In the Nova Zemlya gallery at the Rijksmuseum is a case of seventeenth and eighteenth century whalers’ knitted caps which come not from Nova Zemlya but from Spitsbergen. Between 1979 and 1981 there were a series of archaeological expeditions to sites of Dutch whaling camps in the Arctic. Excavations took place at Smeerenburg on Amsterdam Island in the north-west corner of the Spitsbergen archipelago and at the nearby cemetery at Zeeuwse Uitkijk. The sites produced a large quantity of textiles, including whole garments and a number of knitted caps. (Hacquebord, 2005)
The whaling camps in Spitsbergen were first used by the Noordsche Compagnie (Northern Company), which operated in the area of Smeerenburg from 1614 to 1642 when the company was dissolved. Dutch whalers continued in the area. The museum has given the caps a broad dating range, as it was not possible to accurately date the burials, but the graves excavated date from approximately 1600 to 1750. The whalers were not just Dutch nationals, in the early years many Basques were also involved, and later there are references to Danes, English and Germans among the crews.
The caps come from a later period than the collection over 30 sixteenth century caps and cap fragments found at various sites in London, and now held by the Museum of London. There are also a number of sixteenth and seventeenth century caps excavated from the sites of old canals in Copenhagen. The canals were mainly filled in the 1660s and the material is now in the Nationalmuseet. Two late seventeenth century caps were found on the Gunnister man and are now in the National Museums of Scotland. The seven caps shown here are the ones that are in the case in the Rijksmuseum. Better photographs are available via the Rijksmuseum website and permalinks to these are given below. Although the Rijksmuseum website offers a choice of Dutch or English, if you chose English the description of the garment will still be in Dutch. I have tried here to offer a description based on what the Dutch says and my own observations. You will note that there is a considerable difference between the colours in the photographs I took in the museum and the photographs of the same caps on the museums website.
The textiles from both sites were examined by Vons-Comis, who has written extensively on the subject. (Vons-Comis S. Y., 1984) (Vons-Comis S. , 1987 a) (Vons-Comis S. , 1987 b) (Comis, 2005) At Zeeuwse Uitkijk there were 31 knitted caps, and leather cap trimmed with fur from 50 graves. Vons-Comis identified five types of cap. Some have been double knit, double knitting is a method by which two layers are knitted at once giving a double thickness with stocking stitch showing on both the inside and the outside. Some have a finer outer with a coarser knit inner, the two then being sewn together. Sometimes there is a single layer the cap. Caps come with or without a turned up brim, and the brims may or may not have ear-flaps, the ear flaps are unfortunately impossible to see in these photos.
The colours vary considerably; there is a difference between caps from the Smeerenburg site and the Zeeuwse Uitkijk site. The caps from Smeerenburg have lost their original dyed colours and have taken a uniform brown from the soil, while the conditions at Zeeuwse Uitkijk mean that the colours have been retained. Some of the knitting yarns appear to have been tie-dyed using the ikak technique.
The caps on display, with their permalinks, are listed below
Date: ca. 1650 - ca. 1800
Size: Circumference 60 cm by 25 cm tall
Description: This looks much redder in my photo than in the Rijksmuseum one. A dark brown cap, with a slight upturned brim, a tail at the top, and ear flaps. Knitted in the round in stocking stitch the cap is double knitted.
Figure 2: -
Size: Circumference 48cm by 24cm tall
Description: This is knitted with a thicker yarn than some of the others. The wool according to the Rijksmuseum site appears to have originally been green for the body of the cap; however they describe the 5 cm deep brim as having dark and light brown horizontal stripes and dark blue rectangular blocks, but in the photo they look to be in the same colour as the main body. It is described as having earflaps.
Size: circumference 60 cm by 28 cm tall
Description: Cap in red, blue, green, black and light brown horizontal stripes of different widths. It is double thickness and the inner cap has the same stripes, it is described as having earflaps. According to the Rijksmuseum site this is not double knit but consists of two parts sewn together, each part is cut up at the top and sewn. Knitted in the round in stocking stitch, with forty-five rows per ten centimetres.
Size: Circumference 52cm by 22cm tallDescription: This is knitted in the round in stocking stitch. The Rijksmuseum site describes it as, light brown and fine knit with folded rim and a small tail at the top.
Date: ca. 1642 - ca. 1800
Size: Circumference 65 cm by 23cm tall
Description: Double knit in the round in stocking stitch in a fine, light brown wool. The brim is partially folded, and is between two inches and four wide depending on whether it was fully or partially turned up, it has two horizontal blue stripes inside. Described as with ear flaps.
Size: Circumference 30cm by 26cm tall
Description: Again knitted in the round in stocking stitch, and in two parts sewn together. The outer is in fine knit multicoloured wool with light brown, light green, dark green and blue horizontal stripes in different widths and oblique squares. The inner cap is a thinker yarn and light brown. Described as with ear flaps. Multiple repairs are visible.
Size: Circumference 60cm by 24cm tall
Description: Cap double knit in the round in stocking stitch, with ear flaps. The thicker yarn is a somewhat random blue and white pattern with the yarn described by Rijksmuseum as ikat dyed.
There are other caps in the Rijksmuseum collection which are not on display, but there are photos and records on their website, for example:
Another Spitzbergen cap
Date: ca. 1650 - ca. 1700
Size: circumference 58 cm by h 23 cm tall
Description: Cap in blue and orange striped multicolored wool with ear flaps. It has a slight brim. Knit in the round in stocking stitch.
Date: ca. 1650 - ca. 1800
Size: circumference 61 cm by h 30 cm tall
Description: Cap in a dark blue thicker wool. Knit in the round in stocking stitch. The turned up brim has stripes in red, light brown and blue.
Comis, S. (2005). Onderzoek van zeventiende- en achttiende-eeuwse kleding opgegraven op Spitsbergen: mogelijkheden en onmogelijkheden [Investigation of seventeenth and eighteenth-century clothing unearthed Svalbard: possibilities and impossibilities]. In N. Boschman, L. Hacquebord, & J. W. Veluwenkamp, Het Topje Van De Isberg: 35 Jaar Arctisch Centrum (1970-2005) (pp. 61-69).
Hacquebord, L. (2005). Twenty five years of multi-disciplinary research into the17th century whaling settlements in Spitsbergen. In N. Boschman, L. Hacquebord, & J. W. Veluwenkamp, Het Topje Van De Ijsberg: 35 Jaar Artisch Centrum (1970-2005) (pp. 53-60).
Vons-Comis, S. (1987 b). Seventeenth century garments from grave 579, Zeeuwse Uitkijk, Spitsbergen. In P. a. Walton, Textiles in northern archaeology: NESAT 3. London: Archetype.
Vons-Comis, S. (1987 a). Workman's clothing or burial garments? seventeeth and eighteenth century clothing remains from Spitsbergen. Norsk Polarinstitutt Rapportserie , 38.
Vons-Comis, S. Y. (1984). Seventeenth and eighteenth century clothing remnants from Spitsbergen. . Kostuum , pp. 32-36.