Crochet · Instructions · Passementerie · Tools

French crochet and non-crochet in 1826

A comment on the preceding post about the status of crochet in the 1820s sent me back to revisit Elisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (the second of the early 19th-century authors on whom this blog focused shortly after its inception). The first edition of her “Young Ladies’ Handbook or Arts and Crafts” (Manuel des Demoiselles ou Arts et Métiers) was published in Paris, in 1826, under the pen name of Madame Celnart. The comment notes that this book served as the basis for a German counterpart written by Charlotte Leidenfrost, that appeared two years later and was the source of the text about crochet translated in the previous post.

Leidenfrost begins the preface to her “Small Handbook on Pleasant and Useful Activities for Young Women” (Handbüchlein zur angenehmen und nützlichen Beschäftigung für junge Damen), from 1828, by noting:

“The initiative for the present small work was taken when the publisher sent the author the Manuel des Demoiselles ou Arts et Métiers by Madame Celnart with the assignment of preparing a free translation.”

After a few complimentary words about Bayle-Mouillard’s efforts, Leidenfrost becomes rather critical of the stylistic and pedagogical shortcomings of the text she had been presented with. The preface goes on to note that the resulting German publication excludes some sections of the French one, completely rewrites others, and adds extensive new material, Continue reading “French crochet and non-crochet in 1826”

Crochet · Early instructions · History

German crochet instructions from 1828

Several posts during the first months of this blog provide translations of Dutch instructions from 1823 for a number of purses made with different looping techniques. They include three that are crocheted and mark the first use of the word crochet to designate the craft now widely known by that name. That term isn’t attested in English language text until 1840 but its German equivalent — häkeln — began to appear in publication at the end of the first decade of that century. Its literal meaning is “to hook” but early references may designate techniques other than crochet that employ a tambour embroidery needle (shown here in an illustration from 1763).

tambour needle

Despite the uncertain semantics, häkeln had clearly acquired its present sense by the 1820s. The Dutch instructions use the cognate hekelen and the explicitly French crochet synonymously. What may be the first use of crochet (“hook”) in French texts as the name of a craft rather than a tool, denotes loom knitting. It appears in instructions from 1826 by Élisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (writing as Élisabeth Celnart) for another purse discussed and translated here.

It would seem likely that crochet was used in the current sense in French discourse prior to the Dutch publication. However, the first attested occurrence of such usage is in French instructions, yet again for a purse, incongruously embedded in an anonymous compilation of knitting instructions from 1837 that is otherwise entirely in English (seen unaltered in the 2nd ed. from 1838; the 5th ed. from 1840 names the “compiler” as Miss Watts). Continue reading “German crochet instructions from 1828”

Crochet · History · Tools

Flat hooks in Medieval and Neolithic Europe

The History of Knitting Before Mass Production by Irena Turnau, published in 1991 (trans., Historia dziewiarstwa europejskiego do początku XIX wieku, 1979), includes a section headed “Knitwear in the Early Middle Ages.” In it she states that during this period, “in the Baltic countries…knowledge of…both knitting with two needles and crocheting is indisputable.” She supports the dating of crochet with an article from 1953 by Gabriela Mikołajczyk on “The origins of knitting in Poland” (Początki dziewiarstwa w Polsce). This illustrates a dozen flat hooks made of bone and horn that were recovered from 11th- and 12th-century archaeological sites in Poland.

polish-hooks

Despite their explicit labeling as crochet hooks and Turnau’s acceptance of that ascription, it might be tempting to regard these objects as having been intended for other purposes. However, they withstand direct comparison with later hooks that are known to have been used for that craft. This is readily seen with a Swedish flat hook made of bone for traditional slip stitch crochet (discussed in an an earlier post). Other exemplars of the same type are found in Swedish museum collections. Continue reading “Flat hooks in Medieval and Neolithic Europe”

Crochet · Techniques · Terminology · Tools · Tunisian crochet

Very raised round shapes

Many of the stitches that crocheters regard as fundamental to their craft were described in non-English publications before the Victorian fancywork press had begun to roll. Naming conventions differed both across and within language boundaries, as is still witnessed by the misalignment of the UK and US glossaries. Diffuse nomenclature also attached to Tunisian crochet when it was added to the documented repertoire in the late 1850s. Stitch clusters didn’t even begin to acquire a differentiated set of labels until the end of that century, in surprising contrast to the structural intricacy of the clusters themselves.

