Knitting in France

The sixteenth century France is ranked amongst the major European knitting centres, both in production based on wool as on silk. In 1514 Parisian knitters belonged to the Six Corps - the most important guilds of this city.13 In 1505 the knitters' guild of Troyes in Champagne obtained confirmation of statute. At that time the guild consisted of eight masters and produced woollen caps and stockings. Apprenticeship was of three years. The variety of articles produced was revealed in 1698 on the occasion of the interdiction to non-guild artisans: "ni faire travail les dudit métier, comme bonnet, bas, chaussons, gants, mitaines, calottes, burs et autres marchandises, tant de laine, fil, coton et estame, sur grosses et menues aiguilles". A part of this production was designed for export. Woollen caps under the name of caps from Tunis were exported through Orléans, where a knitters' guild existed from 1575, through Marseilles to Smyrna and Cyprus. The English specialist C. Heywood dedicated a study to the rural hosiery industry of the Lower champagne region beginning only from 1750. But he had seen that "the whole rhytm of the hosiery in - was therefore dictated by the agricultural calendar". Before 1754 "the framework knitting industry made little headway in the Lower Champaigne region".14 So the hand knitting in Champaigne was fairly strong in the early eighteenth century.

The knitters of Compiègne had developed some small production by the fifteenth century, and in 1527 they separated themselves from the clothiers' guild. Their independence lasted only to 1608, when they joined together with the serge-makers and dyers. In Compiègne the name bonnetiers described the producers of not only knitted caps, but also of bonnets from gauze, crepe and lace, later called bavolets (or bugnolettes). The latter, however, was mostly a side-line production which in larger cities was taken over by milliners. In 1627 there were "18 chaussetiers ou fabricants de bas, un fabricant de bas d'estame [...] et 5 maîtres bonnetiers" working in Compiègne. As in other towns, they were required to full their products outside the town and were forbidden to throw the water from hand fulling on to the road. Dyeing was usually in blue. Compiègne was a large centre of hand knitting, which produced cheap articles of common use.15

Very little is known about the beginnings of hand knitting in Languedoc. Mentions of local products, which appear in the probate inventories come for instance from 1586. At the end of the sixteenth century knitters' guilds become organized in the main towns, such as Toulouse (statute from 1605). The most affluent people wore woollen hosiery imported from England and silk stockings from Lukka or Genoa.16 In the second half of the sixteenth century many inventory records refer to the use of woollen or silk stockings by the Nîmes inhabitants, while in 1621 there even appears a mention of a special profession of an itinerant mender of silk and woollen stockings. M. Sonenscher discusses the hosiery industry of Nîmes and the Lower Languedoc in eighteenth century. He had only discovered early information about hosiery work on the stocking frame, unfortunately he was not interested in the hand knitting of this region.17

The knitters' guild in Rennes, the capital of Brittany, was organized pretty early since its statue dates back to 1513; the preserved confirmation however bears the date 1613. The workshops were situated in the outskirts of a town so that the fulling wastes would not contaminate the water. Knitters were required to serve an exceptionally long apprenticeship of five years. It was a small guild which produced articles for local consumption. In 1755 there werf» 12 master knitters in Rennes.18

The historians have shown a much greater interest in the beginnings of hand knitting in Dourdan, since that town later became an important centre of machine production. The years 1650-1684 bring the development of the knitting production of silk articles, the beginnings of which reach back to the end of the sixteenth century.19 This production was organized by Marie Poussepin, the foundress of the Presentation Sisters in Tours. After training a great number of children aged six to twelve, a manufacture was established there in 1684. The unpaid work of a group of orphans constituted the beginnings of manufacture based on forced labour.20

Knitting in Normandy shows an example of the existence of guild production simultaneous to that of machine knitting. The transit route of a large export of woollen stockings from the Islands of Jersey and Guernsey traversed both Normandy and Brittany. For instance, in 1663 there were 20,000 dozens, or 240 thousand pairs of stockings imported, apart from quite considerable smuggling. Colbert began to raise the customs duty for English machine-knitted products in 1664 and 1667,21 but it was only the appearance and development of French machine knitting which diminished the competition of English products. In Rouen, the town where the inventor of the knitting machine William Lee probably died, during the whole seventeenth century there existed a knitwear' guild: marchands bonnetiers. This guild, combated from 1672 by the producers of machine-made hosiery, survived until 1778. Knitwear vendors were allowed to produce articles knitted with needles, their products being somewhat inferior but considerably cheaper than the machine-made ones. They traded not only in their own woollen knit goods and also in articles made by rural and provincial Norman producers of hand-made hosiery. The statute dating from 1731 reveals that they were using wool, silk and cotton coming from the French colonies and linen yarn. They also enjoyed the right to control the quality of the products sold in Rouen. An apprentice had to work 4 years before establishing his own workshop. The technical standard of the guild's products is evidenced in the requirements from a master knitter - a pair of stockings and a sailor's cape made from wool from Carmana in the Anatolian plain of Asia Minor. (II. 6) Only occasionally a type of examination in the knowledge of raw materials was carried out. A candidate for master was shown 12 knitted items made by different producers and of different quality, from ordinary or floss silk, beaver hair, different qualities of indigenous and imported wool, linen or hemp or cotton yarn, both from France and abroad. Regulations on reduced guild admission fees for the master's family and the management of a workshop by widows are similar for all guilds. The binding guild regulations, however, include the use of such materials as beaver hair, vicugna wool, and specify the standard of finishing. The number of masters in the eighteenth century diminished but in 1747 there were still 50 of them.22

