East or West

 

Brooklyn Museum Persian Glove

Brooklyn Museum Persian Glove

A pair of Persian gloves in The Brooklyn Museum show some of the attributes of the Warren Hastings gloves in the Ashmolean, Oxford.  The description accompanying the Persian gloves describes the medium of “knitted purl stitch wool”.  Knitting traditions are believed to have their roots in the Arabian peninsular and the skill spread as Arabs traded and migrated to different nations.  The older Arabic or Eastern style of knitting in the round involved the glove being worked with the wrong side facing outwards using a purl stitch in a style that exactly mirrors or reverses the more familiar knit stitch many of us use today. An increasing number of knitters are re-discovering the Eastern purl, incorporating it into a style of knitting termed combination knitting.

Yarn, needles and stitch count the same but different sized swatches

Yarn, needles and stitch count the same but different sized swatches

Ahead of a visit to the Ashmolean next month I have experimented with Eastern purl and Western knit along with yarn dominance to see if it is possible to ascertain how these Warren Hastings gloves might have been worked.

The outcome of the experiment baffled me and I doubted myself.  Whilst the surface appearance is apparently identical, the tension and gauge is visibly different between the swatches.  Mary Thomas’s Knitting book indicates that the Eastern purl produces a tighter squarer fabric than the Western knit. The swatches seem to support this.

Eastern stitches have their leading edge at the back of the needle

Eastern stitches have their leading edge at the back of the needle

Establishing if Warren Hastings gloves are knitted in Eastern purl or Western knit is not going to be easy since there is apparently no obvious difference in the appearance of the stitch where the fabric is undamaged and continuous. I suggest that the only possible way I have of determining the method is by looking at the damaged areas and looking at the orientation of the damaged stitches.  Eastern stitches have the leading edge of the stitch at the back of the needle position whereas Western stitches have the leading edge of the stitch at the front of the needle.  Priscilla Gibson-Roberts illustrates leading edge of stitches clearly and in much more detail in “Knitting in the Old Way” and “Ethnic Socks and Stockings”.  Mary Thomas also illustrates the point well.

 

 

Left colour carried below the background.  Right colour carried above the background

Eastern purl. Left colour carried below the background. Right colour carried above the background

Left colour dominant.  Right background dominant

Eastern purl. Left colour dominant. Right background dominant

How the stranded yarns are carried across the work gives subtle differences to the appearance of the motif.   This is termed yarn dominance.  Regardless of stitch style and how the yarns are carried, dominance remained the same in the Eastern and Western swatching

By working this test and comparing it to a digital image of Warren Hastings gloves I am currently of the opinion that the gloves have a dominant background colour and the motif colours recede.

Techniques, methods and skills are not uniform to knitting or knitters. Whilst visually I may be able to produce something strongly resembling Warren Hastings gloves, technically they will never be an exact replica for the following reasons:

Firstly, if the gloves turn out to be worked by the Eastern purl method I cannot replicate this at this gauge.  Just the swatch took four times longer than the more familiar Western knit method I employ.

Secondly, to best control the stretch of the glove I prefer to run the motif or detail yarns below the background yarn where they are tensioned a little more loosely.  This means the motif will be dominant rather than the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Assistance from Knitting in Miniature Experts

Barely two days into swatching for the Warren Hastings gloves it was obvious I was out of my comfort zone.  Needles bent and yarn unable to be manipulated, I posted a couple of pertinent questions on Ravelry forums and typed a couple of pleading e-mails to be given a wealth of expert advice which gives me the confidence to move the project forward once again.

Needles upgrade with fine cotton swatch.  Original bent needles relegated to stitch holders.

Needles upgrade with fine cotton swatch. Original bent needles relegated to stitch holders.

My hitherto favourite brand of “off the shelf” needles had let me down, bent beyond usefulness and difficult to manipulate due to lack of rigidity.  Buttercup Miniatures saved the day and were able to provide me with hand crafted, stronger, less flexible needles made from engineering wire.

