We’ve talked a lot on this blog about neo-Victorian fiction, but there are other arenas where the Victorians have gained a foothold in the popular imagination. Right now, there are a whole slew of intrepid knitters reinterpreting Victorian patterns with twenty-first century yarns, producing titles such as Victorian Lace Today.

Have you ever wondered what Victorian heroines are knitting when the narrator says they are busy with their “fancy work”? Click here for Franklin Habit’s updated pattern for Miss Lambert’s “pence jug” of 1843 and Miss Weldon’s miniature orange from the 1880s. Habit writes that while modern knitters tend to be impressed by large projects, while the Victorians tended to go in for small but impressively intricate patterns. “The Victorians had” he writes, “perhaps, more of an appreciation for these flights of fantasy than we do today. Under the catch-all heading of “fancy work” … they produced a fountain of miniature fantasies we might do well to revive. In a time of limited resources, why not rediscover the joy of small things?”

I think I’ve already damaged my eyes enough  in rare books and should spare them the strain, but I do think the miniature orange would make a great holiday ornament and would love to talk to anyone who’s tried!

2 thoughts on “Flights of Fancy

  1. Hi Karen, this is a great way to think about neo-Victorianism. As a knitter (and owner of Victorian Lace Today) I often think about the different aspects of pattern translation: from yarn fibre, weight, and colour, to the way the pattern is written and the photographs (or lack thereof) of the finished objects, there’s a huge number of discrepancies between the way we knit today and what knitters would have experienced in the 19thC. And then, even between the two patterns re-worked by Franklin Habit I can only imagine how changes in printing technologies that propelled the publication and distribution of knitting pattern books would have affected the variety and availability of patterns like the orange as opposed to those like the pence jug. Thanks for this — I just might make that orange!

  2. That’s a really interesting point about how the material facts of publication would effect the patterns–I guess the web has also changed how we knit today, and how certain patterns get trendy.

    I will be so impressed if you make that orange! I think the Victorians went in for much finer wool than I do–I think my projects would be considered heavy utlitarian and dull by Victorian standards! But I do like the sense of progress that goes with using heavier yarn!

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