Looped Fabric

Pegging the origin of the slipped stitch

One of the nice parts about using a blog to present the results of ongoing historical research, is the ease with which a report of “the earliest evidence [of whatever] that has yet come to light” can be amended when even older evidence is uncovered. Since such work constantly strives to extend the resulting timeline, every new success paradoxically risks invalidating a previous one. The corresponding revision of the broader narrative may entail nothing more than noting that something is a few years older than previously believed. However, things such as the radiocarbon dating of a questioned fragment of fabric can necessitate a fundamental re-contextualization of previous documentation. This in turn can effect a major change in our understanding of, say, the origin of a given mode of looped fabric production.

I tacitly tweak posts on this blog to reflect subsequent insight without calling attention to such revision. However, there have been a few stop-press situations where the retroactive editing has been paired with a new post about the details of the more recently uncovered material. The last such case (reported here) arose from my having overlooked the first attested mention of Tunisian crochet — in a Swedish publication that I had in fact examined. It appeared one year earlier than the German source I had cited.

The present post is about a similar oversight with the first English-language reference to “slipping a stitch” in knitting, both in its ordinary form and in what is now called slip stitch crochet, but was then also regarded as a type of knitting. In this case, the date needs to be pushed back by all of two years and the locus moved across an ocean. However, the newly noted source has significant additional ramifications.

Lydia Maria Child (1802–1880) was a native-born monumental figure in the US American equal rights movements of her day, addressing sensitive core issues in several of her many widely read publications. She also wrote a series on domestic topics, including The Girl’s Own Book, published in New York City in 1833. What is labeled a ninth edition but has the preface of the second edition, was printed in London in 1837, explicitly for simultaneous distribution via all booksellers there and in Glasgow and Dublin. Where the US edition makes reference to “American little girls” the British one does to “all little girls” and it seems clear from the credits on its title page that it was authorized. It is similarly apparent from the US editions of the other works in Child’s domestic series that she paid attention to the British press and credited the references she made to it.

Both editions of The Girl’s Own Book include an identically worded chapter headed “Knitting” that begins by placing it in an unexpectedly marginal context.

Continue reading “Pegging the origin of the slipped stitch”

Looped Fabric

Knitting the slipped crochet stitch

This post is an updated replacement for an earlier one titled Scottish and shepherd’s knitting revisited that I took offline before preparing an article on the underlying topic for publication. New questions about shepherd’s knitting and its relationship to crochet have arisen in the interim and a book that was central to the initial post sheds quite a bit of light on them. It was published in Dublin in 1835, with the title page:

SIMPLE DIRECTIONS
IN
NEEDLE-WORK AND CUTTING OUT
INTENDED FOR THE USE OF THE
NATIONAL FEMALE SCHOOLS OF IRELAND.
TO WHICH ARE ADDED,
SPECIMENS OF WORK
Executed by the Pupils of
THE NATIONAL MODEL FEMALE SCHOOL

The instructions are cross-referenced to a separate section with labeled space for affixing corresponding specimens, the number and design of which varies in surviving copies. The text also describes how to record the names of the students in each annual class and the dates of their participation in the separate facets of tuition. It therefore seems likely that individual copies of the book were seeded with specimens executed by the pupils of the National Model Female School prior to distribution, and additional specimens were then added locally.

I’ve examined the copy held by the Victoria and Albert Museum. It includes two embroidered samplers dated 1847, one also with the names of its maker and the National Model Female School. Regardless of where the other specimens in it were prepared, it can safely be assumed that they were not made prior to that year. The chapter on knitting includes a section on “Scotch knitting.” The corresponding space in the specimen section is headed “Night-Cap” with a well-executed miniature attached.

Scotch Knitting.
[See Specimen, No. 29.]

“1. Take one end of the thread in the left hand, and with the right place another part of the thread over it in the form of a loop.
2. Draw the thread through this loop, and make as many of them as you require stitches; they should be drawn pretty closely, and appear like chain-stitch; knit the first and last loops together to join them.
3. This sort of knitting is done with one needle only, which has a hook on the end, and there never should be more than one stitch on the needle at a time. Continue reading “Knitting the slipped crochet stitch”

Looped Fabric

Revisiting crochet as warp knitting

The terms warp and weft are primarily associated with weaving but are also used when describing looped fabric, for example, as designations for the two basic forms of industrial machine knitting. A “weft knitting machine” drapes a continuous “weft thread” across a battery of parallel hooks that work it into a “course” (row) of loops from the one side of the fabric to the other. A second course is then knitted into it, releasing completed stitches into the fabric, and the process is repeated until the desired length of fabric is attained.

