When historic patterns are on Raverly’s Hot Right Now page, my day is made. This happened last week when the Ladies’ Knitted Hug-Me-Tight, or Zouave Jacket made it to page 1 on Hot Right Now. As any good history nerd would do, I followed the link and started reading the book where it was originally published, made available online at archive.org. The book was The Art of Knitting published in 1892 by the Butterick Publishing Company.
From my quick flip through, it appears to be a fascinating publication. The first part is what we might call a Stitch Dictionary, with many interesting lace work and other stitch patterns to follow. The chapters that follow look at different articles of knitwear, tips on how to work them, and patterns that one could make, provided that knitter is fluent in patterns from the 19th century.
My quick flipping was interrupted in the Useful Articles for Children’s Wear chapter as one pattern provided was for a Child’s Chest Protector. Here’s the image accompanying the pattern:
Why did this pattern catch my eye? Because it looks awfully similar to Godey’s Sontag, a pattern I’ve made so many times now I can basically knit it in my sleep.
Sontag, from the side
Sontag, from the back
The ‘Child’s Chest Protector’ has incorporated the garter ridge into the actual design and pattern notes, rather than with Godey’s where the border (garter ridge or otherwise) was added after the main piece was completed.
The pattern reads:
To begin the protector – Cast on 30 stitches and knit back and forth plain until there are 7 rows
To make the first row of blocks – after finishing the first row, turn and knit as follows: knit 10, purl 5, knit 5, purl 5, knit 5 (in knitting the rows, 5 stitches must be knit plain at each site of every row, in order to firm the boder seen in the engraving). Turn
Knit 10, p 5, k5, p5, k5. Turn
K 10, p 5, k 5, p 5, k 5. Turn
Knit back and forth in this order until there are 6 rows, each formed by knitting across and back. This completed the first set of blocks.
To begin the second set of blocks – (These blocks must alternate with those of the first set). Knit 5, then widen by knitting a stitch out of the next stitch, but to not slip it off the needle; then purl out of this same stitch and slip it off; purl 4, k 5, p 5, k 5, now purl 1 out of the next stitch, but do not slip it off the needle, to widen, and then knit 5. Turn.
K 7, but do not slip off the last stitch; p 5, k 5, p 5, k 7 but do not slip the last stitch off the needle; p 1, k 5. Turn.
Complete this set of blocks after this manner, widening as described at each side between the blocks and border. Then make a set of blocks to correspond with the first set, widening as in the second set, and so on until the widest part of the protector is reached.
To make the Tabs – when the neck edge is reached (in the protector illustrated) pass all the stitches of the border at one side and those of 6 blocks onto another needle; then bind off the stitches of 4 blocks for the neck-edge. Now continue the knitting after the manner directed, to form the tab at one side, making the plain border at each side of the tab and narrowing at the outer border instead of widening as before. Complete for the other tab to correspond.
For the outer Edge – Use Angora wool and crochet shells along the border as follows: 1 single crochet and 2 doubles all in the same space, selecting the spaces so that the shells will be perfectly flat. Fasten ties of ribbon at the sides as seen in the engraving, to tie the protector about the waist.
There are slight differences to the patterns – Godey’s has an increase of one stitch every row while Art of Knitting increases 2 stitches every other row; as well, once you reach the arms, or ‘tabs,’ Godey’s has you decreasing on the inner edge while Art of Knitting decreases on the outer edge. These slight changes aside, following either pattern will result in a garment which will keep your torso warm while your arms are free to move about as you want.
If 100 year old patterns are your thing, or if you’re simply interested in an old read, I’d recommend checking out The Art of Knitting, available to view online.
Remember that time I knit a wrap from an 1860s pattern? It was called a Sontag. Sontag, you say? What a strange name! Well, I looked into the history of this garment here. And this is my finished Sontag:
Sontag, front view
Sontag, from the side
Sontag, from the back
Well, my needles have been busy for the past few weeks, making a Sontag for a co-worker. The beauty of making a project a second time, especially if that second time is a commission, is that you have the chance to improve upon what you did the first time around. I’m very happy with my Sontag and it has kept me warm when I’ve needed a few extra layers with my costume for work, but I also knew there were things I would change if I was to ever make it again. This is my chance.
