Looped Fabric

A Tale of Two Bootees

Note: I examined the pair of Scottish child’s bootees discussed below on 8 April 2019. This revealed details that necessitate significant revision of the description initially provided by Audrey Henshall and my analysis of it. The bootees are the oldest credibly attributed exemplars of shepherd’s knitting and the possibly of their having been nalbound can safely be dismissed. A recent photograph and a summary review of the updated information appears in my article, the Evolution in Early Crochet: From Flat-Hook Knitting to Slip-Stitch Crochet, in the Winter 2020 issue of PieceWork, pp. 47–51. Printed and electronic editions can be obtained via a link on this blog’s Publications Page.

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An extensive report by Audrey Henshall on Early Textiles Found in Scotland was published in 1952. Its primary scope was “fabrics from the Roman period to the 17th century which are likely to be of native production” but:

“One unexpected item in the collection [of the National Museum of Scotland] is an example of naalebinding or looped needle netting which it is desirable to record though outside the chronological limits of this paper. The naalebinding occurs on a pair of child’s shoes made about 1780. This type of work has been described and discussed fully by Dr Hald1: it is known from the Iron Age in Scandinavia where it was used for mittens and caps and, though, rare, from the Middle Ages in other parts of Europe. These shoes are the only example of the work so far recognised in Great Britain. The fabric is worked with a needle, the stitches being a complex type of chain stitch which works into the former row as well as the current one. The general effect of the Scottish example, for which no exact parallel has been found, is of a fine, firm crochet.”

The footnoted reference is to Margrethe Hald’s Olddanske Tekstiler (Early Danish Textiles), published two years earlier. This played a seminal role in familiarizing researchers with nalbinding (a development described in a previous post). Henshall cites it elsewhere in her text and it is fair to suspect that it influenced her assessment of the shoes.

Since then, one additional nalbound item has appeared in a report on archeologically recovered material in Great Britain. This is the well-known sock found at the Viking settlement in York, described in detail by Penelope Walton in Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate, from 1989. However, she doubts that it was manufactured in England and states:

“The only evidence that this technique was ever practised in the British Isles is to be found in an 18th century pair of child’s bootees in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (Henshall 1952).”

Henshall provides the following illustration of their structure.


This can be directly compared to Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger’s schematic drawing of slip stitch crochet (discussed in the preceding post).


One key difference between them is that Seiler-Baldinger illustrates the loops with their legs crossed, producing closed stitches, while Henshall illustrates open loops. The two drawings also differ in the way the legs of the loop pass around the side of the stitch to which it is anchored in the preceding row. Seiler-Baldinger shows them passing in front and Henshall shows them passing behind. This correlates to the distinction slip stitch crocheters make between ordinary and ‘inverse’ stitches, or knitters make between knit and purl.

By showing each row as a separate strand, Henshall’s drawing provides a good schematic illustration of shepherd’s knitting, which when worked flat, is characterized by the yarn being cut at the end of each row. That craft has a strong attested connection with Scotland and it is reasonable to question whether Henshall correctly identified the tool and technique used to produce them. The earliest non-English descriptions of slip stitching with a hook are also from the 1780s. One is specifically about the production of shoes, adding further reason to pose that question.

The structure visible in the photograph Henshall captions “bootee in naalebinding” could similarly serve as a textbook illustration of slip stitch crochet worked with the flat shepherd’s hook explicitly identified with Scottish practice and illustrated in the other 1780s sources. She describes both the technique by which the bootees were made and a pivotal detail of their structure quite differently.

“This pair of child’s bootees of the 18th century is included because of the unusual technique employed to make them. The labels on the soles read ‘supposed to be made about the year 1780. Belonged to Agnes Taylor’s great-great-aunts. 1880.’ The uppers are a red wool fabric, the soles are leather. The dimensions are: length 4 3/4 ins., width 1 3/4 ins., height 3 ins.

