Looped Fabric

The slanted senses of double crochet and other naming slips

There are two well-established glossaries used to describe crochet in the English language. They are referred to as “US” and “UK,” with other anglophone countries using the one or the other. Both include the same terms and present the same stitches, but associate the labels with the structures differently. A “single crochet (US)” is a “double crochet (UK)” and a “double crochet (US)” is a “treble crochet (UK).” A “slip stitch” is now the same in both but was a “single crochet” on, and for a long time after its first appearance in the UK terminology. This was the earlier of the two to develop and is used in the following discussion unless otherwise noted.

Frances Lambert published an ordered set of definitions for crochet stitches in 1844, in My Crochet Sampler. A “plain single crochet” starts a counting sequence that continues with a “plain double crochet.” However, there is a confusingly similar “double stitch crochet” that designates a stitch made by pulling its initial loop under both legs of the loop to which it is anchored.

Plain double crochet — where two loops are kept on the needle, and the wool drawn through both before the stitch is finished. This is the crochet stitch generally practised, and that used for working tablecovers, etc.

Double stitch crochet — in this, both meshes of the chain are taken. It is principally employed for the soles of shoes, and where extra thickness is required, but is not suitable for working patterns.

The latter is now the standard procedure (without a separate name) but did not become so until the 20th century. Authors throughout the 19th century repeat the caveat about its limited utility. The earlier default practice was to insert the hook into the loop through which the new one would be pulled, as what is now termed “back loop only” (BLO). The potential for confusion was compounded further with “double open crochet,” used at the outset to designate a square or rectangular mesh made by alternating two adjacent stitches (of any height) with an open space of the same width. “Treble open crochet” similarly indicated three adjacent stitches.

The first structured glossary to include illustrations appeared in the 1847 and 1848 issues of Eleanore Riego de la Branchardière’s serialized The Crochet Book, discussed in detail in a previous post. In brief review, the sequence of stitches in it is “Single Crochet, or Shepherd’s Knitting,” the “Plain Stitch called French or Double Crochet,” and the “Treble Stitch.” She subsequently dropped the alternative names for the plain stitch and restricted “double crochet” to designating the point of insertion for the hook.

The earlier authors made a categorical distinction between “plain” and “open” crochet (explaining Lambert’s overlapping usage). This reflected the attributes of the craft’s two main precursors, and closed- and openwork crochet are still regarded separately. Riego shifted the latter into the realm of lace making and instantiated the link between solid single crochet fabric and shepherd’s knitting. Her focused reference to the double crochet stitch as “plain crochet” was a common means for eliminating the ambiguity attaching to the label “double.” Other authors dealt with the corresponding imprecision of “treble” by similar reference to a “long crochet,” effectively obviating concern with numerically sequenced stitch names.

This process continued with the mid-century introduction of the label “slip stitch” into the crochet glossary. There is some question about whether that step was taken in the UK or was a US contribution to the development (and splitting) of the terminology. The evidence supporting the latter alternative is obscured by the large number of instructions for crochet that initially appeared in the UK and were republished without modification in the US. Additionally, instructions that clearly did originate in the US and were intended for a domestic audience used the UK glossary beyond the date of the first appearance of the US one.

Whatever the full sequence of events may have been, the codification of crochet terminology in the English language was initiated on the eastern side of the Atlantic. By the time authors in the United States joined the effort, the function of single crochet (UK; as initially applied) had begun its shift from being a traditional means for producing fabric to an adjunct technique for moving the position of the hook in the fabric without visible effect. The national perspectives on this differed and instructions published in the UK described what was essentially classic shepherd’s knitting for decades to come. There is a growing body of evidence of that craft being practiced in the US but it was never similarly integrated into the fancywork literature.

Reference is made to “slipping a stitch” in a tutorial text on “Scotch knitting” published in Dublin in 1835, treating that craft entirely as a form of knitting. The section heading was expanded to “Scotch or Shepherd’s Knitting in an edition from 1853. I’ve since devoted an entire post to it, here. This notes evidence that significantly shifts the perspective on the nomenclatural origin of the slip stitch as it is presented in the following text, which I’ll rework more fully as time permits.

