CORDIS - Forschungsergebnisse der EU

Knitting early modern Europe: materials, manufacture and meaning

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - KEME (Knitting early modern Europe: materials, manufacture and meaning)

Berichtszeitraum: 2015-08-01 bis 2017-07-31

The principal aims of KEME were to address a major gap in textile history and to restart Jane Malcolm-Davies’s academic career. Despite its burgeoning popularity today, knitting as an historical industry and craft activity has almost no profile in academia. This may be, in part, because it is not a very ancient textile production process when compared with weaving, netting and knotting, which are millennia old. As a result, knitting is the poor cousin and little sister of dress scholarship. Very few archaeological or historical knitted garments or fragments have been systematically examined or accurately reported. Museum catalogues lack detailed information on them and, in many cases, knitted items are not even described as knitted. There has been almost no scientific analysis of the materials from which medieval and early modern knitware is made. There is no protocol for the accurate reportage of knitted material, which prevents its complexities from being captured – unlike the highly developed system of technical analysis available for woven textiles.

Knitting is a very popular leisure activity and an important part of the contemporary textile and fashion industry. There is an enormous amount of knitted material in museum storage which has had no opportunity to delight or inspire scholars or knitters. Early knitware is of interest to hobbyists, contemporary fashion designers, and textile artists. There is also a large number of people who are interested in the reconstruction of historic dress, including knitted garments – for reenactment, museum education, and the entertainment industry.

The overall objectives of the KEME project were to: identify and examine more than 100 knitted caps thought to date from the early modern era and document them using traditional observation and new microscopic methods; devise terminology for accurate reportage; publish a protocol for their examination; and publish the material itself online; use the data collected to devise an experimental archaeology project to investigate the processing of knitware in the past; secure access and sampling permission for the knitted caps held in museums worldwide; and seek collaborations with scientists to carry out a series of pioneering scientific analyses on them. These activities were intended to illuminate the dark history of knitware and use it as test case for a new approach to museum material which will challenge the prevailing preservationist philosophy.

The personal objectives for the fellow were to boost her academic profile and status through supervision and career development, knowledge transfer and training, mentorship and collaboration and networking.
A detailed calendar of the work activities undertaken is available in appendix 1.

Knowledge transfer and training

There was a Dyes and Spices seminar held at CTR, including a workshop at Lejre (DK), in August 2016 at which participants used a variety of dyes and mordants. The other formal training undertaken was two courses in Danish at Studieskolen in Copenhagen. The first was an intensive four-days-a–week, two-month course in autumn 2015 followed by two evenings a week, on a two-month course in early 2016.

The ATOMS programme hosted by SAXO Institute, University of Copenhagen


A total of 145 knitted items were identified as being relevant to the study which required visits to 25 museums and collections, several of them for more than one day, and two very many more times, owing to the quantity of relevant material held. Most museums (19) gave permission for samples to be taken, although some exercised a veto according to a protocol (in some cases devised especially for this project), which meant that not all items were sampled. Another fieldwork trip was to Balmasedas, near Bilbao in Spain in February 2016, which has the only museum dedicated to the water-powered production of Basque berets. On the same trip, it was also possible to visit the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Hueglas in Burgos, where the oldest examples of European knitware are on display, and the Albaola project in San Sebastian, where a reconstruction of the whaling ship San Juan, which sank in Red Bay, Canada in 1565, is underway.
"1 New methodology and protocol for recording knitware

2 New methodology and protocol for best practice in scientific analysis of textiles

A draft protocol for the scientific analysis of organic materials has also been drafted which suggests the order in which specific tests should be undertaken to ensure comprehensive and valid results from the exhaustion of samples. This has been published (in part) in Journal of Dress History (open access); a second part is to be published by the Textile Society of America (open access).

3 New insights into textile processing

The KEME project has recognised that fulling fabric was a crucial process in the production of textiles (woven and knitted), which has been largely overlooked in academic literature. The experimental work with knitted fabric has demonstrated the transformative effects of fulling, which is relevant to textiles through all time periods. There is more research to be done on the effects of fulling and the many variables which affect the results it produces on different materials and weaves.

A further discovery was the potential for a new method of treating modern yarn to prevent shrinkage and felting which would avoid the current highly toxic and environmentally damaging chemical processing. A mechanical method of stripping the scales from the fibres to prevent felting may be a worthwhile avenue of research for the textile industry.

4 Citizen Science

The potential for Citizen Science projects in experimental archaeology was explored by recruiting and engaging 168 volunteers of whom 100 engaged in the activities and 15 sent knitted and fulled circular samples (“swircles”)

5 Online presence

University web page:

Project database:

6 Conference & seminar presentations

The total number of conference and seminar presentations was 23.
The total number of workshops was 14.

7 Publications

The total number of publications is 7.

PR and social media

Interviewee for Blue Ant Media (2015) The secret history of kniting, available at last accessed 24 August 2017

Ravelry group: Strickersvej – Knitters Way:



Article by Jane Malcolm-Davies in Journal of Dress History (2017)
Italian dyers in Plithco’s manual of 1548. From: Edelstein, S & Borghetty, H - eds (1969) Rosetti, G
The ATOMS logo taken from Luise Ørsted Brandt’s doctoral thesis (artwork by Sidsel Frisch)
Appendix 2: Schedule of activities : August 2016 to July 2017
Penelope Walton Rogers (left) and Jane Malcolm-Davies (right) at the Anglo-Saxon Laboratory in York
Article by Jane Malcolm-Davies in Archaeological Textile Review (2017)
Article by Jane Malcolm-Davies in CULTHURE Dordrechts Museum
KEME database website 1
Fullers at work at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s Tailored to a New World conference in June 20
samples from knitted caps found in Austrian mines
Participants at the Raise thy cap! in Copenhagen in February 2017
Appendix 1 Schedule of activities : August 2015 to July 2016
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow Jane Malcolm-Davies
Visiting Xabi Agote at Albaoloa in San Sebastion with Ninya Mikhaila to discuss reconstructing whale
The KEME mentorship family