I’ve devoted an inordinate amount of blog space to slip stitch fabric made with a hook, tracing it back along a number of paths to its first appearance in printed sources in the mid-18th century, and discussing objects made in that manner found in museum collections. I’m going to restore some balance with material and written evidence of European hooked openwork from the same period, starting with an elaborate Robe à la Française (sack-back gown) in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession number 1995.235a,b), dated to the 1740s.
I saw it in their exhibition Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade,1500–1800 in late 2013. This was about a year before my focused interest in looped fabric was kindled. I therefore didn’t take particular notice of a wide strip of chain mesh passementerie providing a prominent yoke around the dress extending to its hem, with a second piece of the same mesh along the hem between the ends of the yoke. In early 2016, my friend Dora Ohrenstein called my attention to their potential relevance to the chronology of crochet. The ensuing discussion cascaded into a seminar on differentiating crocheted fabric from that made with other looped techniques, arranged by and held at The Met in May 2016.
The dress wasn’t accessible for examination alongside the other objects presented to the seminar participants. One of the questions we had otherwise hoped to be able to answer was whether the chain mesh had been affixed to the dress when it was first made, thus conferring the 1740s date on it, or could have been a later addition. We did get to take a close look at two specimens of comparable passementerie dated to the 18th century. I documented them in detail and let the dress slip out of mind. Continue reading “Diamond mesh”→
One of the recurring topics in the discussion of Tunisian crochet is whether fabric produced with a double-ended hook should be regarded as a variant form of ordinary Tunisian crochet or as an entity of its own. The earliest instructions calling for that tool that I have been able to locate so far are in the 10 February 1896 issue of the German craft periodical Der Bazar. This is eight years before similar instructions appeared in the US publication Columbia Book of the Use of Yarns, detailed in a previous post.
“Wind the yarn into 2 balls, as 1 ball is used at each end of the work. Make a chain the desired length, take up each stitch as in afghan stitch, retaining the stitches on the needle. Turn the work (fasten the other ball of yarn to the other end of the work), take the stitches off the needle with the other hook.
Third Row—With the same hook take the stitches up again.
Fourth Row—Turn the work, taking them off with the other hook. Repeat 3d and 4th rows alternately for all the work.”
With the exception of the hook and fabric being turned at the end of each forward pass, with a resulting need for a second strand of yarn, this stitch is worked the same way the Tunisian simple stitch (TSS) is. Both strands can also be taken from the opposite ends of a single ball of yarn (as done in twined knitting), just as the two hooks are on opposite ends of the same shaft. Using separate yarn sources additionally enables colorwork but that is also true of single-hook TSS.
The appearance and texture of the ribbed double-hook fabric differ markedly from ordinary TSS. The prominent horizontal chains characteristic of the latter are concealed entirely, although again, the same applies to many single-hook variants. There are additional double-hook variants that relate similarly to other single-hook forms. If a categorical distinction is to be made between them, the double-hook qualifier first noted in the 1907 pattern provides a good basis for it.
The double hook also makes it possible to work TSS in the round. Here, the ends of a foundation chain are joined and a new loop is worked into each of the loops in that chain for as long as the straight hook comfortably permits. The work is then turned and the other end of the hook used to return a chain through all but the last few of the pending stitches, using a separate strand of yarn. The work is turned again and the forward round is resumed.
The enclosed chains are oriented in the opposite direction from those in flatwork TSS but the two forms are structurally identical. The details of the loops in a TSS chain that indicate the direction in which it was worked are often obscured by the vertical loops, with the exposed edges of the chain loops appearing as parallel horizontal lines in both cases. The difference can be seen on closer examination, but whatever significance it may have, it provides little justification for a categorical distinction between chained-toward-the-right and chained-toward-the-left TSS variants. Since Tunisian crochet stitches can only be worked in the round with a double-ended hook, the single/double hook attribute is superfluous in the labeling of such fabric.
There is an intermediate aspect to the instructions for producing the Tunisian stitch variant using two separate hooks that appeared in Der Bazar in 1862 (discussed here). Taken with the earliest mention of any form of Tunisian crochet being from 1858, it seems unlikely that references to the double hook before the final decade or two of the 19th century remain to be discovered in the fancywork literature.
This still leaves a question about when in the 20th century (assuming no surprises) the first instructions for using that tool for work in the round appeared. The Columbia Yarn Company added celluloid to the materials in their listing of hooks and needles in 1908, also offering double-ended crochet hooks under their own heading for the first time.
However, the 1904 instructions linked to above explicitly prescribe a “Wooden Double End Crochet Hook, 20 in., No. 13.” The industrial production of such tools had therefore commenced prior to their availability in celluloid. Nonetheless, as of the 19th ed. from 1918, where the Double Hook Afghan Stitch also appears, the Columbia Book still only uses the requisite hook for flatwork.
Although this suggests a later advent of TSS worked in the round, countless similar publications remain to be examined before any date can safely be placed on its first appearance in print. Present-day Tunisian crocheters are familiar with its comparatively recent proprietary manifestations but the initial use of the double hook is not part of the general craft lore.
