This post continues the examination of Victorian efforts at converging on a single standard for designating the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks, begun in the post before last. In 1842, one of the initial participants in the discussion of that topic, Frances Lambert, illustrated a gauging tool made according to a French standard based on the millimeter. In contrast, beginning in the same year, her colleagues repeatedly stated that the inch-based Standard Wire Gauge (SWG) — the source of the current UK knitting needle numbers — had been widely adopted in their field.
Lambert persisted in claiming that the SWG was only one of many systems in use and that a “Standard Filière” (wire gauge) of her own invention, tabulated below, was the way to resolve the alleged confusion. This led to a series of contentious exchanges on the subject of gauges — a term used to designate both a measuring tool and the ordered system of numbers and measurements that it incorporates. The debate is reviewed in detail in the earlier post, to which I’ve since added more information about the French system that weighed into Lambert’s work (also correcting an error in the initial version).
The evidence shows that Lambert’s alleged multiplicity of systems was not generally seen as the problem she repeatedly stated it to be. Her colleagues were comfortable indicating the sizes of knitting needles, crochet hooks, and netting meshes with the SWG, which was also employed by the manufacturers of such implements. As noted in 1848 by George Hope, the designer of one of the many alternate formats in which the SWG was produced, it “is a correct measure for the numbers used in every publication, except those of Miss Lambert.” Continue reading “Frances Lambert’s knitting needle gauge”→
The earliest known description of what is now called Tunisian crochet is found in Swedish instructions published on 1 January 1856 (discussed here). They prescribe “a bone crochet needle, 12 millimeters thick.” This is a surprising unit of measurement since the metric system was not adopted in Sweden until the end of 1878, with a ten year transition period before it was expected to come into widespread use.
This raises a question about other evidence of yarncraft being ahead of official metrication. The reference to the 12 mm crochet hook gainsays accepted notions of knitting needles and crochet hooks not being measured in millimeters until well into the 20th century. Other early indications of metric gauging remain to be located in Swedish sources but are found elsewhere.
The metric system originated in France, where it became legally normative in 1785. A “French gauge” for measuring the diameter of medical catheters came into widespread use during the 1830s. The gauge numbers indicate diameter in 1/3 mm increments — “1” = 1/3 mm, “2” = 2/3 mm, … “30” = 10 mm. Both the numbers and the mm sizes are marked on the one seen here, made by its inventor J.F.B. Charrière. Continue reading “Gauging the needs of knitters and crocheters”→
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 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.
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.
Back in the days when museums stored information about the objects in their collections in accession ledgers and card catalogs, structured vocabularies and classification systems were essential to the location and retrieval of this documentation. When dealing with manufactured objects, the basic nomenclature normally paralleled that used in the respective craft or industry. The higher-level categories the artifacts were sorted into were primarily intended to meet the needs of collections management and other curatorial activity. The underlying conceptual frameworks were therefore less likely to correspond directly to those of the practitioner communities.
One of the seminal texts in the development of such classification systems for textiles is Les Textiles Anciens du Pérou et leurs Techniques (The Ancient Textiles of Peru and their Techniques) by Raoul d’Harcourt, published in 1934. This was immediately used by Fritz Iklé as a basis for the organization of an exhibition of his own collection, displayed at several locations in Switzerland during 1935. It was titled Primäre textile Techniken (Primary Textile Techniques) and the accompanying booklet includes an essay by Iklé on the way he grouped the objects according to the techniques of their manufacture. He notes the extensibility of the system developed by d’Harcourt, whose personal support he also acknowledges.
Kristin Oppenheim published the Systematik der textilen Techniken der Neukaledonier und Loyalty-Insulaner(Systematics of the Textile Techniques of the New Caledonian and Loyalty Islanders) in 1942. She bases this on the categories put forward by Iklé but includes additional subgroups. One such extension is a categorical distinction between production methods that work finite lengths of thread, yarn, or comparable material into looped fabric, and those that place no intrinsic restrictions on the length of the working element. This was retained as a fundamental criterion in a series of increasingly comprehensive systems (described here) culminating in one of the current standard works, Textiles: a Classification of Techniques, published in 1994 by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger.
The category that Seiler-Baldinger labels Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Limited Length is typified by an eyed needle pulling a manageable length of yarn by its end through each successive loop in a piece of nalbound fabric, thereby reducing the remaining length of that yarn. The category Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Unlimited Length includes knitting and crochet. Here the tools are interposed between the source of the yarn and the fabric, moving the yarn into it loop by loop, from what can then be an arbitrarily large supply.
