Author: Luisa Perkins
•2:25 PM
A couple of posts ago I announced my intention to knit an Authentic Victorian Shawl from a free pattern I found on the internet. It was excerpted from Beeton's Book of Needlework, first published in 1870. The above illustration is from the original.

Perfect, I thought. I went to the attic and pulled out some goodly pine-colored DK-weight merino that Carmen gave me a while back during a purge of her stash. It would nicely match the calicos I've purchased for my pioneer costumes.

The pattern cautioned against using too small a needle, so I ignored the yarn's ball band recommendation of a US size 6 and went with an 8. I knit a swatch using the two stitch patterns described, one for the 'ground,' or body, of the shawl, and one for the openwork.

The stitch patterns were easy to memorize; I was happy with the result (above), and knew that the work would look even better once I blocked it. Pleased with myself thus far, I went on to read through the directions for the shawl itself. I'll quote it for you:
When 6 such [ground] rows have been worked in this pattern, work again 9 rows of the open-work pattern, but work on each side of the 2 stripes [?], each 6 stitches wide, in the pattern of the ground; each first stripe is at a distance of 4 stitches from the edge, and each second stripe at a distance of 20 stitches. After the 9th open-work row, work again 6 rows in the pattern of the ground, then again 8 open-work rows, and then begin the ground, only continue to work on both sides of the shawl the narrow stripes of the ground pattern, the narrow outer and the two wide inner stripes of the border in the open-work pattern....

Whuddayakiddin' me?*
It's like something out of the Book of Numbers. Or Monty Python, with the orangutans and the breakfast cereals. As I read over these instructions several times, my insecurity and pride rose up from sejant to salient. The buzz in my brain went something like this:

Dude, I'm smart; I skipped fifth grade. I'm also more familiar with 19th-century English than your average bear. I've read most of what Austen, Conrad, Dickens, Hardy, Hawthorne, Collins, and all the Brontes ever published. And some Trollope. Plus the Little House books. And all that Church stuff. I've navigated my way successfully through many a modern knitting pattern. Why can't I crack this nut?

I kept at it, to no freaking avail. Well, okay.
There appeared to be two options: either use the two stitch patterns in a pattern of my own device, or find a different pattern I could understand. But the Authenticity! my pride protested. If you modify it, it won't be Authentic! On the other hand: A different pattern? Don't you mean an easier pattern? Tantamount to admitting defeat! Lame!

Fortunately, at this point I had the good sense to laugh and start talking myself out of my tree.
I'm sure Mrs. Isabella Beeton wouldn't have given two figs for Authenticity. She was an innovator in both cookery and needlework, a fiercely independent spirit whose life was cut tragically short at age 28 by puerperal fever (the Needlework book was published by her husband a few years after her death). If she were here today (after she recovered from my slapping her for writing such incomprehensible drivel), I'm sure she would encourage me to do my own thing. Don't you think?
So: I've cast on 98 stitches and started my own version--rectangular, not square--of a Victorian Shawl. I'll let you know how it goes.
*Translation for non-New Yorkers: "What, are you kidding me?"
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6 comments:

On 29/3/07 , PEZmama said...

That pattern? Completely Greek to me. BUT, the "Whuddayakiddin' me?" I got that. I TOTALLY got that.

Maybe growing up on the western border of CT would qualify me as an honorary New Yorker.

 
On 29/3/07 , Amanda1 said...

That shawl pattern is something else! I'm so glad that the average pattern isn't worded like that...

Would like to see some close-ups of your pattern!

 
On 29/3/07 , Thoroughly Mormon Millie said...

Oh, my goodness. I can't knit anyway but then to just read those instructions... youch.

Thanks for visiting me today. Maybe we're related. :) How long have you been doing the genealogy thing?

 
On 29/3/07 , txmommy said...

I wish i could knit. It's very pretty.
Thanks for visiting me!

 
On 30/3/07 , Annette Lyon said...

This is the point where knitting needles become dangerous weapons.

Run, Luisa! Run from that pattern as fast as you can!

Give me knit 1, purl 2 any day. THAT I understand.

 
On 19/8/08 , seligor said...

I just loved this story, it sounds just like me on a good day ~ Gosh forbid what I'm like on a bad day. Wonderful, one day I must tell you of the time I put a cat flap in the new Poly-something door. in the pouring name with a cat and three dogs assistance of course.
Love to all Seligor of seligor's castle xx