You keep using that bedspread. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Wow. I am chin-deep in knitted bedspreads. And not in the good way that means I’m getting to go to sleep soon. In the other good way that means my research is starting to snowball, I’m getting to pull seldom-used books from my shelf (thus justifying my long-standing habit of hoarding books), and I have more to work with than I need.

To wit:

1. People really liked making those bedspreads. Or else they liked to read about making them and pretend they would eventually make a whole one, enough that other people thought that they were serious. There exists a whole body of literature that goes on about the marvel that is knitted bedspreads. Some of that is pattern-writer enthusiasm. Some is not.

2. I have seen no evidence–and this is corroborated by the author of the Piecework article from January–that these patterns even existed in the Revolutionary era. They seem to have been invented in about 1850.

3. Rose Wilder Lane tells a very florid and complex story about a woman from Maine who went to an unspecified location in the west in the late 1860s or thereabouts and brought back the pattern for a knitted bedspread and pillow shams remarkably like Jacqueline Fee’s example from last winter’s Knitting Traditions. What anyone west of the Mississippi in the 1860s wanted with a fussy white bedspread that kept no warmth and would be dirty in a trice is anyone’s guess. This is not a frontierwoman’s bedspread. Her mother never had one. I virtually guarantee it. Nellie Oleson? Maaaaaybe.

The Maine woman, though, is real. I found her with The Google.

What we have here seems to be the Victorian equivalent of a 1970s Colonial Revival coffee table. People loved to make them right through about the 1920s–or at least pretend/claim that they did–and claim that it was their grandmother’s/great-grandmother’s/grandmother’s grandmother’s/Martha Washington’s counterpane pattern. The fad was helped along by Grace Coolidge, who did a lot of needlework, actually did knit one of these, and also designed and crocheted a custom spread for the Lincoln bedroom when her husband was President. Grace Coolidge was not exactly the Martha Stewart of her age, but she was definitely a tastemaker. She was popular and friendly and people definitely wanted to know what she was doing/wearing/enjoying.

I still have not finished the one square of the Penhallow bedspread. Once I got going on the other research tasks, the urge to actually knit the thing faded. Plus, compared to the Fee/Lane bedspread (they are nearly identical), it’s plain and not that interesting. Plus plus, I have a feeling I’m joining a lot of my foremothers–not in the taste for the bedspread, but the weariness with the task of knitting the thing. I just burned out sooner.

I cannot wait until this thesis is off my desk.


Depends what you mean by “easier.”

So in the course of working on my thesis chapter about the Warner House bedspread project (which Ravelry calls the “Penhallow” bedspread, if you go looking for it), I realized that I could add some information if, like the Plimoth jacket, I had actually done some of the work on it. The project itself happened 15 years ago, but Piecework/Knitting Traditions published the pattern, and whee, I need something to do with my hands before my thesis eats my brain. I didn’t exactly swear off knitting for the duration, but I’m acutely aware that whenever I do something that is not working on my thesis (like writing blog posts, sleeping, raising my sons, having lunch, driving places, showering, doing laundry, etc.), I’m stealing time that I should be working on my thesis. But if I knit a square for the Penhallow bedspread and time myself, I will have data for my chapter. Yes.

When assembled, it doesn't look nearly this...codpiecey.

I obtained some Coats #10 crochet thread (my, that’s fine) and a set of 0/2mm Kollage square aluminum single-points. I was swayed by Kollage’s claim that square needles are more ergonomic and hence “easier on the hands” than round needles, and as I am a tight knitter, figured I’d give that a try. I do end up clenching my needles in my fists more often than I ought, especially if they’re small and the stitches want to pop off. That is no less of a problem with these, incidentally. And my hands don’t feel noticeably better after knitting with the ergo needles than with regular ones. The square shape does make it easier to pick up my tight stitches, though. I don’t really mean to make them too tight. I don’t yank the working yarn to snug each stitch. I just don’t like when the yarn is all over the place and trying to make a break for it. At any rate, with thread this fine, it’s hard to argue for knitting any more loosely than one must. The thing would have zero structural integrity–and this is a bedspread we’re talking about.

I worked for just over an hour, and got half of one square done–about 35 rows out of 68. If I were feeling lazy, I could extrapolate that the 1024 squares would take knitters of my ability about 2048 hours to knit, but I want to be precise, since the second half of the square is just alternating bands of stockinette and reverse stockinette and will probably knit faster. Besides, a scan of the block would look nice in my chapter, and I can use the photo without clearance.

It’s been a long time since I used single-points. It feels a little weird. I suppose now I’ll have these in my collection and my great-grandchildren can look at them in all their 2mm glory and think about how people back then had more time to do insane things like knit anything that fine. If I actually made the whole bedspread, which is not likely, I could blow their minds.

Sometimes it’s fun!

Spent yesterday on my thesis, but instead of doing the theory and museum-related parts I worked on before, I took my advisor’s suggestion to go ahead and work on a project review for one chapter. I chose the Plimoth Jacket Project, an object near and dear to my heart, since I spent a few hours on it in 2008 and now know more than most people about how to make a striped butterfly body out of trellis stitch. If only that were a more marketable skill…!

I also got to look at some royal wedding press, since the Royal School of Needlework contributed to Kate’s dress, and work on my research on the Warner House bedspread (including an email with questions to the former curator and current house manager). So that was fun. I’m not making much headway knitting, but at least I get to read about doing things. It’s getting me through crunch time. If I come across anything really interesting, I’ll post about it. I’m becoming increasingly fascinated with these late 19th/early 20th knitted bedspreads, though. They look so cozy in wool. There’s an article in the most recent Knitting Traditions just after the Warner House piece about a knitted bedspread pattern someone bought in an antique notebook. She knitted up a sample and it was so pretty. It’d make a great baby blanket for someone with my level of patience…

You are not a thesis. You are a sock.

I finished my first Maeva sock at a training yesterday. Though the leg part seemed interminable, it was really pretty mindless and easy to read by the seed stitch columns, so I found it quite relaxing. I have to redo the cast-off because I forgot that for a toe-up, you need to do a very stretchy cast-off so the leg won’t bind.

So I cast on for the second sock, figuring that getting that much started would help me to keep going instead of being stalled by the cast-off problem and still being new at Judy’s Magic Cast-On and needing to look at the directions. I feel pretty confident about my ability to get the second one done before the cold weather comes.

I also finished the Sheldon blanket a few weeks ago. I still have to clean up the ends more on that one before I send it off. The next one will be better. Ends on Shine Sport are hideous, but Russian join holds well. Love the color combination. I hope the recipient likes it too!

I started and then raveled a swatch for the En Pointe in Aloft. It was kind of a pain to work with, and I started thinking about knitting miles of stockinette that I have to look at because the yarn is so fine and furry, and the swatch sat on my table for ten days, untouched. I don’t know if that’s going to work out, though I hate to waste the yarn. Possibly it’s a question of getting used to it. It’s a beautiful yarn, no question. Decided to swatch for Mythos instead.

As for the thesis: Warner House has contacted me and they are willing to help re: the bedspread project. So I’m preparing some questions about it and really looking forward to hearing how that went for them. It’ll make a great thesis chapter! Really close to the deadline now. I can tell by how I want to goof off and spend all my time on the Rav messageboards.