Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Castle Fibers Calenders

so, i've spent quite a bit of time in the last few days designing a calender with Castle Fibers pics in it. i'm super excited to see it in print!  it'll be available in the shop within a week or so, and i'll be selling it on-line if people are interested! just let me know so i can reserve you a copy, since supplies are limited.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Henry VIII to the Commonwealth

Rutt moves on to discussion of knitting from 1509-1547.  He suggests that perhaps knitting moved slowly because knitting needles were hard to make.  this is most certainly possible. 

He states that first hats, then stockings, were knitted on a large scale in England.  i believe he says this because of extant items but he doesn't give those specifics.  He uses several conclusory statements that he likely has a reason for saying--but it doesn't give those reasons.  "Well-dressed people went on wearing cloth hose long after knitted stockings were first made, and it seems likely that before Elizabeth's reign knitted stockings were worn only by children and perhaps some artisans."  why does he say this?  he doesn't tell. 

one of my biggest concerns is that he wrote this book to some degree or another to appeal to a wide audience, but then consistently presents things as if they were fact ("evidence from Henry VIII's reigh shows the word 'knit' simply meant tied even in relation to hose'") he then uses a single example of a quotation to back this.  does this mean what he says?  perhaps.  even his quotation doesn't necessarily give weight to his claims tho.  "the garments were of strange fashion with also strange cuts, every cut knit with points of find gold and tassels of the same, their hosen cute and tied in likewise".  it certainly appears that in this case the person who said this (Edward Hall in his Chronicle) used knit and tie interchangeably.  is this an indication that all people used it thus?  perhaps.  or perhaps not. 

Henry's household accounts were transcribed in 1827 and while the word knit is used "ambiguously" there are a whole variety of reasons this could be.  for example in 1532 someone received  money for a pair of 'nyte hosen' for the king.  while this statement does not of necessity mean that the hosen were actually knitted (nyte could mean a variety of things i suppose) i think this is where Occam's Razor might come into play.  given all things be equal, the obvious answer is likely right.  by 1532 there were knitted stockings elsewhere in the world, spelling had not taken on the absoluteness of today (and doesn't actually for several hundred years), and while Rutt suggests it really might mean "night" (altho he acknowledges that the lack of a 'gh' is just as suspicious as the lack of a 'k') the most likely answer is that the hose were knitted.  can we say this with certainly?  of course not.

one of the things that is interesting in reading Rutt is his propensity to throw off little comments as fact that are largely unrelated to much of anything else he's talking about--and not necessarily true.  ("he not only gives a word for knitting that means 'to lace' or 'to interlace' and mentions bonnets and hose, but notes that knitting is financially unprofitable--as it has been ever since)  what the point of that little last toss off is, i'm not certain. 

in a 1890 publication of Wells Wills it is recorded that Agnes Smythe of Minehead bequeathed to someone "a cape and a knytter" and to someone else "an apron and a knitter".  William also made a bequest of his wife's "best ca, and her best gown and her best knytter".  Rutt agrees with me that there is really no way to tell what a "knitter" was, but suggests that it was probably an article of women's dress.  he fails to suggest it would be a knitted item, or a item used for knitting.  this is perhaps one of Rutt's most irritating characteristics.  he seems intent on proving that nothing was knitting that can not be shown without question to be.  rather than presenting the information and simply admitting there's no knowing what it means--which would have left openings for research, he suggests options that ten to close those doors. 

The Mary Rose, Henry's flagship that sunk in 1545, gives us an interesting view of the world.  a picture of a moment in time.  the ship was lost with all 700 people on board.  Because of the nature of the ocean and silt and such, much was preserved, including some knitting.  2 hats with brims around, a triangular scrap,  and a tube that is missing the bound off edge.  the hats purpose is clear, the triangular scrap is just a scrap, and the tube is likely either a scogger or a hogger--a detatched sleeve or leg warmer that was worn ny sailors.