The dichotomy is labeled with reference to the source of the working element. However, at least with the manual production of looped fabric, that supply is finite in both cases. No matter how long the assemblage is before being worked into fabric, at some point the end of a depleted strand will need to be joined to, or abut, the beginning of a new one. The points of transition can be unrecognizable in the finished fabric. If they are, the presence or lack of an intrinsic limitation on the length of an individual segment will not be reflected in the structure of the object and is therefore not useful as a stand-alone criterion for determining the technique by which it was made.
An inverse concern can be illustrated with the classification of flatwork crochet. Through to the end of the 19th century, and in the case of slip stitch crochet to the present day, the yarn was/is commonly cut at the end of each row and all new rows started with a fresh strand from the same edge of the fabric. Anyone examining a specimen of slip stitch crochet worked in this manner without prior experience in its identification, might easily characterize the fabric by regularly limited lengths of working yarn despite that not being a definitive attribute of the craft.
The appearance of loose yarn ends in objects that are unequivocally slip stitch crochet has, in fact, been taken to indicate that they were nalbound. The basic slip stitch structure can be produced with either method. There are even two ways of doing it with an eyed needle, of which one imposes no constraint on the length of the yarn supply (described here). This type of slip stitch fabric can therefore not be categorized as the product either of a technique of limited element length or of unlimited element length.
There are further examples of slip stitch crochet having been described as nalbinding, to the detriment of the historiography of both crafts. I’ve discussed a few of them in previous posts and will be adding others to a more comprehensive listing. The preceding post discusses the outset of a sequence of publications that led to the realization that the earliest material appearing in the corpus of cross-knit fabric is nalbinding rather than knitting.
It is widely accepted that the body of early artifacts catalogued and described as knitting still contains nalbound material that has yet to be recognized as such, and vice versa. There is also little doubt that more slip stitch crochet remains to be uncovered behind misattribution as both nalbinding and knitting.
Dating the advent of true knitting (a term introduced by d’Harcourt) requires a deeper understanding of the structural and procedural details that differentiate what is sometimes referred to as “single-needle knitting,” and multi-needle knitting in the established sense. Since such detail is not invariably present in archeologically recovered fragments, the need for a logically robust and clearly labeled higher level categorization has been apparent throughout.
The limited and unlimited categories initially articulated by Oppenheim are basically applicable in that context but the imprecision noted above still needs to be addressed. One approach would be to reconceptualize and rename the dichotomy in terms of how the yarn is led along its path, rather than by how long that path can be. Seiler-Baldinger’s definitions of the two groups provide an effective basis for doing precisely that.
In the limited case “the meshes are formed by the leading end of the thread…” In the unlimited one “the new mesh is formed by that portion of the thread nearest to the loop last formed.” The former can be given the compact label “end-led” techniques, with “loop-led” techniques as its binary counterpart. The alternative would be to extend Seiler-Baldinger’s category headings to Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Intrinsically Limited Length and Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Potentially Unlimited Length but that would do nothing either to streamline the nomenclature or highlight the essential concept.
The distinction between the preparation of a continuous working element of unlimited length before the creation of the fabric commences, and the extension of an element of limited length at repeated intervals during the production of the fabric, retains it utility. Regional schools of what is essentially the same end-led craft vary in whether a large continuous aggregate of fibers is first prepared and shorter lengths cut from it, or the raw fibers are added to the working element as an alternating facet of the fabric’s production. The applied procedure can be undetectable in a finished object and, as noted, the difference between a continuous element of potentially unlimited length and joined elements of limited length can also be invisible. The procedural attributes of how the working element is prepared therefore do not provide a generally applicable basis for the classification of fabric.
The same might be said of reference to end-led and loop-led techniques. However, those labels bypass the ambiguity relating to the working element and are thus one step closer to utility in such things as identification keys. For example, a key for the identification of fabric with a looped structure might include the criterion “open knit stitches appear in the fabric.” If they do, it can only have been produced by a loop-led technique. Oppenheim illustrates this as a “Knit stitch: Typical representative of systems with infinite elements.”
If the question is whether pierced loops appear (also as drawn by Oppenheim) and the answer is affirmative, it can only have been made by an end-led technique.
Cross-knit looping can be produced by either technique, shown here as drawn by d’Harcourt.
