Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Objects, known to be useful, considered to be beautiful # 2 : a Viking Knitting Nancy

The other week, I had an e-mail from the lovely and clever Soize, a knitting blogger from Quessoy, not far away, who I met last year along with some other local bloggers including her husband, the estimable, knowledgeable and friendly Quercus, crêpier (a professional maker of pancakes) and local historian par excellence.  Soize wondered if I'd like to come and see a demonstration at the library at Quessoy of something called 'la lucette, l'ancêtre du tricotin', by someone, an English lady as it turned out, who she'd met at a Christmas market selling these things. I agreed readily, though I was a little bemused, having only a very hazy idea of what le tricotin was, never mind its ancestor with the strange girl's name.

But I'm a sucker for the obscure and practical corners of history and their evidence, and a quick search reminded me that of course tricotin is what we call in English French knitting, or Knitting Nancy, a kind of cylindrical bobbin with hooks in the top around which yarn is wound, then hooked over itself to create a knitted cord. I never did this as a child, but I remember seeing the bobbins about, and Tom was quite familiar with it, he recalled making them from nails and cotton reels in the days of childhood austerity. I can't find a link in English to la lucette, because I don't know what term to look for, but this site, of a French mediaeval reconstruction society has some attractive and informative images on it, ancient and modern. Essentially, where a modern tricotin bobbin has four hooks (at least, some may have more), a lucette has just two, so it is quite a small, portable gadget, and also a rather aesthetically satisfying one.  It dates, apparently, from the time of the Vikings.

While nowadays the point of making cords and braids might seem unclear, other than for pure decoration, diversion and to keep the fingers busy, in the past, before industrially-made rope and string and webbing and buttons, before plastic and elastic and other such materials, strong and serviceable, as well as pretty, stuff like that must have been very sought after. Tricotin ropes were, it seems, often used for reins and other harness for horses, lucette-made cord was used in all kind of clothing applications. One advantage of it is that, whereas with many plaiting and braiding techniques, it's necessary to measure and cut the amount of thread needed beforehand, an uncertain matter often involving waste or a shorter final product than wanted, with these chaining methods one can go on from a ball of thread or twine indefinitely, joining on more if necessary.

I had to be a bit later than the time appointed as I was giving a lesson earlier in the afternoon, and when I got there the librarian smilingly waved me to the back.  There were Soize, her three young daughters, her sister, and Choco, who I also met last year, all knitting, doing crochet, making doll's clothes and friendship bracelets.  No sign of a lucette or a person demonstrating it, but no one seemed very concerned, the whole scene emanated such an busy-handed, companionable, sisterly tranquillity that I immediately had the most blissful sense of coming home; I had stumbled upon my dream of a knitting circle, but alas, I had no knitting!  I sat and chatted and basked in the atmosphere for a while then tentatively asked about the matter of the lucette demonstration.  Oh, the lady hasn't turned up, said Soize, but never mind, here, I have one in my bag, Quercus made some for us.  She handed me a delightful little fretwork tool, showed me how to use it, and I was set up.

We chuckled somewhat at the image of butch Vikings, thrusting through the waves on their pillaging way, getting out their Knitting Nancies to pass the time.  Choco in particular seemed rather taken with this fantasy, which later focussed on Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas romping about at Fort la Latte just up the road, and we discovered a shared love of swashbuckling historical dramas. We all did our best to convert her to the use circular knitting needles, I tried to convince them of the efficacy of my method for shortening the bamboo ones, and eyed Soize up as a potential source of tuition for cable knitting.  They all kept pulling fascinating and beautiful needlework and wool related items out of seemingly bottomless work bags. During the proceedings Quercus turned up to see how we were getting on, and, being somewhat shaggy, rugged and folkloric, he was cheerfully hailed as our tame Viking.

A couple of hours flew by, at the end of which my second attempt at a lucette cord had reached about two inches before turning into an intractably snarled up knot.  Keep it, said Soize, practise at home, so I did.

The lady with the lucettes never did turn up to show and tell us about them, but it didn't matter, I have found a knitting circle.  We agreed to get together every fortnight on a regular basis, bring your own knitting. Or crochet, or even a Viking Knitting Nancy.



the polish chick said...

"somewhat shaggy, rugged and folkloric" is probably the greatest description for a man ever. if i were a man, i believe i would love to be seen as such.

Ellena said...

Heartwarming post, Lucy. Way back then my Knitting Nancy looked like Tom's. Last week I discovered a Strick Liesel, little female doll, in our local wool shop and promptly bought it for Moselito. He used to knit but has now advanced to be the master weaver. This coming weekend I will find out if he is interested to keep his fingers/hands busy with Liesel while he is home with me.

Catalyst said...

The picture of those big, bold Viking ancestors of mine halting their sailing, exploring and fighting to do a bit of knitting is hard to imagine!

Pam said...

I used to do French knitting a bit when I was little, but then - what do you do with the result? We used to make little mats but... hmm. This method looks interesting but not so foolproof - but yes, wonderful to think of Grettir the Strong sitting on his longboat doing a bit of French knitting.

Roderick Robinson said...

Also called cork work for reasons I know not. In effect a snare and a delusion. Pulling the already secured loop of thread over the thread newly wound round the quartet of panel pins hammered into the cotton bobbin has something distantly in common with knitting with needles. You think you're almost there. You aren't anywhere near; there's a lifetime of disappointment ahead accompanied by shooting pains in the right index finger. Try fretwork.

Soize said...

Merci pour tout ! :-)
regarde ce lien : http://www.thelucet.co.uk/index.htm

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

PC - yes, and he makes a mean crêpe too, people come from miles around.

Ellena - even if M hasn't done anything like that for a long time, it's surprising how these things come back and how much people enjoy it when they do. Those little mediaeval tablet weaving looms look fun too.

Bruce - I heard somewhere that there are far more Viking genes in us so-called Anglo-Saxons than has previously been thought. Perhaps it was the Viking ladies really who did the French knitting, I suppose they had to do something to pass the time...

Isabelle - well, apparently they could be used for reins for horses too, as well as little coasters for Vikings to rest their mead horns on. It is quite easy to come unhitched with the lucet, as it's apparently called in English, or to turn the wrong way and get knotted!

Robbie - your are to applauded for having tried, in fact as a child I had little patience or dexterity for such things, unlike Soize's little mites who were whipping out lengths of cord quite effortlessly. In fact you can get larger versions of the French knitting things - knitting looms they're called - which people use to make scarves and hats and even socks, though I'm not sure how the heels get turned.

Soize - de rien, merci à toi! Ce lien est étonnant, les cordes fantaisies qu'elle a fait sont vraiment jolies.

youna said...

Hello i'm Youna and my doll's clothes are finish,you can see it Wednesday.

Lucy said...

Hello Youna, see you on Wednesday!

crazyhaberdasher said...

Hi from Australia, I am a collector of knitting nancies or knitting spools (there are many names) and you may be interested in checking my blog - http://spoolknitter.blogspot.com - and also take a look at the many photos on Flickr Spool Knitter, you can get lots of ideas of what to do with the knitted cord too. ... cheers, Marian
PS When I think of the lucet at the time of the Vikings, it would have to be the women who would use them.