Other knitted pieces have been found in 16th century digs throughout London.  they include sleeves or gaiters with a row of purl stitches at the ends, socks with garter stitch heels--with no defined seam line down the back, and a child's mitten.

Edward VI (1547-1553)
In this section Rutt again suggests that knitted garments were worn chiefly by children and working folk. It is unclear precisely why he suggests this.  perhaps because many extant items are child sized?  it is difficult to know and had he explained why he believed this it would be much easier to know. 

Regardless by 1552 there is an act of Parliment limiting the times for buying and selling a variety of things including knit hose, knit petticoats, knit gloves, and knit sleeves. additionally, he reports that King Edward had a pair of long Spanish stockings sent to him. so clearly, while knitting may (or may not) have been worn cheifly by children and working folk, royalty wore knitted garments. 

I am noting a significant change from the last chapter to this.  Here, where there is a fair bit of written documentation, Rutt does better.  he does much more "reporting" and makes far fewer conclusory statements.  I suspect that this is where Rutt "comes into his own".  where there is plenty of research to be done, it is primarily research into things that are written down.  He has found many references to knitting (i suspect many where found for him--unfortunately he doesn't tell us if he looked at the books in question, or if he looked at books whose authors had looked at the books in question--so it's still unclear how much of a secondary source Rutt can be considered) throughout literature and history and in this he shines. 

his real downfall was earlier when he should have done original research since no one had, or when he should have found foreign speakers to translate that which could not read, etc.  as we head into the part of history that is much more well-known, not surprisingly his history is better authenticated and more liekly accurate.    Tomorrow---Mary Queen of Scots!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

some comments of mine on Rutt

allow me to say that my purpose in this review is not to slam Rutt, not to attempt to make everything Rutt says or concludes wrong.  instead, my conversation is to discuss the value of Richard Rutt's books as a source.  Richard Rutt, it would appear, took a bunch of books, primarily written in English, and read them and made his notes in the margins and his wife encouraged him to publish his conclusions. 

he reached some good conclusions, he reached some questionable conclusions, and unfortunately for us, there is no way to tell from his book, which are which.  His book is helpful in that it brings up the questions about naalbinding, that hadn't been asked by the general knitter before.  I don't like or dislike the book--i find it irritating that Rutt didn't bother to make this book valuable.

Most random knitters would never read this book cover to cover.  and moreover, they would simply assume that since Rutt got it published and he states things so authoritatively and has so many sources, etc, that he must be right.  so, his book got some people interested in the history of knitting--and in the process gave plenty of information--which may or may not be true.

the vast majority of people who would really READ this book would actually be interested in an authoritative source.  and if it were an authoritative source it would have more value to everyone. if Rutt had given sources, (author and page) people who wanted to know could check those sources.  instead, the book is a series of conclusory comments that no one but Rutt knows precisely why or how he came to. 

is this the best we've got?  probably in a single source.  in some ways.  What Rutt's book needs is a disclaim in bold capital letters on the first page of text (not in the introduction at the very end).  It needs to say:  this book is an amateur bit of research.  it is not the be all end all of knitting history information.  it is actually a long ways from that.  it is not authoritative.  if i turned this book in as a high school research paper, i'd fail.

is Rutt at fault?  not at all.  he wrote what he wrote, and managed to get it published.  more power to him.  the problem is that people are using it as the "bible of knitting history".  instead it is at best a tertiary source of information.  it does not appear, for the most part, that Rutt went and looked at the textiles that he describes in such detail.  had he done so, there wouldn't be mistakes in describing color.  Hell, if he had bothered to look at his own book he wouldn't have.  in my particular copy of the book there is a color plate of the swiss pouch in the last post i made.  this type of "research" isn't research. 

