antique textiles Brontes Genealogy Textile Arts

On Reverse Engineering. And Ag Labs and Farmers.


A quick heads-up. I have two pieces out this month.  One for the knitters and one for the genealogists.

For the knitters,  there’s something about reverse engineering knitting from old photographs (‘The Knitter’, Issue 107).  Probably something I should go into more depth with here on the blog, some time soon.  Over the few years I’ve been figuring out ‘old knitting’ from images, I’ve developed a few tricks of the trade, and thought I’d share some insight into the process.

I think a lot of it is down to confidence.  But also, simply by getting on and doing it, you develop an armoury of tools to do the job. Although with the caveat – any one person’s reverse engineered version of a piece of vintage knitting is only their interpretation and other interpretations are equally valid.

One other limitation is the extent of your own memory bank of techniques. And also, your hands-on experience of observing and recording similar items from similar dates.

As well as writing about reverse engineering from images, I looked at the pragmatic approach to reverse engineering – how to go about working from actual artefacts in museums, etc.

Talking of which…. Earlier this week, researching for an upcoming piece in a US magazine, I went behind the scenes at Temple Newsam House, in Leeds, and documented items from a dolls’ house, the very one Charlotte Bronte made dolls’ clothes for, in 1839. * Although this was looking at sewing, not knitting – the process for the reverse engineer is precisely the same.

You do need some other background knowledge to shed more light on extant items as well as reverse engineer and re-create from them.  But the bottom line is still – observe and record. Think, research, observe and record some more!  Whilst observing and recording, I found something really cool – and previously unrecorded elsewhere.  This is where reverse engineering can add to our existing knowledge of the past, and how things were done or perceived, there.

I have written about my own process for reconstructing knitted textiles in ‘The Knitter’.  But am fascinated by other textiles too – especially Georgian and Early Victorian clothing.



The second piece in the shops right now is in ‘Family Tree Magazine’ (February 2017).  I go on about how to trace your farming ancestors – both farmers and labourers and ancestors who followed other rural occupations.   Take a look if it’s your thing.  And let’s face it, anyone who does their family tree will eventually hit an Ag Lab or seventy.

The vast majority of my ancestors were yeoman farmers, and dairy farmers with a few other vital rural occupations – wheelwrights, shoemakers, and of course, West Riding clothiers – thrown in. So I have tried to share some of my experience of finding farmers – and Ag Labs – there.  They can leave quite a paper trail – and as ever, with genealogy, your search is enhanced if you think laterally.

I’m off back to my current projects, now. Exciting news… there’s a new book in the pipeline and some historically-based projects will be coming out over the next few months so keep your eyes peeled!  I’ll be back with how to knit Lancashire squares, soon – and another wartime letter from a child to her dad in the Forces.




“…Mrs Sidgwick…cares nothing in the world about me except to contrive how the greatest possible quantity of labour  may be squeezed out of me, and to that end she overwhelms me with oceans of needlework, yards of cambric to hem, muslin nightcaps to make, and, above all things, dolls to dress…”

[Charlotte Bronte, letter to Emily Bronte, 8th June, 1839].













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