Looped Fabric

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.”


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.


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.

Looped Fabric

True knitting

I have been using the definitions of fabric structures provided by Irene Emery as starting points for the discussions of several forms of looping. Along the way, I tacitly noted that her definition of knitting is not as clear-cut as the others are and realized that it would be useful at some point to consider it here.

Emery defines the basic element of all looping as follows:

“A complete loop is formed (and will be retained in the fabric) if the element crosses over itself as it moves on to form the next loop.

Loop: a doubling of cord or thread back on itself so as to leave an opening between the parts through which another cord or thread may pass.”

Applying this specifically to knitting, a strand of yarn worked into a row of twisted-stitch knitting forms one complete loop after the other.


In contrast, the yarn in open-stitch knitting doesn’t cross over itself at all as it is worked across a row. It does cross over the yarn in the adjacent rows but those can be separate elements (and arguably are intrinsically so). The preceding definition of loop therefore does not properly accommodate this form of knitting.


Emery addresses this in her definition of knitting by introducing an incomplete “open loop”:

“Knitting in its simplest form consists of successive rows of ‘running’ open loops, each loop engaging the corresponding one in the previous row and being in turn engaged by the corresponding one in the following row.”

This correctly places twisted-stitch and open-stitch knitting in the same category but glosses over the contradiction in terms between a loop explicitly defined as an element that crosses over itself, and a loop as a u-shaped segment of an element that undulates along its length but does not cross over itself.


The qualifiers “complete” and “incomplete” offset this, and treating the twisted stitch as a complete loop allows the open stitch to be an incomplete variant. However, if knitting is classified as a form of looping (as Emery does), twisted-stitch knitting would then be its primary type with open-stitch knitting as a variant.

Emery also discusses the need to distinguish between twisted-stitch knitting and the structurally identical cross-knit looping, noting (but not necessarily ascribing to) a widespread belief that I will say more about in a separate post:

Crossed knitting is quite commonly said to be the oldest form of knitting.”

She uses the term “true crossed knitting” to narrow its scope to fabric produced by knitting techniques and not those of any other form of looping, but ultimately concludes:

“…even complete specimens (and many ancient ones are fragmentary) offer little reliable evidence of the process of fabrication. An unfinished fabric with associated implements would probably be necessary for positive determination.”

From the nominal perspective of this blog, it would be reasonable to discuss knitting exclusively in terms of looping. In that light, twisted-stitch knitting is “true looping” and open-stitch knitting is what could be termed pseudo-looping. Conveniently, there is no need to develop the latter concept unless Emery’s definition of looping is treated as inviolable, which she doesn’t even do herself.

In any case, much writing on the topic treats what is sometimes called “true knitting” as the reference point for both the historical and structural analysis not just of knitting, but of fabric produced by some other technique “that resembles knitting.” The definition of true knitting varies depending on whether focus is on the fabric structure or on the methods of its production. Regardless of the specific wording of any such definition, open-stitch hand-knitting would lie within its scope. Such fabric cannot realistically be produced with a single eyed needle, as can the twisted-stitch structure, so a qualifier similar to the one in Emery’s “true cross knitting” is not needed for it. Nonetheless, her formulation does recognize twisted-stitch knitting as true knitting.

The concept of true knitting ought reasonably (if not tautologically) to include knitting as defined by the practitioners of that craft. Current tutorial texts distinguish between Eastern style and Western style knitting. The sole difference between them that is visible in the finished fabric is whether the completed stitches are twisted or open. (I’ll discuss the origin of these terms in a separate post but will note for now that the material evidence does not establish twisted-stitch knitting as the older form.)

The Western knitting style is more widely practiced and therefore the one for which printed instructions are most commonly prepared. Eastern style knitters need to know how to deal with such patterns but the difference between the schools is otherwise of little practical concern. There is also a “combination” knitting that employs a hybrid of Eastern and Western elements to produce an open stitch structure, but this does not occupy a niche of its own in the present discussion.

