Early instructions · History · Publication · Tunisian crochet

From grey shawl to pink mantle in 10 months and 14 rows

The first known German instructions for Tunisian crochet are for an ornate shawl, published in the 9 January 1858 issue of the German publication Der Bazar. They are accompanied by four illustrations, of which the third shows the front of the garment and the fourth is a thumbnail representation of its back.

German 1858 cape
Figs. 3 & 4.

The first and second illustrations are ostensibly drawn at full scale to indicate the gauges of the stitching and hook. However, the rows are not the same height in both. They appear together on the same page and the difference is not an artifact of the printing. The original objects from which the two drawings were prepared also appear to have been made by different people, one left-handed and the other right-handed, as indicated by the opposite slant of the vertical loops. Continue reading “From grey shawl to pink mantle in 10 months and 14 rows”

Early instructions · History · Tunisian crochet

Tunisian crochet in Sweden in the 1850s

The 15 December 1857 issue of the Swedish journal Penelope, includes instructions for a child’s upper-body garment made with a crochet stitch that had been described without a name in instructions for a window shade in the 1 January 1856 issue of that publication. In the 1857 instructions, the same anonymous author retrospectively labels it the Tunisian crochet stitch — the earliest attested use of the term that has yet come to light. The preceding post includes a translation of the instructions for the window shade. The ones for the child’s garment are translated below.

In the 1856 description, the author notes of the stitch:

“Although somewhat awkward to describe…I hope that I have expressed myself tolerably well.”

That goal was reasonably well met in the text it prefaced but the adequacy of the description of the more complex 1857 garment is not as immediately apparent. It omits key procedural details from the text and the accompanying illustration does not accurately reflect the prescribed stitches counts. The need for interpretation and interpolation makes it difficult for a translation both to be faithful to the original and provide a sufficient basis for making the object. The readers of the initial document would, of course, have been addressing the same issues. This raises the equally important matter of the familiarity with crochet techniques that the author can reasonably have expected them to bring to the task. Continue reading “Tunisian crochet in Sweden in the 1850s”

Announcements · Early instructions · History · Tunisian crochet

New article on the history of Tunisian crochet, and what Penelope really said

I am pleased to announce the publication of my article, “The Princess Frederick William Stitch: The Parallel Emergence of Long–Hook Crochet in Prussia and England in 1858,” in the Summer 2020 issue of The Journal of Dress History.

JDH Summer 2020 Cover

Continue reading “New article on the history of Tunisian crochet, and what Penelope really said”

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).

The translation presented below is of the chapter “About Crochet” (Vom Häckeln), in a domestic handbook by Elisabeth Klarin from 1829, “The Well-Educated and Self-Taught Housekeeper” (Die wohlunterrichtete und sich selbst lehrende Haushälterin). As Hanna Bäckström (whose PhD dissertation about the developing publication platform for knitting and crochet patterns during the 19th century is forthcoming in Textile Studies at Uppsala University) notes in a comment on the initial posting, it is a verbatim repetition of material published the year before by Charlotte Leidenfrost, in her “Small Handbook on Pleasant and Useful Activities for Young Women” (Handbüchlein zur angenehmen und nützlichen Beschäftigung für junge Damen). I was unaware of the 1828 publication date when giving this post its title and have now changed it accordingly.

The preface to Leidenfrost’s book says that it originated with a request for a free translation of the Bayle-Mouillard manual. Although, the outcome does reflect much of the earlier material, Leidenfrost’s chapter on crochet goes far beyond what Bayle-Mouillard said about it and cannot be seen as a translation, even with the greatest editorial latitude. (I’ll discuss the French text further in a separate post.)

As with the Dutch crochet instructions from 1823, the German ones use a tambour embroidery needle. The earlier instructions change the color of the thread between bands that are each several rounds wide. The later ones include multithread single crochet (US) colorwork in both its intarsia and stranded forms. The instructions for the latter prescribe the use of a mesh gauge, a basic tool of netting.

This is obviously intended to ensure adequate ease in the floats but the orientation of the work is confusingly indicated. It seems that the effect (public) side of the fabric is folded inward over the gauge. However, the instructions go on to state that crochet can only be worked with the effect side toward the worker. This eliminates the option of the piece being turned inside out and stitched from the reverse side but still doesn’t clarify the requisite detail.

I’ve therefore retained the ambiguity in the pivotal sentence (at the end of the sixth paragraph) and avoided other disambiguation where alternate readings are at all possible. The translation is also broken into shorter sentences and paragraphs, and passive instructions in the form of “one makes” are restated declaratively as “make.”

About Crochet

Since this resembles knitting in so many ways, we are only describing it in passing. It is not made with knitting needles but with an ordinary tambour embroidery needle [Tambournadel]. Cordonnet silk is used because no other material is twisted and plied tightly enough. It can be started in different ways, the best of which is as follows:

Take a piece of finger-wide linen tape somewhat longer than the width of what you want to crochet and sew a row of festoon stitches along its edge, matching the intended width and number of [crochet] stitches. This depends somewhat on the size of the thread but a normal purse is about 180 stitches. The festoon stitches are, of course, made with a sewing needle and serve only to provide a start by which the work can be held. As soon as it is completed the festoon stitches are cut off together with the tape.

Insert the tambour needle into the first of these stitches and a pull a loop of the actual working thread through it. Insert the needle in the second stitch and pull another loop through it. Wrap the thread around the hooked tip of the needle and pull it through both of these loops. This forms a new loop that is kept on the needle, which is then inserted into the next stitch and pulls a loop through it. Again wrap the thread around the needle and pull it through both loops, etc.