I suspect that Rutt read a bunch of books--assumed those books were telling the truth as they knew it--and published his own comments on those books.  a lot like these blog posts.  only he got them published as an authoratitive bit or research.  it is clear that he intends it to be authoritative.  he got it published.  (if he thought he was mistaken it's unlikely he would have published it, and even if he did, he wanted poeple to read and believe what he said).  now, how authoritative is he when there is easier research to be done?  (in the Victorian age and later) i've no idea... i've not read those chapters with an eye for mistakes yet. 

in the end, the flaw in Rutt is two fold--first Rutt himself is a lazy academic.  he makes too many conclusory statements without any source to back him up--and in many cases he doesn't even bother to explain his own thought process.  the second problem is in the use it is being put to--which Rutt, to some degree or another intended.  this is not the final authority on knitting history.  and yet, when people propose alternative possibilities and theories, they are most often met with "but Rutt says...".  i've encountered on numerous occasions.  the words are not always "but Rutt says...", but the meaning is clear.  no other book puts forth the claims that Rutt does, and Rutt's theories have, for the most part, been accepted, whole cloth, as the TRUTH.  as such, anyone working outside the confines of what Rutt proposes, is considered wrong by many people.  and that is unfortunate, and far from encouraging further scholarship, it has apparently been heralded as the be all, end all... and so no further research is needed. 

so, my point.... read Rutt, but read it knowing that it is a tertiary source and that Rutt's conclusions are not the only conclusion that could be reached from the information.  take it with a grain of salt...and don't slam people who assume there is much more to learn, because even Rutt says he asks more questions than he answers and that further research is needed and necessary.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

onward and upward

allow me to digress a bit... one of the great things about Richard Rutt's A History of Handknitting (if you're interested in the history of knitting) is the great number of fairly good quality illustrations.  there are lots of photographs of extant knitting as well as charting out of various knitting patterns.....i love this.  one could use the book to reproduce some of theses historic knitting patterns with what appears to be good accuracy. 

on the minus side, Rutt's book is very stream of conscious.  he wanders randomly from the Egyptian bits to a discussion of how chain mail is not kniting.  why?  there is no way to tell.  the book would have benefitted greatly from a different organizational method.  a chapter of all the "some people think this might be knitted, but it's really not" would have cleaned up the rest of the book to be more tightly focused on knitting.  little random bits tossed here and there in the text are off putting, and occassionally confusing. 

the Las Huelgas pillows. 
the next topic is two pillows recovered from a tomb in Spain.  The contents of the tomb, a bural for royalty of the 13th century, were recovered and conserved in 1944-45.  two truly important bits of knitting history came in the recovery.  they were sealed in the tombs, so they can actually be dated and are the first extant items of European knitting, time-wise. 

the first, is from the tomb of Fernando de la Cerda, hear of Alfonso X of Castile.  Prince Fernando died in 1275.  An important note about this pillow, and the other, is the skill involved in making them.  this first has approximately 20 stitches to the inch.  it's important to consider what exactly this means. when knitting socks it is typical to get between 8 and 12 stitches per inch.  the smallest gauge recommendation i found when searching was 60 stitches over 4 inches--that's 15 stitches to the inch.  this is not the product of some "new knitter" by any stretch of the imagination.  this is an incredibly detailed, involved piece knitted on tiny tiny needles, with 'yarn' smaller than sewing thread.  it seems unlikely that this was even a second or third generation knitting piece.  this was a masterwork from a masterwork knitter.  and it's very existance in 1275 implies that knitting is several hundred years older.Rutt's only conclusion tho is "We can say little more for certain than that they are works of the highest craftsmanship".  this is true, but what a textile historian could conclude from their existance, is likely very different than this simplistic statement. 

Rutt persists in making other comments for no apparent reason tho including "they must have been made on steel pins, which were probably hooked." why on earth does he conclude this?  is there evidence that he has left out of the book that leads to this guess, or more likely, is Rutt making suppositions of his own? 

the knitting madonnas are the next topic of discussion.  Rutt suggests that really all that can be concluded from this pieces of artwork (there are a number of them)  is that knitting was known in Europe and the particular artists knew how it was done. what he ignores is that several of the pieces (here's a link so you can see for yourself what they look like:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/claning/sets/72157594483569366/ ) include much more information than that.  two of the pictures found in the book (the second and fourth in the flickr stream linked above) show "specialized" items that were clearly used as part of knitting.  little peg boards that held the spools of yarn/thread.  this does tell more than Rutt acknowledges.  it demonstrates, for example, that specialized tools were being made for knitting already in the time these paintings were done.