Several aspects of this are seen with instructions for a “Crochet Afghan or Carriage Blanket” in an anonymous booklet titled Knitting and Crocheting, published in Boston in 1884 or 1885. (It is undated but includes an advertisement citing a trademark registered 17 June 1884, and the digitized copy shows the Library of Congress accession stamp, 21 Sept. 1885.)

tunisian-fancy-1885

The following snippet shows the gestational state of the English terminology, despite the ornate design. Continue reading “Very raised round shapes”

Crochet · History · Structures · Techniques

Braid stitch crochet

The January 1857 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book includes the first in a series of “Full Instructions for Needle-Work of all Kinds.” It describes the basic elements of crochet and provides a good review of the mid-19th-century state of the craft. Without any indication of it being a recent innovation, a now unfamiliar “double chain-stitch” is included.

“This is a stronger and firmer chain-stitch than the ordinary one; and as it resembles braid, it is sometimes termed braid-stitch. When you have done two ordinary chain-stitches, besides the one on the needle, insert the hook into the first of those two, draw the thread at once through them both: then continue to insert the hook in the stitch just finished, as well as the loop on it already, and draw the thread through both.”

I’m still looking for earlier descriptions of it and am not entirely confident that the following drawing of the “double foundation” (doppelter Anschlag) in the July 1867 issue of Der Bazar is the first to have been published. It appears in an illustrated suite of crochet stitches that was reused in numerous subsequent publications — both in authorized syndication and otherwise — and the double foundation as it appears there can safely be seen as an archetype.

bazar-double-chain

Continue reading “Braid stitch crochet”

Crochet · Passementerie · Structures · Systematics

Diamond mesh

I’ve devoted an inordinate amount of blog space to slip stitch fabric made with a hook, tracing it back along a number of paths to its first appearance in printed sources in the mid-18th century, and discussing objects made in that manner found in museum collections. I’m going to restore some balance with material and written evidence of European hooked openwork from the same period, starting with an elaborate Robe à la Française (sack-back gown) in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession number 1995.235a,b), dated to the 1740s.

I saw it in their exhibition Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade,1500–1800 in late 2013. This was about a year before my focused interest in looped fabric was kindled. I therefore didn’t take particular notice of a wide strip of chain mesh passementerie providing a prominent yoke around the dress extending to its hem, with a second piece of the same mesh along the hem between the ends of the yoke. In early 2016, my friend Dora Ohrenstein called my attention to their potential relevance to the chronology of crochet. The ensuing discussion cascaded into a seminar on differentiating crocheted fabric from that made with other looped techniques, arranged by and held at The Met in May 2016.

The dress wasn’t accessible for examination alongside the other objects presented to the seminar participants. One of the questions we had otherwise hoped to be able to answer was whether the chain mesh had been affixed to the dress when it was first made, thus conferring the 1740s date on it, or could have been a later addition. We did get to take a close look at two specimens of comparable passementerie dated to the 18th century. I documented them in detail and let the dress slip out of mind. Continue reading “Diamond mesh”

Crochet · Tools

Ice cream cones in the crochet toolkit

Crochet hooks are used as auxiliary tools in other crafts, either in their original form or adapted to the alternate context. It is, for example, a matter of personal preference whether a knitter uses an ordinary crochet hook to reknit the ladder resulting from a dropped stitch, or a “repair hook” modified specifically for that purpose. The redesign involves shortening the shaft of the hook and shaping its other end either into a second hook or a pointed tip. Another example is the hook used for joining elements in tatting. This will be either a stock crochet hook or one with a shortened shaft with a metal chain and ring attached to the other end so that it can be held ready on a finger. (The truncated shaft and hole for the chain are telltale, even when the chain itself is missing.)

The tatting variant is also marketed as a compact alternative for crochet, illustrating the interesting question of how a multipurpose tool should be categorized and labeled. This becomes even more complex given the potential utility of hooks made to serve some unrelated purpose for working crocheted fabric. The converse situation is also of historiographic significance. If something that looks like a crochet hook is found in an archaeological context that can in no way be associated with the production of fabric — to say nothing of its crocheted form — the hook does not constitute such evidence without robust external corroboration. (Although not the focus of this post, both perspectives also pertain to eyed needles and nalbinding.) Continue reading “Ice cream cones in the crochet toolkit”

Crochet · Cross-knit looping · Knitting · Nalbinding · Systematics

A key to loop leadership

Back in the days when museums stored information about the objects in their collections in accession ledgers and card catalogs, structured vocabularies and classification systems were essential to the location and retrieval of this documentation. When dealing with manufactured objects, the basic nomenclature normally paralleled that used in the respective craft or industry. The higher-level categories the artifacts were sorted into were primarily intended to meet the needs of collections management and other curatorial activity. The underlying conceptual frameworks were therefore less likely to correspond directly to those of the practitioner communities.

