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

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Crochet · History · Structures · Techniques

The double chain stitch and mignardise crochet

The January 1857 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book includes the first in a series of “Full Instructions for Needle-Work of all Kinds.” It describes the basic elements of crochet and provides a good review of the mid-19th-century state of the craft. Without any indication of it being a recent innovation, an unillustrated and now unfamiliar “double chain-stitch” is included.

“This is a stronger and firmer chain-stitch than the ordinary one; and as it resembles braid, it is sometimes termed braid-stitch. When you have done two ordinary chain-stitches, besides the one on the needle, insert the hook into the first of those two, draw the thread at once through them both: then continue to insert the hook in the stitch just finished, as well as the loop on it already, and draw the thread through both.”

I’m still looking for earlier descriptions of it and am not entirely confident that the following drawing of the “double foundation” (doppelter Anschlag) in the July 1867 issue of Der Bazar is the first to have been published. It appears in an illustrated suite of crochet stitches that was reused in numerous subsequent publications — both in authorized syndication and otherwise — and the double foundation as it appears there can safely be seen as an archetype.

bazar-double-chain

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History · Knitting loom · Structures

The chronology of loom knitting

The tools and techniques described in detail in the initial wave of 19th-century publications about diversionary fancywork reflect crafts in practice at that time. Although some clues are provided about their histories, little can be deduced about their actual ages and origins. The drawing of purse molds from 1842 that provides this blog’s logo is a good case in point.

logo

The pegged form is a support for knitting, called a moule Turc (Turkish mold) in the British publication it is taken from and in French instructions from 1826, with little likelihood of the later text having been derived from the earlier one. The name suggests an eastern origin although it may simply be a fanciful coinage. However, the same label appears in unrelated printed sources beyond the two just cited, plus contextual remarks about the application of the implement to knitting, clearly indicating that peg looms were in established use for some time before being written about.

The decision of a court in Strasbourg in May 1535 regarding the proper guild for sock knitters (Hosenstricker) considers the frames they used for making gloves and socks. Continue reading “The chronology of loom knitting”

Three years and 100 posts later

When I started this blog I had no idea how much time I would soon be spending in the alternating roles of researcher and wordsmith. I’ve enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. However, the project has been increasingly beset with need for retrospectively harmonizing earlier posts with recent ones and updating references to source documents that have since been digitized and placed online. More than a few substantive conclusions drawn along the way have been, or still need to be, recontextualized in light of subsequently acquired information.

The round numbers attaching to the present post make it a suitable final entry in Series One of this blog. I had intended to release it on the third anniversary of the inaugural post (19 November) but as noted in the one closest to that date, related commitments interfered with that seemingly simple action. The overdue housekeeping has become even more urgent in the meanwhile. There’s also a formidable and growing backlog of unread articles and books amassed with the intention of fueling future posts that I’m eager to make at least a dent in. Doing this may require easing off what has become a regular schedule of biweekly postings. Continue reading “Three years and 100 posts later”

Crochet · Passementerie · Structures · Systematics

Diamond mesh

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”

Crochet · Tools

The “ice cream cone” crochet hook

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 specialized repair hook modified for the purpose. That redesign typically 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 “The “ice cream cone” crochet hook”

Early instructions · History · Systematics · Tunisian crochet

More about the double-ended Tunisian crochet hook

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.

The stitch dictionary in the 8th edition of the Columbia Book, from 1907, includes a Double Hook Afghan Stitch.

columbia-double-stitch

“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.

columbia-double-celluloid

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.)

bazar-two-end-hook-1896

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.

Looping · Systematics · Terminology

Thinking outside the loop

In his book titled Ethnological Studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines, published in 1897, Walter E. Roth describes a man’s cap that includes both linked and looped structures.

roth-1897-hairnet
roth-1857-hairnet-detail

“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.

roth-1987-abc.jpg

“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”

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

A key to loop leadership

Back in the days when museums stored information about the objects in their collections in accession ledgers and card catalogs, structured vocabularies and classification systems were essential to the location and retrieval of this documentation. When dealing with manufactured objects, the basic nomenclature normally paralleled that used in the respective craft or industry. The higher-level categories the artifacts were sorted into were primarily intended to meet the needs of collections management and other curatorial activity. The underlying conceptual frameworks were therefore less likely to correspond directly to those of the practitioner communities.