Buttercup hand-made needles and Venne Colcoton 36/2 for second swatching

Buttercup hand-made needles and Venne Colcoton 36/2 for second swatching

It became apparent that I was perhaps asking an awful lot of the “off the shelf” needles.   Wovenflame Designs was able to confirm my worst fears, the oh so carefully collected cache of 28/2 cashmere was just too thick for the 0.7mm needles.  Exchanged messages and invaluable advice continued and the importance of swatching could not be underestimated.

Choosing a more appropriate yarn thickness remained an issue.  Frances at Buttercup Miniatures had recently designed a colourwork sweater and achieved 24 stitches per inch with a cotton yarn.  Further research suggested that a 36/2 yarn from Venne Colcoton may prove to be a useful substitute.  With resources collected, swatching and pattern drafting can resume.

28/2 cashmere worked on 1mm needles

28/2 cashmere worked on 1mm needles

What of the cache of 28/2 cashmere?  It works just fine on 1mm needles and can be used as a substitute yarn for the crewel used in the Bengal glove.

The more work I do on this project the greater my admiration for the anonymous craftsman who made Warren’s gloves and curious now about his supplies and knitting style.

 

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Getting to grips with Warren’s Glove

The end of day 1Swatching for the Warren Hastings glove project began today in earnest.  The meagre piece of knitting on the needles is testament to how challenging the down size in needle and yarn has been and represents a day’s work along with a few discarded efforts.

 

After one day of knitting it is apparent that my interpretation of Warren Hastings gloves will not have the same stitch count as the originals in the Ashmolean Museum.  Whether that is because the  yarn and needle combination of 28/2 cashmere and 0.7mm needles are not sufficiently small to achieve the gauge or that the glove is wide to fit a male hand is presently unclear until I have done more.  For authenticity though, I should really be somewhere near 25 stitches per inch.

Warren Hasting’s gloves appear to have a stitch count of around 204 stitches to fit the upper hand circumference and equates to 17 motifs.  For my hand, a count of 180 stitches/15 motifs seems a more sensible starting point.  For a short glove, even this would be generous, but I am optimistic it is a suitable count for a long glove which will be intentionally designed  oversized to make it easy to put on.  The slim fitting cuff preferred on shorter  gloves seems inappropriate.

The task now is to attempt to draft the finger placement and surface design of the fingers  whilst honing tiny needle knitting skills, confirming gauge and final colours.

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Another Crewel Wool Glove

Mismatched, much learnt

Mismatched, much learnt

Another month has gone by and another manifestation of Warren Hastings gloves has been created, this time with Renaissance Dye crewel wool using 1mm needles. It is a lot finer than the Appletons crewel used in the last project and softer.  They are clearly a mismatched pair but nonetheless wearable.  The left, worked first, was drafted a little too long.  The right eliminates one complete set of motifs and has turned out to be a perfect fit.

At this gauge of around 20 stitches per inch it was possible to incorporate a border trim around the finger tips just like the original gloves.  Warren’s gloves have a trefoil trim but I experimented with both trefoil and lotus.  In this instance I prefer the latter at this gauge as it is not quite so overwhelming.

Lotus border and betel red tips

Lotus border and betel red tips

The betel red tips have the semicircular look of Warren’s gloves although the arrangement of decreases is not the same. My thought behind this is that the equal placement of decreases allows the digit to keep a rounded shape.  The paired decreases of the Warren gloves appears to flatten the digit.  OK perhaps for a broader male hand, but I feel a touch inelegant for a female hand.

Ordinarily I would make a perfect pair before moving on. However, I  have abandoned my obsession for completeness and embarking on the re-craft of the gloves in the Ashmolean. Well that is the plan.  It will no doubt be much more than a month now before I have something to show.  The first obstacle is a further decrease in needle and yarn size.

Cashmere yarns collected

Cashmere yarns collected

Notebook ramblings about progress, pitfalls and problems solved on the project can generally be found on Ravelry or Flickr.  For the first time I will be working in cashmere, just like the original gloves.   The yarn is industry standard luxury quality 2/28 lace-weight from Colourmart and Yarns to Yearn For. Swatching now begins in earnest on newly acquired 0.7mm Hiya Hiya double pointed needles.  It really will be like knitting with wire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Milestone moment

Half way to re-crafting Warren's gloves

Half way to re-crafting Warren’s gloves

The latest pair of gloves are a bit of a milestone moment because I am about half way through my exploration of Indian inspired hand knitted gloves.

