History Lessons

Some months ago I came across a rather interesting knitting blog: Orkney to Omaha. This is how they describe themselves:

A random tweet for volunteer knitters, to help create the costumes for a community-created film about the First World War, resulted in the formation of a community of knitters from Orkney to Omaha. These brilliant and generous people have come together creating an instant and thriving group of researchers, organisers and above all, super-talented knitters – over one hundred of them – all in the memoryΒ of the men and their families of the First World War who sacrificed their futures for ours.

One for the wish list

One for the wish list

This small blog is fascinating, documenting the process of converting patterns from 100 years ago into something that modern knitters would be able to follow. I was delighted when they announced in September that a book of some of the patterns, entitled Centenary Stitches, would be released and I ordered it straight away. It arrived yesterday and it has kept me absorbed for several hours already. It contains all sorts of things that I would like to knit – including a “turban”, which will mean (according to the book) I won’t have to “dress” my long hair before I go out, I can simply tuck it into the turban and go! I also want to make a sort of wrap-around shawl, that will stay in place, and a tam and various fabulous scarves and shawls… you never know I might even use up some of my stash on some of them! But it isn’t simply a pattern book, it contains all sorts of information about the history of knitting, as well as examples of original patterns.

My sort of history

My sort of history

When I was at school, I hated history. It seemed to me that it was all about stuff that powerful men did and nothing about real people. I can remember a class involving the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle but I have no idea why it was relevant or what it was about (well, I didn’t until I just looked it up and discovered that there were two: one in 1668 that ended the War of Devolution and one in 1748 that ended the War of Austrian Succession… I still have no idea which one I learned about at school, though). It came as quite a revelation to me, therefore, that I am fascinated by history… in particular the history of women. The thing that kindled my interest was reading Laura Ingalls-Wilder’s books about life in the American west (forget the cloying stories on the TV show and read the books, which tell you how to make maple sugar and build a smoker, amongst other things), but it didn’t stop there. I love to read about all sorts of ‘domestic history’. So the arrival of a copy of Piecework a couple of days ago made my weekend complete. This particular issue is about underwear and includes all sorts of interesting articles, including one on mediaeval bras and one on Queen Victoria’s undies!

So I’ve had a happy evening since Mr Snail left for the week – drinking tea and reading about the sort of history that is interesting to me… and not a politician in sight!

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  1. I love history of both sorts now, but in school was like you – I wanted to know what people DID back then, what they wore, ate, what tools they had, how they got things done in general. Still fascinates me. Where did you get the books from? I’m wondering if they are available here in Canada, as I received a book store gift card for Christmas last year and haven’t used it yet. Obviously I was waiting for these . . . anyway, a lovely post and I’m glad to have time to comment again. I still haven’t made any progress on that square (and now I’m not sure which project box it’s in, either. One day, though, when the dust settles . . .
    ~ Linne

  2. With you on the history thing – except that in third form I had a geography teacher who was incredibly enthusiastic about his subject and combined geography, history and humanities into his lessons. He was inspirational! Because of him I have studied ‘alternative’ history ever since – the real stuff, the stuff that is hidden and banned and not talked about. The history that involves real people in real situations dealing with real life and the demands and outcomes from whichever current despot is making decisions and giving the orders.

    As a result I find it difficult to follow the propaganda we are currently being fed from our world and local leaders. But that’s a whole other rant πŸ™‚

    Happy reading and the projects you have put a tick beside all sound intriguing. It would certainly be great to see some old fashions revived – I should love to knit myself a turban! Imagine, I could roll out of bed and instead of looking like the wreck of the Hesperus I could just pop a turban on my head and look like a slightly demented version of Hedy Lamarr. Don’t know why I never thought of that before!

    • Oh, I want to be Hedy Lamarr too!
      My grandmother used to wear a turban hat – my mother still has it, but it’s far too big for any of the women in the family as my nan clearly had a huge head… what a shame. However, I can now knit one of my own… pitty I can’t knit some glamour too!

  3. It’s these sort of books that make me so wish I could still knit πŸ™‚
    Where I’m concerned, it took my learning about real, ordinary, women, and how their lives were shaped by the period they lived in, to get me really interested in learning more about our history, so being able to follow knitting patterns from a century ago must be a pretty awesome thing to be able to achieve πŸ™‚

  4. Sweet! I am a historian. So I love to read about knitting patterns and knitting paraphernalia from history. I love the pictures.

  5. I realise that patterns will have changed tremendously in the ,last 100 years, but has knitting itself changed too? I’m told it is no longer the knit one purl one that I remember my mother doing in the 50’s so maybe there was something different before that?
    It’s great that you’ve found something to keep you interested and make you enthusiastic about history which is really fascinating at the basic level without the politics.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • The old patterns are written in what appears to be a different language…. but to non-knitters the same is true for modern patterns. What really intrigues me is how little instruction is included in the old patterns – you were expected to have already been taught basic (and not so basic) aspects of the craft, so they weren’t repeated in the patterns – these days a knitting pattern is explicit, giving instructions in detail for every step, although, interestingly, this is not always the case for modern crochet patterns.

  6. History IS fascinating when it’s all about the people and their day to day lives.

    I’m not sure which of your soon-to-be-posts I’m looking forward to the most now, mediaeval bras or fully illustrated (with yourself as model, obviously) woolly turbans. I am glued to my inbox.

  7. Mediaeval underwear always reminds me of instruments of torture. Mind you, I’m not so sure we do better these days… I’m voting for modelling mediaeval bras AND the woolly turban, myself!

    • Interestingly the mediaeval bras featured in the article look better than some modern examples – they include stretch lace and a lace support in place of modern underwires!

  8. I think they make a mistake, teaching history to young people who have no personal history and no sense of time. I’ve become much more interested in all history as I grow older but agree that domestic history holds particular fascination. I loved the Little House books for that reason and because they seemed not too different from the life I was living as a child on a farm. In fact, Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder, grew up within 45 miles of where I live and the “Farmer Boy” farm is a museum now–too much fun! The book and magazine you feature here look terrifically interesting!

  9. History? We didn’t learn about that at school last century…that was nap time (or maybe I have historic dyslexia πŸ˜‰ ). I must admit to being incredibly interested in history since I discovered Mr Tony Robinson’s digs around the U.K. It would seem that I needed Baldrick to inflame my inner history nerd. Poking around in other women’s bra’s would seem a strange thing to do for modern women who can just head out and discretely (even anonymously) buy a new one at the drop of a hat…they can have one every day, they can have 10 every day if they like (and they shop at the right discount chain…) but back in the day a woman’s undergarments were more likely to have been made by her, or one of her relatives or purchased from a local store where another local got to fondle bits that should only be touched by a husband in the endevour to fit them properly. Cheers for this lovely post Ms Snail. I am off to fondle my bra… πŸ˜‰

  10. I’m glad my absence was on of some use! (I am wearing my hat as I type this.)


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