The 10 February 1896 issue of Der Bazar includes instructions for a child’s cradle cover made in alternating bands of shell stitch (Muschenstreifen) in ordinary crochet and TSS ribbing (Rippenstreifen). Both are worked with the same double-ended hook, as is the elaborate border. The ribbing has a more complex form than that discussed above, and uses different color yarns to good effect. (Fabric worked entirely with it is also fully reversible.)
The illustration is presented in the immaculate detail that is a hallmark of Der Bazar (where the first explicit reference to the “Tunisian crochet stitch” appeared, as discussed here.) The written instructions, however, are atypically difficult to follow. Those for the ribbing are clear enough and describe a variant that remains in the current repertoire. The instructions for the shell stitching are more opaque and I haven’t quite puzzled out how they lead to the illustrated structure well enough to be able to provide a useful but objective translation. In any case, these shells are not intrinsically dependent on a long hook, much less a double-ended one, and lie outside the scope of the present post anyway. The following text therefore stops at the end of the instructions for the ribbing.
Part of a crocheted cover for a child’s cradle
“The pretty cover is made with white and blue woolen yarn singles [Dochtwolle] in a variant of the Tunisian crochet stitch, together with a shell pattern, using a heavy wooden needle that has a hook at both ends. It is worked on a white foundation row of appropriate length and an even number of stitches, as follows:
1st pattern row: forward. With a loop of the blue yarn around the hook, skip the first chain and draw one loop through each of the remaining chains. Turn the work and return using the other end of the hook with the white yarn to close the stitches one after the other.
2nd pattern row: forward. With the blue yarn (the active yarn is always led through the first loop) skip over a stitch and draw a loop through both the next vertical bar and horizontal chain together. Having worked through each stitch in this manner, return as in the first pattern row.”
The use of a long double-ended hook both for stitches that require one, and those that could as easily be worked on a conventional short crochet hook, is interesting in itself. There is a surprising amount of additional evidence of the mid-19th-century use of long hooks for ordinary crochet. Such hooks were manufactured with both cylindrical and tapered shafts, so there was more to it than a simple matter of some workers preferring Tunisian hooks where they were not a necessity.
The entire discussion here is restricted to evidence found in the context of fancywork. An earlier post considered the relationship between Tunisian crochet as an urban practice in Sweden and its rural counterpart krokning (hooking). It remains unclear whether this is just a matter of alternate nomenclature or if krokning has roots that predate the emergence of Tunisian crochet in the craft literature. For now, it is sufficient to note that the use of a double-ended hook for TSS in the round is a mainstay of the former craft as it is currently practiced.
“Head-net…a sort of netted cap with a circular ring at the top from around which the body of the net is woven, the pattern of the stitch being shown in the diagram… It is manufactured, by men only… Another form of head-net, an undoubtedly modern innovation, is made by the women, though not necessarily worn by them alone, after the manner and of same mesh as a fishing net…”
Roth describes a further variant of looping with an inlaid thread as being typical of dilly bags. In a categorization of fabric structures that he would continue to develop, the three forms are juxtaposed in a single labeled illustration.
“There are three kinds of mesh to be found in the weaving of a dilly-bag. The most common, what may be called the ‘type,’ is that marked A in the diagram: rarer forms are the ‘hair-net’ B, and its modification, the ‘twist’ C. The type-pattern may be alone used in the weaving of the bag throughout, and under such circumstances it would be pretty safe to infer that it had been made by women, who do not usually weave the other forms of mesh. The hair-net pattern has been so described because of its identity with what is met with in that particular article [in the preceding illustrations], of which can certainly only be made by males: there are generally two or three rows of this mesh connecting the type with the twist pattern surrounding the mouth of the bag. No dilly-bags made in their entirety with the hair-net or twist pattern are discoverable: these particular meshes would seem to be only subsidiary to the type one.” Continue reading “Thinking outside the loop”→
Back in the days when museums stored information about the objects in their collections in accession ledgers and card catalogs, structured vocabularies and classification systems were essential to the location and retrieval of this documentation. When dealing with manufactured objects, the basic nomenclature normally paralleled that used in the respective craft or industry. The higher-level categories the artifacts were sorted into were primarily intended to meet the needs of collections management and other curatorial activity. The underlying conceptual frameworks were therefore less likely to correspond directly to those of the practitioner communities.
One of the seminal texts in the development of such classification systems for textiles is Les Textiles Anciens du Pérou et leurs Techniques (The Ancient Textiles of Peru and their Techniques) by Raoul d’Harcourt, published in 1934. This was immediately used by Fritz Iklé as a basis for the organization of an exhibition of his own collection, displayed at several locations in Switzerland during 1935. It was titled Primäre textile Techniken (Primary Textile Techniques) and the accompanying booklet includes an essay by Iklé on the way he grouped the objects according to the techniques of their manufacture. He notes the extensibility of the system developed by d’Harcourt, whose personal support he also acknowledges.
