Beadwork · Crochet · History · Knitting · Terminology

Drawing a bead on the arrival of crochet in Germany

The preceding essay considered differences between the descriptions of crochet by Elisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (writing as Madame Celnart) and Charlotte Leidenfrost, in their books published respectively in 1826 and 1828. The German text followed the disposition of the earlier French one and used the same illustrations. In her preface, Leidenfrost explained the otherwise extensive substantive differences between them. Going beyond those examined last time, the preface states:

“The French work of Madame Celnart has a few appended patterns for tapestry-stitch embroidery [Tappiseriearbeit]  and crochet [Häkeln], which we have omitted here…because the understanding of several descriptions would require other drawings. I also didn’t want this work to be unnecessarily expensive. In any case such patterns, exquisitely executed, are now available to whitework embroiderers in many locations in Germany. It therefore seemed superfluous to increase their number by what might be mediocre ones here.”

The  comment about the patterns being marketed to embroiderers, as well as the drawings themselves, show that Leidenfrost was referring to charts for Berlin wool work. Here is one of the two Bayle-Mouillard illustrations that she omitted.

Beaded Purse

Bayle-Mouillard stated they are intended for execution, “sometimes with tapestry-stitch embroidery [point de tapisserie], and sometimes with knitting [tricot]… This knitting differs in no way from ordinary knitting.” The charts are presented in a section headed “Beaded Purses,” indicating her further intention for their application to any mode of purse-making amenable to beadwork.

Leidenfrost extended that list to “crocheted and knitted purses, both with beads and plain silk” and discussed core procedural details:

“It was previously common to knit patterns into the purses with colored silk, requiring as many balls as the number of colors in the selected pattern. The individual squares in the pattern each indicate one stitch, and the unused threads go around the reverse side. When doing this, extreme care needs to be taken to avoid applying too much or too little tension to them. Even then, the outcome is rarely a thing of beauty. This [technique] was completely supplanted by crochet and bead knitting, although they have now also fallen pretty much out of fashion.”

The point of departure for this changing trend is exemplified by several square-grid knitting patterns published by Johann Friedrich Netto and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann in “The art of knitting in its full extent” [Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange], from 1800. Each appears twice, printed black-and-white from the same plate. Both indicate the worked cells with black dots, and one is additionally hand colored. The pattern shown here is intended for inclusion in a large sofa cover.

Sofa Cover

Several other symbols are added to the dots in the Bayle-Mouillard patterns. This extended graphic device — still ubiquitous in cross-stitch embroidery — is commonly used for keying colors to a separately labeled palette and permits them to be indicated on a black-and-white chart without requiring subsequent hand painting — the expensive process Leidenfrost was avoiding. It also eases the adaptation of the palette to individual preference and available resources.

The innovative German publication Der Bazar took this one step further and developed a special font for typesetting grid charts, as seen with this pattern in an issue from 1858, for incorporation in a crocheted tobacco pouch shown completed below.

Pattern for a tobacco pouch

It is not clear when differentiated symbols came into use but grid charts first appeared in a pattern book by Peter Quentel, from 1527. It was followed in short order by several expanded editions, with bead embroiders [Perlensticker] listed among the craftspeople for whom charts such as this one were intended.

Quentell motifs

The earliest narrative account of Berlin charts is in The Art of Needlework by Elizabeth Stone, initially published in 1839, and quoting here from the 1841 third edition:

“The style of modern embroidery, now so fashionable, from the Berlin patterns, dates from the commencement of the present century. About the year 1804–05, a print-seller in Berlin, named Philipson, published the first colored design, on checked paper, for needlework. In 1810, Madame Wittich, who, being a very accomplished embroideress, perceived the great extension of which this branch of trade was capable, induced her husband, a book and print seller of Berlin, to engage in it with spirit. From that period the trade has gone on rapidly increasing… By leading houses up to the commencement of 1840, there have been no less than fourteen-thousand copper-plate designs published.”

The relationship of these charts to crochet in the mid-1840s (at least in England) is discussed at several places in an instruction book by Cornelia Mee from 1845, Crochet Explained and Illustrated, including a section headed “Working from Coloured Paper Patterns.” Her own numerous illustrations are black and white in the format established by Quentel, which was commonplace in the tutorial literature for crochet from the outset.

“Any coloured paper can be copied in crochet; but it requires a neat and clever worker to do this where the colours and shades are numerous. This, however, is frequently accomplished, and only requires nicety in running in the ends, and also in keeping stitches even.

There are so many nice-colored border-patterns now published for crochet, in squares, stripes, medallions, &c, that it is unnecessary to give a pattern here.

Many very excellent patterns are now published, coloured for crochet, for footstools, pillows, slippers, borders, &c., which very much facilitate the doing large pieces of work in crochet. The colours may be altered to the taste of the worker.

Philipson had begun to publish patterns by the end of the 18th century and a series of booklets he initiated in 1809 targets all the crafts mentioned above. The first issue is titled “Berlin Favorite Activity for Ladies from Colored Pattern Drawings for Knitting, Crochet, Tapestry [Knitting] and Bead Knitting” [Berliner Lieblings-Beschäftigung für Damen nach colerirten Musterzeichnungen zum Stricken, Häckeln, Tapizerie- und Perlstrickerei]. Wittich and others soon followed with similar publications including Häkeln (the more common alternate spelling of Häckeln) in their titles, all without describing the designated craft. The redundant appearance of knitting at the beginning and end of Philipson’s title, and the total absence of embroidery, suggests that the first Strickerei — knitting — should instead be Stickerei — embroidery.

