Aug 2015 — Riding the right road

I arrived in Copenhagen to venture along a new road in life in August 2015 with a few essentials: a house to live in (details to follow), some random Danish words (more on this later too) and a bicycle — The Trusty Steed (see photo). I rode the nine-minute commute to the Centre for Textile Research with enthusiasm and an unexpected feeling of road safety (Copenhagen has wide cycle lanes and traffic lights especially for cyclists). My Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellowship had begun!

The Trusty Steed!

I had done some useful things in advance such as attending the In the Loop conference in Glasgow, where I met valued collaborators such as Lesley O’Connell Edwards, Ruth Gilbert and Sandy Black. I made some new contacts and met people I know from other bits of my life who I didn’t expect to be there (hello Sue Mogridge!)

But life as a Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow (MSCF) began in earnest with bureaucratic necessities — passwords, keys, ID cards, log-in details etc etc. I felt as though I had grown a whole new identity as a Danish person in a day but without the benefit of speaking the language. I did, however, have three fellow fellows with whom I braved the bureaucracy: Maria Papadopoulou, Kalliope (Poppi) Sarri and Corinne Thepaut-Cabasset and a lovely new colleague with whom I share an office — Susanne Lervad (see photo), textile terminologist and creative force for textilnet.dk.

My lovely new colleague Susanne Lervad

My research project is called Knitting in early modern Europe: materials, manufacture and meaning (KEME). I have two main strands to my research; scientific investigation of extant knitted caps from the c16th and collaboration with craftspeople who have experience of working with modern materials. I plan to draw on the archaeological evidence of the caps themselves and undertake experimental archaeology with knitters who volunteer to test existing instructions for reconstructions (see photo) and develop new ideas based on original caps (see photo). I will also explore contemporary evidence in the form of pictorial representations of caps and documentary data from wills, inventories and accounts.

Schoolboy’s coif cap instructions*

The original idea for this investigation came from my colleague Ninya Mikhaila and my interest in producing instructions for knitted caps for a forthcoming book — working title The Typical Tudor. I began looking at extant examples at the Museum of London in 2008 and thought it would be a swift survey. I’ve now identified more than 100 items of relevance — from complete caps to fragments and cheekpieces, and I have more questions than answers about them. What struck me then and still does today is the lack of scientific analysis of any these c16th items. Granted, there are a few which have enjoyed the benefit of relatively recent conservation and therefore some systematic and published attention but most are not even reliably dated since the original excavations were not well recorded.

Original knitted cap, found in a gold mine in Carinthia, Austria*

I’m no expert in knitting or scientific analysis but I’m always ready to learn -and that is the point of being a Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow. The grant programme’s motto (for want of a better word) is “Broadening horizons”. So, this is me broadening mine.

I cycled home after my first day, musing on the likely incredulity of c16th knitters on the usefulness of their endeavours to researchers in 2015. Checking the map for a shortcut to my new home, I realised that The Trusty Steed was taking me along a road called Strickersvej — which, with my near-non-existent Danish but passable German, I realised means Knitters Way. “I must be on the right road,” I thought.

*The schoolboy’s coif cap instructions are from The Tudor Child (2012). More information is available here.

*The cap photograph is by kind permission of Beatrix Nutz and courtesy of the Institute for Archaeology, University of Innsbruck. It was found in a gold mine in Carinthia, Austria.

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