Knitting with a 14th-century goodwife….
Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland, published by Boydell Press, in association with the Museum of London. ISBN 978-1-84385-239-3 (First published in 1992 and reprinted numerous times since then, lastly in paperback in 2016, which is the version I have.)
Before I proceed, I will say that among the sites that provided contributions to this work is Baynard’s Castle (excavated in 1972), which was, of course, a very important residence of the House of York. The book’s coverage ends at 1450, but I am sure the site will still be of interest to those of the murrey-and-blue persuasion.
The sites covered are mostly along the northern bank of the Thames, in the old city, and were excavated over a period of about twenty years. Archaeologists have discovered all sorts of clothing and textiles that speak of their owners’ status. The list of finds includes “knitting, tapestries, silk hair-nets and elaborately patterned oriental, Islamic and Italian fabrics….beautifully made buttons, buttonholes and edgings which display superb craftsmanship and a high level of needlework skills.”
I purchased the book because it was referred to when I was reading something else, and I am very glad to possess it. The intricate detail and beautiful illustrations are breathtaking. There are some astonishing reconstructions of complicated designs, built up from small fragments. They reveal some exquisitely delicate, decorative silks, brocades and other fine fabrics. At Baynard’s Castle, the most exotic piece retrieved was a Chinese twill damask woven from silk. Oh, to know to whom that belonged!
The samples of knitting are almost moving. There it is, good old stocking stitch, exactly as we knit it now. Looking at the fragments, the medieval period melds with the present, as if there were no intervening centuries. I felt I could sit amicably side by side with a 14th-century goodwife, our needles tapping away…producing the same result. Perhaps she would knit one of a pair of gloves, and I the other. I know, the weaving and other handcrafts are still the same as well, but it was the knitting that touched me.
If I have a criticism, it is that I would have liked more colour photographs. Determining the details of various forms of warp and weft is not always easy when shown in grayscale. At least, maybe they are to someone with weaving experience, but not to someone who seldom ventured beyond knitting.
(Please note that the book to which the above link takes you is illustrated with an earlier cover than the one which will arrive, which has the cover pictured at the top of this page.)