Knitting in Eastern and Northern Europe

The earliest knitting production centres in eastern and northern Europe are characterized by the absence of guild organization, this means that no data is available from written sources, thus we find the difficulty in establishing dates and volume of production. This concerns in particular the Russian knitting. The first mention of a knitting worker dates from 1576-1580 and comes from a Russian Orthodox convent. The reference to knitted woollen stocking appears in the accounts of an Orthodox convent in 1573-1574. Among the earliest pieces of knitting from this period, mention should be made of the discoveries from the excavations on the island of Fadeev in the eastern part of the Siberian Sea. These date from the end of the sixteenth century or the beginning of the seventeenth, and are mostly collected in the Arctic Museum in Leningrad. They prove that the habitat of this island was typically Russian. L. I. Jakunina has studied the remains of garments and footwear but has not commented either on the glove or on the fragments of knitting which were found on the same spot.7'' The glove was made of coarse, natural coloured wool and had only one finger. It was made using the knotless netting technique, but three fragments of woollen knitting discovered during the same archaeological excavations prove that this technique was also known there too. These few discoveries going back to the seventeenth century show that at this time there was already quite an extensive use of two to five knitting needles, when making minor articles to protect the hands, feet or head. Nevertheless, it should be realized that before the end of the seventeenth century knitwear rarely features in the Russian national dress as it was generally worn. The long robe worn by men, which was inspired to a certain extent by oriental models, meant that there was no need for stockings. Knitwear played a much more important role in women's clothing, which was modelled to a greater extent on western fashions, particularly as far as gloves were concerned. As early as the seventeenth century knitted silk stockings were worn at the court of the Tsars but they must have been imported. Gloves were also a part of the clothing of Russian Orthodox clergy, and later, little by little, they became an item of military uniform. Amongst the most ancien* examples of Russian knitting, one may mention certain liturgical vestments: head-dresses called klobuki and gloves preserved at the Palace of Armour in the Kremlin. The head-dresses of the Orthodox clergy offer an extremly interesting example, unique of its kind, of hand knitting produced in the seventeenth century. They were knitted on five needles with a silk thread, that is quite supple and glossy but of inferior quality, perhaps imported from Central Asia or the Near East. I will describe these head-dresses in Chapter VIIIT The gloves of raspberry-coloured silk, dating from the first half of the seventeenth century, can be compared with western products of the same or earlier periods. Russian liturgical gloves had five short, wide fingers, and were knitted with five needles in stocking stitch. A rather uneven silk thread was used. The standard of workmanship in these liturgical garments proves that the craftsmen - perhaps nuns working for the clergy, or possibly lay women - were accomplished specialists.

In spite of the inadequacy of the sources and their fragmentary nature, one can deduce that from the seventeenth century onwards, in certain Russian towns, there were a certain number of professional knitters producing hand-made goods. They were probably organized in trade guilds, but some of their numbers may have been either fellow-workers not dependent on corporate organizations, or women. By about 1630-1640 stockings were an indispensable part of the uniform of certain military detachments. In the autumn of 1633, for instance, a very considerable order was placed for long stockings coming reaching the knee. These were for newly organized regiments and fitted out on the West European lines. The small numbers of Moscovite knitters could not cope with such a large order in a such short time, so the authorities turned to the workers in towns in the Vladimir and Galic districts.78 This brief reference to the fulfilment of this considerable order is of great significance, for it proves the existence of a hand-knitting industry not very developed it is true, but organized in a good many Russian towns. Further research into the archives might reveal its extent and the manner of its organization.

The work of women probaably played a significant part in this extremely laborious industry. One of the characteristic features of the Russian textile inddustry in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is the development of production methods which needed only very slight technical instruction and uncomplicated tools, but which, on the otther hand, demanded an enormous amount of labour. The masterpieces of Russian embroidery are a good example. Young serf girls or nuns would laboriously imitate by hand the complicated patterns of imported velvets and brocades. They covered extensive cloth surfaces with embroidery; and very often, after years of arduous toil, they would lose their sight. An enormous amount of work was needed to adorn fabrics and clothing with little pearls; and the same was true for the hand printing of cloth, with involved first of all the laborious cutting of carved wooden blocks, and then the painstaking application of the design. A vyboika is a cloth with a multi-coloured background and monotone pattern, whilst na-bojki have a multi-coloured pattern on a monotone background. It was the cheapness of labour which made it possible to produce luxury items, needing a great deal of handwork, according to the changes of fashion or economic conditions.

