Crochet · Cross-knit looping · Knitting · Nalbinding · Systematics

A key to loop leadership

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 based this on the categories put forward by Iklé but included additional subgroups. One such extension was 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.”

oppenheim-open-knit

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.

pierced-loopingCross-knit looping can be produced by either technique, shown here as drawn by d’Harcourt.

harcourt-cross-knit

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 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.

History · Knitting · Nalbinding · Terminology

The 3000-year-old stitch eyes of Emilie Bach

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

emilie_bach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crochet · Nalbinding · Techniques · Terminology

Crocheted nalbinding

The post before last discusses the appearance, in ordinary crochet, of structural elements taken from the long-hook crafts of Tunisian crochet and crochet tatting. It focuses on Swedish practice in the second half of the 19th century and one of the source documents is the Handbook of Women’s Handicraft (Handbok i fruntimmers-handarbeten) by Hedvig Berg, published in 1873-74.

Berg is atypically rigorous when categorizing fabric, tools, and techniques. In a discussion of the use of a crochet hook for making types of lace that are normally produced with other tools, and where the difference between crochet and the namesake form is clearly visible, she includes the label “imitation” in the name of the crochet stitch. For example, she calls the first presented type of crochet lace “Guipure crochet” but the one following it is an “Imitation of Valenciennes lace.”

The 1873 publication is also where the Swedish term krokning (hooking) is first attested as a designation for the family of stitches now normally termed Tunisian crochet. It is introduced in a chapter on “Crochet with wool yarn.” The section on krokning includes one stitch labeled as ordinary crochet but commences by placing a number of loops on the hook in the manner that typifies Tunisian crochet. (The current repertoire includes stitches made with this technique but a number of structurally interesting older ones have fallen out of use.)

A related stitch is described in a Swedish publication from 1864, appearing side-by-side with ordinary Tunisian crochet in a child’s shoe. This is also discussed in the post before last, showing the illustration again here.

iduna-slipper

The hybrid technique is used for the cuff and the same method recently reemerged in what was presented as a nearly forgotten variety of Swedish crochet. An article titled “Crochet Historic Mitten” (Virka historiska vante) appeared in the 21 October 2011 issue of the Swedish weekly magazine Land. The banner photograph is captioned:

Proud Crochet Pros. Ulrika Andersson and Elsie-Britt Sondell-Wärnersson show mittens crocheted in a technique they saved from being forgotten — crocheted nalbinding.

Excerpting pivotal snippets from the article:

The adventure with crocheted nalbinding began in the 1970s when staff at the county museum in Jämtland came across a mitten they didn’t understand. It looked as though it were nalbound but in a different way, and if Elsie-Britt hadn’t seen it, it would likely have been discarded… Elsie-Britt says, ‘I immediately saw that it was crocheted but didn’t know how, so I asked if I could borrow it to examine more closely at home.’

She was permitted to borrow it until the following morning only if she promised not to damage the object. After a wakeful night she had solved the mystery. Elsie-Britt is somewhat reticent about how she managed to decode the stitches but it apparently involved some creative ‘poking’ among them. The mitten was then returned to the museum fully intact. After the discovery Elsie-Britt brought her friend Ulrika in on the secret… Ulrika says, ‘It’s like nalbinding, a bit limited, but a lot of fun and much easier to learn. It’s also an advantage not to need to splice the yarn as is necessary with nalbinding.’

The article then presents Ulrika’s instructions for a pair of mittens crocheted with the stitch pattern Elsie-Britt extrapolated from the original mitten. In the interim, Ulrika had contacted Ullcentrum (Wool Center), a regional yarn producer with special interest in traditional Swedish yarncraft. They, in turn, consulted with the National Association of Swedish Handicraft Societies about an appropriate designation for was subsequently called virkad nålbindning (crocheted nalbinding).

Ullcentrum included it among the crafts they display at public events, such as the Sewing & Crafts Festival in Stockholm, where it is also taught. They first showed the crocheted mittens there in February 2012, where a visitor to their stand, Elsa Hällberg from Arbrå (in the province of Hälsingland, directly southeast of Jämtland), recognized the stitch. On seeing them she said, “…but I crochet mittens like that…my mother and grandmother taught me how to do it…”

The stitch Elsa reported is less complex than the one described in the initial magazine article but they are unquestionably related. Ulrika added it to her documentation with the name “Arbrå pattern” (Arbrå-mönstret), and labeled that of the Jämtland mitten as the “Original pattern” (Originalmönstret). At the same time, she presented an intermediate pattern of her own devising called “Crochet simple nalbinding” (Virkad enkel nålbindning). Her instructions for mittens using each of the forms are available on Ravelry: the attested one from Arbrå, the deduced Original, and the hybrid Simple.

This video shows how the Original pattern is worked, with the first stitch in a start-up form, and the following ones all fully in pattern.

