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.)
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.
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 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”→
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 bases this on the categories put forward by Iklé but includes additional subgroups. One such extension is 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.”
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.
Cross-knit looping can be produced by either technique, shown here as drawn by d’Harcourt.
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 the current 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
I have an article in the Winter 2020 issue of PieceWork, titled Evolution in Early Crochet: From Flat-Hook Knitting to Slip-Stitch Crochet. It supplants the text that originally appeared in this post, which will be refocussed on providing supplementary information to the article. The issue where the article appears can be obtained digitally and in print from the publisher of PieceWork.
In 1861, Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin published a book titled Novelties in Crochet. It includes three illustrated instructions for “crochet à frivolité” that emulate tatting, using an ordinary crochet hook and standard crochet stitches. One is for the “wide festoon edging” shown here (with the written instructions at the end of this post).They published a similar book dedicated entirely to shuttle tatting in the following year, titled Tatting, or Frivolité. Mee’s preface to it indicates that she was thoroughly familiar with that craft.
“I never remember learning the work, or when I did not know how to do it. I believe it was taught me by my grandmother, who, if she had been living, would have been in her hundredth year. I mention this, as I have heard that a claim has been made by some one lately, to have invented the work, which certainly has been known as Knotting or Tatting for more than a century.”
(This post is my own preface to an impending major revision of a research report on knotting and tatting during that period, currently titled Early Tatting Instructions.)
A large loop of the shuttle thread is first wrapped around the fingers of the opposite hand and a sequence of smaller loops is then worked around it. When the desired number is reached, the large loop is closed by pulling the core thread, and the pattern is repeated. This is seen in “star tatting” from the same publication.
The method Mee and Austin describe for crochet à frivolité replaces the running thread with a crocheted chain. The loops that would be wrapped around the core are instead single and double crochets (UK) stitched around that chain. This produces bulkier fabric but its patterns are those of tatting, not crochet.
This provides a good illustration of the tools and techniques of one craft being used to produce fabric intended to resemble that normally associated with another craft, which has its own implements and methods. The structural overlap will range from nothing more than superficial similarity, recognizable by an untrained eye, to full congruence.
The Mee and Austin 1862 Tatting book makes no reference to crochet à frivolité beyond including the Novelties book in a listing of their other works currently in print. It therefore seems safe to assume that they really didn’t regard it as more than a novelty. Nonetheless, a method for tatting on a crochet hook that more closely resembles shuttle tatting, is described as “crochet tatting” (gehäkelte Frivoliteten) in the 1 February 1868 issue of the German women’s magazine Der Bazar.
The same illustrations were syndicated to the US publication Harper’s Bazar, established in 1867, and appeared there with an English translation of the accompanying text in the 22 February 1868 issue. Translating directly from the initial German version:
“Previously the only tatting known was made with a shuttle. In today’s issue, through descriptions and illustrations, we teach how it can be made with a crochet needle… Appropriate needles are of the same diameter along their entire length and fastened either to a wooden or bone handle or screwed into a holder. The hook must be perfectly smooth, with a blunt tip that is 2—3 cm in length, since the entire row of stitches is held on the needle.”
The same method is described again in the 1869 volume of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine and remains in practice, often called ‘cro-tatting.’ The illustrated tool is commonly marketed as a ‘bouillon crochet hook.’
Instead of being worked around a core thread, the loops are wrapped around a crochet hook. When a sequence of them is ready to be closed into a ring, the hook pulls a long loop of thread through the entire row, forming the core that is retained in the fabric. It consists of two parallel strands of thread rather than the single strand of shuttle tatting. The double strand is concealed inside the ring but the use of a hook is revealed by the chained connections between the pattern repetitions. This is seen in a “crochet tatting edging” from the article in Der Bazar and can be compared with the single thread in Gaugain’s star tatting.
The connecting thread can also be embedded in tatting stitches, likewise called a chain. This requires the fabric to be placed between the shuttle and the thread supply, dividing the working thread into two separately manipulable segments. In fact, Mee and Austin claim this to be a technique of their own devising in the 1862 book. (The spool is now commonly replaced with a second shuttle, permitting different color threads on each.)
