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 chain 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.

Crochet · Early instructions · Structures · Techniques

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 1

Instructions for crochet began to appear in the Victorian fancywork press in 1840, presenting it as a more elaborate and fashionable successor to the long-practiced shepherd’s knitting — the slip-stitch fabric made on a flat hook discussed in several previous posts. That stitch appeared in instructions for the new craft but opinions about its utility varied and its role at the urban worktable began to shift from the production of fabric to an adjunct technique.

The double crochet (UK) supplanted the single crochet (later aka slip stitch) as the workhorse for closed work. However, in contrast to present-day practice where a new such stitch is normally worked under both legs of the chain at the top of the stitch it is anchored to in the preceding row, the Victorian instructions prescribe working through only one leg of that loop. (The current terms “front loop” and “back loop” refer to the respective legs and are better read as “front leg of the loop” and “back leg of the loop.”)

Another difference between early Victorian and current practice is that fabric worked flat was not commonly turned at the end of each row. This technique does appear in the first published instructions (discussed in Part 2) but the alternative of cutting the yarn or thread at the end of each row and starting all new rows from the same edge was generally preferred. The further option of crocheting in alternating directions without turning the work was also described.

I’m going to proceed by discussing such aspects of Victorian crochet and then move back to details of shepherd’s knitting that have long since disappeared from mainstream practice. Beyond the obvious purpose of describing procedures that have come and gone during the technical development of the craft, I want to call attention to crocheted structures that might not be recognized as such when assessing the method of production of non-woven fabric with an unfamiliar appearance. There are probable instances of this having happened during the analysis of some objects published in the archaeological literature, which I will also go into in detail.

In order to provide an easy path into unaccustomed terminology, I’m going to begin where the current glossary has its clearest roots and work backward from there. Two relevant texts are covered below and others will be considered in the following post.

In her Knitting, crochet, and netting from 1846, Mme. Riego issues the general instruction that:

In crochet that is worked square, at the end of a row, cut the wool off, and draw it through to fasten it; begin at the other end.

The first of the following stitch descriptions is for:

Shepherd or Single Crochet.
This stitch is usually worked round, for Cuffs,
Mufatees, Boots, &c. &c

Make a chain, join it, keep the loop on the needle.
1st round — Put the needle in the 1st chain stitch, draw the wool through; there will now be 2 loops on the needle; draw the last loop through the 1st.
In the 2nd and following rounds, take the 1st part of the chain on the needle.

Riego continues with “Plain, Double, or French Crochet” and then “Treble Crochet.” Despite the familiar labels, there are two significant differences between her single, double, and treble crochet fabrics and their contemporary counterparts. These were discussed above and are the cutting of the yarn at the end of each row worked flat, and routinely crocheting each stitch through only one leg of the loop in the chain along the top of the preceding row — i.e., into the loop and not under it.

The latter procedure produced a structure that was described with a name of its own by Frances Lambert in The Handbook of Needlework from 1842.

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

Lambert uses the term plain crochet or plain single crochet to designate a slip stitch, and plain double crochet for what became the familiar double crochet. She notes of it that:

This is the crochet stitch generally practised, and that used for working table-covers, etc.

She then describes rows of both the single and double forms of plain crochet being worked in two directions using yet another term that was not taken into common usage.

Plain stitch elastic crochet—is worked alternately in rows backwards and forwards, first taking the upper, and then the under mesh of the chain.

Both this and the following descriptions of that process can be read as reversing the direction of the crocheting at the end of each row without turning the work. However, the indications of direction may also be relative to the front side of the fabric, facing toward and away from the worker in alternate rows (as in contemporary knitting charts).

…a chain of sufficient length is made to serve as the foundation for the article it is intended to make. Pass the needle through the last made loop of this foundation, and, catching the silk, draw it through, repeating the same at every successive loop; then returning along this row, repeat the same to form a second. A repetition of which, alternately backwards and forwards, from right to left, and from left to right, will give the first and easiest lesson.

Lambert abandons working in two directions (however it was executed) in the immediately following first complete instruction, for “a sofa pillow or table cover,” and all others in the same section.

This pattern, be it understood, is merely given as the first and easiest pattern in crochet, for the purpose of teaching the stitch… Instead of working the rows backwards and forwards, as before described, begin each row separately at the same end. When the last stitch of each row is finished, draw the wool through, and cut it off, leaving an end of three or four inches.

