Knitting at Cranford

Anyone who reads Knitting Daily, even somewhat regularly, knows that I love an old-timey book series, TV series, or movie. Love them. And when there's knitting featured in said old-timiness, more's the better.

Prudence Cap or Neck Ruff for Miss Pole. This pattern originally appeared in The Lady's Assistant for Executing Useful and Fancy Designs in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work, by Mrs. Jane Gaugain.
Muffatees for Miss Pole. This pattern originally appeared in The Accompaniment to Second Volume of Mrs. Gaugain's Work on Knitting, Netting, and Crochet.

Cranfield is one of those books/PBS series in which the characters knit.If you haven't read the spectacular series of books, written by Elizabeth Gaskell from 1851 through 1853, you have a treat in store! The PBS series based on the books is a must-see. It stars Judi Dench as one of the two spinster sisters who star in the series, and who are the doyennes of the sleepy English countryside village of Cranford. Their friends Miss Pole, Mrs. Forrest, and Miss Barker make up their social circle. And when the Jenkyns family moves to Cranford, the action commences.

In the January/February 2013 issue of PieceWork magazine, Mary Lycan writes about Cranford and the knitting that takes place. Here's a bit from that article:

"The ladies of Cranford, especially Miss Matty and Miss Pole, knit for hours at a stretch. A chance remark by the newly arrived Captain Brown's daughter, Miss Jessie Brown, both offends the genteel sensibilities of the ladies of Cranford and opens a portal for today's knitters into historically responsible fan fiction:

'[Miss Deborah Jenkyns] had been a good deal annoyed by Miss Jessie Brown's unguarded admission (à propos of Shetland wool) that she had an uncle, her mother's brother, who was a shopkeeper in Edinburgh. Miss Jenkyns tried to drown this confession by a terrible cough-for the Honourable Mrs. Jamieson was sitting at the cardtable nearest Miss Jessie, and what would she say or think if she found out she was in the same room with a shopkeeper's niece! But Miss Jessie Brown (who had no tact, as we all agreed the next morning) would repeat the information and assure Miss Pole she could easily get her the identical Shetland wool required "through my uncle, who has the best assortment of Shetland goods of any one in Edinbro.'"

An 1880s Local Yarn Shop

Jane Alison was born in 1804 in Dalkeith, Scotland, the daughter of a tailor and his wife who later moved to Edinburgh. In 1823, she married John James Gaugain of Edinburgh, who owned a Berlin-work and ladies' fancywork shop during the 1830s and later. By 1840, the shop was located at 63 George Street, and Jane was managing it.

It is easy to imagine Mrs. Gaugain as the local yarn store proprietress of George Street, helping new or unskilled knitters decide what to buy and teaching them how to knit it. By 1836, she had published three patterns, or "receipts," for her friends and was well on her way to compiling, selecting, editing, and beta-testing many more.

Beginning in 1840, she published a series of best-selling books of knitting, netting, and crochet patterns. Her knitting patterns are unusually detailed for the period, specifying the type of yarn and size of needle to be used. For complex patterns, she provides an introductory paragraph describing the garment structure, followed by step-by-step "blind follower" instructions. She well understood the challenge of technical writing, accepting that clarity sometimes requires repetition: "Timen no occasion ought the learner to be led to conjecture what is meant."

Most notably, Mrs. Gaugain invented and promulgated a finely detailed set of alphabetical abbreviations for knitting terms that enabled her to describe techniques with an unusual degree of sophistication. For instance, whereas her contemporaries might have written "take in" for any type of decrease, Mrs. Gaugain documented six different methods of decreasing, each abbreviated with its own variant of the letter T. Her patterns are so clear that modern knitters, once provided with the key to her symbols, can knit directly from them.

Mrs. Gaugain also practiced what we now call vertical integration of her business. Her earlier books advertised knitting instruction at the "Establishment" on George Street; her later ones offered a mail-order service to purchasers of her goods anywhere in Britain. Perhaps she even sent wool and instructions to Cranford.

—Mary Lycan, PieceWork, Jan/Feb 2013

Wonderful! I can't get enough of this type of information, and PieceWork magazine is the master of presenting it. Subscribe now so you don't miss anything!


P.S. Have you read the Cranford books or watched the PBS series? Leave a comment below and let us know what you thought!

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