Crochet · History · Knitting · Tools

Gauging wooden crochet hooks and knitting needles

The first measuring tools and gauge systems documented for indicating the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks were developed by the wire drawing industry. This was an obvious means for labeling craft implements made from wire, but separate numbering schemes also began to appear for hooks and needles made from other materials. Larger diameters were also indicated by direct reference to ordinary measuring scales.

In a presentation of a gauge of her own devising, in 1843, Frances Lambert says:

“Knitting needles, which exceed the size of No. 1 [8 mm], can readily be measured by an inch rule.”

Swedish instructions for Tunisian crochet from 1856 state that:

“This work requires a bone crochet needle, 12 millimeters thick.”

Instructions for a foot warmer in the 23 February 1861 issue of Der Bazar, prescribe it to be:

“…knitted with two long wooden needles the size of 2 centimeters in circumference [⌀ 6.4 mm]…”

The explicit mention of circumference makes it unclear if the 1843 and 1856 texts also refer to that dimension, or if they mean diameter. Another interesting question is how precise this general form of measurement can be. Holding a needle against a ruler is a straightforward way to measure its diameter but results can easily vary from person to person. The same applies to measuring its circumference, say, by wrapping a length of thread around the needle and then measuring the length of that thread.

The optical comparison of a needle to a ruler has the advantages of simplicity and directly measuring diameter, rather than requiring its calculation (if needed) from circumference. The typical workbasket contains both a tape measure and thread, supporting either measuring technique without additional need for a gauging tool. And then there is the converse of the previous question — how accurate do such measurements need to be? Continue reading “Gauging wooden crochet hooks and knitting needles”

Crochet · History · Knitting · Tools

Frances Lambert’s knitting needle gauge

This post continues the examination of Victorian efforts at converging on a single standard for designating the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks, begun in the post before last. In 1842, one of the initial participants in the discussion of that topic, Frances Lambert, illustrated a gauging tool made according to a French standard based on the millimeter. In contrast, beginning in the same year, her colleagues repeatedly stated that the inch-based Standard Wire Gauge (SWG) — the source of the current UK knitting needle numbers — had been widely adopted in their field.

Lambert persisted in claiming that the SWG was only one of many systems in use and that a “Standard Filière” (wire gauge) of her own invention, tabulated below, was the way to resolve the alleged confusion. This led to a series of contentious exchanges on the subject of gauges — a term used to designate both a measuring tool and the ordered system of numbers and measurements that it incorporates. The debate is reviewed in detail in the earlier post, to which I’ve since added more information about the French system that weighed into Lambert’s work (also correcting an error in the initial version).

The evidence shows that Lambert’s alleged multiplicity of systems was not generally seen as the problem she repeatedly stated it to be. Her colleagues were comfortable indicating the sizes of knitting needles, crochet hooks, and netting meshes with the SWG, which was also employed by the manufacturers of such implements. As noted in 1848 by George Hope, the designer of one of the many alternate formats in which the SWG was produced, it “is a correct measure for the numbers used in every publication, except those of Miss Lambert.” Continue reading “Frances Lambert’s knitting needle gauge”

Crochet · Knitting · Tools

Gauging the needs of knitters and crocheters

The earliest known description of what is now called Tunisian crochet is found in Swedish instructions published on 1 January 1856 (discussed here). They prescribe “a bone crochet needle, 12 millimeters thick.” This is a surprising unit of measurement since the metric system was not adopted in Sweden until the end of 1878, with a ten year transition period before it was expected to come into widespread use.

This raises a question about other evidence of yarncraft being ahead of official metrication. The reference to the 12 mm crochet hook gainsays accepted notions of knitting needles and crochet hooks not being measured in millimeters until well into the 20th century. Other early indications of metric gauging remain to be located in Swedish sources but are found elsewhere.

The metric system originated in France, where it became legally normative in 1785. A “French gauge” for measuring the diameter of medical catheters came into widespread use during the 1830s. The gauge numbers indicate diameter in 1/3 mm increments — “1” = 1/3 mm, “2” = 2/3 mm, … “30” = 10 mm. Both the numbers and the mm sizes are marked on the one seen here, made by its inventor J.F.B. Charrière. Continue reading “Gauging the needs of knitters and crocheters”

Crochet · Instructions · Passementerie · Tools

French crochet and non-crochet in 1826

A comment on the preceding post about the status of crochet in the 1820s sent me back to revisit Elisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (the second of the early 19th-century authors on whom this blog focused shortly after its inception). The first edition of her “Young Ladies’ Handbook or Arts and Crafts” (Manuel des Demoiselles ou Arts et Métiers) was published in Paris, in 1826, under the pen name of Madame Celnart. The comment notes that this book served as the basis for a German counterpart written by Charlotte Leidenfrost, that appeared two years later and was the source of the text about crochet translated in the previous post.