There is similar ambiguity in an instruction under a later heading. This indicates that cutting the yarn at the end of every row is the ordinary method. It therefore seems likely that the following snippet should end with a reference to “plain stitch elastic crochet” (as presented above) and not the contradictory “plain crochet.”

Raised, or ribbed crochet is worked in rows from right to left, according to the ordinary method; but the side of the work is reversed at every alternate row, as in plain [ribbed] crochet.

Lambert also recognizes the significance of what is now termed a turning chain.

To make a stitch — at the commencement and end of a row, is to make one stitch of a chain before the first stitch, and after the last, which in the next row are to be crocheted.

This is described in greater detail as an “edge stitch” in another text from 1842 and will be considered further in the next installment.

Early instructions · History · Knitting · Terminology

More knitting geography

As discussed in a previous post, there is no demonstrable geographic or historical basis for categorizing the knitting of fabric primarily with twisted stitches as “Eastern,” or knitting with predominantly open stitches as “Western.” Similar conditions apply to the terms “English” and “continental” when used to designate the two most widespread methods for holding yarn.

Most early writing about that aspect of knitting technique treats the predominant local approach as the ordinary one. Where alternative methods are described, it is in procedural terms that may or may not be identified with the name of another region.

This can be illustrated starting with The Workwoman’s Guide written anonymously by “A Lady” in 1838. This describes what is now called the English method.

The Common Knitting Stitch

Hold the pin with the stitches on, in the left hand; with the right hand, put the other pin under the first loop, making the pin lie across behind the left-hand pin, while with the first finger, the worsted is drawn in front between the pins. Then with the end of the right pin, press this worsted till it is brought through the stitch in the form of a loop upon the right hand pin.

The author follows this with a description of the continental method.

Dutch Common Knitting

This is another mode of knitting the common stitch, and is more simple, and more quickly done than the usual way. Hold the pin-ful of stitches in the left hand, as also the worsted, which should be wound once or twice around the little finger, to keep it firm, and allowed to pass over the first finger to the pins. The right hand pin is then simply passed through the stitch, and catching the worsted outside, draws it through, and forms the loop on the right pin, an so on.

With the exception of the way the two methods are labeled, the difference between them is presented in essentially the same way it still is. In fact, in British writing the left-hand method was commonly called Dutch or German until World War I, when the latter term was supplanted by a geopolitically neutral alternative.

The effort to promote holding yarn in the left hand continued in the Victorian fancywork literature, where the perspective of the left-handed knitter simply went unrecognized. This is typified in the 1842 edition of Jane Gaugain’s The Lady’s Assistant in knitting, netting, and crochet work, emphasized there with a pointing finger and italics.

In teaching any person to knit, they should be instructed, as the more elegant mode, to hold the thread over the forefinger of the left hand, and not the right as most people do.

A Dutch text published by Anna Barbara van Meerten in 1823 (discussed in detail in a previous post) describes the way yarn is held for crochet by comparing it to the ordinary method of knitting in Holland at that time.

This is held in the right hand, along with the thread being worked, about as though one were knitting.

In light of the 1838 English description of the Dutch method it might seem that the practice there had changed in the interim (as it did more widely with crochet). However, van Meerten describes the local technique again in 1835, in a Dutch translation of a German Encyclopedia for Women and Girls.

The thread is placed over the right forefinger and held by the fourth finger and the little finger, while the other fingers hold the needles… Some people wrap the thread around the left index finger, which is the same.

The translator’s preface says that she adapted some of the instructions to local conditions, so it is safe to regard wrapping the yarn around the right index finger as the preferential Dutch practice. I haven’t been able to locate the original German version and don’t know if this is one of the modified passages.

Another German text on knitting from 1826 (echoing yet another from 1801) otherwise leaves the entire matter of how the yarn is held to the reader’s own understanding.

The rules and techniques of ordinary knitting are widely known.

These documents almost certainly do not reflect the full variation of local practice in the countries of their publication and obviously say nothing about subsequent trends. Skipping forward to the 1880s as described by Thérèse de Dillmont in her Encyclopedia of Needlework, the yarn-right method is presented as “the one usually practiced in England and France.”

The Germans on the contrary, lay the thread over the left hand, and can move the hands more quickly, in consequence. There are some ways of casting on, which can only be done in the German fashion.

The French edition of the same text makes no reference to England or France and implicitly describes the yarn-right hand position as the established method for a Francophone reader. It then contrasts it with the German yarn-left as just described.

