Exploring the History of Needlework

Danish polar explorer Knud Rasmussen (1879–1933). His sweater has a typical Faroese pattern. Collection of the National Library, Copenhagen, Denmark. Photograph © of the National Library, Copenhagen.
Lita Rosing-Schow's classic Icelander. She made the sweater using traditional techniques, including steeking.

I've always admired colorwork sweaters, and those with small repeating patterns are particularly attractive to me.

In the July/August issue of PieceWork magazine, there's a story by Carol Huebscher Rhoades about a group of Danish explorers who sailed from Denmark to Greenland in a ship named Danmark. They spent two years mapping in Greenland, and when they were ready to return, they found the Danmark trapped in ice.

Although there were some casualties, the group had done its best to prepare for the winter, with warm clothes that included patterned sweaters knitted in the Faroe Islands. These sweaters were known as "Icelanders," and they were hand knit and sold by Faroe Island knitters for about four crowns, which is less than one U.S. dollar in today's money.

An example of this sweater is shown on Danish polar explorer Knud Rassmussen, in the photo at left, and a modern-day version is shown below left.

Here's PieceWork editor Jeane Hutchins to tell you more about all of the interesting stuff in this exciting, informative issue.

Discovering History in Needlework

This issue of PieceWork is all about discovery. Imagine opening a trunk and finding your grandmother's satin wedding gown as well as a special linen duster with lapels and cuffs worked in exquisite Irish crochet that belonged to your great-grandmother. That's what happened to Laura Esther Ricketts, who tells her story in "Edith Graham Mayo's Linen Duster with Irish Crochet Accents."

A beautiful Yap Lace motif

Bart Elwell discovered Yap Lace, an intriguing edging combining crochet and needle lace, in an 1874 issue of Peterson's Magazine. Although he found it a "brain-teasing maze of parts that build upon each other," he advises that "the results are well worth the effort." And they (shown at left) certainly are.

Who was Mrs. Jane Weaver, whose Yap Lace was one of dozens of patterns attributed to her that appeared in decades of Peterson's? In her article "Fancywork for Charity during the Civil-War Years" (September/October 2013), Beverly Gordon observes that many of the patterns for "crocheted flowerpot holders, birdcage covers, baskets, tablecloths, antimacassars, caps, and purses" that women produced for fundraising events during the war years "First appeared in Peterson's Magazine as ‘novelties of the month' by Mrs. Jane Weaver. (Weaver also offered patterns for sewing, knitting, and embroidery projects. Her designs commonly were reproduced without credit in fancywork manuals or other magazines. . . .)."

Internet searches for Weaver by Beverly, Bart, and the PieceWork staff have turned up only references to her patterns. Was she a member of the Peterson's staff? Where did she live? Was there really a Mr. Weaver? If you know anything about her, please let us know.

PieceWork's ongoing exploration of needlework's past is filled with new discoveries. They remind me of this quote by Albert Einstein: "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."

Subscribe to PieceWork; you'll discover more about needlework's history, and satisfy (or further whet!) your own curiosity.

P.S. Do you have knitting history in your family? Leave a comment and share it with us!

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