A Page From the Past

I'm a history buff. Masterpiece Theater? Yes, please. Historical novels? Don't mind if I do. And knitting history? Sign me up!

The new issue of Knitting Traditions is full of wonderful historical information paired with knitting patterns that current designers have updated for modern-day knitters. I found the following article fascinating, and I thought you would enjoy it, too.

Lesley O'Connell Edwards's shell-patterned bag inspired by a nineteenth-century Cornelia Mee pattern. The bag is knit in 16 different shades of Appleton's Crewel wool. (Photograph by Joe Coca)

Cornelia Mee: A 19th-Century Knitting Entrepreneur and Writer

Cornelia Mee was one of the first writers of knitting books in the United Kingdom and a noted proprietor of needlework establishments, first in Bath and then in London. Her career extended from the 1840s, when knitting was a novelty for the upper classes, to the beginning of the 1870s. She wrote prolifically on knitting, netting, and crochet, and published a book on tatting. Her early books were expensive; her later ones, like those of many of her contemporaries, were smaller and less expensive. She taught classes in needlework, allegedly traveled to the Continent to select new designs, and produced instructions and patterns prodigiously, all the while raising a family and managing a populous household.

In 1837, Cornelia married Charles Mee, who was born in 1812 and seems to have been a gentleman. About 1840, the Mees opened a "Berlin warehouse" (an establishment that sold Berlin wool and other needlework supplies) in Bath. They had two children, one in 1839 and the other in 1841.

In 1842, Cornelia published her first book, A Manual of Knitting, Netting and Crochet Work. A marriage, two pregnancies, a thriving retail business, and a publishing program, all in the space of five years-what energy and initiative she must have had to accomplish all this!

Berlin wool threads (similar to today's Appleton's crewel wool) and Berlin patterns were relatively new in England but had gained great popularity with women of the upper classes, who had leisure time for fancywork. Berlin (or German) wool was a fine merino, dyed in a wide variety of colors primarily for doing pictorial canvaswork but later also for fancy knitting. It was sold in two thicknesses: single and double.


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Toward the end of her life, Cornelia also was venturing into publishing "receipts" printed separately on cards that were then held together in stiff paper sleeves instead of bound in book form. The individual card could then be carried in one's workbag. The first and second series of Bijou Receipts for Baby's Wardrobe were published this way, as was the First Series of Bijou Receipts for Knitting and Crochet.

Cornelia Mee died in November 1875. Charles died in Bath in 1888. Cornelia's business, run by her daughter Mary, continued on until 1886. The books, on the other hand, had an influence far beyond their time and place. Just imagine the quantities of knitted, crocheted, and embroidered work that were spawned by her publishing efforts and the pleasure and industry they provided to British women of all stations.

—Lesley O'Connell Edwards, from Knitting Traditions, Fall 2012

What an admirable woman Cornelia was! One of the reasons I love Knitting Traditions is because the editors research people and literature from the historical knitting world that might have been forgotten. I'm grateful to them!

Get your history fix with the Fall 2012 issue of Knitting Traditions. It's available now!


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