Here is the third “Tech Talk” from Jude Skeers, our esteemed guest in October 2015. As noted in the first Tech Talk article (posted January 15) he has sent these articles to Roisin to be shared with us.
The article was first published in the Australian magazine Yarn which you can see at the store.
Some fascinating knitting history in this article.
Some fascinating knitting history in this article.
Feather and Fan or Old Shale?
Ask an experienced hand knitter and they will tell you that they know the Feather and Fan pattern. It is one of the traditional patterns, well-known to Australian knitters, which have been passed down for generation via word of mouth, and reproduced in knitting pattern books and magazines. I had a recent conversation with knitter and crocheter Prudence Mapstone on the topic of Feather and Fan. She told me that Feather and Fan would have been a pattern published in a woman’s magazine in the 1950’s or earlier. A knitter in the Katoomba group of the Knitters Guild of NSW can remember being taught a pattern by her grandmother in the 1940’s that she called Feather and Fan.
In this Tech Talk, I set out to write an article that would investigate whether the popular pattern that I know as Feather and Fan was based on an even number or an odd number of stitches. I have instead decided to focus on the history of Feather and Fan and to leave the actual pattern for another Tech Talk.
My first task was to find out how far back I could trace the Feather and Fan pattern. The earliest reference was in a Weldon’s Practical Knitter, first published in the 19th Century. It describes a dress knitted for a doll as being knitted in Shell and Feather stitch. The pattern is similar to the present day Feather and Fan pattern. A later book, Weldons Encyclopaedia of Needlework from 1945 has two lace patterns, each one quite different from the other – Feather Stitch and Ridged Feather Stitch.
I discovered three distinct lace patterns in James Norbury’s Traditional Knitting Patterns. He has a section on Shetland Lace, where it identifies: Old Shale pattern, Shell pattern, and Feather and Fan pattern. His Old Shale pattern is very similar to the Feather and Fan pattern that I have been knitting. His Feather and Fan pattern is very different.
The name Old Shale occurs in two books on the history of hand knitting written in the 1980’s. In one of them, Michael Harvey’s Patons, A Story of Handknitting, reference is made to five Shetland patterns including Old Shale. Neither this book nor Richard Rutt’s A History of hand Knitting make reference to the Feather and Fan Pattern.
It was at this point that I decided to research Shetland Lace and Old Shale. There is an Old Shale pattern in Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, from the 1930’s. She has a description of a beautiful Shetland shawl from Unst with an Old Shale pattern. She points out that some people erroneously refer to it as Old Shell. She describes how the Old Shale got its name from the pattern made by the North Sea on the shale beach.
Sarah Don in her book from the 1980’s, The Art of Shetland Lace, writes about her research into lace knitting on the Shetland Islands. On her trip to the islands she could not find any evidence of lace knitting before 1830. But in something over 100 years, Shetland knitters developed their own suite of patterns as well as well as a multitude of variations. She discovered that different families worked each pattern in their own way and gave different names to the same pattern. Sarah Don lists thirty names and points out how they relate to the environment in which the knitted lived. The list included Old Shale and Old Shell but no Feather and Fan.
It was Barbara Walker in her book, A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, whobought all the names together. She has a single lace pattern to which she gives the name, Feather and Fan Stitch, or Old Shale. She calls it an old Shetland pattern with deep scallops. She describes a number of ways of using decreases and increases to vary the stitch pattern but achieve a similar result. Virtually all recent hand knitting pattern books use the name Feather and Fan; there are minimal references to Old Shale.
At the end of this research I have come to the conclusion that name Old Shale (and Old Shell) failed to cross the ocean, whether to America or Australia. In the process of traversing the ocean the name of the pattern changed to Feather and Fan pattern or a variation on it. Perhaps the pattern publishers had no concept of Shale beaches and decided that the pattern looked like feathers and fans: thus the name change. In another place or culture, a different name might have been given. I discovered a Chinese knitting pattern book that gives the pattern the title Peacock and says that the Peacock pattern is a variation of Old Shale or Feather and Fan.
In Sharon Miller’s recent publication on Shetland Lace knitting I found a reference that puts sums up the idea of giving titles to patterns very succinctly, “It is generally held by those who collect knitting patterns that the linking of names to patterns is a nightmare. Commonly, there are local names for patterns made around the world, and so the same pattern can easily turn up with at least two different names”
Books I referred to in for this Tech talk were: Barbara Walker, A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (1968), James Norbury, Traditional Knitting Patterns (1962), Judith Gross, Patterns from China (1982), Knitting 19th Century Sources Jules & Kaethe Kliot (editors), Reproduction of Weldon’s Practical Knitter (Twenty Sixth Series). Mary Thomas, Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book (1938), Michael Harvey, Patons A Story of Handknitting (1980), Richard Rutt, A History of hand Knitting (1987), Sarah Don, The Art of Shetland Lace (1980), Sharon Miller, Heirloom Knitting, A Shetland Lace Knitting’s Pattern and Handbook (2002).I opened many more books and the internet in this research. I thank the Knitters’ Guild NSW for access to their library and Veronica Moschione for her assistance. Readers may also like to view the Richard Rutt Collection at the University of Southampton Library: http://www.soton.ac.uk/intheloop/richardruttcollection.html. It is wonderful legacy from the man fondly known as the Knitting Bishop (1925-2011).