Crochet · History · Shepherd’s knitting · Terminology

Crochet nomenclature and the reliability of memory

The German references to crochet in the early-19th century, discussed in the preceding few posts, clarify a comment about the craft written at the end of the century that I had long been wondering about. The article on crochet in the Encyclopedia of Needlework, by Thérèse de Dillmont from 1886, categorizes its ordinary form as “German crochet” (as do the French and German editions). This contradicts a pivotal detail in an account of the craft’s history written by Frances Lambert in 1844.

“Crochet—a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook—has within the last seven years, aided by taste and fashion, obtained the preference over all other ornamental work of a similar nature. It derives its present name from the French; the instrument with which it is worked, being by them, from its crooked shape, termed ‘crochet’. This art has attained its highest degree of perfection in England, whence it has been transplanted to France and Germany, and both these countries, although unjustifiably, have claimed the invention.”

This statement about its geographic origin is belied, in turn, by illustrated French instructions from 1785 for the use of a shepherd’s hook for the co-named shepherd’s knitting. A German text from 1800 describes the same tool and “hook knitting” in even greater detail and predicts the impending emergence of crochet, as the term is currently understood. A stream of German references to the new craft began in 1809. Continue reading “Crochet nomenclature and the reliability of memory”

Beadwork · Crochet · History · Knitting · Terminology

Drawing a bead on the arrival of crochet in Germany

The preceding essay considered differences between the descriptions of crochet by Elisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (writing as Madame Celnart) and Charlotte Leidenfrost, in their books published respectively in 1826 and 1828. The German text followed the disposition of the earlier French one and used the same illustrations. In her preface, Leidenfrost explained the otherwise extensive substantive differences between them. Going beyond those examined last time, the preface states:

“The French work of Madame Celnart has a few appended patterns for tapestry-stitch embroidery [Tappiseriearbeit]  and crochet [Häkeln], which we have omitted here…because the understanding of several descriptions would require other drawings. I also didn’t want this work to be unnecessarily expensive. In any case such patterns, exquisitely executed, are now available to whitework embroiderers in many locations in Germany. It therefore seemed superfluous to increase their number by what might be mediocre ones here.”

The  comment about the patterns being marketed to embroiderers, as well as the drawings themselves, show that Leidenfrost was referring to charts for Berlin wool work. Here is one of the two Bayle-Mouillard illustrations that she omitted. Continue reading “Drawing a bead on the arrival of crochet in Germany”

Crochet · Early instructions · History

German crochet instructions from 1828

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

tambour needle

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

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

Crochet · History · Tools

Flat hooks in Medieval and Neolithic Europe

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

polish-hooks

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

History · Knitting · Tools

Alien knitting techniques

The preceding post discussed alternate production methods that can have been used for the compound knitting seen in early Egyptian tubes. The same technical considerations figure prominently in discussions about the large knitted carpets that were made in Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries in partial fulfillment of guild requirements for certification as a master knitter. The collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London include a frequently illustrated exemplar made in 1781 (museum number T.375-1977). The online database indicates its size as 193 cm high and 174.5 cm wide but other of the museum’s publications state it to be 163 cm square.

va-carpet© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I’ll discuss the discrepancy below but suspect that the rectangular dimensions are of the carpet prior to restoration. Continue reading “Alien knitting techniques”

History · Knitting · Tools

Circular knitting needles

The German publication Der Bazar (The Bazaar) figures prominently in a number of posts on this blog. This is due in no small part to the online availability of an almost unbroken series of issues from the outset of its publication through to the end of the 19th century. The inaugural volume appeared in 1855 and is one of the few not to be found in library catalogs but I’ve managed to acquire a printed copy (said with a fair amount bibliophile pride). One of what was to become dozens of competitors, Die Modenwelt (The Fashion World), commenced publication in 1865. As far as I have yet been able to determine, no library has a complete set and relatively few volumes have been digitized.

The business model of Der Bazar included the syndicated parallel appearance of its descriptions and illustrations of fancywork techniques in collaborating publications in several other countries. The same practice was adopted by Die Modenwelt, which listed the international editions on its masthead.

