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.

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The term ‘slip stitch’ has figured prominently in the preceding suite of posts, designating the definitive element of plain crochet. The same label is used for something quite different in knitting, where a slip (or slipped) stitch is a loop that is moved from the holding needle to the working needle without knitting a new loop into it.

I’ve therefore taken care to refer to a ‘crochet-type’ slip stitch whenever the distinction was not clear from context. Thus far, that has only been needed in the discussion of fabric that slip-stitch crocheters would immediately recognize as a product of their craft but which has been described as nalbinding in a few archaeological publications (but noted as highly atypical of that craft by the two authors who have done so, also commenting on its resemblance to crochet).

Another cluster of posts examined the confusion that once attached to the relationship between ‘cross-knit nalbinding’ and ‘closed-loop knitting.’ These are also structurally identical and can only be differentiated if fabric that can have been made by either technique includes further detail specific to only one of them.

Open-loop knitting can also be produced using different tools. Those most widely employed for hand knitting are knitting needles and peg looms, while both home and industrial knitting machines use hooks. The eyed needle of nalbinding is not part of this array since the intermeshing of loops by pulling the free end of the yarn successively through those loops inherently crosses their legs and closes them.

By definition an eyed needle can pull a single strand of yarn along any path it can physically traverse. However, turning a meandering length of yarn into stable fabric requires some form of underpinning where the curve inflects, until the loops are fixed into stitches. Beyond the need for an initial foundation, closed loops can be self supporting but open loops cannot to any practicable degree. Working them requires the additional support of, say, knitting needles.

One might therefore suspect that there is a fundamental flaw is this drawing of what is presented as “needle knitting” in Odhams Encyclopaedia of Knitting from 1957, by James Norbury and Margaret Agutter.


The cited source of that term is an article on “Peruvian ‘Needleknitting’” by Lila M. O’Neale, published in an issue of the American Anthropologist from 1934. Ongoing controversy about the appropriate designation for what at least in craft contexts is now widely called calling nalbinding, was fueled by Daniel S. Davidson in the same journal a few months later with an article titled “Knotless Netting in America and Oceania.”

One of the weaknesses of the term ‘needle knitting’ is that it also designates true knitting done with needles in contrast to work on a peg loom. Another is that true knitting involves the working of one loop into another with the tool(s) positioned between the fabric and the yarn supply. The yarn is worked into the fabric loop by loop in what might be called a ‘loop-led’ technique. In contrast, when using an eyed needle the yarn is interposed between the tool and the fabric and the entire working length of the yarn is pulled through each loop. Techniques doing this can similarly be termed ‘end-led.’

A core problem with ‘knotless netting’ is that leading the end of a piece of yarn through a loop that it has just formed creates a knot by any conventional definition of that term, even if it isn’t pulled tight. There is also a form of netting that is truly knotless and commonly termed knotless netting in industrial contexts. This suggests ‘loose-knot netting’ as a more precise alternative, assuming there is good reason for regarding it as netting to begin with.

It is hardly an appropriate descriptor for the dense fabric that characterizes the Nordic nalbound mittens that provide yet another generic designation for both the technique and the family of stitches produced by it — vantsöm — literally meaning ‘mitten stitch’ in Swedish. That label appears frequently in museum catalog records for socks made in the Nile valley which are commonly, although often questionably, associated with Coptic Egypt.

As a general principle, it is best to avoid categorizing something in terms of what it is not. Unfortunately, labeling end-led looped structures as knotless netting has become too entrenched for it simply to be waved off. However, since all but one of the variant forms sharing that designation can’t be knitted either, the concept of ‘knitless’ would be equally applicable. (The exception is the doubly inappropriately labeled ‘Coptic knitting,’ which procedurally is neither knitting nor historically particularly Coptic.)

This suggests the euphonious albeit ambiguous ‘knitless knitting.’ It might suffice to leave that as a mirthful curiosity. As it happens, however, there is substantive evidence of that very practice in New Kingdom Egypt, three millennia before the first description of what has thus far been assumed to be a purely abstract fabric structure.

It is illustrated with particular clarity by Montse Stanley in The Handknitter’s Handbook, from 1986, as an unknitted precursor to a true knitted structure.