This creates a chain that easily comes undone, as with tambour embroidery. To prevent that from happening when setting the work aside, secure the loop with a needle or pull the ball of thread through it. When the end of the thread has been reached and a new length is started, crochet it over the end of the old thread by holding the latter in front of the working thread, covering the free end before it is released.

This technique is often applied when crocheting with several different colors. However, it is not always advisable because the colors readily gleam through. Where it is not otherwise a concern, it is therefore preferable to float the threads along the wrong side and only capture them at intervals so that they do not become too long.

If crocheting with more than one thread, the use of a mesh gauge [Brettchen] is absolutely necessary. This is approximately one to two fingers wide and needed because it is almost impossible not to pull [the stitches too closely] together. The work is turned around so that the right side of the fabric rests inward against the gauge, which is then held from below in the left hand with the thread over the index finger, and the crocheting proceeds on the wrong side of the gauge.

When crocheting repeating patterns, whatever they may be, do not forget that the loop just made [and on the needle] is not added to the chain until the following [stitch]. Therefore, when a stitch in one color in the pattern immediately precedes one of another, the color change can obviously not be made right at the end of the pattern segment. Instead, it has to be done one stitch earlier. If, for example, six stitches are to be made with one color, only five are seen as completed because the sixth is still on the needle.

In crochet, a decrease is made by skipping over a stitch. An increase is either done by pulling a [second] loop through one and the same stitch, or by pulling a loop through the one already on the needle before inserting it into the following stitch. At this spot in the following round there will, of course, be one more stitch than there was previously.

Openwork crochet is produced in the same way, by repeatedly pulling a loop through the one on the hook four times [i.e., chain four] before stitching it properly into the fourth stitch [in the preceding round]. The next round is made in the same manner but the small arches are stitched into the middle of the arches in the preceding round. This produces a kind of mesh but it is neither pretty nor durable.

The result is better, especially with shading or alternating stripes, if one crochets four free stitches (as the simple pulling of the thread through a loop is called), and then four in the customary manner. These [arches] can be made diagonal when the next round starts, by shifting them a stitch forward or backward. In this way, crisp serpentine lines are formed, which stand out well with alternating silver and gold thread, and are quickly made.

Crochet can serve all sorts of purposes, such as purses, knitting bags, briefcases, watchbands, etc. However, it is awkward to work other than in the round because it is only possible to crochet from right to left and on the front side of the fabric. Therefore, if you want to make a piece that cannot be worked in the round, for example the flap on a briefcase or the like, the thread has to be cut at the end of a row and started afresh in the next one. For this reason, watchbands are not started from the top or bottom, but lengthwise. They are crocheted to double width and, when finished, the edges are crocheted together by inserting the hook simultaneously into one loop on each side.

Early instructions · History · Systematics · Tunisian crochet

More about the double-ended Tunisian crochet hook

One of the recurring topics in the discussion of Tunisian crochet is whether fabric produced with a double-ended hook should be regarded as a variant form of ordinary Tunisian crochet or as an entity of its own. The earliest instructions calling for that tool that I have been able to locate so far are in the 10 February 1896 issue of the German craft periodical Der Bazar. This is eight years before similar instructions appeared in the US publication Columbia Book of the Use of Yarns, detailed in a previous post.

The stitch dictionary in the 8th edition of the Columbia Book, from 1907, includes a Double Hook Afghan Stitch.

columbia-double-stitch

“Wind the yarn into 2 balls, as 1 ball is used at each end of the work. Make a chain the desired length, take up each stitch as in afghan stitch, retaining the stitches on the needle. Turn the work (fasten the other ball of yarn to the other end of the work), take the stitches off the needle with the other hook.

Third Row—With the same hook take the stitches up again.

Fourth Row—Turn the work, taking them off with the other hook. Repeat 3d and 4th rows alternately for all the work.”

With the exception of the hook and fabric being turned at the end of each forward pass, with a resulting need for a second strand of yarn, this stitch is worked the same way the Tunisian simple stitch (TSS) is. Both strands can also be taken from the opposite ends of a single ball of yarn (as done in twined knitting), just as the two hooks are on opposite ends of the same shaft. Using separate yarn sources additionally enables colorwork but that is also true of single-hook TSS.

The appearance and texture of the ribbed double-hook fabric differ markedly from ordinary TSS. The prominent horizontal chains characteristic of the latter are concealed entirely, although again, the same applies to many single-hook variants. There are additional double-hook variants that relate similarly to other single-hook forms. If a categorical distinction is to be made between them, the double-hook qualifier first noted in the 1907 pattern provides a good basis for it.

The double hook also makes it possible to work TSS in the round. Here, the ends of a foundation chain are joined and a new loop is worked into each of the loops in that chain for as long as the straight hook comfortably permits. The work is then turned and the other end of the hook used to return a chain through all but the last few of the pending stitches, using a separate strand of yarn. The work is turned again and the forward round is resumed.

The enclosed chains are oriented in the opposite direction from those in flatwork TSS but the two forms are structurally identical. The details of the loops in a TSS chain that indicate the direction in which it was worked are often obscured by the vertical loops, with the exposed edges of the chain loops appearing as parallel horizontal lines in both cases. The difference can be seen on closer examination, but whatever significance it may have, it provides little justification for a categorical distinction between chained-toward-the-right and chained-toward-the-left TSS variants. Since Tunisian crochet stitches can only be worked in the round with a double-ended hook, the single/double hook attribute is superfluous in the labeling of such fabric.

