Chain stitching · Structures

Looping in chains

The discussion of the buttonhole loop has thus far presented it as a component of a larger structure. I’ve been using the definitions of its various forms provided by Irene Emery and expect to be citing her a while longer. Before getting back into their sequence, though, there is one fundamental transform of the basic loop that she only illustrates in composite structures, which I first want to consider on its own.

A string twisted into a series of loops is not a stable structure. The loops vanish when the string is placed under even the slightest tension unless they are provided with some form of support. In basic buttonhole looping this is given by wrapping the individual loops vertically around the lag between the nearest two loops in the preceding round, or to an anchor provided specifically for the initial round.

Another way to preserve the loops is to connect them laterally to each other. Pulling the ends of the string in opposite directions will now tighten the outermost two loops into knots but the others will remain in an open chain. (The loops in it can be kept at a uniform size by deliberately tightening the end knots before applying any tension.) A well-known, although far from the only, application of such chains is in crochet, where they serve both as a foundation for other stitching and as discrete elements in openwork. Other than where it appears as free “chains in the air,” crochet is characterized by being linked both laterally and vertically.

Another craft that shares this attribute is nålbinding, about which Emery says essentially nothing. Given its significance in the history of fabric — which had not been fully appreciated at the time she was writing — this blog will examine it all the more closely.

Since three of the remaining purses in the 1823 volume of Penélopé for which I’ve promised instructions are crocheted, I’ll post their translations before moving on. But the loom-knit purses described in the preceding entries employ another important variation of buttonhole looping — cross-knit looping — and the next post will address that.

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