One of the seminal texts in the development of such classification systems for textiles is Les Textiles Anciens du Pérou et leurs Techniques (The Ancient Textiles of Peru and their Techniques) by Raoul d’Harcourt, published in 1934. This was immediately used by Fritz Iklé as a basis for the organization of an exhibition of his own collection, displayed at several locations in Switzerland during 1935. It was titled Primäre textile Techniken (Primary Textile Techniques) and the accompanying booklet includes an essay by Iklé on the way he grouped the objects according to the techniques of their manufacture. He notes the extensibility of the system developed by d’Harcourt, whose personal support he also acknowledges.

Kristin Oppenheim published the Systematik der textilen Techniken der Neukaledonier und Loyalty-Insulaner (Systematics of the Textile Techniques of the New Caledonian and Loyalty Islanders) in 1942. She based this on the categories put forward by Iklé but included additional subgroups. One such extension was a categorical distinction between production methods that work finite lengths of thread, yarn, or comparable material into looped fabric, and those that place no intrinsic restrictions on the length of the working element. This was retained as a fundamental criterion in a series of increasingly comprehensive systems (described here) culminating in one of the current standard works, Textiles: a Classification of Techniques, published in 1994 by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger.

The category that Seiler-Baldinger labels Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Limited Length is typified by an eyed needle pulling a manageable length of yarn by its end through each successive loop in a piece of nalbound fabric, thereby reducing the remaining length of that yarn. The category Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Unlimited Length includes knitting and crochet. Here the tools are interposed between the source of the yarn and the fabric, moving the yarn into it loop by loop, from what can then be an arbitrarily large supply.

The dichotomy is labeled with reference to the source of the working element. However, at least with the manual production of looped fabric, that supply is finite in both cases. No matter how long the assemblage is before being worked into fabric, at some point the end of a depleted strand will need to be joined to, or abut, the beginning of a new one. The points of transition can be unrecognizable in the finished fabric. If they are, the presence or lack of an intrinsic limitation on the length of an individual segment will not be reflected in the structure of the object and is therefore not useful as a stand-alone criterion for determining the technique by which it was made.

An inverse concern can be illustrated with the classification of flatwork crochet. Through to the end of the 19th century, and in the case of slip stitch crochet to the present day, the yarn was/is commonly cut at the end of each row and all new rows started with a fresh strand from the same edge of the fabric. Anyone examining a specimen of slip stitch crochet worked in this manner without prior experience in its identification, might easily characterize the fabric by regularly limited lengths of working yarn despite that not being a definitive attribute of the craft.

The appearance of loose yarn ends in objects that are unequivocally slip stitch crochet has, in fact, been taken to indicate that they were nalbound. The basic slip stitch structure can be produced with either method. There are even two ways of doing it with an eyed needle, of which one imposes no constraint on the length of the yarn supply (described here). This type of slip stitch fabric can therefore not be categorized as the product either of a technique of limited element length or of unlimited element length.

There are further examples of slip stitch crochet having been described as nalbinding, to the detriment of the historiography of both crafts. I’ve discussed a few of them in previous posts and will be adding others to a more comprehensive listing. The preceding post discusses the outset of a sequence of publications that led to the realization that the earliest material appearing in the corpus of cross-knit fabric is nalbinding rather than knitting.

It is widely accepted that the body of early artifacts catalogued and described as knitting still contains nalbound material that has yet to be recognized as such, and vice versa. There is also little doubt that more slip stitch crochet remains to be uncovered behind misattribution as both nalbinding and knitting.

Dating the advent of true knitting (a term introduced by d’Harcourt) requires a deeper understanding of the structural and procedural details that differentiate what is sometimes referred to as “single-needle knitting,” and multi-needle knitting in the established sense. Since such detail is not invariably present in archeologically recovered fragments, the need for a logically robust and clearly labeled higher level categorization has been apparent throughout.