One of the seminal texts in the development of such classification systems for textiles is Les Textiles Anciens du Pérou et leurs Techniques (The Ancient Textiles of Peru and their Techniques) by Raoul d’Harcourt, published in 1934. This was immediately used by Fritz Iklé as a basis for the organization of an exhibition of his own collection, displayed at several locations in Switzerland during 1935. It was titled Primäre textile Techniken (Primary Textile Techniques) and the accompanying booklet includes an essay by Iklé on the way he grouped the objects according to the techniques of their manufacture. He notes the extensibility of the system developed by d’Harcourt, whose personal support he also acknowledges.

Kristin Oppenheim published the Systematik der textilen Techniken der Neukaledonier und Loyalty-Insulaner (Systematics of the Textile Techniques of the New Caledonian and Loyalty Islanders) in 1942. She based this on the categories put forward by Iklé but included additional subgroups. One such extension was a categorical distinction between production methods that work finite lengths of thread, yarn, or comparable material into looped fabric, and those that place no intrinsic restrictions on the length of the working element. This was retained as a fundamental criterion in a series of increasingly comprehensive systems (described here) culminating in one of the current standard works, Textiles: a Classification of Techniques, published in 1994 by Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger.

The category that Seiler-Baldinger labels Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Limited Length is typified by an eyed needle pulling a manageable length of yarn by its end through each successive loop in a piece of nalbound fabric, thereby reducing the remaining length of that yarn. The category Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Unlimited Length includes knitting and crochet. Here the tools are interposed between the source of the yarn and the fabric, moving the yarn into it loop by loop, from what can then be an arbitrarily large supply.

The dichotomy is labeled with reference to the source of the working element. However, at least with the manual production of looped fabric, that supply is finite in both cases. No matter how long the assemblage is before being worked into fabric, at some point the end of a depleted strand will need to be joined to, or abut, the beginning of a new one. The points of transition can be unrecognizable in the finished fabric. If they are, the presence or lack of an intrinsic limitation on the length of an individual segment will not be reflected in the structure of the object and is therefore not useful as a stand-alone criterion for determining the technique by which it was made.

An inverse concern can be illustrated with the classification of flatwork crochet. Through to the end of the 19th century, and in the case of slip stitch crochet to the present day, the yarn was/is commonly cut at the end of each row and all new rows started with a fresh strand from the same edge of the fabric. Anyone examining a specimen of slip stitch crochet worked in this manner without prior experience in its identification, might easily characterize the fabric by regularly limited lengths of working yarn despite that not being a definitive attribute of the craft.

The appearance of loose yarn ends in objects that are unequivocally slip stitch crochet has, in fact, been taken to indicate that they were nalbound. The basic slip stitch structure can be produced with either method. There are even two ways of doing it with an eyed needle, of which one imposes no constraint on the length of the yarn supply (described here). This type of slip stitch fabric can therefore not be categorized as the product either of a technique of limited element length or of unlimited element length.

There are further examples of slip stitch crochet having been described as nalbinding, to the detriment of the historiography of both crafts. I’ve discussed a few of them in previous posts and will be adding others to a more comprehensive listing. The preceding post discusses the outset of a sequence of publications that led to the realization that the earliest material appearing in the corpus of cross-knit fabric is nalbinding rather than knitting.

It is widely accepted that the body of early artifacts catalogued and described as knitting still contains nalbound material that has yet to be recognized as such, and vice versa. There is also little doubt that more slip stitch crochet remains to be uncovered behind misattribution as both nalbinding and knitting.

Dating the advent of true knitting (a term introduced by d’Harcourt) requires a deeper understanding of the structural and procedural details that differentiate what is sometimes referred to as “single-needle knitting,” and multi-needle knitting in the established sense. Since such detail is not invariably present in archeologically recovered fragments, the need for a logically robust and clearly labeled higher level categorization has been apparent throughout.