The general appearance of the fabric is fine and close, rather like knitting or crochet, worked in an evenly spun red 3-ply wool. The fabric is a simple form of naalebinding. It is worked, with the wool threaded through a needle, in a series of stitches in rows working into the current and previous rows simultaneously. The joins between the lengths of the wool are visible in places either as knots or darned-in ends. The bootees are worked horizontally round and round with two converging lines of decreases on either side of the toe. It is uncertain if the top edge, which is finished with three horizontal ribs, is the beginning of the work. The ribs are formed by working the new row into the centre of the preceding row instead of the edge of it, the edge loops standing up on the outside surface making the ribs. The other edge is folded to meet under the foot and is attached to the sole.”

Notwithstanding Henshall having physically examining the bootees, it is difficult to reconcile her description of their structure and construction with the detail shown in her photograph. It does not appear to illustrate continuous horizontal rounds of stitching nor are the converging lines delimiting the toe clearly formed by decreases. The configuration of the top edge would draw no comment if the bootee were crocheted. The use of shorter lengths of yarn is consistent with both nalbinding and flatwork shepherd’s knitting. However, in the former case one would expect them to be joined in barely visible splices worked directly into the yarn. Darned-in ends are more indicative of shepherd’s knitting.

That craft was still practiced in Scotland in Henshall’s day with little modification, using a flat hook locally termed a cleek. However, the research community had not yet taken notice of it or any other form of slip stitch crochet. In light of the interest that Hald had recently focused on nalbinding, explaining the bootees as having been produced with an eyed needle pulling a single strand of yarn is understandable.

Henshall also illustrates how a slip stitch can be formed in that manner.


Even if this is taken to be as viable a technique as is the use of a hook, the contextual support for the bootees being shepherd’s knitting contraindicates any other technique. However, additional objects that crocheters would identify as evidence of their craft have been described as nalbinding. Some of this material was made after the establishment of modern crochet and is therefore of no historical consequence to it.

From the nalbinding perspective there is a further issue about whether the structure illustrated by Henshall and also seen in the piece remaining to be described, has a proper place in that craft’s stitch repertoire. This does not diminish the significance of the objects this post was named for. Admitting to some poetic license in the title, the second bootee is actually a baby’s sock, noteworthy because it has been associated with Coptic Egypt as discussed in detail in a separate post.

Identifying secondary structural characteristics that might differentiate slip stitch fabric made respectively by nalbinding and crochet is therefore worth some effort. If it can indeed be determined that slip stitch fabric was produced by both techniques, a significant new perspective would apply to the relationship between them. Conversely, the failure to locate evidence specifically indicating the use of an eyed needle would largely eliminate any doubt about the Scottish bootees being early exemplars of shepherd’s knitting, as the child’s sock would also be. The question of the latter object’s age would then become pivotal to dating the advent of that craft.

The first description of the putative nalbound Coptic sock was published in 1955, again predating widespread recognition of slip stitch crochet. However, that attribution is echoed in a later report where the alternatives should have been recognized, and which verifies neither the sock’s age nor provenance. I’ll discuss relevant documents in separate posts.

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More information about traditional Scottish cleeking is given in a presentation held by Louise Scollay at the In the Loop at 10 conference at the Winchester School of Art in June 2018, titled Archive Treasure: Cleekit Gloves, with relevant additional commentary in a following panel discussion.

Looped Fabric

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 3

The authors whose writings illustrate the early Victorian practice of crochet in the preceding installments of this series (Part 1Part 2) continued to publish extensively about the craft. Its development can be traced through each of their works and is concordant across them all. Frances Lambert is particularly clear in relating crochet to the predecessor craft of shepherd’s knitting and I’m going to wrap things up by focusing on how her perspective of the differences between them shifted during the 1840s (also summarizing snippets presented more fully in an earlier post on Scottish Knitting).

In The Handbook of Needlework, from 1842, Lambert notes that crochet had come into fashion only four years earlier “although long known and practised.” She published the first book devoted exclusively to crochet, My Crochet Sampler, in the following year (the 1844 printing is available online). It specifies the earlier form as “a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook.”

In the same work, Lambert defines “plain single crochet” and “plain double crochet.” These correspond to the present single (or slip stitch) crochet and double crochet (UK) with one key difference. The initial forms were worked into the front leg of the chain loop at the top of the corresponding stitch in the preceding row — a technical detail designated as “plain” (now abbreviated FLO; front loop only) — rather than under the entire loop (“both loops”), as is the current standard.

