Advice on knitting patterns/techniques for revolutionary war re-enactors
September 15, 2016 2:19 PM   Subscribe

My housemate who is recently retired has been supplementing her income with knitting projects. She has more or less saturated the local LARP scene with gloves, scarves and belt pouches, and has discovered that there is a local revolutionary war reenactment society that could use period-accurate knitted goods. Are there good resources out there for patterns, techniques, short-cuts, and so forth that would suit that sort of practical historical costuming?
posted by Karmakaze to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here is some advice from this page:

To the reenactors!

If you are an 18th C reenactor, please listen!

The very basics of 18th C knitting:
1) No Shawls.
2) No flat hand knitting. No straight needles with bobbles on one end. Knitting in the round presages flat by hundreds of years.
3) No Shawls.
4) No ribbing. None. Zilch. If you are wearing purchased machine knit gloves/stockings, if you can hide the ribs do so. If you can't, replace ASAP! There is No Excuse for any hand knit ribbing....that shows a lack of care and research (unless you have found an extant ribbed item, with a good provenance, in which case, TELL US!!!!!).
5) No shawls
6) frame knits are VERY fine, upwards of 20 sts/in, knitted flat and seamed. Should you choose to mimic this by hand, you have my admiration, but it's not demonstration appropriate! These are the only knits that should have sewn seams.
7) No shawls
8) DO NOT cuff a cap high like they do on Colonial House, unless you WANT to perpetuate farby reality TV (AKA crown or Jughead style, like the idiot in the old Archies cartoon). Caps should sit near the hair line (that you had as a child, should it be receding), and really should have a bit of space at the crown, for a simple one, or a lot, for stocking caps. I cannot find a period drawing with this style of cap....just can't find any! See these guys in their caps (Hogarth)? They are messy, caps ajar and falling off..but not tiny beanies, still. Soft, squashy caps....heavily fulled caps with brims sticking Jughead beanies!
9) (repeat with me.....) No shawls
10) no cables, almost no lace

She has some links on her page to some patterns.
posted by ReluctantViking at 3:31 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Richard Rutt's book A History of Hand Knitting is the classic text (it's out of print again, but a comparatively recent Interweave re-issue means that used copies are affordable). The Historic Knitting group on Ravelry is active and helpful.
posted by yarntheory at 6:53 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Also, the seventeenth-century Gunnister man's coin purse has ribbing at the top.)
posted by yarntheory at 7:00 PM on September 15, 2016

Yes, I'm very skeptical of this 'no ribbing' claim. It's just a simple combination of stitches that anyone could invent and, if anything, works better in wool than in more modern yarns. And it's obviously practical. Given the limited survival of these textiles (and lack of patterns), the idea that you could say with confidence that it wasn't used seems...not completely credible.
posted by praemunire at 8:08 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't answer the rest other than seconding yarntheory's recommended reference. You can find some good stuff on Pinterest too, but you have to be careful about provenance and accuracy. There are a lot of "authentic recreations!" that aren't. On the other hand you can come across some surprising treasures in links with references.

So, re ribbing: my born-in-1890 great-grandma was a knitter and her mother before her, and we have wool gloves great-great-grandma knit with ribbing. Note that this is a Norwegian family, however. They weren't much of a presence in the US at the time and locations of the Civil War, so Scandinavian knitting (as well as Balkan knitting, which also used ribbing) probably wasn't an influence. My other great-grandma was Dutch and also knit ribbing, but she was born in 1902 and we don't know what her mother knit. Pre-knitting there was nålbinding, which looks like knitting, but again it very much depends on who influenced what and where.
posted by fraula at 2:14 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

You may be interested in Joyce Meade's site The Historic Knit. She's UK and more 19th & early 20th C, but Joyce is a solid solid solid source. I've met her at an academic conference and she knows her stuff.

Joyce is definitely more of a valid source than that blog re-enactor upthread. I work with knitting professionally and have spent time with knitting archives. Ribbing is not a recent invention (I really want to insert a headtilt gif here) and shawls were practical outerwear for many people for a very long time. Someone has opinions but not very valid ones.

I would contact Joyce (details on her site) and if she cannot help, she will know *exactly* who to contact for late 18th C North American knitting.
posted by kariebookish at 5:16 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Went into a rabbit hole and found evidence of a 17th century purse which had ribbing at the top & intricate colourwork at a quite gentle 4 st/inch.

Sorry. derailed by the absurd no ribbing claim.
posted by kariebookish at 5:46 AM on September 16, 2016

Mara Riley's webpage has some interesting information and links.

For example, this is one of the articles she mentions, which is really interesting: Henshall, Audrey S. "Early Textiles Found in Scotland and Stuart Clothing and Other Articles from a late 17th Century Grave at Gunnister, Shetland" in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 86, 1951-52. You can find a pdf of the article linked here.
posted by gudrun at 6:06 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm very skeptical of the no ribbing claim, as well as the no shawl claim (now, if it was no knitted lace...). And the knitting in the round was done on long double pointed needles, not circular needles as many knitters do now (otoh, once it's off the needles, it's hard to tell).

Contact the local RW enactor group (or go to their website) before sinking a lot of time/money into this idea -- most groups are very picky about what their members wear/use, and it would be a shame if her things were unsuitable. The Historic Knitting group on Ravelry is a good place to start looking/asking. In general, caps, stockings, mittens/mitts, undervests. A plainworked miser's purse. A Civil War group may have more options for her output.
posted by jlkr at 8:18 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might find today's Atlas Obscura post useful:

How to Shop for the Revolutionary War
posted by MsMolly at 1:04 PM on September 21, 2016

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