Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A green knit purse (HSM #5)

For several years now, I've been casually reading through the Workwoman's Guide. This is a wonderful book published in 1838 by an anonymous author (only known as "A Lady" on the title page), and it contains instructions for all sorts of things, from making up clothing and fabric house furnishings, and straw plaiting to household receipts. If you've ever wanted to learn "how to destroy flies" this book has got your back. There is also a section on knitting. I've always been intrigued in particular by the latter- where there are illustrations for most of the various objects in the sewing section, there are relatively few for the knitting section, and, furthermore, many of the knitting patterns have extremely vague titles (to demonstrate the full extent of this: one of the stitches it lists is actually called "The Nondescript")! And let's just say, after you get to the third or fourth pattern simply called "A Purse" you begin wondering what's actually going on in these knitting instructions. This was what brought me to try out on of the patterns- and in fact, I did start with one of the multiple purse entries! The pattern is below:

Source: A Lady. The Workwoman's Guide. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1838. Click to enlarge.
As with many early knitting pattern, basically no needle size, knitting gauge etc. specified. At least, I figured, this is a purse, so the finished size doesn't matter as much as it would for some item of clothing that actually has to fit a human being. I cast on using the instructions for the coarser gauge, using a set of 1.25 mm knitting needles, and some leftover green crochet thread from my Pineapple Purse. The resulting width actually seemed to not be all that different from the widths in dimension descriptions I had found for these purses on various museum sites, so this must be a decent gauge to work in. The Raised French stitch described here is essentially a pattern of a round of alternating decreases and open/increase stitches, followed by three rounds of plain knitting (arrgh, now I'm beginning to talk like this book!! I mean stocking stitch).

By the time I had finished knitting, I ended up with this tube with a hole in the middle. Unfortunately it's not actually as long as it should be, as I had mislaid the instructions while working on the opening and ended up knitting only half the slit length that the pattern called for.

The long green tube.

I figured this could be a form of Miser's Purse (or if it were longer maybe you could tie it up??) so I added some soldered jumprings from the jewelry store to slide the purse closed.

Now it looks like a candy!!

I got a chance to try it out this weekend at a big multiple house yardsale that happened on my street (hopefully I'll have more on that later!). It worked very well- provided that you only use coins and sort your change really well before you put it in... maybe not that useful on an everyday basis, but in a yardsale context it's decent. I also got a lot of compliments from neighbours on this funny little purse.

An action photo- my purse with money in it.

So now for the Historical Sew Monthly stats. The challenge: Literature.

What the item is: A knit miser's purse.

Challenge: I remembered as I was knitting this about a particular chapter in Thackeray's Vanity Fair. When I went back to the book, I realised that there is an entire chapter called "The Green Silk Purse", where Becky Sharpe and Joseph Sedley flirt while Becky knits a green silk purse during her stay at the Sedleys' family home. There's even an illustration!
W.M. Thackeray, "Mr. Joseph Entangled", 1861. 
Source: Scanned by Gerald Ajam
In this specific scene, Becky gets Joseph to help her wind her skein of purse thread onto a card.

'this arrangement left Mr. Joseph Sedley tête-à-tête with Rebecca. at the drawing-room table, where the latter was occupied in knitting a green silk he talked on, he grew quite bold, and actually had the audacity to ask Miss Rebecca for whom she was knitting the green silk purse? He was quite surprised and delighted at his own graceful familiar manner.

'“For any one who wants a purse,” replied Miss Rebecca, looking at him in the most gentle winning way. Sedley was going to make one of the most eloquent speeches possible, and had begun—“O Miss Sharp, how——” when some song which was performed in the other room came to an end, and caused him to hear his own voice so distinctly that he stopped, blushed, and blew his nose in great agitation.'

Materials: My purse is made from cotton crochet thread, rather than the silk in the book, but it was what I already had in my stash, so I figured I might as well use it.
Pattern: "For A Purse" from the Workwoman's Guide, in the section on knitting (the very top pattern on page 267).

Year: 1838. This works rather perfectly, because not only were these kind of purses used throughout the 19th century, but this is actually also a reasonable in-between date to bridge the 1810's, when this scene is set, and the 1840's, when the novel was written.

How historically accurate is it? I followed the pattern fairly precisely, and the dimensions of the purse correspond decently well to examples dated to the early 19th century on museum websites, although mine is a bit too short because I accidentally ommitted several repeats of the pattern. I also used mercerized cotton, which would not have been available yet at the time that this pattern was published.

First used: May 27th, in the local laneway yard sale.

Cost: Part of a leftover from my stash, but originally the entire ball of yarn cost $7.

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