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So, as pinkleader mentioned, I knitted my first sock ever this weekend. No, not the one in the icon - I don't have pictures of the finished product yet (though pinkleader took some, as I recall).

It's a pretty lame sock, but I've never let being lame stop me before, and hey, it fits. I'm trying to put together some bits that I'm not worried about people touching for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival demo (we're listed as "medieval and renaissance textiles demo") in May, since it's a guarantee that by the end of the weekend, everything I put out will have been pawed over multiple times, even if it is attached to a display board (which it will be - no-one is walking off with my stuff).

I've done a lot of work with the public over the years - in addition to the Jamestown stuff, I've done outside demos, and as we all know, the general public is rife with misinformation about the past. I've had people question the colour of my clothes ("shouldn't you be in brown?"), the quality of my clothes ("didn't lower class people dress in rags?"), the food I've made (and a lot of "is that real?" questions), and it's all from an assumption that everyone in the 16th century dressed in brown and grey rags, ate like pigs, lived like pigs, and simply couldn't have nice things because "everything was much cruder then". Not only that, it was plain, dull-coloured, and drab.

The "dull drab plain" concept is simple enough to talk about - people accept the idea of dyes and people wanting bright colourful things pretty easily (once you tell them), but the idea that machine-made things are finer than hand-made things is a frustrating and difficult concept to correct. It comes from an understandable place - to show that something is hand made these days, it has to have slubs and mistakes, and look "rustic" to differentiate it from the mass-produced things most people use to furnish their lives. As a result, the mental image of "hand made" most people carry is that of American Primitive or folk art. How they reconcile that with the paintings of nobility, I'm not sure, but I assume they heavily divide things in their heads so that the upper classes are all fancy, and the lower classes all accessorize with mud.

I've even had friends complain that if they make something too well, people don't believe it's hand made, and so they have to leave work unfinished, or at a level they do not consider high quality, so the general public "knows" it is really hand crafted.

Frustrating, as I said. More than once, I've had a tourist state to me that things were less well made "back then", and it takes quite a bit of work to disabuse them of this notion. Actually, many things are a lot less well-made now, thanks to the twin gods of efficiency and profit, and you can't get the kind of quality work once available, because no-one wants to pay artisans the extra money.

As a result, you can't get a lot of the things that used to be made in the 16th century, including fabrics, the bricks used to make Tudor chimneys (they're specially shaped), and forget about finding a good stonemason or plasterer.

I've been browsing through the MFA Boston on-line collection because pinkleader , cathgrace and I are going up to Massachussetts in May for a combined MFA curatorial visit and Plimoth embroidery session. It's actually worth browsing the whole costume collection (though it takes a lot of patience), as the most amazing treasures turn up that one would never think of seeking out. If you ever need to prove to someone that they "made thingz gud bak then", just check out a museum's on-line collection.  

The great thing about the on-line collections is that they have unlimited space to show everything they have.  While most museums have to limit their real space to the best of their collection, all museums have scads of middle-of-the-road stuff donated by people who inherited a bunch of random junk they want to get rid of.  Luckily, this "junk" gets preserved in museum storage, and we get to see what the average punter was wearing 200 years ago.  Most of the things I've highlighted are very middle class, the equivalent of Target and Wal-Mart, or maybe the higher-end stores in a suburban mall. 

(Warning; the MFA site won't let you back out of it easily; use a new browser window to cruise the links.)

This fan, for instance; it's a delightful thing called a "bouquet fan", designed to look like a bunch of flowers when closed. Absolutely darling (and easily reproduced!), but not very expensive to make.

Or This hair comb - it's not even gold, but it's amazingly delicate (and I totally want one to wear in my hair instead of a coronet - too bad it's way OOP).

Going a little further back (to the 1700s), this knitted bag is something I want to be able to do some day. Not because I have anywhere to wear it (heck, I don't have any real use for my frog needlecase), but because something this beautiful needs to be in my possession. Totally. And even though it is silk, it's still not a really high-end item.

Of course, the further back you go, the harder it is to find everyday things, but the Cheapside Hoard in the Museum of London is a fantastic example of middle-class jewelry (just in case you get someone trying to tell you that your enamelled pendant is too fancy for your persona, or something). And ciorstan? How about some(possibly) knitted silk garters c.1575-1600 ? They claim they're silk-knit (I'm not sure whether they mean the gilt is knit, or the garter is knitted), but we'll find out for sure if I can get to see them.