Leidenfrost begins the preface to her “Small Handbook on Pleasant and Useful Activities for Young Women” (Handbüchlein zur angenehmen und nützlichen Beschäftigung für junge Damen), from 1828, by noting:

“The initiative for the present small work was taken when the publisher sent the author the Manuel des Demoiselles ou Arts et Métiers by Madame Celnart with the assignment of preparing a free translation.”

After a few complimentary words about Bayle-Mouillard’s efforts, Leidenfrost becomes rather critical of the stylistic and pedagogical shortcomings of the text she had been presented with. The preface goes on to note that the resulting German publication excludes some sections of the French one, completely rewrites others, and adds extensive new material, Continue reading “French crochet and non-crochet in 1826”

Crochet · History · Tools

Flat hooks in Medieval and Neolithic Europe

The History of Knitting Before Mass Production by Irena Turnau, published in 1991 (trans., Historia dziewiarstwa europejskiego do początku XIX wieku, 1979), includes a section headed “Knitwear in the Early Middle Ages.” In it she states that during this period, “in the Baltic countries…knowledge of…both knitting with two needles and crocheting is indisputable.” She supports the dating of crochet with an article from 1953 by Gabriela Mikołajczyk on “The origins of knitting in Poland” (Początki dziewiarstwa w Polsce). This illustrates a dozen flat hooks made of bone and horn that were recovered from 11th- and 12th-century archaeological sites in Poland.

polish-hooks

Despite their explicit labeling as crochet hooks and Turnau’s acceptance of that ascription, it might be tempting to regard these objects as having been intended for other purposes. However, they withstand direct comparison with later hooks that are known to have been used for that craft. This is readily seen with a Swedish flat hook made of bone for traditional slip stitch crochet (discussed in an an earlier post). Other exemplars of the same type are found in Swedish museum collections. Continue reading “Flat hooks in Medieval and Neolithic Europe”

Crochet · Techniques · Terminology · Tools · Tunisian crochet

Very raised round shapes

Many of the stitches that crocheters regard as fundamental to their craft were described in non-English publications before the Victorian fancywork press had begun to roll. Naming conventions differed both across and within language boundaries, as is still witnessed by the misalignment of the UK and US glossaries. Diffuse nomenclature also attached to Tunisian crochet when it was added to the documented repertoire in the late 1850s. Stitch clusters didn’t even begin to acquire a differentiated set of labels until the end of that century, in surprising contrast to the structural intricacy of the clusters themselves.

Several aspects of this are seen with instructions for a “Crochet Afghan or Carriage Blanket” in an anonymous booklet titled Knitting and Crocheting, published in Boston in 1884 or 1885. (It is undated but includes an advertisement citing a trademark registered 17 June 1884, and the digitized copy shows the Library of Congress accession stamp, 21 Sept. 1885.)

tunisian-fancy-1885

The following snippet shows the gestational state of the English terminology, despite the ornate design. Continue reading “Very raised round shapes”

History · Knitting · Tools

Alien knitting techniques

The preceding post discussed alternate production methods that can have been used for the compound knitting seen in early Egyptian tubes. The same technical considerations figure prominently in discussions about the large knitted carpets that were made in Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries in partial fulfillment of guild requirements for certification as a master knitter. The collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London include a frequently illustrated exemplar made in 1781 (museum number T.375-1977). The online database indicates its size as 193 cm high and 174.5 cm wide but other of the museum’s publications state it to be 163 cm square.

va-carpet© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I’ll discuss the discrepancy below but suspect that the rectangular dimensions are of the carpet prior to restoration. Continue reading “Alien knitting techniques”

History · Knitting · Tools

Circular knitting needles

The German publication Der Bazar (The Bazaar) figures prominently in a number of posts on this blog. This is due in no small part to the online availability of an almost unbroken series of issues from the outset of its publication through to the end of the 19th century. The inaugural volume appeared in 1855 and is one of the few not to be found in library catalogs but I’ve managed to acquire a printed copy (said with a fair amount bibliophile pride). One of what was to become dozens of competitors, Die Modenwelt (The Fashion World), commenced publication in 1865. As far as I have yet been able to determine, no library has a complete set and relatively few volumes have been digitized.

