The 15 December 1857 issue of the Swedish journal Penelope, includes instructions for a child’s upper-body garment made with a crochet stitch that had been described without a name in instructions for a window shade in the 1 January 1856 issue of that publication. In the 1857 instructions, the same anonymous author retrospectively labels it the Tunisian crochet stitch — the earliest attested use of the term that has yet come to light. The preceding post includes a translation of the instructions for the window shade. The ones for the child’s garment are translated below.
In the 1856 description, the author notes of the stitch:
“Although somewhat awkward to describe…I hope that I have expressed myself tolerably well.”
That goal was reasonably well met in the text it prefaced but the adequacy of the description of the more complex 1857 garment is not as immediately apparent. It omits key procedural details from the text and the accompanying illustration does not accurately reflect the prescribed stitches counts. The need for interpretation and interpolation makes it difficult for a translation both to be faithful to the original and provide a sufficient basis for making the object. The readers of the initial document would, of course, have been addressing the same issues. This raises the equally important matter of the familiarity with crochet techniques that the author can reasonably have expected them to bring to the task.
I’ve therefore restated the instructions in English as literally as I can manage. The interpretive considerations needed to get from there to the finished garment are discussed in concluding worktable notes. Before getting to the seed translation, it may be worth comparing images of other Swedish garments made in Tunisian crochet with the one accompanying the 1857 text.
The perhaps unexpected vertical orientation of the stitching is also seen in a vest in the collections of the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, dated to circa 1870 (details and CC license for the photograph here).
It might be tempting to see this as a general indication of Swedish practice. It appears yet again in a child’s dress illustrated in the 1 January 1864 inaugural issue of Iduna, which overlapped editorially with Penelope (published for the final time in 1863). However, in that pattern it is juxtaposed with horizontally oriented stitching.
The 1857 instructions call the garment a tröja, which is a general designation for a snugly fitted upper-body garment with sleeves and a closed bodice. As with the corresponding English term for its knitted or crocheted form — sweater — its meaning varies from context to context, not least in regard to whether it can be open at the front.
Given that the illustration shows such an opening, it might seem reasonable to translate tröja here as ‘cardigan.’ However, the text designates the separated panels as the back of the garment, and the full-width panel that is not shown, as the “front piece.” Since this tröja is otherwise symmetrical it can be worn with the opening at the front or at the back. The technical orientation is unequivocal, nonetheless, and the text should be read with that in mind.
Here are the full instructions for the child’s garment in the 15 December 1857 issue of Penelope. The introductory reference to the simple Tunisian crochet stitch remaining in favor after just under two years suggests that it had gained noteworthy momentum elsewhere prior to its initial description in that publication.
“Barntröja [barn = child]. This is crocheted with the same stitches that I already familiarized you with in the 1 January 1856 issue, Supplement II, No. 17, and which due to their being pleasantly made, remain in favor. Here they are given the name Tunisian crochet stitches [tuniska (sic) virkstygn]. The tröja is quite pleasant to make since it only consists of a single piece. Medium weight cotton yarn is needed for it, and a wooden crochet needle that is heavy in relation to the yarn, as described in the issue named above.
50 stitches are cast on [uppläggas] and 28 rows crocheted even [slät]. When one has these 28 rows thus, instead of crocheting downward, 25 stitches are crocheted for the sleeve, and after one has turned around and come to the back, another 15 stitches are crocheted so that the sleeve is 40 stitches wide. It is crocheted open [öppen], 25 rows even, then decreased at the beginning and end of the row, 3 rows even, decreased again, 3 rows even, decreased, 3 rows even, decreased, 2 rows even, there must then be 40 rows from the started [började; likely misprint for börjande — starting] stitches, and the sleeve is finished.
The yarn is cut and one starts the front piece [framstycket]. The yarn is joined to the shoulder at the last row from the back, and one first crochets the 25 stitches of the sleeve until under the sleeve, where one crochets another 35 from the start of all the sleeve’s stitches. In this manner 10 rows are crocheted; at the top, each row must fit with the rows on the back and is joined with them. 10 stitches are left to form the shoulder. 25 rows are worked even, 10 stitches are cast on for the shoulder. 10 rows even. 15 stitches are cast on and, from the front, another 25 stitches are taken to the sleeve.
The sleeve is crocheted in the same way as the first. To the back are taken the 15 stitches from the sleeve and the 35 from the front piece. At the top, the back is again joined to the front piece, so that one row matches the other until there are 10, 18 rows even. With an ordinary needle, an even row is crocheted around the entire tröja, which is finished with narrow lace.”
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The initial posting of the preceding text triggered a discussion in the Tunisian Crochet Explorers group on Ravelry. It started with an announcement of the availability of the translation. After considerable discussion, it concluded with the reproduction of the garment shown here, with thanks for permission to use it.
Annette Knights and Sue Perez have since prepared detailed instructions for it in contemporary terms, available as a free Ravelry download. One of the ideas behind this blog was that the translations of early instructions appearing here might usefully be carried forward in this manner. I am delighted to see this happening and am truly grateful for Sue’s and Annette’s initiative.