There is an intermediate aspect to the instructions for producing the Tunisian stitch variant using two separate hooks that appeared in Der Bazar in 1862 (discussed here). Taken with the earliest mention of any form of Tunisian crochet being from 1858, it seems unlikely that references to the double hook before the final decade or two of the 19th century remain to be discovered in the fancywork literature.

This still leaves a question about when in the 20th century (assuming no surprises) the first instructions for using that tool for work in the round appeared. The Columbia Yarn Company added celluloid to the materials in their listing of hooks and needles in 1908, also offering double-ended crochet hooks under their own heading for the first time.

columbia-double-celluloid

However, the 1904 instructions linked to above explicitly prescribe a “Wooden Double End Crochet Hook, 20 in., No. 13.” The industrial production of such tools had therefore commenced prior to their availability in celluloid. Nonetheless, as of the 19th ed. from 1918, where the Double Hook Afghan Stitch also appears, the Columbia Book still only uses the requisite hook for flatwork.

Although this suggests a later advent of TSS worked in the round, countless similar publications remain to be examined before any date can safely be placed on its first appearance in print. Present-day Tunisian crocheters are familiar with its comparatively recent proprietary manifestations but the initial use of the double hook is not part of the general craft lore.

The 10 February 1896 issue of Der Bazar includes instructions for a child’s cradle cover made in alternating bands of shell stitch (Muschenstreifen) in ordinary crochet and TSS ribbing (Rippenstreifen). Both are worked with the same double-ended hook, as is the elaborate border. The ribbing has a more complex form than that discussed above, and uses different color yarns to good effect. (Fabric worked entirely with it is also fully reversible.)

bazar-two-end-hook-1896

The illustration is presented in the immaculate detail that is a hallmark of Der Bazar (where the first explicit reference to the “Tunisian crochet stitch” appeared, as discussed here.) The written instructions, however, are atypically difficult to follow. Those for the ribbing are clear enough and describe a variant that remains in the current repertoire. The instructions for the shell stitching are more opaque and I haven’t quite puzzled out how they lead to the illustrated structure well enough to be able to provide a useful but objective translation. In any case, these shells are not intrinsically dependent on a long hook, much less a double-ended one, and lie outside the scope of the present post anyway. The following text therefore stops at the end of the instructions for the ribbing.

Part of a crocheted cover for a child’s cradle

“The pretty cover is made with white and blue woolen yarn singles [Dochtwolle] in a variant of the Tunisian crochet stitch, together with a shell pattern, using a heavy wooden needle that has a hook at both ends. It is worked on a white foundation row of appropriate length and an even number of stitches, as follows:

1st pattern row: forward. With a loop of the blue yarn around the hook, skip the first chain and draw one loop through each of the remaining chains. Turn the work and return using the other end of the hook with the white yarn to close the stitches one after the other.

2nd pattern row: forward. With the blue yarn (the active yarn is always led through the first loop) skip over a stitch and draw a loop through both the next vertical bar and horizontal chain together. Having worked through each stitch in this manner, return as in the first pattern row.”

The use of a long double-ended hook both for stitches that require one, and those that could as easily be worked on a conventional short crochet hook, is interesting in itself. There is a surprising amount of additional evidence of the mid-19th-century use of long hooks for ordinary crochet. Such hooks were manufactured with both cylindrical and tapered shafts, so there was more to it than a simple matter of some workers preferring Tunisian hooks where they were not a necessity.

The entire discussion here is restricted to evidence found in the context of fancywork. An earlier post considered the relationship between Tunisian crochet as an urban practice in Sweden and its rural counterpart krokning (hooking). It remains unclear whether this is just a matter of alternate nomenclature or if krokning has roots that predate the emergence of Tunisian crochet in the craft literature. For now, it is sufficient to note that the use of a double-ended hook for TSS in the round is a mainstay of the former craft as it is currently practiced.

Early instructions · History · Tunisian crochet

Tunisian crochet in Sweden in the 1860s

In January 1864, a Swedish monthly publication for fashion and fancywork commenced publication with the title Iduna, a Norse goddess associated with femininity and knowledge.

iduna-title.jpg

Iduna,
Journal for the Tasks and Concerns of Women,
with Supplementary Patterns for Counted-Thread and Free Embroidery,
Crochet, and Knitting,
plus Fashion Plates.

It was the latest in a series of similarly oriented publications that changed titles a few times over the decades. There was often some editorial continuity between the final issues of a series and the first ones of its successor. The incarnation that immediately preceded Iduna was Penelope. It first appeared in 1854 with essentially the same subtitle: Album för qvinliga arbeten och moder, med bilagor af tapisseri- broderi- virk- och stickmönster, samt modeplancher (Album for the tasks and concerns of women, with supplementary patterns for tapestry embroidery, free embroidery, crochet, and knitting, plus fashion plates). Its final volume was published in 1863.

The period spanned by the production of these two publications included the interval during which the “Tunisian crochet stitch” made its meteoric spread through the European fancywork press. This began with a description of the stitch itself in 1856, unnamed, with the Tunisian label retrospectively applied to it in 1857. When writing the initial version of the present post, I was unaware of the earliest attested instances being in Penelope and have provided further details about this in two subsequent posts, describing the first published appearance (as far as I have yet been able to determine) of the unnamed stitch in 1856 here, and the instructions from 1857 that label it the Tunisian crochet stitch here.