She describes it somewhat circuitously as a “non-interlocked succession of yarn waves,” avoiding the clearer alternative of knitless knitting for unstated reasons that are presumably rooted in an aversion to Davidson’s earlier knotless netting.

Whatever the explanation for her labeling may be, the structure itself also appears in a painting of the goddess Imentet on a mummy case from Luxor, Egypt, dated 1000-970 BCE, on display at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen.


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


The one on the left unequivocally represents the basic element of true knitless knitting. Subject to the considerations discussed above, such fabric cannot be produced with an eyed needle or otherwise end-led. The one on the right is a loop-and-twist structure, which unlike simple closed loops, cannot realistically be worked into fabric with knitting needles. It therefore either provides evidence of peg-loom-based knitless knitting, or what in extension of Harley Davidson’s terminology might be called ‘knitless knotless netting.’

In either case this painting provides the earliest illustrations of both unknitted knittable structures and unbound nalbindable structures yet noted. Their juxtaposition in a single image provides concrete evidence of the contemporaneous practice of the two forms of loopcraft at a far earlier date than has yet been recognized.

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The photographs of the mummy case shown above were taken through a glass case in a public exhibition and I wasn’t able to find a camera angle that permitted a view of the entire object without a reflection of the display lighting. The museum doesn’t have a digital image available online and here’s the best I could do on site.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.)


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).

Description · Looping · Structures

From loop to knots

The chain of loops illustrated in 1771 by Alexandre-Théophile Vandermonde (discussed in the preceding post) appears in another seminal text on knot theory. Peter Guthrie Tait presented a number of papers on that topic to the Royal Society of Edinburgh during its 1876–77 session, with a condensed version appearing as an article titled “On Knots” in the Society’s Transactions. vol. 38, 1849.


His comments on the first of the illustrated forms state:

“…the supposed number of loops may be any whatever. The free ends must, of course, be joined externally. If we make the crossings alternately + and – it will be seen at a glance that a change of one sign (i.e., that of the extreme crossing at either end) removes the whole knotting; so that there is but one degree of beknottedness. The crossings in this figure are in three rows. Those in the upper row are all copper (the last, of course, becomes silver when the sign is changed)…”

The free ends need to be joined since Tait presents the chain as a mathematical knot, which is closed by definition. All such constructs are analyzed in terms of the number of points where the closed element crosses over or under itself, the direction of each crossing, the effect of selectively changing those directions, and how the knot relates to its mirror image. He uses the the terms ‘copper’ and ‘silver’ to qualify the crossings further.

Tait’s explanation of the lower chain is:

“To give the greatest beknottedness to a knot with the same projection, it is obvious that all we have to do is make the copper crossings into silver ones, i.e., change the sign of each of the upper row of crossings. This gives fig. 9 [unnumbered here]. With five loops it has four degrees of beknottedness.”

In “On Knots. Part II” from 1884, he more clearly defines the concept of beknottedness and how its degrees are counted:

“I still consider that its proper measure is the smallest number of signs which will remove all knottiness.

The discussion then goes further into ‘locking’ and ‘linking,’ concepts introduced in the 1877 publication along with the undefined ‘knotfullness’ and ‘belinkedness.’ The 1884 volume includes On Knots, Part III, which similarly clarifies knottiness. Locking and linking are directly relevant to the description of looped fabric, and the concepts of  both beknottedness and belinkedness can usefully be applied to its structural analysis.

Knot theory is largely focused on reducing elaborate looped constructs to their minimum knottiness by eliminating as many extraneous loops as possible. At least one further besomethingedness is therefore needed to quantify the unravelable loops that are deliberately retained in actual fabric. In the spirit of florid Victorian coinage, I’m going to start by suggesting ‘beloopedness’ and pair that with ‘loopfullness.’ Depending on how far they can be taken, it may also prove useful to co-opt the colloquial term for unraveling a sequence of looped stitches by undoing the knot that secures it and pulling the freed end — frogging. This would add ‘degrees of befroggability’ to the extensions of the glossary.

It is likely that the additional terms would have met with Tait’s approval. He took delight in artful terminology and was surely aware of the way his ‘knottiness’ otherwise sounded, adding ‘perversion’ (“deformed into its own perversion”) and ‘screwing’ (“of all kinds”) to his labels for other attributes of knots. Although ‘loopiness’ had yet to acquire the connotations it now has, its latter sense would surely have added to the delight. (His terminology has all been streamlined in the recent literature of knot theory, and I’ll also be making that shift — but not quite yet.)

