Buttonhole looping · Examples

A Swedish looped purse

I’m going to take a break from written sources about purses made with simple looping to present an astonishingly well-preserved object. The published instructions discussed so far are all from the early–19th century but some extant purses of the type described in them are a fair bit older. They are consistent with the written documents throughout, and the bourse en feston from that time have the same general appearance and structure.

With thanks to the Royal Coin Cabinet in Stockholm, Sweden, and their photographer Ola Myrin for providing the following photographs of a purse in their collections (KMK 102 714:2), here is a good example of the genre:

102714-2_a-smallIts characteristic details are the tassels, the braided strap, and the stitch structure. That detail of this purse is similarly representative:


Here, each vertical element consists of two adjacent loop-and-twist stitches. The structure is worked with two needles, the one with a single strand of two-ply silk (in four different colors), and the other matching its diameter with a double strand of silver thread.

Other purses vary in the number of loop-and-twist stitches forming a vertical element and the number of twists in an individual stitch but share the same basic structure. The use of two needles is predominant, most often with silk on the one, and gold or silver on the other, but silk on both needles is also seen. Several colors of the silk are often used to form decorative patterns. Although the Stockholm purse was made bottom-up (the photo of the stitch structure is oriented to match the illustrations of stitches in previous posts), other purses were made top down as is common to all the written instructions.

Beyond being a pristine example, this purse is unusual (perhaps unique) in the precision with which it can be localized and dated. A slip of paper was found inside it with the following text:

Elisabet Paulson gift med Derecteur Wolf wirkat detta 1693 tilika med det öfriga wirkade i skåpet.

Translating all but the pivotal verb:

Elisabet Paulson married to Director Wolf virkat this in 1693 together with the other virkade in the chest.

In present-day usage, the Swedish word virka (cognate with the English ‘work’) designates the process of crocheting; virkat is its past tense and virkade refers to the product. Varying with time and place, it has named a number of other thread and yarn crafts. In fact, it is also a current specialized term for chain stitch embroidery done with a tambour needle. Elisabet Paulson clearly used it to designate the looping of her purse, and other historical sources corroborate that usage.

Notwithstanding, the text found in the purse is commonly read as:

Elisabet Paulson married to Director Wolf crocheted this in 1693 together with the other crochet in the chest.

Some commentators, whether or not they note the difference between its stitch structure and ordinary crochet, take the purse both as evidence of crochet being found unexpectedly early in Sweden, and of it emerging there with an unanticipated degree of sophistication.

There are other instances of crafts designated as virkning being mistaken for crochet and future posts will consider them in detail. As will also be seen, the French term crochet has named other crafts than the one currently known by it.

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