Crochet · Knitting · Systematics · Terminology

The True Stitch

My recent visit to the Museum der Kulturen in Basel included a stop at their library to fetch a copy of a visitor’s guide to an exhibition of the Fritz Iklé collection of textiles, 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 labeled one of the groups “Looping a single working thread” (Verschlingung eines Arbeitsfadens) and another “Working multiple threads” (Verarbeitung vieler Fäden).

Kristin Oppenheim placed Iklé’s categories and terminology in a more rigorous framework in the Systematik der textilen Techniken (Systematics of Textile Techniques), published in 1942 (discussed in detail in a previous post noted below and reviewed briefly here). She expanded this text in 1948 in collaboration with her husband Alfred Bühler, who was the director of what was then the Museum of Ethnography in Basel. Their joint work on systematics was part of a catalog of the Iklé collection, which he bequeathed to the museum.

The Bühler-Oppenheim classification system was applied to an extensive study of Maschenstoffe in Süd- und Mittelamerika (Mesh Fabric in South and Central America), presented as a doctoral dissertation at the University of Basel in 1969 and as a book in 1971. Its author, Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger was on the academic staff of the Museum of Ethnography at the time and Bühler was her PhD advisor.

Seiler-Baldinger published a revised edition of the classification system in 1973, separated from the listing of objects in the Iklé collection that was fundamental to the 1948 edition. This retained the title Systematik der textilen Techniken, with a preface by Bühler, and she expanded it again in 1991. An often-cited English translation of that edition appeared in 1994 as Textiles: a Classification of Techniques.

During the interval between the initial Bühler-Oppenheim edition and the Seiler-Baldinger revision, in 1966, Irene Emery published her equally well-known The Primary Structures of Fabric: an Illustrated Classification. This presented a comparable classification system but was ordered on the basis of the structural detail of fabric, rather than by the techniques used for producing those structures. Emery acknowledged the works of Bühler, Iklé, and Oppenheim cited above, but as they all rely on the same basic elements, it is not clear how far Emery was influenced by her predecessors.

Seiler-Baldinger included Emery’s terminology in her own books, in lists of foreign language equivalents appended to the definitions of individual German terms. However, the English and German vocabularies are not fully concordant and Seiler-Baldinger didn’t always have semantically equivalent terms to choose from. The resulting imprecision was not resolved as carefully as it might have been when her German text was subsequently translated into English.

The conceptual framework underlying the entire sequence of German publications makes a categorical distinction between Kettenstoffe and Maschenstoffe, literally meaning “warp fabrics” and “stitch fabrics.” The latter comfortably embraces the loop-based structures produced by crochet, knitting, nalbinding, and other techniques, without using the name of any specific one of them to label the category itself.

There is no directly equivalent English term for Maschenstoffe. Seiler-Baldinger uses “mesh fabrics,” which otherwise designates an attribute shared by both knit and woven fabric. The more widely used “non-woven fabric” also includes structures that are not loop based, and is beset by the systematological weakness of categorizing something by what it is not.

In his seminal text, Iklé discussed distinctions between various forms of looping, braiding, and weaving. He organized his exhibition accordingly but expressed no particular concern with a systematic classification of the represented techniques. However, he ascribed an interesting property to Maschenstoffe that might be worth consideration in the growing discussion of how the terms ‘stitch’ and ‘knitting’ should and should not be used.

Iklé recognized an array of loop-based techniques but separated knitting from the others.

“Knitting (the true stitch) [die echte Masche] is treated as something entirely different from the others, even when its results can bear a superficial resemblance to a braided stitch [Flechtstich].”

He was describing the basis for the arrangement of the material on display, placing knitting in a historical rather than structural niche of its own. Nonetheless, calling it “the true stitch” suggests that he saw some additional hierarchical distinction. Whatever that might have been, it reasonably equates Maschenstoffe and Kettenstoffe to ‘knits’ and ‘wovens’ in the familiar fabric-store sense.

Folding that back into a formal classification scheme, plain knitting and plain weaving (as defined by Emery) can serve as structural archetypes based on the comparability of their respective simplest forms. The warp and weft of plain weaving correlate to the wales (columns) and courses (rows) of plain knitting, each forming a right-angled grid. Although compound nalbinding does not easily fit into that model, slip stitch crochet can readily be described in such terms.

