Methodology · Publication · Research

Getting the New Year started

This year marks the 50th anniversary of my first submission of an article for publication in an academic journal, prepared shortly after I started working at the first of the two museums in Stockholm where I was to spend the rest of my career. Although I hadn’t anticipated carrying museum-based research into my retirement, with the exception of shifting its focus to the history and technology of looped fabric production, that’s exactly what this blog represents. Without calling particular attention to it, almost every post has been framed as an essay that might serve as a preliminary study for a future journal article.

My good friend Dora Ohrenstein, who has been following this undertaking since the earliest “maybe a blog would be a good idea” phase, recently suggested that describing the research process itself, and not simply reporting its outcome, would be of interest to many readers. I’ll be taking that advice but am uncertain about how best to integrate commentary about the added form of geekery into the one I’ve been plying here all along. For openers, here is a retrospective introduction to it from the perspective of a researcher who in real time tracked the effects of the introduction of digital technologies on both the research and publication processes.

A central aspect of historically oriented research prior to the availability of extensive online repositories of scanned facsimiles of older documents — together with digitized catalogs of museum, library, and archive holdings — was the effort that went into discovering, locating, and accessing source material. This could also entail significant expense, which even if underwritten institutionally, required honing a reliable sense of impending relevance before setting the wheels in motion. Skill in the critical evaluation and contextualization of available sources remains fundamental to research and is applied to the examination of those sources however easy their virtual acquisition may since have become. Sifting through material that is only available physically also remains as arduous as ever. Continue reading “Getting the New Year started”

Crochet · Early instructions · Terminology

The slanted senses of double crochet and other naming slips

There are two well-established glossaries used to describe crochet in the English language. They are referred to as “US” and “UK,” with other anglophone countries using the one or the other. Both include the same terms and present the same stitches, but associate the labels with the structures differently. A “single crochet (US)” is a “double crochet (UK)” and a “double crochet (US)” is a “treble crochet (UK).” A “slip stitch” is now the same in both but was a “single crochet” on, and for a long time after its first appearance in the UK terminology. This was the earlier of the two to develop and is used in the following discussion unless otherwise noted.

Frances Lambert published the first cohesive set of definitions for explicitly labeled crochet stitches in 1844, in My Crochet Sampler. This presents a “plain single crochet” that starts the counting sequence and continues with a “plain double crochet.” However, there is a confusingly similar “double stitch crochet” that designates a stitch made by pulling its initial loop under both legs of the loop to which it is anchored.

Plain double crochet — where two loops are kept on the needle, and the wool drawn through both before the stitch is finished. This is the crochet stitch generally practised, and that used for working tablecovers, etc.

Double stitch crochet — in this, both meshes of the chain are taken. It is principally employed for the soles of shoes, and where extra thickness is required, but is not suitable for working patterns.

The latter is now the standard procedure (without a separate name) but did not become so until the 20th century. Authors throughout the 19th century repeat the caveat about its limited utility. The earlier default practice was to pull a new loop through the one to which it was anchored, against the back leg of that loop (now abbreviated BLO). The potential for confusion was compounded further with “double open crochet,” used at the outset to designate a square or rectangular mesh made by alternating two adjacent stitches (of any height) with an open space of the same width. “Treble open crochet” similarly indicated three adjacent stitches.

The next structured glossary to be published included illustrations. It appeared in the 1847 and 1848 issues of Eleanore Riego de la Branchardière’s serialized The Crochet Book, discussed in detail in a previous post. In brief review, the sequence of stitches in it is “Single Crochet, or Shepherd’s Knitting,” the “Plain Stitch called French or Double Crochet,” and the “Treble Stitch.” She subsequently dropped the alternative names for the plain stitch and restricted “double crochet” to designating the point of insertion for the hook. Continue reading “The slanted senses of double crochet and other naming slips”

History · Instructions · Structures · Tunisian crochet

The chain at the top of the long stitch

This post continues the series describing Tunisian crochet stitches found in the series of five booklets dedicated to that craft published by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin beginning in 1858. The one presented here is in the second booklet, which appeared in November 1859 and is the first description of Tunisian filet mesh that has yet come to light.

In the previous posts, the stitches are designating by a shorthand based on the order of their introduction in the booklets. A generalized drawing of an unspecified TC stitch appears without instructions in several of them and is MA0. The first stitch with illustrated instructions is MA1. I’m preparing similar presentations of all of their stitches that are cited in my recent article on the history of the craft, and selected others beyond that.

However, it became clear with the present post that this scheme won’t scale well across the entire series of booklets. From here on, the booklet number will be included in the abbreviation and the stitch numbering started afresh for each. This makes the one described below MA2:6 (and the remaining ones from the first booklet, MA1:2, etc.).

