Knitting's Rich History

PieceWork’s first annual issue devoted to historical knitting was January/February 2007. On the time-certainly-flies front, we just produced our 8th issue!

Mittens incorporating Märta Stina Abrahamsdotter’s technique. Photo by Joe Coca.

That milestone prompted me to take a trip down memory lane to revisit the previous issues, each packed with information on knitting’s rich history, some of it and many of the knitters little known before they found their way into the pages of PieceWork.

Ulrika Bos Kerttu in the January/February 2007 brought us “Märta Stina Abrahamsdotter and Her Knitted Coverlets.” What an amazing women Märta Stina was. Born in 1825, she lived a most unconventional life in northern Sweden—she knitted bed covers when everyone else wove them; she lived with a man who was not her husband; she built a brick oven; she had short hair when others wore their long hair in a bun. Her coverlets are spectacular and inventive. Ulrika shared Märta Stina's technique for avoiding long strands on the back of the work:

For best results, use the Continental method of knitting and hold both yarns in the left hand. The color you are knitting with, the dominant strand, is placed over the index and middle fingers, near the fingernails. The other strand, or float, lies only over the index finger and closer to the knuckle, “inside” the dominant yarn. When more than two stitches of the same color are worked, pick up the dominant color from under the float for the first stitch and over the float on the next stitch. When changing colors or working patterns with more than two stitches of the same color, reverse the positions of the yarns on your fingers so that the float becomes the dominant yarn. For a smooth surface without any floats showing through to the right side, follow these tips: If the stitch on the previous round is over the float, knit the corresponding stitch on the next round under the float; if the stitch is under the float on the previous round, knit that stitch over the float on the next round.

Knitted Rovaniemi mittens. Purchased at a shop in Santa Claus’ Village on the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi, Finland. Collection of Susanna Hansson. Photo by Joe Coca.

Leena Karinieme-Alve’s “From the Arctic Circle: Knitted Rovaniemi Mittens” in January/February 2008 showcases sawtooth-patterned mittens, which originated with the Sami people, the indigenous peoples of the north. Leena says, “When I was first introduced to the technique of sawtooth-patterned mittens, I soon realized that to execute it successfully requires great skill. The mittens are knitted in the round, but the pattern colors, found only on the backs, are not carried around, nor are they worked in intarsia…. Rather, the technique is a combination of both, with a twist—a technique utterly its own.”

Knitted and embroidered llama-shaped purse with coins attached. Bolivia. Late 19th to early 20th century. 4 inches (10.2 cm) tall. Collection of Cynthia LeCount Samaké. Photo by Joe Coca.

And there are so many other intriguing stories, techniques, and projects: “Maxine Tyler: Official Bear Knitter” (January/February 2008), “Andean Knitted Figure Purses” and “Eleanor Roosevelt and a Life of Knitting” (January/February 2009), “The Brewster Stocking” knitted between 1620 and 1640 and “Knitting for the Stage” (January/February 2010).

And now the first four Historical Knitting Special Issues of PieceWork are available on one CD. Going from the 16th century to the 21st in just a few clicks—how swell!