Monday, 2 May 2011

Portrait of a Historic Hand Knitter

Joyce Meader is a historic hand knitter. She knits items (mostly for men) from 19th and 20th Century patterns and tried to be as authentic as possible. She also has a big collection of knitting patterns herself. Joyce is a member of Hampshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, where I met her for a chat about historic pattern knitting. You can read more about Joyce and the things she makes on her website 'The Historic Knit'.

Eddie: How did your interest in knitting historic items begin?

Joyce: I’ve been knitting since I was 12 and I have always been interested in history. But it really all began when I was selling military webbing on eBay. I sold some to one guy and when I asked what he needed it for he mentioned that he did military re-enactment in the Yorks and Lancs WW1 Re-enactment Society. He then asked what I did and once I mentioned that I was a knitter he asked me to knit some authentic socks for him.
I had to find a patterns for this and was directed to the National Army Museum in London. Their education department kindly supplied me with a Boar War pattern and I was hooked.

Eddie: Can you explain why you are only interested in knitting from 1800 up till today?

Joyce: The real attraction for me is the commercial knitting patterns of which I have quite a collection myself. The first commercial pattern, as far as we know, is “The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant “, published in 1817 and was a pattern for socks written in a Q&A style (owned by Robin Stokes). But it wasn’t till the 1840s that knitting patterns really were produced in big numbers and they were really expensive up till mass production in the 1890s. Before patterns knitting stitches were remembered through strips of knitting samples, often passed down through families. This is why I focus on knitting from 1800 up.

Eddie: So what do you usually knit using these historic patterns?

Joyce: I mostly knit for men. I knit quite a bit for military re-enactors and museums. I also knit for films. In terms of military patterns I knit items from the Crimean war (1852) up till now.

Eddie: I have to ask – is there still knitting for the military today?

Joyce: Oh yes! Especially in the US where the Ships project does hand knitting of hats, slippers, socks and afgans (blankets in the UK), for service personnel.

Eddie: What yarn do you usually knit with?

Joyce: When knitting historic patterns I always use 100% Shetland 2-ply jumper weight (knits as 4-ply) from Jamieson and Smith, Lerwick, Shetland. It’s difficult to fit the yarn and the needle size together so I always knit an item once exactly as the pattern says and then I try and adjust it. But patterns can be quite tricky too. Victorian patterns are usually written in longhand as a little narrative. I have this big notebook in which I write down what I do as I go along. But these notes are just for myself and I don’t try to change the patterns to make them more modern. I want the finished items to be as authentic as possible.

Eddie: Why are you so interested in knitting historic patterns?

Joyce: I find it utterly fascinating and I think there is a need to keep and to spread this knowledge or it will disappear.

Eddie: Tell us about some of the projects you have worked on?

Joyce: I have knitted the clothes from the George Mallory Expedition up Everest a couple of times. The first time was for the Mountain Heritage Trust and Lancaster University as a reproduction to see how the clothing would work in the extreme weather. At the moment I am knitting it again for a young man who wishes to climb Everest in period costume.
But at the moment I am really into string vests and underwear.

Eddie: I can see. I am really fascinated by this Bikini top you are sitting and knitting on now. Can I ask, how do you feel about crafts in general in today’s society?

Joyce: I think there is too much focus on academics and not enough focus on practical skills in the lives of our youngsters. Its like crafts are not valued in Britain and making handmade items are thus not valued either. Also there is no encouragement for amateurs to be better at the craft they do. It’s too divided into professionals (those who have a design education behind them) and hobbyists. The hobbyists love their subject and have come to it in a roundabout way. They are not constrained by a degree and want to know everything about their subject. I think it's a shame they are not valued because there are plenty of amateurs who make extremely wonderful objects.

The first photo and the pattern are copyright of Joyce Meader, please ask her permission if you wish to use them. The last photo of Joyce working is copyright of me (Eddie) - please email me (eddie at roued dot com) if you wish to use it.

1 comment:

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