The example of knitwear vendors in Rouen shows that a strong guild of hand-knitters, which dealt also with finishing provincial products, could survive for more than a hundred years, despite of competition from machine knitting. This testifies to a large and hitherto little-investigated base of hand-knitting production in Normandy. The question is touched upon by P. M. Bondois in a paper dedicated to stocking production in Normandy in the eighteenth century. He informs us about the existence of a knitters' guild in Caen as far back as 1695. In 1705, there were 72 fully fledged master knitters there and 22 members without full status. During the period 1695-1705, there were 97 apprentices trained in this town. However this dynamic centre, was a converging point for knitters who worked on machines. Yet, side by side, the production of hand knitting was growing, particularly in the domain of stockings, not only of better quality made from three-ply yarn, but also from the two-ply one (a deux fils), not so strong but much cheaper. This production was widespread in Bayeux and its vicinity, in Falaise, near Alengon, and also in Aumale in Upper Normandy. Production of woollen stockings from raw material imported from the British Isles was also developing on the Atlantic coast in Cherbourg, Vitrei, Saint-Ló and Carentan.23 However it has not been precisely determined whether it was a hand- or a machine- production centre; the machine was usually too expensive for small rural producers.

Much information referring to the existence of hand knitting in a particular city or region comes to us due to studies which present the distribution of the knitting machine there. Thus we learn that a knitters" guild was established in Dijon in 1698.24 In this respect the data supplied by Savary do not give us any indication of the regionalization of French hand knitting.25 Fragmentary information about artisan production in France shows the hand-knitting production partly organized into guilds, partly dispersed in the form of domestic production in the putting-out system in villages and small towns. Certain guilds protested strongly against the introduction of machines and survived to the beginning of the eighteenth century. Data from guild statutes repeat the general requirements referring to length of apprenticeship, conditions for establishing one's own workshop, fighting with competition from non-guild craftsmen. The data about the technique and assortment of production are analyzed later. Here they allow us solely to determine the size and importance of the knitters' guilds in France in comparison with other European countries.

Alsace constitutes one of the strongest hand-knitting production centres in Europe and only the second half of the seventeenth century saes the fall of this craft. In Strassburg a knitters' guild was organized in 1535, thus not much later than the oldest French guilds. A comprehensive statute of the Hosenstricker and Baretmacher guild from 1574 mentions only fulled, hence woollen, articles: "Paretlin, kuetlin, hembdern, handschuhen, hosen, socken",26 thus various headgear, caps and berets, shirts or doublets, gloves, trousers or leggings and socks. From 1607 the statutes also mention the woollen scarf and patterned knitted carpet. It appears from this data that the assortment of knitted products had already been established before the diffusion of fashion, i.e., the increased demand for stockings worn with Spanish men's dress in the sixteenth century. The production of stockings would not have exceeded the technical capabilities of Alsace knitters. In 1605 and 1607 in the statutes of the Upper Rhine and Strassburg there appears, as a condition of master craftsmanship, the requirement of a patterned carpet to be produced.27

Guild regulations provide information about the organization of knitting production in Strassburg. For instance, a master could have only one apprentice, and engage a second one three months before the end of the apprenticing period of the first. Besides he could fill four stools, thus have up to three journeymen. The journeymen could solicit to establish their own workshop six years after completing their term, but during those six years they had to journey for four years and work for at least two or three masters. In the fifteenth century in Strassburg city itself there were about 50 knitting workshops. At the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century space in the guild regulations is increasingly dedicated to the production of various types of men's, women's and children's stockings. Also increasingly created are regulations establishing the relationship between the strong Strassburgian knitters' guild and producers from other Alsace towns or rural competitors as well as domestic production in the putting-out system. This strong centre of knitting was weakened by the Thirty Years' War and ruined by competition from Franch and Swiss machine-made hosiery at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century. To the very end it maintained the character of a Producer of heavy and solid knitting in wool. In Strassburg there were also masters producing stockings in cotton, silk and linen thread, but the guild was fighting against these products (for instance the 1655 interdiction).20

