UPDATE: AN EASY TO PRINT FULL PAGE VERSION OF THIS DESIGN IS NOW AVAILABLE AT THE EMBROIDERY PATTERNS LINK, ABOVE.
I met my major deadline today, and am beginning to decompress. The best way to do that is to think of something completely different, so I’ve begun to contemplate patterns in general, with some idle thought to my Spanish hat. So I began playing with motifs I have lying around. Like this one
I don’t think this particular one is great for the hat, but I have an odd fondness for it, plain as it is. As the source annotation states, it’s one of the patterns I included in The New Carolingian Modelbook. While it looks like it would be at home as a border on the wall of a 1950s era tiled bathroom, it does in fact date back to 1546 by specific annotation. It may well have appeared elsewhere, although most of the da Sera patterns are pretty unique to his books. (If you think pattern piracy is rife these days, you’ll not be surprised by 16th century publishing ethics).
This particular pattern would work as nicely for stranding or for knit/purl textures as it does in cross stitch or other forms of counted thread embroidery. In fact it would have a number of advantages if done in knit/purl:
- Complete reversibility
- Low curl factor – roughly equivalent amounts of knit and purl
- Deep texturing – the knit/purl sections would pull in a bit like ribbing unless strongly blocked
- Ease of memorization – purl rows mimic the lay of the knit rows below them, and there are only two different row patternings, alternating blocks of k2, p2, and alternating blocks of k6, p6
So I put it here in part to make up for the consternation I caused with yesterday’s subject line.
As promised, here is my experimental foray at the wrapping technique used on the 18th Century Spanish hat from the V&A’s photo collection.
I tried out three different methods of making the floats. First, this is the second swatch. My initial attempt was working this in the flat. It was a mess. So I switched to working in the round, on the principle that the inspiring hat was probably knit in the round.
The largest section on the bottom (green arrow in the photo) was done using Tamar’s suggested method – bringing the yarn to the front of the work, slipping the stitches to be wrapped purlwise, moving the yarn to the back of the work, returning the slipped stitches to the left hand needle and then knitting them off. You can see that it works nicely, but has a tendency to distort the stitch immediately preceding the wrapped segment. This is most evident in the columns of wraps, in which the same stitches are wrapped on several succeeding rows to produce a vertical column. It’s still there on the area where I shifted the wraps to produce a diagonal, but it is less evident.
The second section (red arrow) was done using the method I first posited – moving the yarn to the back of the work, slipping the stitches purlwise, bringing the yarn to the front of the work, returning the slipped stitches to the left hand needle, tucking the working yarn behind again, and then knitting off the formerly slipped stitches. It has slightly different weaknesses than Tamar’s method. In this case, I seem to be more prone to drawing the loop too tightly, and there is also a slight distortion of the stitch immediately preceding the wrapped section. It does however look just a little bit neater to me.
The third method (blue arrow) was one that came to me while I was fiddling with the other two. I worked those final two rows of wraps not as wraps, but in two passes. On the first pass I brought the yarn to the front, slipped the stitches that I wanted to “wrap”, returned the yarn to the back, slipped the plain stitches after them, brought the yarn to the front, slipped the “wrap” stitches, returned the yarn to the back, and slipped the plain all the way around. This laid one continuous thread in a single loop around my work. Then I knitted off the entire row. You can see I had time to do this twice. This does make a neater line than the wrapped methods, but has other drawbacks. First and foremost – it’s hard to keep an even tension on the continuous loop as it’s carried around the entire piece. Second, having a single continuous loop limits knitting’s natural elasticity. While this might be a useful technique to help maintain tightness in areas you don’t want to stretch out (like on the cuffs of an all-cotton sweater), I don’t think it is optimal for a hat.
Now going back and looking at the V&A picture again, it does look like there’s slight distortion of the stitches immediately before the wraps, and the wraps do look more like the slightly bowed ones produced by both Tamar’s and my posited methods. Without seeing the artifact itself, it’s hard to say which of the two was used. I lean to mine, just because I can control the distortion a little bit better with it than with hers, but both are functionally equivalent, and I’d say both are possible use case candidates that can’t be entirely ruled out without actually seeing the artifact’s front and back, both close-up.
Back to that red Spanish hat. Several people wrote in with comments that deserve further testing.
First, Nancy and Jean suggested that it might have been done with two-end knitting or Tvndsstickning (also called Twined Knitting). I haven’t played with this technique yet, but from the appearance of the side sporting the standings in this Knitty article, I have my doubts on its application for this purpose. It looks like each individual stitch in this technique bears a wrap. The Spanish Hat clearly shows longer floats that wrap several stitches together. The twined/two-end knitting technique does look very interesting, and could clearly be used not only to make the double thick fabric for which it is justly famed, but might also have additional decorative implications if the twisting was shunted from back to front and vice versa, following a simple geometric pattern. But I don’t think it was employed on this hat.
Tamar (of the infinite needlework library) also wrote with another simpler suggestion. She was able to get a closer look at the bottom edge of the hat in the V&A’s picture. She says:
Especially at the bottom of the picture on the V&A site,
you can see the wrap yarn coming directly from the bottom
of the knit stitch to the right. So the wrap goes
immediately in front of a group of stitches.
I haven’t tested it, but perhaps the wrap is done first
around the previous row’s stitches, and then they are
This makes sense, and would probably be a bit less fiddly than knitting and then the wrapping in the same row method I posited on Friday. I’ll test out both wrapping methods, possibly tonight, to see. If all goes well, I’ll put down my lace shawl and do up a quick hat pattern using my findings. It would be highly cool to reverse engineer a knitting technique of the 1700s, and rescue it from historical obscurity!