Crochet · Nalbinding · Techniques · Terminology

Crocheted nalbinding

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

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

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

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

iduna-slipper

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

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

Excerpting pivotal snippets from the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

norbury-needle-knitting.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stanley-waves.jpg

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

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

egyptian-knitness-detal

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

egyptian-loops-detal

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

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

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

egyptian-full

Crochet · Description · Knitting · Terminology

From knitted loop to crocheted stitch

In the past few posts I’ve considered different approaches to the graphic description of looped fabric structures. Although largely in abstract terms thus far, my intention is to apply relevant aspects of them to the analysis of specific objects that have themselves been the focus of other posts or are in the queue for such treatment.

Analytic terminology has been another perennial favorite here. The subject this time around is a formal international standard that both defines and illustrates structural details of knitted fabric in terms that are applicable to other forms of loopcraft, as well. The extent of that applicability will be tested with a comparison of plain knitting (stocking stitch) and plain crochet (slip stitch).

I had previously suggested that crochet could be seen as a handicraft equivalent to warp knitting, using terms taken from the International Standard ISO 4921:2000, Knitting — Basic concepts — Vocabulary. This “defines terms for basic knitting concepts” applicable both to hand and industrial knitting although many of the definitions are only used in the latter context. A related standard ISO 8388:1998Knitted fabrics — Types — Vocabulary, more explicitly defines terms for industrially produced machine knitted fabrics” but is relevant to hand knitted fabric nonetheless.

The vocabularies in both are useful when comparing other aspects of crochet and knitting since they accommodate both symmetrical and asymmetrical loops, and define the terms ‘loop’ and ‘stitch’ separately. Although these distinctions may not be necessary for the categorization of hand-knitted structures, the associated terms label different properties in crochet and are essential to its description.

The ISO vocabulary is based on the following differentiation of a loop, a knitted loop, and a stitch. A “loop of yarn” (a permitted alternative to the preferred term “kink of yarn”) is “a length of yarn that has been bent into a shape appropriate for its transformation into a weft-knitted or warp-knitted loop.” Three specimen forms are illustrated.

iso-kinks

A “knitted loop” is then defined as “a kink of yarn that is intermeshed at its base.”

iso-knitted-loops

The one at the top is an “open loop,” defined as “a knitted loop in which the same thread enters and leaves the loop at opposite sides without crossing over itself” and noting that “the same applies to an open stitch.” The bottom right shows a “closed loop” — “a knitted loop at the base of which the thread crosses over itself” — and again “the same applies to a closed stitch.” The closed loop is also illustrated under its own heading but in neither instance are the two possible directions for the crossover labeled or even noted (‘S’ as shown here, or ‘Z’ as in a following illustration; both are explained in the preceding post).

iso-closed-loop

Finally, a “stitch” is “a kink of yarn that is intermeshed at its base and at its top.”

iso-knitted-stitches

This illustration shows a “reverse stitch,” also called a “back stitch” and is explicitly “not the same as a purl stitch” (which means slightly different things in hand and industrial knitting). There is a separate illustration of a “face stitch,” also called a “plain stitch” or a “stocking stitch.” The difference is that the face stitch is “so intermeshed in the fabric that its legs are situated over the top arc of the stitch formed in the same wale in the previous course.”

iso-face-stitches

The terms wale and course correspond to the more familiar column and row but explicitly refer to sequences of stitches and not loops. It is also significant that the term “stitch” is not further specified as a knitted stitch and its definition includes a broad scope note.

“A stitch may be combined with a float, and different types of knitted loops and stitches may be combined in a unit of stitches or an arrangement of stitches.
≠ a knitted loop”

The named arrangements of stitches include a “binding-off course” defined as, “a new row of loops, each one transferred to the adjoining wale and forming a ladderproof chain of loops at the top end of a knitted article.”

iso-bindoff.jpg

The lateral repositioning of a knitted loop changes it from symmetrical to asymmetrical but it retains its basic structural identity. When the knitted loop in the adjoining wale is pulled through it, the initial loop is intermeshed at its base and top, thereby becoming a stitch. The ISO vocabulary doesn’t have a name for it but the definition of the binding-off course implies that it would be called a chain stitch.