The earliest description of a crocheted “slip stitch” that I had noted when preparing the present post appears in two identically worded in two publications from 1854. The evidence that subsequently came to light is two years older and published in the USA. Of the two sources from 1854, the first to appear was more likely The Ladies’ Complete Guide to Crochet, Fancy Knitting, and Needlework by Ann S. Stephens, published in New York City and, “Containing a complete Dictionary of the technical terms and characters used in descriptions of Crochet and Fancy Knitting Patterns.”

Slip Stitch (sl.) is a stitch chiefly used for the veining of leaves, and similar parts, in imitations of Honiton lace. It serves also to carry the thread from one part to another, without breaking or widening the work. Insert the hook in the stitch next to that already on the needle (unless the directions say, miss so many,) and draw the thread at once through both stitches. Repeat.

The dictionary goes on to define the numbered crochet stitches in the current US sense, beginning with single crochet. Stephens was Associate Editor of Peterson’s Ladies’ National Magazine, published in Philadelphia. The April 1854 issue includes a glossary of “the terms used in crochet” verbatim as in her book. Peterson’s had previously reprinted crochet instructions directly from British publications and the differing terminologies were accepted without editorial comment.

That publication’s major competitor, Godey’s Lady’s Book (also produced in Philadelphia), presented itself as rigorous in conveying material of exclusive US origin. An issue from March 1855, chosen here for being slightly more recent than the cited issue of Peterson’s, still used the UK crochet terminology. However, a more extensive glossary in the January 1857 issue of Godey’s is firmly and finally anchored in the US nomenclature.

The January 1855 issue of Godey’s includes knitting instructions that prescribe the familiar slipping of a loop unknitted from one hook to the other and then “pass the slip stitch over” another detail in the nascent fabric. This attests “slip stitch” as a mid-century designation for a substantive element of knitting, alongside “slipping a stitch” as the process of creating it.

The chapter on crochet in Beeton’s Book of Needlework, published in London in 1870, has two sections. The one headed “Instructions” defines and describes a large variety of stitches with detailed engravings of each — including a “slip stitch.” This is a wholesale reproduction of a cornucopia presentation of crochet stitches in the 15 July 1867 issue of the German publication Der Bazar (which figures prominently in numerous previous posts). The accompanying texts were translated by someone who appears to have understood the significant differences between the naming conventions underlying the respective technical vocabularies.

The one of clearest relevance to the present discussion is the German name for a crocheted slip stitch, Kettenmasche, which translates literally to “chain stitch.” Since that term was entrenched in both the US and UK vocabularies, and the translator used it in the established sense elsewhere, the remaining alternatives were “single crochet” or “slip stitch.” Either would have been appropriate to the solid fabric in the accompanying illustration, which is identical to the fabric bearing the former label illustrated by Riego in 1848.

However, several instructions in the second section of Beeton’s chapter on crochet, headed “Crochet Patterns,” call for the slip stitch in the additional senses that are the exclusive focus of Stephens’s definition. Although the translated glossary only defines the slip stitch, the authors of the individual instructions in the patterns section use that term and single crochet synonymously, apparently as a matter of personal preference and without causing editorial concern.

The array of illustrated stitches in Der Bazar (which appears again in encyclopedic presentations of needle and yarncraft following Beeton’s) includes variant forms of double crochet. They are made with disparate points of hook insertion, giving the same name to all but indicating the differentiating detail in parentheses. Two variants also wrap the yarn around the hook in opposite directions for the two added loops. A separate name is assigned to it, placing double crochet in the clarifying commentary. Beeton’s presents it as a “slanting stitch.”

Since it is one of my personal favorites but has not propagated into the current repertoire, I’m going to round off this post — together with the 2020 volume of the blog and extending my best wishes to its readers for a less chaotic 2021 — with the illustration taken from Der Bazar. It is followed by my literal translation of the accompanying German instructions and then the more idiomatic one appearing in Beeton’s.

slanted stitch

Slanting Crochet Stitch (Double Crochet). This is made exactly as [the double crochet stitch] but when making the first loop in each stitch the yarn is not wrapped as usual around the needle, which instead is moved in the direction indicated by the arrow, that is, above the thread, which is then pulled through as a loop. The second loop with which it is bound together on the needle is wrapped as usual.

Slanting Stitch, double stitch — This stitch is worked like [the common double stitch]; the cotton is not wound round the needle the first time in the usual manner, but the needle is placed in the direction of the arrow, above the cotton. Draw the cotton through the loop; the stitch is finished like the common double stitch.

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