In his book from 1800 cited above, Netto described efforts (translated in full here) toward expanding the variety of objects made with the flat hook traditionally used to produce the slip stitch fabric that British authors call shepherd’s knitting.

“The simplicity and rapidity of this hook knitting [Hakenstricken] caught our attention and we were delighted by the complete success of our attempts at using it for other forms of knitting. One can knit all sorts of colored borders, flowers, arabesques, etc., with the hook, just as with knitting needles… Hook knitting is recommended above all for purses… We are convinced that many of our lovely readers will apply their special womanly artistry to this knitting and soon bring it to the highest perfection.”

The pivotal question now becomes whether Philipson’s Häckeln (literally “hooking”) is correctly read to designate true crochet rather than some other hook-based technique, with tambour embroidery topping the list. The earliest English texts either treat “tambour” and “crochet” as synonyms (as does Mee), or use tambour preferentially. The German tambourieren [tambour embroidery] also appears as a target craft in pattern books. The corollary question is whether it was primarily intended for application to the line-drawn charts for free embroidery that commonly appear alongside grid charts (starting with Quentel) or — as now seems far less likely — to the latter.

Leidenfrost uses Häkeln as an unequivocal designation for crochet in 1828, not fully two decades after the appearance of that label on Philipson’s title page. It would have taken several years for the craft to inherit knitting’s role as a primary medium for executing polychrome grid charts and then fall out of fashion itself (in Germany). Seen from the other side, the development predicted by Netto in 1800 would also have needed time to come to fruition.

The completion of that process is usually taken to be marked by detailed instructions for three crocheted purses, published in the Netherlands in 1823, using the parallel labels crochet and hekelen. A few documents from the interval between Philipson’s 1809 publication and then clarify his own use of the Germanic term.

Taken in reverse order, the multi-authored “Penelope, a Pocketbook for the Year 1817” [Penelope, Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1817], was reviewed in January of that year and therefore compiled in 1816. The title page previews its contents as including, “two plates with the newest patterns for fashion embroidery and knitting.” Only a single page of text is devoted to each but the one explaining the knitting chart is headed, “For Knitting or Crochet” [Zum Stricken oder Häkeln]. The middle one of the three patterns is, “a centerpiece for purses, knitting- and tobacco bags, briefcases, family albums, etc.”

Berlin chart 1817

Contrastive reference is clearly made to embroidery and knitting. Since crochet is grouped with the latter, the younger looped craft would have matured to the point of being applicable to Berlin charts by 1816.

The almanac was reviewed in a supplement to the “Morning Paper for the Educated Classes” [Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände] and as to the charts:

“The reviewer, who can neither knit nor crochet, asked a famous knitter in E—g—n for her assessment, and received the following reply with express permission for us to communicate it verbatim here… ‘The patterns about which you inquire…are so good that they can be recommended without hesitation to the entire world.’”

The Editor-in-Chief of the Morgenblatt was Therese Huber, who would both have commissioned the review and approved its wording. She mentioned Häkeln and knitting in a personal letter to one of her daughters in November 1814, treating them as separate crafts, just as the almanac, the reviewer, and Philipson did. In February 1810, Huber’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Luise, wrote a letter to one of Therese’s regular correspondents, recommending the practice of “crocheting purses” [Häkeln von Geldbeuteln]. Therese added a note of her own to that letter and would presumably have reacted maternally and editorially if Häkeln appeared there in some idiosyncratic sense.

Philipson repeated the title of his 1809 publication in 1810 and there is, indeed, no basis for positing that the Häckeln in it designated anything other than true crochet. That craft can therefore be attested in Germany at the end of the first decade of the 19th century.

Here is the second of the Bayle-Mouillard charts that Leidenfrost omitted, for a beaded purse.

Beaded Purse

The diamond mesh cap on the tassel instantiates the hooked passementerie described in Bayle-Mouillard’s instructions. Although Leidenfrost called the purse crochet, again, there is no indication that Bayle-Mouillard conceptualized it as such. Nonetheless, the pattern can easily be made in either plain or bead tapestry crochet.

An association with crochet is sometimes indicated by details such as the filet mesh at the top of a “January Offering” that appeared without further description in the first issue of Godey’s Magazine in 1860. Its layout and six-color palette are equally well suited to plain or bead tapestry crochet.

Crocheted Purse 1860

The chapter on “Berlin-Work” in The Lady’s Manual of Fancy-Work, from 1858, written in the USA by Matilda Marian Pullan, includes a section on “Crocheted and Knitted Berlin-Work.” It notes that this method of working from such charts:

“…is so tedious that it is hardly known except in Germany, where the ladies possess such rare patience and skill in fancy-work, and produce, among other articles, the bead purses, on every stitch of which is a seed-bead, forming part of an elaborate design, in which perhaps flowers and fruit, with their appropriate leaves, or rich arabesques, are seen, worked as accurately as if painted by an artist. To do these, or anything else in this genre, a proper Berlin pattern must be obtained…”

Finally, here is the German tobacco pouch also from 1858, crocheted with the grid pattern seen above.

Tobacco Pouch

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29 May 2020 15:35


11 February 2021 22:27

It can be argued that the among the first (if not the very first) use of multiple symbols or representations in a chart to indicate placement of multiple colors (or density of stitching) was in Johann Siebmacher’s series of modelbooks, starting in 1597. Some of the extant editions look like the darker color was added after printing, but I don’t think these were owner-additions. For one, multiple prints of the same block appearing in editions ranging from 1597 through 1611 or so all bear (more or less) the same pattern of shading. Unless someone hunted down each and every one of the widely scattered originals held by museums and private collectors this would point rather to an “at time of issue” elaboration, and a deliberate representation of how to interpret the designs.