The preceding illustration can be seen as a detail from the upper end of a piece of knitted fabric that could include additional lower courses of knitted stitches. There is also a type of crocheted fabric that consists of multiple courses of chain stitches identical to those in the binding-off course. This has the slip stitch structure illustrated in numerous previous posts and seen in this drawing taken from a description of a bootee in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland, by Audrey Henshall (also shown in earlier posts).

henshall-slipstitch

All documentation of this fabric prior to the 1820s describes it as ‘a species of knitting,’ with the word ‘crochet’ only used to designate the hook. It can also be seen as a form of knitted fabric according to the ISO definition. Nonetheless, it is now primarily associated with crochet. The vertical intermeshing of one course of chain stitches with another is the definitive attribute of its simplest form, variously termed plain crochet, slip stitch crochet, or single crochet (UK).

A bind-off course fashioned with knitting needles requires all of the knitted loops to be held on a needle until they are worked successively into chain stitches on the next pass. With a crochet hook, the knitted loops are taken onto the tool individually and immediately intermeshed into chain stitches. This is also the more practicable technique for working courses of chain stitches into crocheted fabric.

Regardless of how the fabric illustrated in the two preceding drawings can be produced, both show the same structural characteristics. The knitted loops all lean to the right, they are all open, and they are all worked into the back side of the preceding stitch (BLO). Their legs pass behind it, forming reverse stitches.

Another of the drawings of slip stitch crochet that’s already been used several times on this blog, by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger, shows a different configuration. The knitted loops lean to the right here as well but they are closed (with a Z crossing). They are also worked into the back side of the preceding stitch but their legs pass in front of it, forming face stitches.

slip-stitch

The correlation between the variant forms of this structure and the procedural aspects of their production as slip stitch crochet were discussed in depth in the preceding post, deferring a few relevant details for later consideration. One of them is the difference between face and reverse stitches. This correlates basically to whether the yarn is held in back or in front of the fabric, with the hook inserted into it from the front or back, while the loops and stitches are formed.

This maps directly into the colloquial knit and purl of hand knitting. However, the latter term is not widely recognized in crochet and the labeling of reverse stitches is a matter of recurring debate. Slip stitch crocheters commonly refer to them as ‘inverse slip stitches,’ which needn’t be taken any further for now. However, the concept of inverse does not scale as clearly into more complex crochet stitches.

One further property of a slip stitch can make the analysis of fabric produced with it more difficult than that of fabric made with the stocking stitch. In the latter, the initial loop will be open or closed and that property will be propagated into the stitch, and then retained in the fabric. With the slip stitch, a new loop that is worked into the front side of a stitch in the preceding course (FLO), applies a vertical force to the stitch that can reverse its open or closed characteristics.

The two-loops-in-one attribute of crochet makes it a compound structure and therefore nominally comparable to the one-loop-over-two compound knitting discussed here, and illustrated with this schematic drawing by Marianne Eriksson.

compound-knitting-structure

However, the mechanical dynamics of the intrinsically compound slip stitch and those of the stocking stitch whether compound or not, are fundamentally different. This is one of the limitations on the describability of crochet and knitting using the same terms — but also provides fuel for additional posts.

Crochet · Knitting · Systematics · Terminology

Crochet as warp knitting

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,platiere-hooks

with the process shown in a recent image (from Wikimedia Commons).

maschenbildung_1

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.

platiere

The similarity between the manual technique shown here and the core element of present-day mechanized warp knitting is apparent.

warp-hook

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.”

loops and lag

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.
Crochet · Knitting · Systematics · Terminology

The True Stitch

My recent visit to the Museum der Kulturen in Basel included a stop at their library to fetch a copy of a visitor’s guide to an exhibition of the Fritz Iklé collection of textiles, displayed at several locations in Switzerland during 1935. It was titled Primäre textile Techniken (Primary Textile Techniques) and the accompanying booklet includes an essay by Iklé on the way he grouped the objects according to the techniques of their manufacture. He labeled one of the groups “Looping a single working thread” (Verschlingung eines Arbeitsfadens) and another “Working multiple threads” (Verarbeitung vieler Fäden).

Kristin Oppenheim placed Iklé’s categories and terminology in a more rigorous framework in 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.

*          *          *          *

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

Crochet plain and simple

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.”

emery-filet

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.

Early instructions · History · Knitting · Terminology

More knitting geography

As discussed in a previous post, there is no demonstrable geographic or historical basis for categorizing the knitting of fabric primarily with twisted stitches as “Eastern,” or knitting with predominantly open stitches as “Western.” Similar conditions apply to the terms “English” and “continental” when used to designate the two most widespread methods for holding yarn.

