Archaeology & Knitting

Knitted cotton stocking with garter-stitch heel flap excavated at the colonial town of Magdalena de Cao Viejo in Peru. Photo by Meredith Keffer.

The discoveries made by PieceWork’s indomitable contributors constantly amaze me. Those presented in the January/February 2014 issue, our eighth annual issue on historical knitting, are no exception. Three articles deal with knitting brought to light in archaeological excavations, and each is accompanied by a project inspired by the article.

A cap discovered during the 1995 underwater archaeological excavation of the General Carleton, which sank in 1785 off the coast of Poland. The handknitted cap most likely was commercially made in Yorkshire, England, from dyed and natural wool yarn. Collection of the Polish Maritime Museum, Gdansk, Poland. (CMM-HZ-2719). Photo courtesy and © of the Polish Maritime Museum.

Carrie Brezine takes you to the north coast of Peru, where “[e ]xcavations of the colonial town of Magdalena de Cao Viejo have provided another textile first: the first material evidence of knitting in the Americas” (“The Oldest Knitting in the New World”). Half a world away, M. Elaine MacKay discusses mariners’ clothing recovered in the excavation of a Basque whaling station in Red Bay, Labrador (“Wool, Whaling, and the Red Bay Burial: Resurrecting a Sixteenth-Century Basque Whaling Cap”). And Penelope Lister Hemingway writes of the ill-fated London-bound English merchant ship General Carleton, which sank in a storm off the coast of Poland in 1785. Two centuries later, after a scuba diver discovered the wreck, the Polish Maritime Museum in Gdansk spent several seasons exploring it and salvaging artifacts, including numerous articles of knitted clothing (“Knitting from the Ocean Floor: Treasures from the General Carleton”).

Chris Bridle recounts events from the lives of Basque whalers in Red Bay, Labrador, as part of his work at Parks Canada. His attire, including his knitted cap, was based on textiles excavated from the burial site. Photo by and courtesy of Loretta Decker.

The Red Bay and General Carleton excavations are unusual in yielding rare examples of workingmen’s clothing, which ordinarily would have been worn until they wore out. Most surviving examples of historical clothing belonged to royalty or the well-to-do.

Each issue of PieceWork celebrates the rich history of knitting. Take a look at the 8th annual Historical Knitting issue for a preview. Or subscribe and don’t miss a single issue.


My very best wishes for a New Year filled with joy!