[Repost of material originally appearing on 25 August 2006]

Like socks? Ever hear of the socks shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851? No? You’re in luck. The Victoria and Albert Museum never forgets. Their collections are now searchable on-line. A bit of poking around brings up this set of images, socks from that very exhibition, when all things Scots and the latest advances in machine knitting were the rage.

Now don’t poo-poo machine knitting. Sock machines of that time required quite a bit of hand manipulation. How about these socks – stockinette, with some openwork, finished off with hand embroidery, from the early 1840s?

Socks too mundane? Contemplate Sara Ann Cunliffe’s exquisite cotton lace baby gown, knit sometime in the late 1800s.

White cotton lace knitting too late for you? How about a brilliant 17th century silk and silver brocade jacket, with a thumbnail opinion that it was probably knit on needles and not a frame. What do you think. Cut and steeked? I think so. Even at 17 stitches per inch, I’d love to make one…

Looking for wool? How about an early 1800s baby ensemble that looks like it inspired Debbie Bliss.

There’s 19th century bead knitting, too. And (amazing to me) 18th century beaded knitting! Not to mention hand-knitted lace doilies from the Azores (1875-1900); 16th century liturgical gloves, a Shetland shawl to die for (19th century), and lots of other stuff from every era since knitting impinged on Western consciousness.

Of course, if you prefer stitching over knitting, especially Blackwork or monochrome embroidery, there’s some well-known examples of that there, too. Also samplers showing motifs straight from early modelbooks. Even an Egyptian piece from the 14th-16th century I’ve never seen before. I’m in heaven.

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