Most early writing about that aspect of knitting technique treats the predominant local approach as the ordinary one. Where alternative methods are described, it is in procedural terms that may or may not be identified with the name of another region.

This can be illustrated starting with The Workwoman’s Guide written anonymously by “A Lady” in 1838. This describes what is now called the English method.

The Common Knitting Stitch

Hold the pin with the stitches on, in the left hand; with the right hand, put the other pin under the first loop, making the pin lie across behind the left-hand pin, while with the first finger, the worsted is drawn in front between the pins. Then with the end of the right pin, press this worsted till it is brought through the stitch in the form of a loop upon the right hand pin.

The author follows this with a description of the continental method.

Dutch Common Knitting

This is another mode of knitting the common stitch, and is more simple, and more quickly done than the usual way. Hold the pin-ful of stitches in the left hand, as also the worsted, which should be wound once or twice around the little finger, to keep it firm, and allowed to pass over the first finger to the pins. The right hand pin is then simply passed through the stitch, and catching the worsted outside, draws it through, and forms the loop on the right pin, an so on.

With the exception of the way the two methods are labeled, the difference between them is presented in essentially the same way it still is. In fact, in British writing the left-hand method was commonly called Dutch or German until World War I, when the latter term was supplanted by a geopolitically neutral alternative.

The effort to promote holding yarn in the left hand continued in the Victorian fancywork literature, where the perspective of the left-handed knitter simply went unrecognized. This is typified in the 1842 edition of Jane Gaugain’s The Lady’s Assistant in knitting, netting, and crochet work, emphasized there with a pointing finger and italics.

In teaching any person to knit, they should be instructed, as the more elegant mode, to hold the thread over the forefinger of the left hand, and not the right as most people do.

A Dutch text published by Anna Barbara van Meerten in 1823 (discussed in detail in a previous post) describes the way yarn is held for crochet by comparing it to the ordinary method of knitting in Holland at that time.

This is held in the right hand, along with the thread being worked, about as though one were knitting.

In light of the 1838 English description of the Dutch method it might seem that the practice there had changed in the interim (as it did more widely with crochet). However, van Meerten describes the local technique again in 1835, in a Dutch translation of a German Encyclopedia for Women and Girls.

The thread is placed over the right forefinger and held by the fourth finger and the little finger, while the other fingers hold the needles… Some people wrap the thread around the left index finger, which is the same.

The translator’s preface says that she adapted some of the instructions to local conditions, so it is safe to regard wrapping the yarn around the right index finger as the preferential Dutch practice. I haven’t been able to locate the original German version and don’t know if this is one of the modified passages.

Another German text on knitting from 1826 (echoing yet another from 1801) otherwise leaves the entire matter of how the yarn is held to the reader’s own understanding.

The rules and techniques of ordinary knitting are widely known.

These documents almost certainly do not reflect the full variation of local practice in the countries of their publication and obviously say nothing about subsequent trends. Skipping forward to the 1880s as described by Thérèse de Dillmont in her Encyclopedia of Needlework, the yarn-right method is presented as “the one usually practiced in England and France.”

The Germans on the contrary, lay the thread over the left hand, and can move the hands more quickly, in consequence. There are some ways of casting on, which can only be done in the German fashion.

The French edition of the same text makes no reference to England or France and implicitly describes the yarn-right hand position as the established method for a Francophone reader. It then contrasts it with the German yarn-left as just described.

Recent pedagogical material generally makes no presumption about the knitter’s handedness. It also strives to avoid regional categorization, with terms such as “picking” and “throwing.” Such alternatives require explanation, nonetheless, and only designate one component of the suites of actions that define a knitting style. The broader categorizations English and Continental are therefore still often encountered. They have also been joined by the more recently coined use of “Portuguese” as a designation for the yarn-around-neck method of feeding the yarn to the front of the work, which may well predate any of the regionally labeled methods described above.

Crochet · Techniques · Terminology · Tools

More about Bosnian crochet

The description of Bosnian crochet given by Luise Schinnerer in 1897 and discussed in detail in the preceding post, is echoed in almost all points of detail in the article on crochet in the Encyclopedia of Needlework; New Edition by Thérèse de Dillmont. This work has appeared in numerous editions beginning in 1886 but the first one makes no mention of Bosnian crochet, nor do the first French or German editions. The revised French edition appeared in 1900 (briefly reviewed in the newspaper Le Radical on 31 July 1900) and the various translated versions would not have been released earlier. This left ample time for Dillmont (a native German speaker) to have taken note of Schinnerer’s article in the interim. (The online copy linked to above is of a printing from January 1922, as indicated by the numerical code ‘122’ at the bottom of the page following the title page.)

