Monday, 25 April 2016

Knitted Pouch

Lucia de Moranza 
Ealdormere Pentathlon A.S. L 

I have been exploring and reading about the 16th century model books, with their charted (and uncharted) patterns, and while the assumption that they were used for lace and embroidery is well established, it is unclear how much (if at all) they were used for knitting. I decided to see how well suited some of the charted patterns might work, both a small repeating pattern and a larger motif pattern might work in a knitted pouch, especially after falling in love with the griffon that I’d already embroidered on my sampler. He simply had to be knit up for comparison. The griffon pattern came from Federic Vinciolo’s "Singvliers Et Novveaux Povrtraicts", first published in 1587, this is from the 1606 edition. The little curlicue stripe came from Giovanni Ostaus’ “La Vera Perfezione del Disegno”, 1561. Both patterns have been included in Appendix 1. The little X stripe wasn’t from a pattern, it’s just little X’s. 

I decided to make a knitted pouch using my chosen designs. While there are not a lot of knitted pouches in the extant record, there are a handful that look very much like modern fair isle, which is often charted exactly as the early model books are. (Figures 1 – 3) While many of these little motifs and stripes are simple enough that charting wouldn’t be required, I know personally, even simple motifs are easier to work when surrounded by distractions when you can glance at a little reminder chart. I wanted to use the larger griffon motif as a central image and while there are no extant pouches that mimic this look exactly, I got close with a money pouch from 13th century Spain. (Figure 4). To move away from pouches a moment, but over to other extant knitting, there are a lot of excellent examples of combining a larger motif with smaller stripes in 16th century ecclesiastical gloves from Italy. (Figures 5 and 6.) The push pin holding the glove in Figure 6 to the board gives an excellent measure of the gauge of that piece in particular, 8 stitches per cm, or 20 stitches per inch. The combination of extant silk pouches and the potential of stripes mixed with larger motifs from the gloves gave me sufficient proof of concept to get this project started. 

I used size 30/2 silk that was left over from other projects, dyed half with madder. My needles are 1.0 mm stainless steel double pointed needles that I acquired off the internet. I used long tail cast on to get 168 stitches onto the needles and so it began. 

I originally had planned on using the 0.75mm needles, but after a row or two, it was clear that this silk was too loosely spun to make that feasible, the splitting of the plies was a constant fight, so I went back to the 1.0mm needles. As an added bonus, the 1.0 mm needles gave me a gauge of 8 stitches / cm (20 stitches / inch) in the colour work section, which matches exactly with the gauge of the gloves in Figure 6. 

There is little evidence that the tops of the pouches had anything to keep them from rolling other than faith and good blocking, but I was unable to muster up that faith and did a small section of garter stitch. My eyelets are a simple yo, k2tog spaced evenly around to give the cord somewhere to go. The knitted fabric is too close together to simply thread a cord through between the stitches as one might at a larger gauge. I finished the pouch off with a three needle bind off. The cord has been braided from the same silk used to make the pouch. 

Colour work knitting is not my preferred knitting (I usually give it another crack about once a decade and it was due another attempt), and while I am both familiar and comfortable with thin thread and tiny needles, these are smaller needles than I’ve knit with before. I have knit this silk before, but in a lace context which had comparatively giant needles (3.0mm) The size quickly became fairly natural, although the splitting of this silk was an eternal frustration. 

I did not fall in love with colour work over the course of this project, quite the opposite. I remembered quite clearly why I do not do a whole lot of colour work projects. Some of that irritation might account for the tension issues between the plain top of the piece and the colour work middle, although stranded knitting naturally pulls in, so my cranky is probably not entirely to blame. I’m not sure how to account for that in future projects, as my attempt to use a smaller needle for the top was just not practical. It might be something that more practice with colour work will bring, although there is unlikely to be a lot more practice anytime soon. If I was doing this piece again, I would dispense with the garter stitch at the top and have faith that it will hold, or at least not roll so badly as to be much of a problem. I would put my lacing holes higher on the piece, which would probably help the rolling in and of itself. I would have fewer plain stitches between the two griffons, as while it has good aesthetic sense, acres of carrying the contrast colour is a poor use of expensive silk. It is my theory that few of these were probably made simply because motifs use a lot of silk that isn’t seen, and two colour stripes are much more efficient on materials and a whole lot faster as an added bonus. To save that ‘waste’ for the church’s gloves is an interesting consideration. 

I do plan to continue knitting at period gauge, with tiny needles and fine silk, but probably either plain colours, or basic stripes until I’ve forgotten how much I disliked colour work and then all bets are off on what I’ll come up with next. I would be curious to see how stranded silk versus spun silk would look when knit up, and that’s probably something else I will explore in future. 


Vinciolo, Federic - "Singvliers Et Novveaux Povrtraicts" 1606. 

Ostaus, Giovanni. “La Vera Perfezione del Disegno” 1561 - 

Rutt, Richard. History of Hand Knitting. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1987. 

Turnau, Irena. History of Knitting before Mass Production. Warszawa: Instytur Historii Kultury Materialnej, 1991. 

Appendix 1 

Design from: La Vera Perfezione Del Disegno Per Punti E Ricami by Giovanni Ostaus, 1591. Reproduced in 1909 by Elisa Ricci 

Design from Federic Vinciolo - "Singvliers Et Novveaux Povrtraicts" First published in 1587, this is from the 1606 edition.

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