Kristin Oppenheim published the Systematik der textilen Techniken der Neukaledonier und Loyalty-Insulaner(Systematics of the Textile Techniques of the New Caledonian and Loyalty Islanders) in 1942. She bases this on the categories put forward by Iklé but includes additional subgroups. One such extension is a categorical distinction between production methods that work finite lengths of thread, yarn, or comparable material into looped fabric, and those that place no intrinsic restrictions on the length of the working element. This was retained as a fundamental criterion in a series of increasingly comprehensive systems (described here) culminating in one of the current standard works, Textiles: a Classification of Techniques, published in 1994 by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger.
The category that Seiler-Baldinger labels Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Limited Length is typified by an eyed needle pulling a manageable length of yarn by its end through each successive loop in a piece of nalbound fabric, thereby reducing the remaining length of that yarn. The category Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Unlimited Length includes knitting and crochet. Here the tools are interposed between the source of the yarn and the fabric, moving the yarn into it loop by loop, from what can then be an arbitrarily large supply.
The dichotomy is labeled with reference to the source of the working element. However, at least with the manual production of looped fabric, that supply is finite in both cases. No matter how long the assemblage is before being worked into fabric, at some point the end of a depleted strand will need to be joined to, or abut, the beginning of a new one. The points of transition can be unrecognizable in the finished fabric. If they are, the presence or lack of an intrinsic limitation on the length of an individual segment will not be reflected in the structure of the object and is therefore not useful as a stand-alone criterion for determining the technique by which it was made.
An inverse concern can be illustrated with the classification of flatwork crochet. Through to the end of the 19th century, and in the case of slip stitch crochet to the present day, the yarn was/is commonly cut at the end of each row and all new rows started with a fresh strand from the same edge of the fabric. Anyone examining a specimen of slip stitch crochet worked in this manner without prior experience in its identification, might easily characterize the fabric by regularly limited lengths of working yarn despite that not being a definitive attribute of the craft.
The appearance of loose yarn ends in objects that are unequivocally slip stitch crochet has, in fact, been taken to indicate that they were nalbound. The basic slip stitch structure can be produced with either method. There are even two ways of doing it with an eyed needle, of which one imposes no constraint on the length of the yarn supply (described here). This type of slip stitch fabric can therefore not be categorized as the product either of a technique of limited element length or of unlimited element length.
There are further examples of slip stitch crochet having been described as nalbinding, to the detriment of the historiography of both crafts. I’ve discussed a few of them in previous posts and will be adding others to a more comprehensive listing. The preceding post discusses the outset of a sequence of publications that led to the realization that the earliest material appearing in the corpus of cross-knit fabric is nalbinding rather than knitting.
It is widely accepted that the body of early artifacts catalogued and described as knitting still contains nalbound material that has yet to be recognized as such, and vice versa. There is also little doubt that more slip stitch crochet remains to be uncovered behind misattribution as both nalbinding and knitting.
Dating the advent of true knitting (a term introduced by d’Harcourt) requires a deeper understanding of the structural and procedural details that differentiate what is sometimes referred to as “single-needle knitting,” and multi-needle knitting in the established sense. Since such detail is not invariably present in archeologically recovered fragments, the need for a logically robust and clearly labeled higher level categorization has been apparent throughout.
The limited and unlimited categories initially articulated by Oppenheim are basically applicable in that context but the imprecision noted above still needs to be addressed. One approach would be to reconceptualize and rename the dichotomy in terms of how the yarn is led along its path, rather than by how long that path can be. Seiler-Baldinger’s definitions of the two groups provide an effective basis for doing precisely that.
In the limited case “the meshes are formed by the leading end of the thread…” In the unlimited one “the new mesh is formed by that portion of the thread nearest to the loop last formed.” The former can be given the compact label “end-led” techniques, with “loop-led” techniques as its binary counterpart. The alternative would be to extend Seiler-Baldinger’s category headings to Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Intrinsically Limited Length and Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Potentially Unlimited Length but that would do nothing either to streamline the nomenclature or highlight the essential concept.
The distinction between the preparation of a continuous working element of unlimited length before the creation of the fabric commences, and the extension of an element of limited length at repeated intervals during the production of the fabric, retains it utility. Regional schools of what is essentially the same end-led craft vary in whether a large continuous aggregate of fibers is first prepared and shorter lengths cut from it, or the raw fibers are added to the working element as an alternating facet of the fabric’s production. The applied procedure can be undetectable in a finished object and, as noted, the difference between a continuous element of potentially unlimited length and joined elements of limited length can also be invisible. The procedural attributes of how the working element is prepared therefore do not provide a generally applicable basis for the classification of fabric.
The same might be said of reference to end-led and loop-led techniques. However, those labels bypass the ambiguity relating to the working element and are thus one step closer to utility in such things as identification keys. For example, a key for the identification of fabric with a looped structure might include the criterion “open knit stitches appear in the fabric.” If they do, it can only have been produced by a loop-led technique. Oppenheim illustrates this as a “Knit stitch: Typical representative of systems with infinite elements.”
If the question is whether pierced loops appear (also as drawn by Oppenheim) and the answer is affirmative, it can only have been made by an end-led technique.
Cross-knit looping can be produced by either technique, shown here as drawn by d’Harcourt.