Lambert published a revised second edition of the Sampler in 1848, again emphasizing that:

“Heretofore, Crochet had been practised in its most primitive shape—as a species of knitting; the stitch now recognised as Crochet, being but little known. From that period—now ten years since—Crochet has gradually progressed.”

The reference to “the stitch now recognised as Crochet” and the dropped mention of the Scottish tradition are significant. Lambert and her contemporaries emphasize that a crochet stitch presented without further specification is to be taken as a “plain double crochet.” The 1848 Sampler labels this a “plain stitch crochet” and does not include the definition of plain single crochet that appeared in 1843.

Lambert describes several additional stitches, some of which are relevant to the present discussion. Here is double crochet worked into the back leg of the loop. (Although the concordance between the legs when designated as back/front or top/bottom is not always clear, in this case the description of the stitch provides the requisite context.)

Raised, or ribbed crochet,—sometimes called elastic crochet—is worked in the same manner as plain stitch crochet, with this exception—the under loops of the stitches of the previous row are always to be taken. It is worked in rows backwards and forwards.”

Double crochet can also be worked under the two legs of the loop rather than into it.

“Double stitch crochet—is worked in the same manner as plain stitch crochet, with the exception that both loops (the upper and under) of the stitch of the preceding row are taken. It is only employed where extra thickness is required,—as for the soles of shoes.”

This extends her 1842 description (noted in Part 1) and drops the earlier constraint that “it is not suitable for working patterns,” taking a step toward eliminating the constraint on inserting the hook under both legs of the loop. There is also a significant structural difference between stitches worked into the loop and those worked under the loop but not into it. The former has a stronger affiliation with knitting that does the latter, providing greater justification for categorizing shepherd’s knitting as a species of knitting than there is for any form of crochet worked under the entire loop.

The visual effect of the changed technique, as that of turning the work at the end of each row rather than the waning practice of cutting the yarn, was to equalize the appearance of the two sides of flat crocheted fabric. Beginning each row from the same edge otherwise preserves the difference in appearance between the front and back, which is particularly marked with slip stitch crochet. That contrast is prominent even when it is worked in the round, as seen in extant shepherd’s knitting where both sides are juxtaposed on the public face of the fabric.

Two ways of changing their orientation were presented in the preceding installment. One is found in an instruction by Lambert for a slip-stitched bootee: “When finished it is turned inside out.” The other is a less obvious technique described by Jane Gaugain in 1842.

“It is not necessary to work an edge stitch [i.e., turning chain] on a round, but only where the work requires to be turned to the wrong side, in order to work round the other way.”

Slip stitch crochet itself successively disappeared as a method for producing fabric, as signaled by the difference in the 1843 and 1848 editions of My Crochet Sampler. It reemerged in the encyclopedic reviews of 19th-century fancywork published later in the century and the beginning of the following one (illustrated in a previous post on Bosnian crochet). Some recent pedagogical material fully reinstates it, illustrating the common legacy stitches and variants that only appear sporadically in the earlier repertoire. Nonetheless, there was a relatively long period when crocheters would likely have had difficulty recognizing shepherd’s knitting (by any name).

That interval spanned the late 1940s and mid-1950s, when the broader research community was first becoming aware of the distinction between the crafts of nalbinding and knitting. The joint applicability of these techniques for producing the structure alternately termed cross-knit looping and twisted-stitch knitting has been discussed in a number of previous posts.

The back side of FLO slip stitch crochet also has a superficial resemblance to that structure. Although someone familiar with the craft would immediately recognize the difference, that erudition was not shared by all of the participants in the initial discussion of the candidate production methods. As a result, some exemplars of shepherd’s knitting were identified as nalbinding, with the conflation of the two crafts in earlier research reports echoed in more recent studies.

On the other hand, the basic slip-stitch structure that characterizes shepherd’s knitting can also be made with an eyed needle pulling a single strand of yarn. Pending the identification of decisive secondary detail equivalent to that used to differentiate nalbinding from true knitting with regard to the cross-knit structure, it is safest to stipulate that there can be reasonable contention about the craft identity of a given slip-stitched object.

