I recently found a reasonably priced copy of a very interesting book

This is the first volume of Jane Gaugain’s Lady’s Assistant, in the 1842 edition. I have been intrigued by Gaugain for a while. I read about her a few years ago in Richard Rutt’s History of Handknitting as well as, more recently, in Jane Sowerby’s book on Victorian Lace. Gaugain popularised knitting and crochet among Britain’s middling and upper ranks, devising a unique system of pattern notation. The class politics of the Lady’s Assistant are very interesting indeed, as is the focus on elegance, rather than speed. . .

Despite the groundbreaking nature of Gaugain’s work — her Lady’s Assistant went through 22 editions — not much is known about her, or, indeed about the popularity of knitting in mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh (where Gaugain lived. . . and so do I). Gaugain ran a large shop on George Street, then (as now) a prestigious spot in the New Town, where she sold notions and yarn, as well as teaching knitting, netting and crochet. So anyway, I intend to spend some quality time with Gaugain and (as if I didn’t have enough to do) have set meself a wee project to retrace her Edinburgh steps, check out some of her techniques and patterns, and explore, in more general terms the culture of knitting in middle class, mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh. More of all this soon. . .

11 thoughts on “wee project

  1. Oh, how much I envy you! The Lady’s Assistant has been scanned by Google but only the first 70 pages or so.

    I’ve been to the British Library to copy the pattern for the Pine Apple Bag.

    Bolso piña - detalle del fondo

    @Naomi Tarrant
    See you in Winchester, if the WSA processes my application for the conference on time…


  2. this is really interesting – i used to be a tour guide in edinburgh and loved finding out little bits of social history and this is just such a nugget – i am really keen to folow your wee project and see what else you can uncover – Edinburgh is just great for this sort of thing. Good luck



  3. it sounds marvelous — whimseyma, i made a string bag out of 99-cent plastic twine from the dollar shop. then thought — you’re making plastic bags to replace plastic bags and they’ll all be orbiting around the universe for half a million years long after i’m gone….

    but i must say, it’s really nice looking.

    the only source of netting instruction i’ve seen is a british guy who instructs on the finer points of fish nets. which is really something kewel to know how to do.

    thanks for a great entry on an intriguing find.


  4. I’m doing a paper on Jane Gaugain at the In the Loop conference in Winchester 15-17 July 2008. I think the papers are to be published.


  5. I can’t wait to follow you on it.

    Netting always reminds me of Vanity Fair. I think it is Becky Sharp who nets (?) a green purse, and I’d always wondered what it was.


  6. Whatever you do do not attempt to waste your time netting – Forty four years ago ,when beginning my training as an OT, I spent a frustrating week attempting to make a string bag – Finally when my poor attempt was assessed It turned out to be a bag of loose knots – so would hold nothing – It was this that turned me to the little 2 inch smoking cancer sticks for consolation – so beware


  7. What an exciting find! 22 editions is so impressive. As it turns out, my Great-Grandmother ran a similar shop where she sold wool and notions in Manchester–my great Aunt reminded me of it before she died. It makes me happy to know that I am passionate about a type of work that was an interest of hers as well.


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