Late (for) WOVEMBER

November 21, 2011

As many of you will know, on November 1, Kate Davies of needled and Felicity Ford of The Domestic Soundscape solemnly proclaimed the beginning of the month of WOVEMBER, defining it “a grass-roots, month-long celebration of all things woollen and woolly”. The quote is from this post by Kate where she also invites her readers to “talk about what wool means to you throughout WOVEMBER on your blogs, sites, facebook pages, twitter feeds, and other social media.” When [m] and I read this we both agreed that we should follow this invitation and join in the celebration by blogging about wool-related stuff throughout the month. Now it’s three weeks later and, well, what can I say? Life got in the way, I guess, and for a number of reasons wool just wasn’t at the top of our minds these past few weeks…

A couple of days ago, however, I came across an interesting and loosely wool-related piece of writing on Google Books (while searching for something entirely different), and I thought I’d share it here. It ought to be said in advance perhaps that the following was written in 1851, so I believe the writer may be excused for using the term wool-shop rather than yarn-store because back then all yarn would have been actual sheep wool rather than, say, alpaca or acrylic. Anyway, here’s what caught my attention:

Our first visit was to the wool-shop. And here I would warn such of my readers as are not themselves devoted to the mysteries of the embroidery-frame, to avoid accompanying any young lady who may set out with the avowed purpose of matching a few shades of wool. It may seem a simple thing enough, but the amount of time, patience, and attention, which it requires, would surprise any but the initiated. I looked on at first with interest, while the pale, pleasing-looking girl behind the counter brought box after box, and assisted Louisa to pick out shade after shade, now throwing out one, whose hue did not exactly harmonise with the rest, and replacing it by another, which had to be sought for at a considerable expense of time and trouble. I grew tired of looking on, before the business was at an end (…).*

Even though it’s about embroidery rather than knitting I thought this was quite funny because (from what I hear) this is exactly the kind of attitude many (female) knitters still get from their (male) partners today, when it comes to picking out yarns. It may come as a bit of a surprise then when I tell you that the person speaking in the above piece of text isn’t a man at all but the young lady’s aunt. Well, at least that’s what the text itself claims: It appeared under the heading Observations and Recollections of a Spinster Aunt in a periodical called Hogg’s Instructor, published in Edinburgh in 1851. It was, however, published anonymously and is only signed “W. P. S. P.” so we can’t really be sure whether or not it was actually written by a spinster aunt and not by a bachelor uncle with a vivid imagination.

Be that as it may, as the piece continues there is even more stuff which may be of interest to anyone with an interest in the history of the textile arts: It provides a small glimpse at the way in which needlework wasn’t only an enjoyable pastime for well-off daughters but also a tiresome means to make a meagre living for those who weren’t quite as fortunate:

Here was also work half finished for those who did not work much, and worked articles quite finished for those who did not work at all. I stopped before an elaborately embroidered vesper chair, and inquired of the pale girl, if it was from Germany ?

‘No, it was worked in the town.’

I believe I am not generally inquisitive ; but I could not help inquiring if it was her work.

Partly, but principally her sister’s, who was sickly, and unable to do anything else. Madame L was kind enough to take all the work they could do, and dispose of it for them.

‘Pauore petite,” whispered Madame L , who was showing Fanny a new crotchet stitch ; and she added in her broken English, ‘they are very poor, and support the poor mother with the work of their fingers.’

I bought the chair, and paid for it.

‘Why, aunt, I thought you did not admire worsted-work !’ exclaimed Louisa.*

And, of course, the term “worsted-work” once again made me think about one of Kate Davies’ recent posts where the term’s origin gets explained…


* From: Hogg’s Instructor, Vol. VI. – New Series, published by James Hogg, Edinburgh 1851, pp. 170-171.

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