However, if the object under examination includes shaped details such as the toe or heel of a sock, the practicability of the respective techniques can also be factored into the evaluation. I’ll be discussing a few such equivocal descriptions of potential historical significance in separate posts. These put nalbinding in contexts where it is otherwise unknown and date the crochet-type slip-stitch structure far earlier than can be corroborated by any other evidence.

Looped Fabric

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 2

This is a direct continuation of the preceding post. I’ve also tweaked its initial version to mesh better with the following text and even readers who have already seen it may find it worth reviewing before proceeding.

The first installment presented two source documents from 1846 and 1842 in reverse chronological order. This one works forward to 1842 from the first English language text that explicitly describes crochet — The lady’s assistant for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crotchet work by Jane Gaugain, from 1840.

This differs from the other documents under consideration by using the term “tambour” to designate a crochet stitch. This was taken from tambour embroidery, which together with shepherd’s knitting were the two immediate precursors of the craft all the authors term crochet.

Gaugain presents the chain as the basic tambour stitch and doesn’t differentiate between it and the slip stitch. Her compacted definition covers both the free chains of openwork mesh and the kinds of objects other authors say are typical for “Shepherd or Single Crochet.”


This is worked by drawing one loop through the other; it is seldom used save for open purses, and sometimes for muffattees, shoes, &c. &c.

The instruction that follows is for a “LONG PURSE OF OPEN STITCH OF SINGLE TAMBOUR” in the same arched mesh that appeared in the Dutch instruction from 1823 discussed in an earlier post. The next two instructions describe working double crochet with the alternate techniques of turning the fabric at the end of a completed row, and cutting the yarn at the end of every row and beginning all new ones from the same edge.


The purse is alternately worked on the right and wrong side… Cast on 100 loops in single chain stitch, having the last of the cast-on loops on the needle. 2d row, insert the needle in the first loop, and catch the silk from behind; pull it through the loop. You now have 2 loops on the needle, then catch the thread, and pull it through the two loops; this forms one stitch…


This is…all worked on one side. When you come to end of the row, cut off the thread, and draw it through the last loop, which fastens it. 2nd row, commence at the same stitch which you began the last row on…

Gaugain added a second volume to the 1842 edition of her text. This includes a detailed explanation of the turning chain.

Edge Stitch. — This stitch is worked by drawing a loop through the first loop or stitch on the row or round, then another loop through the one just made. This forms the edge stitch; then work on through the pattern. If the edge stitch of every row were not worked in this way, you would lose a stitch each row. It is not necessary to work an edge stitch on a round, but only where the work requires to be turned to the wrong side, in order to work round the other way.

A footnote (on p. 279) mentions the need to match the height of the turning chain to the stitches in the row it commences.

Again turn the work, and work back this round, and make an edge stitch; but instead of making one loop or chain stitch, make two, as this open stitch is higher than the plain rows.

Gaugain describes open stitches of two different lengths. One is now called half treble crochet (UK) and the other extended treble crochet (with an extra chain at the top of the post). She also modifies her terminology midway through the added volume, shifting from referring to a stitch as a “tambour” to the synonymous term “crochet,”

Worked in double tambour or crochet stitch, as described in the 125th Receipt of Volume First.

The first volume of the 1842 edition was unchanged from 1840 and the 125th instruction is excerpted above. Despite the statement about the limited use of the single tambour, the second volume includes several instructions for it. As with the statement about using an edge stitch for turning work to the wrong side, at least one of Lambert’s instructions for what she now consistently terms “single crochet” also moves the back of the fabric to its public face.


This Boot is worked exactly as the long and short Mittens for children, pages 317—323…[however] when finished it is turned out…

(Mittens, bootees, and the public display of the back side of the fabric will all figure prominently in the discussion of pre-19th-century shepherd’s knitting in subsequent posts.)

Cornelia Mee describes the same two basic flatwork methods in A Manual of Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work from 1842. She doesn’t ascribe stitch status to the chain and presents the slip stitch as the:

Elementary stitch of crochet

First, make a chain, by making a loop and drawing one loop through the other, till it is of sufficient length; this forms a foundation; and all other crochet work must be begun in this way; then pass your crochet through the end loop, and taking up the wool or silk, draw it through; repeat this in every successive loop to the end of the row; then turn it, taking the under loop, and continue backwards and forward in the same way: this forms a ribbed kind of crochet, and is the most simple to begin with; the appearance of both sides is the same.

