A while ago I posted the first of what was intended to be a series of descriptions of various aspects of knitting, translated from the first textbook dedicated to the topic yet noted. This is “The art of knitting in its full extent” — Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange — published in 1800 by Johann Friedrich Netto and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann. (More details are given in the earlier post.)
This blog then moved into a range of topics, including early Arabic tubular knitting, with another earlier post suggesting that double knitting could be placed on the list of plausible techniques for its production. I had already tacitly noted that the Netto-Lehmann book includes a chapter on double knitting, albeit of an entirely different variety, and therefore left their description of it for use when focusing more broadly on early presentations of double knitting.
The first mention of that technique in English was published in 1838. This includes instructions for the tubular variety, which regularly appears in subsequent texts (to be detailed in separate posts). Netto’s and Lehmann’s description of the double knitting of two socks on the same needles indicates that the underlying technique was commonplace by their day. Here is my translation of that text.
Two socks knitted at the same time, one inside the other, on five knitting needles.
The invention of knitting two socks at the same time, one inside the other, is a nice demonstration of human ingenuity. However, it is more an indication of artfulness than of utility, since two socks can be finished just as quickly when knitted individually as they can inside each other. Nonetheless, both as a curiosity and for the sake of completeness, we found it necessary to dedicate a chapter to this method of knitting. It requires a lot of attention but no particular skill. One takes two balls of yarn — at the outset before one has become proficient, one white and one gray — and casts them alternately on the needle as usual, first taking a white thread and then a gray one until one has as many stitches as are needed for two socks. The first stitch now belongs to the first sock, the second stitch to the second sock, the third again to the first, the fourth to the second, and so forth. Each stitch needs to be made carefully using the proper thread, that is, the white stitches are knitted with the white thread and the gray stitches with the gray thread. If the thread is switched even once, the two socks will be joined, need to be cut apart, and left with holes. Two seams are purled on the back, one white and one gray, and all decreasing is also done at the same time.
This knitting first requires very long thin needles and then a knitter who pulls tightly and knits densely. This is because the stitches in the one sock are stretched over those in the other, and otherwise produce a loose and flimsy knitted fabric. One must practice this double knitting using two differently colored threads for as long as it takes to acquire sufficient skill to work with two entirely white, or other uniformly colored threads without confusing them. Since all increasing and decreasing is done at the same time, two socks knitted in this manner will be exactly the same, which is not always the case when they are knitted individually. However, there are knitters who can knit two socks separately with equal accuracy and beauty, and again others who can knit two socks together with such skill and rapidity that both are completed sooner than if knitted one at a time.
Gloves can also be knitted in this manner, in fact even more easily, since one is not slowed or impeded by clocking and similar details.