I actually tried to recreate this undershirt. But after knitting just a small fragment using the same technique, I realized that it would have taken me 400 hours to finish knitting it!
Four-hundred hours is how long it would take to knit this undershirt, according to textiles conservator Hannah Vickers. Eleven similar undershirts or nightshirts, all made of silk and all dating from the late 1600s, have been found in Norway, but this one is her favourite.
The fabric was knitted from silk yarn using tiny, tiny stitches, and there's a very distinct pattern featuring roses with eight petals. And it’s also been embroidered with very fine stitches of metal thread. Just look on the left at the little female figure with a bird in her hand – even her blouse has its own pattern.
This silk undershirt was imported, probably from a producer in Northern Europe who made garments for the Nordic market. We often think of eight-petalled roses and knitting as very characteristically Norwegian, but as with most crafts, this kind of technical know-how has been crossing national borders for centuries.
It's almost a shame that you can't touch it, because the quality is incredibly high. And it remains in very good shape after more than 300 years, and it's still beautifully soft. Some of the secret lies in the long silk threads that were used on the inside of the garment. I suspect that the owner of the undershirt either didn't use it very much or handled it with great respect, because it shows so little wear.