The additional presence of open, pierced, or simple loops in such fabric can eliminate the ambiguity, as the simple loops along the vertical edges do in this illustration. However, the largest amount of older material to which this concern applies is either fragmentary or worked in the round. The selvedges are therefore rarely accessible for examination, assuming they were a component of the fabric to begin with. Additional characteristics specific to the alternative categories may be revealed by the path of the working element through shaped areas of the fabric.
Such attributes can also be included in a binary identification key, with separate branches in the decision tree for more complex looped structures. Once the fabric structure and mode of its production have been identified, further craft-specific yes/no criteria can be applied to the detailed documentation of individual objects (as illustrated for early modern knitting in several articles in the current issue, no. 60, of the Archaeological Textiles Review).
Zeroing in on a specific mode of production will, however, often require external familiarity not just with the candidate tools and techniques, but also with the historical contexts in which they appear. The latter factor is, in turn, informed by the correct attribution of the provenance and structure of material in museum collections.
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.
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.
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.
NOTE: This post initially appeared on April 1st and complies with the guidelines for loop-related humor issued by the Coalition for Responsible Loopography.
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The term ‘slip stitch’ has figured prominently in the preceding suite of posts, designating the definitive element of plain crochet. The same label is used for something quite different in knitting, where a slip (or slipped) stitch is a loop that is moved from the holding needle to the working needle without knitting a new loop into it.
I’ve therefore taken care to refer to a ‘crochet-type’ slip stitch whenever the distinction was not clear from context. Thus far, that has only been needed in the discussion of fabric that slip-stitch crocheters would immediately recognize as a product of their craft but which has been described as nalbinding in a few archaeological publications (but noted as highly atypical of that craft by the two authors who have done so, also commenting on its resemblance to crochet).
Another cluster of posts examined the confusion that once attached to the relationship between ‘cross-knit nalbinding’ and ‘closed-loop knitting.’ These are also structurally identical and can only be differentiated if fabric that can have been made by either technique includes further detail specific to only one of them.
Open-loop knitting can also be produced using different tools. Those most widely employed for hand knitting are knitting needles and peg looms, while both home and industrial knitting machines use hooks. The eyed needle of nalbinding is not part of this array since the intermeshing of loops by pulling the free end of the yarn successively through those loops inherently crosses their legs and closes them.
By definition an eyed needle can pull a single strand of yarn along any path it can physically traverse. However, turning a meandering length of yarn into stable fabric requires some form of underpinning where the curve inflects, until the loops are fixed into stitches. Beyond the need for an initial foundation, closed loops can be self supporting but open loops cannot to any practicable degree. Working them requires the additional support of, say, knitting needles.
One might therefore suspect that there is a fundamental flaw is this drawing of what is presented as “needle knitting” in Odhams Encyclopaedia of Knitting from 1957, by James Norbury and Margaret Agutter.
The cited source of that term is an article on “Peruvian ‘Needleknitting’” by Lila M. O’Neale, published in an issue of the American Anthropologist from 1934. Ongoing controversy about the appropriate designation for what at least in craft contexts is now widely called calling nalbinding, was fueled by Daniel S. Davidson in the same journal a few months later with an article titled “Knotless Netting in America and Oceania.”
One of the weaknesses of the term ‘needle knitting’ is that it also designates true knitting done with needles in contrast to work on a peg loom. Another is that true knitting involves the working of one loop into another with the tool(s) positioned between the fabric and the yarn supply. The yarn is worked into the fabric loop by loop in what might be called a ‘loop-led’ technique. In contrast, when using an eyed needle the yarn is interposed between the tool and the fabric and the entire working length of the yarn is pulled through each loop. Techniques doing this can similarly be termed ‘end-led.’
A core problem with ‘knotless netting’ is that leading the end of a piece of yarn through a loop that it has just formed creates a knot by any conventional definition of that term, even if it isn’t pulled tight. There is also a form of netting that is truly knotless and commonly termed knotless netting in industrial contexts. This suggests ‘loose-knot netting’ as a more precise alternative, assuming there is good reason for regarding it as netting to begin with.
It is hardly an appropriate descriptor for the dense fabric that characterizes the Nordic nalbound mittens that provide yet another generic designation for both the technique and the family of stitches produced by it — vantsöm — literally meaning ‘mitten stitch’ in Swedish. That label appears frequently in museum catalog records for socks made in the Nile valley which are commonly, although often questionably, associated with Coptic Egypt.
