The Knits Abide

Susan Strawn's reproduction of
late-Medieval English mittens.

Five hundred years ago, a mother (or aunt or grandmother) in England knitted a pair of mittens for a small child. They had a neat little ribbed top, increases spaced randomly so they are scarcely noticeable, and a modestly decorative pattern band in contrasting hue at the wrist. These little design and structural details speak of the care and skill that went into them. If you've ever knitted for a special child, you will recognize the sentiment. Some things never change.

One of these mittens can be found in the archives of the Museum of London, and if you can't go there to see it, you can see a faithful replica on Susan Strawn's new DVD, Knits of Yore: A close look at some curious, perplexing, and estimable knitted objects from the past 200 years.  In this delightful presentation, Susan takes a close look at knitted relics from many times and places. You can learn more than you ever dreamed about the role of pockets and knitted bags in Western dress—and why men had to abandon pockets during Colonial times, while women hid theirs under their petticoats. You'll hear the story of an early settler captured by Indians and how her knitting helped save her life. You'll see knitted coifs from the Amana Colony in Iowa; baby soakers from post-World War II; knitting pattern books from the mid-nineteenth century and forward; and so much more that I'm not going to spoil by telling.

This is not a how-to video (though Susan shows a few basic but interesting techniques based on old pieces). It does include downloadable PDFs of a couple of lovely patterns—medieval mittens interpreted from the pair in the the Museum of London archives  and elegant lace stockings with a surprising twist. But best of all are the stories.

Susan, a contributor to PieceWork from its inception and a current member of PieceWork's editorial advisory panel, and an associate professor who teaches dress history, personal perspectives of dress, and surface design at Dominican University, is a great storyteller. She has researched deeply and tells wonderful tales of knitters of old. Knits of Yore is a couple of hours of entertaining insights, the kind that feed a knitter's creative soul. I hope you get a chance to watch it.


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