The hand knitting in some parts of Soviet Union done by Ukrainian, Byelorussian or Caucasian mountain peoples of Daghestan or Georgia only dates from the nineteenth century. It is possible to speak only about peasant's knitting in Chapter X.

The diffusion of hand knitting was in the Baltic countries occurs mainly in. Latvia and Estonia. The first relics of the Latvian knitting reach back to the fourteenth century. The discovery in Estonia, in the tomb dating from the second half of the seventeenth century and containing the remains of a poor woman, and of a fragment of mitten and possibly belt, shows how widespread was the technique of this type of knitting. The knitting of the Estonian and Latvian people reveals extremely varied forms as early as the eighteenth century. This applies not only to stockings and gloves, but also socks, headgear, tunics and shirts; decoration of these garments reproduced the traditional motifs of different regions. The most archaic products were made of natural coloured wool; later vegetable dyes began to be used. Estonian knitting, together with that from Latvia, is among the most archaic and varied in the whole of Europe. In the country the stockings made from local wool prevailed, while in the towns imported ones (both silk and woollen) were worn.79

The knitting production of Scandinavia is known a little better. It replaced the knotless netting technique in the production of mass consumption articles for export. Central Jutland was the most important centre of production in Danmark. This infertile country, covered with marshes and moors, allowed extensive sheepfarming. From this easily available raw material woollen yarn and also knitwear began to be produced. During the seventeenth century the export of knitted products from central Jutland was continuously increasing. The whole popularion, both men and women, the elderly and children, was involved in spinning and hand knitting. Only at the beginning of the eighteenth century does the knitting machine start spreading across Jutland. Previously it Was hand knitting production from carded wool on 2-5 needles. Different articles, mainly caps, hats, stockings and gloves, were fulled and fashioned on wooden forms know from the sixteenth century.80 (II. 14)

Stockings arrived early as a part of Danish dress both the burghers and the male peasant costume was patterned on West European fashion with its knee-lenght trousers. Because of this, the production of knitwear spread across the whole of Denmark, which is testified to by the numerous fragments of knitwear found in excavations in Copenhagen and preserved in the National Museum. They come from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and at least some of them are pieces of hand-knitted production.81

New research has revealed many knitted garments. "The first time knitting with silk was mentioned in written records in Denmark in 1466 in a will by Karen Thomesiatter of Aalborg. benefiting the convent of Holy Ghost". The new excavations of the coffins of two royal children in Roskilde cathedral gave informations that both children (dying in 1627 and 1628) were dressed in garments of knitted silk, dyed indigo, decorated with designs in gold metal thread, and wore knitted silk stockings. These were probably imported fabrics or fabrics made from imported silk. But woollen garments were found more often. Together with some iconography and knitting sheats it shows the widespread diffusion of this technique across Denmark.82 Production could be made by artisans, or by peasant's in putting out system and also by women working for family needs. In the sixteenth century Sweden and Norway imported many knitted goods, particularly patterned waistcoats, silk stockings and all knitted dress.83 Handmade knitwear spread in the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century to the southern part of Halland, Skania, Blekinge and to the isles Gotland and Oland. From this latter, knitted products were exported to Gdansk in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. To the isles of Nadental and Runo knowledge of hand knitting could have been brought by the St. Brigid nuns. Somewhat later, the knitting technique also developed in north-eastern Sweden, particularly in Västerbotten, Lovikka, Jukasjärvi, as well as on the western coats in Selbu, Bohuslan, Göteborg or Laholm. This localization on infertile islands and coasts is characteristic of the whole of Europe. The reference material mentions numerous relics of hand knitting, partly rural, and a rich iconography. Woollen articles were fulled and fashioned on wooden forms.84 one is struck by the wide variety of knitted garments found in Swedish museums: stockings, socks, gloves, various types of headgear, doublets or waistcoats. These products were usually made from coloured wool with an ornamentation changing character of the different regions of Sweden.85

In recent years growing interest has been shown in the study of the history of knitting both in Norway and in other Scandinavian countries. In Norway some imported seventeenth century shirts knitted from silk and metallic yearn, are still extant. Excavations in Oslo have brought to light eleven knitted fragments from the latter half of the seventeenth century. Of simpler knit, these are probably remnants of four different woollen garments worn by ordinary people. As the bulk of the locally produced material known to us dates from the late eighteenth century, the most plausible explanation is that the fragments from Oslo were of simple imported garments.