Linda Ligon reviewed the Dillmont article in the July/August 1994 issue of PieceWork Magazine also noting that there was no mention of Bosnian crochet in the first edition of the Encyclopedia, “so it’s not clear when this special kind of work came to her attention.” I believe the answer to that question is when she found Schinnerer’s description of it.

Beyond illustrating the craft, Dillmont’s text is particularly important because it enters the English term “Bosnian crochet” into the fancywork glossary, defining it according to Schinnerer’s description. However, Dillmont does not retain Schinnerer’s exclusive focus on traditional tools and applications. The shared basic stitch is described in the Encyclopedia as the “single stitch” noting that it “is also known as the slip stitch.”

dillmont-plain-stitch

The work is not turned at the end of a row and the yarn is simply carried a bit beyond the final stitch and cut. When the next row is started, “the thread has to be fastened on afresh, each time.”

Dillmont provides detailed instructions for making a strip of the mixed-color form, working into the back leg of the chain loop of the corresponding stitch in the preceding row (now abbreviated BLO). Schinnerer only says that the same leg of that loop is used without specifying the front (FLO) or the back.

bosnian-multicolor

Another instruction is for the characteristic relief pattern that results from selectively alternating the point where the hook is inserted, from the back leg to the front leg of the loop. Both Schinnerer and Dillmont say this is only done using a single color.

bosian-unicolor

Schinnerer also shows a photo of a hat where the upper closed-work portion is made in this manner (but does not describe the stitch structure of the wide band at the bottom).

bosnian-hat

Her article additionally discusses Bosnian-Herzegovinian knitting with hook-tipped needles, and the regional practice of making fabric with alternating bands of slip stitch crochet and knitting. Although something of a centerpiece for Schinnerer, Dillmont says nothing about it.

One interesting characteristic of the hybrid fabric is that the crocheted portions are made using a special hook and not the hook-tipped knitting needles, despite Dillmont indicating that the latter option would be viable. Her illustration of an ordinary crochet hook being used to produce slip stitches could as easily show the end of a hook-tipped knitting needle. In fact, this ties into an earlier post that I left dangling with the intention of following up much sooner, where a cylindrical crochet hook (found in trade listings up to 35 cm long) is illustrated in use for what may well have been slip stitch crochet.

Nonetheless, traditional slip stitch crochet is often associated with the use of a special hook, not just in the Bosnian school, but in others as well. Various local manifestations have been discussed in several previous posts. The current Swedish tradition uses this form, which can be traced back into the late 18th century.

penelope-flat-hook

It is also described in an early Dutch publication (details here ) and presumably used elsewhere. However, given the clear difference between it and the Bosnian hook shown by Schinnerer, there is no substantive basis for the frequent reference to the Nordic/Dutch form as a Bosnian crochet hook.bosnian-hook

History · Knitting · Structures · Terminology

Who said knitting started with twisted stitches and hooked needles?

Several previous posts refer to generally held beliefs about the earliest knitters in Egypt using needles with hooked tips to make twisted-stitch stockinette fabric. More recent scientific examination of archaeologically recovered knitted fabric has radiocarbon dated the oldest known specimen of true knitting to the interval 425–594 CE. Counter to what the established tenet leads us to expect, this has an open-loop structure. Additional knitted objects through to the early 2nd millennium CE, found (but not necessarily made) in Egypt, have undergone similar examination and images in the published reports suggest that the open-knit form was by far the predominant one.

The questioned notion about the developmental sequence was fostered by Fritz Iklé in an article titled Über das Stricken (About Knitting), published in 1936 in the Schweizerische Arbeitslehrerinnen-Zeitung (Swiss Trade Teachers Journal, vol. 19, no. 8).  He discusses the earlier conflation of looped fabric with a cross-knit structure made with a single eyed needle, now generally regarded as a form of nalbinding, and true knitting. However, he characterizes the earliest knitted material as having a twisted-loop structure. The article includes a section on knitting with hook-tipped needles and he draws the conclusion that the use of such tools to produce twisted-knit stockinette was “apparently the form of knitting that preceded our customary knitting.”

