[HNW] Knitting book

Chris Laning claning at igc.org
Sat Dec 2 13:41:55 PST 2006

At 11:47 AM -0500 12/2/06, Catherine Olanich Raymond wrote:
>On Saturday 02 December 2006 11:15 am, Sue Clemenger wrote:
>>  There's some stuff out there by Irene Turnau, too, but all I've seen of
>>  hers is some translations of a few articles, and people referring to her
>>  other work.  She's apparently pretty hard to find, and not all of it's
>>  translated, or translated well.  IIRC, the original's in Polish.
>When I ordered NESAT VIII from the Institute of Archaeology & Ethnology of the
>Polish Academy of Sciences, they sent me their latest (2005) catalog. 
>Turnau's book on the history of knitting was listed as one of their
>offerings, for 19 Euros plus 5 Euros postage.  Now, the 5 Euros means that
>they send it by the local equivalent of Media Mail (because my NESAT took
>forever to arrive) but it is pretty cheap!

In English? Or in Polish?

I was able to ILL the English edition, and photocopied it while I had 
it. I do know people who would love to have a "real" copy, though.

Evaluating Irena Turnau's work is complicated by several factors, the 
most obvious being that she wrote in Polish, and depended for the 
English versions of her articles on translators. (Any manuscript 
whose introduction says, "I would like to thank to my translater 
[sic] Agnieszka Szonert and Chris Broomfield to his help in 
correcting the English translation of this book" definitely has 

I have also noticed a lot of fairly glaring typos throughout the 
book, some of which may affect parts of her argument. For instance, 
the book mentions a knitted "cape" at one point. This is, AFAIK, the 
only mention of such a garment anywhere in the literature -- could it 
instead be a typo for "cap", which is a common knitted item? You 
can't tell.

Besides the language issues, she is writing primarily about the 
_economics_ of home-produced textiles, rather than about thread 
structure and techniques; there are several places where she does not 
clearly distinguish knitting, crochet, nalbinding (aka "knotless 
netting") and sprang from one another.

I notice also that she is not very critical in evaluating documentary 
references to various items that are said to be "made with a needle," 
apparently assuming that if these items were commonly knitted in 
later centuries, then "made with a needle" refers to knitting in 
earlier centuries as well.

She generally does not give precise information about the location 
and details of the actual textiles she mentions, and she does not 
explain what observations lead her to conclude how they are made. 
This makes it next to impossible for anyone else to track down her 
sources and check her conclusions.

She also seems to have been working in near isolation from the other 
textile historians who were studying the history of these techniques 
around the same time, which means that among other things, she has 
her own hypotheses about the origins of knitting and how it 
developed: one which as far as I know, no other scholars agree with.

There's also been considerable discussion of this over on the 
Historic Knit list if you look for "Turnau" in the archives. One of 
the people over there actually had some correspondence with Turnau at 
one point and defends her staunchly.


I think Rutt's book is the one you want.

(I bought it in 1987 when it first came out <smug grin> :-P)

AFAIK, no one has yet written a book specifically about knitting in 
the Middle Ages or Renaissance (though I have ambitions in that 

O    Chris Laning <claning at igc.org> - Davis, California
+     http://paternoster-row.org - http://paternosters.blogspot.com

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