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Refashioning the Renaissance Citizen Science Project: Voluntary knitting initiative

Several times over the past two years, students and enthusiastic craftspeople have contacted us, asking how they could be involved in our project. Having thought about this with the rest of our team members, we decided to set up a voluntary knitting initiative. Following my initial enquiries early last Autumn in Facebook, and our official call at the start of this year, we now have about thirty-five voluntary craft experts in our project to create different types of Renaissance stockings for our project, from more simple artisanal ones to the fine and rare seventeenth-century silk stockings that survive in Turku Cathedral Museum.

The project started officially in February 2019. Assisted by the textile conservator Maj Ringaard from the National Museum of Denmark who is an expert in historical knitting, our voluntary knitters first made test samples. We provided them with very fine 0,7mm, 1mm and 2 mm knitting needles, as well as fine wool that resembled the original historical yarn as closely as possible.

Volunteer knitters testing out needles and yarns.

Our volunteers then had to decide what they wanted to start working on, choosing from several alternatives. One option was to reconstruct a coarse and a simpler type of artisanal stocking, based on surviving examples at the National Museum of Denmark; another option was to try to reconstruct a stocking using the first known knitting hose recipe from England in 1655; and the third—and most challenging—option was to reconstruct a fine knitted stocking from Turku Cathedral Museum, either using fine wool or silk.

We are concentrating on three different stocking models in our project. Stocking pattern on the right courtesy of Maj Ringgaard.

It takes quite a lot of skill and patience to knit a Renaissance stocking. What makes this a challenging project is, first, that, as we do not have instuctions for any of the stockings, the group has to come up with the instructions and patterns for the decorations, and then solve the technical issues as they knit the stockings. It is also extremely difficult and time-consuming to knit on 1mm needles, as I discovered myself too during our test session. Another similar knitting project, Silk Stockings from Texel, led by Dr. Chrystel Brandenburgh, carried out at the Textile Research Centre in Leiden, showed that it takes about 200 hours to knit just one fine silk stocking, such as these ones seen below, which I saw in January at the ”Burgundian Black Collaboratory” workshop.

Silk stockings knitted for the Silk Stocking Project led by Dr. Chrystel Brandenburgh.

This type voluntary research initiative is called a Citizen Science Project. The aim of our experiment is not only to reconstruct Renaissance stockings, but we also want to investigate the process, such as, how long does it take to knit a silk stocking or what level of sophistication was needed to produce an artisanal stocking compared to a fine stocking. Therefore, our voluntary knitters are not only experts in knitting, but they also produce important scientific research data of the process of making for our project. 

You can follow the progress of the stockings on our website, from on our blog and in the future in our research section!

Sense and Matter in Early Modern Europe: A Conference in Honour of Evelyn Welch

Sixty is a very important birthday indeed. To mark that of Evelyn Welch, Professor of History as well as Provost & Senior Vice President at King’s College, London (not to mention advisory board member for the Refashioning the Renaissance Project), a one-day symposium was held on 9 March 2019. The event, ‘Sense and Matter in Early Modern Europe’, brought together speakers that have worked with Evelyn over the course of her career. The day was divided into three parts: Fashion and Textiles, Consumption and Body and Medicine, highlighting some of Evelyn’s primary research interests over the years. There was also a great round of lightning talks by early career researchers, intended to reflect Evelyn’s longstanding role as mentor to those at the start of their academic journeys.

Paula Hohti, Refashioning the Renaissance’s principal investigator, was one of the speakers featured in the session on consumption, where she presented her paper, ‘Did ordinary Italians have a ‘Renaissance’?’ Paula was able to draw on both past and current research to show that working people in Siena owned objects and garments usually associated with the wealthy and elite. She was also able to highlight the important contributions of members of the public, who are knitting silk and wool stockings for our project based on historic patterns and examples as part of the Citizen Science Project. Bruno Blondé and James Shaw also spoke on this panel; Blondé demonstrated the critical role of cultural value in shifting patterns of consumption, particularly around silver in the Low Countries, while Shaw suggested the complexities of valuing goods and arriving at final prices, which sometimes resulted in financial ‘lesions’.

Attendees were also treated to presentations on the history of dress and fashion by Ulinka Rublack, Maria Hayward and Lesley Miller, which highlighted the power of dress objects to represent social stresses (and even cause riots!) and to help wearers curry favour with prospective patrons. We also learned the incredible value of reconstruction as a research method and the importance of failure in such experiments. This is particularly important advice for the Refashioning the Renaissance team as we move deeper into the experimental phase of the project.

Jenny Tiramani and Ulinka Rublack with the reconstruction of a costume owned by Matthäus Schwarz. Photo © Graham CopeKoga.

The day was rounded out with a series of lightning talks by early career researchers Rose Byfleet, Abigail Gomulkiewicz, Anna Parker and Annie Thwaite, and presentations on the theme of Body and Medicine by Tessa Storey and Hannah Murphy, which encompasses Evelyn’s current area of research, Renaissance Skin. Finally, John Styles offered closing remarks that brought all of the sessions and papers together.

In addition to the fascinating research presented by all the speakers at this symposium, ‘Sense and Matter’ also demonstrated how critical collaborative funding is to the humanities – and the long-lasting results it can have; many participants in Evelyn Welch and Michelle O’Malley’s ‘The Material Renaissance’ project were present to share new research, support colleagues and celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. Happy birthday Evelyn!

Visit to the Turku Cathedral

On Wednesday 20 February 2019 our team members Piia Lempiäinen and Sophie Pitman travelled to Turku, the old capital of Finland, to visit the Turku Cathedral and their museum storage. The aim of this visit was to study the 17th century burial clothes collected from the cathedral graves in 1920’s, and especially the knitted stockings, for our upcoming citizen science project. Turku Cathedral Museum Intendant Elina Ovaska was kind enough to host us, and Conservator of Church Textiles Päivi Allinniemi from the Turun museokeskus joined us to study the stockings.

There are nine knitted and one woven stocking in the Turku Cathedral Museum collection, and we were able to study, measure, and photograph all of them, and take fibre samples of two of the stockings. While all the stockings originate from early modern graves from inside the cathedral, most of them lack dating. The only exception is the pair of knitted silk stockings found in the coffin of Elisabeth Bure, dated to 1650, a pair we are going to study and recreate in our citizen science project. These stockings are knitted with fine c. 0,7 mm needles in dark, lustrous silk, and feature beautiful decorative elements. We are commissioning fibre and colour analysis of these stockings to help us gain information on and reconstruct them.

We were very excited to visit the storage and were so thankful for all the help from Elina and Päivi! After our visit, Päivi transported the stocking from Elisabeth Bure’s coffin to Turku Castle, where everyone will be able to see this beautiful stocking on 8 Mar 2019–8 Mar 2020 in the A Few Words about Women exhibition.

Intendent Elina Ovaska showing some of the burial clothes in the Turku Cathdedral Museum storage.

Stockings, ribbons, and printed fabric.

Taking a sample from a stocking.

Detail of a stocking found in Elisabeth Bure’s coffin.