 In Switzerland in two different locations--5 in Sion and 1 in Chur there are 6 knitted colorwork relic bags.  Rutt moves to these next.  One of his first and most questionable comments is this:  "they are considered to be of fourteenth-century origin and are notable similar.  doubtless all six came from one source, but where that source was is beyond conjecture."  what is also beyond conjecture is whether they came from one source or 6 or something in between.  the fact that 6 similar bags are found in two locations does not evidence anything.  even today, not all identical, but rare items come from the same maker.  in addition to all other issues with his discriptions, he has some of the desciptions actually wrong. 

for example:  he descibes the Chur bag as follows:  "the five band are alternately red and beige.  Two shield designs alternate on each band.  the shields on the red band are charged respectively, with a lion rampant and narrow chevrons, all worked in light blue.  the shields on the beige band are charged, respectively, with an octagaonal rosette and indented chevrons, worked in red."
please note that when looking at an actual image of the bag, Rutt reversed the colors.  this is a bit disturbing to say the least.  it is likely that Rutt simply reproduced an error from another book, but this leads to more disturbing questions.  he makes many statements that seem to imply that he is perhaps personally a textile expert, yet, it appears likely that he simply read other people's books and made suppositions based on those books (only the ones in English of course).  if Rutt were more clear about where exactly he came by his information his book would be much more helpful.  did he copy the description from another book in error?  did he ever see the piece in question? this last becomes more important when taken in light of the whole book.  did Rutt visit the museums and look at the pieces he is so carefully discribing?  what exactly are his credentials for some of the claims that he makes? 

then we're on to more stream of consciousness: knitted girdles.  only not.  rutt is right back to ignoring evidence that he doesn't like.  apparently the 1488 will of John Gregson has this sentence in it:  "lego Willelmo Rayner cappellano j knytt gyrdyll et harnast cum argento".  Rutt acknowledges that this appears to mean "I bequeath to William Rayner the chaplain one knitted girdle with silver appurenances".  then he goes on to suggest that the word "knytt" also meant plaited or braided (no references here) and concludes that "is more liekly to indicate some such technicque than what we now call knitting" (why?)  he uses a non-textile book--a book about ecclesiastical vestments (Die Liturgische Gewandung--1907) to reach this conclusion because this books says knitted girdles were first made in the 16th century in Italy. 

It is a given that knitting existed in Europe by 1488, so his assumption that one book is correct, and another is incorrect, with no explanation, no evidence to lead in that direction, is just that.  an assumption.  no better or worse than others.  what follows in his discussion of Asian spinning men, nuns' work and mediaeval gaiters is just as frustrating.  it is pointless to go through and note the minutia of his assumptions, suffice it so say that as typical, Rutt as taken things that agree with assumptions about when knitting started and he likes those, and anything that does not, he ignores or excuses as shoddy research. 

moving on to something that deals with actual evidence is nice.  liturgical gloves are the next topic that rutt addresses.  here he's right back to claims that are at best suppositional.  the first two sentences under this heading are: "the Roman's had no word for 'glove'.  Gloves must have originated in the early Middle Ages."  he appears to be suggesting one of these statements leads directly to the other.  that because Roman's nad no word for gloves, they could not have had gloves.  again:  these types of assumptions are simply not accurate.  when new items/methods are created, most often they are identified with words that are part of the language, that come the closest to describing a thing.  for example, when BLOGS first came into being, they weren't called a thing of their own.  no one sat down and came up with a name.  they were simply called weblog.  the word blog grew out of that word.  weblog was first coined in 1997.  are we to assume then that blogs did not exist prior to this date?  in reality in 1994 Justin Hall became a very early blogger. 

now remembering that today in the world of internetz and such, words and language are developing very quickly, it is not surprising that in Rome, they didn't come up with a totally unique word for gloves, rather just adapted other words "manica" which meant wristlet or cuff, or used a greek based word "chirotheca" that meant "hand-case".  Rutt's assumptions about the way that language develops are interesting, but without citations, it is hard to grant his opinion much weight.