The business model of Der Bazar included the syndicated parallel appearance of its descriptions and illustrations of fancywork techniques in collaborating publications in several other countries. The same practice was adopted by Die Modenwelt, which listed the international editions on its masthead.

Die Modenwelt 1868

Continue reading “Circular knitting needles”

Crochet · Tools

Ice cream cones in the crochet toolkit

Crochet hooks are used as auxiliary tools in other crafts, either in their original form or adapted to the alternate context. It is, for example, a matter of personal preference whether a knitter uses an ordinary crochet hook to reknit the ladder resulting from a dropped stitch, or a “repair hook” modified specifically for that purpose. The redesign involves shortening the shaft of the hook and shaping its other end either into a second hook or a pointed tip. Another example is the hook used for joining elements in tatting. This will be either a stock crochet hook or one with a shortened shaft with a metal chain and ring attached to the other end so that it can be held ready on a finger. (The truncated shaft and hole for the chain are telltale, even when the chain itself is missing.)

The tatting variant is also marketed as a compact alternative for crochet, illustrating the interesting question of how a multipurpose tool should be categorized and labeled. This becomes even more complex given the potential utility of hooks made to serve some unrelated purpose for working crocheted fabric. The converse situation is also of historiographic significance. If something that looks like a crochet hook is found in an archaeological context that can in no way be associated with the production of fabric — to say nothing of its crocheted form — the hook does not constitute such evidence without robust external corroboration. (Although not the focus of this post, both perspectives also pertain to eyed needles and nalbinding.) Continue reading “Ice cream cones in the crochet toolkit”

Instructions · Techniques · Tools · Tunisian crochet

Tunisian crochet with two hooks

The German periodical Der Blatt had a leading role in the publication of variant forms of the “ordinary Tunisian crochet stitch.” The first two appearing there are described in the post before last and depart markedly from what is now known as the Tunisian simple stitch (TSS). A variant presented in the 1 January 1862 issue differs from it so extremely that it would likely not be seen as derived from the TSS if the instructions didn’t say so.

It requires two long cylindrical hook-tipped tools. One is an ordinary Tunisian crochet hook, characterized by a ‘ball’ at its non-hooked end, and identical to the type of hook-tipped knitting needle used in pairs for flatwork knitting. The other is hooked at one end and tapered at the other to  match the smooth tip of an ordinary knitting needle. This is identical to the hook-tipped needle used in sets for knitting in the round.

The designers at Der Blatt would have had a reasonable expectation of their readers being able to obtain the prescribed tools. However, if hook-tipped knitting needles were commonly available to the target audience or in trade under another designation, the instructions would presumably have named them directly. Later instructions also specify a form with hooks at both ends, indicating that the need for altering stock Tunisian hooks or knitting needles was not an impediment.

The 1862 instructions use the hook/point and hook/ball needles together to make a “shell stitch” (Panzerstich) that was published with three other “new crochet stitches,” all modifying the TSS by varying the structure of the return chain. They significantly alter the standard form of that chain in different ways but the shell stitch is alone in the extent of its proximity to knitting. As was frequently the case with newly devised variations of the Tunisian stitch, it is only illustrated with a swatch.

bazar-panzer-e1564260083213.jpg

Because of its unfamiliarity, a second illustration shows the fabric stretched open and the juxtaposition of the two hooks.

bazar-panzer-stretched

Here are the instructions:

“This stitch differs from the other Tunisian crochet stitches in two significant ways. Namely, it consists of pattern rows that alternate between one and two passes, and is made with two different wooden hooked needles. The one of these two crochet needles, which should be on the heavier side, cannot have a knob at its lower end, which has to be pointed like a knitting needle. The other needle is a wooden crochet needle with a knob at its lower end to prevent the stitches from gliding off, but has to be smaller than the needle without the knob by almost half. In order to highlight the distinction between the individual pattern rows, they are worked in two contrasting colors [here blue and white]. The pattern row that is worked in one pass only is always crocheted from right to left with a double strand of yarn and the hook without a knob. The following pattern row, which includes two passes, is made with the thinner hook and a single strand of yarn. The forward pass in this pattern row is also worked from right to left, as with knitting, using both needles…