The first of many instructions for Tunisian crochet that appear in Iduna are found on page 4 of its inaugural issue. They are for a “crocheted pelerine” (wirkad pelerine) in “the ordinary Tunisian crochet” (den wanliga tunesiska wirkningen). This is what we now call the Tunisian simple stitch and it is clear from the text that readers are expected to be familiar with the technique. A repeated reminder in subsequent instructions about a row of Tunisian crochet being counted as a forward and return pass together may indicate that its written description was unfamiliar to a Swedish readership. However, there are no remarks about the stitch itself, which also appears in the traditional Swedish craft repertoire as krokning (hooking). The first attested use of that term is presented below. It does not appear to be a coinage, leaving an open and important question about whether it was taken from an older orally transmitted glossary.

The supplementary illustration of the pelerine is missing from the copy of Iduna that I examined but the same issue includes complete instructions for a child’s dress.iduna-dress

Tunisian crochet and krokning are generally regarded as synonymous in present-day Swedish usage. However, a distinction is made between the two terms in a four-part Handbook of Women’s Handicraft (Handbok i fruntimmers-handarbeten) published by Hedvig Berg in 1873-74. This is where krokning is first attested, as a collective designation for all crochet stitch variants that are worked row-by-row on a long hook. The alternative name Tunisian crochet is again restricted to the simple stitch. However, “almost all crochet known under the name krokning is just a variation of it.”

The chapter on crochet has four sections, of which the last is headed “Crochet with wool yarn” (Virkning med ullgarn). The chapter begins:

“Since crochet is now so widely known and practiced that there is no need for a fundamental description, instructions are only given here for the lesser-know Irish guipure crochet, for which many instructions are provided, together with some more unusual mignardise lace [ganzspetsar], as well as a few crochet stitches or so-called krokningar [hookings] with wool yarn, the latter also with some patterns.”

The section on yarn crochet has six subsections, each for a specific stitch. The first five are labeled as krokning but the sixth is for “axvirking.” An ax is a head of grain and the corresponding German name — Aehren-Häkelstich — as well as a drawing on which the one shown below is clearly based, appear in an 1865 issue of Der Blatt.

The important point is that Berg regards it as a lesser known stitch worth describing in terms of Tunisian crochet, which the German text does not. She doesn’t classify it as krokning because it isn’t worked along the entire length of hook in continuous forward and return passes. However, it does apply the same basic technique repeatedly to a smaller stitch cluster that was apparently presented under the same heading for this reason.

axvirkning

“Take up three loops through three of the foundation chains just as with Tunisian crochet, then pull one loop through all three at once forming a small group of stitches, crochet one chain and repeat with three loops again all drawn through together…”

This Tunisian component and it being the only one not labeled as such, among what are otherwise all proper Tunisian crochet stitches, may indicate that the latter were generally preferred to ordinary crochet for work in yarn. This is reinforced by a text from 1884 by Mathilda Langlet, titled “The Homemaker in the City and in the Country” (Husmodern i staden och på landet). Her chapter on crochet begins:

“This form of handicraft has now become so widespread and developed that commenting on it seems superfluous. However, for the sake of completeness we do not feel that we should exclude it.

Vests, sweaters, and shawls ought these days to be ‘hooked’ (krokas) or knitted (stickas), rather than crocheted (virkas). Crochet with wool yarn is normally restricted to so-called slipper crochet (toffelvirkning), which can be compared approximately with knitting, all plain, or garter stitch (strumpebandstickning) as it is also called. One crochets back and forth but pulls the needle not through the closest loop but the one behind it. This gives the crochet a distinctive striped appearance.”

This is followed by instructions for a slipper and a note that “cuffs are also worked in the same manner.” It is not clear if this ribbing is worked with slip stitch or double crochet (UK) and Langlet also describes it being done with “fine thread…for cuffs and collars.” Given the long-standing association between footwear and slip stitch crochet it may be safe to assume she is prescribing that technique. In either case, ‘BLO slip stitch ribbing’ fashioned in the described manner remains a part of the crocheter’s repertoire.

There are also instructions for a “Crocheted child’s shoe…in Tunisian crochet” in the third issue of Iduna (March 1864).

The cuff is “pineapple crochet” (ananasvirkning), which had previously been described as a “velour” crochet stitch in Der Blatt. One of its repetitive elements is:

* wrap the yarn around the needle four times from back to front and insert the needle into the following stitch, wrap the yarn around the needle as usual and pull it through all the loops at once; make one chain *

In both this stitch and Berg’s axvirkning, the hook is inserted into the chain space between stitch clusters in subsequent rounds. Their primary shared element is the pulling of a single loop through a number of loops that are already on the hook. One of the ways for placing them there can be compared directly with the forward pass in Tunisian crochet. The return loop pulled through the entire sequence on the hook similarly resembles crochet tatting, possibly explaining why Berg includes that craft in her chapter on crochet, in the section immediately preceding the one with the Tunisian and Tunisian-like crochet stitches.

Further variants of this type of hybrid crochet stitch have been found in Swedish mittens and seen as an attempt to mimic the appearance of nalbinding. I’ll take a closer look at them in a separate post.

