Purl-patterned vest (embroided with gold and silver and silver spangles), mid 17th century, © Oslo Kunstindustrimuseum.

Jacket (silk and metal, knitting), Italy, 17th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Jacket (silk and metal, knitting), Italy, 17th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Creative communities: knitting from 1500-1800

PI5,6: Marie-Louise Nosch and Maj Ringgaard, Denmark

This project is based on a close collaboration between the internationally renowned Centre for Textile Conservation at the University of Copenhagen and the National Museum of Denmark.  The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research (CTR) at the University of Copenhagen is a centre of excellence under the Danish National Research Foundation. In the period of 2005-2010, CTR was awarded DKK 18 million for basic research on ancient textiles. In summer 2009, CTR was prolonged for another five years with a funding of DKK 25 million (2010-2015).  The primary aim of CTR is to provide a position for textiles and textile production into the cultural and economic history of the past. The overall theme of investigation in the first three years for CTR is how humans and textiles interrelate. The main approach is to investigate textiles as a craft. Here the term ‘design’ is employed as the concept for the multitude of deliberate components and choices in a textile. CTR research thus focuses on craft, production, craftspeople, development of technologies and their impact on society. These are all topics which are of direct interest to the HERA programme and the CTR will firstly act as a resource and facility for all members of the HERA Fashioning the Early Modern project. To achieve this, CTR will collaborate closely with the two major relevant institutions in Denmark, The National Museum of Denmark and its Open-Air Museum, and the Museum of Arts and Design. Copenhagen. In the National Museum, Dr. Mikkel Venborg Petersen is curator and head of the Open Air Museum.

The research project that will be the focus for IP5: Creative Communities: Knitting from 1500-1800 is an interdisciplinary investigation of textile cultures in the 17th and 18th centuries in Denmark, with comparative material from Sweden, Norway and the UK. As a useful comparison with the broader work undertaken by the other IPs, this project takes an in-depth case study of a single type of object: the knitted garment which was central to the Baltic and ubiquitous in Northern Europe. This allows us to use  archaeological analysis to understand circulation and dissemination in one European region, providing a necessary corrective to the documentary and visual materials being examined by other project partners. Importantly, it redresses the balance by ensuring that fashion and fashionablity (and its associated concepts of innovation and creativity) are discussed in terms of traditional products such as European knitwear as well as investigating new products.

This research project is framed around a case study of knitted textiles found in archaeological excavations in Copenhagen, Denmark. The unique find of more than 10,000 textiles, includes a large number of knitted items such as stockings and waistcoats which were deposited in the harbor of Copenhagen. These give new and challenging insights into 17th and 18th century Danish textiles and clothing. A textile find in Kalmar in a warship sunk in 1676, among these a knitted silk waistcoat in a ships trunk (still unpublished), adds to the knowledge of knitwear fashions amongst the well-d0-do in the 17th century. Furthermore this Swedish find enables the precise dating of historic knitted artifacts from parts of the old Danish Kingdom.

The IP will investigate both finds and include similar historic textiles from Norway, South West Sweden and England. Three approaches will be taken into account in the IP. Chronological and geographical spread of this type of knit-ware and to a smaller extent the question of evolutionary development of fashion seen from the point of view of knitted garments. The star lozenge pattern of some of the knitwear is typically Danish and has had a wide chronological spread. It is seen in knitted silken waistcoats, as early as the burial clothes of the children of Danish King Christian 4th from the 1620’s. The same pattern is also used in peasant’s clothes in the late 19th century. An investigation of how far back and forth in time the pattern can be traced will therefore reveal interesting information into the mechanisms of diffusion of a fashion and technique over time.

Knitted waistcoats in this pattern were produced in silk, worsted and woollen yarns. The knitted silk waistcoats are embroidered with gold thread at the neckline. The embroidery resembles the English Tudor embroideries, and therefore it has been suggested that these waistcoats were produced in England.  Some identical waistcoats are preserved in England but they differ from the Danish versions in that they are not embroidered. This raises the question of whether this type of waistcoats originates in Denmark or England. Another issue is that some of the woollen waistcoats are of a higher workmanship and this may suggest that they could be worsted waistcoats imported from England. An analysis of yarn and metal thread will give insight into possible North European production centres.

Further analyses of the dye stuff employed in the waistcoats will offer other insights into how the waistcoats can be grouped geographically in terms of origin and dissemination. The knitted items also display interesting information about the evolution of fashion types. Did the production of knitwear evolve from home production over model industry to drapery production?  In the large and impressive Danish find of archaeological textiles, hand- knitted as well as machine-knitted stockings are found side by side. This raises the question of the spread of knitting technology. It need to be investigated – from a technological as  well as designer’s view – why the knitting frame was not implemented earlier to a greater extend in Denmark although it was introduced as early as 1589?  In conclusion the project aims at understanding the position of a peripheral European region – Scandinavia – and its role in the European-wide knitting innovation and developments of fashions.

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