The additional presence of open, pierced, or simple loops in such fabric can eliminate the ambiguity, as the simple loops along the vertical edges do in this illustration. However, the largest amount of older material to which this concern applies is either fragmentary or worked in the round. The selvedges are therefore rarely accessible for examination, assuming they were a component of the fabric to begin with. Additional characteristics specific to the alternative categories may be revealed by the path of the working element through shaped areas of the fabric.
Such attributes can also be included in a binary identification key, with separate branches in the decision tree for more complex looped structures. Once the fabric structure and mode of its production have been identified, further craft-specific yes/no criteria can be applied to the detailed documentation of individual objects (as illustrated for early modern knitting in several articles in the current issue, no. 60, of the Archaeological Textiles Review).
Zeroing in on a specific mode of production will, however, often require external familiarity not just with the candidate tools and techniques, but also with the historical contexts in which they appear. The latter factor is, in turn, informed by the correct attribution of the provenance and structure of material in museum collections.
In 1861, Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin published a book titled Novelties in Crochet. It includes three illustrated instructions for “crochet à frivolité” that emulate tatting, using an ordinary crochet hook and standard crochet stitches. One is for the “wide festoon edging” shown here (with the written instructions at the end of this post).They published a similar book dedicated entirely to shuttle tatting in the following year, titled Tatting, or Frivolité. Mee’s preface to it indicates that she was thoroughly familiar with that craft.
“I never remember learning the work, or when I did not know how to do it. I believe it was taught me by my grandmother, who, if she had been living, would have been in her hundredth year. I mention this, as I have heard that a claim has been made by some one lately, to have invented the work, which certainly has been known as Knotting or Tatting for more than a century.”
(This post is my own preface to an impending major revision of a research report on knotting and tatting during that period, currently titled Early Tatting Instructions.)
A large loop of the shuttle thread is first wrapped around the fingers of the opposite hand and a sequence of smaller loops is then worked around it. When the desired number is reached, the large loop is closed by pulling the core thread, and the pattern is repeated. This is seen in “star tatting” from the same publication.
The method Mee and Austin describe for crochet à frivolité replaces the running thread with a crocheted chain. The loops that would be wrapped around the core are instead single and double crochets (UK) stitched around that chain. This produces bulkier fabric but its patterns are those of tatting, not crochet.
This provides a good illustration of the tools and techniques of one craft being used to produce fabric intended to resemble that normally associated with another craft, which has its own implements and methods. The structural overlap will range from nothing more than superficial similarity, recognizable by an untrained eye, to full congruence.
The Mee and Austin 1862 Tatting book makes no reference to crochet à frivolité beyond including the Novelties book in a listing of their other works currently in print. It therefore seems safe to assume that they really didn’t regard it as more than a novelty. Nonetheless, a method for tatting on a crochet hook that more closely resembles shuttle tatting, is described as “crochet tatting” (gehäkelte Frivoliteten) in the 1 February 1868 issue of the German women’s magazine Der Bazar.
The same illustrations were syndicated to the US publication Harper’s Bazar, established in 1867, and appeared there with an English translation of the accompanying text in the 22 February 1868 issue. Translating directly from the initial German version:
“Previously the only tatting known was made with a shuttle. In today’s issue, through descriptions and illustrations, we teach how it can be made with a crochet needle… Appropriate needles are of the same diameter along their entire length and fastened either to a wooden or bone handle or screwed into a holder. The hook must be perfectly smooth, with a blunt tip that is 2—3 cm in length, since the entire row of stitches is held on the needle.”
The same method is described again in the 1869 volume of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine and remains in practice, often called ‘cro-tatting.’ The illustrated tool is commonly marketed as a ‘bouillon crochet hook.’
Instead of being worked around a core thread, the loops are wrapped around a crochet hook. When a sequence of them is ready to be closed into a ring, the hook pulls a long loop of thread through the entire row, forming the core that is retained in the fabric. It consists of two parallel strands of thread rather than the single strand of shuttle tatting. The double strand is concealed inside the ring but the use of a hook is revealed by the chained connections between the pattern repetitions. This is seen in a “crochet tatting edging” from the article in Der Bazar and can be compared with the single thread in Gaugain’s star tatting.
The connecting thread can also be embedded in tatting stitches, likewise called a chain. This requires the fabric to be placed between the shuttle and the thread supply, dividing the working thread into two separately manipulable segments. In fact, Mee and Austin claim this to be a technique of their own devising in the 1862 book. (The spool is now commonly replaced with a second shuttle, permitting different color threads on each.)
The difference between a tatted chain and a crocheted chain might not be obvious in a mid-19th-century engraving but is readily apparent in actual fabric.
The loops on the crochet hook illustrated above face each other in pairs termed ‘double stitches.’ There are also ‘single’ (or half) stitches, all wrapped around the core in the same direction. There is no effective difference between a sequence of either type positioned on a long cylindrical crochet hook, and a cast-on row of knittable loops on a hook-tipped knitting needle.
This cascades into an interesting parallel between crochet tatting and yet another technique using a long cylindrical hook, also first described in Der Bazar in 1858. This is the Tunisian crochet that Mee and Austin dedicated five books to, calling it “crochet à tricoter,” spanning the period in which they introduced their crochet á frivolité. By 1868, Tunisian crochet had become extremely popular and it is reasonable to wonder if it influenced the application of the long hook to tatting.