She then enters the familiar numbered sequence with:

Double Crochet

This may be worked round and round or in rows; if the latter, you must always break off at the end of every row, as it cannot well be done backwards and forwards, especially if intended to have a pattern on it. After the foundation is made, you will have one loop on your needle, insert the crochet through the next, and then draw your wool or silk through both; this still leaves a loop on your crochet, keep this on it, and draw your wool through the next loop, and then through both. When you come to the end of a row, draw the wool through the last loop, and cut it off, leaving an end of about three inches.

There is a key difference in visual effect between flatwork crochet turned after every row, and with all rows starting at the same edge. This is further influenced by other structural details that the Victorian texts leave almost without comment. I’ll go further into this in the next installment.

Looped Fabric

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 1

Instructions for crochet began to appear in the Victorian fancywork press in 1840, presenting it as a more elaborate and fashionable successor to the long-practiced shepherd’s knitting — the slip-stitch fabric made on a flat hook discussed in several previous posts. That stitch appeared in instructions for the new craft but opinions about its utility varied and its role at the urban worktable began to shift from the production of fabric to an adjunct technique.

The double crochet (UK) supplanted the single crochet (later aka slip stitch) as the workhorse for closed work. However, in contrast to present-day practice where a new such stitch is normally worked under both legs of the chain at the top of the stitch it is anchored to in the preceding row, the Victorian instructions prescribe working through only one leg of that loop. (The current terms “front loop” and “back loop” refer to the respective legs and are better read as “front leg of the loop” and “back leg of the loop.”)

Another difference between early Victorian and current practice is that fabric worked flat was not commonly turned at the end of each row. This technique does appear in the first published instructions (discussed in Part 2) but the alternative of cutting the yarn or thread at the end of each row and starting all new rows from the same edge was generally preferred. The further option of crocheting in alternating directions without turning the work was also described.

I’m going to proceed by discussing such aspects of Victorian crochet and then move back to details of shepherd’s knitting that have long since disappeared from mainstream practice. Beyond the obvious purpose of describing procedures that have come and gone during the technical development of the craft, I want to call attention to crocheted structures that might not be recognized as such when assessing the method of production of non-woven fabric with an unfamiliar appearance. There are probable instances of this having happened during the analysis of some objects published in the archaeological literature, which I will also go into in detail.

In order to provide an easy path into unaccustomed terminology, I’m going to begin where the current glossary has its clearest roots and work backward from there. Two relevant texts are covered below and others will be considered in the following post.

In her Knitting, crochet, and netting from 1846, Mme. Riego issues the general instruction that:

In crochet that is worked square, at the end of a row, cut the wool off, and draw it through to fasten it; begin at the other end.

The first of the following stitch descriptions is for:

Shepherd or Single Crochet.
This stitch is usually worked round, for Cuffs,
Mufatees, Boots, &c. &c

Make a chain, join it, keep the loop on the needle.
1st round — Put the needle in the 1st chain stitch, draw the wool through; there will now be 2 loops on the needle; draw the last loop through the 1st.
In the 2nd and following rounds, take the 1st part of the chain on the needle.

Riego continues with “Plain, Double, or French Crochet” and then “Treble Crochet.” Despite the familiar labels, there are two significant differences between her single, double, and treble crochet fabrics and their contemporary counterparts. These were discussed above and are the cutting of the yarn at the end of each row worked flat, and routinely crocheting each stitch through only one leg of the loop in the chain along the top of the preceding row — i.e., into the loop and not under it.

The latter procedure produced a structure that was described with a name of its own by Frances Lambert in The Handbook of Needlework from 1842.

Double stitch crochet.—In this, both meshes of the chain are taken. It is principally employed for the soles of shoes, and where extra thickness is required, but it is not suitable for working patterns.

Lambert uses the term plain crochet or plain single crochet to designate a slip stitch, and plain double crochet for what became the familiar double crochet. She notes of it that:

This is the crochet stitch generally practised, and that used for working table-covers, etc.

She then describes rows of both the single and double forms of plain crochet being worked in two directions using yet another term that was not taken into common usage.

Plain stitch elastic crochet—is worked alternately in rows backwards and forwards, first taking the upper, and then the under mesh of the chain.