The action of a weft knitting machine is seen in a snippet from a tutorial video (from a suite provided by the equipment manufacturer Groz-Beckert). The fabric being produced is termed Jersey in the industrial glossary, and plain knitting, stocking stitch, or stockinette in that of hand knitting.

One of the characteristics of this structure is the alignment of the stitches into “wales” (columns) parallel to the sides of the fabric. A “warp knitting machine” feeds one or more separate “warp threads” to each hook. There are several types of such machines. The basic action of the one called a “crochet machine” is demonstrated in another video from the same suite, forming a chain that is sometimes termed a “pillar stitch.”

The “warp guide” that wraps the thread around the hook when making this chain also transfers it to an adjacent wale, working the warp threads into a vertically aligned correlate to a weft-knitted structure. There is an obvious functional equivalence between the movement of the warp guide and needle in the machine, and the tandem action of the hook and fingers in hand crochet. Although less apparent, the chain along the warp is directly analogous to the vertical chain that is a fundamental component of the “post” in a tall crochet stitch. Continue reading “Revisiting crochet as warp knitting”

Looped Fabric

The chain at the top of the long stitch

This post continues the series describing Tunisian crochet stitches found in the series of five booklets dedicated to that craft published by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin beginning in 1858. The one presented here is in the second booklet, which appeared in November 1859 and is the first description of Tunisian filet mesh that has yet come to light.

In the previous posts, the stitches are designating by a shorthand based on the order of their introduction in the booklets. A generalized drawing of an unspecified TC stitch appears without instructions in several of them and is MA0. The first stitch with illustrated instructions is MA1. I’m preparing similar presentations of all of their stitches that are cited in my recent article on the history of the craft, and selected others beyond that.

However, it became clear with the present post that this scheme won’t scale well across the entire series of booklets. From here on, the booklet number will be included in the abbreviation and the stitch numbering started afresh for each. This makes the one described below MA2:6 (and the remaining ones from the first booklet, MA1:2, etc.).

The illustration of MA2:6 is the one of all those provided by Mee and Austin that comes closest to matching the prefatory drawing of MA0, although they still differ significantly. As with it, a new forward-pass loop is drawn through the preceding return chain, but the hook is inserted into the back loop (aka back bump) rather than the chain loop of the anchor stitch. Another obvious difference between the two illustrations is the greater vertical distance between the return chains in MA2:6, effected with treble crochet stitches (US, as in all following references).

Such stitches were well established in the crochet repertoire by the mid-19th century. Detailed instructions from 1848 are discussed in a previous post, repeating an illustration in it here for comparison with the one of MA2:6. As was customary in ordinary crochet flatwork at the time, the fabric was not turned at the end of a row unless explicitly called for in instructions. The illustrated structure is therefore equivalent to the Tunisian variant except for the horizontal spacing between the stitches.

Mee and Austin don’t illustrate their Tunisian treble crochet with the clarity of the preceding drawing. Nonetheless, the engravings in their second booklet are significantly more detailed than those in the first. The written instructions for MA2:6 lead directly to the swatch shown in the accompanying illustration. Continue reading “The chain at the top of the long stitch”

Looped Fabric

From lag to loop

Hand knitters employ several techniques for increasing the number of stitches in a row or round of fabric. Instructions for The order how to knit a Hose, published in 1655, make several references to widening a row. Procedural instructions appear regularly in Victorian publications beginning with The Ladies’ Knitting and Netting Book, from 1837. This describes two methods that remain in practice, both working the added stitch into a loop in the preceding row.

The Workwoman’s Guide, from 1840, notes that “increasing the number of loops is generally done in the middle of a pinful of stitches.” It adds to the “various modes of widening” with one “effected by taking up the cross loop, below the next stitch, belonging to the row before, and afterwards continuing the plain knitting.” That cross loop is a central theme of this post and is examined in detail below.

The process of casting on a row of loops at the outset of a piece of knitted fabric is also relevant to this discussion. The first published instructions for it appear in The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant, from 1817. This is framed as a Q&A dialog between a teacher and student. It was retained verbatim in subsequent editions and can be seen in this one from 1881. The book makes no mention of increasing the stitch count in subsequent rows. However, the described cast-on technique simply places a closed loop on the needle and can be applied at any point in the fabric. It is now often termed a “backward loop” or “e-wrap.”

The first illustrated instructions for an increase appear in the The Knitting Book, published in 1847 by Eleanore Riego de la Branchardière. She describes an increase worked into the segment of the yarn or thread between the loop just knitted and the one that is about to be. When lifted up from the preceding row, that segment is the “cross loop” noted above.