A detailed classification system needs to recognize production methods. The two primary techniques for hand knitting employ a peg loom (subdivided into round and straight forms, using a single hook for working stitches on them) or knitting needles (with smooth tips or hooked tips and several ways to manipulate them). Both can produce twisted and open knit stitches with equal ease and neither can normally create other forms of looping.

This suggests that true knitting can usefully be defined both as the application of those implements to the manufacture of knitted structures, and as fabric resulting from that process. This does disallow machine knitting, but that includes many structures that cannot be produced by hand knitting and is generally discussed in a terminological and conceptual framework of its own. For present purposes, knitting machines will be seen as automated cousins of the peg loom, without encumbering the definition of true knitting.

Looped Fabric

Methods for looping wire

Instructions for knitting tubes of thin metal wire on a small peg loom were published in 1822 in the Dutch periodical Penélopé. They describe a technique that is referred to in instructions for a loom-knitted purse that appeared in an 1823 issue of the same publication.

I’ll translate the wirework instructions extensively in a separate post but will note for now that they are for twisted-stitch knitting. There is no reference to the open-stitch alternative that appears in the later purse instructions, but those do say that the technique (currently termed flat stitching) works best with “gold or silver thread.” Such metallic thread was made by wrapping a thin ribbon of metal spirally around a core of silk thread. This had the appearance of metal but with the tensile properties of silk thread, and flexibility largely determined by the core.

The earlier wirework instructions also illustrate the pegged end of what appears to be a narrow cylindrical loom, specifically for making chains in fine gold wire. The technique described in 1822 remains in common practice and an array of tutorial videos can be found by searching on “spool knitting with wire” (using a common designation for a small peg loom). These show some variation in spool shapes and the way stitches are formed on them.

Having just conducted that exercise to make sure that it gives the intended result, I did find flat-stitching among the illustrated techniques, but also noted that it was knitted far more loosely than any of the Viking work discussed thus far. This doesn’t quite eliminate my concern about the potential risk of silver wire being damaged by the high intrinsic strain of open-stitch knitting on a peg loom, but it clearly does demonstrate the viability of at least looser forms of such work. The safest way to deal with this is by stipulating that a skilled loom worker can also knit wire into tighter open-stitch structures (but still reserving judgment about whether that extends to compound knitting).

The videos illustrate two ways of using a spool. In addition to lifting the stitches off the pegs into the hollow inside of the spool, it is also possible to form a wire tube along the outside of a cylindrical spool. The pegs then only serve as an initial anchor for the work, which is subsequently detached from them. The spool is repositioned along the tube as its length increases, to ensure that it maintains a consistent diameter.

The fundamental difference between the conventional use of a peg loom and that of an enclosed spool is that a fixed length of wire is worked around the latter by inserting its leading end into every successive stitch, and pulling the entire length of the working wire through it. This results in a twisted-stitch structure that is properly classified as looping, not knitting. Nonetheless, one name commonly given to such work is “Viking knitting.” Whatever significance the distinction between looping and knitting may have to the practitioners of these crafts, if any, it is fundamental to dating the advent of the latter technology.

An earlier set of instructions for looping wire without a supporting device appears in an issue of Penélopé from 1821. As with the invisible spool knitting seen in the preceding post, wire can be cross-knit looped into carefully controlled shapes without need for a support. Dramatic illustrations of this are seen in the work of Ruth Asawa, as here, here, and here.

Objects made with the same basic technique, albeit on a far smaller scale, were found in graves at the Viking settlement at Birka, active from the 8th through the 10th centuries CE near present-day Stockholm. This photo shows a fragment of one such piece.


Another illustrates the compound structure that appears in many of the objects previously discussed here.


They are described by Agnes Geijer in a chapter on embroidery in the site documentation from 1938. This identifies six variants of cross-knit looping, four of which are illustrated with a needle pulling metal thread through an implied cloth support. Each of the other two variants is described as a length of wire worked into a simple or compound cross-knit structure by pulling its free end through each loop.