And finally, our sense of whimsy appears to be hard-wired into us - witness this Coptic child's tunic, with duckies!

The quest for beautiful surroundings goes back to the first caveman painting the day's hunt on his walls (and probably the first cavewoman telling him she preferred a blue decorating scheme for the front cave).

(Ooh, sexist joke!)

But it really is a fundamental part of our emotional make-up - we want beautiful things. It takes a conscious effort of will to make things deliberately ugly (ref. most 1960s municipal architecture), and most people really don't see the point. In a machine-made age, the "homey" nature of rustic handwork becomes appealing, but prior to the 20th century, the more delicate, well made, and perfect, the better.

I think it is essential to keep these skills alive, even if they have no practical use (the "practical only" doctrine led to all those dreadful '60s and '70s public housing projects, remember). Every person who picks up a craft that is in danger of disappearing helps keep our history alive.

And terrible or not, my socks are part of a long and ancient tradition of hand knitting. 

...like a complete amateur.

Comments

( 47 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
isenglass
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
I am trying to learn enamelling just so I can make some of those fun Cheapside Horde finds. They make me all squeee happy!
stringmonkey
Apr. 16th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
Excellent! If I weren't so damned tactile, I'd be doing the same thing.
reasdream
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
One of the things I would love to learn to do is enamel work so I could make tons of Cheapside hoard type jewelry. I love that stuff (and would probably wear it with my regular clothes, too).

People are so out of touch with the idea of sewing by hand that I'm not too surprised that they think everything people wore was badly made. I, on the other hand, was struck by the bit in one of the 'Little House on the Prarie' books where Laura cannot make the neat, tiny stitches like Mary. I thought I would never ever be able to sew like that, but the concept of smaller-than-grains-of-rice stitches in a perfect line stayed with me.
firehauke
Apr. 17th, 2008 02:25 am (UTC)
I make my own period jewelry - and not all of it is for Royalty only.

I have a few things I want to try from the Cheapside, but I have to find more pictures of stuff from there. se la vie, I suppose.
Late to the conversation, but . . . - perilousknits - Jul. 30th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
ladypyrate
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
Yay knitted socks!!! I am working on my 3rd pair now. once you get past the first one, they get easier to work. I have pics of my first pair in my LJ, and will post pics of the socks I just knitted for my niece.

There is a nice pattern in "Knitting Vinatge Socks" that I want to try. It's a stocking with garters. I have plenty of silk to spin to make them...
maricelt
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
I think it is essential to keep these skills alive

This is a key belief for me. It's not only a part of our cultural history but also a part of my family's history. For me, sewing is a connection to all the women in my family.
hugh_mannity
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
Seconded!

I think that the imperative to "making stuff" is as much as anything that it's good for the brain. Whether it's historical recreation or just doing stuff for fun, creating exercises the brain and that's what keeps one sane (or in my case a reasonable facimile of sane!)

I believe that if we become a society where engineers make machines that make stuff that everyone else buys, we'll have lost a vital piece of the collective human soul.

Plus there is the connection to cultural history.
valkyr8
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on your fist stocking!!! Soon it will be all too easy.

LOVE the Italian garters and please do share what you find out about them if you get to examine them up close. They look woven to me, but I would be happy to hear more.

Great links! I want that comb. It would be the perfect answer when I have my hair up in my Italians and simply won't wear my Coronet. I'm an acessory snob.
sskipstress
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
I agree, the color pattern looks woven. But the way they roll in on themselves is very typical of a knit. Very interested in learning how they were made.
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Apr. 16th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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gwacie
Apr. 16th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
It's interesting how technology influences art. Little and big.

The whole "hand of the artist" mystique gets to me. There is this idea in modern (oh sorry, Contemporary, Modern was like 80 years ago. Who was the idiot who decided to name their movement "modern"? Pick a new word if you're so creative! eh hem, sorry, digression) There is this idea in contemporary art that the message, deep meaning and "hand of the artist" is more important than craft. I mean *CRAFT!*

I really feel for the Arts-and-crafts movement in the early 20th century, they were railing against the same thing. The loss of craft with cheap industrialization.

Me, I like just going to my local museum and staring at things like the Guelph treasure and just marveling that a human being made that with no dremmel tool, no power torch or electric kiln. Dude. It's awe inspiring.
grnvixen
Apr. 16th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
The MFA is awesome, and their willingness to make items available to the public for study is very generous. We had a fantastic time there in January, not to mention in Plimoth.