Four loops are first placed on the hook in a manner that provides the vertical bars used as subsequent points of insertion. The Swedish narration emphasizes that the two loops closest to the tip of the hook need to be elongated, as do Ulrika’s instructions. The need for loops not pulled closely around the hook is shared by slip stitch crochet, where it is met by using a flat tapered hook. In fact, explicit instructions for the use of that tool for making the four-bars-on-hook pattern in the cuff of the slipper shown above appear in an earlier German publication, to be discussed in detail in a separate post.

Returning to the Swedish mittens, the wording of what started out unambiguously as a crochet stitch pattern is less precise in the compiled description of the variants. That text can be read to suggest that, despite fundamental procedural and structural differences, crochet nalbinding and ordinary nalbinding are forms of the same craft.

This triggered a reaction in the Swedish blogosphere noting that a crucial distinction was being blurred, regardless of how interesting the crocheted emulation of nalbound fabric might be. This confusion extended into anglophone dialog by the Simple pattern being labeled “Simple nålbinding” on the Ravelry page. Comments in the accompanying discussion clearly indicate that it was taken as nalbinding without regard to the somewhat clearer parallel Swedish label “Virkad enkel nålbindning.”

One consequence of the ensuing controversy was to damp further interest in the origin of the technique and its potential historical interest, despite the kerfuffle over its name. As far as the Jämtland pattern goes, if a night of loop-tugging on a single mitten is all there was to it, there would be little more to say. Despite the avowed return of the mitten to the museum intact, it is no longer there, and Elsie-Britt’s results cannot be corroborated.

It is not clear if the mitten actually belonged to the museum’s collections. The consultation may have been part of a discussion about whether to accession it formally or discard it. However, if it was “likely from the 17th century” as Ullcentrum suggests in a discussion of one of their blog posts, it is exceedingly improbable that the museum was contemplating the latter option.

It is similarly unclear when during the interval between the 1970s and the 2010s the examination took place. Swedish museum policies about permitting objects to be taken off-site became continuously more restrictive in that period, with an earlier date being conceivable and a later one far less likely.

The craft that Elsa learned from her mother and grandmother casts an entirely different light. The commentary to the blog post just cited also notes that her aunts were involved in teaching it to her. She was therefore the third-generation bearer of a what would only have been a single-family tradition if her grandmother had invented it, rather than having herself been taught it in a broader context.

The Arbrå pattern is a product of that tradition, whatever the scope of the community that shared it may have been. In contrast, the Jämtland pattern is the result of a single examination of an object by someone who, although clearly in an expert position to distinguish between crochet and nalbinding, had no prior involvement with whatever tradition the mitten might represent.

The four-loops-on-hook commonality of all the patterns Ulrika describes harks directly back to the earlier hybrid crochet stitches. The chronology of their appearance during the latter half of the 19th century comfortably allows Elsa’s grandmother, or even great-grandmother, to have been familiar with them or any undocumented form of traditional crochet or hooking that they may have typified.

Had Hedvig Berg included the Arbrå (or Jämtland or Simple) pattern in her 1873 compilation, she would certainly have placed it under the heading of crochet. If presenting it in the context of mitten production, or some other garment with a strong traditional association with nalbinding, she could easily have labeled it ‘imitation af bindning,’ ‘imitation af nålning,’ or whatever her preferred designation for the emulated technique may have been. If contemporized to ‘crocheted imitation nalbinding’ the added qualifier allows the stitch pattern(s) to take an unladen position on the spectrum of looped techniques used for making mittens in Sweden, deserving further investigation in its own right.

Crochet · Nalbinding · Structures · Systematics

Crochetedness vs. nalboundness

I’ve devoted quite a few posts to historical evidence of slip stitch crochet. It is firmly attested in illustrated instructions beginning in 1785 and there are vaguer footprints of it having been around significantly longer than that. One of the more important issues raised by the less certain evidence is the possibility of slip stitch crochet having originated outside Europe and been conveyed into it, rather than the other way around as is commonly believed.

Presenting a particular challenge to the crochet historian, slip stitch crochet ceased to be a mainstream method for the production of fabric about a century ago. Although regional traditions have flourished throughout, slip stitch crochet does not exhibit key visual attributes that are more widely recognized as typifying crochet. The slip stitch fabric structure is therefore vulnerable to misidentification in museum documentation systems. I’ve been calling attention to objects that display all of the hallmarks of slip stitch crochet but were initially catalogued as nalbinding and have unquestioningly been described as such in subsequent publications.