When seen in this light, its consistent early characterization as “a species of knitting” makes a good deal of sense, as does the subsequent Victorian renaming to “plain crochet.” I’ll illustrate the relationship between the structure of plain crochet and that of plain knitting in a separate post. It’s doubtful that new descriptive terms are necessary but slip stitching could also be described as asymmetrical compound knitting, if not as a handicraft correlate to the warp knitting that is otherwise regarded exclusively as a facet of industrial knitting.

*          *          *          *

  • Other texts by Fritz Iklé appear in a number of previous posts.
  • More information about the classification systems that follow the groupings in his exhibition guide follow a detailed discussion of slip stitch crochet here.
  • Terminological aspects of the description of knit fabric are considered at length in several articles in the current issue of the Archaeological Textiles Review.
Crochet · Knitting · Structures · Tricot · Tunisian crochet

The chain gang

The preceding two posts discussed inconsistencies in some of Irene Emery’s remarks about the fabric structures she calls plain knitting (here) and plain crochet (here). Her narrative continues with the observations:

In plain knitting all the loops in one row are on the same face of the fabric… One face has a smooth surface with an appearance of vertical chaining which emphasizes the vertical alignment of the interlooping

and

Crochet is really a doubly interlooped structure (made with a hooked implement)… It is basically a kind of chaining… In the simplest stitch — plain crochet — each loop is drawn through two previous loops, the corresponding one in the previous row and the previous one in the same row.

The first statement says the vertical chaining on one face of plain knitted fabric is not a structural attribute but only has the appearance of one. Nonetheless, the chains that create that appearance have a demonstrable structural coherence. This is seen when the loop at the top of a chain is dropped from its support and then runs through the stitches below it, forming a “ladder” of horizontal bars between the corresponding stitches in the adjacent intact chains. The vertical structure is commonly restored by using a crochet hook to loop each bar in the ladder around the bar above it in a process that can as reasonably be termed chaining as can the mechanical action fundamental to crochet.

The second statement presents two requirements for fabric to qualify as crochet. An individual crochet-type chain intrinsically fulfills one of them; each loop is drawn through the previous loop in the same row. However, a chain does not meet the additional condition of also being drawn through the corresponding loop in the preceding row. A row of chains is therefore not crochet in itself and only becomes so when it is worked into an adjacent row of chains.

The challenge addressed by the present series of posts is devising a descriptive framework that includes not only plain crochet and plain knitting, but also plain tricot (Tunisian simple stitch). This is procedurally more closely affiliated with ordinary crochet than it is with knitting but the same cannot be said about the fabric’s structure.

One of the definitive attributes of tricot is that a complete row of stitches requires two passes across the fabric. The forward pass resembles knitting in both procedural and structural regards. The return pass is similarly akin to crocheted chaining. However, its purpose is to return the tip of the hook to the starting edge of the fabric and does not necessarily add a crocheted structure to it.

This is clearly illustrated with plain tricot. The return chains can be removed from such fabric entirely, transforming it into plain knitting. If the vertical knitted structure is removed from plain tricot, the fabric simply disintegrates. However, there are tricot stitches where the forward row is worked directly into the preceding return chain. This interlooping qualifies them as crochet (again, by Emery’s definition) and there is an array of intermediate states.

Since both the horizontal and vertical structures in plain tricot can be described as chains, as can plain crochet and plain knitting, an obvious next step is to consider whether the chain can serve as the modulating factor in an overarching categorization scheme. The difference between its two forms is that a crochet-type chain is made by placing a single loop on a support and working a new loop through it in immediate succession. Although such a chain has no inherent directionality, when interlooped into fabric it is positioned horizontally. Knit-type chains are made by first placing a row of loops on a support and then successively working a new loop into each of the preceding ones. This forms a vertical structure with as many parallel chains as there are loops on the support.

The loops in the two types of chains can themselves be differentiated in terms native to industrial knitting. A distinction is made there between symmetrical and asymmetrical loops.

symmetrical-asymmetrical

It can readily be seen how the symmetrical form relates to plain knitting.

open-stitch-meander

The asymmetrical form (fundamental to warp knitting) only needs to be envisioned horizontally for its relationship to plain crochet to be similarly apparent.

patent-ss.jpg

The height of both knitted and crocheted fabric grows as new chains are added to it. However, since chains of asymmetrical loops lie flat across the working edge of the fabric, the vertical increments are smaller than those of chains made from symmetrical loops of the same diameter. That difference is recovered and can be dramatically exceeded by a structural device specific to crochet. This adds height to a row of what would otherwise be plain crochet by interposing a “post” between each new chain and the chain capping the corresponding stitch in the preceding row.