As a general principle, it is best to avoid categorizing something in terms of what it is not. Unfortunately, labeling end-led looped structures as knotless netting has become too entrenched for it simply to be waved off. However, since all but one of the variant forms sharing that designation can’t be knitted either, the concept of ‘knitless’ would be equally applicable. (The exception is the doubly inappropriately labeled ‘Coptic knitting,’ which procedurally is neither knitting nor historically particularly Coptic.)
This suggests the euphonious albeit ambiguous ‘knitless knitting.’ It might suffice to leave that as a mirthful curiosity. As it happens, however, there is substantive evidence of that very practice in New Kingdom Egypt, three millennia before the first description of what has thus far been assumed to be a purely abstract fabric structure.
It is illustrated with particular clarity by Montse Stanley in The Handknitter’s Handbook, from 1986, as an unknitted precursor to a true knitted structure.
She describes it somewhat circuitously as a “non-interlocked succession of yarn waves,” avoiding the clearer alternative of knitless knitting for unstated reasons that are presumably rooted in an aversion to Davidson’s earlier knotless netting.
Whatever the explanation for her labeling may be, the structure itself also appears in a painting of the goddess Imentet on a mummy case from Luxor, Egypt, dated 1000-970 BCE, on display at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen.
This detail is from Imentet’s torso and the following one shows her head proximal to archetypal forms of open and closed looping.
The one on the left unequivocally represents the basic element of true knitless knitting. Subject to the considerations discussed above, such fabric cannot be produced with an eyed needle or otherwise end-led. The one on the right is a loop-and-twist structure, which unlike simple closed loops, cannot realistically be worked into fabric with knitting needles. It therefore either provides evidence of peg-loom-based knitless knitting, or what in extension of Harley Davidson’s terminology might be called ‘knitless knotless netting.’
In either case this painting provides the earliest illustrations of both unknitted knittable structures and unbound nalbindable structures yet noted. Their juxtaposition in a single image provides concrete evidence of the contemporaneous practice of the two forms of loopcraft at a far earlier date than has yet been recognized.
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The photographs of the mummy case shown above were taken through a glass case in a public exhibition and I wasn’t able to find a camera angle that permitted a view of the entire object without a reflection of the display lighting. The museum doesn’t have a digital image available online and here’s the best I could do on site.
In the past few posts I’ve considered different approaches to the graphic description of looped fabric structures. Although largely in abstract terms thus far, my intention is to apply relevant aspects of them to the analysis of specific objects that have themselves been the focus of other posts or are in the queue for such treatment.
Analytic terminology has been another perennial favorite here. The subject this time around is a formal international standard that both defines and illustrates structural details of knitted fabric in terms that are applicable to other forms of loopcraft, as well. The extent of that applicability will be tested with a comparison of plain knitting (stocking stitch) and plain crochet (slip stitch).
I had previously suggested that crochet could be seen as a handicraft equivalent to warp knitting, using terms taken from the International Standard ISO 4921:2000, Knitting — Basic concepts — Vocabulary. This “defines terms for basic knitting concepts” applicable both to hand and industrial knitting although many of the definitions are only used in the latter context. A related standard ISO 8388:1998, Knitted fabrics — Types — Vocabulary, more explicitly “defines terms for industrially produced machine knitted fabrics” but is relevant to hand knitted fabric nonetheless.
The vocabularies in both are useful when comparing other aspects of crochet and knitting since they accommodate both symmetrical and asymmetrical loops, and define the terms ‘loop’ and ‘stitch’ separately. Although these distinctions may not be necessary for the categorization of hand-knitted structures, the associated terms label different properties in crochet and are essential to its description.
The ISO vocabulary is based on the following differentiation of a loop, a knitted loop, and a stitch. A “loop of yarn” (a permitted alternative to the preferred term “kink of yarn”) is “a length of yarn that has been bent into a shape appropriate for its transformation into a weft-knitted or warp-knitted loop.” Three specimen forms are illustrated.
A “knitted loop” is then defined as “a kink of yarn that is intermeshed at its base.”