As has also been noted, there is no particular difficulty in producing basic slip stitch fabric using either a crochet hook or an eyed needle. The relevant question is whether the latter implement can realistically be applied to working, say, the full shaped detail of the toe and heel of a slip stitched sock. A particularly interesting illustration of this is a child’s sock in the collections of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, acquisition no. III 16705 (described in detail in a previous post). Continue reading “Crochetedness vs. nalboundness”

History · Knitting · Loop-and-twist · Nalbinding · Structures · Terminology

Knitless knitting

NOTE: This post initially appeared on April 1st and complies with the guidelines for loop-related humor issued by the Coalition for Responsible Loopography.

*          *          *

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.

norbury-needle-knitting.jpg

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.

stanley-waves.jpg

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.

egyptian-knitness-detal

This detail is from Imentet’s torso and the following one shows her head proximal to archetypal forms of open and closed looping.

egyptian-loops-detal

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.

egyptian-full

Crochet · Description · Nalbinding · Structures

Drawing pains: the slip stitch

The preceding two posts present formal numerical and graphical procedures for analyzing and describing looped fabric structures. By intriguing coincidence, the first of the cited publications was issued at the time when attested documentary and material evidence of slip stitch crochet was first beginning to appear. Similarly, the later texts were published when slip stitch crochet was shifting from being a primary means for fabric production to an ancillary technique.

It therefore seems appropriate to examine a few drawings of early fabric with a slip stitch structure that are puzzling in one way or another to see if any aspect of the contemporaneous methodologies might make it easier to understand them. I won’t be going near the mathematics of those approaches but will be considering the applicability of some of their procedural details to the analysis of looped fabric.

In suitably adapted terms, a stitch can be described by the path the thread takes through the loop(s) to which it is anchored and the number of times it crosses over itself before moving into the next anchor loop(s) in the preexisting fabric. This is characterized by the location and direction of the crossovers, permitting a point-by-point comparison of two structures that appear to be similar but may actually differ in some important regard. A typical such question is whether a right-handed and a left-handed worker executing the same instructions from the respective points of view produce fabric structures that are true mirror images of each other.

I’ve devoted several previous posts to slip stitch crochet and will start this one with a reprise of drawings from one of them. Nothing will be said that’s not already familiar to a slip stitch crocheter. However, two of the following illustrations were published as descriptions of nalbinding and this review may be worthwhile from the perspective of that craft. It is otherwise intended as a preliminary exercise in the analysis of illustrated structures that are either not associated with extant fabric or in some other regard are questionable representations of the objects from which they were drawn.

The first of the illustrations shown before is a textbook drawing of the “plain crochet stitch,” by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger.

slip-stitch

The accompanying text says, “the thread is drawn through an upper stitch of the previous row and through the stitch last formed.” However, in the original German from which this was translated, ‘upper stitch’ is obere Maschenschlinge, which is literally ‘upper loop of the stitch.’ In current craft parlance this is the ‘back leg of the loop,’ normally contracted to ‘the back loop’ and abbreviated as BLO (back loop only). Working through the front leg of the loop is similarly abbreviated FLO.

The second repeated drawing, by Audrey Henshall, illustrates the structure of a child’s bootee in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland, in Edinburgh. It also shows a BLO slip stitch but in contrast to Seiler-Baldinger’s drawing, where the back leg of the loop leads forward into the following stitch, in this drawing it is the front leg of the loop that leads forward.

henshall-slipstitch

If the legs here are seen as uncrossed, in the Seiler-Baldinger drawing they are crossed. The direction of such crossings is often indicated using the familiar descriptors for the twisting and plying of yarn.

s-z

This gives S-crossings and Z-crossings, with Seiler-Baldinger showing the latter. The alternative is to label them as left-over-right and right-over-left, but those designations depend on the point of view.

The path the yarn takes around a crochet hook and the direction in which the loops are worked determine whether their legs are crossed or uncrossed. The variables are normally designated as right-to-left or left-to-right — RTL and LTR — and as yarn-over-hook or yarn-under-hook — YO and YU. Here right and left do indicate direction unambiguously but YO and YU are less clear.

An additional complication pertains to the so-called ‘inverse’ slip stitches, where the yarn is held in front of the fabric and the hook is inserted into its back, also reversing the structural effects of YO and YU. (This additionally causes the legs of a new loop to pass behind the side of the stitch it is anchored to, as seen in Henshall’s drawing, rather in front of it as in all the other drawings shown here.)  The qualifiers clockwise and counterclockwise are therefore sometimes used to avoid confusion. However, doing so requires an explanation of the point of view.

I’m reluctant to suggest coined alternatives (although the following one is not entirely my own) but will note that the S/Z model can also be applied to the direction in which the yarn is wrapped around the hook (or a knitting needle), with YO being an ‘S-wrap’ and YU a ‘Z-wrap’ — YS and YZ. The utility of doing so is worth greater explanation, which I’ll provide in a separate post on the further mechanics of crossovers in slip stitches, but will keep to the familiar abbreviations in the meanwhile.