The length of a post is determined by the number of times the yarn is wrapped around the hook during its production, and the position of each “yarnover” relative to the loop(s) in the preexisting fabric into which the hook is inserted. This variation is labeled with the familiar (albeit ambiguous) sequence double crochet, triple crochet, etc., each with an extended form that adds a vertically oriented chain to the post. It is also possible to insert the hook into the post in a preceding stitch, or through a combination of loops and posts, adding further variation to the repertoire.

Crocheted posts are structural elements of tricot, together with crochet-type and knit-type chains. As noted, many tricot stitches combine them in manners that permit the resulting fabric to be characterized as a structural hybrid of knitting and crochet. However, other tricot stitches cannot be described adequately in terms of either. The remaining tricot-specific structural attribute(s) will be considered in the next installment in this series (after revisiting a few other topics).

Crochet · Knitting · Systematics · Tricot · Tunisian crochet

The systematics of crochet, knitting, and tricot

I’ve been introducing fabric structures in previous posts with reference to what Irene Emery says about them in her book The Primary Structures of Fabric; an Illustrated Classification, originally published in 1966. This is not because I think her categorizations and descriptions are optimal, but they are widely recognized and a generally useful point of departure.

It is frequently complemented by a second reference text, Textiles: a Classification of Techniques, by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger, from 1994. As the title indicates, it is directed toward the classification of techniques rather than structures but strives to be concordant with Emery’s terminology. Unfortunately Seiler-Baldinger’s book suffered in translation, first by mismatches between some of Emery’s terms and the German category headings for which they were listed as alternate designations in the original German editions (1973 and significantly revised in 1991). This misalignment was then carried back into the English edition, where Emery’s terms were used as translations for the German category headings apparently without technical review.

Neither of the books adheres rigorously to its nominal point of view, nor could it, and both are essential reference works on a desktop such as the one where this blog is kept. That’s also the place where I prepared my presentation for the recent In the Loop at 10 conference, questioning the applicability of Emery’s basic definition of a loop to open-stitch knitting.

A complete loop is formed (and will be retained in the fabric) if the element crosses over itself as it moves on to form the next loop.

Loop: a doubling of a cord or thread back on itself so as to leave an opening between the parts through which another cord or thread may pass.

This satisfactorily covers twisted-stitch knitting.

emery-cross-knit

However, the path taken by the horizontal elements in open-stitch knitting doesn’t double back on itself as is fundamental to the definition.

emery-open-knitting

To rectify this, Emery introduces a seemingly self-contradictory “open loop,” meeting her requirement for the yarn crossing over itself on a row-by-row rather than loop-by-loop basis.

Knitting in its simplest form consists of successive rows of ‘running’ open loops, each loop engaging the corresponding one in the previous row and being in turn engaged by the corresponding one in the following row.

The twisted-stitch and open-stitch variants of knitting ought reasonably to be treated as having the closest possible structural relationship. This raises a question about the adequacy of Emery’s way of associating them. Seiler-Baldinger skirts the issue by defining loop in more senses than Emery does, before defining knitting.

I intend to delve further into this in future posts but am also trying to puzzle out how Tunisian crochet might have been described in either of the two reference works had the authors chosen to cover it. Since it contains elements of both knitting and crochet, not including it in a text on primary fabric structures is understandable. There is no similarly obvious reason for its absence from a book on textile techniques.

I don’t know how much effort this undertaking will require and am going to gear up for it with a review of what Emery says about the relationship between tools with hooked tips and the structural attributes of the looped fabrics they produce. She counts both crochet and knitting among them. However, as with her description of the relationship between twisted-stitch and open-stitch knitting, her characterization of crochet mesh is not as focused as it needs to be for analyzing the hybrid structure of Tunisian crochet (using the predominant Victorian designation for it here — ‘tricot’).

History · Knitting · Musings · Structures

First impressions of knitting

I’ve been diverting a fair amount of time that would otherwise have gone into blogging, to the preparation of a paper for the In the Loop at 10 conference at the University of Southhampton at the end of next week. Its title is Taking a Loupe to the Loop and it reviews some of the topics I’ve covered here, as well as providing fuel for coming posts.