The illustration of MA2:6 is the one of all those provided by Mee and Austin that comes closest to matching the prefatory drawing of MA0, although they still differ significantly. As with it, a new forward-pass loop is drawn through the preceding return chain, but the hook is inserted into the back loop (aka back bump) rather than the chain loop of the anchor stitch. Another obvious difference between the two illustrations is the greater vertical distance between the return chains in MA2:6, effected with treble crochet stitches (US, as in all following references).

Such stitches were well established in the crochet repertoire by the mid-19th century. Detailed instructions from 1848 are discussed in a previous post, repeating an illustration in it here for comparison with the one of MA2:6. As was customary in ordinary crochet flatwork at the time, the fabric was not turned at the end of a row unless explicitly called for in instructions. The illustrated structure is therefore equivalent to the Tunisian variant except for the horizontal spacing between the stitches.

Mee and Austin don’t illustrate their Tunisian treble crochet with the clarity of the preceding drawing. Nonetheless, the engravings in their second booklet are significantly more detailed than those in the first. The written instructions for MA2:6 lead directly to the swatch shown in the accompanying illustration. Continue reading “The chain at the top of the long stitch”

Gauge systems · Tools

Calibrating tool gauges

Knitting needles and crochet hooks made according to the same gauging system and marked with the same gauge number — directly or on the packaging — can nonetheless differ to a perceptible degree in their actual diameters. This variation may be a simple result of careless sorting or otherwise insufficient quality control. However, it also has two significant nonrandom causes. One is that tools made in one country in compliance with its predominant standard, when intended for export, are marked with what is judged to be the nearest equivalent size in the standard of the destination country. Tools are also often labeled with the gauge designations of both countries.

The millimeter frequently appears either as the primary or alternate unit, rounded off to the nearest whole, half, or quarter. These increments are commonly used in countries where manufacturers work directly to a metric gauge (except for the finest-sized steel crochet hooks where the gradation is in tenths or five-hundredths of a millimeter). However, the sizes of hooks and needles produced elsewhere will not necessarily align with a scale divided exactly into quarter millimeters.

For example, I have two crochet hooks of the same highly regarded Japanese brand that are identical except for the size indications on their labels. When measured directly with slide calipers (explained below), the diameter of both hooks is 2.5 mm. One is intended for the domestic and European markets and labeled “4/0 — 2.50 mm.” The other is for export to the US, labeled “C-2 — 2.75 mm.”

Since these markings are on ergonomic handles I sacrificed the one on the latter hook, revealing the metal tool to be embossed “4/0 — 2.5.” The details of the Japanese gauge system are described in a post on the Japanese Knit and Crochet Pattern Help blog which says that a 4/0 hook can also be labeled as 2.25 mm. This means there is a ±10% tolerance in the indication of the actual size, gainsaying the widespread belief that millimeter markings are inherently more accurate than gauge numbers.

The second source of discrepancy between the nominal and actual diameters of hooks and needles is the precision with which the gauges used in their manufacture are calibrated against the underlying standard. (The term “gauge” designates both the measuring tool and the ordered system of numbers and dimensions that it incorporates.) This extends to the gauges commonly marketed to knitters and crocheters, which are typically accurate to about the same ±10% — even when marked in millimeters. (Anyone curious about slide calipers as an alternative, but less interested in background information about them, can skip directly to a how-to discussion below.)

This was a major industrial concern in mid-19th century England, when Imperial units of measurement were still in widespread international use but the push toward global metrication was gaining momentum. A leading participant in the debate, Joseph Whitworth, was among those who convincingly argued that the pivotal issue was the decimal representation of small linear measurements. In 1857, he proposed a standard wire gauge ranging from 0.001 to 0.500 inches, in increments gradually expanding from 0.001″ to 0.025″, with each represented size also serving as its gauge number. Continue reading “Calibrating tool gauges”

Crochet · Description · Knitting · Structures · Terminology

From lag to loop

Knitters employ several techniques for increasing the number of stitches in a row or round of fabric. Instructions for The order how to knit a Hose, published in 1655, make several references to widening a row. Procedural instructions appear regularly in Victorian publications beginning with The Ladies’ Knitting and Netting Book, from 1837. This describes two methods that remain in practice, both working the added stitch into a loop in the preceding row.

The Workwoman’s Guide, from 1840, notes that “increasing the number of loops is generally done in the middle of a pinful of stitches.” It adds to the “various modes of widening” with one “effected by taking up the cross loop, below the next stitch, belonging to the row before, and afterwards continuing the plain knitting.” That cross loop is a central theme of this post and is examined in detail below.

The process of casting on a row of loops at the outset of a piece of knitted fabric is also relevant to this discussion. The first published instructions for it appear in The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant, from 1817. This text is framed in a quaint dialog format that was retained verbatim in subsequent editions and can be seen in this one from 1881. The book makes no mention of increasing the stitch count in subsequent rows. However, the described cast-on technique simply places a closed loop on the needle and can be applied at any point in the fabric. It is now often termed a “backward loop” or “e-wrap.”