The difference between a tatted chain and a crocheted chain might not be obvious in a mid-19th-century engraving but is readily apparent in actual fabric.
The loops on the crochet hook illustrated above face each other in pairs termed ‘double stitches.’ There are also ‘single’ (or half) stitches, all wrapped around the core in the same direction. There is no effective difference between a sequence of either type positioned on a long cylindrical crochet hook, and a cast-on row of knittable loops on a hook-tipped knitting needle.
This cascades into an interesting parallel between crochet tatting and yet another technique using a long cylindrical hook, also first described in Der Bazar in 1858. This is the Tunisian crochet that Mee and Austin dedicated five books to, calling it “crochet à tricoter,” spanning the period in which they introduced their crochet á frivolité. By 1868, Tunisian crochet had become extremely popular and it is reasonable to wonder if it influenced the application of the long hook to tatting.
The difference between the starting rows of crochet tatting and Tunisian crochet is that the loops intended for tatting are wrapped directly around the hook rather than first being drawn through a foundation chain. From there, the difference between the return pass in Tunisian crochet and closing a row of tatting stitches is that the former anchors a chain to every second vertical loop and the latter pulls a single chain through all of them.
The pivotal structural distinction is that the row of chains in Tunisian crochet leaves the initial loops suitably positioned for a new row of loops to be knitted into them. The single chain pulled through all of the loops in crochet tatting holds them snugly against each other in a ring, thereby precluding their use as anchors for a new row of knittable loops.
In the context of textile systematics, the tightly-drawn double stitch (aka ‘lark’s head knot’) may have become one of the basic characteristics of tatting by the mid-19th-century, but tatted fabric also includes open loops. Since the thread in a loop-based stitch takes the same path regardless of whether the stitch is tightened to the point that it alternately can be seen as a knot, tatting is categorized as a looped structure.
Irene Emery places it under the heading “knotted loops” in her structural hierarchy. Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger’s classification by techniques categorizes tatting as a form of “meshwork lace” alongside needlepoint lace. Both are a “combination of looping and knotting” and the distinctions between the techniques in that “special class” are “generally denoted by the implements used in their manufacture.”
The list of structures made with eyed needles includes some that are fundamental to nalbinding and it may also be interesting to note that tatting using an eyed needle was described as an easier alternative to working with a shuttle before the publication of the Victorian texts cited here. Seiler-Baldinger makes the additional observation that “tatting is often produced in combination with crochet.”
As Emery explains it:
“Probably the most familiar and prevalent embodiment of the principle of knotted looping is to be found in the fabrics known as knotted netting…although the structure is also found in…mixed (open and closed) textures such as those produced by tatting.”
This brings us dangerously close to the laden term knotless netting that Emery abhors and Seiler-Baldinger avoids altogether. If we accept it for the moment as a synonym for nalbinding, a recently described Swedish novelty in crochet — virkad nålbindning — becomes an intriguing construct. It shares basic procedural elements that Tunisian crochet and crochet tatting also have in common, and might therefore qualify for classification under the oxymoronic heading knotted knotless netting.
The Swedish term virkad nåbindning literally means ‘crocheted nalbinding’ but that label is a pure neologism. It does not have the documented history that crochet tatting does and we have no idea how widespread it may have been or how its putative earlier practitioners conceptualized and labeled it. Nor does the associated fabric come anywhere near as close structurally to what it nominally emulates as crochet tatting does. I’ll be taking a closer look at it in a separate post (and the awkward systematics in yet another).
In the meanwhile, here are the full Mee and Austin instructions for the wide festoon edging in crochet à frivolité. As was customary in their day, the worker is expected to glean quite a bit of information from the illustration and resolve any inconsistencies between it and the written instructions. The main stitching is done in “Boar’s Head Cotton, No. 10” and the decoration and auxiliary joining with “Glacé thread, No. 16.” The stitch names follow UK usage; a single crochet is a slip stitch.