Just as I was beginning to feel that I had the bulk of the work behind me, an article by Claudia Sagona was published on 25 June in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, titled “Two-Needle Knitting and Cross-Knit Looping: Early Bronze Age Pottery Imprints from Anatolia and the Caucasus.” There is nothing unusual about an archaeological study of textile impressions found on ceramics — such things vastly outnumber prehistoric specimens of worked fiber — but this one claims to have found evidence of open-stitch stockinette knitting significantly earlier than had previously been attested.

That made it obligatory reading for me and it had also caught the attention of others. Its discussion was on the program of the Knitting in Early Modern Europe (KEME) seminar in Copenhagen on 7 July. I wasn’t there but understand that the participants were highly critical of the article’s methodology and conclusions.

I’ll be taking two of the drums that I’ve been beating on this blog with me to England. One calls attention to the limitations of our ability to identify the tools and techniques used to produce a piece of looped fabric on the basis of the object itself — a concern that only increases when assessing an impression of its surface detail. The second one signals that the earliest known specimens of knitted (as opposed to cross-knit looped) fabric have an open-loop structure, and not the twisted stitches that are frequently said to be the initial form.

Assuming that Sagona has plausibly identified similarities between the structures imprinted on the pottery fragments and those that could be left by looped textiles, it does not follow that that is how they were made. Her further association of those impressions with specific production techniques is entirely unsupported. She doesn’t explain why the fabric in the open-knit impressions would have been made with two knitting needles. The same structure can be made on a peg loom, which other authors have suggested was the first implement used for that purpose, to say nothing of other methods that may have been known six thousand years ago that we have yet to recognize. Similarly, the basic structure of cross-knit looping is identical to that of twisted-stitch knitting — again makable on both a peg loom or with knitting needles — and the impressions of that structure do not reveal the secondary detail necessary to differentiate between the two production methods.

The characterization of open-stitch stockinette knitting as ‘two-needle knitting’ implies fabric being worked flat with alternating rows of the knit and purl forms of the stitch. This is counter to the evidence of yarn having been knitted exclusively in the round during the first several centuries of the craft’s practice but Sagona explicitly states her belief that the impressions can be of fabric knitted flat.

Notwithstanding, moving the earliest direct evidence of the open-loop structure from the mid-first-millennium CE to possibly as early as the mid-fourth-millenium BCE would be of blockbuster consequence and therefore requires more rigorous substantiation than the article provides. (The earliest known specimen of cross-knit looping is from the mid-sixth-millennium BCE, found at a site near the Dead Sea, so there are no surprises there.) This wouldn’t alter the chronological order in which cross-knit looping and open-stitch knitting appeared. However, since the latter structure is a hallmark of true knitting, pending the unexpected appearance of corroborating evidence during whatever debate Sagona’s article triggers, it may be that the craft can be traced farther back than anyone else has yet suggested.

 

History · Knitting · Techniques · Tools

Knitting sheaths and their handedness

The knitting sheath has a prominent position on the list of tools that were once ubiquitous but have since dwindled into restricted regional use. Although the sheath is only one of a number of devices used to anchor the passive end of a knitting needle, its name is often used as a collective designation for them all. The technique is also termed fixed-needle, anchored-needle, or lever knitting. It includes a variant where the needle is held between the arm and body without the support of a separate mechanical device — (arm)pit  knitting.

The best known present-day form of auxiliary tool is the knitting belt used on the Shetland Islands. Nonetheless, as recently as 1986 in The Handknitter’s Handbook, Montse Stanley described and illustrated fixed-needle knitting as a current technique, with the right-hand needle anchored either directly under the right arm or in a sheath tucked into a belt around the waist, also at the right side of the body.

Stanley discusses this method as practiced both in Catalonia, where it was how she learned to knit (presumably in the late 1940s), and in the northern half of Britain. She suggests that it was historically more likely to be used by knitters with a greater interest in “efficiency” than in “elegance.” Those with the latter concern held the right-hand needle “like a pen” and knitters interested in the support provided by a sheath but not the implement itself, let the needle “rest on the forearm.” She further associates the two basic perspectives with people who “mainly knitted to earn (or scrape) a living” and those who “considered it a drawing-room pastime.”

The 1850 edition of The Ladies’ Work-Table Book (p. 12) lists a knitting sheath as standard equipment for recreational fancywork. It is also included in the US edition from 1845 (p. 25).

NECESSARY IMPLEMENTS FOR KNITTING.