Seiler-Baldinger’s illustration of the slip stitch structure is oriented LTR rather than RTL as more commonly appears in tutorial contexts. The two forms are mirror images of each other by implication but it is necessary to be certain that they truly are so. Reversing the direction of Seiler-Baldinger’s drawing is easy enough, as shown here by Ella Hildebrand, in a style that more clearly reveals the three-dimensionality of loopwork.

ella-blo

The remaining question is which crossover points need to be inverted to reproduce the illustrated structure in actual fabric. The front and back legs of the loop have the same position in either working direction, leaving the yarn wrap as the only directly controllable variable. As long as we’re dealing with fabric where all rows are worked in the same direction, if the direction of the yarn wrap is changed when the working direction is, everything else falls into place. This was also prescribed in instructions from 1800, describing practice prior to 1780 (discussed further here).

“Hook knitting can also be worked from the left as with ordinary knitting. The only difference is the positioning of the thread. Instead of leading it under the shaft as usual, it is first passed over the shaft and then led under it.”

Since the present-day default for crochet is YO, the reference to YU as being usual before 1780 is significant. In fact, it took a while before crochet instructions regularly prescribed YO as the standard. The earliest known instructions, published in 1785 explicitly illustrate FLO hook knitting being worked YU and RTL, but note that LTR is also possible (fully described here).

Yet another slip stitch variant is shown in a drawing, by Gudrun Böttcher, of a test swatch explicitly illustrating slip stitch crochet (“Häkeln: Kettenmaschen”). The new loop is again worked through the back leg of the corresponding loop in the preceding row, RTL, but is now YO.

böttcher-ssc-2002-NESAT-VIII.jpg

Böttcher shows a futher variant of the slip stitch in a drawing of a child’s sock in the collections of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel. The difference this time is that the new loop is worked FLO, again YO in the illustrated RTL working direction. (The published drawing is rotated 180° here to ease the comparison.)

böttcher-flo-front

This now brings nalbinding clearly into the discussion. For some enigmatic reason, Böttcher says that the preceding illustration is of a nalbound structure and alternative “techniques such as…crochet [can] immediately be eliminated from consideration.”

Audrey Henshall also described the Edinburgh bootee as nalbinding. However, that was in 1952, when the research community was abuzz with interest in recently published descriptions of that craft, and none of its members were writing about slip stitch crochet or could even be expected to recognize it. I’ve explained my reasons for believing that the bootee is, in fact, archetypal Scottish shepherd’s knitting (the indigenous form of slip stitch crochet) in a previous post titled A Tale of Two Bootees.

Admitting to some poetic license in that title and taking another step toward the telling of the tale’s remaining half, the second bootee is the child’s sock shown in Böttcher’s drawing above. There is no question about the slip stitch being readily produceable with an eyed needle, However, it does not follow that an entire garment with a basic slip stitch structure but also includes shaped construction details such as the toe and heel of a sock, can as plausibly be nalbound as it can be crocheted.

Böttcher doesn’t go beyond the drawing of the stitch structure and says nothing at all about the construction of the sock. However, the article that includes her explicitly labeled drawing of slip stitch crochet also provides an explanation of the general method she used to draw the structures of older pieces of ostensibly nalbound fabric. That’s a blogworthy topic in its own right to which I’ll soon be turning my attention, and will discuss her drawings of the Basel sock further in it (as well as providing full bibliographic details for all of her articles cited above).

Crochet · History · Nalbinding · Structures · Techniques

The tale of the second bootee

In the last few posts, I’ve been working my way toward the description of a baby’s sock in the collections of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel. If correctly dated, it could be the oldest object with a slip stitch structure that has yet been noted. It is described as nalbinding in previous documentation, rather than as the slip stitch crochet it is more likely to be. The sock has also been associated with the textile production of Coptic Egypt, which although rich in both simple and compound nalbound material, would make it far older than any other evidence of slip stitch fabric, regardless of the production method.

This increases the care needed in examining the chronological and technological records, and if necessary, setting them straight. If the colloquial information about the sock’s provenance should prove even roughly to be  correct, it would allow for slip stitch fabric to have emerged around 1,000 years before the earliest firm date in the 1780s that can otherwise be set to it. Radiocarbon dating would immediately rein this in to a more useful interval, assuming that it is not of more recent origin than can be dated with that method, at all.

If it should prove to have been nalbound, slip stitch crochet could arguably have developed as an alternate technique for producing at least that one form of nalbinding. Pending a more precise dating of the sock, this would still suggest an earlier date for the origins of crochet than the one currently accepted. Adding a single new stitch to the already extensive repertoire of nalbinding would be less dramatic but interesting nonetheless.