Other knots that parallel looped fabric structures appear in Tait’s drawings. He provides direct justification for the present excursion by stating that “Some are closely connected with knitting, &c,” explicitly using the following three as examples.


It is further worth noting that the least complex structure beyond a simple ring —  ‘the unknot’ — to qualify as a mathematical knot is the ‘trefoil.’ This is also a quintessential loop in the craft sense, rendered mechanically secure by drawing its free end(s) through the middle as described below.

Here is Tait’s illustration of it.tait-trefoil

He doesn’t show anything equivalent to the stocking stitch in Vandermonde’s mathematical framework. However, given Tait’s own mention of knitting, and since the number of loops in a chain “may be any whatever,” he would doubtless have been comfortable seeing his analytic procedures extended to any looped structure found in fabric. The mathematical rigor that was his intent can also be relaxed when adapting his method to such description.

In craft terms, if a loop is added to a fabric structure by leading the end of the working thread into the preceding loop and pulling it entirely through the new loop — as with an eyed needle — the result is a knot. (That’s why calling nalbinding ‘knotless netting’ is fundamentally incorrect; ‘loose-knot netting’ would be far better.) If instead, the thread is pulled into an old loop to form a new one, but the end of the thread is not drawn entirely through it — as with a knitting needle or crochet hook — there will be no knot in the structure until the thread is pulled fully through a subsequent loop. It is also possible to work end-led around a preceding loop but not through it.

Plain knitting (stocking stitch) is loop-led through the penultimate row in the fabric, which is followed with a row of crochet-type slip stitches that successively reduce the number of workable loops to a single one. The end of the thread is then pulled through it to form a knot. (There are alternative ‘bind offs’ but the end effect remains the same.)

A loop-in-loop structure where only the final loop is secured in this way has “but one degree of beknottedness” regardless of how extensive the preceding looping is. A looped structure that is punctuated with knots at regular intervals has greater degrees of beknottedness than one that is homogeneously looped throughout, but again, that does not describe any further detail in its looped component.

However Tait might have felt about any of this, the concept of loopfullness can be used to quantify differences between various forms of looped fabric, based on properties of the individual loops. As counted by Vandermonde, an open-knit loop has four crossover points with the one it’s worked into, two in front and two in back:


Closing the loop adds one more crossover point, thus making the loopfullness of closed-knit fabric 20% greater than that of open-knit fabric.


Working a second row of chains asymmetrically into the one illustrated by Tait produces a structure that is normally seen as plain crochet but also illustrates (left-handedly) the final row of plain knitting.


The first and last loops in this drawing deviate from the configuration of the others in order to set up the free ends for fusing into a mathematical knot (alternating + and – crossings over the join). Otherwise, each of the four complete chains in the second row starts out as an open-knit loop, with its characteristic four crossover points. Another loop is then worked into it laterally, adding four further crossover points, and imparting double the loopfullness to plain crochet than plain knitting has.

Another way of stating this is that plain knitting involves a single loop being worked into another single loop. Plain crochet works one loop into two other loops, and the question is whether the difference between loop-in-loop and loop-in-loops should be taken to indicate different degrees of beloopedness. That distinction applies not just to crochet-type asymmetrical compound looping, but also to symmetrical compound looping as typified by the knit tubes that began to appear in the 5th century CE, and compound nalbinding.

The preceding illustration of plain crochet also seeds a discussion of belinkedness that I’ll continue in a separate post. Instructions for producing such fabric, through to early 20th century (summarized here), prescribe the addition of further rows by placing a knot at the end a completed row and starting the next row afresh from the other edge of the fabric. Although the rows may be identical, each is a separate mathematical knot that is linked to its predecessor. The mode of that linkage is as important to the characterization of the fabric structure as is the configuration of the individual rows, and may prove reasonable to quantify in degrees of belinkedness.

Folding this all back into Tait’s initial concept of beknottedness, nalbound fabric where each stitch is secured with its own knot, has as many degrees of beknottedness as there are stitches. Flatwork plain crochet with each row ending in a knot, has as many degrees of beknottedness as it has rows (discounting its alternate characterization as a sequence of linked knots). Plain knit fabric, as already noted, simply has one degree of beknottedness.

