Saturday 11 February 2012

Gunnister man (late 17th century) knitting

I am NOT a knitter, but I've had a go at re-creating two of the knitted items buried with the Gunnister man. The body, found in a bog in the Shetland Islands, dates from the end of the 17th century, beginning of the 18th century. A coin of 1694 in his purse gives us an earliest date. Although little of the body itself survived the woollen garments remained intact, including a shirt, breeches, jacket, and coat. The knitted garments were stockings, heavily repaired, gloves, two caps, a purse and a small scrap of knitting. I’ve tried making the cap with the brim and the purse.

The cap with a brim. I've worked it on 5mm needles at 5- 5½ stitches to the inch where the original is 9, and 6 rows to the inch where the original is 12. Instead of 5 pattern repeats as in the original,I only did two repeats of the brim pattern, which is created by first row - k1 k2tog, k, make a stitch, repeat to end. K 3 rows. This meant I ended up with a 1½ inch brim as in the original. The wool I’ve used is Herdwick in a light Aran weight; the original is described as having been made from a two or three ply Cheviot type fleece. I’m going to try again using a much thinner yarn and finer needles.

The purse. This is now brown but was probably grey; the pattern is worked in red and white. Like the cap it was worked on four needles. It starts at the top and works down. When casting on after every six stitches a loop is created from a chain of seven stitches. This creates a series of loops through which the drawstring runs. The drawstring is a double cord made from a plait created in the same yarn as the main colour of the purse. Three tassels are made from a mixture of the three yarns used in the knitting and are attached to the bottom of the purse. The original is 5¼ inches by 3¾ inches. The top two inches are knitted in a 2k, 2p rib. This finishes with a row of purl, after which the rest is worked in stocking stitch. After 12 rows of plain there are 6 rows of pattern in red, then 15 rows of plain followed by 5 rows of pattern, 5 rows of plain, then 5 rows of pattern to the bottom of the purse.

The original descriptions of the items are in Henshall, A. S. And Maxwell, S. Clothing and other articles from a late 17th century grave at Gunnister, Shetland. Proccedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1951-52. pp30-42

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