Iklé then discusses later regional schools of knitting that employ hooked needles, noting that they are also used for open-knit stockinette. He illustrates this with a photograph of an unfinished sock.

hooked-sock

“The beginning of knitted work from Turkey shows us that hooked needles can also be used to knit open stitches, for which we also have evidence from Arabic graves from the 9th to the 12th centuries…”

Iklé cites the work of Luise Schinnerer during the 1890s (discussed in detail in the following post), who was the immediate source for several of the ideas that he propagated. Their conclusions would less likely have been reflected in the English-language literature if Mary Thomas had not picked up on Iklé’s article in the preparation of Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, from 1938. She explicitly credits him as one her informants and appears to have paraphrased the caption of the preceding photograph but misread a pivotal detail in the original German.

“…a half-finished sock of the 12th century found in a Turkish tomb reveals that the knitter was then working with five hooked needles…”

Either way, Thomas does not identify the Turkish tomb to which she is referring or substantiate her statement in any other manner. It should also be noted that if the Turkish sock illustrated by Iklé were indeed from the 12th century, despite his saying nothing about its age, its ribbing would provide incontrovertible evidence of knitting and purling side-by-side at a significantly earlier date than can otherwise be attested. Finding needles in place in work of that age would also be quite sensational.

Thomas bases what is now an entrenched dichotomy between “Eastern” and “Western” knitting on the assumption that fabric produced in the corresponding areas of Europe can be characterized by preferential knitting with twisted or open loops. Although the geographic labels are of mnemonic utility when discussing craft practice (for a right-handed knitter, loops with an Eastern mount face to the east and those with a Western mount to the west) the derivation of her nomenclature is gainsaid by the open-knit Turkish sock.

Thomas discusses and illustrates another regional form of knitting with hooked needles practiced in Landes, on the Atlantic coast of southern France. This is also mentioned briefly by Iklé with details that Thomas includes in her own description. She says that “the fabric is Crossed Stocking Stitch, knitted in the Eastern way” again contradicting the geographic basis for her classification of stitch structures. She resolves this by permitting both the Eastern and Western forms to be “crossed” or “uncrossed,” further treating knitted and purled stitches as separate constructs. Although again useful in knitting pedagogy, that model occludes rather than clarifies historical and structural relationships between the various forms, as well as the differentiation of the techniques used for their production.

Whatever the extent of Thomas’s reliance on Iklé may have been, he provided her with at least one item that is not described in his own text — a knitted fragment in his collection.

Iklé fragment

Thomas calls it a “magnificent example of Arabian color knitting of the 7th to 9th centuries…found in Fostat…and knitted in Crossed Stocking Stitch (Eastern)….” This dating is consistent with Iklé’s general appraisal of such material. Thomas notes that the decoration was knitted upside-down and that she aligned the photo with the direction of the stitching. This apparently assumes that the cuff-down working of the Turkish sock was normative for early knitting, rather than taking the orientation of the pattern to indicate what, in reference to socks, would be toe up.

When inverted, the pattern can be compared directly with the appreciable amount of decorated Islamic knitting from the Fatamid Period (969-1171 CE) for which descriptions have since been published. Several commentators have suggested on this basis that the Iklé fragment is also correctly dated to that period. The current location of the fragment is unknown (if it still exists) and its age cannot be determined more precisely. (Nor can the assertion that it has a twisted-stitch structure be confirmed; the photo does not display that level of detail.) For as long as it was considered illustrative of the earliest form of true knitting, the photograph in Thomas’s book was regarded as particularly valuable documentation.

One of the more rigorous recent discussions of Egyptian textiles is found in a presentation of selected objects from the Katoen Natie collection in Antwerp, written by Antoine De Moor, Chris Verhecken-Lammens, and André Verhecken, titled 3500 Years of Textile Art, and published in 2008. This includes photographs of a knitted stocking and fragments of three others that were all radiocarbon dated to the Fatamid period. The four photos are detailed enough to show open-knit structures, as can be seen in the full stocking here. The decorative pattern of one of the fragments closely resembles that of the Iklé fragment and a close-up detail shows its stitch structure with particular clarity (here in a detail of the detail).

katoen-650-01

This corroborates Iklé’s report of open-loop knitting being evidenced by material found in Arabic graves from the 9th to the 12th centuries, even if he estimated an earlier date for the fragment from his own collection. It seems likely that he based that assessment on the presumption that twisted-loop knitting was the older practice. However, the bulk of evidence now available does not support either the chronology or distribution statistics he described and Thomas then injected into the mainstream craft literature.