Subsequently, however, the possibility has arisen that they are Norwegian in origin. In Rogaland, a district in the south- east of Norway the knitting was practised in the first half of the eighteenth century. A. Kjellberg has looked deeper at sources which would illuminate the developement of knitting and of knitted garment in Norway. Her investigations are partly based on custom registers, census reports, estate settlement records, and a manuscript dating from 1760 dealing with crafts and industries in the dual kingdom of Denmark-Norway. Other sources of information include ledgers, travel narratives, charters of foundation, and economic-topographical literature. Archaeological excavations in Bergen have yielded a fragment of a knitted garment found in a layer dated between 1474 and 1525. Thus even at that early date some knitted garments

™^ere being worn in Norway. The oldest written reference to knitwear found by A. Kjellberg was in the accounts of the county of Bergenhus for 1566-1567, which refer to the purchase and use of knitted hosiery from the Faeroes. Knitted stockings were also worn by school children in 1594. The records of a court case from Rogaland reveal that knitting was practised there as early as in the 1630. One of the practical skills required of the inmates in a "Home for Women and Girls" in Trondheim in 1639 was the knitting of woollen stockings and gloves. Knitting was also considered to be a suitable occupation for women who were provided with accomodation in the House for Impoverished Widows in Bergen in the mid-1660. References to exports of peasant stockings from Bergen round a about this time suggests that knitting stockings may have been a source of income for local country folk. Many topographical and economic treatises from the late eighteenth century attest to the fact that the art of knitting was known in many areas. Knitted garments were worn in Norway as early as the closing years of the fifteenth century. But the first undisputable evidence that the art of knitting was known in Norway dates from 1630. The knitting trade in Norway had only been a domestic industry and a supplementary source of income for the peasantry in certain areas. A. Kjellberg wrote: "We have never had knitters' guilds in Norway".86

E. E. Gudjonsson described knitting in Iceland. The art of knitting is believed to have been introduced into Iceland by English, German or Dutch merchants. The oldest example of knitted goods, the woollen mitten, is dated to the first half of the sixteenth century, and the latest relics were dated 1650-1750. Knitting took place in the homes working in the natural colours of the wool. After knitting most articles were finished by often rather heavy fulling. As early as 1624, according to the oldest existing list of exports which mentions knit goods, some seventy two pairs of stockings and more than twelve thousand pairs of mittens were exported. In 1743 twelve hundred sweaters, stockings and mittens were also exported. This home made knitting used interesting patterns and special techniques. Lastly we also received some information about knitting history in Faeroes isles.87

In Finland knitting also has a long tradition. Between 1438- ca. 1580 some stockings and mittens were made in Nadendal's convent by nuns. By sixteenth century some knitting was made, whereas knotless netting dates back to pre-historic times. The waistcoats were often worn in eighteenth century.88

Finally a few conclusions. Guild hand knitting in Europe involved mainly woollen fabrics. Use of cotton, silk, and linen yarn was as widespread as wool. The use of the latter in fabric production usually demanded final dressing, fulling, raising with a teasel and shearing. In the assortment of items produced, carpets patterned knit were technically the most complex products of hand knitting generally known. The art of knitting masterworks for full guild status Was concentrated in the territory within the German-speaking world, and was common throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The most important centres Were Alsace, Silesia, Bohemia, Slovakia and Austria. Knitting craft history in Europe from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries shows clearly the development of that branch of guild production as well as the cottage industry. The numerous statutes and rich iconography indicate the large variety of fabrics a&d the high level of technique in the production of patterned parts of costumes and carpets. Studies of European knitting show a close relationship between production and consumption. The manufacture of knitted clothing had the advantage of delivering ready-made products. Therefore this branch of the textile industry was particularly linked with actual fashion requirements. The slow development of knitting in Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldavia and Wallachia was due to the fact that the national male costume did not require stockings. The spread of West European dress certainly increased demand for knitted goods. As the small guilds of knitters were not able to meet this demand, manufactures with the mechanical knitting frames of William Lee were able to expand.

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