Today we are looking at another forgotten technique that was all the rage in the aristocratic and upper class circles of the 18th century.
Ladies in polite society were expected to be proficient in a wide range of needleworking skills. The graceful rhythm of techniques such as knotting or netting was thought to show off the elegance of a lady’s hands.
Knotting produced a decorative thread, with rows of little knots, that was sewn onto fabric.
The linen or silk thread was first wound onto a shuttle, which was then used to create a series of knots on the thread which formed a narrow trimming like a string of beads. The size of the knot depended upon the thickness of thread used.
As befitted objects made for use in high society, shuttles were often exquisitely made in costly materials such as ivory, crystal, lacquer, amber, porcelain, tortoiseshell, silver and gold,
Shuttles could be given as presents. The society hostess Mrs Mary Delany was presented with a gold shuttle by George III in 1783.
From the Letters from Mrs. Delany (a letter to Mrs. Frances Hamilton, October 10, 1783):
The King, with his usual graciousness, came up to me, and brought me forward, and I found the Queen very busy in showing a very elegant machine to the Duchess of Portland, which was a frame for weaving of fringe, a new and most delicate structure, and would take up as much paper as has already been written upon to describe it minutely, yet it is of such simplicity as to be very useful. You will easily imagine the grateful feeling I had when the Queen presented it to me, to make up some knotted fringe which she saw me about. The King, at the same time, said he must contribute something to my work, and presented me with a gold knotting shuttle, of most exquisite workmanship and taste; and I am at this time, while I am dictating the letter, knotting white silk, to fringe the bag which is to contain it.
The knotted thread was collected in a small drawstring bag worn on the wrist. Decorated knotting bags, containing shuttle and thread, were regularly carried around, even to theatres and assemblies.
It was a drawing room pastime that required very little concentration and could be performed whilst conversing, reading or listening to music.
It was an ideal genteel hobby that could while away the long hours whilst travelling over bumpy roads in dimly lit carriages.
The countless yards of knotted thread were couched onto various articles from costumes to household textiles. Some of the petals on the flower (bottom left) have been formed with knotted cord that has been applied to the surface wih couching.
William III’s wife, Queen Mary, was an ardent knotter, whose preoccupation was noted by Sir Charles Sedley
‘For here’s a Queen now thanks to God! Who when she rides in coach abroad Is always knotting threads.’
The young Marie Antoinette was painted whilst knotting.
As the 18th century drew to an end the fashion for knotting waned and became a forgotten technique.
If you would like to find out more about knotting there are a series of videos on you tube by Cynthia Griffith.