The third possibility is that the provenance of the sock was misrepresented by the dealer from whom it was purchased, and that it lacks any actual association with either Coptic or early Islamic Egypt. Even so, slip stitch crochet is a traditional practice in Northwest Africa and the sock can reasonably be seen as evidence of its broader range. Again, its radiometric dating might indicate how far back that tradition can be traced, with greater objective potential for shifting perceptions of the craft’s age.

I had been waiting to blog about any of this until I had seen the actual sock and not just photographs of it. That finally happened a fortnight before this post was published, when my friend Anne Marie Decker and I were generously given access to the early non-woven Egyptian fabric in the storerooms of the Museum der Kulturen, by the acting Head of the African Department, Isabella Bozsa.

Anne is better equipped than anyone else I know to identify secondary structural detail that might definitively reveal whether the sock was produced with an eyed needle or a hook. If no such determination could be made, we would then consider stylistic attributes that might indicate the more likely method. There was also a small pouch among the objects shown to us that had the same slip stitch structure, so in fact, there were two pieces that we could take into consideration.

We were unable to locate any detail in either that could only have been produced with an eyed needle, and Anne found something she believed might preclude that possibility outright. However, there hasn’t yet been time for her to confirm this experimentally. All structural details of both the sock and the pouch are otherwise fully congruent with hook-based slip stitching. The sock also differs from comparable nalbound objects in pivotal stylistic regard.

We’ll be preparing a proper report about this as soon as we can manage and I’ll be focusing in greater detail on selected aspects of the history of slip stitch fabric and its structural classification, in separate posts.

Anne and I proceeded from Basel to Copenhagen where we both gave presentations at a conference earlier this week on Current Research in Textile Archaeology along the Nile. My presentation is available here, starting at the 19’04” mark, and includes illustrations and commentary specific to the sock and pouch, as well as other evidence of early slip stitch crochet. (There are a number of options for displaying the presentation and selecting “Slides” is preferable to the default “Screen.” What may seem to be an inordinate amount of hand-waving is an unfortunate consequence of the camera angle.) Anne’s presentation places the Basel objects in a far broader context of simple and compound nalbinding, and is located here.

Crochet · Nalbinding · Techniques · Tools

Crochet with an eyed needle

Schematic drawings of the slip stitch structure, identical to the ones seen in the preceding post, appear in published descriptions of other objects said to be nalbinding rather than crochet. Before considering individual such objects, I’m going to take a look at another way to use an eyed needle for producing not just crochet-type slip stitches but a variety of more complex structures normally identified as crochet.

In the present context, the difference between the two tools reduces to the single mechanical detail of whether the end that grasps the yarn is fully closed  — an eye — or is open on one side — a hook. The former holds the yarn more firmly and constrains its separation from the tool. The latter allows the yarn to be removed and reattached at any time but is conducive to unintentional separation. Both tools are otherwise made with dull and pointed tips, although that attribute is more relevant to the (by no means unrelated) comparison of ordinary and tambour embroidery.

In 1966, Angela Huber was granted US Patent no. 3,228,212 for a Method of Hand Knitting and Knitting Needle, five years after filing a corresponding application in Austria.

“This invention relates to a method of hand knitting and a knitting needle for it. Both the method and the needle distinguish by being particularly simple because only a single thread and a single needle are employed.”

An eyed needle used to push a new loop through a preexisting one, gauging its size with an adjustable collar. The patent illustrates both knit-type and crochet-type looping, showing only the latter here.huber-patent

A tool of the same design was sold in the late 1960s as the “Grant One Needle Looper” with a pattern booklet titled Grant’s One Needle Looping. It was telemarketed shortly thereafter as “The Original K-Tel Knitter — a revolutionary new method of knitting and crocheting with one needle.”

There is no indication of the relationship between the Grant/K-Tel items and the Huber patent but the instruction booklet in the K-Tel package (and presumably also Grant’s) illustrates a “simplicity stitch” with essentially the same drawings as the preceding ones.

k-tel

This technique is currently marketed as Fauxchét® using a composite needle that is identical to a standard machine knitting 1×2 transfer tool (but trademarked nonetheless). It is again unclear if there is a relationship to the Huber patent.

As is seen in other videos in that series, an eyed needle can be used in the same manner to make crochet stitches of increasing complexity. This can be compared to the production of hand knitted fabric on a peg loom instead of knitting needles. In both cases, the adherents to the conventional technique are in a substantial majority and have varying opinions about the utility of the alternative.

A similar comparison can be made between the structurally identical cross-knit looping made with an eyed needle, and twisted-stitch knitting made with knitting needles. This highlights why the discussion of the structure of a piece of fabric so often needs to be separated from that of the various tools and techniques that can be used to produce it. This is further demonstrated by the basic principle of a sewing machine, which is to push a loop of thread through fabric using the eyed end of a needle, and that of a knitting machine, using what is essentially a battery of crochet hooks to create vertically chained knitted structures.