* Make a chain of 12 stitches and unite it, work into the circle 20 stitches of double crochet, make a chain of 23 stitches and unite it to the 4th, work into the circle 32 stitches of double crochet, make 3 chain and repeat from * till 3 large and 4 small loops are made; work a stitch of single crochet into the 6th loop of small circle, *, make 5 chain, miss 2 loops, work a stitch of single crochet into the 3rd, repeat from last * twice more; work a stitch of single crochet into the 6th loop of large circle, make 5 chain, miss 2 loops, work a stitch of single crochet into the 3rd, repeat this 6 times; work into the remaining circles in the same way as before, work 2 stitches of double crochet into the 1st 5 chain of small circle, 2 stitches of double crochet into the next 5 chain, make 3 chain, work 2 more stitches of double crochet into the same place, work 2 stitches of double into the next 5 chain, work 2 stitches of double crochet into the 1st 5 chain of large circle, *, 2 stitches of double crochet into the next, make 3 chain, work 2 more stitches of double crochet into the same place, repeat from * twice more; work into the remaining circles in the same way, work in the centre a stitch of double crochet into each of the 3 chain between the circles; with glacé thread, work the lace stitch in the large circles, as shown in the engraving, and unite the festoons as also shown.
Sweden is a good place to be located for someone researching the historical and contemporary use of flat hooks for slip stitch crochet. It’s only a thirty minute walk from the desk where this blog is maintained to a folkcraft store in central Stockholm that regularly stocks such hooks, so it was easy for me to gear up for testing my findings experimentally. (A few years ago flat hooks were to be had just around the corner at a local yarn store that has since closed.) Books about the traditional Swedish practice are currently in print and tools survive from the late-18th century. This is also when evidence of comparable traditions begins to appear at other locations significantly enough distant from each other to make investigating the possibility of cultural and technological exchange worthwhile.
A previous post discussed the earliest illustrated description of flat-hook slip stitch crochet, published in France in 1785, but I overlooked the importance of something stated in that document. It clearly indicates that flat hooks were made in varying sizes and selected as appropriate to the intended stitching. Reexamining the corpus of such hooks in that light quickly revealed that it was incorrect of me to have presumed that all such hooks were of a relatively large gauge.
An undated flat hook in the collections of the Vänersborg Museum (attribution here) is clearly very narrow.
Another hook in the collections of the Nordic Museum (attribution here) shows the same secondary taper toward its tip and it seems clear that this dimension of a flat hook was matched to the gauge of the stitching and weight of the yarn.
I didn’t recognize the full significance of a document from 1812, either, when I made summary reference to it in another previous post. This is The Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elisabeth Grant, where the English term “shepherd’s knitting” and its special hook first appear.
“…he wore a plaid cloak, and a nightcap, red or white, made by his industrious wife in a stitch she called shepherd’s knitting; it was done with a little hook which she manufactured for herself out of the tooth of an old tortoise-shell comb, and she used to go on looping her home-spun wool as quick as fingers could move, making not only caps, but drawers and waistcoats for winter wear…”
The thin finely tapered segment of the hook at the Vänersborg Museum can easily be reconciled with something that might be made from the tooth of a comb. In the doing, it also becomes apparent that shepherd’s knitting was not intrinsically limited to work in heavy wool yarn, nor was the shepherd’s hook restricted to slip stitch crochet.
If it can be dated correctly to the 18th century, it would pretty much have to be categorized as shepherd’s knitting. The problem is that its primary stitch is treble crochet (UK), which is otherwise unattested at that time.
If it is from the 19th century, the stitch is no longer anachronistic but a fine-gauge hook would still be required. This can credibly be provided by one of the Vänersborg design or a smaller tool corresponding to its hooked segment, as might be fashioned from the tooth of a comb.
The cap can also be a deliberate attempt by a later crocheter at making something with a rustic appearance, unaware of the slip stitch being an identifying characteristic of shepherd’s knitting, or simply unconcerned with that level of detail. Whatever the correct explanation may be, it seems clear that the flat hook has never had a tightly set form. There are many additional examples with the configuration illustrated above, as well as of characteristic designs in other regions. In at least the north European traditions considered here, they were clearly made in gauges appropriate for both light and heavy yarn.
It is not possible to know whether people working fabric with what the Victorian literature sometimes termed a “shepherd crochet” saw any relationship with its traditional namesake. However, a Swedish flat hook in hallmarked silver from circa 1790, one shown in Dutch instructions from 1833, and later German ones, all indicate that the traditional craft from which they emanated was also practiced at the urban worktable.