On Tuesday, I went to St Fagans to research what was originally going to be an article I was going to offer a magazine on the history of knitting and the fibre arts in Wales. The problem is that I was really inspired by what I saw!
I met with Elen Phillips who is the Textiles Curator at the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans. If you ever want to go, I would recommend it as a day out for the family. Entry to the museum is free, however car parking is £5 unless you are disabled or come in a bus. I’d also recommend taking a jacket even in the summer as a lot of the exhibits are buildings and are therefore outdoors. My particular favourites are the Celtic village, the row of houses from Rhydycar in Merthyr, the Norman church from Pontardulais and the old tailor’s shop which is next to the bakery behind the tollhouse.
I’d made an appointment with Ms Phillips because I wanted to look at their collection of knitwear from their archives and possibly any knitting equipment they had from days of old. I only had time to look at the knitwear this time. I’m going to make another appointment to look at their equipment and I may end up volunteering to do workshops in the new Gweithdy (Workshop) building and gallery teaching basic knitting and crochet techniques. I think I’ll have to brush up on my technical Welsh for that though!
What I found extremely interesting if a bit morbid, was the pair of socks that Elizabeth Lewis knitted for herself. You would think that someone knitting themselves a pair of socks wouldn’t be that morbid but she wanted to wear these in her coffin. The problem was that when her body was laid out and they tried to put them on her, they didn’t fit so they stayed in the family and were eventually donated to St Fagans.
I love the traditions related to clothing and how things were so different before I was born. For example, there was a superstition that the colour red had healing properties. They would tell people with sore throats to wear red flannel around their necks to help. Which is why there were a few pairs of red baby socks in the collection. I suppose because babies had a tendency to be sickly before the advent of the NHS and people may have thought that red socks helped.
What fascinated me as well was this scarf that was knitted by a 15 year old girl in 1940 from remnants. That’s right! A 15 year old! I still hadn’t worked knitting out at 15! Although to be fair, knitters the world over are still looking for inspiration for their remnants!
I took over a hundred photos, all of which have been uploaded to my Gifted Goodies Facebook page.
All of this inspiration has led to one realisation: One magazine article is not enough! So I’ve decided to write a book which will have patterns inspired by the garments I saw in the archives. I plan on researching the history of knitting and the fibre arts in Wales and how it’s helped the social history of the country.
So How Can You Help?
Firstly, I’d like your family histories of knitting. Talk to your grandparents, your great grandparents and learn how important knitting was for them. I’d also like your photos of family members either knitting or wearing knitwear. I’d especially like to see photos of women wearing a siôl fagu and working and also women spinning yarn. Also, if you have photos of men knitting, I’d like to see that as well.
Secondly, do you have any vintage or antique knitting needles, crochet hooks, sewing equipment, patterns, yarn, anything that I could have a look at? I would love to see it and hear the story of how it was used and where it was made.
Thirdly, are you a spinner/dyer of yarn that lives anywhere in Wales that would be prepared to give me yarn support for the book in return for the free advertising you would get from the book.
Fourthly, any archives in Wales, would you be able to let me spend a day or two scouring your archive for information about the social aspects of knitting in Wales in history?
And finally, I’m going to need someone to publish this book! Is there a publisher who would be interested in this idea who would like to work with me to get it published?
Thanks for your help. I really hope I can get this off the ground. I haven’t been this excited in a long time! Although I think part of that may be the fact that I took my last dose of Quetiapine on the weekend!
Anyway, watch this space for more info! And just because a cute photo of a little boy’s knee cap from the 1940s. I’ll leave you to work out why they needed them!