Rutt suggests that the gloves housed at the Cathedral in St. Sernin at Toulouse can confidently be attributed to the 13th century.  they are knitted in fine white stockinet, and are plain with clumsy fingers and thumbs.  unfortunately this leads back to questions of why Rutt says this?  did he see the gloves in question?  simply repeat what was in a different book?  it is impossible to know really.  Regardless, the 16th century there are examples, extant, of involved colorwork gloves. 

Fifteenth-century Pomerania.  this is perhaps one of the most frustrating sections of the book.  frustrating because it is short and unilluminating and frustrating because of how he ends it.  In 1640 the book Altes Pommerland (p389) states that Sophia, hte daughter of Procopius, margrave of Moravia, who dies in 1417 when she grew old her eyesight was too poor for embroidery or sewing  and "nie die knutte von ehren Handen geleget".  She never put the knitting needles down.  In 1986 Irena Turnau discusses 6 knitted fragments of the 12th or 13th century found in a grave near Ketrzyn in Poland as well as other items including a cap and four pairs of gloves from teh 14th or 15th century in Latvia,near Riga.  Unfortuantely Rutt ends by stating that we can't know their significance since they are only described in Polish and Latvian. 

this is perhaps the biggest problem with this book.  Rutt's failure to seek out and find people who could read Polish and Latvian and find out what is said about the items leaves his readers, and himself in the dark.  his assumptions are often based on the idea that since there are no extant pieces of knitting in such-and-such a time, knitting didn't exist.  without bothering to find what is known about pieces in countries that don't speak english, an awful lot is left out of this book. 

Cap Knitting is the next secion.  Rutt concludes that caps seem likely to be the first items knitted in England, but acknowledges that perhaps other articles of earlier date exist and the records and extant items do no exist so we don't know about them.  This is a bit of a problematic conclusion to reach, but as he says, there is little evidence on either side.  Regardless by the late 1400s cap knitting has taken off in england.  a variety of cap styles came quickly into being from the "monmouth cap" to others. 

his discussion is brief but as far as i can tell, quite to the point.  while he is conclusory on many occassions, his conclusions do seem to be supported by much of the other disucssion in books. 

his last tiny note about pre-1500s stockings is too short and not helpful.  as typical he throws out the little bit of information that is apparently available and then says that much study remains to be done. 

tomorrow, we're talking about Henry the VII!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Chapter 2: Before 1500

Chapter 2 starts with a discussion of myths and legends that include knitting references.  or more importantly the lack there of.  one of Rutt's favorite things, it appears, is to poke holes in other research, but back it up with nothing.  for example, Mary Thomas apparently tells a Yemeni story about Eve knitting the pattern on the snake's back.  Rutt's response is that she gives no verifiable source (pot meet kettle) and then states that even if it is real, it's trivial and therefore proves nothing.

One of the most objectionable things about Rutt is his own sense of self-importance.  He regularly calls out other authors for not bothering to give sources, etc, but gives none of his own.  he makes comments like "the words obviously mean..." and "the pious william felkin..."  ad hominim attacks disprove nothing. 

his comments about Christ's garment that was diced for, might very well be correct.  it seems likely that a bishop might actually know a lot about biblical references, to bad he doesn't share them. 

