Friday, 6 February 2015

Knitting Madonnas, Pharaonic socks and jelly-belly shiver dogs ...

It's been a funny old week here in London.

I've been doing a textile course, which has kept me busy indoors with my yarns and fabrics, happy to leave the weather to do its worst outside.

And the worst that it threw at us was a blanket of snow. It was just a sparse, thin dusting, but when we looked out on Monday morning into the blackness of our back garden and saw the luminescent glow of whiteness ... well, it made us all very excited. No one more so than Maxi the Wonder Dog. He'd not seen snow before.

Snow Dog
And he thought it was brilliant stuff. The only problem was that he'd just had a trim ... brrr ... and he shivered like a jelly, refusing to come in and put on a nice warm coat until he was bribed indoors with promises of food. He's not brilliantly well trained, but he always shuffles over to see what's on offer if you shout biscuit very loudly in an excited voice. In fact loads of people who hang out in our local park think that's his name. How's Mr Biscuit today? they ask when we appear. And I have to make a special effort to remember exactly who Mr Biscuit is. Life can get complicated with all these aliases.

Hello! Did you say something about a biscuit?
All our little feathered friends continue to entertain us when they come visiting for dried mealworms and bird seed. They've figured out that the Wonder Dog is a noisy, but benign, presence and they carry on with their business regardless of how much he woofs at them. 

As part of my studies I've been having a look at the history of knitting. Not surprisingly it's been around since the advent of ... cold feet.  How do you like my Egyptian sock?

Well, OK, it's not exactly mine, but isn't it neat? It's one of a pair that live down in South Kensington in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

 They were created using a series of knots and just one needle somewhere between 410 AD and 540 AD. Apparently that's how this whole knitting thing got started: just one needle, shortish lengths of yarn and a series of very, very complicated knots. These babies were designed to be worn with sandals, which is never a good look in any age, if you ask me. Just look at how frequently they've been mended, and how expertly those mends have been darned in. I'm guessing they suffered a lot of friction on the dusty roads of the fifth century. I'm also not sure about the big toe and little toes divide, which was presumably designed to fit around the toe bar of the sandals that made up the other half of this natty footwear combo. The story is that they were excavated from an early Romano Christian burial site.

Knitting was largely the preserve of the Islamic World until the Moors conquered Spain, whereupon they introduced this seductive textile to Europe, and we've been busy with our needles ever since. Although I'm reliably informed that no one figured out how to do purl stitches until the sixteenth century.

I'm loving the Knitting Madonna (above), busy with her needles when the angel came calling. She was painted by Bertram of Minden in the very early 1400s.  Knitting was catching on, and for a while knitting Madonnas were all the rage.

Then the Tudors came along with their doublets and hose. Suddenly a well turned calf could be shown off to great effect with a knitted stocking that refused to sag in all the important places, and knitting got all sexed up.

It's amazing to be part of a tradition that stretches so far back. We've come a long way from our Egyptian socks and Knitting Madonnas to the Knit and Natter groups of today, but for my own small part I'm happy to belong to the needle-waving fraternity. When a bunch of people get together with their yarn and their pins a special sort of alchemy takes place. Strangers quickly become friends, everyone has at least one subject in common and before you know it the conversation is flowing freely and the laughter is ringing out around the room. It's way better than meditation: it not only calms your mind, it gives you loads to talk about and helps keep your extremities warm to boot!

All the best for a sensational weekend,

Bonny x
As shared on Friday Finds


  1. Love this post, informative and amusing at the same time! It's hard imagining something such as a sock being preserved for so long. I'm with you, socks and sandals simply should not be worn together!

  2. I love the name Biscuit, that is super cute. I always wonder what I will name the next dog since I think we have used some of the best names already but then I read Biscuit and it goes me hope that there are still some good ones left. Maybe Maxi would like a name change. Love your description of calling Maxi with the biscuit.

  3. I love the little tufts of green peeking out from the snow. I can imagine that your dog is like a little kid, not wanting to come in from playing... :)

  4. Your pup is really cute! I don't knit but loved reading the interesting facts.

  5. How fun for your dog to see snow for the first time! I tend to agree wearing socks with flip flops just isn't right, but... my daughter has some brightly colored flip flop socks she loves. (I may have told you about them before.) Here is a link to the website Little Miss Matched, it is where I bought her socks. I thought you might enjoy it. :)
    Have a great weekend!

  6. Maxi (aka Mr. Biscuit) is so cute. He did seem to be enjoying that snow. That was quite an interesting read about knitting. Those socks seem to have seen much better days for sure.

  7. Bonny, Your bird photographs are beautiful field studies - birds in their natural habitat. I really enjoyed your summary of the history of knitting -and as always, you weave your words in to a beautiful story that teaches and encourages me. Every little bit of your life seems infused with a sense of wonder and joy!

  8. Wow... you have the most beautiful way of writing. I loved it. So glad to meet Maxi too, such a cute doggie. Your story was so interesting and photos are great! Thank you so much for sharing.