The difference between the starting rows of crochet tatting and Tunisian crochet is that the loops intended for tatting are wrapped directly around the hook rather than first being drawn through a foundation chain. From there, the difference between the return pass in Tunisian crochet and closing a row of tatting stitches is that the former anchors a chain to every second vertical loop and the latter pulls a single chain through all of them.
The pivotal structural distinction is that the row of chains in Tunisian crochet leaves the initial loops suitably positioned for a new row of loops to be knitted into them. The single chain pulled through all of the loops in crochet tatting holds them snugly against each other in a ring, thereby precluding their use as anchors for a new row of knittable loops.
In the context of textile systematics, the tightly-drawn double stitch (aka ‘lark’s head knot’) may have become one of the basic characteristics of tatting by the mid-19th-century, but tatted fabric also includes open loops. Since the thread in a loop-based stitch takes the same path regardless of whether the stitch is tightened to the point that it alternately can be seen as a knot, tatting is categorized as a looped structure.
Irene Emery places it under the heading “knotted loops” in her structural hierarchy. Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger’s classification by techniques categorizes tatting as a form of “meshwork lace” alongside needlepoint lace. Both are a “combination of looping and knotting” and the distinctions between the techniques in that “special class” are “generally denoted by the implements used in their manufacture.”
The list of structures made with eyed needles includes some that are fundamental to nalbinding and it may also be interesting to note that tatting using an eyed needle was described as an easier alternative to working with a shuttle before the publication of the Victorian texts cited here. Seiler-Baldinger makes the additional observation that “tatting is often produced in combination with crochet.”
As Emery explains it:
“Probably the most familiar and prevalent embodiment of the principle of knotted looping is to be found in the fabrics known as knotted netting…although the structure is also found in…mixed (open and closed) textures such as those produced by tatting.”
This brings us dangerously close to the laden term knotless netting that Emery abhors and Seiler-Baldinger avoids altogether. If we accept it for the moment as a synonym for nalbinding, a recently described Swedish novelty in crochet — virkad nålbindning — becomes an intriguing construct. It shares basic procedural elements that Tunisian crochet and crochet tatting also have in common, and might therefore qualify for classification under the oxymoronic heading knotted knotless netting.
The Swedish term virkad nåbindning literally means ‘crocheted nalbinding’ but that label is a pure neologism. It does not have the documented history that crochet tatting does and we have no idea how widespread it may have been or how its putative earlier practitioners conceptualized and labeled it. Nor does the associated fabric come anywhere near as close structurally to what it nominally emulates as crochet tatting does. I’ll be taking a closer look at it in a separate post (and the awkward systematics in yet another).
In the meanwhile, here are the full Mee and Austin instructions for the wide festoon edging in crochet à frivolité. As was customary in their day, the worker is expected to glean quite a bit of information from the illustration and resolve any inconsistencies between it and the written instructions. The main stitching is done in “Boar’s Head Cotton, No. 10” and the decoration and auxiliary joining with “Glacé thread, No. 16.” The stitch names follow UK usage; a single crochet is a slip stitch.
* Make a chain of 12 stitches and unite it, work into the circle 20 stitches of double crochet, make a chain of 23 stitches and unite it to the 4th, work into the circle 32 stitches of double crochet, make 3 chain and repeat from * till 3 large and 4 small loops are made; work a stitch of single crochet into the 6th loop of small circle, *, make 5 chain, miss 2 loops, work a stitch of single crochet into the 3rd, repeat from last * twice more; work a stitch of single crochet into the 6th loop of large circle, make 5 chain, miss 2 loops, work a stitch of single crochet into the 3rd, repeat this 6 times; work into the remaining circles in the same way as before, work 2 stitches of double crochet into the 1st 5 chain of small circle, 2 stitches of double crochet into the next 5 chain, make 3 chain, work 2 more stitches of double crochet into the same place, work 2 stitches of double into the next 5 chain, work 2 stitches of double crochet into the 1st 5 chain of large circle, *, 2 stitches of double crochet into the next, make 3 chain, work 2 more stitches of double crochet into the same place, repeat from * twice more; work into the remaining circles in the same way, work in the centre a stitch of double crochet into each of the 3 chain between the circles; with glacé thread, work the lace stitch in the large circles, as shown in the engraving, and unite the festoons as also shown.
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”→
I ended the preceding post with what I thought was a radical suggestion about simple crochet being a handicraft equivalent to industrial warp knitting. It was intended as an upbeat to a more detailed consideration of the use of hook-tipped needles in all forms of mechanized knitting, beginning with the stocking frame invented by William Lee in 1589.
While attempting to date the advent of warp knitting machines, I found an article by R. Wheatley titled “The Warp Knitting Story” in a publication from 1989 commemorating Lee’s invention, Four Centuries of Machine Knitting. The article begins:
“Warp knitting is the mechanical equivalent of hand crochet knitting and remained as a hand operation until almost 200 years after the invention of the weft knitting machine in 1589.