Die Modenwelt 1868

Continue reading “Circular knitting needles”

Crochet · History · Structures · Techniques

Braid stitch crochet

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

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

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

bazar-double-chain

Continue reading “Braid stitch crochet”

History · Knitting loom · Structures

The chronology of loom knitting

The tools and techniques described in detail in the initial wave of 19th-century publications about diversionary fancywork reflect crafts in practice at that time. Although some clues are provided about their histories, little can be deduced about their actual ages and origins. The drawing of purse molds from 1842 that provides this blog’s logo is a good case in point.

logo

The pegged form is a support for knitting, called a moule Turc (Turkish mold) in the British publication it is taken from and in French instructions from 1826, with little likelihood of the later text having been derived from the earlier one. The name suggests an eastern origin although it may simply be a fanciful coinage. However, the same label appears in unrelated printed sources beyond the two just cited, plus contextual remarks about the application of the implement to knitting, clearly indicating that peg looms were in established use for some time before being written about.

The decision of a court in Strasbourg in May 1535 regarding the proper guild for sock knitters (Hosenstricker) considers the frames they used for making gloves and socks. Continue reading “The chronology of loom knitting”

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.

History · Knitting · Nalbinding · Terminology

The 3000-year-old stitch eyes of Emilie Bach

Emilie Bach (b. 1840), a founding director of the Royal School for Artistic Embroidery (k. k. Fachschule für Kunststickerei) in Vienna, was one of the initial participants in the discussion of the techniques used for the early production of non-woven socks in Egypt.

emilie_bach

She was the first to identify a cross-knit fabric structure in such garments from the Later Roman Period but took it to be knitted rather than nalbound, and was completely wrong about the age of the exemplars she examined. The next study in the sequence that ultimately sorted out the relationship between the two techniques — a booklet published in 1895 by Bach’s co-worker Luise Schinnerer (discussed here) — recognizes compound nalbinding in archeologically recovered Egyptian socks. However, she accepts that those with a cross-knit structure were knitted, with reference to a feature piece by Bach in the Viennese daily newspaper Neue Freie Presse (New Free Press) from 22 August 1882, titled Altegyptische Textilkunst  (Ancient Egyptian Textile Art).

Bach begins it by questioning the applicability of research methodologies developed by male academics to tracing the history and development of crafts practiced by women. She exemplifies this with the belief that lace was not developed until the 15th century; a conclusion drawn by earlier researchers on the basis of there being no direct or indirect evidence of it before that date. She does not substantiate her reasons for feeling this to be specious but adds such detail in the discussion of a second case.

“The situation is similar with knitting. Recent academic publications present the art of knitting as an invention of the 16th century, naming the Spanish as the inventors. In his comprehensive Geschichte der liturgischen Gewänder [History of Liturgical Garments], the learned canon Dr. Bock states that the art of knitting was devised in the 17th century.

While this type of research was going astray by following misleading clues, millennia-old Pharaonic graves were being opened in the land of the pyramids. In addition to artfully embalmed mummies, well-preserved vestments were found there that had been given reverentially to the dead. Some are now housed in the Louvre in Paris and provide research with invaluable and irrefutable evidence of so many types of needlework in such ancient times.

The study of this significant collection of ancient Egyptian garments led to a rich yield of positive knowledge. It is otherwise kept in tightly sealed display cases labeled Etoffes trouvées dans les tombeaux [Fabric found in the tombs], but was made available to me for close examination thanks to the extraordinarily helpful accommodation of the Directorate of the Louvre and the curator Mr. Revillon.

I have already spoken elsewhere about a pair of knitted stockings found in the grave of a mummy. These provide surprising proof, first, of sock-like short stockings about which nothing is said in costume history, being worn by the ancient Egyptians. Second, of their having brought the art of knitting to high perfection — based on the estimated respectable age of the grave finds — three thousand years ago.

These peculiar stockings are knitted in a manner that is absolutely equivalent to one of our own techniques. The material is thin sheep’s wool yarn that would once have been white but is now brown and pale with age. The needles on which they were worked must have been somewhat thicker than those we would select for the same purpose, thereby giving the knitted fabric a very elastic, loose, and open appearance.

The stocking starts at the upper edge with a single thread, just as we to this day use the simplest of the many common methods for ‘casting on.’ However, the rest of the work is not simply ‘flat,’ but knitted more intricately, as we now call ‘English.‘ The usual cuff that keeps the knitted work from curling is narrow, consisting of a single row of ‘turned’ stitches. With the nice gusset and cleverly constructed heel, which differs somewhat from our method of knitting, a highly practiced hand is indicated. However, the toe of the stocking shows a characteristic difference when the Egyptian socks are compared with our modern ones.While ours end in a flattened tip, the old Egyptian stockings are worked into two equally long and wide tubes, resembling the fingers of gloves. This alien form corresponds fully to the design of the sandals of which the same collections include several finely trimmed examples. Each is equipped with a strap fixed rather deeply toward the middle of the sandal. Since the strap has to fit over the stocking, a distinctive division of the toe into two parts is required. The heels and soles of this remarkable pair of socks were worn flat, proving that they once had been in use.

