With the next polar vortex bearing down on us, it is time to gather one’s warmest clothes and prepare to bundle up for the daily chores—fire stoking, chicken feeding, wood chopping, egg gathering. What did the women of yore wear in the bitter winter?
Recently, I saw a painting of Mrs. Richard Bache (Sarah Franklin, 1743-1808–Ben Franklin’s daughter) wearing a crisscrossed shawl and it occurred to me that shawls for women were the equivalent of waistcoats for men.
A shawl—a very large triangle—worn over the shoulders and crossed over the chest, can be tied in the back. The shawl is now secure and one does not have to concentrate on holding it closed or worrying about it falling off. Thus, one is able to move about freely and accomplish needed tasks. Furthermore, the trunk of the body is warm, just as if one was wearing a modern day vest.
In the recent movie, Camille Claudel 1915, Camille (played by Juliette Binoche) wears a very large shawl, and throughout the movie, the shawl takes on many uses—as a large scarf bundled around her neck, as a shawl draped over the shoulders, and as a ‘waistcoat’ wrapped and tied around her waist. In contrast, the character Griet, in the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring, merely drapes her shawl around her and holds it closed with her arms, thus not allowing the body freedom of movement.
After seeing Juliette wrap, drape and enfold her body with her knitted shawl, I decided to make one. I discussed this with one of my colleagues and fellow knitters, and there was a twinkle in her eye. The next day she brought me the perfect pattern—‘A Sensible Shawl’ by Celeste Young. My shawl, finished just in time for the last polar vortex, has been keeping me warm as I move through the day’s chores and at night whilst I am knitting socks or stitching my Alabama Chanin DIY swing skirt.
Wrap up and keep warm.
Mrs. Richard Bache, 1793, by John Hopper (British, 1758-1810), oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art