This might be extended into the similar enumeration of degrees of beloopedness by taking ‘one loop in one loop’ structures to have  one degree of beloopedness, ‘one loop with multiple loops’ structures to have two degrees of beloopedness, and any such compound structure that encapsulates yet another looped structure as having three degrees of beloopedness.

One illustration of that third case is seen in the family of crochet stitches that interpose multi-looped vertical separators between the anchor loop in the preceding row, and the loop that closes the current stitch. These are normally termed ‘posts’ and their ‘length’ defines the difference between plain crochet and the double, triple, and other modified forms. This attribute of looped fabric is the one that corresponds most directly to Tait’s knottiness, and is would therefore be most correctly designated as loopiness.

That concept also applies to the suggestion that Tait’s conceptual model is applicable to the practice of loop-based crafts. However, I do believe that the methods he developed for analyzing mathematical knots can be useful in the investigation of what Vandermonde called “difficult questions about fabric.”

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Here are a few particularly clickworthy links to additional material about Tait.

  • A lecture about his academic career and the context in which he developed knot theory can be streamed here.
  • His brother-in-law, Alexander Crum Brown, also a prominent scientist, knit an intricate three-layer model of one of the other knots illustrated by Tait. That model is currently in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland and can be seen here. The museum also posted a two-part blog with background detail about Crum Brown and his method for knitting the model.
  • James Clerk Maxwell, a close friend of Tait’s, commented on the latter’s florid terminology in a poem titled “(Cats) Cradle Song.”
Description · Looping · Structures


The graphic representation of a looped fabric structure can provide a useful complement to its narrative or photographic description. When documenting fabric that includes a variety of stitches that are irregularly juxtaposed, a pattern diagram can provide clarity that is not possible by other means. Numerous systems of notation are based on square-grid diagrams, adapted to the needs of individual crafts. Others, such as ‘symbol crochet’ enable intricate patterns to be represented without the constraints imposed by a grid, and for them to be worked with little or no ability to read the language of the accompanying written instructions.

The structural analysis of, say, a fragment of archeologically recovered fabric is similarly eased by graphic support, and line drawings extrapolated from photographs are commonly included in site reports and independent object descriptions. However, in contrast to the defining aspect of drawings provided by pattern designers, an analytic drawing of an older object may reflect assumptions about details that are obscured by the fabric itself, or are not present in the fragment at all. The difficulty inherent in this is compounded by the ease with which errors can be injected into a drawing, and the low likelihood of their being recognized in the subsequent editorial process.

The earliest generalized illustrations of looped fabric structures appear in an essay by Alexandre-Théophile Vandermonde titled “Remarques sur les problèmes de situation” (Remarks on the problems of location), included in the Proceedings of the French Royal Academy of Sciences from 1771. This is frequently seen as a seminal step toward to the development of ‘knot theory’ later in the following century. In fact, however, the author’s own intention was for it to provide a framework for the description of loop-based yarncraft in both manufacturing and analytic contexts.

“However one or more threads may encircle each other in space [circonvolutions], we can always find a mathematical formula for calculating their dimensions, but this expression would be of no use to the crafts. The worker who makes a plait [or braid, tresse], a mesh [or net, réseau], or knots [nœuds], does not design it on the basis of dimensional relationships, but rather by visually positioning the order in which they are interlaced [entrelacés]. It would therefore be useful to have a system of calculation more in accordance with the worker’s thought process; a notation that only represents the conceptualization of his work and would be sufficient for its reproduction in the same manner at any time…. My objective here is only to suggest the possibility of such a notation and its applicability to difficult questions about fabric.”

Vandermonde’s notation describes the path a thread takes in a looped structure, by assigning numerical coordinates to the points where it crosses over itself. He illustrates this with two drawings. The label he applies to the first of them — tresse — designates a plaited or braided structure, which requires more than the single element it illustrates. However, the depicted structure is identical to the familiar looped chain that pervades many posts on this blog, and provides a more appropriate label for the underlying model. His treatment of it also presages the shorthand now commonly used in nalbinding, which characterizes a stitch by whether the thread crosses over or under itself when entering each successive preexisting loop.


