History · Instructions · Structures · Tunisian crochet

The chain at the top of the long stitch

This post continues the series describing Tunisian crochet stitches found in the series of five booklets dedicated to that craft published by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin beginning in 1858. The one presented here is in the second booklet, which appeared in November 1859 and is the first description of Tunisian filet mesh that has yet come to light.

In the previous posts, the stitches are designating by a shorthand based on the order of their introduction in the booklets. A generalized drawing of an unspecified TC stitch appears without instructions in several of them and is MA0. The first stitch with illustrated instructions is MA1. I’m preparing similar presentations of all of their stitches that are cited in my recent article on the history of the craft, and selected others beyond that.

However, it became clear with the present post that this scheme won’t scale well across the entire series of booklets. From here on, the booklet number will be included in the abbreviation and the stitch numbering started afresh for each. This makes the one described below MA2:6 (and the remaining ones from the first booklet, MA1:2, etc.).

The illustration of MA2:6 is the one of all those provided by Mee and Austin that comes closest to matching the prefatory drawing of MA0, although they still differ significantly. As with it, a new forward-pass loop is drawn through the preceding return chain, but the hook is inserted into the back loop (aka back bump) rather than the chain loop of the anchor stitch. Another obvious difference between the two illustrations is the greater vertical distance between the return chains in MA2:6, effected with treble crochet stitches (US, as in all following references).

Such stitches were well established in the crochet repertoire by the mid-19th century. Detailed instructions from 1848 are discussed in a previous post, repeating an illustration in it here for comparison with the one of MA2:6. As was customary in ordinary crochet flatwork at the time, the fabric was not turned at the end of a row unless explicitly called for in instructions. The illustrated structure is therefore equivalent to the Tunisian variant except for the horizontal spacing between the stitches.

Mee and Austin don’t illustrate their Tunisian treble crochet with the clarity of the preceding drawing. Nonetheless, the engravings in their second booklet are significantly more detailed than those in the first. The written instructions for MA2:6 lead directly to the swatch shown in the accompanying illustration.

In what is presumably a mistake, it shows the reverse side of the fabric. This is most immediately indicated by the direction in which the exposed parts of the yarn overs cross the opening in the mesh. The vertical chains forming the starting selvage are also at the left side of the drawing. (I had initially taken these details to indicate a left-handed worker.)

Mee and Austin normally label insertion points for the hook by reference to a specific “loop” in either the vertical or the horizontal structure, further qualifying the leg of the loop through which the new one is drawn. In contrast, the instructions for MA2:6 prescribe working into the “chain at the top of the long stitch.” Again as discussed in the earlier post, a “long stitch” was a treble crochet stitch (although they also use it as a general designation for the vertical element of a stitch). Its topmost loop encloses the main loop in the return chain – the chain loop – but is girdled by the back loop (aka bump) of the chain. The back loop therefore provides a point of insertion directly above the top of the long stitch.

The chain loop is the prescribed point of insertion in MA1 — “the loop…at the top of the work in front, between the long stitches” — but if used here would set the alignment of the long stitches at a bias unless the hook were inserted under both legs of that chain loop. This is the current default practice in ordinary crochet but was treated as a special form throughout the 19th century, invariably (and of necessity) described in explicit detail whenever used. The earlier default insertion point is seen in the illustration of treble crochet above, which was published in 1867. This works into rather than under the chain loop in what is now termed “back loop only” (BLO), similarly called for explicitly whenever applied.

The same illustration clearly shows the first row of stitches anchored to the chain loops in the foundation. However, present-day workers frequently use the back loops preferentially, especially for Tunisian crochet. The correlate to the back loops in subsequent rows of ordinary crochet stitches — to the extent that they are recognizable at all — are embedded in the fabric and no longer provide readily identifiable points of insertion.

In contrast, the back loops of each completed return chain in Tunisian crochet are at the top of the fabric and fully available as insertion points for the hook on the next forward pass. Using them in that manner has an interesting consequence. The foundation chain and the following return chains are structurally and functionally identical, permitting a complete two-pass row to be counted as easily from the start of the initial chain as from the outset of the first forward pass.

The instructions for MA2:6 include the directive “take up the cotton on the needle.” This is for the yarn over seen as the spiral around the hook in the illustration of ordinary crochet. As discussed in yet another previous post, the yarn over is a basic component of a treble stitch. Just as it forms a spiral around the hook, it forms a spiral around the post. It passes as a single strand through the back loops in the chained component of the post but does not intermesh with the chain loops.