It is termed a “sinker loop” in the formally standardized vocabulary of mechanized industrial knitting, in contrast to the “needle loop” (both named for parts of the machine). There has never been any generally accepted term for the former in the glossary of hand knitting, and it is referred to variously as the strand, yarn, or bar between the loops.

When describing other types of looped fabric, the transition from the leading leg of one loop to the trailing leg of the next is termed a “lag.” It is shown here in the context of knitting, highlighted in black.

loops and lag

The same knitted structure is formed by the forward pass in many Tunisian crochet stitches but has no direct correlate in ordinary crochet. In that craft, as well, a stitch is begun by pulling a vertical loop through the one below it. However, it is then joined to the adjacent loop in the preceding row to complete the stitch. Nonetheless, reference to the dichotomy between loop and lag can ease the comparison of looped structures that are typically associated with one craft but on closer examination are seen to be shared with others.

Riego terms the process of converting a lag into a knittable loop “to make a stitch.” There are two methods for doing this. In the one rather cryptically described in 1840, the lag in the preceding row is twisted into a closed loop and a new loop is knitted through it.

The other, as described by Riego, extends this over two rows. It is seeded with a “yarn over” in the first and completed in the second. This approach permits a number of stitches to be made consecutively. The remark that “it will form an open stitch” also implies that Riego recognized twisted stitches as an element of knitting. Continue reading “From lag to loop”

Looped Fabric

Mrs. Mee’s model method

Mid-19th-century instruction books for diversionary fancywork often provide general tutorial material under introductory headings. Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin follow this practice in a series of five booklets about Crochet à la Tricoter — now known as Tunisian crochet — that they published between November 1858 and October 1861. The first two are the oldest known such publications devoted to that craft. The initial booklet is prefaced with an “advertisement” signed by Mee alone that states:

“The great advantage of Crochet à la Tricoter is that it combines the firmness of crochet with the lightness of knitting, and can be done in almost any variety of shape, from the ease and neatness with which it is increased and decreased. The edges can always be taken up, so that, if done in small pieces, the work has the appearance of being all worked in one. It is never turned; and every alternate row the stitches are taken up on the needle, and remain on it for the whole row, as in knitting. The variety of useful and ornamental purposes to which it can be applied is almost endless; and in presenting these entirely new and pretty Patterns in Crochet à la Tricoter to my numerous patronesses, I feel it will meet with their entire approval. Those who work for amusement will have the pleasure of numbers of new stitches, and those who make it a source of livelihood will find many things that will meet with quick and ready sale.”

It is not clear if “presenting these entirely new and pretty Patterns in Crochet à la Tricoter” to both professional and recreational practitioners implies an established body of Tunisian stitches with which Mee expected her readers to be familiar. The name used for the craft (shortened to “tricoter” elsewhere in the text and commonly reduced further to “tricot”), with the wording of its summary description, suggest that the instructions were intended for both knitters and crocheters.

The booklet ends with an “Explanation of Terms” with procedural information not provided in the intervening instructions but applicable to them all. Continue reading “Mrs. Mee’s model method”

Looped Fabric

Cornelia Mee’s simpler Tunisian stitch

The first native English instructions for what is now called Tunisian crochet appear in a booklet by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin, titled Crochet à la Tricoter (“Crochet in the Style of Knitting” or “Crochet on a Knitting Needle”). The publication date is not indicated but an advertisement in the 25 November 1858 issue of a weekly newspaper states that it had just appeared. It would therefore have gone into circulation at about the same time as the instructions by Matilda Pullan discussed in the post before last. However, those were taken directly from German instructions published in January of that year and, beyond calling attention to the craft, are not an original contribution to its development.

The relationship between the German instructions and the English clone is discussed in my article on the history of Tunisian crochet in the Summer 2020 issue of the The Journal of Dress History, The Princess Frederick William Stitch. This also includes illustrations of the first four stitches that accompany the Mee and Austin instructions and, as with the previous post about Pullan’s derivative work, I will be providing further details about each of them in separate posts on this blog.

The present one deals with the first of the Mee and Austin instructions. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, they are not for what has since been termed the Tunisian Simple Stitch (TSS). The described structure is often treated as a variant of it but has never acquired a generally recognized name. It is the first of many structurally distinct but unnamed stitches that Mee and Austin present. Continue reading “Cornelia Mee’s simpler Tunisian stitch”

Looped Fabric

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

Continue reading “The double chain stitch and mignardise crochet”

Looped Fabric

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 shown in this posts’s banner (and repeated below for safety’s sake) 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”

Looped Fabric

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”