The second drawing is the no less familiar stocking stitch — mailles de bas — as Vandermonde labels it, and one of the earliest appearances (if not the first) of that term in print, in any language.


Vandermonde recognizes that a numerical system for the description of looped structures can easily become complex enough to require adjunct text and drawings. Since the elimination of such need is his primary objective, he identifies each point where the thread crosses over itself with a simple three-digit figure. The coordinates are then presented in a grid paralleling their location in the drawings.

It is apparent that Vandermonde misappraised the potential utility of his system. It was cited extensively, including the two illustrations, in the section on industrial knitting in Platière’s Encyclopédie Méthodique from 1785, where the first illustration of slip stitch crochet is also found. However, the additional illustrations of knit structures there, which clone Vandermonde’s graphic style, dispense with the numerical coordinates altogether.

It is also apparent that the meaningful presentation of identifiers for the crossover points in fabric containing asymmetrical structures, or single loops worked into multiple other loops, will often require the use of drawings. Notwithstanding its limited utility in manufacture, an intriguing question remains about the extent to which the numerical mapping of the crossover points in a pre-existing piece of fabric can increase the accuracy of its structural analysis.

Recognizing the crossover points as an essential attribute and providing ready means for their quantification is reason in itself to see Vandermonde’s system as a watershed contribution to the study of “difficult questions about fabric.” Although likely less intentional, his exclusion of the selvedges and the starting and finishing structures from the primary description, provides additional useful focus to the analytic process.

The vertically interlooped stocking stitch does not require a separate indication of how a horizontal row is anchored to the preceding row. However, basic structures of crafts such as crochet and nalbinding cannot be described without an equally precise indication of how they are interlooped, not only vertically but also laterally. It remains to be determined how easily Vandermonde’s coordinates can be applied or adapted to this. If nothing else, the attention to detail needed for testing their viability may increase the accuracy of the drawings that are still essential to the analytic representation of any fabric structure.

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  • The entire Vandermonde essay can be found here.
  • He was quite an interesting figure and his biographical details can be found here and here.
  • Further details about the 1785 text can be found here.
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 · 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.


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


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.


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.)


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.


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 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.


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.


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.

Crochet · Early instructions · Nalbinding · Structures · Techniques

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 3

The authors whose writings illustrate the early Victorian practice of crochet in the preceding installments of this series (Part 1Part 2) continued to publish extensively about the craft. Its development can be traced through each of their works and is concordant across them all. Frances Lambert is particularly clear in relating crochet to the predecessor craft of shepherd’s knitting and I’m going to wrap things up by focusing on how her perspective of the differences between them shifted during the 1840s (also summarizing snippets presented more fully in an earlier post on Scottish Knitting).

In The Handbook of Needlework, from 1842, Lambert notes that crochet had come into fashion only four years earlier “although long known and practised.” She published the first book devoted exclusively to crochet, My Crochet Sampler, in the following year (the 1844 printing is available online). It specifies the earlier form as “a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook.”

In the same work, Lambert defines “plain single crochet” and “plain double crochet.” These correspond to the present single (or slip stitch) crochet and double crochet (UK) with one key difference. The initial forms were worked into the front leg of the chained loop at the top of the corresponding stitch in the preceding row — a technical detail designated as “plain” (now abbreviated FLO; front loop only) — rather than under the entire loop (“both loops”), as is the current standard.

Lambert published a revised second edition of the Sampler in 1848, again emphasizing that:

“Heretofore, Crochet had been practised in its most primitive shape—as a species of knitting; the stitch now recognised as Crochet, being but little known. From that period—now ten years since—Crochet has gradually progressed.”

The reference to “the stitch now recognised as Crochet” and the dropped mention of the Scottish tradition are significant. Lambert and her contemporaries emphasize that a crochet stitch presented without further specification is to be taken as a “plain double crochet.” The 1848 Sampler labels this a “plain stitch crochet” and does not include the definition of plain single crochet that appeared in 1843.

Lambert describes several additional stitches, some of which are relevant to the present discussion. Here is double crochet worked into the back leg of the loop. (Although the concordance between the legs when designated as back/front or top/bottom is not always clear, in this case the description of the stitch provides the requisite context.)

