Thursday 22 November 2018

Early Modern Knitted Waistcoats and Jackets

Waistcoat. Norsk Folkemuseum.(CC-BY-SA)
This post was originally written in 2017, and up dated with links checked and another four survivals added in September 2020.

The silk knitted waistcoats mainly of the seventeenth century are fairly well known. The push for putting together this, very incomplete overview and list, came from this month’s Knitting History Forum meeting, (November 2017) where Jana Trepte (Kiel University) gave a presentation on ‘Piecing the Bremen waistcoat together: an everyday knitted garment of the early 1600s.’ 

Jana talked about an excavation by the river in Bremen between 2004 and 2007, which produced finds dating between the 1590s and 1630. Among the vast number of finds were at least 10,000 fragments of textiles and leather, of which at least 2% are knitted. Jana had investigated twelve of these fragments closely, at least one of which, the largest, would appear from the shape to be from a waistcoat. The fibre is wool, and the shaping was produced by adding and decreasing stitches. The gauge at which it was knitted was 68 to 10 cm. by 84 per 10 cm. (Please note that having spent nearly 60 years talking about stitches and rows per inch, I am still having difficulties converting to wale (vertical column of stitches) and course (horizontal row) per 10 centimetres) The garment from which the fragment had come had obviously been worn and was ripped or cut in places. 

Other recent literature

Ruth Gilbert has done work on the Lindisfarne knitted fragments These fragments were from a late 19th century excavation on Lindisfarne, and were examined by Elizabeth Crowfoot in an unpublished paper in 1951, and then by Ruth in 2007. Crowfoot thought that seven of the sixteen knitted fragments might be from a knitted jerkin, and Ruth has created a conjectured reconstruction of where the fragments might fit on a waistcoat. The yarn is wool knitted at 30 stitches and 40 rounds to 10 cm. Ruth Gilbert, 2015. Not so much Cinderella as the Sleeping Beauty: Neglected Evidence of Forgotten Skill. In: North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles X; edited by Eva B. Andersson Strand, Margarita Gleba, Ulla Mannering, Cherine Munkholt (Oxford: Oxbow)

Maj Ringgaard has published about knitted waistcoats in the Scandinavian context, and although this mainly examines silk waistcoats, she also looks at knitted wool, linen and cotton. Her paper has a comparative analysis chart of seventeen surviving damask knitted silk waistcoats, two in the UK and the rest in Norway, Sweden or Denmark.  The gauges for these run from 56 to 78 stitches to 10 cm and from 70 to 105 rows to 10 cm. Ringgaard comments that “consistent differences in the damask knitted waistcoats indicate two different places of production with highly divergent knitting traditions.” She also examines the difference between brocade knitted and damask knitted waistcoats.  Maj Ringgaard, 2014. Silk knitted waistcoats: a 17th century fashion item. In: Fashionable Ecounters: perspectives and trends in textile and dress in the Early Modern Nordic World. (Oxford: Oxbow), pp.73-103

Susan North has examined and produced a pattern from a coral and yellow surviving waistcoat, in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The flower pattern is similar to those published in a c.1650 German design book.  Susan North, 2011, Knitted silk waistcoat. In: Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns, book 1; edited by Susan North and Jenny Tiramani. (London: Victoria and Albert Museum) pp.88-97

Deborah Pulliam says she has examined seventeen waistcoats, but unfortunately does not provide a list. She mentions those in the Los Angeles Museum (AC1995 1.1), the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (06.2397), (1940.22 43.877), (43.869)and (95.501), Museum of Costume Nottingham (#22), Victoria and Albert Museum (346.1898), National Museums of Scotland (1973.29), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (TSR14.134.18) and (TSR46.156.117), Burrell  Collection, Glasgow  [29/126], unfortunately these are only eleven of the seventeen. She also mentions the example in the  Musée de la mode et du textile Paris (UCAD #996.68.1), which she says she has not actually examined, and the two adult knitted jackets in the coffins of two children in Roskilde Cathedral in Denmark. Deborah has deliberately not looked at the pull over the head style of waistcoat. Deborah Pulliam, 2002, Knitted Silk and Silver: those mysterious jackets. Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings.