Firstly, the basket weave. The Sontag’s fabric is a 5×5 basket weave made up of alternating knits and purls, increasing one stitch at the beginning of each row, or, as Godey directs:
Cast on thirty-five stitches, knit five stitches forwards and five backwards, thus forming the blocks; knit five lines in this way, widening one stitch at the commencement of each line. Knit the second row of blocks alternate with the first.
Don’t you love 19th century patterns.
When I knit this the first time, I worked my increases the same as the stitches before it, like so:
The basket weave looks off by the sides of the wrap. Only when you’re really looking at it can you see, and perhaps it’s me being picky, but this has always been something I would change about my Sontag. For Sontag 2, I did.
Look at those new stitches, worked opposite to the ones beside them, continuing with the established basket weave pattern. Much happier.
When making the Sontag, the back is made first, and then the fronts, one side at a time. Again, the pattern wasn’t overly clear on how to go about the decreases:
…Knit up one front, narrowing one stitch on the inside every fourth line for six blocks; narrow every other line for the next six blocks; then narrow every line till you come to a point.
Clear as mud, right.
When I made my the first time, I narrowed every fourth line for 200 rows. I kept measuring the length of the front against myself, and once I determined it was long enough to wrap around me, I narrowed every other row until 4 stitches remained, using those 4 stitches to make an i-cord 20″ long. The fronts are certainly long enough, wrapping all the way around to the middle of my back. The way I worked the decreases was another thing I would change if I was to make another Sontag, so change I did.
This time, I decreased every 4 row for 120 rows, then decreased every other row until only 4 stitches remain, and again made a 20″ i-cord using those stitches. Measuring against myself again, this time the fronts come to their ‘point’ around my sides, which I think will make a more attractive wrap.
Front number 1 is done, and I’m 5 rows into the second front. I’ll have this completed in the next few weeks, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to revisit this pattern and improve upon what I’ve done.
Want to make your own Sontag? Awesome! Check out the pattern on Ravelry! Or, here’s a copy of the pattern from the January 1860 Godey’s Ladies Book.
This is the big week, folks. After months of preparing, negotiating, stressing, packing, stressing, phone calling, form filling, stressing, organizing, and, oh yeah, stressing, the week has finally arrived.
I get possession of my house this Thursday. My parent’s living room has been taken over by boxes, and totes, and random bags filled with kitchen items, movies, books (my book collection always seems to surprise me), and my bedroom is also being consumed with boxes and odds and ends. I’ve packed away most of my yarn, leaving what I’ll need for the shawl I started last week. Every so often, I’m hit with the urge to knit a particular project, and last week, I NEEDED to start a shawl. But I digress.
It’s such a surreal feeling, and I’m still filled with stress and doubts, but I’m also very much looking forward to moving into my own place, regaining a sense of independence.
In a time when I am filled with such stress, I’ve naturally turned to my needles, and I FINALLY finished the Sontag last night, while also finishing the newly released third season of Orange is the New Black. The reassurance of knitting and the humour from this amazing show helped keep my mind off the big life moment happening later this week.
It will all work out. Everything always does. In one way or another, it will work out.
I was able to have my awesome co-worker take a few pictures of me in my newly finished Sontag (link to the project on my Rav.). We snapped these photos in the house we have displayed as a traditional Victorian home. The house is exhibited c. 1865, and the house itself is believed to be built c. 1840. The dress I’m wearing I also made, that time with the assistance of my grandmother.
Okay, I’m going to say it… for a historian, someone who is passionate about history and the preservation and promotion of history, I thoroughly dislike historic knitting patterns. Maybe this isn’t fair; I’ve worked with exactly two ‘vintage’ patterns, but both have been less than straight forward. Both, however, have given me the chance to do some reading and research into the history of these patterns, and the history geek in me has loved every second of it!