The invention of the warp knitting machine in 1775 is attributed to Crane of Ilkeston in Derbyshire who applied warp guides to the hand frame and so modified the original invention by William Lee…”
Although this can’t be taken as evidence of crochet being practiced in 1589, it does indicate that from the industrial perspective, the notion of crochet as warp knitting is quite acceptable. The hook-tipped needle is a fundamental element of both warp and weft knitting machines. Here is an engraving of the central component of the latter, taken from an array of illustrations of its other details in a treatise on industrial knitting from 1785,
with the process shown in a recent image (from Wikimedia Commons).
The text from 1785 includes no illustrations of warp knitting machines despite their having been invented ten years earlier, nor any images related to hand knitting with the exception of the plain crochet discussed in an earlier post.
The similarity between the manual technique shown here and the core element of present-day mechanized warp knitting is apparent.
This adds at least one “warp guide” to each needle, used to wrap the yarn around it in a manner that corresponds directly to the same operation in hand crochet. The warp guide is also used to shift the yarn to an adjacent needle enabling one wale (column) in the fabric to be worked laterally into another. This means that weft knitting differs from warp knitting in the same categorical manner that distinguishes knitting from crochet. The simplest variant of the former is only worked vertically into the corresponding loop in the preceding course (row), and plain crochet is additionally worked laterally into the adjacent loop in the same row.
The preceding illustration shows a latch hook, explaining the protuberance on its left side. The earlier illustrations show “bearded” hooks, and machines employing them require an additional mechanism to hold them closed when pulled backward through the loops. This is called a “sinker bar” and it also holds the yarn against the needles while the stitches are being worked.
This explains a term that appears in the glossary of machine knitting but not that of hand knitting. What is normally regarded as the loop in a knit stitch is further qualified as a “needle loop,”
and the connection between two adjacent loops in the same course is called a “sinker loop.”
Both illustrations are taken from a formal international standard (ISO 4921:2000) detailing “Knitting — Basic concepts — Vocabulary.” It fully defines a needle loop as “the unit formed by the top arc and the two sides of the weft-knitted loop,” and a sinker loop as “the yarn portion that connects two adjacent needle loops belonging to the same knitted course.”
There is nothing apparent to be gained by introducing the term “sinker loop” into the vocabulary of hand knitting. However, its ISO definition is of more than passing interest from the systematological perspective. It describes a looped connection between the stitches in adjacent wales, in addition to the vertical looped structures that form the individual wales. As noted above, that lateral connection is otherwise the structural attribute that differentiates crochet and knitting.
The pivotal difference is that both sides of a needle loop are in physical contact with the needle loop below it in the same wale. In contrast, only one side of a sinker loop engages with the preceding needle loop in the same wale. If seen as a terminological issue, describing the difference between the number of points of contact would require its adjectival indication. Although of less immediate utility in a craftsperson’s glossary, that number can also be indicated directly.
In fact, the number of points at which a knot crosses over itself is an important factor in the mathematical theory of knots. Papers on that topic are sometimes illustrated with the familiar looped structures of yarncraft, and an early (if not the earliest) such presentation is explicitly intended to be of use in describing and categorizing them. I’ll provide at least introductory detail about it in the following post.
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Further details about the 1785 text can be found here.
The use of a crochet hook for plain knitting in wire is discussed here.
The differences between warp and weft knitting are explained in detail here.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) knitting vocabulary is presented in full here.
My recent visit to the Museum der Kulturen in Basel included a stop at their library to fetch a copy of a visitor’s guide to an exhibition of the Fritz Iklé collection of textiles, displayed at several locations in Switzerland during 1935. It was titled Primäre textile Techniken (Primary Textile Techniques) and the accompanying booklet includes an essay by Iklé on the way he grouped the objects according to the techniques of their manufacture. He labeled one of the groups “Looping a single working thread” (Verschlingung eines Arbeitsfadens) and another “Working multiple threads” (Verarbeitung vieler Fäden).
Kristin Oppenheim placed Iklé’s categories and terminology in a more rigorous framework in her Systematik der textilen Techniken(Systematics of Textile Techniques), published in 1942 (discussed in detail in a previous post noted below and reviewed briefly here). She expanded this text in 1948 in collaboration with her husband Alfred Bühler, who was the director of what was then the Museum of Ethnography in Basel. Their joint work on systematics was part of a catalog of the Iklé collection, which he bequeathed to the museum.
The Bühler-Oppenheim classification system was applied to an extensive study of Maschenstoffe in Süd- und Mittelamerika (Mesh Fabric in South and Central America), presented as a doctoral dissertation at the University of Basel in 1969 and as a book in 1971. Its author, Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger was on the academic staff of the Museum of Ethnography at the time and Bühler was her PhD advisor.
Seiler-Baldinger published a revised edition of the classification system in 1973, separated from the listing of objects in the Iklé collection that was fundamental to the 1948 edition. This retained the title Systematik der textilen Techniken, with a preface by Bühler, and she expanded it again in 1991. An often-cited English translation of that edition appeared in 1994 as Textiles: a Classification of Techniques.