Crochet · Early instructions · History

Slip stitch crochet in Germany 1780-1800

The earliest text describing and comparing various forms of hand knitting that has yet come to light is “The art of knitting in its full extent” (Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange), published in 1800 by Johann Friedrich Netto and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann. An earlier post covered their description of work with hook tipped knitting needles. The following material extends this with their discussion of knitting with a single hook-tipped tool, identical to the one from 1785 illustrated in the preceding post. The reference date for their introductory mention of it as “not an entirely new invention” was 1780 but they don’t indicate how long before then the described technique was in practice.

Chapter 9: Knitting…with needles and hooks

§ 39

“The hook knitting mentioned previously is not an entirely new invention but was once limited to winter shoes and boots. Primarily in Leipzig, the uppers of many hundreds of pairs of shoes were knit from ordinary white sheep wool yarn with a hook that was commonly made from the handle of a spoon to save expense. (A more exact description of this follows below in the explanation of the plates.) The knitted shoe uppers were then dyed black, fitted with soles and heels, lined with coarse felt, and shipped far and wide.

The simplicity and rapidity of this hook knitting caught our attention and we were delighted by the complete success of our attempts at using it for other forms of knitting. One can knit all sorts of colored borders, flowers, arabesques, etc., with the hook, just as with knitting needles.

The hook used for this is illustrated on Plate 15, Images 1, 2, and 3. First one wraps a single simple loop around it (see the small number 1 on the hook in image 1) and holds it in the left hand exactly as illustrated, so that the notch in the tip of the hook is on the left side. The thread is then led under the shaft as shown at number two (at the notch on image 1) and positioned in the notch above toward the right side. From here, the right hand draws the hook under the left, whereby the left hand slides the loop over both the newly formed stitch and the tip of the hook. The thread is placed repeatedly under the shaft and over the tip of the hook and the new loop is drawn through the old.

When the first row is finished and one wishes to knit back again from the right hand side, as with a blanket, the hook is inserted leftward into the last stitch (one remains on the hook) from below. Working in the same direction as just taught, the thread is again led under the hook and up over the notch, as shown on the plate. The left hand then slides off two stitches (see the hook in image 3), namely the one that was on the hook at number 2, and the one newly formed by inserting through 1 over 3. This continues by repeatedly inserting the hook to the left into the adjacent stitch.

netto-hooks

Plate 15

The hooks for knitting on Plate 15 must be made in the following manner. The shaft may not be over one sixth of an inch thick [Leipzig standard ≈ 4 mm], at most, i.e. like a medium knife blade. The shape of the hook is conical to make it all the more convenient to slide off the stitches and can be half an inch wide at the bottom. The point of the hook must turn inwards, so that it does not snag when pulling through. No. 1 has a wooden handle but that can also be done without.

§ 40

If flowers and the like are to be added to the knitting, colored yarn is pulled into the first or second preceding stitch with a knitting needle that has a hook at its tip. Placing the flower on it, the colored thread is looped around the hook and worked into a stitch.

Hook knitting can also be worked from the left as with ordinary knitting. The only difference is the positioning of the thread. Instead of leading it under the shaft as usual, it is first passed over the shaft and then led under it. It is then drawn upward into the notch as seen on hook no. 2 [incorrectly ‘3’ in the original].

§ 41

Round pieces, for example oval rugs for covered floors, are also amenable to knitting with the hook. First a row of stitches is made about two feet long [565 mm] always knitting toward the right side. Then going diagonally down and back two stitches, oval rounds are knit to the left until the middle section reaches the intended size. A light-colored border can then be knit around it a half foot wide, and it can be decorated in the middle with arabesques or other leaf work in indigo colored yarn. When the border is done, another half foot is knit around it in the main color. Finally, the stitches are looped tightly together at the edge with the thread, one after the other.

§ 42

Stockings can also be knit with the hook. A row of stitches is made of a length that, when held together at its ends, has the width of the intended stocking. The hook is inserted into the first stitch that was made and a new one pulled through it so that the entire row forms a circle which is then knit continuously in the round. A stitch is increased by making a new loop as at the outset and pulling it again through the same stitch. A decrease, on the other hand, is worked into two adjacent stitches simultaneously.

§ 43

It need not be pointed out that the entire bodies of vests and leggings can be knit in this manner with the hook. For plush knitting, the thread on the second ball from which the pile is to be made (§ 10) is first placed in the notch and then pulled through in a loop. However, since the hook will be inserted deeply into the stitch, the thread from the pile ball needs to be pulled back a bit because the loop will otherwise be too long.

§ 44

Hook knitting is recommended above all for purses. The stitches for this are created by wrapping the thread as already described for hook no. 3. Picots are formed by wrapping the thread around the hook twice as on no. 2, before positioning it in the mouth of the hook, thereby forming a long stitch. Once the hook is pulled through, these long stitches need to be placed around a small stick or heavy needle, as with netting, until the hook comes around again and completes the proper stitch.

This hook knitting resembles the manner in which Dübois used his hooked knitting needles to knit with such amazing rapidity. We are convinced that many of our lovely readers will apply their special womanly artistry to this knitting and soon bring it to the highest perfection.”

The basic descriptions of the flat hook and its vertical orientation are essentially the same as those in de la Platière’s text from 1785. However, Netto and Lehmann provide more detail about changing the direction of the stitching at the end of a row worked flat, as with the blanket described at the end of §39.

The 1785 instructions simply note that a new stitch can be worked into the preceding one either from the right or from the left. One obvious way for changing the working direction would be to turn the notched-side of the hook accordingly. The 1800 instructions are more specific about this and leave the hook in the same position throughout. Instead, the direction of the work determines whether the yarn is wrapped around the hook yarn-under as is usual for German knitting and shown in Figs. 1 and 3, or the later crochet standard yarn-over shown in Fig. 2.