The limited and unlimited categories initially articulated by Oppenheim are basically applicable in that context but the imprecision noted above still needs to be addressed. One approach would be to reconceptualize and rename the dichotomy in terms of how the yarn is led along its path, rather than by how long that path can be. Seiler-Baldinger’s definitions of the two groups provide an effective basis for doing precisely that.

In the limited case “the meshes are formed by the leading end of the thread…” In the unlimited one “the new mesh is formed by that portion of the thread nearest to the loop last formed.” The former can be given the compact label “end-led” techniques, with “loop-led” techniques as its binary counterpart. The alternative would be to extend Seiler-Baldinger’s category headings to Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Intrinsically Limited Length and Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Potentially Unlimited Length but that would do nothing either to streamline the nomenclature or highlight the essential concept.

The distinction between the preparation of a continuous working element of unlimited length before the creation of the fabric commences, and the extension of an element of limited length at repeated intervals during the production of the fabric, retains it utility. Regional schools of what is essentially the same end-led craft vary in whether a large continuous aggregate of fibers is first prepared and shorter lengths cut from it, or the raw fibers are added to the working element as an alternating facet of the fabric’s production. The applied procedure can be undetectable in a finished object and, as noted, the difference between a continuous element of potentially unlimited length and joined elements of limited length can also be invisible. The procedural attributes of how the working element is prepared therefore do not provide a generally applicable basis for the classification of fabric.

The same might be said of reference to end-led and loop-led techniques. However, those labels bypass the ambiguity relating to the working element and are thus one step closer to utility in such things as identification keys. For example, a key for the identification of fabric with a looped structure might include the criterion “open knit stitches appear in the fabric.” If they do, it can only have been produced by a loop-led technique. Oppenheim illustrates this as a “Knit stitch: Typical representative of systems with infinite elements.”

oppenheim-open-knit

If the question is whether pierced loops appear (also as drawn by Oppenheim) and the answer is affirmative, it can only have been made by an end-led technique.

pierced-loopingCross-knit looping can be produced by either technique, shown here as drawn by d’Harcourt.

harcourt-cross-knit

The additional presence of open, pierced, or simple loops in such fabric can eliminate the ambiguity, as the simple loops along the vertical edges do in this illustration. However, the largest amount of older material to which this concern applies is either fragmentary or worked in the round. The selvedges are therefore rarely accessible for examination, assuming they were a component of the fabric to begin with. Additional characteristics specific to the alternative categories may be revealed by the path of the working element through shaped areas of the fabric.

Such attributes can also be included in a binary identification key, with separate branches in the decision tree for more complex looped structures. Once the fabric structure and mode of its production have been identified, further craft-specific yes/no criteria can be applied to the detailed documentation of individual objects (as illustrated for early modern knitting in several articles in issue no. 60 of the Archaeological Textiles Review).

Zeroing in on a specific mode of production will, however, often require external familiarity not just with the candidate tools and techniques, but also with the historical contexts in which they appear. The latter factor is, in turn, informed by the correct attribution of the provenance and structure of material in museum collections.

Crochet · History · Techniques · Tools · Tunisian crochet

The shepherd’s hook in mid-19th-century fancywork

The 1 January 1864 issue of the German biweekly magazine Der Bazar (discussed at length in the post before last) includes instructions that prescribe the use of a flat crochet hook in a form that is essentially identical to the one shown in the earliest known description of that tool, published in 1785. It is called a “shepherd’s hook” in numerous texts from the early 19th century.

bazar-flat-hook

The 1864 instructions present it for use with a “velour crochet stitch” (Velours-Häkelstich) that had previously been described in the issue of Der Bazar from 8 Jan 1861. Quoting from the initial wording, the stitch is:

“…made primarily in wool…using an ordinary crochet hook of a gauge appropriate to the material. However, the hook has to taper towards its tip, which must be narrower than the shaft.

Make a normal foundation and crochet as follows: Wrap the yarn four times around the hook as for a quadruple crochet stitch, push the spiral tightly together and a bit further back on the hook. Insert the hook into the next stitch and pull a new loop both through it and the entire spiral… Repeat this along the entire length of the work, stitch by stitch.”

