Wednesday 2 March 2016

Deciphering Historical Clothes: Czech wristwarmers from the 1880s

The HSM theme for March is Protection. Looking through my pins of Czech historical garments, I was left uninspired in that regard. (I try to focus on Czech collections in this series now, because it's a good way for me to study and showcase my own country's history!) Until I remembered an item I'd already wracked my head about, an item that protects from cold, so it fits the theme beautifully. Even more so because we've got snow now! Makes my plans of finishing a straw hat or covering an umbrella / parasol kind of less attractive than taking up my needles...

Yep, I'm doing a different thing this time around: I'm looking at a knit garment. Well, an accessory of a super-simple not-shaped kind; but made interesting with lots of colours.

Apologies to my non-knitting readers, and a warm welcome to those who knit. :-) I'm still something of a beginner intermediate in the world of knitting, but things like this inspire me to get better!

There isn't much knitting to be found in Czech online collections so far, sadly; it seems knitting, on the whole, wasn't such a big part of Czech folk culture as it tends to be in colder climates. Or at least not big enough for museum collectors to focus on it. :P But I've still found a few very interesting things (notably, Moravian Wallachian socks!). And one very, very striking thing was this pair of patterned wristwarmers that not only uses seven colours, but one of those colours is even metallic silver!

Not a sort of thing you'd see in Moravian Wallachia, I think. The description on Esbirky unfortunately does not specify where exactly these do come from; but it does give another very helpful detail for deciphering and possible recreating: the dimensions. Cca 20 cm around and 12 cm long. I'd slate them for a woman's wristwarmers based on that, although that's obviously just a guess.

Looking at the opening in the big photo and counting very carefully, I've arrived at the tentative stitch count of 88 stitches: it seems to be somewhere in the area between 80 and 90, and it has to be divisible by four (because of the patterning). It doesn't strike you immediately from looking at the photo, but it also has to be a small gauge (and given the density of the knit, likely a combination of tiny needles and slightly thicker yarn, my favourite way to knit :D): 88 stitches in 20 cm gives me the approximate gauge of 11 stitches per inch. (<= 44 stitches per 10 cm / 4 inches)
The silver threads are somewhat thinner than the wools, and distort the knitting.

It's knitted flat: notice the seaming inside.  UPDATE MANY YEARS LATER: I'm actually not sure what I was looking at - it's just the "step" you get from joining to knit in the round and not bothering to correct for that...

Notice also that the museum photographed one of the wristwarmers upside down. The trick to deciphering a knit garment is first and foremost looking closely and deciding where upside/downside is. Much like the grainlines in woven fabrics. In the above photo, it's the piece on the right that's upside up.

"Fair Isle" knitting is fun and easy to decipher, especially on a "flat" object like this, because you can see the individual stitches clearly and really all you have to do is chart it out... It's the purled beginnings and ends of the knitting that gave me some trouble here, and I had to resort to trying it out.

My first two-coloured attempts weren't very promising:

It actually is super simple - it's just garter stitch - but I still struggle with visualising how multi-coloured purls work... When I switched to my final mock-up in the actual colours, I still had to unravel it a few times, and as you can see, I still made a mistake in the upper section of it (it should end up looking like orange-yellow, not yellow-orange). But it's a mistake small and obvious enough for me to know how it should really go.
(My yellow is much thinner than my green and therefore distorted in that section, but it's correct.)

I knitted this test piece with 12 stitches, in yarns calling for cca 3 mm needles according to the maker (most of them are remnants of unknown description, though), on 2,5 mm needles, and it came out 5 cm wide, so for the original size, you'll want to go about half that...

* * *

So, here goes the pattern as deciphered. If there are any experienced knitters among you, used to English charting conventions etc., I would appreciate knowing if this makes sense to you or if you'd write/do some things differently.

If you want to knit this in the round, just knit every "wrong side" row of the garter stitch sections instead of purling them. In my experience, stranded colourwork is easier in the round; but to be historically accurate to the original, flat knitting it is. (AHEM)

Beginning in garter stitch
cast a number of stitches divisible by 4, in red (88 with a gauge of 11 st / inch for the original size)
1. (right side) purl red
2. (wrong side) purl orange
3. (r) purl orange
4. (w) purl 2 stitches in yellow, purl 2 in green, repeat
5. (r) purl 2 stitches in green, purl 2 in yellow, repeat
6. (w) purl red
7. (r) purl red

Stranded colourwork in stockinette
66 rows, starting on the wrong side
(The museum description says the rows of motifs repeat thrice, but they don't really, which was the original reason I tried to decipher it. :D)
Chart starts at the bottom. Grey stands for silver, obviously. The blue dots at the side indicate fifth rows, red dots indicate tenth rows, for greater ease of keeping track and count.


End in garter stitch
1. (w) purl red
2. (r) purl red
3. (w) purl yellow
4. (r) purl orange
5. (w) purl red
6. (r) purl bind off in red

* * *

In case you are wondering, I made the chart in MS Paint by magnifying, utilising the grid and the pencil tool to colour individual pixels in the magnified grid, and then hitting PrintScreen and working with that as my picture afterwards. It's a quick and "cheap" method, and it made charting very easy with opening the MS Paint window on top of the photo of the original. If I do this more often, though, I'd probably prepare myself a grid to colorise (using the Can of Paint tool in that case), skipping the magnifying and PrintScreening, because it comes out a bit small this way (so I can't insert any notes and stuff into the chart itself if they are necessary).

One day, I'll make these wristwarmers and post this pattern to Ravelry so that there will be a traditional Czech pattern out there. *rubs her hands with a supervillain snigger*