During the interval between the initial Bühler-Oppenheim edition and the Seiler-Baldinger revision, in 1966, Irene Emery published her equally well-known The Primary Structures of Fabric: an Illustrated Classification. This presented a comparable classification system but was ordered on the basis of the structural detail of fabric, rather than by the techniques used for producing those structures. Emery acknowledged the works of Bühler, Iklé, and Oppenheim cited above, but as they all rely on the same basic elements, it is not clear how far Emery was influenced by her predecessors.
Seiler-Baldinger included Emery’s terminology in her own books, in lists of foreign language equivalents appended to the definitions of individual German terms. However, the English and German vocabularies are not fully concordant and Seiler-Baldinger didn’t always have semantically equivalent terms to choose from. The resulting imprecision was not resolved as carefully as it might have been when her German text was subsequently translated into English.
The conceptual framework underlying the entire sequence of German publications makes a categorical distinction between Kettenstoffe and Maschenstoffe, literally meaning “warp fabrics” and “stitch fabrics.” The latter comfortably embraces the loop-based structures produced by crochet, knitting, nalbinding, and other techniques, without using the name of any specific one of them to label the category itself.
There is no directly equivalent English term for Maschenstoffe. Seiler-Baldinger uses “mesh fabrics,” which otherwise designates an attribute shared by both knit and woven fabric. The more widely used “non-woven fabric” also includes structures that are not loop based, and is beset by the systematological weakness of categorizing something by what it is not.
In his seminal text, Iklé discussed distinctions between various forms of looping, braiding, and weaving. He organized his exhibition accordingly but expressed no particular concern with a systematic classification of the represented techniques. However, he ascribed an interesting property to Maschenstoffe that might be worth consideration in the growing discussion of how the terms ‘stitch’ and ‘knitting’ should and should not be used.
Iklé recognized an array of loop-based techniques but separated knitting from the others.
“Knitting (the true stitch) [die echte Masche] is treated as something entirely different from the preceding ones, even if its results can bear a superficial resemblance to a braided stitch [Flechtstich].”
He was describing the basis for the arrangement of the material on display, placing knitting in a historical rather than structural niche of its own. Nonetheless, calling it “the true stitch” suggests that he saw some additional hierarchical distinction. Whatever that might have been, it reasonably equates Maschenstoffe and Kettenstoffe to ‘knits’ and ‘wovens’ in the familiar fabric-store sense.
Folding that back into a formal classification scheme, plain knitting and plain weaving (as defined by Emery) can serve as structural archetypes based on the comparability of their respective simplest forms. The warp and weft of plain weaving correlate to the wales (columns) and courses (rows) of plain knitting, each forming a right-angled grid.
When seen in this light, the consistent early characterization of slip stitch crochet as “a species of knitting” makes a good deal of sense, as does its subsequent Victorian renaming to “plain crochet.” I’ll illustrate the relationship between the structure of plain crochet and that of plain knitting in a separate post. It’s doubtful that new descriptive terms are necessary but slip stitching could also be described as asymmetrical compound knitting, if not as a handicraft correlate to the warp knitting that is otherwise regarded exclusively as a facet of industrial knitting.
Irene Emery takes care to distinguish between procedural and structural detail when describing the primary fabric structures included in her classification system. (This post is a direct continuation of the previous one, which includes additional information about the source references.) She also separates the core definitions of categorized structures from contextual discussions of selected aspects of their manufacture and application.
Those narratives include statements of Emery’s personal opinion about systematics and terminology in prior literature. Her remarks are more likely to address misunderstandings about knitting than anything related to crochet but she does emphasize the incorrectness of the routine identification of “fabric…as crochet simply because hooked needles were used to construct it.” The defining and differentiating attributes of the two structures are:
Knitting and crochet represent the two major types of interlooping. In knitting the interlooping is vertical and the loops are vertically aligned, each loop securing the corresponding one in the previous row. Crochet is characterized by both vertical and lateral interworking of loops, and each new loop (or the series of loops constituting the new stitch) secures the one before it in the same row.
With allowance for the differences in the way Emery relates closed-loop and open-loop knitting to the parent category of looping (discussed in the preceding post) her remarks about knitted fabric and illustrations of it are consistent with corresponding material in the craft literature. The same cannot be said of the way she treats crochet.
Emery uses familiar UK terminology for crochet stitches, with the exception of the slip stitch or single crochet (synonymous in UK, different in US; she says nothing about the separate glossaries or her departure from them). She terms this a plain crochet, seemingly coopting a term that appeared in the Victorian fancywork press. However, in that context plain basically meant what is now termed front loop only (FLO) and applied to both single and double crochet.
Emery also uses the name “simple stitch” without italics in narrative text and doesn’t indicate if it is a synonym for plain crochet. A description of how the “simple stitch can be elaborated” seems to use it in that sense.
If a second loop is added before a new [simple] stitch is complete, the stitch may be called ‘double,’ if three are made, ‘treble,’ and so on.
The same clarity does not apply to the caption under a photograph of square filet mesh where both the horizontal chains and the treble crochet (UK) vertical separators are described as “Simple crochet stitches combined to form open meshes and solid areas.”
