It’s been a while since the last post and I’m uncertain about where best to resume the discussion. My initial intention had been to focus next on early descriptions of flat hooks used for shepherd’s knitting (now also referred to as basic slip-stitch crochet). Material and written evidence of this begins to appear in the 1780s, but a key text from 1800 also extends the discussion of the hooked knitting needles used by the Swiss knitter Dubois, introduced in the preceding post — so let’s start with that.
Johann Friedrich Netto was a drawing teacher from Leipzig who wrote several tutorial books on textile and needle crafts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He appears to have been an experienced practitioner of many of the described techniques and his pedagogical background is reflected throughout. In 1800, together with Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann, he published Die Kunst Zu Stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange (“The art of knitting in its full extent”).
This is generally regarded as the first narrative book about hand knitting but it also provides early descriptions of several other crafts (as they are now classified; Netto regarded them all as forms of knitting). I’ll be providing full translations of a number of these instructions in later posts, including all that discuss the techniques Netto ascribes to Dubois. I’m taking the first such translation out of the original order because it may suggest that Dubois did not use hooked needles solely as a quicker way to form conventional knit stitches, but also produced stitches on them that cannot be formed on smooth-tipped needles.
In the section below, Netto describes Dubois’s method as the form of fixed-needle knitting that often termed pit knitting, albeit with the needle held under the left arm rather than in the more common position at the right side. In another section (§34, translated in a separate post) Netto repeats and expands the text from 1787, describing how Dubois worked in the round with the variety of yarn-around-neck knitting that uses a shoulder pin.
Knitting the largest man’s stocking in an hour using the method taught by Dubois
More than once in the company of several ladies, Dubois knitted a stocking from beginning to end in one hour. The yarn that he used in these cases was admittedly of the heaviest sort. As noted above, a small hook was filed into the one end of his knitting needles, through which he pulled the yarn with the greatest speed and completed a row of stitches in a moment. He held [one of] the long heavy needles against his left side raised with the stocking on it, and knitted close to his index finger, over which the working yarn was held ready. Without looking closely at it, he wrapped the yarn around the hook with his index finger and pulled, or rather lifted, it quickly over the tip of the needle held at his side to form the stitch.
This knitting, in which one holds the needles at the side, has now become fairly common in Berlin, Dresden, and Hannover. Even with regular knitting needles without the hooks one can knit far more rapidly in this manner, finishing three stockings in the time it takes to make two by moving both needles. Knitting done by Dubois’s method is additionally far more elastic and has a much more beautiful appearance; also stitches will not as easily be dropped or slip off in the process. In short, the effort needed to get started with it will be richly rewarded in the end, when one has acquired a certain degree of proficiency with it.