The eyed end of the needle is also commonly used in hand embroidery to pass the working thread between preexisting stitches and the base fabric without risk of piercing either. With all this it mind, it is reasonable to wonder why a second point is frequently seen on archaeologically recovered needles such as those found at the Viking settlement in Birka and currently on display at the Swedish History Museum.

shm-needles3.jpg

Similar needles from an earlier Celtic settlement in Colchester are on display at the British Museum.

bm-needles.jpg

Just as it is frequently impossible to look at a piece of looped fabric and know what tools were involved in its production, a tool doesn’t always reveal what it was used for. It is safe to assume that it had a primary function. However, for example, it does not follow from the similarity between the second needle from the top in this photo and the needles used in the Nordic nalbinding tradition, as first documented in the 1940s, that the older implement was ever used for that craft. In fact, it cannot be proven that it was intended for work with yarn at all.

With the same caveat, if historical precedent for the production of crochet-type slip stitch fabric using an eyed needle can be established, one with two points at longer and shorter distances from the eye would easily support either of the techniques we’ve now seen.

Crochet · History · Nalbinding · Structures · Techniques

A Tale of Two Bootees

Note: I examined the pair of Scottish child’s bootees discussed below on 8 April 2019. This revealed details that necessitate significant revision of the description initially provided by Audrey Henshall and my analysis of it. The bootees are the oldest credibly attributed exemplars of shepherd’s knitting and the possibly of their having been nalbound can safely be dismissed. A recent photograph and a summary review of the updated information appears in my article, the Evolution in Early Crochet: From Flat-Hook Knitting to Slip-Stitch Crochet, in the Winter 2020 issue of PieceWork, pp. 47–51. An expert group will be examining the documentation gathered when I saw the bootees and will report its conclusions separately.

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An extensive report by Audrey Henshall on Early Textiles Found in Scotland was published in 1952. Its primary scope was “fabrics from the Roman period to the 17th century which are likely to be of native production” but:

“One unexpected item in the collection [of the National Museum of Scotland] is an example of naalebinding or looped needle netting which it is desirable to record though outside the chronological limits of this paper. The naalebinding occurs on a pair of child’s shoes made about 1780. This type of work has been described and discussed fully by Dr Hald1: it is known from the Iron Age in Scandinavia where it was used for mittens and caps and, though, rare, from the Middle Ages in other parts of Europe. These shoes are the only example of the work so far recognised in Great Britain. The fabric is worked with a needle, the stitches being a complex type of chain stitch which works into the former row as well as the current one. The general effect of the Scottish example, for which no exact parallel has been found, is of a fine, firm crochet.”

The footnoted reference is to Margrethe Hald’s Olddanske Tekstiler (Early Danish Textiles), published two years earlier. This played a seminal role in familiarizing researchers with nalbinding (a development described in a previous post). Henshall cites it elsewhere in her text and it is fair to suspect that it influenced her assessment of the shoes.

Since then, one additional nalbound item has appeared in a report on archeologically recovered material in Great Britain. This is the well-known sock found at the Viking settlement in York, described in detail by Penelope Walton in Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate, from 1989. However, she doubts that it was manufactured in England and states:

“The only evidence that this technique was ever practised in the British Isles is to be found in an 18th century pair of child’s bootees in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (Henshall 1952).”

Henshall provides the following illustration of their structure.

henshall-slipstitch

This can be directly compared to Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger’s schematic drawing of slip stitch crochet (discussed in the preceding post).

slip-stitch

One key difference between them is that Seiler-Baldinger illustrates the loops with their legs crossed, producing closed stitches, while Henshall illustrates open loops. The two drawings also differ in the way the legs of the loop pass around the side of the stitch to which it is anchored in the preceding row. Seiler-Baldinger shows them passing in front and Henshall shows them passing behind. This correlates to the distinction slip stitch crocheters make between ordinary and ‘inverse’ stitches, or knitters make between knit and purl.

By showing each row as a separate strand, Henshall’s drawing provides a good schematic illustration of shepherd’s knitting, which when worked flat, is characterized by the yarn being cut at the end of each row. That craft has a strong attested connection with Scotland and it is reasonable to question whether Henshall correctly identified the tool and technique used to produce them. The earliest non-English descriptions of slip stitching with a hook are also from the 1780s. One is specifically about the production of shoes, adding further reason to pose that question.

The structure visible in the photograph Henshall captions “bootee in naalebinding” could similarly serve as a textbook illustration of slip stitch crochet worked with the flat shepherd’s hook explicitly identified with Scottish practice and illustrated in the other 1780s sources. She describes both the technique by which the bootees were made and a pivotal detail of their structure quite differently.

“This pair of child’s bootees of the 18th century is included because of the unusual technique employed to make them. The labels on the soles read ‘supposed to be made about the year 1780. Belonged to Agnes Taylor’s great-great-aunts. 1880.’ The uppers are a red wool fabric, the soles are leather. The dimensions are: length 4 3/4 ins., width 1 3/4 ins., height 3 ins.