Although India has a long and creative textile history, finding useful and reliable sources of information, specifically about knitting, is proving to be a bit of an uphill struggle. Trawling through 18th and 19th century accounts of life in India yields a few noteworthy points but the research, I am afraid to say, is taking a bit of a back seat as I would rather be knitting.

Working on progressively smaller needles and finer yarns has bought with it a number of problems which have needed resolving.  Moving forward though I have devised a way of temporarily holding the finger stitches  which will translate to even finer work.  Providing I am not too ambitious I feel confident I can adjust to the smaller needles and yarns and am aiming to re-craft the originals in spring/early summer when I can make best use of natural light.

This circumference stitch count is about half that of the actual gloves in the Ashmolean.  I am hoping to achieve a gauge of 21 stitches per inch with the next pair.  Working at this gauge it should be possible to work the floral motif on the fingers rather than the complementary stylised boteh.  When maintaining the continuity of pattern it is important to have as many whole motifs visible on the upper fingers as possible.  This can only be achieved at the finer gauges with the 12 stitch repeating pattern.

Warren Hasting's GlovesHere is a reminder of where all this is supposed to be going.  The only other obstacle is drafting a chart that will work first time.  The time spent swatching this most recent pair has been invaluable in giving me a strategy to work my “one hit wonders”.  Hopefully the next pair will allow me to resolve and tweak pattern design further.

 

Meanwhile I am totally in awe of the skills of the anonymous Kashmiri artisan who crafted these and have many more questions than answers about tools, yarns and patterns.  Did he (as opinion is it was most likely a “he”) use weaving yarns perhaps?  Did he work intuitively or was there a pattern?

It is certainly a project raising more questions than answers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tiny Needle Training

A gauge of around 25 stitches per inch is required to re-craft the Warren Hastings gloves. Achieving this will require working with progressively finer needles and yarn until I can work comfortably.

A while back I came across these pretty little wrist warmers knitted in Appleton’s crewel wool which approximates to a 2/24 or laceweight yarn.  If I am to source suitable yarns for the project I have to begin to get my head round yarn weights and counts. Sarah’s Yarns article provides an informative article on the subject.

Sampling and SwatchingUsing crewel wool as a starting point and around six weeks of swatching  and sampling I can comfortably knit with 1.2mm needles and am well on the way to a wearable pair.

The far left glove auditions different designs that will complement the stylized Indian floral motif on a basic sore thumb style glove.  The centre glove auditions a more elaborate three colour cuff pattern based on a trefoil and vine design.  The black work surface design has been worked on a peasant style hand modified with a thumb gusset.  The right glove further modifies the cuff and the glove is one with a palm side thumb.

With three samples worked size, shape and method for working have been resolved. Possibly the biggest challenge has been how to deal with the temporary holding of stitches at the base of the fingers and their transfer back on to needles which is outlined in Note 3 of my working notes on Ravelry. It took a while to get an even tension when working with three colours and knitting the cuff is still painfully slow but am hopeful that the more I do the easier it will get.

This project is almost at 18 stitches per inch so there is a way to go yet before I match the Kashmiri knitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been a while

A post on  Chalk Cottage Knitting‘s blog a while back introduced me to some exquisite 18th Century hand knitting from Kashmir.  The image on the blog is of a crochet pair of gloves belonging to Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India.  These, together with a second pair of knitted gloves are in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Warren Hasting's GlovesI am spellbound by the second pair of hand knitted gloves and intrigued not only by skill of the crafts-person who made them but by the life and times of their owner.

Over the coming months it is my intention to re-craft these gloves to wear.  As I will only get one chance at producing a wearable pair I have spent the last few months exploring surface design and glove shape and in the first instance produced an accessible set of gloves and hand warmer designs.

With Xmas approaching some of these are now destined to be gifts and it is time to move the project forward and begin training for tiny needles if I am to achieve my ambitious goal.

 

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The projects here have been worked in KnitPicks Palette or Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage.  More details about each glove can be found on my Ravelry page.

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