It is illustrated as part of a belt.

bazar-velour-stitch

The ordinary tapered hook in use at that time is illustrated in a potpourri of crochet stitches in the 15 June 1867 issue (and reproduced in numerous unaffiliated later publications). One of them is a double-crochet-based (UK) “solid shell” (feste Muschen) that also requires the yarn to be pulled through four loops in a single motion.

bazar-bobble-1867

The 1864 instructions for the velour stitch, which describe its central element “appearing as a loosely knit shell” (lose gestrickt erscheinenden erhabenen Muschen), are effectively identical to those from 1861 (where the shell is a “bulge” — Bäuchen). However, they also specify how the taper is utilized on a flat hook.

“With the right index finger, push the spiral about 1.5 cm back on the hook and hold it firmly there.”

The structural detail of the flat hook is explained in a manner that indicates continuity with the 1800 and 1833 descriptions cited above.

“The velour crochet stitch is most easily made using a wedge-shaped pointed crochet hook as shown in the illustration. This hook is completely flat, only as thick as the back of a knife, and where it is not to be had in steel, is made from hard wood or ivory.”

Its application is shown with a woman’s shoe.

bazar-velour-shoe

The velour stitch and flat hook are illustrated again in the 15 Jan 1865 issue with another woman’s shoe (also showing the floats between the elements made in the light-colored yarn on the reverse side of the fabric).

bazar-velour-shoe-two

The range of materials in which flat hooks were produced, listed in the 1864 text, indicates that they were not simply a niche curiosity. The same illustration of the hook appears in 1865. The copy available online has a pencil sketch of a more pointed tip under the original illustration. This demonstrates reader awareness of the importance of its precise shaping and an interest in calling the attention of others to it.

bazar-sketch-hook-1.jpg

The instructions from 1864 also make reference to a “spiral post stitch” (Spiral-Stäbchenstich) illustrated in the same issue. The differences between it and the velour stitch are described and immediately visible in the illustration. The fabric is worked with a Tunisian crochet hook, anchoring the stitches to the return chain rather than directly to each other, giving a more open structure. The yarn is wrapped around the hook five times, rather than four, adding additional flexibility.

bazar-spiral-post

The spiral post stitch is presented as a “very original variant of the Tunisian stitch.” Since it is produced using a cylindrical hook, there is reason to wonder why the four-wrap form requires a tapered one. Need for offsetting the additional tightness of the velour stitch provides at least a partial answer, and the shell stitch from 1867 is also intrinsically looser. (Four-wrap and longer spirals are otherwise a definitive attribute of what is now termed bullion crochet, and even longer spirals are a mainstay of crocheted tatting — all made using a long cylindrical metal ‘bullion hook.’)

However, the velour stitch also appears in instructions for a child’s shoe in the 1March 1864 issue of the Swedish women’s magazine Iduna, where it is called a “pineapple stitch.” It is likely to have been inspired by the earlier shoe in Der Bazar (and may even reflect an editorial relationship between the two publications) but is primarily made with the Tunisian simple stitch.

iduna-slipper

The instructions explicitly prescribe the use of the same cylindrical wooden hook for both the Tunisian and pineapple stitches, using an illustration of the hook taken directly from Der Bazar (highlighting that it is made of wood by showing its cross-section).

iduna-hook

A separate hook is used for the sole, which is “crocheted with a heavy steel hook, back and forth with ordinary stitches.” The German description from 1800 of the mid-18th-century industrial use of a flat hook for slip stitch crochet footwear raises a question about whether the steel hook might have been a flat hook. Either way, there is contemporaneous documentation of that tool in Sweden and it is likely that the designer of the shoe was aware of it as an option for the pineapple stitch.

This gives three different implements attested for making the velour/pineapple stitch: an ordinary tapered crochet hook, a cylindrical Tunisian crochet hook, and a flat shepherd’s hook. The choice among them would have been a straightforward matter of individual preference. As a Tunisian stitch, the five-wrap spiral post is obviously restricted to a long cylindrical hook. There is also an upper limit to the number of equally sized wraps that can be effected with a tapered hook, varying with the degree of the taper.

The designs in Der Blatt treat the flat hook as advantageous when yarn is pulled through up to four loops or wraps at the same time. This extends the documented use of such tools beyond the realm of slip stitch crochet. In light of the flat hook’s long-standing Swedish nexus, it seems a fair guess that it was at times used for the stitches presented in the preceding post. If so, the distinction between flat hook crochet at the urban worktable and in rural tradition becomes all the more diffuse.