The powerful knitting production of the Upper Rhine cities was rather loosely connected with Strassburg during the first half of the seventeenth century and more closely aligned the Swiss frontier towns. This centre of production must have developed in the course of the sixteenth century but the first statutes appear in Sundgau and Brisgau only at the end of that century, in 1596. The statute, confirmed one year later, required three years' apprenticeship and three years' journeying. Hand- knitted fulled hosiery was being produced: caps, gloves, leggings and stockings, the making of the latter being allowed also from cotton and linen thread. It was forbidden to cover up imperfections in the finishing by the use of chalk, or to use wool from dead or butchered sheep. Neither was the production of hosiery by hired untrained servants allowed; it was only permitted to make use of the work of one's own children and other family members. The stall from which the products were sold was not to be more than 8 feet long. The aim of these restrictions was to preserve the craft character of individual workshops, as unqualified family members were allowed to work, but not hired workers.29

On the 28th of January 1598, a large number of master knitters gathered in Brise to discuss statutory regulations. These were guild delegates from 25 cities of Alsace, Switzerland and Baden: Basle, Ferrete, Altkirch, Beifort, Gyromagny, Mulhausen, Thann, Soultz, Guebwiller, Colmar, Memmerschwihr, Kaysersberg, Algolsheim, Seiestadt, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Strassburg, Mölsheim, Phalsburg, Offenburg, Lahr, Freiburg, Brisach, Saultzburg, Neuenburg and Rheinfelden. Representatives of these urban knitting groups protested against the interdiction of using chalk in the finishing and spinning tanners' wool. They also demanded that the current masters shall be released from the obligation of three years' journeying. In order to coordinate these matters, a knitter from Strassburg, Simon Marcutha, was sent to Prague. In 1605 he obtained from Emperor Rudolph II a new knitters' statute, which was in force in all towns of Alsace and in the Swiss frontier during the first half of the seventeenth century. It included the requirement for a master knitter, the same "as in Prague", thus a flower-patterned carpet, a cap, a woollen waistcoat and gloves.30 These items were to be made within 13 weeks. Masters had to sell their products in their own stall, They were allowed to employ the same number of journeymen and only one apprentice.31 These regulations in 1599 applied to 133 masters from Alsace and Switzerland, as well as some 50 knitters from Strassburg and 30 from Basle. Large groups of masters based in the two larger towns were dominating there the collective body of some few guild organizations from smaller localities. There was also competition from a rather large group of rural craftsmen who were selling their poorer quality but cheaper products with the backing of the Strassburg guild. This same guild succeeded in obtaining a new statute from the Emperor in 1653. It applied to Lower Alsace and some of the towns of its upper part, a total of 28 localities: Strassburg, Hagenau, Schlettstadt, Oberenheimb, Offenburg, Gengenbach, Oberkirch, Oppenaue, Baden Lohr, Brischeweiler, Lützelstein, Dummeringen, Sarbuckenheim, Wolfskirch, Elsaass-Zabern, Waslenheim, Westhoven, Marlenheim, Dachstein, Mol-tzheim, Mutzig, Otterott, Barr, Mittelberckheim, Andlaue, Dambach, Marien-

Icirch and St. Bläss.32 This list indicates centres in Alsace in the first half of the seventeenth century.

The history of the large Alsace hand-knitting centre shows us how production changed according to movements in fashion. Thus, the execution of the most difficult and time-consuming item for master craftsmanship, i.e., the knitted carpet, could be replaced from 1615 by the execution of fashionable trousers and higher admission fees. In 1624 it was forbidden to practise the craft outside the workshop, the purpose of this was to underline the difference between professional knitters and domestic knitting carried out with other household chores, for instance shephering. The tendency is also to restrict the output; no more than four workers could be employed in one workshop. On Alsace guild seals or knittted carpets we can see scissors for trimming the products and a teasel, less frequently needles. Increasingly from the second half of the seventeenth century more complaints were being made against competition from Jewish traders, who bought out village products, and itinerant merchants. The most dangerous, however, proved to be the products of French machine knitting. In 1699 the combined guild organizations of Upper and Lower Alsace complain of the financial ruin of hand knitters, the number of workshops having dropped to 600. In this climate machine knitting immediately assumed the form of manufactures.33

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