The Esch fragments and a word about words.  Rutt states:  "the oldest datable pieces of what is claimed as knitted fabric were found...."  the word claim comes with quite a lot of baggage unfortunately.  claim implies disbelief.  so these fragments--they were found in a 2nd century grave in southern Holland.  in 1966 the two fragments were examined by a textile technologist, J. E. Leene.  J. E. Leene appears, from a quick search on Google to be a well respected textile scientest, so it seems legitimate to trust JE's conclusions.  JE concluded that indeed they were structurally stockinet, altho they were attached to a backing of some sort. 

Rutt's response is typical.  they don't fit well into his theory of when knitting began (much much later), so he discounts them as perhaps unique, or not actually knitted items, "they must have been made by hand, but we cannot say what tools were used." 

Nalbinding discussion.  what follows is a fairly long discussion of nalbinding from the Middle East.  it's important to consider several things when discussion nalbinding.  if as is at least possible, knitting developed OUT of nalbinding, then some of the discussion is irrelevent.  the discussion primarily involves a piece of nalbinding  found in 1933.  or 3 pieces.  altho two are completely ignored by Rutt, the one, which is apparently rather sizable, includes a decrease technicque that Rutt asserts is not convenient with knitting, but is convenient with nalbinding, and therefore the piece must be nalbound.  in spite of this claim, Barbara Walker, in her Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns gives the Dura-Europos patterns, which are quite knittable.  Rutt again makes statements that are questionable here:  the work was probably done in the round (why does he think this?) and may be part of a sock (why again?). 

moving on to Romano-Egyptian socks.  there are several collections that house these socks. they certainly appear to be nalbound (one of the easy ways to tell is the numerous yarn joins that are round in nalbinding but not in knitting), and recent discussion seems to agree that these are nalbound.  with an entire piece it is much easier to establish whether an item is knitted or not because of those pesky joins. 

in his discussion of Mediaeval Egypt Rutt discussing a fragment that was part of a swiss textile experts collect (his name was Fritz Ikle).  a photgraph of the fragment is published in Mary Thomass Knitting Book (1938 p91).  unfortunately the fragment is no longer extant.  Ilke dated the fragment to 7th-9th centuries, but as typical, Rutt simply discounts it since it is not extant.  This piece is in crossed stockinet.  the next pieces are not.  the blue and white Islamic socks and fragments of knitting that are generally accepted as dated to between 1000-12000 AD of Egyptian finds.  none have been carbon dated, so it is impossible to know specific dates.  the pieces which are all relatively similar and very unlike the nalbinding that predates them, are likely the oldest knitting extant. 

Rutt states at this point that nalbinding has given way to knitting sometime between 500 and 1200 AD.  a darned long time that.  and moreover, if the colorwork pieces that are extant are the earliest examples, it is clear that knitting started substantially before these pieces were made.  any knitter could attest to the fact taht this involved colorwork knitting, with detailed colorwork was clearly not a "first generation" of knitting.  it is unlikely, actually, that these pieces were even in the first hundred years.

tomorrow, moving on to the cushions of Las Huelgas....the earliest dated European knitting examples. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

friday night with Rutt

yes, i'm aware i have NO life.  so here i am discussing chapter 1.  chapter one is called definitions and techniques.  for the most part, let me say in advance that i agree with rutt's definitions.  the chapter is mostly straight forward and pretty easy to understand.  initially be provides what i'd generally consider to be a good definition of knitting--except of course, he fails to do anything in this definition to eliminate naalbinding that is identical to cross-stitch knitting.  in order for his definition to be truly accurate it is reasonable to require that the fabric be produced with either a frame or multiple needles, or something.  otherwise, the definition will include some naalbinding.  oops.

then he goes on to discuss various other methods of producing fabric that is similar to knitting and might be mistaken for knitting.  he leaves out one notable technique that when viewed from the front only looks almost identical to knitting--soumak weaving.  on the front soumak weaving produces the vs of knitting, and only when viewed from the back can one tell it is not knitting simply by looking at it.  this is important to note ecause later he discusses items where the back cannot be seen and simply concludes that they are knitting without further discussion. 