Needles of various sizes. The numbers referred to are those of the knitting needle gauge. Needles pointed at either end, for Turkish knitting. Ivory or wooden pins, for knitting a biroche [sic]. A knitting sheath, &c., to be fastened on the waist of the knitter, towards the right hand, for the purpose of keeping the needle in a steady and proper position.

A previous post describes how the Swiss knitter Dubois taught fixed-needle knitting in German urban drawing rooms in the late–18th century. In contrast to the descriptions of that technique seen above, which explicitly state that the anchored needle was held in the right hand, Dubois held it at his left side. This could be taken to indicate that he was left handed but since he was earning his living as a knitting teacher it can safely be assumed that he demonstrated his techniques as appropriate to a predominantly right-handed audience.

The article on knitting in Switzerland from 1936 by Fritz Iklé, presented in another previous post, also discusses the traditional use of the knitting sheath there. It was widely employed through to the end of the 19th century and still known at the time of his writing. He cites an article from 1923 in another Swiss journal (which I haven’t yet tracked down) quoting a number of reports received from various areas of the country describing local practice.

These designate knitting both with the German word stricken and the Alemannic lismen. Although the two are frequently used as synonyms, some of the reports use them to designate separate methods. Here is one that does so with particular clarity.

In the earliest years here the sheath was also fastened in the right side of the apron. The idea later developed that the knitting could be held more firmly by using a special belt board (Gürtelbrittli) by which the sheath could be fastened to the side with a leather strap. With that, lismen truly becomes easier than stricken.

Another report places the sheath on the opposite side.

The knitting sheaths were about 18–20 cm long, nicely turned in boxwood, with the hole for the needle lined with lead. They were placed in working position by wrapping the left apron string two or three times around them.

Here again, the generalized wording of this description suggests that it is not of the practice of an individual left-handed knitter. Although the right-side position is the more frequent in these reports, they still confirm that Netto was not alone among his compatriots in holding the needle at the left side. Presumably it was also adopted by his students in Germany, and was reported in late–19th-century Denmark, as well.

The Swiss applications of fixed-knitting related in 1923 are largely about 19th-century practice. However, that it dated back at least into the 18th century is apparent from Netto’s activity and a description from 1809 of skills taught to girls in Swiss cities including the fiber arts of “…Lismen, Stricken, sewing, spinning…”

This means that the use of a sheath was not seen simply as an adjunct technique to knitting but was a named craft of its own. This may indicate that the social gap between the contexts placing opposite priorities on efficiency and elegance was wide enough to be reflected lexically. Another more conjectural possibility is that the two methods had different points of origin and the circumstances of their merger remain to be identified.

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. 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. 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 often recommends avoiding the imprecision inherent in all this by eliminating any reference to geographic location when describing the yarn-held-left and yarn-held-right methods. Doing so also facilitates comparison with the yarn-around-neck method that leads the yarn to the front of the work and differs from the other two in equal measure.

History · Knitting · Techniques · Tools

Hooked knitting needles in the French parlor in 1817

I’ve noted the significance of “The art of knitting in its full extent” (Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange) by Johann Friedrich Netto and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann in several previous posts (but have yet to find a good way to vary the introductory paragraph). This was published in 1800 and reflected in German texts on knitting by other authors well into the 1820s including mention of the utility of hook-tipped needles. Both here and more generally in the craft press of that time, what we might call plagiarized wording is commonplace (earlier notions about the permissibility of the unattributed reuse of the work of others differed significantly from ours) but original material is often added, making it worthwhile to examine the full detail of what may on first glance appear to be a rehash of someone else’s material.

Netto and Lehmann published a French translation of their book in 1802, which was then co-opted in subsequent French texts. One, in particular, explicitly acknowledges the prior work of the German authors and also names the Swiss knitter, Dubois, who figured prominently in their book. This is the “Treatise on knitting – simple or complex” (Traité du tricot, simple ou compliqué) by Augustin Legrand. It is undated but displays the address where he was located from 1810 and includes an advertisement for material he sold there in 1817.

Legrand’s book also illustrates a burgeoning divergence between texts focused on domestic enterprise and those treating fancywork as a leisure activity. Whereas the German derivates of Netto and Lehmann are directed toward the former audience, the two gentlemen themselves together with Legrand more clearly target the latter. Legrand’s chapter “On needles with hooks” (Des Aiguilles à crochet) places such implements on the French recreational knitter’s workbench and adds yet another method for holding yarn to those considered in previous posts.