The general appearance of the fabric is fine and close, rather like knitting or crochet, worked in an evenly spun red 3-ply wool. The fabric is a simple form of naalebinding. It is worked, with the wool threaded through a needle, in a series of stitches in rows working into the current and previous rows simultaneously. The joins between the lengths of the wool are visible in places either as knots or darned-in ends. The bootees are worked horizontally round and round with two converging lines of decreases on either side of the toe. It is uncertain if the top edge, which is finished with three horizontal ribs, is the beginning of the work. The ribs are formed by working the new row into the centre of the preceding row instead of the edge of it, the edge loops standing up on the outside surface making the ribs. The other edge is folded to meet under the foot and is attached to the sole.”

Notwithstanding Henshall having physically examining the bootees, it is difficult to reconcile her description of their structure and construction with the detail shown in her photograph. It does not appear to illustrate continuous horizontal rounds of stitching nor are the converging lines delimiting the toe clearly formed by decreases. The configuration of the top edge would draw no comment if the bootee were crocheted. The use of shorter lengths of yarn is consistent with both nalbinding and flatwork shepherd’s knitting. However, in the former case one would expect them to be joined in barely visible splices worked directly into the yarn. Darned-in ends are more indicative of shepherd’s knitting.

That craft was still practiced in Scotland in Henshall’s day with little modification, using a flat hook locally termed a cleek. However, the research community had not yet taken notice of it or any other form of slip stitch crochet. In light of the interest that Hald had recently focused on nalbinding, explaining the bootees as having been produced with an eyed needle pulling a single strand of yarn is understandable.

Henshall also illustrates how a slip stitch can be formed in that manner.

henshall-needle.jpg

Even if this is taken to be as viable a technique as is the use of a hook, the contextual support for the bootees being shepherd’s knitting contraindicates any other technique. However, additional objects that crocheters would identify as evidence of their craft have been described as nalbinding. Some of this material was made after the establishment of modern crochet and is therefore of no historical consequence to it.

From the nalbinding perspective there is a further issue about whether the structure illustrated by Henshall and also seen in the piece remaining to be described, has a proper place in that craft’s stitch repertoire. This does not diminish the significance of the objects this post was named for. Admitting to some poetic license in the title, the second bootee it is actually a baby’s sock, noteworthy because it has been associated with Coptic Egypt.

Identifying secondary structural characteristics that might differentiate slip stitch fabric made respectively by nalbinding and crochet is therefore worth some effort. If it can indeed be determined that slip stitch fabric was produced by both techniques, a significant new perspective would apply to the relationship between them. Conversely, the failure to locate evidence specifically indicating the use of an eyed needle would largely eliminate any doubt about the Scottish bootees being early exemplars of shepherd’s knitting, as the child’s sock would also be. The question of the latter object’s age would then become pivotal to dating the advent of that craft.

The first description of the putative nalbound Coptic sock was published in 1955, again predating widespread recognition of slip stitch crochet. However, that attribution is echoed in a later report where the alternatives should have been recognized, and which verifies neither the sock’s age nor provenance. I’ll discuss relevant documents in separate posts.

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More information about traditional Scottish cleeking is given in a presentation held by Louise Scollay at the In the Loop at 10 conference at the Winchester School of Art in June 2018, titled Archive Treasure: Cleekit Gloves, with relevant additional commentary in a following panel discussion.

Crochet · History · Nalbinding · Structures

Slip stitch miscellany

Before focusing on specific objects with slip stitch structures that have been described as nalbinding, here are a few relevant details about the crocheted production of such fabric that weren’t mentioned in the preceding series of posts. In them (Parts One, Two, and Three) we saw how Victorian instructions prescribe cutting the yarn at the end of each row of flatwork and starting the following row with a new length of yarn. All stitches of a given type appear identically on the same side of the fabric and the difference between the front and back faces can be significant.

This also means that any intrinsic procedural advantage there might be in not needing to splice the working yarn at relatively frequent intervals, commonly cited as a differentiating characteristic between nalbinding and crochet was not regularly utilized in flatwork until surprisingly late in the history of the latter craft. (It is not a structural attribute in any case).

The early Victorian texts also say that slip stitch crochet was known and practiced as “shepherd’s knitting” long before the craft was enhanced and renamed. Slip stitching then gradually fell out of use for producing fabric and became an ancillary technique for such things as moving the active loop and joining separate pieces of fabric. Nonetheless, the encyclopedic presentations of yarncraft that were produced toward the end of the 19th describe it in full extent.

