Our village season has officially started, and that means it’s time to pick my crafting projects for the summer, the ones I’ll keep in my basket to work on when I’m volunteering.
What makes a crafting project okay for 1898? Obviously, Victorian women knitted, crocheted, sewed, embroidered, etc, but what other considerations does one need to think about when choosing a project for living history?
The biggest challenge is finding a project I want to work on in materials that are period appropriate.
For knitting and crochet, wool and cotton were of course the most common, with silk thread used by the upper classes for more decorative pieces, which would often be decorated with glass beads.
Many people don’t realize that this is also about the time when companies began creating synthetic materials for the first time. A form of rayon made of wood pulp was first patented in 1884. This version was short lived due to how highly flammable it was, but a new version was patented in 1891. First known as “artificial silk” or “art silk”, it is much closer to the rayon we know today. It would have been used mostly for the manufacture of women’s ready-made clothing than knitting or crochet materials for the lady of leisure.
Novelty yarns (such as eyelash, slub yarns, chenille, etc) wouldn’t have been available, and most yarns would not be available as blends. You could get silk OR wool OR cotton.
Thanks to the new aniline dyes, no color was off limits in 1898. While chemical dyes first started in the late 1700s with experiments involving indigo and various acids, and the creation of Scheele’s green, the production of aniline dyes didn’t really take off until after the Civil War. In 1859, mauve was first produced by accident in a lab (see the link above, referencing indigo), but the industry itself didn’t gain a foothold until after the war. What started with various shades of purple eventually grew to encompass everything from royal purple to lime green. Suddenly, almost any color you could think of was possible, even if it wasn’t available in every locale.
That being said, most yarns were dyed in solid colors, with maybe subtle tonal variations as a result of the dying process. The speckled, self striping, and other fun colorways we have today would not be available.
Early needles were made of things like bone or ivory, then later wood. By the 19th century, steel was common for sock needles, because it was sturdy even when extremely thin, and much easier and cheaper to mass produce. Wood needles were used for larger gauges, since they were lighter weight.
What to pick?
My personal preference for projects is a pair of socks knitted on 4 or 5 DPNs, or a washcloth in undyed cotton on wood needles. Unfortunately, I’m pretty bad at buying solid-colored sock yarn! I’m always drawn to fun color combinations, which is one of the reasons I currently have embroidery in my bag.
Other options include working from historic patterns printed in magazines like Gody’s Ladies Book, though most of those older patterns lack consistency in terminology and require “translation.” Since I’m often putting my knitting down or talking as I work, I don’t usually do this because it’s too easy to make a mistake or lose my place in the pattern. One day, though!
As a fun bonus, here’s a link to 47 interesting facts about the history of knitting.
Oh, and as an aside to #32–Ravelers protested so much to the C&D, we actually crashed Twitter for about an hour or so. I believe there was also an apology from the Olympic committee, though we did still change the Ravolympics to the Ravelenic games.
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