Photographs of Welsh women in national dress were wildly popular in the late 19th century, partly as tourist souvenirs, and partly I think as a record of rapidly-disappearing country life. One of the three most common occupations for the subject -- the other two being going to market and having tea -- was knitting. I happened across one of these images this morning as I was searching for my ancestors in Breconshire, and quickly found myself utterly absorbed in the genre.
"Mrs Edwards knitting in Welsh national dress, c. 1875" (Gathering the Jewels/Casglu'r Tlysau). Mrs. Edwards, bless her, appears to have cataracts.
It was not unusual for Welsh countrywomen to have bare forearms, so as not to get their sleeves dirty as they went about their daily work. They would then wear separate half-sleeves for Sunday and best.
Photographed by John Thomas. (WalesOnline) This woman, and some others I've seen, has attached the ball of yarn to her apron with a spare needle. I can't quite tell if she has ringlets or if her goffered bonnet is dyed black for mourning.
There was a resurgence of interest all over Europe, it seems, in the 19th century, in national dress, and in some places (Norway, for one) the lack of local interest in it -- because the country women would rather wear more fashionable clothing like their city cousins' -- led to varying degrees of outright invention. That said, some of the photographs here don't look staged, and even though I know it is at least in part, I really love this one --