“These needles are of ordinary length and have a small hook at the one end similar to that of tambour needles. To knit with these needles, the thread is first wrapped around the left wrist to place it under slight tension. It is then held on the index finger of the same hand so that it is ready to be grasped by the hook that pulls it back through the stitch into which it was inserted. This forms a new stitch that remains on this needle.

It is easy to imagine that this work cannot fail to produce a great economy of time, and a greater regularity in the work. It is even claimed that by means of this process it is possible to make a sock in an hour.

All kinds of knitting can be performed with these kinds of needles; but they are especially recommended for gold and silver wire. This is because they reduce jarring and friction, causing less wear on the metal, leaving the work more lustrous.”

The reference to the production of a sock in one hour is all but certain to derive from a section in Netto & Lehmann that describes Dubois’s work (here). However, one of the salient details of Dubois’s method for flat knitting was his use of long needles, supporting one of them under his arm. Legrand specifically prescribes needles of ordinary length, precluding a fixed-needle technique.

Similarly, Dubois’s method for working in the round (described here) uses a shoulder pin to feed the yarn to the front of the work. To the extent that Legrand is referring to this as well, the yarn-around-neck technique is replaced by what might be called yarn-around-wrist, feeding the yarn to the rear of the work.

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.

History · Knitting · Techniques · Tools

A stilted perspective on hooked knitting

The shepherds in Landes, the northernmost part of the French Basque Country, were a subject of popular attention during the 19th century for two traits. One was their use of stilts to deal with the marshy heathlands on which their flocks grazed, and the other was their practice of knitting while watching over them. A chapter on ‘The Shepherds of Les Bas Landes’ in the US publication Forrester’s Pictorial Miscellany from 1855 illustrates how widespread the interest in them had become. An article in the Scientific American Supplement from 26 September 1891 on ‘Stilt Walking’ describes the shepherds’ ambulatory prowess and social circumstance.

Illustrations of them knitting began to proliferate mid-century but rarely focus on its detail. The clearest one I have thus far been able to find is from 1863 (source information here) and shows yarn-around-neck (probably using a shoulder hook), with what may be a small pouch holding the yarn just below the sock that is in progress.

landes-shepherd

The shepherds’ knitting technique is described in Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book from 1938, showing the tools at the outset of the chapter on ‘Knitting Implements Ancient and Modern.’ (The preceding post discusses other aspects of her description of knitting in Landes.)

thomas-hooks

This photo shows an “ancient weatherbeaten knitting pouch” together with “modern…hooked needles…made by a shepherd…from old umbrella ribs…hand filed and shaped as they have always been made” in Landes. It is not clear what ‘ancient’ and ‘always’ actually mean.

Thomas says that hooked needles can be traced back to the Arabic origins of knitting, which applies in equal measure to the needles used in all the other schools of yarn-around-neck knitting discussed in previous posts. There is no evidence of a similarly characteristic shared use of a knitting pouch. It is of obvious utility for work while perched on stilts and, at least the form shown here, may have developed specifically in that context. The pouch is also seen clearly in a photo from the early-20th century, by which time the wetlands had been drained and the need for stilts had ended.

landes-1910

The knitting shepherds are also noted in the Victorian fancywork literature. The introductory remarks about crochet in The industrial handbook containing plain instructions in needlework and knittingpublished anonymously in 1853 state:

“This kind of work, which has lately become fashionable under its new name, was formerly called ‘Shepherd’s Knitting.’ It has long been a favourite occupation of this class of persons, particularly in the south of France, where, whilst tending their sheep on the mountains, they fabricate a number of useful and ingenious articles.”

This conflates the knitting of the Landes shepherds, who were approaching the heyday of their international renown, with the traditional slip stitch crochet called “shepherd’s knitting” and described in earlier British texts on crochet as the initial manifestation of that craft.