Raised, or ribbed crochet,—sometimes called elastic crochet—is worked in the same manner as plain stitch crochet, with this exception—the under loops of the stitches of the previous row are always to be taken. It is worked in rows backwards and forwards.”

Double crochet can also be worked under the two legs of the loop rather than into it.

“Double stitch crochet—is worked in the same manner as plain stitch crochet, with the exception that both loops (the upper and under) of the stitch of the preceding row are taken. It is only employed where extra thickness is required,—as for the soles of shoes.”

This extends her 1842 description (noted in Part 1) and drops the earlier constraint that “it is not suitable for working patterns,” taking a step toward eliminating the constraint on inserting the hook under both legs of the loop. There is also a significant structural difference between stitches worked into the loop and those worked under the loop but not into it. The former has a stronger affiliation with knitting that does the latter, providing greater justification for categorizing shepherd’s knitting as a species of knitting than there is for any form of crochet worked under the entire loop.

The visual effect of the changed technique, as that of turning the work at the end of each row rather than the waning practice of cutting the yarn, was to equalize the appearance of the two sides of flat crocheted fabric. Beginning each row from the same edge otherwise preserves the difference in appearance between the front and back, which is particularly marked with slip stitch crochet. That contrast is prominent even when it is worked in the round, as seen in extant shepherd’s knitting where both sides are juxtaposed on the public face of the fabric.

Two ways of changing their orientation were presented in the preceding installment. One is found in an instruction by Lambert for a slip-stitched bootee: “When finished it is turned inside out.” The other is a less obvious technique described by Jane Gaugain in 1842.

“It is not necessary to work an edge stitch [i.e., turning chain] on a round, but only where the work requires to be turned to the wrong side, in order to work round the other way.”

Slip stitch crochet itself successively disappeared as a method for producing fabric, as signaled by the difference in the 1843 and 1848 editions of My Crochet Sampler. It reemerged in the encyclopedic reviews of 19th-century fancywork published later in the century and the beginning of the following one (illustrated in a previous post on Bosnian crochet). Some recent pedagogical material fully reinstates it, illustrating the common legacy stitches and variants that only appear sporadically in the earlier repertoire. Nonetheless, there was a relatively long period when crocheters would likely have had difficulty recognizing shepherd’s knitting (by any name).

That interval spanned the late 1940s and mid-1950s, when the broader research community was first becoming aware of the distinction between the crafts of nalbinding and knitting. The joint applicability of these techniques for producing the structure alternately termed cross-knit looping and twisted-stitch knitting has been discussed in a number of previous posts.

The back side of FLO slip stitch crochet also has a superficial resemblance to that structure. Although someone familiar with the craft would immediately recognize the difference, that erudition was not shared by all of the participants in the initial discussion of the candidate production methods. As a result, some exemplars of shepherd’s knitting were identified as nalbinding, with the conflation of the two crafts in earlier research reports echoed in more recent studies.

On the other hand, the basic slip-stitch structure that characterizes shepherd’s knitting can also be made with an eyed needle pulling a single strand of yarn. Pending the identification of decisive secondary detail equivalent to that used to differentiate nalbinding from true knitting with regard to the cross-knit structure, it is safest to stipulate that there can be reasonable contention about the craft identity of a given slip-stitched object.

However, if the object under examination includes shaped details such as the toe or heel of a sock, the practicability of the respective techniques can also be factored into the evaluation. I’ll be discussing a few such equivocal descriptions of potential historical significance in separate posts. These put nalbinding in contexts where it is otherwise unknown and date the crochet-type slip-stitch structure far earlier than can be corroborated by any other evidence.

Crochet · Early instructions · Structures · Techniques

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 2

This is a direct continuation of the preceding post. I’ve also tweaked its initial version to mesh better with the following text and even readers who have already seen it may find it worth reviewing before proceeding.

The first installment presented two source documents from 1846 and 1842 in reverse chronological order. This one works forward to 1842 from the first English language text that explicitly describes crochet — The lady’s assistant for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crotchet work by Jane Gaugain, from 1840.

This differs from the other documents under consideration by using the term “tambour” to designate a crochet stitch. This was taken from tambour embroidery, which together with shepherd’s knitting were the two immediate precursors of the craft all the authors term crochet.

