Archive for the ‘Twined knitting’ Category

Not so wispy Willow

July 25, 2007

This is the squashiest stuff, truly.  Don’t you just want to squish those cables?  I don’t have to resist temptation, and I’ve been squishing away at my leisure.

Willow is nearly done.  She’s seamed, she has button bands (currently unattached, flighty things), and she’s warm and luxurious.  The RYC Soft Tweed is wonderful, though it certainly detracts from any actual qualities that would make one think “willowy” when looking upon it.  You’re more likely to spot me in Willow and think, “Good heavens!  What is that enormous and strangely comforting shape?”

I opted out of using more RYC Soft Tweed for the contrasting sleeve edges and the stripes on the collar.  All of the Soft Tweeds are, unsurprisingly, soft in color, and I wanted more contrast than it turned out that they afforded.  Something at least as soft and cozy was clearly in order, though, so I splurged on some Misti Baby Alpaca Chunky, which is the same weight, but miraculously even softer.  The particular brown I chose is a dark melange, a black brown that I thought worked well with the greyed out brown of the Soft Tweed.

We’re still in the land of easy, straightforward knitting.  (It’s been very pleasant not having to do any math of my own beyond simple measurements.)  Even easy, straightforward knitting, though, is not without surprises.  I forgot until I’d started this project that Willow has pockets.  I love pockets.  I get to have pockets!  Yay!  I haven’t completed the pocket edgings (and I may end up doing that in the contrast yarn, just for kicks) but here is one of them.

I’ve been remiss, I know, in writing lately.  Harry Potter was the big distraction when I wasn’t busy with packing and taking children to appointments and so on.  However, from the hits I’ve been getting lately, I see I’m remiss in other ways as well.  I started some entries on twined knitting some time back, primarily the history of that particular technique, but I promised to do some experiments with twined knitting myself and to write more on the matter.  I’ve never done so.  Lately, it seems like a lot of visitors are coming specifically because they are interested in twined knitting, though, so it’s about time to get back up in the saddle and actually talk about the craft and try my hand at a technique I’ve written about, but never tried.  Shameful, I know, especially as my historical summaries make me sound like I know a good deal.   For the record, everything I know is from the book Twined Knitting, and I’m not anything like an expert.   I’m just an interested party.

Actually, if anyone can recommend any other books specifically about knitting history I’d greatly appreciate it.  I’m very interested in how the craft has been used in the past.

Back on the topic of Willow, those are the errant button bands, and I found some nice buttons in my stash.

The next entry should be a finished coat.  Yay!

Twined Knitting – History Pt. 2

January 4, 2007

There’s a venerable history to knitting in Sweden, the best known traditions of which culminated in the Bohus Stickning company. (More on Bohus knitting later.) Twined knitting, though, is based on older, more practical concerns than the airy beauty that became the hallmark of Bohus Stickning, which was aiming to capture an affluent market and was directed by consumer demand. Twined knitting, in contrast, was work done by individuals for their own families’ use, and intended firstly as a practical craft, and only secondly as an ornamental one. To find out more about the history of the craft, it’s worthwhile to seek out the history of twined knitting in one particular region.

Dalarna is a province in central Sweden, today a popular tourist destination for those seeking what is most Swedish about Sweden. Why this should be has a lot to do with Dalarna’s history. It was the last province in Sweden to abandon the Runic alphabet, doing so only in the 20th century. The famous and iconic Dalahäst, which has become a symbol of Sweden abroad, has its origins in Dalarna. And Dalarna is the location of Sweden’s most famous copper mines, mines which played a huge role in Sweden’s history as a nation.

Dalarna is also the location of an archeological find that has particular bearing on the history of Swedish needlecraft. In 1974, a team investigating a site in Falun, an old copper-mining town, found a glove that would, in the words of Dandanell and Danielsson*, “prove to be so interesting that it alone would set in motion extensive research throughout the region and the country”.

The Falun glove was found under a slag heap that was dated to 1680, proving that the Falun glove is at least that old. It was twined knit in a fine gauge wool yarn with fringe at the cuff. The early date sets this as the oldest article of twined knitting ever found intact, and one of the oldest pieces of knitting yet found in Sweden. When it was found, the Falun glove was purl side out, and the fingertips were missing. We’ll probably never know which side was used as the outside of the glove, but what we do know for sure is that knitted items, and specifically twined knitted items, were in use in Falun in the 17th century.

Twined knitting seems, in fact, to have been the only known knitting method used in Dalarna for much of its history. What Danielsson and Dandanell do with this information is to create a sort of timeline, using the Falun glove as a marker to show that twined knitting was the earliest form of knitting used in Dalarna, and then combining that knowledge with written records referring to knit articles in order to piece together who was benefiting from the knitting, and what it was they were wearing. From a 1659 court record referring to the theft of a pair of knitted stocking from a servant girl, the pair are able to conclude that farm families were wearing knitted stockings in the 17th century. Other records at their disposal include estate inventories, and even a death register that records the death of a woman who supported herself by knitting stockings and spinning.

