Here are a couple more postcards from my collection in which knitting is represented in association with regional / national stereotypes.


This is an American card dating from the very early 1900s. It is number 11 in the popular “St Patrick’s series,” whose tone is, of course, incredibly sentimental and nostalgic. One could hardly imagine a representation of Irish femininity more stereotypical — the knitter stands barefoot outside her “wee humble cottage” in a shamrock-encircled John Ford fantasy of rural domesticity. The knitting is a sort of accoutrement of her simplicity, and her bare feet are a familiar feature of other postcards in this series.


This card was produced in the early 1900s by venerable British photographers Judges (who are still in the postcard printing business after a more than a century). By this point, the figure of the “Welsh Lady” in stovepipe hat and shawl had become a recognisable tourist novelty. Here, the ball of yarn and needles have been taken out of the dressing-up box to form decorative additions to her “costume.” I am interested in the subtle shifts of representation of Welsh women’s hats — as, in many Eighteenth-Century accounts I’ve read, the wearing of men’s hats is described as masculinising Welsh women in various ways. In this context, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby’s signature hats seem to be a deliberate form of costume, but by the time of Augusta Hall’s famous Cambrian sketches, the hats have become picturesque – and acceptably feminine – curiosties.


Augusta Hall, “Welsh Girl in the Costume of Pembrokeshire” in Cambrian Costume, Dedicated to the Nobility and Gentry of Wales (1834)

I am perhaps particularly interested in picture-postcard representations of the women of rural Wales because, where tea-drinking, hand-knitting, and “masculine” roles are concerned, there are so many similarities with familiar stereotypes of Shetland women.

As always, your thoughts and comments on these knitterly images are most welcome!

Renovation update!
things seem to be going very well with the plumbing and plastering, though I am now in the odd and somewhat difficult position of having no water. I will now be offline for a few days as the work continues. Next time I post I hope to have a bathroom!

22 thoughts on “Images of knitting #3

  1. Oh, thank you Kate, for posting your very intriguing collections for us to see ! I especially am gaining inspiration from the photograph of the Welsh woman in ‘costume’ , but you see, I knit & walk regularly, (still am working on the ergonomics of this) and the yarn attached to the apron by needles stuck through just is a bit of an ‘ah ha!’ moment for me. :)


  2. Thanks, Kate, for the link to Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. What a spectacular pair. As always I’ve come away with new ideas from your post and the comments.


  3. oh I have such a silly thing to share regarding these sweet postcards … when I was a little girl in the 1970s, my school had a musical evening representing nations from around the world (with hindsight I think it was rather Eurocentric). We were encouraged to choose a nation to perform as that was as close to our family’s heritage as possible. Now my father’s family are Scottish, but when I saw the Welsh costume – which looked sooooo like the one in your postcard, I immediately declared myself Welsh just so’s I could wear that hat and skirt … with a yellow waistcoat and puffy sleeved blouse, white stockings and black shoes. My family were rather puzzled to say the least :-)


  4. The postcard brought to mind my husband’s grandmother, who grew up in County Donegal, and from a very young age was responsible for knitting the socks for her family. She told stories of carrying her yarn and needles in her pocket where ever she went, and knitting while she watched the sheep.


  5. My mother is Irish, and grew up without electricity/gas etc., and got all water from a well. No, I’m not 186, she left Ireland in her teens in the 1960’s- All the (very few) photos she has of her childhood show her and her sisters barefoot. So, bearing in mind the date of that card, it may not be as sentimental an image as you might think. (If I added that my favourite photo of my mum is of her wearing a home-made Bill Haley skirt and bunion-inducing stilettoes but a few years later, would that ruin the pastoral image?!)


  6. My question about the Welsh lady is – Is she really knitting or was this a posed picture as well. She looks to be at the casting on stage to me if she is actually knitting. So her hand position is not necessarily reflecting on the way she would actually use her hand to knit. It reminds me of when you see people in films or plays pretending to knit but to any one who actually does knit we can see the fakery immediately. However she has a lovely face and I feel I’d like to know her better.


  7. I also love the postcard of the Welsh lady knitting. Curiously, her attire reminded me of riding attire, where a woman of that era would be riding side-saddle with a long skirt covering the leg that is in the stirrup and of course the leg that is hooked around the top of the saddle would be covered as well. Many women wore top hats with lace veils to cover their faces, and I expect keep out the bugs as they charged around the countryside chasing foxes on the hunt. This is only a guess, but it looks so familiar, so my quote would be “and she knits too!”


  8. I loved the postcard of the Welsh lady knitting. Do you know what the hair stick like thing is attached to her apron? Is that how the ball of yarn is attached to her? I was puzzled by that – if it is a posed picture, perhaps it has no purpose…


  9. Comments from Uhltje and Moz very funny! I saw a woman knitting with hands holding needles under in a recent video and cannot find it again, of course!. Was trying to find it for my sister who has thumb problems. And having lived on the Manitoba prairie for a year with 2 toddlers and no running water or indoor toilet……… have my sympathy!!! at least you have kind neighbors…….
    Cards are a hoot., thank you.


  10. Recieved my copy of Colours of Shetland yesterday, yay! Looking forward to reading it with a cup of tea this weekend.


  11. Great pictures. @ Elizabeth’s comment: I knit with a woman who held her needles like a pencil and she mentioned that they were taught to hold their needles like that because one’s hand looked more elegant holding the needles in this manner. I’ve heard other knitters mention it was the “upper class” method of holding their needles, to define them from the “rabble” a holdover from Victorian times evidently.


  12. The way this woman holds her ball is amazing ! I now know how I’ll do it !

    Didn’t have gas a month ago, for a week, so i do understand your situation…hope this won’t last


  13. What I find interesting is that she is holding her needles overhand. Here in Canada, I was taught to hold my needles underhand, like a pencil (and the knitters in my family were quite adamant about this being the “correct” way to do it), but when we lived in the US, I noticed that most knitters held them from above, like the woman in your postcard. Of course, I now know that there are many ways to knit, but it’s still interesting to see where various techniques originated.


  14. There are thousands of images of Welsh women spinning or knitting all in what is supposed to be national dress, most of which were indeed posed for photos and tourist consumption; in fact some of the photographers used to supply the kit, I believe, because the women didn’t have it. I can only echo a friend of mine who said she didn’t have to dress up in either sheets or mens’ hats to be Welsh.

    My own favourite take on women wearing the stovepipe hat (which IMO should never, ever be worn by anyone over the age of 10, not even on Gwyl Dewi Sant), is rather more modern. It comes from the UK cover of Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Mon Amour, where it is being worn by Myfanwy, the sultry night club singer… do google it, it’s wonderful…


  15. Oh Wow! Thank you for this Kate. My dad is Welsh, and I learned to knit from his mum, my beloved Nanny. I’m inspired to dig through family photos now and see what treasures I unearth.


  16. That knitter is standing barefoot, because she tries to knit for herself, but ends up knitting for her man. Happened to me twice now. And always with the more exclusive (to me at least) yarns. Sigh.


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