A cylindrical hook-tipped knitting needle is presumably better suited for holding a flower as described in §40 than a tapered flat hook would be. Given that Netto had both tools at hand, a question remains about why he neither mentions, nor perhaps even considered, the use of the cylindrical tool for hook knitting. That craft was on the verge of a major step toward “highest perfection” as the crochet that would be described only two decades later in Holland. It is reasonable to suspect that the pivotal coopting of the similarly cylindrical tambour needle — a tool with which Netto was otherwise fully familiar — had taken place by the time of his writing about hook knitting.

The German term for the plush knitting discussed in §43 is Felbel (possibly a cognate of velvet). The parenthetical reference to §10 leads to a description of making warm fabric by pulling a short loop of thinner yarn through every sixth stitch in the base fabric, or if greater warmth is desired, through every fourth stitch.

 

Crochet · Early instructions · History

Slip stitch crochet in France 1785

The earliest instructions for any form of crochet yet noted are in the Roland de la Platière Encyclopédie Méthodiquefrom 1785. This includes an extensive section on industrial knitting, and manual “nail knitting” is used to illustrate the way an individual stitch is formed on a knitting machine. In contrast to the smooth-tipped needles now associated with hand knitting, a knitting machine works the yarn with hooks (in the manner a previous post suggests was applied to the far earlier Celtic and Viking wirework knitting; coming posts will discuss industrial knitting further). The Encyclopédie includes no illustrations of any other form of hand knitting.

The engraving appears in a separate volume and the caption provides additional detail:

platiere-full

Fig. A, Example of knitting done on a nail, a type of finger for a glove worked in twine, designed as represented in the drawing.
Fig. C, crochet substituted for the nail, shown at scale [in the printed edition].
Fig. D, crochet intended for use with very large objects, and which is larger to produce more open stitches.
Fig. B, Another example of tricot au clou made with a crochet.

Here are the instructions:

About nail knitting
Du tricot au clou

“This is the name given to a way of knitting gloves [gants] devised by off-duty soldiers using a nail with a bent tip or a more convenient special hook [crochet], done in the following manner. The wool or thread intended for this purpose is wrapped twice around the first two fingers of the left hand, forming a sort of double loop. The hook is inserted into it grabbing and pulling the rest of the thread through, forming a new loop. Then, without removing the hook from it, more thread is pulled through the stitch or loop just made. Continuing in this way a first row of stitches is formed, longer or shorter as needed for the designated object. These steps are reversed at the end of the row. That is to say, the hook is inserted into the side of the first stitch and the same process is continuously repeated. This forms a round piece of knitting with horizontally positioned stitches worked repeatedly into themselves.

The gloves are started at the tip of a finger. The fingers are all made separately and then joined by hand. It is necessary to hold the work firmly in the left hand since the hook is moved under the left thumb. It is inserted from the right into the lower side of the stitch and draws a new loop through each one successively.

A certain size thread is required for this work. If it is too fine, the action of the hook would soon wear it out. Additionally, the knitting is less resistant to crosswise stretching, and whatever material is used, and no matter how well it is worked, it cannot last as long as ordinary knitting.

The front side of this knitting is turned to the inside of gloves, so the back is shown here. It does not have the usual appearance of a purl stitch but more that of barleycorns arranged diagonally. Someone who does not know how these gloves are finished will be puzzled by how they were worked. Moreover, it is easy to vary the appearance of the stitches. Differences are produced by working them to the left or to the right, or into the top or the bottom [edge of the loop].”

The reference to stitches being worked to the left or right is particularly important. It highlights a facility provided by a flat hook held vertically that was lost when the orientation of a crochet hook changed to what is now customary. All that is necessary to reverse the direction of the stitching is to turn the hook accordingly. It points to the left in the illustration but can as easily point to the right. Its up-and-down movement while stitching has no aspect of right or left handedness, nor does the lateral direction in which it moves as the stitching progresses. (This appears again in a description of German slip stitch practice prior to 1780, published in 1800, that will be presented in a separate post.)

The scale of the “type of finger” shown in the illustration indicates that it is a mitten. Since the explicit term mitaine was in use at the time, it is unclear whether the separately made fingers in the instructions are the one in the illustration plus a thumb, or whether a full five-fingered glove is being described. Although the wording does seem to indicate the latter, its likelihood is reduced by the admonition about the technique not being appropriate for lighter yarn.

Regardless of how many fingers it has, turning a glove inside out after it is finished is reasonable in itself, and the stitch in progress is consistent with de la Platière’s instructions. Following them yields precisely the same front-loop-only yarn-under-hook slip stitch crochet that is described in the early Victorian instructions as “shepherd’s knitting” and is discussed in several previous posts. The appearance of the front side of such fabric is aptly described as “barleycorns arranged diagonally” (clearly shown in the photo of a Scottish bootee from circa 1780 in this post).

The part of the mitten in the illustration is still being worked and would therefore show the front of the fabric. Although it is difficult to see a match between it and the prescribed form of stitching, it has no resemblance whatsoever to the back of such fabric. If anything, that could be described as horizontally oriented stockinette, with the barleycorn analogy being totally inappropriate.

There is no apparent way to reconcile the discrepancies between the text, illustration, and results of following the instructions. However, it can be noted that they are no more extreme than corresponding flaws in the graphic and narrative components of most early descriptions of crochet and comparable crafts.