The initial categorization of the use of a shepherd’s hook as a form of knitting also extends to Tunisian crochet. Both the Tunisian crochet stitch and the long hook are described in terms of knitting in the 23 January 1861 issue of Der Blatt (where the method was introduced three year earlier).

“The Tunisian crochet stitch, [is] widely known as a form of knitting [Strickerei] with a…so-called ‘knitting hook’ [Strickhaken] (a long crochet hook with an even diameter and a knob affixed to its one end).”

The additional description of the shell as a knitted construct, alternatively produced on a knitting hook or a shepherd’s hook, further highlights the discrepancy between 19th-century notions of both procedural and structural classification and those of the present day. It is often pointed out that the conceptual framework is language dependent, and that several languages other than English do not have separate words for crochet and knitting. In that light, it may be of more than coincidental interest that the Oxford English Dictionary defines crochet as “A kind of knitting done with a hooked needle; material so made.”

Crochet · Nalbinding · Techniques · Terminology

Crocheted nalbinding

The post before last discusses the appearance, in ordinary crochet, of structural elements taken from the long-hook crafts of Tunisian crochet and crochet tatting. It focuses on Swedish practice in the second half of the 19th century and one of the source documents is the Handbook of Women’s Handicraft (Handbok i fruntimmers-handarbeten) by Hedvig Berg, published in 1873-74.

Berg is atypically rigorous when categorizing fabric, tools, and techniques. In a discussion of the use of a crochet hook for making types of lace that are normally produced with other tools, and where the difference between crochet and the namesake form is clearly visible, she includes the label “imitation” in the name of the crochet stitch. For example, she calls the first presented type of crochet lace “Guipure crochet” but the one following it is an “Imitation of Valenciennes lace.”

The 1873 publication is also where the Swedish term krokning (hooking) is first attested as a designation for the family of stitches now normally termed Tunisian crochet. It is introduced in a chapter on “Crochet with wool yarn.” The section on krokning includes one stitch labeled as ordinary crochet but commences by placing a number of loops on the hook in the manner that typifies Tunisian crochet. (The current repertoire includes stitches made with this technique but a number of structurally interesting older ones have fallen out of use.)

A related stitch is described in a Swedish publication from 1864, appearing side-by-side with ordinary Tunisian crochet in a child’s shoe. This is also discussed in the post before last, showing the illustration again here.

iduna-slipper

The hybrid technique is used for the cuff and the same method recently reemerged in what was presented as a nearly forgotten variety of Swedish crochet. An article titled “Crochet Historic Mitten” (Virka historiska vante) appeared in the 21 October 2011 issue of the Swedish weekly magazine Land. The banner photograph is captioned:

Proud Crochet Pros. Ulrika Andersson and Elsie-Britt Sondell-Wärnersson show mittens crocheted in a technique they saved from being forgotten — crocheted nalbinding.

Excerpting pivotal snippets from the article:

The adventure with crocheted nalbinding began in the 1970s when staff at the county museum in Jämtland came across a mitten they didn’t understand. It looked as though it were nalbound but in a different way, and if Elsie-Britt hadn’t seen it, it would likely have been discarded… Elsie-Britt says, ‘I immediately saw that it was crocheted but didn’t know how, so I asked if I could borrow it to examine more closely at home.’

She was permitted to borrow it until the following morning only if she promised not to damage the object. After a wakeful night she had solved the mystery. Elsie-Britt is somewhat reticent about how she managed to decode the stitches but it apparently involved some creative ‘poking’ among them. The mitten was then returned to the museum fully intact. After the discovery Elsie-Britt brought her friend Ulrika in on the secret… Ulrika says, ‘It’s like nalbinding, a bit limited, but a lot of fun and much easier to learn. It’s also an advantage not to need to splice the yarn as is necessary with nalbinding.’

The article then presents Ulrika’s instructions for a pair of mittens crocheted with the stitch pattern Elsie-Britt extrapolated from the original mitten. In the interim, Ulrika had contacted Ullcentrum (Wool Center), a regional yarn producer with special interest in traditional Swedish yarncraft. They, in turn, consulted with the National Association of Swedish Handicraft Societies about an appropriate designation for was subsequently called virkad nålbindning (crocheted nalbinding).

