Nothing new under the sun

So excited to discover a wonderful online resource of vintage knitting publications – In the Loop, at the University of Southampton, arrived at during long and ultimately fruitless search for information about the sort of knitting needles available to common people / agricultural workers in the 19th century and the sort of garments they might knit for themselves and each other.

The search led to A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt (now seemingly out of print and very expensive). What a man, though! The knitting bishop! And his collection of knitting documents is now digitised as part of In the Loop.

So here’s the old news. In a book/pamphlet produced in around 1800 called Helping the Trawlers there is a pattern for a “woollen helmet” complete with “chest protector”…

… shown here on a handsome trawlerman…

… which is a very close relation of the 1940s pattern for a balaclava helmet from Essentials for the Forces from the V&A website which is down as I type (but will with any luck be up again soon) and is therefore illustrated by this unsatisfactory photograph of the item displayed on a computer screen:

balaclava bib

According to the same Richard Rutt the term “balaclava” helmet did not come into common use until well after the battle of Balaclava of 1854. Prior to that it was known, for reasons which I am now too tired to verify and pursue but are clearly related to military uniform, the Uhlan helmet or cap. (Although I think this latter applies more accurately to the tubular garment which can be rolled up to form a beanie-type hat, rolled down to protect head face and neck or be taken off and the tube worn as a muffler round the neck.)

One last serendipity while following this thread. Another vintage pamphlet containing a pattern for a balaclava helmet also contained this:

A splint cover in wildflower wool.

I desire greatly to read the Rev Rutt’s (or should that be His Grace’s) seminal work on knitting, for in it I feel sure will lie some sort of answer, however partial, to my need to know about this history, development and availability of knitting needles. I could, of course, plan a trip to the extensive dead-tree library in Winchester. I tremble at the mere thought.

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2 Comments on “Nothing new under the sun”

  1. Is extremely good article

  2. Wendy says:

    I love your blog entries, very interesting! Just wanted to note that the “Helping the Trawlers” pamphlet is much more recent than 1800, published after the death of King Edward VII, who died in1910–Victoria’s son–as the Queen Alexandra referred to as a patron is Edward’s widow; the princesses referred to are Victoria’s daughters. The pamphlet is therefore early 1900’s.


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