The limited and unlimited categories initially articulated by Oppenheim are basically applicable in that context but the imprecision noted above still needs to be addressed. One approach would be to reconceptualize and rename the dichotomy in terms of how the yarn is led along its path, rather than by how long that path can be. Seiler-Baldinger’s definitions of the two groups provide an effective basis for doing precisely that.

In the limited case “the meshes are formed by the leading end of the thread…” In the unlimited one “the new mesh is formed by that portion of the thread nearest to the loop last formed.” The former can be given the compact label “end-led” techniques, with “loop-led” techniques as its binary counterpart. The alternative would be to extend Seiler-Baldinger’s category headings to Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Intrinsically Limited Length and Mesh Formation with a Continuous Element of Potentially Unlimited Length but that would do nothing either to streamline the nomenclature or highlight the essential concept.

The distinction between the preparation of a continuous working element of unlimited length before the creation of the fabric commences, and the extension of an element of limited length at repeated intervals during the production of the fabric, retains it utility. Regional schools of what is essentially the same end-led craft vary in whether a large continuous aggregate of fibers is first prepared and shorter lengths cut from it, or the raw fibers are added to the working element as an alternating facet of the fabric’s production. The applied procedure can be undetectable in a finished object and, as noted, the difference between a continuous element of potentially unlimited length and joined elements of limited length can also be invisible. The procedural attributes of how the working element is prepared therefore do not provide a generally applicable basis for the classification of fabric.

The same might be said of reference to end-led and loop-led techniques. However, those labels bypass the ambiguity relating to the working element and are thus one step closer to utility in such things as identification keys. For example, a key for the identification of fabric with a looped structure might include the criterion “open knit stitches appear in the fabric.” If they do, it can only have been produced by a loop-led technique. Oppenheim illustrates this as a “Knit stitch: Typical representative of systems with infinite elements.”

oppenheim-open-knit

If the question is whether pierced loops appear (also as drawn by Oppenheim) and the answer is affirmative, it can only have been made by an end-led technique.

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

harcourt-cross-knit

The additional presence of open, pierced, or simple loops in such fabric can eliminate the ambiguity, as the simple loops along the vertical edges do in this illustration. However, the largest amount of older material to which this concern applies is either fragmentary or worked in the round. The selvedges are therefore rarely accessible for examination, assuming they were a component of the fabric to begin with. Additional characteristics specific to the alternative categories may be revealed by the path of the working element through shaped areas of the fabric.

Such attributes can also be included in a binary identification key, with separate branches in the decision tree for more complex looped structures. Once the fabric structure and mode of its production have been identified, further craft-specific yes/no criteria can be applied to the detailed documentation of individual objects (as illustrated for early modern knitting in several articles in issue no. 60 of the Archaeological Textiles Review).

Zeroing in on a specific mode of production will, however, often require external familiarity not just with the candidate tools and techniques, but also with the historical contexts in which they appear. The latter factor is, in turn, informed by the correct attribution of the provenance and structure of material in museum collections.

History · Knitting · Nalbinding · Terminology

The 3000-year-old stitch eyes of Emilie Bach

Emilie Bach (1840–1890) was a founding director of the Royal School for Artistic Embroidery (k. k. Fachschule für Kunststickerei) in Vienna and a named contributor to several of the publications regularly cited on this blog. She was also one of the initial participants in the discussion of the techniques used for the early production of looped socks in Egypt and the first to identify a cross-knit fabric structure in such objects from the Later Roman Period. However, she took it to be knitted rather than nalbound, and was completely wrong about the age of the exemplars she examined.

emilie_bach
Emilie Bach

The next study in the sequence that ultimately sorted out the relationship between the two techniques — a booklet published in 1895 by Bach’s co-worker Luise Schinnerer (1854–after 1915; discussed here) — recognizes compound nalbinding in archeologically recovered Egyptian socks. However, Schinnerer accepts that those with a cross-knit structure were knitted, with reference to a feature piece by Bach in the Viennese daily newspaper Neue Freie Presse (New Free Press) from 22 August 1882, titled Altegyptische Textilkunst  (Ancient Egyptian Textile Art).

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


Continue reading “The 3000-year-old stitch eyes of Emilie Bach”