The first pattern I made was a World War I sock, based off a pattern I found in a local newspaper in 1916. It was the second pair of socks I made, and the directions were clearly meant for someone who was not a sock novice. Instructions for the heel flap and the foot gusset were lacking, and I had to rely on common sense and my knitting circle friends for advice! Newspapers from that time period are scarce – hard copies that have been donated the the Archives are what is available as they are not available on microfilm. We are lucky that the papers we have have since been digitized. I was able to read through the papers from the First World War and I loved reading about the 116th Knitting Society who worked hard to send socks overseas to the Canadian troops.
The second pattern I’ve tried is the one I’m working on right now – the Sontag. This pattern was first written in 1860. It is a lovely piece, a wrap/shawl combo meant to provide warmth to the torso without adding extra layers on the arms, leaving them free to work as needed. This piece, also called a Bosom Friend, was likely named for Henriette Sontag, a noted German opera singer who was popular during this time period. The pattern first appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in January 1860, although they do not explain why it has been given the name ‘Sontag.’ The Bosom Friend makes sense, knowing, ahem, what the garment covers and how it crosses over, but why Sontag? Did she wear something similar, or was Godey’s making an inference to Sontag’s anatomy?
So, I got to searching. Archive.org is a fantastic resource with many primary sources available. Simply by searching for Godey’s, I was able to look at this woman’s magazine from the Victorian Era and search within individual issues for Sontag. The first instance of Sontag that I found was in 1852, when discussing the operatic singer who was making appearances in New York. Later in the issue, they made note of the following under fashion:
As was predicted in an earlier number, velvet ribbon has become the favourite style of trimming for all heavier materials, whether formed into cloaks or dresses. We give a beautiful cloak, the sontag, trimmed in this way
From the illustration, this looks nothing like the piece I am currently making.
In 1856, I stumbled across the following passage, written by the editors in response to correspondence they received from readers:
Miss B of Fair Haven – We do not know the material of the title given, but presume it is a style of poplin. Such fancy names are usually invented for country towns. A Broadway or Chestnut Street mantua-maker would but smile if you should ask her to make you a ‘Parodi,’ a ‘Sontag’, or a ‘Eugénie,’ when you meant a certain style of basque. As regards the second inquiry, poplins are never flounced – the material is too heavy.
There were a whole lot of textile references in that quote that I hadn’t heard before. Poplin is a strong fabric; mantua-maker is a historical sewing pattern company; Parodi, well I’m not 100% sure what that is referring to; Eugénie is likely in reference to Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III who would have set standards for popular clothing, much like celebrities today – she greatly popularized a coat known as Eugénie paletot; and, basque, in Victorian fashion, refers to a closely fitted bodice or jacket extending past the waistline over the hips (thank you Wikipedia!).
From the sources I could find online and through Archive.org, it looks like the first knit pattern for a Sontag appeared in 1860, and it is the basket-weave pattern I am working on currently.
In 1861, a second pattern is published which would be more straight forward for a novice knitter, but it does not have the basket-weave fabric that the 1860 pattern produces.
And again, in 1862, they published another image of a Sontag, this time more rectangular than previous and without a pattern to accompany the image.
Godey’s never outwardly states that this style of wrap was named for Henriette Sontag, but she was known to them and was well regarded. It is likely that she wore something similar, it became popular and has been named in her honour.
Once I cast on and started knitting, I am enjoying this project, but the initial start was frustrating. The directions for the basket-weave, as written in 1860, aren’t straight forward, and everyone who has tried to ‘interpret’ the pattern has a different way of explaining the directions. I am a very visual person so to knit something, it is helpful to me if a) I’ve made it before, b) there are clear instructions, or c) there is a video or someone to help explain it to me. I cannot look at the written words and know immediately how the finished piece will look. I’m more of a ‘trial and error’ kind of person – I try to figure it out and if it works, great, but if not, then we frog and start again. After reading 3-4 different interpretations on the construction, I simply said, to hell with it, I’m going to muddle through. And muddle through I did. In hindsight, I would have altered the way I’ve knit the pattern at the sides when increasing, but it won’t bother me so much to want to start over.
The basket-weave is ultimately working up to a lovely fabric, and the deep purple colour of the yarn is making me very happy.