And I used to liken our A&S demos to the blue-light specials at K-mart; no matter what was laid out on the table most folks thought they needed to pick it up and then would just toss it down any-old-way. sigh. I had a whole stash of items that were for demo only. And then there were the 'experts' who would stand in front of my bobbin lace pillow and tell their friends I was tatting......

It was very frustrating but the one or two gems every time that truly 'got it', that you could see the sparkle in their eyes as they realized how much was out there in handwork and history and that *they* could do it too, always made it worth it.
peteyfrogboy
Apr. 16th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
If people don't do any sort of craft themselves, I think it makes it harder for them to relate to (much less properly appreciate) craftsmanship when they see it. The straight-edge, clean, identical-every-time factory product is what people are used to, and that's the sort of aesthetic they appreciate. The relative messiness of hand crafted items (even those made by masters, when you look closely enough) doesn't fit that expectation.
susannaknits
Apr. 16th, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC)
OK, you don't know me, but I'm going to jump in here!

I just went to the MFA a few weeks ago - the curator told me someone else was coming to see the same pieces in May or June. (A couple of ladies? Associated with Plimoth's embroidery project?) They have a number of spectacular knitted pieces.

I've eyed those garters online before, and I really think they're tablet-woven, although they could possibly be a flattened knitted tube. The specific design on them is rather unlike knitted designs of that period. I also think they would be kind of structurally unsound in knitting. In use, a knitted garter would be stretched lengthwise, which would distort the pattern and be very hard on the metal threads, as would tying them. I'm sure that was well-known at the time; I once studied a pair of ecclesiastical gloves with very clear wear damage to the metal threads (in the finger tips - that's why I'm sure it's from wear and not just time). I kinda think they'd choose a textile technique better suited to the needs of a garter. A brocaded tablet weave would be so.
attack_laurel
Apr. 16th, 2008 05:50 pm (UTC)
Hi! :)

It's what we're all thinking, I think. :) Even with a tiny knit, the darn things would stretch out badly. But, we've put those and the other ones that are described as "knit silk" on our list, and we'll hopefully see them in person and find out for sure.

The term could be referring to something else entirely, like maybe they think it's the same kind of silk they use for knitting - or there's some weird kind of weave that is called "knit", or... explanations fail me. Hopefully I'll find out on the 15th of May.
(no subject) - susannaknits - Apr. 16th, 2008 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - czina - Apr. 16th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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mistressarafina
Apr. 16th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
I sewed the gown in the icon for A&S in 2003 by hand so I can say that I made an Elizabethan gown by hand once. It took forever and I was exceedingly proud. It's not perfect, but I am happy with it nonetheless.

At the Faire, my judges didn't believe that I'd sewn it by hand because the seams were straight and it "looked" machined. Luckily, one of the seams broke open a little bit and I could prove that my fully lined gown was indeed made by hand.

I was so hurt that no one believed me. I hate the idea that hand-made = shoddy construction to so many, even in our group.
Good luck with the other sock!

Edited at 2008-04-16 05:50 pm (UTC)
attack_laurel
Apr. 16th, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)
This is why I take pictures of the construction process. You'd think people wouldn't be that dumb, but I've learned never to overestimate anyone. :)

(no subject) - maricelt - Apr. 16th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bwliadain - Apr. 16th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
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pinkleader
Apr. 16th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC)
I've sent you an email with the link to your sock pictures on my Flickr account. So cool!
textileowl
Apr. 16th, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
I am currently making a dress with hand-stitched pleats for a fashion show. My fellow students and even teachers are amazed that they are hand-stitched and think that they must take a lot of time to do.

I tell them that in reality it is much easier for me to hand-stitch such a detail since otherwise I would have to mark, re-pin and then stitch carefully by machine. Besides, this way I can stitch in class or while talking to friends and it goes much faster since I'm using what I consider dead time to do something productive.
attack_laurel
Apr. 17th, 2008 09:55 am (UTC)
I know, right? :) I can take my embroidery/handwork wherever I go, but lugging my sewing machine around would be *awful*.

With increased handwork, I'm never short of things to do with my hand while I'm bored. I'm also convinced that copious embellishment was the only way to get through the 2-3 hours of religious instruction Elizabethan girls were supposed to receive every day. 8P
( 47 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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