Based on their research, they conclude that twined knitting was known to Dalarna’s peasant population by the mid 1600s, though when it became a nearly ubiquitous skill among the women of Dalarna is less clear. What is clear is that by the mid 1700s, a visitor to Dalarna was going to encounter knit items everywhere he turned, both on the bodies of the people themselves, and available for purchase.

Whether the seed of twined knitting truly germinated in Dalarna, or whether the knowledge was brought from elsewhere, it is known that it spread quickly, and that it survives. By participating in this ancient craft, we make a choice to join a tried and proven handicraft that has passed on through the generations because of its beauty, its central integrity, and the very fact that its antiquity connects us to those who came before us. One of the great beauties of knitting history is that it connects us so intimately with the history of women. Knitting is an equal opportunity activity today, but in the past it was primarily a woman’s job, despite all male guilds in the Middle Ages. There’s something that feels really special about connecting backward with the less celebrated, but intensely vital, traditions, as well as having some connection to how an item as important as clothing is made.

* This was referred to in other entries, but most knitting information in this post comes from the book Twined Knitting, by Birgitta Dandanell and Ulla Danielsson.  The book is currently out of print.

Twined Knitting – History Pt. 1

November 16, 2006

There’s nothing that can make you feel more like an inferior knitter than opening the book Twined Knitting by Birgitta Dandanell and Ulla Danielsson, and noting the many, many pictures of women toting small children and farm implements about as they work industriously on a beautifully detailed piece of knitting. It also brings home the fact that knitting used to be a more utilitarian part of everyday life with a small bump. I’ll quote here the first three sentences of the book:

“‘An industrious knitter could just about finish a man’s stocking in a 15 kilometer stretch of even, easy walking.’ So said an 80-year old woman from Leksand in the 1890’s. While certainly not true, it expresses the diligence of Swedish knitters at the time.”

Well, thank heavens it’s not true. I think we’ve all got enough to feel inferior about without thinking we should be capable of walking 15 kilometers and knitting a stocking at the same time. Nonetheless, it is true that knitting was not something that Swedish women did to the exclusion of other activities. One woman born in 1890 described how her mother taught her to hold a rake under her arm and thus leave her hands free to knit.

The summer months were often given over to knitting, meaning that by the time winter rolled around, a family would have a good stock of socks, mittens, and other winter necessities. These were all knit in the style known as twined knitting (tvåändsstickning). Twined knitting differs from other forms of knitting in its extreme durability, its incredible warmth, and its unusual stiffness, which meant that the fabric held its shape.

All of these qualities, as you can imagine, were useful during the cold Swedish winter. (The Cold Swedish Winter, coincidentally, is the name of a song by Jens Lekman. He has nothing to do with knitting at all, but I encourage you to check him out.) Mittens and stockings needed to hold up through work and weather, and the inflexible and thick fabric created by twined knitting was perfect for the job.

Knitting was not a uniform art throughout Sweden. In parts of Sweden, the Norwegian tradition of using the purl side of mittens on the outside was common, while in other areas, the knit side was the one favored. Naturally, the Norwegian crossovers occurred close to the Norwegian border, and it seems that Swedish knitting similarly influenced Norwegian knitters. Early drawings show Norwegian knitters of the 19th century plugging away at their twined knitting.

We can see, then, that twined knitting, though rarely used and nearly unknown today, was a common and useful tool that Scandanavian knitters have utilized with great results. I’ll continue the history of twined knitting in a future entry. As to how I intend to use it myself – well, obviously the winter months in California simply don’t have the bite of a frigid Northern icestorm, but still, my extremities begin to turn blue with cold. I’m thinking that the stiffness and warmth of the cloth would make this technique perfect for slippers.

Twined Knitting

October 19, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, I checked a book out of the library for reading in my downtime. It just looked like an interesting book, so I thought I’d try to read it when I had a chance. It’s called Twined Knitting, and it’s by Brigitta Dandanell and Ulla Danielsson. I’m finally getting a look at it now, and it’s amazing! I looked it up on Amazon in the hopes of purchasing a copy, and sadly, it’s out of print and starts at $57.95. I suppose the book is famous in the annals of knitting history and I’m only now coming to it, but I have come to it.

It would be a shame to let this book fall by the wayside. Here’s what I’m going to do. I may not have the best camera, I may not be the best photographer, but I’m going to renew the book, Xerox some of the charts and pictures, and I’m going to start learning twined knitting, which I will update on here with picture of my progress and tutorials as well. Since I’m going to be learning, I’ll be making a lot of mistakes, but at the very least I can pass on some of the information in this wonderful book. Knitty has a nice tutorial to get anyone started with twined knitting, so that seems like a good place to start, and then we’ll take it from there. Really, in many ways the twined knitting is the least of it. It’s more that this book contains so many charts and patterns the likes of which I’ve never seen, and I need to be able to try them out.

I’ll also be transcribing some of the information here about the history of knitting in Sweden. I’m already amazed by the wealth of information in this book, and I’ve barely cracked the surface, so to speak. Wowza.

Twined Knitting