Recent pedagogical material generally makes no presumption about the knitter’s handedness. It also strives to avoid regional categorization, with terms such as “picking” and “throwing.” Such alternatives require explanation, nonetheless, and only designate one component of the suites of actions that define a knitting style. The broader categorizations English and Continental are therefore still often encountered. They have also been joined by the more recently coined use of “Portuguese” as a designation for the yarn-around-neck method of feeding the yarn to the front of the work, which may well predate any of the regionally labeled methods described above.

Early instructions · History · Knitting · Techniques

Double knitting in 1800

A while ago I posted the first of what was intended to be a series of descriptions of various aspects of knitting, translated from the first textbook dedicated to the topic yet noted. This 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. (More details are given in the earlier post.)

This blog then moved into a range of topics, including early Arabic tubular knitting, with another earlier post suggesting that double knitting could be placed on the list of plausible techniques for its production. I had already tacitly noted that the Netto-Lehmann book includes a chapter on double knitting, albeit of an entirely different variety, and therefore left their description of it for use when focusing more broadly on early presentations of double knitting.

The first mention of that technique in English was published in 1838. This includes instructions for the tubular variety, which regularly appears in subsequent texts (to be detailed in separate posts). Netto’s and Lehmann’s description of the double knitting of two socks on the same needles indicates that the underlying technique was commonplace by their day. Here is my translation of that text.

Seventh Chapter

Two socks knitted at the same time, one inside the other, on five knitting needles.

§27

The invention of knitting two socks at the same time, one inside the other, is a nice demonstration of human ingenuity. However, it is more an indication of artfulness than of utility, since two socks can be finished just as quickly when knitted individually as they can inside each other. Nonetheless, both as a curiosity and for the sake of completeness, we found it necessary to dedicate a chapter to this method of knitting. It requires a lot of attention but no particular skill. One takes two balls of yarn — at the outset before one has become proficient, one white and one gray — and casts them alternately on the needle as usual, first taking a white thread and then a gray one until one has as many stitches as are needed for two socks. The first stitch now belongs to the first sock, the second stitch to the second sock, the third again to the first, the fourth to the second, and so forth. Each stitch needs to be made carefully using the proper thread, that is, the white stitches are knitted with the white thread and the gray stitches with the gray thread. If the thread is switched even once, the two socks will be joined, need to be cut apart, and left with holes. Two seams are purled on the back, one white and one gray, and all decreasing is also done at the same time.

This knitting first requires very long thin needles and then a knitter who pulls tightly and knits densely. This is because the stitches in the one sock are stretched over those in the other, and otherwise produce a loose and flimsy knitted fabric. One must practice this double knitting using two differently colored threads for as long as it takes to acquire sufficient skill to work with two entirely white, or other uniformly colored threads without confusing them. Since all increasing and decreasing is done at the same time, two socks knitted in this manner will be exactly the same, which is not always the case when they are knitted individually. However, there are knitters who can knit two socks separately with equal accuracy and beauty, and again others who can knit two socks together with such skill and rapidity that both are completed sooner than if knitted one at a time.

Gloves can also be knitted in this manner, in fact even more easily, since one is not slowed or impeded by clocking and similar details.

Cross-knit looping · Early instructions · Knitting loom · Techniques

Methods for looping wire

Instructions for knitting tubes of thin metal wire on a small peg loom were published in 1822 in the Dutch periodical Penélopé. They describe a technique that is referred to in instructions for a loom-knitted purse that appeared in an 1823 issue of the same publication.

I’ll translate the wirework instructions extensively in a separate post but will note for now that they are for twisted-stitch knitting. There is no reference to the open-stitch alternative that appears in the later purse instructions, but those do say that the technique (currently termed flat stitching) works best with “gold or silver thread.” Such metallic thread was made by wrapping a thin ribbon of metal spirally around a core of silk thread. This had the appearance of metal but with the tensile properties of silk thread, and flexibility largely determined by the core.

The earlier wirework instructions also illustrate the pegged end of what appears to be a narrow cylindrical loom, specifically for making chains in fine gold wire. The technique described in 1822 remains in common practice and an array of tutorial videos can be found by searching on “spool knitting with wire” (using a common designation for a small peg loom). These show some variation in spool shapes and the way stitches are formed on them.