Mee also uses the stitch pattern described in the following instructions, in brief ones for a baby’s blanket appearing directly thereafter. These note further that “this stitch is also very pretty for a purse.” The “two loops twice following” the end of a return chain are themselves chains and turn vertically to form the starting selvage. As noted above, this appears at the left side of the drawing, which shows the reverse side of the fabric.

The two vertical chains starting each row do not enclose a yarn over and are incorrectly drawn as being identical to the following posts. The same stylization is seen in the illustration of the return chains. The back loop in every second chain in the return is anchored to the vertical structure of the fabric but, again, there is no continuous inlay.


Quilt for a Child’s Cot.

2 lbs. of Messrs. Walter Evans and Co.’s No. 6 4-thread Knitting Cotton,
and an Alliance Needle, No. 8 [4 mm].

Make a chain the length required.

1st row. Take up the cotton twice on the needle, insert the needle in the 3rd loop, *, draw the cotton through, take up the cotton and draw it through 2 loops on the needle, take up the cotton, and draw it through 2 more loops on the needle, take up the cotton twice on the needle, miss 1 loop, insert the needle in the 2nd loop, draw the cotton through, repeat from *.

2nd row. Draw the cotton through 1 loop, *, take up the cotton and draw it through one loop, take up the cotton and draw it through 2 loops, repeat from *; at the end of the row draw it through two loops twice following.

3rd row, Make 2 chain, *, take the cotton twice on the needle, insert the needle in the chain at the top of the long stitch, draw the cotton through, take up the cotton and draw it through 2 loops on the needle, take up the cotton again and draw it through 2 loops on the needle, repeat from *.

Repeat the 2nd and 3rd rows alternately till the quilt is large enough. A fringe of cotton looped in top and bottom completes the quilt.


Worktable notes:

The following swatch follows the instructions with four-play cotton and a 4 mm hook. Here is the technical front of the resulting fabric.

MA2:6 front

And here is the reverse side, which is the one that matches the engraving and raises a question about the intended display face.

MA2:6 back

My personal suspicion is that the engraver inadvertently worked from the wrong side of the original swatch (in both senses) and that this was either noticed too close to the publication date to be remedied or was dismissed as inconsequential. It does, in fact, make no difference with an object such as a blanket that can be positioned with either side up. However, when the stitch pattern is used as “pretty for a purse” a decision needs to be made about which side really is the pretty one (with the proof-of-concept swatch not intended to illustrate that aspect of the alternatives).

2 thoughts on “The chain at the top of the long stitch

  1. Thank you for another interesting article! I suspect that you are correct about why the illustration shows the wrong side of the work. However, I think our concepts of the right and wrong sides of crocheted fabric may have also been more fluid in the past.

    “Echoes of Glory” is a three volume set about the Civil War. On page 189 of Volume 1 (Arms and Equipment of the Union), there’s a photo of a crocheted tam in mottled brown with a red six-point star on the top and red brim that was worn by a Rhode Island soldier. Some years ago, I decided to try to replicate it – it’s a straight forward design worked in single crochet, so no big deal. When I finished, I was comparing it to the photo and something just wasn’t right – and I realized that the photographed hat showed the wrong side of the fabric.

    The hat starts at the top center with red, has color changes over several rows to make the star pattern, and then continues in the mottled brown to the width of the tam. In order to have neat color changes, the crocheter needs to pay attention to how the yarn is handled at each transition, which is easily done on the facing (right) side. Most modern crocheters would be less careful about the back side, especially if it was going to be inside a hat. When you start decreasing to make the underside of the tam, the fabric naturally wants to curl in, putting the right side inside the hat. Modern crocheters automatically flip it so that the right side stays on the outside.

    The color changes shown in the photo are clean and neat – the crocheter obviously paid attention to how the yarn was handled on the back side of the work. I believe that the person who crocheted the photographed hat was well aware that the work would curl in when the decreases were made, and planned accordingly to have the back (wrong) side of the work be the displayed side.

    (Just to satisfy myself that I could replicate it accurately, I made a second hat planned in this way and it did match the photo.)

    1. Thank you for making an excellent point. I try to take care indicating the distinction between the “technical front” of a piece of fabric – the one facing toward the worker during its production – and the “display face” turned toward the viewer in the finished object. The most common example of the two being systematically different is with yarn-around-neck knitting, where stockinette is made with the purl side facing the knitter. Instructions are then explicit, particularly for objects worked in the round, about the piece being turned inside out as the final step in is production.

      Tunisian crochet is a bit different since the texture of the stitching on the technical front of the fabric is rarely even vaguely reflected on the reverse side, nor is the latter a realistically presentable alternative. As you note, though, the stitch pattern we’re talking about is one of the few where either face can reasonably be displayed.

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