“Crochet,—a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook…”

That snippet was discussed in greater detail in an earlier post, leading to yet another form of knitting with a hook-tipped needle associated with Scotland, termed Scottish knitting or Tricot éccosais. This was most commonly referred to in the Victorian literature as “tricot” (now generally termed Tunisian crochet) and worked with a “tricot hook.” This gainsays Mary Thomas’s concluding remark about the practice in Landes, that “There appears no trace of hooked needles in Britain…”

Crochet · History · Knitting · Techniques

Hooked knitting and crochet in Bosnia

The text by Fritz Iklé discussed in the preceding post summarizes an article “about Bosnian-Herzegovinian knitting” by Luise Schinnerer published in the 1897 volume of the Zeitschrift für österreichische Volkskunst (“Journal of Austrian Folk Art”). He doesn’t indicate its title and focuses on her observations about knitting with hook-tipped needles being a practice of the Islamic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (and adjacent regions). He ties this into the established belief that knitting originated in Egypt, noting that it was not the “ancient Egyptians” but later “Arabic tribes” who devised it.

Luise Schinnerer (b. 1857, also publishing as Louise) was a teacher at the Royal School for Artistic Embroidery (k. k. Fachschule für Kunststickerei) in Vienna and is now best known for her technical analysis of nalbinding. This was the first detailed text on the subject and appeared in a booklet she published in 1895 titled Antike Handarbeiten (“Antique Handicrafts”). It includes photographs of a nalbound Coptic sock and a reproduction she made of it (exhibited publicly in 1893 and 1894, receiving awards on both occasions) together with drawings of how the stitch structure was produced.

The text recognizes the structural difference between nalbound cross-knit looping (illustrated with a fragment of another sock) and laterally interconnected nalbinding (as in the sock she reproduced). However, Schinnerer regards the cross-knit fabric as twisted-stitch knitting — a technique she says was known in Egypt by some time during the interval 6th–4th century BCE. She further says that it was practiced in parallel with nalbinding subsequent to the emergence of the latter in the Coptic period or perhaps somewhat earlier, and distinguishes between the two ways of making socks as Strumpfstrickerei and Strumpfnäheri (“stocking knitting” and “stocking sewing”).

Schinnerer apparently bases her belief about the antiquity of knitting on a cited feature article in the Neue Freie Presse (“New Free Press”) from 1882 titled Altegyptische Textilkunst (“Ancient Egyptian Textile Art”), written by the founder of the Royal School for Artistic Embroidery, Emilie Bach (b. 1840). Schinnerer adds her own observations in the article referred to by Iklé, the full title of which is Einiges über die bosnisch-herzegowenischen Strick- und Häkelarbeiten (“Something about the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Knitted and Crocheted Works”). This covers recent practice and her informants included the National Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the National Museum, and the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Bureau for Domestic and Applied Arts in Vienna.

The article provides fundamental descriptions not just of knitting with hooked needles, but of an indigenous form of slip stitch crochet as well. It also illustrates fabric that includes knitting and crochet side by side. A photograph of a partially finished sock can be directly compared with the one from Turkey shown in Iklé’s article.

bosnian-slipper-sock

In contrast to the open-stitch knitting he illustrates, Schinnerer’s photograph is intended to show a twisted-stitch structure, again demonstrating that there is no geographic basis for categorizing the two forms of knit stitch as Western and Eastern.

Schinnerer illustrates the tool used for crochet, which fits into a sequence of drawings of specialized hooks for slip stitch crochet that began to appear over a century earlier, when the craft was first documented — attested in English texts beginning in 1812 as “shepherd’s knitting.”

bosnian-hook

The earlier illustrations clearly show hooks with flat cross sections and tapered shafts. Even if not apparent from this drawing, it can safely be assumed that the Bosnian hook was similarly shaped, not least in light of Schinnerer remarking that “mass-produced commercially-available crochet hooks are unsuited” for such work.

Schinnerer further characterizes Bosnian crochet by two decorative techniques. One is a raised pattern made by selectively working slip stitches into the front and back loops of the corresponding stitches in the preceding row. (These are detailed in the following post.) This contradicts the more recent assertion that Bosnian crochet differs from other forms of slip-stitch crochet in that new stitches are consistently worked into the back loops only of the stitches to which they are joined.

Such decoration is only applied to work that is crocheted throughout. It does not appear in fabric consisting of alternating bands of knitting and crochet, which Schinnerer illustrates with another sock and a mitten. The second decorative technique forms a pattern by the alternating use of yarn with different colors, worked consistently into the same one of the two available loops. She neither says which nor that there was a general preference.

Schinnerer notes that the abutting knitted and crocheted structures are made respectively with hooked knitting needles and the specialized crochet hook, again indicating a significant difference between the shapes of the two implements where the stitches are formed. The possibility of these tools having arrived on the Bosnian workbench via separate paths therefore deserves further examination.