Just a Little Bit of History Repeating

It is no secret that I have a passion for traditional and historical information on both knitting and fibre art in general. Arans, Guernseys, Fair Isle, Dutch knitting, Peruvian knitting, Bosnian knitting, Shepherd’s knitting and crochet, Turkish socks, and medieval knitting and spinning have all featured in my blog at some point. Examples include this post and this post and this post and this post. Well, it’s been a few months since such a post, and I’ve a) found some new crafts to share, and b) have some updates to the ones I’ve discussed before and to my recources. Excited? So am I!

I’ll start with a wonderful recent post from a fellow Toronto blogger (who also happens to run Wise Daughters) on her great aunts’ samplers and the emotional connection we have to tradition and herilooms.

I was perhaps most excited to find out about the ancient art of nålebinding. Nålebinding is a Danish word literally meaning “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding”, also spelled naalbinding, nålbinding or naalebinding. In English it is known as “knotless netting,” “knotless knitting,” or “single needle knitting” according to Wikipedia and this blogger. It is a predecesor to knitting that was used by the Vikings and employed only one needle. I have a large list of links indexed in my Delicious account if you’re interested in finding out more. This is what it looks like:

Click mittens photo to see more. Heck, click it to see a whole lot more pretty pictures of Northern European reconstructionist living. Including lots of textiles. I’m seriously drooling a little bit right now… Here’s the permalink to the photographer’s Flickr.

Nålebinding techniques were not limited to the Vikings. Many cultures used single-needle tools to make knitted-like fabric. Some of the different stitch styles can be found in my Delicious links, as mentioned above. It is still practiced in parts of Peru. They use it to make bracelets. It used to be used for hats like these before knitting needles were introduced:

Speaking of Peru, I found another great article on textiles in that country in an issue of Twist Collective.

Nålebinding was even practiced in ancient Egypt too, where these socks are from.

Did you know that true knitting, meaning the less sloppy two stick variety, started in Egypt? At least that is where the earliest example has been found, dating to about 1000 CE. Knitty has a good overview of the beginnings of our favourite craft here.

I also need to share Kate Davies’ blog with you. I mentioned her, though not by name, in my Storytelling and Fibre Art post as a source for info on Estonian knitting. Little did I know the treasure-trove I had stumbled across. Suffice it to say she is a historian specializing in textiles who publishes her own e-zine called Textisles. She’s where I found out about the Irish Hands book I discuss below.

Antique pattern library is another amazing recource I recently stumbled across while trying to help a patron at work find J.P. Coates’ filet crochet book on insertions by Anne Champe Orr from 1910. It has hundred of now public domain pattern books available as pdf downloads. My iPad is now full of ‘em. I’ve also been pinning all kinds of other free, public domain patterns on my History and Folklore of Crafts and Vintage boards on Pinterest since then…

Another cool resource I’m glad I found is this great site by Gordon Reid on the history and creation of ganseys and guernseys. He led me to this book:

Cornish Guernseys & Knit-Frocks by Mary Wright. It’s short, but absolute perfection. Read it. Now.

The beautiful free wool I recently acquired from a generous de-stashing friend, which you may remember from this post, got me interested in the mill it came from – Briggs and Little in New Brunswick. They pride themselves on being Canada’s oldest woolen mill and use only Canadian pure wool. They have also published a book called Knits from the North Country that I would really like to get my hands on. Alas, it’s quite expensive and a little too obscure for libraries to carry. Maybe one day…

Speaking of Canadian knitwear…

I recently took out Sylvia Olsen‘s Working With Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater from the library and am quite impressed so far.

Ms. Olsen has also written a very charming advanced picture book on the subject called Yetsa’s Sweater:

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Speaking of Canadian traditions, I want to include Marilyn I. Walker’s Ontario Heritage Quilts. It isn’t knitting related, but it’s still a handicraft and many knitters quilt and quilters knit, so there. I was just excited to find out we even have heritage quilts in Ontario.

Another book I’ve been coveting is Annemor Sundbø‘s Invisible Threads in Knitting. It is essentially her richly illustrated musings on knitting history based on years spent, and treasures found, in the Torridal Tweed factory she acquired in the the early 1980s. Unfortunately it is mysteriously hard to find. Unlike her other, very popular, books, this one is only available for sale through her website. The large format and glossy photos also help to make it rather expensive. Luckily, Ottawa Public Library owns a copy, so I put in a request with my library to borrow it from them (called an inter-library loan). This is why Worldcat is my friend :). My review? The accuracy of all of the information is suspect (Sundbø does repeatedly remind the reader that these are her personal observations), but still highly worth a read. She’s one of knitting’s gurus, afterall.

Irish Hands by Sybil Connolly is the book that Kate Davies recommended. It is full of information and beautiful photography. And it’s not all romantic Celtic knot work. Sybil Connolly was (she sadly passed in 1998) Ireland’s grand dame of textiles – she knew her stuff. Since it’s an older book, it is very easy to find copies of this on used book sites for quite cheap.

I’ve mentioned Nicki Epstein’s wonderful Knitting on Top of the World in pervious posts. I recently was given a copy of Lela Nargi’s Knitting Around the World and must say it gives Epstein’s work a pretty good run for its money. I think it actually has more historical information than Epstein’s does.

B.T. Batsford Publishing’s “Complete Book of Traditional…” series is older, but also worth a look (though I’m not a fan of the Aran one).

Fair Isle Knitting by Sheila McGregor

Aran Knitting by Shelagh Hollingworth

Scandinavian Knitting by Sheila McGregor

Traditional Knitting by Rae Compton

Speaking of Scandinavian knitting, another great book is Annemor Sundbø’s Norwegian Mittens and Gloves.

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There is also this really cute little book by Robin Hansen called Sunny’s Mittens. Similar to Yetsa’s Sweater, it is a picture books about a girl learning to knit from her grandmother. However in this story, they are making Swedish folk mittens called Lovikka mittens.

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A pair of Lovikka mittens:

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Finally, we have Wrapped in Lace: Knitted Heirloom Designs from Around the World by Margaret Stove. Though Interweave Press is often critiqued for the historical accuracy of some of the books it publishes, I have to say that it looks like Stove has really done her research in this one. Plus, the creations throughout are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

And that’s a wrap! (Sorry, bad pun). All of the resources I’ve used can be found not only in the posts concerning them, but also on my links page as well.