Ullcentrum included it among the crafts they display at public events, such as the Sewing & Crafts Festival in Stockholm, where it is also taught. They first showed the crocheted mittens there in February 2012, where a visitor to their stand, Elsa Hällberg from Arbrå (in the province of Hälsingland, directly southeast of Jämtland), recognized the stitch. On seeing them she said, “…but I crochet mittens like that…my mother and grandmother taught me how to do it…”

The stitch Elsa reported is less complex than the one described in the initial magazine article but they are unquestionably related. Ulrika added it to her documentation with the name “Arbrå pattern” (Arbrå-mönstret), and labeled that of the Jämtland mitten as the “Original pattern” (Originalmönstret). At the same time, she presented an intermediate pattern of her own devising called “Crochet simple nalbinding” (Virkad enkel nålbindning). Her instructions for mittens using each of the forms are available on Ravelry: the attested one from Arbrå, the deduced Original, and the hybrid Simple.

This video shows how the Original pattern is worked, with the first stitch in a start-up form, and the following ones all fully in pattern.

Four loops are first placed on the hook in a manner that provides the vertical bars used as subsequent points of insertion. The Swedish narration emphasizes that the two loops closest to the tip of the hook need to be elongated, as do Ulrika’s instructions. The need for loops not pulled closely around the hook is shared by slip stitch crochet, where it is met by using a flat tapered hook. In fact, explicit instructions for the use of that tool for making the four-bars-on-hook pattern in the cuff of the slipper shown above appear in an earlier German publication, to be discussed in detail in a separate post.

Returning to the Swedish mittens, the wording of what started out unambiguously as a crochet stitch pattern is less precise in the compiled description of the variants. That text can be read to suggest that, despite fundamental procedural and structural differences, crochet nalbinding and ordinary nalbinding are forms of the same craft.

This triggered a reaction in the Swedish blogosphere noting that a crucial distinction was being blurred, regardless of how interesting the crocheted emulation of nalbound fabric might be. This confusion extended into anglophone dialog by the Simple pattern being labeled “Simple nålbinding” on the Ravelry page. Comments in the accompanying discussion clearly indicate that it was taken as nalbinding without regard to the somewhat clearer parallel Swedish label “Virkad enkel nålbindning.”

One consequence of the ensuing controversy was to damp further interest in the origin of the technique and its potential historical interest, despite the kerfuffle over its name. As far as the Jämtland pattern goes, if a night of loop-tugging on a single mitten is all there was to it, there would be little more to say. Despite the avowed return of the mitten to the museum intact, it is no longer there, and Elsie-Britt’s results cannot be corroborated.

It is not clear if the mitten actually belonged to the museum’s collections. The consultation may have been part of a discussion about whether to accession it formally or discard it. However, if it was “likely from the 17th century” as Ullcentrum suggests in a discussion of one of their blog posts, it is exceedingly improbable that the museum was contemplating the latter option.

It is similarly unclear when during the interval between the 1970s and the 2010s the examination took place. Swedish museum policies about permitting objects to be taken off-site became continuously more restrictive in that period, with an earlier date being conceivable and a later one far less likely.

The craft that Elsa learned from her mother and grandmother casts an entirely different light. The commentary to the blog post just cited also notes that her aunts were involved in teaching it to her. She was therefore the third-generation bearer of a what would only have been a single-family tradition if her grandmother had invented it, rather than having herself been taught it in a broader context.

The Arbrå pattern is a product of that tradition, whatever the scope of the community that shared it may have been. In contrast, the Jämtland pattern is the result of a single examination of an object by someone who, although clearly in an expert position to distinguish between crochet and nalbinding, had no prior involvement with whatever tradition the mitten might represent.

The four-loops-on-hook commonality of all the patterns Ulrika describes harks directly back to the earlier hybrid crochet stitches. The chronology of their appearance during the latter half of the 19th century comfortably allows Elsa’s grandmother, or even great-grandmother, to have been familiar with them or any undocumented form of traditional crochet or hooking that they may have typified.

Had Hedvig Berg included the Arbrå (or Jämtland or Simple) pattern in her 1873 compilation, she would certainly have placed it under the heading of crochet. If presenting it in the context of mitten production, or some other garment with a strong traditional association with nalbinding, she could easily have labeled it ‘imitation af bindning,’ ‘imitation af nålning,’ or whatever her preferred designation for the emulated technique may have been. If contemporized to ‘crocheted imitation nalbinding’ the added qualifier allows the stitch pattern(s) to take an unladen position on the spectrum of looped techniques used for making mittens in Sweden, deserving further investigation in its own right.