Rutt then  moves on to a discussion of actual knitting.  in this he proceeds on with more linguistic discussion that makes absolutely no citations, so it's hard to tell where he got his info from, or if it is simply his own supposition.  for example, he states that the term stockinet was probably derived from "stocking net", while this seems to be generally accepted in the dictionaries that i looked at, it would be nice to see where he concluded that.  additionally he proceeds to put forth the claim that the spelling stockinet is older and better, again with no explanation.  this utter lack of explanation is very frustrating. footnotes would have been most helpful, and done little to make the book less readable. 

moving on the the casting on and binding off discussion--it apears that he fails to address longtail cast-on which is probably the most commonly used cast-on today.  this seems like a bit of an odd omission.  he also only discusses a single bind-off method and in such terminology that it's difficult to know which bind-off he's actually referring to.  all throughout this, there are lots of comments that fail to give any evidence of why they are true, occassionally just referring to other books that he states have no justification either.  this is shoddy research at best.  if there is no evidence (for example) of what bind on was mostly commonly used in england until the 20th century, it would best to not try to explain, especially not when what evidence is suggested exists, is not given. 

when discussing handling knitting needles, there are again lots of holes in the research.  there are comments like: "The cottagers could 'knock off the loops' of their coarse stockings, but the ladies usually worked with silk or fine Berlin wool to produce delicate items.  They thought of their work as artistic and refined."  all of these comments may be accureate.  perhaps cottage knitters did 'knock off the loops' of their coarse stockings, perhaps ladies worked with silk or fine Berlin wool, and produced delicate items, and perhaps they thought of their work as artistic and refined, but Rutt offers NO evidence of any of this.  none.  research claims like this should have some source to back them up.  it brings up further questions about whether Rutt simply published his own thoughts, or whether there wsa actual research that this was based on.  some simple footnotes would make the book a much more usable research item.  unfortunately as it stands, one can't even go and find where Rutt reaches his conclusions, or why.  makes for not good research. 

furthermore, he then states that the "older way to knit" involves holding one needle still and moving the other.  it is likely that he is correct (the oldest evidence of how knitting was done is later in the book in the knitting madonnas.  it is unfortunate that he fails to explain how his conclusions were reached.  most of the rest of the chapter seems largely irrelevent, discussing such things as knitted wire and whther knitting should be considered an art or a craft. 

it is understandable that Rutt did not feel like publishing footnotes or giving explanations of his conclusions, the problem is that his failure to do so makes the book almost unusable as a research tool.  short of simply purchasing all the books in the bibliography and going through each one and hoping that the same conclusion is reached that Rutt reached, the book is simply "fun reading" if one likes that sort of thing.  what is most disturbing is the way that Rutt's book has been heralded as the current go-to book on the history of knitting.  this is fine, as long as being able to research for oneself is unimportant. 

tomorrow, before 1500.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A history of Handknitting by Richard Rutt

i obtained this book some months ago--maybe even a year or so--and i had up until now just sort of browsed my way through it.  recently i decided to start going through it chapter by chapter.  there are variety of issues with the book as a real history of anything.  i've heard it referred to by SCA people as the "bible of knitting" claiming that in the future there will be "BR" and "AR" --before Rutt and after Rutt.  my plan is to go through the book a bit at a time, posting my thoughts about what is good scholarship, and what is not.  so...today, the preface and introduction (or at least part of it).

the preface of this work really changes many things about it, if you actually read it.  Rutt states that this is a pioneer essentially in discussion of hand knitting.  in this it is true.  i've looked at many of the books that were published prior to this and they simply aren't very researched.  he then goes on to say that this is an amateur work, uneven and incomplete.  this is completely true.  having browsed the rest of the book i can tell you that Rutt fails to make much of any effort to look at any literature that is not English.  for example, (in my copy on page 58 in Before 1500) his last comment about 15th century Pomerania is:  "these pieces have been described only in Polish and Latvian respectively, so we cannot yet know their significance."  this type of comment in a book that proposes itself as a "history of handknitting" is truly disturbing.  a friend suggested that the book was essentially "a romp" through the books in english about knitting.  if it had been stated as such, it wouldn't concern me nearly as much. 