1st pattern row. After making a foundation chain with the blue yarn and without cutting it, use the hook without the knob to pull a loop of the doubled white yarn through each stitch in the foundation chain. These loops remain on the hook to form new stitches. At the end of this pass, cut the double yarn and work the,

2nd pattern row with the blue yarn that was left hanging at the starting edge of the fabric, using the thinner hook. In the first pass a loop is pulled through each of the double stitches in the white yarn in the preceding pattern row, by inserting the hook into the back of the stitch as is clearly shown in the illustration, and removing the stitch from the hook so that the double strands on either side of that stitch cross over each other as shown in the completed rows of those stitches. The second pass is crocheted from left to right just as with the second pass in a pattern row of the ordinary Tunisian crochet stitch, and the blue yarn is left hanging until the next pattern row that uses it.

3rd pattern row. Again place the double white strand on the hook without the knob and crochet from right to left, by pulling a new loop through the opening between the vertical parts of each stitch in the preceding row. These loops remain on the hook to form new stitches.

4th pattern row as the 2nd, 5th pattern row as the 3rd, and so forth.”

The tip of the heavier hook is not illustrated but the direction in which the loops of double white yarn cross over it follows from the customary crocheter’s practice of beginning a stitch by wrapping the yarn over the hook from back to front (YO). In contrast, the thinner hook is shown ‘grabbing’ the blue yarn from above without a YO. This is equivalent to wrapping the yarn under the hook (YU), and seats the loops on it in the opposite direction.

However, as drawn, the paths taken by both the blue and white yarn around their respective hooks are the same, also consistent with the orientation of the blue stitches in the fabric. Since the white loops are twisted as they are worked into stitches, their orientation in the fabric is the opposite of that on the hook.

The instructions emphasize that the use of the hook to twist the white stitches “is clearly shown in the illustration.” However, if the YU is correctly represented, the leg of the blue loop moving toward the tip of the hook should be on the back of the hook rather than on the front. The express statement of accuracy makes it difficult to dismiss the inconsistency in the path of the blue yarn as the result of an initial YU being drawn where a YO is intended. That would be the most straightforward explanation, nonetheless, and is also supported by the orientation of the blue stitches in the fabric. However, the illustrated fabric structure can also be produced in a manner that applies both the YO and the YU techniques.

The instructions twist the loops in the white yarn by inserting the righthand hook into each of them from behind. However, if the white loops are YU rather than YO, they will be twisted by inserting the righthand hook into them from the front. The inconsistency in the drawing can therefore be resolved by swapping the illustrated YU forward pass from the blue to the white yarn, and the YO forward pass from the white yarn to the blue. A proof-of-concept swatch made in that manner can be compared with the initial woodcut.bazar-panzerstich-1862

Another detail of the described procedure requires comment. Cutting the yarn at the end of each row worked flat, and starting the next row with a new length of yarn, was a common attribute of flatwork crochet throughout the 19th century (readily seen in an array of stitches in the 15 June 1867 issue of Der Bazar). However, one feature of the Tunisian crochet stitch is that it permits flatwork without need either for cutting the yarn or turning the fabric. The illustrated shell stitch discards that advantage and the doubled white yarn leaves twice the usual number of dangling yarn ends to be dealt with.

Given the numerous variant Tunisian stitches that were otherwise available, it would be reasonable for readers of Der Blatt to wonder what the one that required a special second hook and additional finishing was good for. In direct response to numerous queries received from readers who posed that very question, the illustrations and narrative explanation were reprinted in the 14 November issue of the same annual volume. Nothing was added about its visual effect but its heading was extended.

“Panzerstich for application in men’s shawls, jackets, carriage blankets, etc.

Despite this, Der Blatt never published instructions for any garments using it (that I’ve managed to spot). Their designers continued to explore special-tool variants of the TSS, producing instructions (to be discussed separately) that call for the now familiar double-ended Tunisian hook before the end the century.

Anyone following this discussion with tools in hand will soon note that the hook on the tip of the righthand needle makes it trivially easy to slip an unworked loop onto it from the lefthand needle and then knit it into a stitch, crochet style (ambiguity intended). It may therefore be simpler to separate the actions that overlap in the illustration, first moving the loop of white yarn onto the righthand needle, and then working the loop of blue yarn into it.