A few weeks ago, while we were driving around Fincastle doing errands, we passed the Botetourt County Historical Museum in Courthouse Square.
My kids noticed, and asked if we could stop and visit. To be honest, I just wanted lunch.
But when my kids ask to visit a museum, well, that is a good teaching opportunity. Like myself and like you, probably, they pay attention best when they’re genuinely interested. So I bravely told my hungry, cranky self to just wait a few minutes and take them to the museum.
In the end I was the one who had to be dragged out of there. Dragged, that is, from this particular room...
Now, I’ve been told that finding textiles which date from previous centuries (which are also in good condition) is rare. Ones that don’t fall apart when you pick them up and put them out for display are even rarer. But the BCHM has an absolutely amazing (for its size) display of textiles: blankets, bonnets, dresses, christening gowns, shoes, a boy’s fancy jacket and….wait for it….handknits.
I found, in a glass case, exquisite hand knit hose and stockings.
I stood over the beautiful handknits in a glass case. Below, this pair of “hose” was knitted by Bettie Shuey Sifford, 1857-1937.
I’m pretty sure the hose had been saved and worn just a few times, because there’s hardly any wear. They were fancy. They were special.
Next to them, a pair of stockings with embroidery.
Another pair of stockings, white yarn, tiny stitches…knit from flax. They were knitted by Charlotte Ann Thompson, daughter of Colonel Anderson Thompson. The flax itself was grown and spun on the Thompson estate, here in Botetourt County.
As I stared, I found myself (mentally) knitting this stocking (above), top down. The cuff first, then the leg, the heel flap, the gusset, the foot and toe…this Charlotte Ann Thompson knit the stocking methodically, the same way I knit a sock. I knew how she turned the heel. I knew how she made the gusset. She had decreased for the gusset in the same way I do. I knew how she did this!
There is more than one way to knit a sock, of course, but this particular knitter knit these stockings the same way that I learned how to do it; from Ann Budd, to be exact.
Knitting for me is a way of feeling connected to knitters who’ve gone before and have the same needs as me- such as warm socks for feet - and who knit socks the same way as I do. The basic knit stitch is the same. Stitch after stitch. Not new. But new to me, however, when I first learned to knit. New creative energy filled me when I realized I could do this. My heart warmed to the idea of giving handmade knits to others. To give something beautiful.
Knitting has been around for a thousand years. I craft socks the same way that knitters in Botetourt County have knit them, for hundreds of years. Now, in my lifetime, there’s just enough time to learn the craft, perfect it, channel my own creativity and love through it, and pass it on to someone else who wants to learn to knit..
The BCHM, along with the Botetourt County HistoricalSociety, Inc.has been in existence since 1966. Currently the museum is in possession of more than 800 artifacts.
The Botetourt County Historical Museum, located in Court House Square in Fincastle, is open daily Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and Sunday from 2:00 pm to 4:00 p.m.