The one at the top is an “open loop,” defined as “a knitted loop in which the same thread enters and leaves the loop at opposite sides without crossing over itself” and noting that “the same applies to an open stitch.” The bottom right shows a “closed loop” — “a knitted loop at the base of which the thread crosses over itself” — and again “the same applies to a closed stitch.” The closed loop is also illustrated under its own heading but in neither instance are the two possible directions for the crossover labeled or even noted (‘S’ as shown here, or ‘Z’ as in a following illustration; both are explained in the preceding post).
Finally, a “stitch” is “a kink of yarn that is intermeshed at its base and at its top.”
This illustration shows a “reverse stitch,” also called a “back stitch” and is explicitly “not the same as a purl stitch” (which means slightly different things in hand and industrial knitting). There is a separate illustration of a “face stitch,” also called a “plain stitch” or a “stocking stitch.” The difference is that the face stitch is “so intermeshed in the fabric that its legs are situated over the top arc of the stitch formed in the same wale in the previous course.”
The terms wale and course correspond to the more familiar column and row but explicitly refer to sequences of stitches and not loops. It is also significant that the term “stitch” is not further specified as a knitted stitch and its definition includes a broad scope note.
“A stitch may be combined with a float, and different types of knitted loops and stitches may be combined in a unit of stitches or an arrangement of stitches.
≠ a knitted loop”
The named arrangements of stitches include a “binding-off course” defined as, “a new row of loops, each one transferred to the adjoining wale and forming a ladderproof chain of loops at the top end of a knitted article.”
The lateral repositioning of a knitted loop changes it from symmetrical to asymmetrical but it retains its basic structural identity. When the knitted loop in the adjoining wale is pulled through it, the initial loop is intermeshed at its base and top, thereby becoming a stitch. The ISO vocabulary doesn’t have a name for it but the definition of the binding-off course implies that it would be called a chain stitch.
The preceding illustration can be seen as a detail from the upper end of a piece of knitted fabric that could include additional lower courses of knitted stitches. There is also a type of crocheted fabric that consists of multiple courses of chain stitches identical to those in the binding-off course. This has the slip stitch structure illustrated in numerous previous posts and seen in this drawing taken from a description of a bootee in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland, by Audrey Henshall (also shown in earlier posts).
All documentation of this fabric prior to the 1820s describes it as ‘a species of knitting,’ with the word ‘crochet’ only used to designate the hook. It can also be seen as a form of knitted fabric according to the ISO definition. Nonetheless, it is now primarily associated with crochet. The vertical intermeshing of one course of chain stitches with another is the definitive attribute of its simplest form, variously termed plain crochet, slip stitch crochet, or single crochet (UK).
A bind-off course fashioned with knitting needles requires all of the knitted loops to be held on a needle until they are worked successively into chain stitches on the next pass. With a crochet hook, the knitted loops are taken onto the tool individually and immediately intermeshed into chain stitches. This is also the more practicable technique for working courses of chain stitches into crocheted fabric.
Regardless of how the fabric illustrated in the two preceding drawings can be produced, both show the same structural characteristics. The knitted loops all lean to the right, they are all open, and they are all worked into the back side of the preceding stitch (BLO). Their legs pass behind it, forming reverse stitches.
Another of the drawings of slip stitch crochet that’s already been used several times on this blog, by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger, shows a different configuration. The knitted loops lean to the right here as well but they are closed (with a Z crossing). They are also worked into the back side of the preceding stitch but their legs pass in front of it, forming face stitches.
The correlation between the variant forms of this structure and the procedural aspects of their production as slip stitch crochet were discussed in depth in the preceding post, deferring a few relevant details for later consideration. One of them is the difference between face and reverse stitches. This correlates basically to whether the yarn is held in back or in front of the fabric, with the hook inserted into it from the front or back, while the loops and stitches are formed.
This maps directly into the colloquial knit and purl of hand knitting. However, the latter term is not widely recognized in crochet and the labeling of reverse stitches is a matter of recurring debate. Slip stitch crocheters commonly refer to them as ‘inverse slip stitches,’ which needn’t be taken any further for now. However, the concept of inverse does not scale as clearly into more complex crochet stitches.
One further property of a slip stitch can make the analysis of fabric produced with it more difficult than that of fabric made with the stocking stitch. In the latter, the initial loop will be open or closed and that property will be propagated into the stitch, and then retained in the fabric. With the slip stitch, a new loop that is worked into the front side of a stitch in the preceding course (FLO), applies a vertical force to the stitch that can reverse its open or closed characteristics.