Anyone reading that caption without having studied the narrative text would likely have difficulty understanding the labeling of the stitches. Even at that, if simple and plain are properly read as synonyms, the caption does not correctly describe the treble crochet in the mesh. By Emery’s definition this stitch is made by adding two extra loops to a simple crochet — i.e., slip stitch — before the stitch is completed. This is technically correct but arguably an oversimplification. It is not equivalent to the erroneous caption description of a treble crochet as a combination of simple stitches.
Seiler-Baldinger apparently attempts to disambiguate the terminology by using Emery’s “simple crochet stitch” to designate a chain. However, by Emery’s definition crochet is interworked both laterally and vertically. Since a chain is worked without running anchorage in any adjacent structure, it does not qualify structurally as crochet in itself, even if chains are fundamental elements of crocheted fabric.
Adopting Seiler-Baldinger’s definition, instead, and accepting the chain as crochet would have staggering implications for the history of crochet. Chains are encountered in many other contexts and are counted among the universal constructs that date back to early stages of human invention — devised independently at an indeterminable number of times and places. If a chain is crochet, the craft did not originate in the late-18th-century but in deep prehistory. I don’t believe that Seiler-Baldinger’s intended any such implication. A chain is an “air stitch” in German – Luftmasche – which I suspect was conflated in back-and-forth translation with the German word for slip stitch – Kettenmasche – literally meaning “chain stitch.”
Both authors do use “plain crochet stitch” to designate a slip stitch, which is the smallest structure that meets Emery’s definition. There is nothing to be gained in current discourse by substituting the unfamiliar label plain crochet stitch for the established slip stitch, which has the advantage of being the only label that designates the same stitch in both the UK and US glossaries. However, plain knitting frequently appears in the comparative discussion of textile structures and it is useful to have a corresponding plain crochet.
The series of posts to which the present one belongs has the goal of defining Tunisian crochet in terms that Emery or Seiler-Baldinger might plausibly have used had either of them chosen to cover it. Although this is a potentially intricate hybrid of crochet and knitting, there is a ubiquitous basic form of such fabric that can be compared nominally and structurally to plain crochet and plain knitting.
It was known as “plain tricot” in the Victorian literature, where it was first described in 1858 (in three separate publications), and only contains structural elements that are found in plain crochet or plain knitting. The next post in this series will consider ways of clarifying Emery’s definitions of both crochet and knitting so that they lead more directly to an equivalent statement about the composite fabric structure.
I’ve been introducing fabric structures in previous posts with reference to what Irene Emery says about them in her book The Primary Structures of Fabric; an Illustrated Classification, originally published in 1966. This is not because I think her categorizations and descriptions are optimal, but they are widely recognized and a generally useful point of departure.
It is frequently complemented by a second reference text, Textiles: a Classification of Techniques, by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger, from 1994. As the title indicates, it is directed toward the classification of techniques rather than structures but strives to be concordant with Emery’s terminology. Unfortunately Seiler-Baldinger’s book suffered in translation, first by mismatches between some of Emery’s terms and the German category headings for which they were listed as alternate designations in the original German editions (1973 and significantly revised in 1991). This misalignment was then carried back into the English edition, where Emery’s terms were used as translations for the German category headings apparently without technical review.
Neither of the books adheres rigorously to its nominal point of view, nor could it, and both are essential reference works on a desktop such as the one where this blog is kept. That’s also the place where I prepared my presentation for the recent In the Loop at 10 conference, questioning the applicability of Emery’s basic definition of a loop to open-stitch knitting.
A complete loop is formed (and will be retained in the fabric) if the element crosses over itself as it moves on to form the next loop.
Loop: a doubling of a cord or thread back on itself so as to leave an opening between the parts through which another cord or thread may pass.
This satisfactorily covers twisted-stitch knitting.
However, the path taken by the horizontal elements in open-stitch knitting doesn’t double back on itself as is fundamental to the definition.
To rectify this, Emery introduces a seemingly self-contradictory “open loop,” meeting her requirement for the yarn crossing over itself on a row-by-row rather than loop-by-loop basis.
Knitting in its simplest form consists of successive rows of ‘running’ open loops, each loop engaging the corresponding one in the previous row and being in turn engaged by the corresponding one in the following row.
The twisted-stitch and open-stitch variants of knitting ought reasonably to be treated as having the closest possible structural relationship. This raises a question about the adequacy of Emery’s way of associating them. Seiler-Baldinger skirts the issue by defining loop in more senses than Emery does, before defining knitting.
I intend to delve further into this in future posts but am also trying to puzzle out how Tunisian crochet might have been described in either of the two reference works had the authors chosen to cover it. Since it contains elements of both knitting and crochet, not including it in a text on primary fabric structures is understandable. There is no similarly obvious reason for its absence from a book on textile techniques.
I don’t know how much effort this undertaking will require and am going to gear up for it with a review of what Emery says about the relationship between tools with hooked tips and the structural attributes of the looped fabrics they produce. She counts both crochet and knitting among them. However, as with her description of the relationship between twisted-stitch and open-stitch knitting, her characterization of crochet mesh is not as focused as it needs to be for analyzing the hybrid structure of Tunisian crochet (using the predominant Victorian designation for it here — ‘tricot’).