One of the important points Geijer makes is that archaeologically recovered wirework which appears to have been made to stand alone can initially have been worked into a textile support that has subsequently decayed. She does not discuss the possibility of objects with a cross-knit structure made free from a substrate being fashioned in any manner other than by looping. Nonetheless, it is clear from the open-stitch stockinette chains seen in previous posts — a structure that cannot be made by looping — that both knitting and looping were practiced by Viking wire workers.


Looped Fabric

Knitted tubes from Egypt

Hi there.  Your regular blog writer has graciously allowed me to submit this guest post. Following up on his recent posts about knitting and nalbinding in Egypt, this post will talk a bit more about some lesser-known archaeological finds.

There are several controversies in the history of knitting, but possibly the biggest one is the question of when and where knitting was invented.  It is now widely acknowledged that many non-woven textiles were labeled as “knitting” by early archaeologists who did not necessarily have the detailed knowledge of textile production that has since been cultivated.  For the most part, non-woven textiles from the pre-Medieval period have since been identified as having been made with other techniques such as nalbinding or sprang.  Most recent histories of knitting (such as Richard Rutt’s A History of Hand Knitting) say that the oldest surviving examples of true knitting date from 11th or 12th century Egypt.  While it is definitely possible that knitting could have been invented independently by more than one culture, it seems that the most popular hypothesis at the moment is that knitting in early modern Europe was introduced via the Iberian peninsula by Muslim craftspeople.  This hypothesis thus traces the development of knitting in Europe back to Medieval Egypt.

The surviving knitted material from Medieval Egypt consists of a number socks.  In general these socks utilize complicated two-color patterns, so it has been theorized that the technique of knitting is probably somewhat older than this.  And this theory turns out to be right (with some caveats, that we’ll get to below).  Although they do not seem to have gotten much attention, there are at least three surviving knitted tubes from Egypt which date to the pre-Islamic era.

Explaining why these tubes are interesting requires a bit of a discussion of the earlier nalbinding from Egypt.  There are numerous nalbound socks from Roman-era and post-Roman Egypt in museum collections around the world.  The majority of these are made with “Coptic stitch” nalbinding.  Other terms for this are ‘cross-knit looping’ and ‘encircled looping’.  It is a fabric structure that is identical to ‘crossed-stitch’ or ‘twisted-stitch’ knitting when worked without increases or decreases.  However, as was recently discussed on this blog, nalbinding is made by using a single needle with an eye, pulling the entirety of a finite-length yarn through each stitch.  Each stitch forms a loop whose legs are crossed one over the other.

In contrast, true knitting forms stitches which are loops whose legs do not cross.  Each stitch appears as a ‘V’ shape on one side of the fabric.  While there are several methods that can produce true knitting, this structure can not be made with nalbinding.  Any method of producing the true knitted structure with soft yarn requires some tool or mechanism to hold the loops until they have been stabilized by having the next row worked through them.  The exact same structure can be made using knitting needles (straight needles with a blunted point at one or both ends), hooked needles, or a peg loom.

The earliest of the Egyptian knitted tubes was found at Maximinion (Cardon, D. “Chiffons dans le désert: textiles des dépotoir de Maximianon et Krokodilȏ” in La Route de Myos Hormos, 2003).  This was dated between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE, although the description of the piece does not detail how this conclusion was reached.  Cardon does not describe in detail the structure, but only notes that it was “tubular knitting” 0.9cm in diameter stuffed with 15 z-spun pieces of wool.  Since Cardon did not provide a detailed description of the knitted structure, it is possible that this piece was nalbinding mistaken for knitting.  The black-and-white photos in this book are low resolution and it’s hard to tell.  However, by 2003 the distinction seems to have been pretty well understood among textile archaeologists.  Also, the similarity with the following pieces argues that this was a true knitted structure.