Gaugain presents the chain as the basic tambour stitch and doesn’t differentiate between it and the slip stitch. Her compacted definition covers both the free chains of openwork mesh and the kinds of objects other authors say are typical for “Shepherd or Single Crochet.”


This is worked by drawing one loop through the other; it is seldom used save for open purses, and sometimes for muffattees, shoes, &c. &c.

The instruction that follows is for a “LONG PURSE OF OPEN STITCH OF SINGLE TAMBOUR” in the same arched mesh that appeared in the Dutch instruction from 1823 discussed in an earlier post. The next two instructions describe working double crochet with the alternate techniques of turning the fabric at the end of a completed row, and cutting the yarn at the end of every row and beginning all new ones from the same edge.


The purse is alternately worked on the right and wrong side… Cast on 100 loops in single chain stitch, having the last of the cast-on loops on the needle. 2d row, insert the needle in the first loop, and catch the silk from behind; pull it through the loop. You now have 2 loops on the needle, then catch the thread, and pull it through the two loops; this forms one stitch…


This is…all worked on one side. When you come to end of the row, cut off the thread, and draw it through the last loop, which fastens it. 2nd row, commence at the same stitch which you began the last row on…

Gaugain added a second volume to the 1842 edition of her text. This includes a detailed explanation of the turning chain.

Edge Stitch. — This stitch is worked by drawing a loop through the first loop or stitch on the row or round, then another loop through the one just made. This forms the edge stitch; then work on through the pattern. If the edge stitch of every row were not worked in this way, you would lose a stitch each row. It is not necessary to work an edge stitch on a round, but only where the work requires to be turned to the wrong side, in order to work round the other way.

A footnote (on p. 279) mentions the need to match the height of the turning chain to the stitches in the row it commences.

Again turn the work, and work back this round, and make an edge stitch; but instead of making one loop or chain stitch, make two, as this open stitch is higher than the plain rows.

Gaugain describes open stitches of two different lengths. One is now called half treble crochet (UK) and the other extended treble crochet (with an extra chain at the top of the post). She also modifies her terminology midway through the added volume, shifting from referring to a stitch as a “tambour” to the synonymous term “crochet,”

Worked in double tambour or crochet stitch, as described in the 125th Receipt of Volume First.

The first volume of the 1842 edition was unchanged from 1840 and the 125th instruction is excerpted above. Despite the statement about the limited use of the single tambour, the second volume includes several instructions for it. As with the statement about using an edge stitch for turning work to the wrong side, at least one of Lambert’s instructions for what she now consistently terms “single crochet” also moves the back of the fabric to its public face.


This Boot is worked exactly as the long and short Mittens for children, pages 317—323…[however] when finished it is turned out…

(Mittens, bootees, and the public display of the back side of the fabric will all figure prominently in the discussion of pre-19th-century shepherd’s knitting in subsequent posts.)

Cornelia Mee describes the same two basic flatwork methods in A Manual of Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work from 1842. She doesn’t ascribe stitch status to the chain and presents the slip stitch as the:

Elementary stitch of crochet

First, make a chain, by making a loop and drawing one loop through the other, till it is of sufficient length; this forms a foundation; and all other crochet work must be begun in this way; then pass your crochet through the end loop, and taking up the wool or silk, draw it through; repeat this in every successive loop to the end of the row; then turn it, taking the under loop, and continue backwards and forward in the same way: this forms a ribbed kind of crochet, and is the most simple to begin with; the appearance of both sides is the same.

She then enters the familiar numbered sequence with:

Double Crochet

This may be worked round and round or in rows; if the latter, you must always break off at the end of every row, as it cannot well be done backwards and forwards, especially if intended to have a pattern on it. After the foundation is made, you will have one loop on your needle, insert the crochet through the next, and then draw your wool or silk through both; this still leaves a loop on your crochet, keep this on it, and draw your wool through the next loop, and then through both. When you come to the end of a row, draw the wool through the last loop, and cut it off, leaving an end of about three inches.

There is a key difference in visual effect between flatwork crochet turned after every row, and with all rows starting at the same edge. This is further influenced by other structural details that the Victorian texts leave almost without comment. I’ll go further into this in the next installment.

Crochet · Early instructions · Structures · Techniques

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first of the following stitch descriptions is for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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