Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Belding Bros. Lady's Mitts

So, I was browsing the Antique Pattern Library one day, looking for WWI patterns (as one does), and came across Belding Bros. & Co.'s The Self-Instructor in Silk Knitting, Crocheting and Embroidery (New York, 1886, 80 pgs.), and paused. I was intrigued.
I am not a silk knitter. Some random Noro is the closest I've been to silk yarn. And while I also tend to gravitate toward knitting fine, I usually stop at size US #0. I have some lace weight yarn in my stash, but I have never used it. Ever. I tried lace one time and came to the conclusion that I couldn't count, or follow directions. (The latter, if you've read much of this blog, will not be much of a revelation to you.) However...
Not long ago I was reading an article about Victorian knitting. There was an emphasis on much of it no longer being useful (who needs a silk opera cape these days? etc.) and I found myself bristling a little at that. Admittedly, we have become a very casual society, as the millinery industry knows only too well. And I have definitely been known to spend my entire weekend in pajamas, and to leave the house in mismatched socks. But just because we are no longer required in most instances to meet the formal standards of yesterday does not mean we can not.
So I decided to knit something in silk. This is what I chose:
I have a friend who does Dickens Faire, and  this seemed like an appropriate gift to pawn off on her, especially since I recall some mention in the past of needing fingerless gloves for her costume. She was probably thinking filet crochet, but one also shouldn't look a gift horse Victorian silk fingerless mitt in the mouth, so to speak. She acquiesced.
Now, it is just my luck that I was drawn to just about the only pattern in the pamphlet that doesn't specify needle size. What precisely, in this context, are "ordinary-sized steel needles"? The other patterns in the book for mittens and such for Ladies call for needles anywhere from No. 17 to No. 20, and have about 20 more stitches cast on. So, no joy with a comparison there.
The yarn in the pattern is Belding's "Superior" Knitting Silk. I tried very hard to understand what "Superior" Knitting Silk is - I even have an eBay alert going for anything that has the words "Belding + Silk" - but still no joy. There might even be tears. This image is what I have to go on:
Isn't that edifying?
Not especially.
I do know it is finer than fingering weight. Assuming the average hand to fit these gloves back in the Victorian times wasn't so very different from my own - quite an assumption, I know, but I'm also petite - then for this pattern I am casting on 66 sts for a 6.5 inch hand circumference. That's roughly 10 sts per inch. So, we are definitely looking at something smaller than a US #0 (2mm - 1.5mm), because US #0 needles do not get me 10 sts = 1 inch. In Victorian times, that could be anything from a 13 to 17 steel needle. And how they decided which minute fraction of a mm made a difference, I'd really like to know. I'm taking a bit of a risk here, but I'm going to shoot for size 18 needles, known in modern times as 5/0, or 00000. That's 1mm.
I did find 5/0 (1mm) knitting needles, thanks to miniature knitting aficionados keeping them in demand. HiyaHiya was the brand available at one of the online stores I like to use for some of these obscure hunts, so I went with them. They are deadly looking. I'm a belt knitter who tends not to use the belt, but on this occasion I may have to whip it out lest I impale myself in my enthusiasm.
Dime for scale
As for the yarn? I did what I normally do when I need to substitute for wildly discontinued yarn - I got weaving yarn. Above you can see one of the cakes I wound up from the skein of Paradise Fibers Undyed Silk Yarn 20/2 I purchased. It comes in 1000 yd skeins. I highly suspect this little project will not take up that much yarn, so I am going to (maybe) dye the project after it is knit... carefully. If it goes all wrong, well... I still have more yarn left to try again.

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