The two-loops-in-one attribute of crochet makes it a compound structure and therefore nominally comparable to the one-loop-over-two compound knitting discussed here, and illustrated with this schematic drawing by Marianne Eriksson.
However, the mechanical dynamics of the intrinsically compound slip stitch and those of the stocking stitch whether compound or not, are fundamentally different. This is one of the limitations on the describability of crochet and knitting using the same terms — but also provides fuel for additional posts.
I ended the preceding post with what I thought was a radical suggestion about simple crochet being a handicraft equivalent to industrial warp knitting. It was intended as an upbeat to a more detailed consideration of the use of hook-tipped needles in all forms of mechanized knitting, beginning with the stocking frame invented by William Lee in 1589.
While attempting to date the advent of warp knitting machines, I found an article by R. Wheatley titled “The Warp Knitting Story” in a publication from 1989 commemorating Lee’s invention, Four Centuries of Machine Knitting. The article begins:
“Warp knitting is the mechanical equivalent of hand crochet knitting and remained as a hand operation until almost 200 years after the invention of the weft knitting machine in 1589.
The invention of the warp knitting machine in 1775 is attributed to Crane of Ilkeston in Derbyshire who applied warp guides to the hand frame and so modified the original invention by William Lee…”
Although this can’t be taken as evidence of crochet being practiced in 1589, it does indicate that from the industrial perspective, the notion of crochet as warp knitting is quite acceptable. The hook-tipped needle is a fundamental element of both warp and weft knitting machines. Here is an engraving of the central component of the latter, taken from an array of illustrations of its other details in a treatise on industrial knitting from 1785,
with the process shown in a recent image (from Wikimedia Commons).
The text from 1785 includes no illustrations of warp knitting machines despite their having been invented ten years earlier, nor any images related to hand knitting with the exception of the plain crochet discussed in an earlier post.
The similarity between the manual technique shown here and the core element of present-day mechanized warp knitting is apparent.
This adds at least one “warp guide” to each needle, used to wrap the yarn around it in a manner that corresponds directly to the same operation in hand crochet. The warp guide is also used to shift the yarn to an adjacent needle enabling one wale (column) in the fabric to be worked laterally into another. This means that weft knitting differs from warp knitting in the same categorical manner that distinguishes knitting from crochet. The simplest variant of the former is only worked vertically into the corresponding loop in the preceding course (row), and plain crochet is additionally worked laterally into the adjacent loop in the same row.
The preceding illustration shows a latch hook, explaining the protuberance on its left side. The earlier illustrations show “bearded” hooks, and machines employing them require an additional mechanism to hold them closed when pulled backward through the loops. This is called a “sinker bar” and it also holds the yarn against the needles while the stitches are being worked.
This explains a term that appears in the glossary of machine knitting but not that of hand knitting. What is normally regarded as the loop in a knit stitch is further qualified as a “needle loop,”
and the connection between two adjacent loops in the same course is called a “sinker loop.”
Both illustrations are taken from a formal international standard (ISO 4921:2000) detailing “Knitting — Basic concepts — Vocabulary.” It fully defines a needle loop as “the unit formed by the top arc and the two sides of the weft-knitted loop,” and a sinker loop as “the yarn portion that connects two adjacent needle loops belonging to the same knitted course.”
There is nothing apparent to be gained by introducing the term “sinker loop” into the vocabulary of hand knitting. However, its ISO definition is of more than passing interest from the systematological perspective. It describes a looped connection between the stitches in adjacent wales, in addition to the vertical looped structures that form the individual wales. As noted above, that lateral connection is otherwise the structural attribute that differentiates crochet and knitting.
The pivotal difference is that the two sides of each needle loop in a wale are in physical contact with the needle loop below it. In contrast, only one side of a sinker loop has contact with an adjacent needle loop. If seen as a terminological issue, describing this distinction would require an adjectival indication of the number of points of contact. Although of less immediate utility in a craftsperson’s glossary, that number can also be indicated directly.
In fact, the number of points at which a knot crosses over itself is an important factor in the mathematical theory of knots. Papers on that topic are sometimes illustrated with the familiar looped structures of yarncraft, and an early (if not the earliest) such presentation is explicitly intended to be of use in describing and categorizing them. I’ll provide at least introductory detail about it in the following post.
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Further details about the 1785 text can be found here.
The use of a crochet hook for plain knitting in wire is discussed here.
The differences between warp and weft knitting are explained in detail here.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) knitting vocabulary is presented in full here.