Having just conducted that exercise to make sure that it gives the intended result, I did find flat-stitching among the illustrated techniques, but also noted that it was knitted far more loosely than any of the Viking work discussed thus far. This doesn’t quite eliminate my concern about the potential risk of silver wire being damaged by the high intrinsic strain of open-stitch knitting on a peg loom, but it clearly does demonstrate the viability of at least looser forms of such work. The safest way to deal with this is by stipulating that a skilled loom worker can also knit wire into tighter open-stitch structures (but still reserving judgment about whether that extends to compound knitting).

The videos illustrate two ways of using a spool. In addition to lifting the stitches off the pegs into the hollow inside of the spool, it is also possible to form a wire tube along the outside of a cylindrical spool. The pegs then only serve as an initial anchor for the work, which is subsequently detached from them. The spool is repositioned along the tube as its length increases, to ensure that it maintains a consistent diameter.

The fundamental difference between the conventional use of a peg loom and that of an enclosed spool is that a fixed length of wire is worked around the latter by inserting its leading end into every successive stitch, and pulling the entire length of the working wire through it. This results in a twisted-stitch structure that is properly classified as looping, not knitting. Nonetheless, one name commonly given to such work is “Viking knitting.” Whatever significance the distinction between looping and knitting may have to the practitioners of these crafts, if any, it is fundamental to dating the advent of the latter technology.

An earlier set of instructions for looping wire without a supporting device appears in an issue of Penélopé from 1821. As with the invisible spool knitting seen in the preceding post, wire can be cross-knit looped into carefully controlled shapes without need for a support. Dramatic illustrations of this are seen in the work of Ruth Asawa, as here, here, and here.

Objects made with the same basic technique, albeit on a far smaller scale, were found in graves at the Viking settlement at Birka, active from the 8th through the 10th centuries CE near present-day Stockholm. This photo shows a fragment of one such piece.

birka-2

Another illustrates the compound structure that appears in many of the objects previously discussed here.

birka-1

They are described by Agnes Geijer in a chapter on embroidery in the site documentation from 1938. This identifies six variants of cross-knit looping, four of which are illustrated with a needle pulling metal thread through an implied cloth support. Each of the other two variants is described as a length of wire worked into a simple or compound cross-knit structure by pulling its free end through each loop.

birka-3

One of the important points Geijer makes is that archaeologically recovered wirework which appears to have been made to stand alone can initially have been worked into a textile support that has subsequently decayed. She does not discuss the possibility of objects with a cross-knit structure made free from a substrate being fashioned in any manner other than by looping. Nonetheless, it is clear from the open-stitch stockinette chains seen in previous posts — a structure that cannot be made by looping — that both knitting and looping were practiced by Viking wire workers.

 

Crochet · Early instructions · Tools

Flat-hook crochet in 1833

The instructions for the three crocheted purses in the 1823 volume of Penélopé provide the first known written description of crochet in its modern form. The 1833 volume of the same periodical includes a section headed Something more about crochet.  This provides a number of instructions that introduce additional techniques, all of which will be considered in detail in later posts. For now, though, I’m going to continue with forms of crochet that are generically associated with the type of hook used to make them.

I started this in the preceding post by leaping forward to the 1858 descriptions of the long hook that is fundamental to Tunisian crochet. Those references were among the first to associate the long hook explicitly with crochet, but the same tool had a prior link with knitting that is described in earlier documents — and was generally termed a ‘tricot hook’ or ‘tricot needle’ in the one context, and a ‘hooked knitting needle’ in the other.

Similarly, one of the details about crochet added to the 1833 Penélopé text was the recommended use of a flat hook for work in heavier yarn, as an alternative to the tambour needle that was preferable for finer silk:

For coarse work in yarn or thick knitting cotton, one uses a copper hook of this formpenelope-flat-hookwhich must be very smooth and, from above, must be very thin.

This tool — which is still used in the illustrated form — was commonly termed a ‘shepherd’s hook’ and had an eponymous association with ‘shepherd’s knitting.’ That genre is now more frequently referred to as slip stitch crochet, with an imprecise range of terms taken from ongoing (or imagined) regional slip-stitch traditions applied to the hook. I’m going stay on the safe side and use the generic designation ‘flat hook,’ as I’m also doing with the long hook.

A significant amount of confusion about shepherd’s knitting has resulted from the plethora of names applied to both slip stitch and Tunisian crochet, and the quite different tools used for them. Since the earliest instructions for any form of crochet illustrate flat hooks, clarifying the distinction between the slip-stitched fabric they were used to produce and the altogether different structures made on long hooks is a matter that will be discussed at length on this blog.