Thursday 18 February 2010

17th Century Silk Knit Work Hats

It is nothing short of a miracle that something from the 17th century should survive for our gaze today. Textiles are the most fragile objects, having a multiplicity of other uses by humans and worms that one can only marvel that they survive at all. The knitted silk pinballs at Ackworth School are a special case in point. But these are workmen's hats, and one can only wonder if they were ever worn for work, or if, perhaps as sweetheart presents, they were kept safe as precious memories. This deep azure blue knitted hat is from Sardinia which at the time of its making was under Spanish Hapsburg rule.
This figured green hat with tied bouquets of roses and other blooms, recalling sampler motifs, has its provenance in Sicily, also under Spanish rule at that time. People believe that intarsia knitting had its origins in Spain, but the skill could have been transferred to Spain from silk producing Sicily.

Excellence in fine drawn wire technology underpins fine needlework and knitting. It is known that in Priam's and Hector's Troy (circa 1250 BCE) the skills and technology of producing fine metal filigrane and cloisonné jewelry were available, and in the 11th century AD, if not before, fine wire needles were being produced in North Africa. Consider the possibilities of technology spin-offs from the production of high demand filigree jewelry and damascene sword blades, both of which were transferred to Spain under Moorish rule. Just how long would it have taken to kit this hat in silk?
Jaunty tassels are a feature of all the hats, some of them are exceptionally long and I expect they would be banned under health and safety regulations today. Perhaps size counted for something in the 17th century. This pink extravaganza is also from Sardinia.

Look at the lovely coral and ribbon designs on these hats - wouldn't it be wonderful if we had someone who could knit these for us? All we can say of these is that they are from Italy. All the images are courtesy of Augusta Auctions. The next auction is 24 March 2010 in New York City.


  1. Fantastic! I've seen examples of rather plain fulled hats, and the 17th century knit/purl jackets, but this is the earliest texture knitting/eyelet and stranded knitting I've seen. I'd love to find more early examples of these styles, with provenance more tightly defined if at all possible. Has anyone seen similar work in museum collections?

  2. @ kbsalazar: The Victoria and Albert Museum has a cap just like the 4th red one, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a pink one.