The first illustrated instructions for an increase appear in the The Knitting Book, published in 1847 by Eleanore Riego de la Branchardière. She describes an increase worked into the segment of the yarn or thread between the loop just knitted and the one that is about to be. When lifted up from the preceding row, that segment is the “cross loop” noted above.

It is termed a “sinker loop” in the formally standardized vocabulary of mechanized industrial knitting, in contrast to the “needle loop” (both named for parts of the machine). There has never been any generally accepted term for the former in the glossary of hand knitting, and it is referred to variously as the strand, yarn, or bar between the loops.

When describing other types of looped fabric, the transition from the leading leg of one loop to the trailing leg of the next is termed a “lag.” It is shown here in the context of knitting, highlighted in black.

loops and lag

The same knitted structure is formed by the forward pass in many Tunisian crochet stitches but has no direct correlate in ordinary crochet. In its basic forms a vertical loop is also pulled through the one below it but the completed stitch is then joined to the adjacent loop in the preceding row. Nonetheless, reference to the dichotomy between loop and lag can ease the comparison of looped structures that are typically associated with one craft but on closer examination are seen to be shared with others.

Riego terms the process of converting a lag into a knittable loop “to make a stitch.” There are two methods for doing this. In the one rather cryptically described in 1840, the lag in the preceding row is twisted into a closed loop and a new loop is knitted through it.

The other, as described by Riego, extends this over two rows. It is seeded with a “yarn over” in the first and completed in the second. This approach permits a number of stitches to be made consecutively. The remark that “it will form an open stitch” also indicates that Riego regarded twisted loops as something preferably avoided (at least in this situation). Continue reading “From lag to loop”

Crochet · History · Illustration · Terminology

Mlle. Riego’s crochet stitch atlas

In 1847, Eleanore Riego de la Branchardière published the first series of instructions for crochet lace in a planned multipart production titled The Crochet Book. The preface to the second series is dated 1 January 1848 and its preparation was likely coordinated with that of the first. The two series define basic concepts and techniques of the craft separately from the instructions to which they are applied and illustrate a number of crochet stitches with unprecedented clarity. Written stitch descriptions appear in a few of the subsequent series but only the first two include tutorial drawings.

Those in the first volume begin with how “To Make a Chain,” calling each element of the aggregate structure a “chain stitch.” They continue with the “Plain Stitch called French or Double Crochet” (US single) and then a “Treble Stitch” (US double). The intermediate “Single Crochet, or Shepherd’s Knitting” (slip stitch) is deferred until the second series. In that one, Riego drops the alternative designations for the plain stitch and redefines “Double Crochet” as discussed below.

The third series also appeared in 1848, referring the reader to the first two for basic definitions with one exception — “For Long stitch, see ‘Winter Book,’ page 18, in Mary Stuart Hood.” That was yet another of Riego’s publications from 1848. It only provides a written description of the long stitch but this unambiguously details what she might have called a quadruple stitch (US treble) if she had left double crochet with its initial meaning.

Riego uses a more rigorous terminology in The Crochet Book than she does in her earlier writing, where the word crochet is a generic synonym for stitch made with a hook. Here a “stitch” is an attribute of the fabric. A “loop” is something initially found on the tool and then worked into other loops to produce a stitch, which is further specified by parts of the component loops. The illustration of single crochet provides a useful introduction to her descriptive methodology (and commercial prowess; the Taylor named on the spool was one of her sponsors).

single crochet

“After making a chain, the loop E being on the needle, put the needle in a stitch as F, draw the thread through, forming a loop, and also through the loop on the needle E.” Continue reading “Mlle. Riego’s crochet stitch atlas”

Crochet · History · Knitting · Tools

Gauging wooden crochet hooks and knitting needles

The first measuring tools and gauge systems documented for indicating the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks were developed by the wire drawing industry. This was an obvious means for labeling craft implements made from wire, but separate numbering schemes also began to appear for hooks and needles made from other materials. Larger diameters were also indicated by direct reference to ordinary measuring scales.

In a presentation of a gauge of her own devising, in 1843, Frances Lambert says:

“Knitting needles, which exceed the size of No. 1 [8 mm], can readily be measured by an inch rule.”

Swedish instructions for Tunisian crochet from 1856 state that:

“This work requires a bone crochet needle, 12 millimeters thick.”

Instructions for a foot warmer in the 23 February 1861 issue of Der Bazar, prescribe it to be:

“…knitted with two long wooden needles the size of 2 centimeters in circumference [⌀ 6.4 mm]…”

The explicit mention of circumference makes it unclear if the 1843 and 1856 texts also refer to that dimension, or if they mean diameter. Another interesting question is how precise this general form of measurement can be. Holding a needle against a ruler is a straightforward way to measure its diameter but results can easily vary from person to person. The same applies to measuring its circumference, say, by wrapping a length of thread around the needle and then measuring the length of that thread.

