Knitting History Detective

I'm a big fan of PBS's History Detectives program, in part because it goes beyond merely looking at an object but also tries to uncloak the object's historical story. And now PieceWork has its own history detective!

A child's sweater rescued from the dustbin on the page of a vintage pattern book showing the exact pattern for the sweater—a serendipitous find.

Susan Strawn, longtime supporter of and contributor to PieceWork and an associate professor who teaches the history of dress, agreed to share her detective skills in our first "PieceWork Presents" DVD. In Knits of Yore: A Close Look at Some Curious, Perplexing, and Estimable Knitted Objects from the Past 200 Years, Susan thoughtfully explains why knitting matters, how it is our "shared heritage," and how patterns from the past can be adapted for contemporary use. This is just like sitting in your living room curled up in the wingback with Susan on the sofa surrounded by an amazing array of knitted treasures. Susan takes an in-depth look at a variety of knitting and adds the rich, historical context for each item—when was it made, who may have made it, why was it made.

Think "glow-in-the-dark" needles are a 21st-century invention? Nope, Susan discovered a patent for them filed during World War I.

Ever heard of America's Silk Road? Susan explains that the demand in the early decades of the 20th century for silk from Japan to supply yarn companies in New England was so great that special trains loaded with silk sped across the country.

An array of knitted mittens; the reproduction of a medieval mitten is in the lower right.

Believe medieval knitters didn't embellish their work? Susan knitted a replica of a child's mitten now in a London museum complete with its very sweet decorative band.

Is there a relationship between pockets and knitted bags? You bet, and Susan explains it.

Can you imagine the excitement you would feel when you opened a vintage pattern book and saw the pattern for a baby sweater that you had just found in an antique store? Susan can.

From potholders to snowsuits for baby, from a random decrease in a medieval mitten to a purl spiral in lace stockings, Susan's passion for and knowledge of knitting shines in Knits of Yore. And there's more: she demonstrates various techniques, including a 1930s drop-stitch pattern, a picot edge for socks, and a spiral panel for a cap and provides downloadable patterns for lace stockings and the medieval baby mittens.

Download the pattern for these delicate lacy knitted stockings from Knits of Yore.

As with any good detective, Susan is continually on the lookout for clues to solve more knitting mysteries, and she keeps asking questions about this glorious craft we call knitting. Pop this DVD in, get settled in your most comfy chair, and indulge yourself. I think you're going to love what she has detected and shares in Knits of Yore!



                         Jeane Hutchins




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