There is another tube from Krokodilopolis held at the Museum für Byzantische Kunst in Berlin (Finneiser, K. et al., Georg Schweinfurth — Pionier der Textilarchäologie und Afrikaforscher, 2010).  The dating on this one is more uncertain; they list it as 4th – 11th century.  However, the authors clearly illustrate that the structure is not only a true knitted structure, but it is a double-deep knitting, also referred to as “compound knitting”.  Unlike typical knitting in which each stitch is pulled through a loop of the previous row, in this piece each stitch is pulled through stitches in the 2 previous rows.  Therefore, each stitch is pulled through two stitches: the one immediately below it and also the one below that.  The authors also mention similar tubes found in two Nubian graves from a comparable period (8th-10th century), which were used as belts.  They therefore speculate that this was also a belt.

Lastly, there is a tube currently held in the Louvre.  (Bénazeth, D. “Accessoires vestimentaire dans la collection de textiles coptes du musée du Louvre” in Dress Accessories of the 1st Millenium AD from Egypt, ed. Antoine De Moor & Cäcilia Fluck, 2011)  This item’s provenance is unfortunately unknown.  The author believes that this is from a female grave that was excavated in 1900-1901 at Antinoé, but this is based on a vague description in the notes from that dig.  Regardless, radio-carbon dating places it as from the 5th-6th centuries and they do seem confident that it is from Egypt.  Bénazeth states that this piece has the same appearance as the one held in Berlin, mentioned above.  She also mentions the two Nubian belts as justification for assuming this piece to also be a belt.  I have not managed to track down more information on the Nubian belts.

So, these three pieces attest to the creation of true knitted structures in Egypt as early as the 5th-6th century, and possibly as early as the 1st century, CE.  It still remains an open question whether these knitted tubes were produced on knitting needles or on some sort of peg loom.  The double-deep structure can be produced in either manner.  This blog has some posts on how to do it on needles: here and here.  However, it is MUCH easier to achieve using a knitting loom, where the technique does not differ substantially from ordinary, single-deep knitting.  Also, there is no evidence that anyone had figured out how to make other sorts of shapes (like the heels in socks) this early.  It’s entirely possible that this was one of the things which spurred a move from peg looms to knitting on needles.  But that’s just speculation for now.  Unless someone digs up some looms or needles with unfinished work still on them, we may never know for sure how these items were made!

Putting aside the question of needles vs. looms, these pieces push back the date of the development of knitting in Egypt by at least 500 years compared with the patterned socks from the Medieval (Fatimid) era.  This is of great interest to those who would like to find “the oldest known examples of knitting”.  While not the only candidates, these knitted tubes provide the early part of a strain of development that may be the root of knitting in early modern Europe.

Looped Fabric

Romano-Coptic nalbinding and Islamic knitting

The preceding several posts examine older documents about the production of looped fabric in Scandinavia. The earliest of them, a Swedish text from 1730, makes a clear distinction between garments that are knitted (stickes) and those that are [needle]bound (bundna). Texts from the following decades use those terms with greater ambiguity. Although the crafts remained separate and distinct, either of the two terms could be used as a generic designation for both. The resulting confusion was offset in later academic contexts by applying the more specific name vantsöm (“mitten stitch”) to what ultimately became nålbindning — less robustly anglicized to nalbinding — a nomenclatural process that has also been discussed here.

The structural identification of looped fabric and its association with contemporaneous terminology is a recurring concern. It was examined in a number of German texts starting in the 1890s, all noting that many objects in museum collections that had been classified as knitted were, in fact, nalbound. I’m going to work through these in more or less reverse order, starting with an article that appeared in ten installments in the German industrial journal Wirkerei- und Strickerei-Technik (“Warp and Weft Knitting Technique”) from 1954 to 1956.

This was written by Regina von Bültzingslöwen and Edgar Lehmann and titled Nichtgewebte Textilien vor 1400 (“Non-Woven Textiles Before 1400”). It was an extension of a chapter Lehmann wrote in a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the operation of a textile factory, published in 1949 as Geflochten, gestrickt, gewirkt (“Woven, Weft Knitted, Warp Knitted”). The serialization was the upshot of an intervening attempt at the separate publication of Lehmann’s contribution to the commemorative publication (with an intervening manuscript here) and examines a large number of objects in public and private collections. It continues to promise a book edition that, as far as I can determine, never materialized. The preliminary description of its intended scope is interesting nonetheless.