One example is the “crochet-slip stitch” in The Dictionary of Needlework by Sophia Caulfeild and Blanche Saward, from 1882 (using a drawing that had appeared in earlier publications by other authors).caulfeild-sscAnother is the “single stitch” in the Encyclopedia of needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont, from 1886. (The direction of the chaining changes between the foundation and first slip stitch rows and then remains constant.)

dillmont-ssc

The same illustration appears in the undated New Edition of the encyclopedia, which is unlikely to have been published before the turn of the 20th century. It is labeled there as a “single stitch or small closed stitch…also known as ‘slip’ stitch.”  However, in contrast to the 1880s instructions for working a new stitch into the back leg of the chain capping the corresponding stitch in the preceding row (BLO; back loop only), the New Edition allows for other points of insertion beyond the (unnoted) front leg of the loop that was the initial prevalent form (FLO).

Put the hook from the right side of the work, through the upper half either of a chain stitch or a stitch of the row below….

The instruction for inserting the hook into the right side implies situations where it is inserted from the wrong side. This has become a mainstay of contemporary slip stitch crochet in the form of inverse slip stitches, which are also found in hybrid knit/crochet fabric from de Dillmont’s day. The basic technique was described by Cornelia Mee in connection with beadwork in Crochet Explained and Illustrated, from 1845.

…insert your crochet at the back of the loop, instead of at the front, as usual, draw the silk through from the front, and take it on your needle, then draw the silk in the common way through both loops.

Although the loose yarn ends that characterize working each row with its own strand are only illustrated with the slip stitch, de Dillmont notes:

The rows are worked according to the kind of stitch, either to and fro, or all from one end. In the former case, the work is turned at the end of each row… If, on the contrary, the rows be all worked one way, the thread has to be fastened afresh each time… At the end of a row, cut the thread and pass it through the last loop; all kinds of crochet work may be fastened off in this manner.

Her illustration of the “plain stitch” shows BLO double crochet (UK) with all rows worked from the same end. This is followed by a “rose stitch” worked under both legs of the loop and turning the fabric at the end of each row — the current standard double crochet. She continues with numerous individually named stitches instantiating many possible combinations of front loop only, back loop only, both loops together; cut rows, turned rows; yarn wrapped over the hook, yarn wrapped under the hook.

dillmont-plain-rose

The first form of crochet to be described in the literature of textile systematics appears to split the difference between these two stitches. The Systematik der textilen Techniken (Systematics of Textile Techniques) by Kristin Oppenheim, published in 1942, clearly states that the double crochet (feste Masche) is worked through the back leg of the loop. The accompanying photograph shows the work turned at the end of the foundation chain but it cannot be seen if the subsequent rows are turned or cut.

oppenheim-blo-sc.jpg

Oppenheim illustrates an isolated chain in the same photographic manner but does not include the slip stitch. She uses schematic drawings for other looped structures, including two taken from non-European objects but labeled with the Swedish term vantsöm (“mitten stitch”; then a common designation for nalbinding) as “Peruvian vantsöm” (Peruanisches Vantsöm) and “South Sea vantsöm” (Südsee-Vantsom).

A successor work, Grundlagen zur Systematik der gesamten textilen Techniken (Basic Systematics of all Textile Techniques), written together with Alfred Bühler in 1948, extends the use of schematic drawings to crochet. It also adds material about vantsöm and disambiguates the photographed double crochet structure by replacing it with a schematic drawing of de Dillmon’t rose stitch, explicitly citing its source.

An expanded edition of the Bühler-Oppenheim Systematik by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger was published in 1973, reverting to the title of Oppenheim’s initial Systematik der textilen Techniken and with a preface written by Bühler. This retains the material on vantsöm, the schematic drawing of the double crochet, and adds similar drawings of other crochet stitches. These include what is presented as a slip stitch (Kettenmasche) worked through the back leg of the loop, although the text says that either leg can be used.

seiler-baldinger-ssc

In fact, this is not a correct representation of the described structure. It shows one chain vertically connected to another but without the full loop-in-loop anchorage that is a definitive attribute of crochet. Seiler-Baldinger replaced it with another drawing that correctly shows the latter property in the second edition of the book, published in 1991.

slip-stitch

It can also be noted that both drawings are in the opposite direction to that shown by de Dillmont, whom Seiler-Baldinger otherwise cites, as well as Caulfeild and Saward. This is reasonable for the 1973 illustration of the stacked chains but wasn’t reversed in the revised drawing. This may simply indicate that the difference between it and the Victorian illustrations went unnoticed but the fabric it was based on can also have been worked in the direction shown.

An English translation of the second German edition was published in 1994 as Textiles: a Classification of Techniques. I discussed the imprecision in the correlation between the glossaries of the two languages in a previous post and included an inverted copy of the slip stitch drawing in another. The related issue of the concordance of the various graphic representations of the slip stitch was deferred to a coming post — this one — and will be considered further from the nalbinding perspective.