Sunday, 15 January 2012

A look at the knitted things in the St Fagans Museum archives

On Friday I got to see behind the scenes at St Fagans. Elen (the Curator of Costume and Textiles at the museum), and Sian (who works in the Learning Department) took me into the archives to look at their knitted items. I'm pretty much obsessed with knitting, and it was so exciting! There are boxes and boxes of amazing things in the textile archives, and it's so interesting looking through them. The items of clothing that people made and wore brings history alive for me. 

So I thought I'd share some photos of the things we looked at with you. 

First, socks. These are not just any old knitted socks, they are beautiful intricate socks, finely hand knitted, and most of them weren't particularly worn, so I suspect they were perhaps made for the craft of knitting the socks, rather than to be worn every day. I'm not sure of the dates of all of them, but one is from 1882, and I think only one is a recent reproduction.

This sock is from 1882, and has 'Jon G Jones' knitted in the border:

 This sock has a great diamond pattern on it, and is the only one that's really worn. I love the holes in the heels that have been mended and darned, some of it well, some not so well!

These socks have a fascinating story to tell. They are death socks, they were knitted by Elizabeth, for her to wear herself when she was buried (we think she knitted them whilst she was ill), but she never got to wear them as her legs were swollen when she died and they didn't fit. It's a really sad story, but these socks are so beautiful with intricate cables down them, and her name around the top band, and I can see how knitting could maybe be a real comfort to Elizabeth whilst she was ill.

Pretty wavy socks, I think this is knitted using a feather and fan stitch.

 This sock looked very plain, but on closer inspection you can see it's got an intricate pattern knitted into the heel.

 This sock has a pretty band around the top:

Wool dye book
There's a really beautiful book in the archive which shows examples of natural ways of dying wool. Here are some pages showing wool dyed with onion skin, and with sloe and elderberry.

1940s scarf
This is a handknitted scarf, double knitted from lengths of darning wool in 1944, donated by a lady from Llandaff North.  I love the brilliant colour combinations.

1940s cardigan with flower embroidery
This is a cardigan from the 40s-50s, with fantastic flowers embroidered on the top. I love the shape and the puffy style shoulders and sleeves. It was donated by a lady from Newport, Gwent.

1940s jumper
Here's a really unusual jumper, with hand knitted bobble buttons, and a strange grass symbol on the waist. It's from Wrexham.

1940s short pullover
A short little pullover, made with garter stitch (the simplest knit stitch, basically just knit knit knit!) and little rows of yarn overs to make the holes. It was probably knitted by a beginner.
1970s cardigan
I love this little cardigan, made of lots of different yarns including mohair, a great project to use up lots of ends of different yarns. Made by Alison Taylor of Barry. It's got button holes, but no buttons, so I think it's one of those UFOs - a term us knitters use for unfinished objects!

Lots and lots of inspiration here for some great new knitting projects. 

If you're interested in seeing the socks, I'm running a knitting workshop at St Fagans where we'll be knitting things inspired by the patterns on the socks, and it'll be a chance to see them first hand. The workshops are on Saturday 17 March and 19 May, 11am til 12.30pm. Booking essential, for more information visit the St Fagans website. There is also a quilt club (next one is Saturday 3 March), and embroidery workshops 31 March and 28 April.

Elen and Sian are on Twitter, and Sian has a very cool blog of the things she makes.


  1. i love this post amy and the pictures look great!

  2. Brilliant post! What wonderful garments. Just incredible to read about their history, especially the death socks.

  3. These are brilliant! I love the 1940's stuff, so pretty! Thanks for sharing :)

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  5. Oooh la la. Those socks are splendid. Looking at them so closely must have been a treat.

  6. Knowing Wrexhan well you did make me giggle when you said the cardi with the odd grass motif was from there.

    I always understood the blue and white Jon G Jones socks to be death/funeral socks too.

    Lovely to find your blog, not sure how I've previously missed it :o)

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