The optical comparison of a needle to a ruler has the advantages of simplicity and directly measuring diameter, rather than requiring its calculation (if needed) from circumference. The typical workbasket contains both a tape measure and thread, supporting either measuring technique without additional need for a gauging tool. And then there is the converse of the previous question — how accurate do such measurements need to be? Continue reading “Gauging wooden crochet hooks and knitting needles”

Announcements · Crochet · History

New article on flat-hook crochet

I am pleased to announce the publication of my article, “Evolution in Early Crochet: From Flat-Hook Knitting to Slip-Stitch Crochet,” in the Winter 2020 issue of PieceWork. The downloadable electronic edition is now available via that link and a printed copy can be ordered there, as well. The newsstand date is 27 October.

PieceWork 2020 cover

Readers of this blog may have noticed that a number of posts with headings related to the title of article were replaced some time ago with the message:

This post is temporarily offline

I’m currently preparing an article for publication about the broader topic covered by this post. When the article has appeared, I’ll place a link to it here, with the initial text of the post edited to provide supplementary information.

It will take a while to follow through on that promise but the link is the one indicated above. I’ll be starting by adding the new article to the list of publications that have been spawned by preliminary essays initially appearing as blog posts here.

The one I had been planning to release today was preempted by the publication of the latest issue of PieceWork and this announcement of it. The next few days will be spent with some of the housekeeping noted above but the displaced post will be back on track a week from now at the latest, and the blog’s fortnightly rhythm will then resume.

History · Instructions · Structures · Tunisian crochet

Mrs. Mee’s model method

Mid-19th-century instruction books for diversionary fancywork often provide general tutorial material under introductory headings. Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin follow this practice in a series of five booklets about Crochet à la Tricoter — now known as Tunisian crochet — that they published between November 1858 and October 1861. The first two are the oldest known such publications devoted to that craft. The initial booklet is prefaced with an “advertisement” signed by Mee alone that states:

“The great advantage of Crochet à la Tricoter is that it combines the firmness of crochet with the lightness of knitting, and can be done in almost any variety of shape, from the ease and neatness with which it is increased and decreased. The edges can always be taken up, so that, if done in small pieces, the work has the appearance of being all worked in one. It is never turned; and every alternate row the stitches are taken up on the needle, and remain on it for the whole row, as in knitting. The variety of useful and ornamental purposes to which it can be applied is almost endless; and in presenting these entirely new and pretty Patterns in Crochet à la Tricoter to my numerous patronesses, I feel it will meet with their entire approval. Those who work for amusement will have the pleasure of numbers of new stitches, and those who make it a source of livelihood will find many things that will meet with quick and ready sale.”

It is not clear if “presenting these entirely new and pretty Patterns in Crochet à la Tricoter” to both professional and recreational practitioners implies an established body of Tunisian stitches with which Mee expected her readers to be familiar. The name used for the craft (shortened to “tricoter” elsewhere in the text and commonly reduced further to “tricot”), with the wording of its summary description, suggest that the instructions were intended for both knitters and crocheters.

The booklet ends with an “Explanation of Terms” with procedural information not provided in the intervening instructions but applicable to them all. Continue reading “Mrs. Mee’s model method”

History · Instructions · Structures · Tunisian crochet

Cornelia Mee’s simpler Tunisian stitch

The first native English instructions for what is now called Tunisian crochet appear in a booklet by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin, titled Crochet à la Tricoter (“Crochet in the Style of Knitting” or “Crochet on a Knitting Needle”). The publication date is not indicated but an advertisement in the 25 November 1858 issue of a weekly newspaper states that it had just appeared. It would therefore have gone into circulation at about the same time as the instructions by Matilda Pullan discussed in the post before last. However, those were taken directly from German instructions published in January of that year and, beyond calling attention to the craft, are not an original contribution to its development.

The relationship between the German instructions and the English clone is discussed in my article on the history of Tunisian crochet in the Summer 2020 issue of the The Journal of Dress History, The Princess Frederick William Stitch. This also includes illustrations of the first four stitches that accompany the Mee and Austin instructions and, as with the previous post about Pullan’s derivative work, I will be providing further details about each of them in separate posts on this blog.

The present one deals with the first of the Mee and Austin instructions. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, they are not for what has since been termed the Tunisian Simple Stitch (TSS). The described structure is often treated as a variant of it but has never acquired a generally recognized name. It is the first of many structurally distinct but unnamed stitches that Mee and Austin present. Continue reading “Cornelia Mee’s simpler Tunisian stitch”