 

Crochet · Early instructions · Nalbinding · Structures · Techniques

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 3

The authors whose writings illustrate the early Victorian practice of crochet in the preceding installments of this series (Part 1Part 2) continued to publish extensively about the craft. Its development can be traced through each of their works and is concordant across them all. Frances Lambert is particularly clear in relating crochet to the predecessor craft of shepherd’s knitting and I’m going to wrap things up by focusing on how her perspective of the differences between them shifted during the 1840s (also summarizing snippets presented more fully in an earlier post on Scottish Knitting).

In The Handbook of Needlework, from 1842, Lambert notes that crochet had come into fashion only four years earlier “although long known and practised.” She published the first book devoted exclusively to crochet, My Crochet Sampler, in the following year (the 1844 printing is available online). It specifies the earlier form as “a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook.”

In the same work, Lambert defines “plain single crochet” and “plain double crochet.” These correspond to the present single (or slip stitch) crochet and double crochet (UK) with one key difference. The initial forms were worked into the front leg of the chained loop at the top of the corresponding stitch in the preceding row — a technical detail designated as “plain” (now abbreviated FLO; front loop only) — rather than under the entire loop (“both loops”), as is the current standard.

Lambert published a revised second edition of the Sampler in 1848, again emphasizing that:

“Heretofore, Crochet had been practised in its most primitive shape—as a species of knitting; the stitch now recognised as Crochet, being but little known. From that period—now ten years since—Crochet has gradually progressed.”

The reference to “the stitch now recognised as Crochet” and the dropped mention of the Scottish tradition are significant. Lambert and her contemporaries emphasize that a crochet stitch presented without further specification is to be taken as a “plain double crochet.” The 1848 Sampler labels this a “plain stitch crochet” and does not include the definition of plain single crochet that appeared in 1843.

Lambert describes several additional stitches, some of which are relevant to the present discussion. Here is double crochet worked into the back leg of the loop. (Although the concordance between the legs when designated as back/front or top/bottom is not always clear, in this case the description of the stitch provides the requisite context.)

Raised, or ribbed crochet,—sometimes called elastic crochet—is worked in the same manner as plain stitch crochet, with this exception—the under loops of the stitches of the previous row are always to be taken. It is worked in rows backwards and forwards.”

Double crochet can also be worked under the two legs of the loop rather than into it.

“Double stitch crochet—is worked in the same manner as plain stitch crochet, with the exception that both loops (the upper and under) of the stitch of the preceding row are taken. It is only employed where extra thickness is required,—as for the soles of shoes.”

This extends her 1842 description (noted in Part 1) and drops the earlier constraint that “it is not suitable for working patterns,” taking a step toward eliminating the constraint on inserting the hook under both legs of the loop. There is also a significant structural difference between stitches worked into the loop and those worked under the loop but not into it. The former has a stronger affiliation with knitting that does the latter, providing greater justification for categorizing shepherd’s knitting as a species of knitting than there is for any form of crochet worked under the entire loop.

The visual effect of the changed technique, as that of turning the work at the end of each row rather than the waning practice of cutting the yarn, was to equalize the appearance of the two sides of flat crocheted fabric. Beginning each row from the same edge otherwise preserves the difference in appearance between the front and back, which is particularly marked with slip stitch crochet. That contrast is prominent even when it is worked in the round, as seen in extant shepherd’s knitting where both sides are juxtaposed on the public face of the fabric.

Two ways of changing their orientation were presented in the preceding installment. One is found in an instruction by Lambert for a slip-stitched bootee: “When finished it is turned inside out.” The other is a less obvious technique described by Jane Gaugain in 1842.

“It is not necessary to work an edge stitch [i.e., turning chain] on a round, but only where the work requires to be turned to the wrong side, in order to work round the other way.”

Slip stitch crochet itself successively disappeared as a method for producing fabric, as signaled by the difference in the 1843 and 1848 editions of My Crochet Sampler. It reemerged in the encyclopedic reviews of 19th-century fancywork published later in the century and the beginning of the following one (illustrated in a previous post on Bosnian crochet). Some recent pedagogical material fully reinstates it, illustrating the common legacy stitches and variants that only appear sporadically in the earlier repertoire. Nonetheless, there was a relatively long period when crocheters would likely have had difficulty recognizing shepherd’s knitting (by any name).

That interval spanned the late 1940s and mid-1950s, when the broader research community was first becoming aware of the distinction between the crafts of nalbinding and knitting. The joint applicability of these techniques for producing the structure alternately termed cross-knit looping and twisted-stitch knitting has been discussed in a number of previous posts.

The back side of FLO slip stitch crochet also has a superficial resemblance to that structure. Although someone familiar with the craft would immediately recognize the difference, that erudition was not shared by all of the participants in the initial discussion of the candidate production methods. As a result, some exemplars of shepherd’s knitting were identified as nalbinding, with the conflation of the two crafts in earlier research reports echoed in more recent studies.

On the other hand, the basic slip-stitch structure that characterizes shepherd’s knitting can also be made with an eyed needle pulling a single strand of yarn. Pending the identification of decisive secondary detail equivalent to that used to differentiate nalbinding from true knitting with regard to the cross-knit structure, it is safest to stipulate that there can be reasonable contention about the craft identity of a given slip-stitched object.