Rutt goes on to state that since it isn't an academic thesis he has left out notes and page references.  this is bad enough, but it also only contains a "select bibliography" implying that there are book references completely left out.  all and all, this is quite concerning as a piece of research that is being referenced regularly by people.  it is, at best, mostly a tertiary source that contains some fairly good quality black and white photographs. (oh by the way, almost none of the photographs are Rutt's own, all seem to be borrowed from other books, implying in some cases that he never went and looked at the items since he reproduces errors from other books in some cases).  Rutt's conclusions are regularly questionable in numerous ways....

onward to the introduction:  at the beginning of the introduction it becomes even more clear that this is really just about english records of knitting.  the first line of the intro starts "The first English records of the history of knitting..." Rutt then goes on to discuss a variety of knitting references... this is somewhat interesting, but not very enlightening.  He does make reference to some scholarly work by Johan Christoph published between 1790 and 1805.  It appears that he referenced to an english translation--and unfortunately translations are always problematic.  he then goes through a list of other references and makes some general criticisms.  (many seem to be very fair) for example a reference to "History of Framework Knitters" which apparently in the 1st chapter suggests that there are Biblical references to knitting. 

From here, we launch into an interesting discussion of word origins and linguistics.  Let's just for a moment back up.  Harps are extremely ancient.  but until about the 13th century in many languages the word that referred to harp was a generic word that referred to stringed instrucments including lyre and harp and others.  by Rutt's theory that since there was not an ancient Greek word for knitting, there must not be knitting; we would have to conclude that there were also no harps.  (altho we see pictures of harps in the pyramids and in ancient artwork throughout the world).  I have a couple of friends who study linguistics, and all agree that a language having no "specialized word" for something proves nothing linguistically.  Moreover, when he goes on to discuss the English word for knitting he insists that since early uses of the word knit (or earlier spellings like knytt in middle english) have various meanings that this demonstrates something.  he states certain things are unreasonable, but given that he leaves out any references, it's hard to know why he reaches these conclusions.  again--we can't really conclude what existed or did not exist based on linguistics, at least not the way he makes his claims.  having no single word that is used only to refer to something is not indicative of much.  and Rutt takes this as proof that knitting does not exist earlier than certain dates.

point:  i'm not saying that Greeks knitted.  i'm saying that his arguments are flawed.  what we know is that between the fall of Rome and 1200 a number of regional languages emerge into venacular use.  some are languages that were used prior, and became more prevelent after the Roman laws of latin being the legal language across its are of affect (like German) and other languages actually develop OUT of Latin (like langue d'oc and langue d'oil).  these languages are in their infancy in this time, so their failure to label every single thing until the between 1000-1300 is not even remotely surprising.  and later revamping of words was not surprising either.  again as an example the word "harpa" was used in anglo-saxon to refer to both harps and lutes and other plucked instruments--it meant "to pluck", the fact that later words were utilized to specify the difference between a harp and a lute, and that the word harp stuck to harps, says nothing about how old lutes are. 

unfortunately, i suspect that much of the problem here lies in Rutt himself.  he was a knitter--or at least he did knit, but he was primarily a priest.  he did study medieval and modern languages at Cambridge, but became a missionary priest in 1954, knowlege of linguistics has come a long ways since then.  he, in the end, appears to have made knitting a hobby, and having written several books (about Korean and Chinese literature) decided that publishing his own thoughts on knitting was valuable.  i am not suggesting it is not, however, his conclusions are often seem to be based not on good research, but on his own conclusions, however good or faulty those are.  when reading A History of Handknitting, one must really take into account these things.  i make no claim to being a linguist or historian (my field of research is music history so in many ways i am much like him), but my conclusions leading me to different places makes me no more wrong than he... and no more right.