“The book edition to follow these essays will, as already stated, take the form of a catalog with a structured overview of about 140 textiles from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The largest part of them appear in the catalogs and inventory lists of private and public collections, incorrectly regarded as knitting. Only about sixteen of them can have been made beyond doubt with a knitting technique.”

Lehmann and Bültzingslöwen go on to describe the distinctive characteristics of what has subsequently been called true knitting and the often confusingly similar technique of cross-knit looping (aka encircled looping) produced with a single eyed-needle. They then present two other structures found in the examined material: “språng” and “vantsöm.” (I hadn’t initially intended to discuss the former but have stumbled across what may be the earliest published instructions for its production, which I will provide more detail about in a future post. In contrast, vantsöm has already figured prominently here.)

Thirty-three items are listed as vantsöm and include compound looping as it is otherwise well known in Nordic nalbinding. Since such structures are also found in Romano-Coptic Egypt, care needs to be taken to avoid conflating them with the cross-knit looping that present-day nalbinders often term the “Coptic stitch.” Three of the observed stitch structures differ significantly from all the others and are put in a class of their own pending further investigation. One of them is “shepherd’s knitting” as it appears in extant material and written documents beginning in the latter half of the 18th century, and is now referred to as slip stitch crochet. Bültzingslöwen’s and Lehmann’s failure to recognize it as such, as well as the structure itself, will also be considered in greater detail in separate posts.

One of the more significant observations they make is that three of the objects that are knitted rather than nalbound include calligraphic Arabic script as a repeating decorative element. They pose a question about whether such fabric was made on multiple knitting needles or a pegged knitting loom (on the basis of a non-Egyptian piece they feel likely to have been loom-knitted) and expect that to clarify as additional objects come to light.

Either technique readily supports the stitch-by-stitch change in yarn color required to embed text. This is not seen in any of the Romano-Coptic material, where color changes are made (if at all) in bands that are a number of rows wide. This is consistent with the use of yarn by the needleful that is an intrinsic property of single-needle looping. Both multi-needle knitting and loom knitting can use larger continuous sources of yarn and are more amenable to the alternating use of different colors within a single row.

Quite a bit of additional material has subsequently been added to the list of knitting with Arabic calligraphic decoration, with the name of the deity Allah being a common motif. This would appear to establish an Islamic nexus but subsequent studies note problems with that interpretation. Additional readings were proposed in a report about the radiocarbon dating of a number of other stockings containing that inscription. I’ll provide details in the next post but will note for now that some authors suggest that it may have non-Islamic significance.

Looped Fabric

Cross-knit looping

Crochet and the compound form of nalbinding can both be characterized by a looped structure that is linked in two directions; an individual loop is attached to a loop in the preceding row and to the adjacent loop in the same row. In contrast, knitting is linked to the preceding row only. Chain stitches are also linked in only one direction and it is debatable if chain stitching by itself should be categorized as crochet (even when produced with a crochet hook). By Irene Emery’s definition it is not. There are also two opinions about whether nalbinding, in addition to its compound (doubly-linked) form, includes the simple (singly-linked) looping that we’ve already seen and the cross-knit looping presented below.

Such distinctions are of fundamental concern when devising classification systems but may be less important to practitioners, who are more interested in their craft being defined with a scope that embraces the full range of techniques they regard it to include. Simple- and cross-knit looping appear in a large number of different crafts. Describing them in terms that balance the varying procedural and systematic perspectives that otherwise attach to those crafts can therefore present a significant challenge. In further preparation for addressing it, here is the second of the two variations of the simple loop described by Emery.

VARIATION: Cross-knit loops

“Cross-knit looping differs from simple (buttonhole) looping chiefly in the fact that the loop is taken round the crossing of a loop in the previous row rather than over the lag between loops.


This means that the loops, instead of alternating in position in successive rows … are aligned vertically and produce marked vertical ribbing on one face of the fabric … more accurately identified with the appearance of crossed knitting. Although the methods of construction are quite different the resulting structures are frequently identical and there is seldom anything in the fabric to determine which process has been used.”