items might require knowledge of
> finishing methods, such as fulling, before the painted item can be
> recognized as knitting.  In some cases, the records available for a
> certain type of item may be written only. 

Quite so.  Hats for instance may have gone through so much finishing that
the original fabric is almost unimportant; in post-1600 records at least
Turnau says that one important part of hat-finishing included varnish. 

In my opinion, stockings worn in a late-period painted portrait may be
assumed to be knitted, as the production of knitted stockings was a major
commercial endeavor and there is ample written documentation of the
thousands upon thousands of stockings produced.  Anyone with the cash to
have a portrait done is likely to have worn knitted stockings.  Note:
written records indicate that stockings were customarily fulled at least
in late period, both as pre-shrinking (which would help the size stay the
same) and as a way of amending errors and tension variations.



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