However, if the object under examination includes shaped details such as the toe or heel of a sock, the practicability of the respective techniques can also be factored into the evaluation. I’ll be discussing a few such equivocal descriptions of potential historical significance in separate posts. These put nalbinding in contexts where it is otherwise unknown and date the crochet-type slip-stitch structure far earlier than can be corroborated by any other evidence.

Crochet · Early instructions · Structures · Techniques

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 2

This is a direct continuation of the preceding post. I’ve also tweaked its initial version to mesh better with the following text and even readers who have already seen it may find it worth reviewing before proceeding.

The first installment presented two source documents from 1846 and 1842 in reverse chronological order. This one works forward to 1842 from the first English language text that explicitly describes crochet — The lady’s assistant for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crotchet work by Jane Gaugain, from 1840.

This differs from the other documents under consideration by using the term “tambour” to designate a crochet stitch. This was taken from tambour embroidery, which together with shepherd’s knitting were the two immediate precursors of the craft all the authors term crochet.

Gaugain presents the chain as the basic tambour stitch and doesn’t differentiate between it and the slip stitch. Her compacted definition covers both the free chains of openwork mesh and the kinds of objects other authors say are typical for “Shepherd or Single Crochet.”

CXIII.—SINGLE TAMBOUR OR CHAIN STITCH

This is worked by drawing one loop through the other; it is seldom used save for open purses, and sometimes for muffattees, shoes, &c. &c.

The instruction that follows is for a “LONG PURSE OF OPEN STITCH OF SINGLE TAMBOUR” in the same arched mesh that appeared in the Dutch instruction from 1823 discussed in an earlier post. The next two instructions describe working double crochet with the alternate techniques of turning the fabric at the end of a completed row, and cutting the yarn at the end of every row and beginning all new ones from the same edge.

CXXV-—PLAIN FRENCH TAMBOUR LONG PURSE
(SOMETIMES CALLED DOUBLE TAMBOUR)

The purse is alternately worked on the right and wrong side… Cast on 100 loops in single chain stitch, having the last of the cast-on loops on the needle. 2d row, insert the needle in the first loop, and catch the silk from behind; pull it through the loop. You now have 2 loops on the needle, then catch the thread, and pull it through the two loops; this forms one stitch…

CXXVI—FRENCH TAMBOUR LONG PURSE

This is…all worked on one side. When you come to end of the row, cut off the thread, and draw it through the last loop, which fastens it. 2nd row, commence at the same stitch which you began the last row on…

Gaugain added a second volume to the 1842 edition of her text. This includes a detailed explanation of the turning chain.

Edge Stitch. — This stitch is worked by drawing a loop through the first loop or stitch on the row or round, then another loop through the one just made. This forms the edge stitch; then work on through the pattern. If the edge stitch of every row were not worked in this way, you would lose a stitch each row. It is not necessary to work an edge stitch on a round, but only where the work requires to be turned to the wrong side, in order to work round the other way.

A footnote (on p. 279) mentions the need to match the height of the turning chain to the stitches in the row it commences.

Again turn the work, and work back this round, and make an edge stitch; but instead of making one loop or chain stitch, make two, as this open stitch is higher than the plain rows.

Gaugain describes open stitches of two different lengths. One is now called half treble crochet (UK) and the other extended treble crochet (with an extra chain at the top of the post). She also modifies her terminology midway through the added volume, shifting from referring to a stitch as a “tambour” to the synonymous term “crochet,”

Worked in double tambour or crochet stitch, as described in the 125th Receipt of Volume First.

The first volume of the 1842 edition was unchanged from 1840 and the 125th instruction is excerpted above. Despite the statement about the limited use of the single tambour, the second volume includes several instructions for it. As with the statement about using an edge stitch for turning work to the wrong side, at least one of Lambert’s instructions for what she now consistently terms “single crochet” also moves the back of the fabric to its public face.

CLXXXI—BABY’S SINGLE CROCHET-STITCH BOOT

This Boot is worked exactly as the long and short Mittens for children, pages 317—323…[however] when finished it is turned out…

(Mittens, bootees, and the public display of the back side of the fabric will all figure prominently in the discussion of pre-19th-century shepherd’s knitting in subsequent posts.)

Cornelia Mee describes the same two basic flatwork methods in A Manual of Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work from 1842. She doesn’t ascribe stitch status to the chain and presents the slip stitch as the:

Elementary stitch of crochet

First, make a chain, by making a loop and drawing one loop through the other, till it is of sufficient length; this forms a foundation; and all other crochet work must be begun in this way; then pass your crochet through the end loop, and taking up the wool or silk, draw it through; repeat this in every successive loop to the end of the row; then turn it, taking the under loop, and continue backwards and forward in the same way: this forms a ribbed kind of crochet, and is the most simple to begin with; the appearance of both sides is the same.

She then enters the familiar numbered sequence with:

Double Crochet

This may be worked round and round or in rows; if the latter, you must always break off at the end of every row, as it cannot well be done backwards and forwards, especially if intended to have a pattern on it. After the foundation is made, you will have one loop on your needle, insert the crochet through the next, and then draw your wool or silk through both; this still leaves a loop on your crochet, keep this on it, and draw your wool through the next loop, and then through both. When you come to the end of a row, draw the wool through the last loop, and cut it off, leaving an end of about three inches.

There is a key difference in visual effect between flatwork crochet turned after every row, and with all rows starting at the same edge. This is further influenced by other structural details that the Victorian texts leave almost without comment. I’ll go further into this in the next installment.