Today’s post is all about the 38th pattern in Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843, first series). The pattern is simply named A Purse and it marks the beginning of a section of the book that focuses on stitches for purses. The stitch pattern itself is quite straightforward; the pattern is based on the assumption that the knitter knows what the finished product will look like as there is no illustration and no guidance as to the finished size of the project. While I am sure knitters in the 1840s had an idea in mind for a gentleman’s purse, this is not a fashion that has prevailed until 2020!
Working up the Pattern
The pattern calls for No. 20 needles and coarse netting silk. While No. 20 needles on the Lambert Filiere are approximately equal to a 2mm needle size (see here for details), I was not sure what type of material would be equivalent to coarse netting silk. Based on the needle size, I decided to use a silk/merino fingering weight yarn and settled into some research into netting silk while I started working on my gentleman’s purse. Normally I would chart the pattern next, but in this case, it was so straightforward I didn’t think a chart was needed. My interpretation of the pattern is as follows:
Repeat [ssk, yo, p1] until the end of the row and every row is the same.
After some research (see below), I decided Miss Lambert might have been thinking of a miser’s purse for a gentleman so I worked the pattern for about 5 inches, cast off and blocked the rectangle. I sewed the purse up with two closed ends and a slit in the middle to create a miser’s purse.
About Netting Silk
Although I chose to use a fingering weight yarn, I was very curious about netting silk and what the modern day equivalent might be. In another of Miss Lambert’s books The Handbook of Needlework, published in 1846, she states that “netting silks, or purse twists, are too well known to need description” but does note that they come in a variety of sizes (coarse and fine) and colours. She also highlights the superiority of French silks over those produced in England at the time. I’ll keep looking for modern day equivalents and will post what I find next time.
Purses of the Victorian Era
Gentleman’s purse may have referred to a long stocking purse, which were used by both men and women in the 1800s. These purses were worn folded over the belt and could be kept in a secure location. Simple versions of these types of purses were commonly made as gifts or for charity; and they were “commonly knitted as love tokens and given to sweethearts” (Black, 2012, p. 49).
The miser’s purse was one type of stocking purse and it had quite an ingeneous design for such a simple object. The purse is a tube, closed at both ends and with a vertical opening in the centre. Coins of different dominations could be placed at the two ends of the purse and they were secured in place using metal rings. Sometimes, miser’s purses had two different ends (rounded, square, beaded, tassled etc.) and the Victorian gentleman (or gentlewoman) could tell by touch which side contained the coins that they needed. The miser’s purse was also known as a hookers, almoners (or aumonières), and wallets, or long, stocking, ring, or string purse. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, this video shows show how a miser’s purse was constructed and used: The Miser’s Purse, Demo by Laura Camerlengo.
Engineering Knits also has a great video about her journey creating a miser’s purse: Victorian Purse || Historical Knitting. Check out her account for other great Victorian projects!
Sandy Black. 2012. Knitting – Fashion, Industry and Craft.
Gwen Blakeley Kinsler. 2014. The Ingenious Miser’s Purse. Piecework Magazine.
Susan J. Jerome. 2020. The Fascinating Miser’s Bag. Piecework Magazine.