For more information on the Roskilde waistcoats see Else Østergard,  The coffins of two royal children in Roskilde cathedral. In: Textiles in Northern Archaeology: NESAT III Textile Symposium in York 6-9 May 1987, edited by  Penelope Walton and John P. Wild, (London: Archetype, 1990)

Jacket, 1630-49, Glasgow Museums CC-BY-NC

Below is a selection of links to surviving knitted waistcoats/jackets. This is by no means complete. I am very well aware of many others, however many cannot be found in museums online collections. 
Please note that the terms used to describe the garments are those that appear on the various museums’ websites.

16th-17th century – Jacket – Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Accession Number 43.877), silk

1580-1610 – Man’s jacket – LACMA. (Accession No. AC1995 1.1) Silk and metallic thread. Note no image is available on the LACMA link
Late 16th century - Man or woman's jacket – National Museums of Scotland (Accession Number A.1973.29), pale blue silk and silver metal threads.

17th century – Jacket – Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Accession Number 43.869), silk and metallic thread

17th century – Jacket – Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Accession Number 38.1085), silk and metallic thread

17th century – Jacket – Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Accession Number 62.65), silk and metallic Note no image is available on the link

17th century – Jacket – Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Accession Number 06.2397), silk and metallic, grey blue and gold.

17th century – Knitted hunting jacket – Cleveland Museum of Art, silk, green and gold

17th century - Woman or man's jacket. National Museums of Scotland (Accession Number A.1973.28) red silk and gilt metal

17th century – Jacket (baby’s), Victoria and Albert Museum. cotton, white

17th century – Baby’s knitted jacket. Museum of London. Cotton, white.

1600-1620 – Jacket – Victoria and Albert Museum. silk, blue and yellow

1600-1625 – Jacket in pieces – Victoria and Albert Museum, silk, purple and silver

1600-1625 – Jacket– Victoria and Albert Museum, silk, green and silver

1630s – 1640s – Bodice/jacket/waistcoat. Glasgow Museums (Accession Number 29.126), silk;id=36162;type=101

1630-1650 – Informal woman’s jacket – This was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum when the photograph was taken, but I can’t find in the museum’s online collection. Silk and metal thread, red.,_Italy,_1630-1650,_knitted_silk_yarn_-_Patricia_Harris_Gallery_of_Textiles_%26_Costume,_Royal_Ontario_Museum_-_DSC09364.JPG

1640-1649 – Waistcoat- Museum of London. silk, blue. Association with the execution of King Charles I

Mid 17th century – Trøye – Norsk Folkemuseum (Accession number NF.1960-0520), silk, red

1630-1700 – Waistcoat – Victoria and Albert Museum, silk, coral and yellow. Pattern similar to those of the waistcoats in waistcoats in the Royal Ontario Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Museum der Stadt in Ulm.

Late 17th century – Sweater – Metropolitan Museum New York. (Accession Number: 14.134.18)  Silk, green

Late 17th century – Vest – Royal Historic Palaces. Silk, red. Vest belonging to William III (1650-1702) Sadly the Twitter feed photograph is now showing as corrupt, however it appears halfway down this list.

 Added to list at 11th Sept 2020:

 17th century. Sweater of yellow silk, with knitted patterns in purl stitches in the form of curved tulips with contours of white yarn. NM 221941 Nordiska museets, Stockholm

17th century - red silk jacket, knitted with a star pattern and embroidered with silver thread. Inventory no. GM:4123. Göteborgs Stadsmuseums, Sweden.

 17th century – Nattrøye - Norsk Folkemuseum

1600-1625 -Knitted jacket - Museo Stibbert.  Florence. Image can be found on the page at

Mid 17th century – Vest - Purl-patterned, embroidered with gold and silver and silver spangles. Oslo Kunstindustrimuseum. Image can be found on the page at