I love this photo! These girls are clearly enjoying themselves and each other’s company. It’s also a rare photo of black girls knitting, not something often photographed or depicted.
My mother is a retired seamstress (in that she no longer takes customers, but will still help me with projects) and was often offered sewing-related items by her customers. She’s also the only daughter of a seamstress, who is the daughter of a seamstress, who is … well, you get the idea, and all the old tools and fabric stash end up with her. She also loves to sift through a good antique shop now and then. This is her collection of darning eggs, which she passed on to me a few years ago. Two of the eggs, the lighter ones, are of a more recent vintage; I think a customer gave them to her. The two painted ones are my favorites.
This one is my second favorite darning egg. The worn painted design lends itself to the imagination in trying to reconstruct what it once looked like. The design somehow looks Dutch to me, or perhaps like something from the Arts & Crafts period. I also love that this one is shaped differently, a little more like a foot than a traditional darning egg.
The back of it certainly shows some wear and use – yes, those look like darning needle marks to me, where the needle slipped along and scraped up the paint.
This one is my favorite; it’s the one I remember my Mom having when I was a kid. Perhaps it was my great grandmother’s? In any case, I love it because it shows the most wear and is obviously a well-used and (if one believes such an object can be imbued with love) the most loved object. The paint is worn away in layers down to the wood both on the egg and on the handle, and the wood itself is even worn down to only the strongest fibers in place. I can’t help but think of all the socks this one darning egg saved, the nights someone spent at their last chore of the day, darning socks. It harkens back to a time when even socks were valued, saved, and worn as much as possible instead of discarded at the first sign of a hole – it’s such a contrast with our current consumer culture and sped up fashion cycle, it’s the original slow fashion.
I have these darning eggs, but I have to admit that I’m terrible at darning socks. I asked my mother for one of her darning eggs when my first pair of hand knit socks developed a hole in the heel end of the sole. It’s something I expected to be good at right away because I’ve imagined myself in the place of that person darning socks at night (while listening to a program on the radio?) after all the other chores were done. I mean, how hard could it be? I really just need more practice at it; what I would really love is an afternoon with my great grandmother Ada to have a patient and steady presence help me learn.
I’m reading Mary C Beaudry’s Findings – The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing, which is a resource for archeologists to identify and contextualize findings of sewing and needlework. It’s a fascinating book, it’s everything I wished Big Cotton was (don’t waste your money on Big Cotton – it’s sensationalized & full of innaccuracy; I’ll send you my unfinished copy if you really want it). Beaudry does discuss knitting needles (unfortunately not many survive because the materials they were made from, like wood, tend to decay) so I went looking for images of ancient knitting needles using keywords for the finds they’ve been found in and instead discovered a mystery: the Roman dodecahedron.
Over 100 of these objects have been found, most made of bronze and in varying sizes, all over Europe. They are not mentioned in contemporary literature, so no one is really sure of their use – are they candle holders? Some kind of measuring device? Gaming dice? All of the above? In 2014, Martin Hallett (an amateur I can’t find much information about) 3D printed a Roman dodecahedron and … well, I’ll let him tell you the rest, which is knitting related, I promise!
That same year, another youtuber and knitter, ChertineP, ordered a 3D printed dodecahedron to try knitting glove fingers herself; her results:
Caveat for all of this: there is no archeological confirmation that some Roman dodecahedrons were used as spool knitters, at least not yet. It’s interesting to think that they could have been used this way, but without expert archeological analysis, which my cursory googling did not find, this is just speculation.