When the curator handed them to me for further examination, one of them disintegrated with frightening rapidity into dust and decay. The other remained fully intact and is kept safely at the Louvre to this day. I asked for a small piece of the spoiled remnants of the first one, from which three stitches still held tolerably together. As I am writing this, these relics are in a glass-covered frame. They are looking sternly and provocatively out at me with their thousands-of-years-old stitch eyes [Maschenaugen], as if they wanted to ask how much of the culture and art that we are so proud of today, is in fact the accomplishment of bygone populations.

Much of what appears to us today as new had, as these collections in the Louvre clearly demonstrate, actually long been known to the ancient Egyptians.”

Bach never states how the socks came to be associated with an Ancient Egyptian tomb but that belief was presumably shared by the Louvre. It is not certain that the cross-knit sock currently in their collections with the catalog number E 32318 is the one that survived the examination nor how long before the publication date she made the chronicled visit (which may be the first published account of interaction between a guest craft specialist and the curatorial staff of a museum). Certain details in her description match E 32318 better than others, but weighed with the circumstantial evidence, it is reasonable to accept that it indeed was the one described in 1882.

louvre-e32318
Photo © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Georges Poncet

It has recently been radiocarbon dated to the interval 325–419 CE (with 89.3% certainty) thus belonging to the corpus of Romano-Coptic nalbinding. Full details, with those of comparable material with similar provenance, appear in an article titled “Radiocarbon Dating of Late Roman Woollen Socks from Egypt,” by Antoine de Moor, Cecilia Fluck, Mark van Strydonck, and Mathieu Boudin, in Textiles, Tools and Techniques of the 1st Millennium AD from Egypt and Neighboring Countries, 2015.

Although Bach failed to recognize the difference between cross-knit looping and twisted-stitch knitting, there is a noteworthy detail in the way she describes the latter technique. There is no question about “the manner that is absolutely equivalent to one of our own techniques” being twisted-stitch knitting. She regards the twisted stitch as a variant of the plain (aka open) knitted stitch, just as it is commonly presented in recent craft literature. Referring to it as what the Austrian knitters of her day “now call English” contraindicates the preferential association of twisted stitches with Eastern European knitting later postulated by Mary Thomas (discussed here).

The work of Franz Bock that Bach cites, Geschichte der liturgischen Gewänder des Mittelalters (History of Liturgical Garments in the Middle Ages, three vols. 1859–71), is also worth a digression. He makes no claim of knitting having been invented in the 17th century and only mentions that technique in a discussion of the significance of the advent of the stocking frame in the 16th century.

“As previously noted, throughout the entire Middle Ages, gloves for bishops and retired abbots were mostly cut from heavy silk fabric and sewn together. Through the invention in the 16th century of the art of knitting stockings with a simple device, the situation soon arose where gloves for both secular and ecclesiastical use could be knitted mechanically in a single piece [künstlich zu wirken]… It was customary in the 16th and 17th centuries for knitted [gestrickten] ecclesiastical gloves or those worked [gewirkten] on a small frame [Handstuhl] to be…”

Bock uses the verb ‘wirken’ most often in the cognatic English sense of ‘to work’ but it also designates warp-based modes of non-woven textile production (such as warp knitting and tapestry). It is not clear if he noted a structural difference between ‘knitted’ and ‘worked’ gloves or used the labels synonymously. What have since been determined to be both knitted and nalbound gloves appear on two of his plates, here and here.

Emilie Bach was also a bylined contributor to the German publication Der Bazar (an uncommon distinction) that has figured prominently in several recent posts. Her contributions begin with a piece titled Vom Handwerk zur Kunst (From Handicraft to Art) in the issue dated 22 November 1875. Had she drawn her conclusion about the origins of knitting before writing that article, it is likely that she would have mentioned it there. The wording of the 1882 article similarly indicates that her visit to the Louvre was not recent. It therefore appears safe to conclude that it took place in the latter half of the 1870s.