Both this and the following descriptions of that process can be read as reversing the direction of the crocheting at the end of each row without turning the work. However, the indications of direction may also be relative to the front side of the fabric, facing toward and away from the worker in alternate rows (as in contemporary knitting charts).

…a chain of sufficient length is made to serve as the foundation for the article it is intended to make. Pass the needle through the last made loop of this foundation, and, catching the silk, draw it through, repeating the same at every successive loop; then returning along this row, repeat the same to form a second. A repetition of which, alternately backwards and forwards, from right to left, and from left to right, will give the first and easiest lesson.

Lambert abandons working in two directions (however it was executed) in the immediately following first complete instruction, for “a sofa pillow or table cover,” and all others in the same section.

This pattern, be it understood, is merely given as the first and easiest pattern in crochet, for the purpose of teaching the stitch… Instead of working the rows backwards and forwards, as before described, begin each row separately at the same end. When the last stitch of each row is finished, draw the wool through, and cut it off, leaving an end of three or four inches.

There is similar ambiguity in an instruction under a later heading. This indicates that cutting the yarn at the end of every row is the ordinary method. It therefore seems likely that the following snippet should end with a reference to “plain stitch elastic crochet” (as presented above) and not the contradictory “plain crochet.”

Raised, or ribbed crochet is worked in rows from right to left, according to the ordinary method; but the side of the work is reversed at every alternate row, as in plain [ribbed] crochet.

Lambert also recognizes the significance of what is now termed a turning chain.

To make a stitch — at the commencement and end of a row, is to make one stitch of a chain before the first stitch, and after the last, which in the next row are to be crocheted.

This is described in greater detail as an “edge stitch” in another text from 1842 and will be considered further in the next installment.

Looped Fabric

Knitting sheaths and their handedness

The knitting sheath has a prominent position on the list of tools that were once ubiquitous but have since dwindled into restricted regional use. Although the sheath is only one of a number of devices used to anchor the passive end of a knitting needle, its name is often used as a collective designation for them all. The technique is also termed fixed-needle, anchored-needle, or lever knitting. It includes a variant where the needle is held between the arm and body without the support of a separate mechanical device — (arm)pit  knitting.

The best known present-day form of auxiliary tool is the knitting belt used on the Shetland Islands. Nonetheless, as recently as 1986 in The Handknitter’s Handbook, Montse Stanley described and illustrated fixed-needle knitting as a current technique, with the right-hand needle anchored either directly under the right arm or in a sheath tucked into a belt around the waist, also at the right side of the body.

Stanley discusses this method as practiced both in Catalonia, where it was how she learned to knit (presumably in the late 1940s), and in the northern half of Britain. She suggests that it was historically more likely to be used by knitters with a greater interest in “efficiency” than in “elegance.” Those with the latter concern held the right-hand needle “like a pen” and knitters interested in the support provided by a sheath but not the implement itself, let the needle “rest on the forearm.” She further associates the two basic perspectives with people who “mainly knitted to earn (or scrape) a living” and those who “considered it a drawing-room pastime.”

The 1850 edition of The Ladies’ Work-Table Book (p. 12) lists a knitting sheath as standard equipment for recreational fancywork. It is also included in the US edition from 1845 (p. 25).


Needles of various sizes. The numbers referred to are those of the knitting needle gauge. Needles pointed at either end, for Turkish knitting. Ivory or wooden pins, for knitting a biroche [sic]. A knitting sheath, &c., to be fastened on the waist of the knitter, towards the right hand, for the purpose of keeping the needle in a steady and proper position.

A previous post describes how the Swiss knitter Dubois taught fixed-needle knitting in German urban drawing rooms in the late–18th century. In contrast to the descriptions of that technique seen above, which explicitly state that the anchored needle was held in the right hand, Dubois held it at his left side. This could be taken to indicate that he was left handed but since he was earning his living as a knitting teacher it can safely be assumed that he demonstrated his techniques as appropriate to a predominantly right-handed audience.

The article on knitting in Switzerland from 1936 by Fritz Iklé, presented in another previous post, also discusses the traditional use of the knitting sheath there. It was widely employed through to the end of the 19th century and still known at the time of his writing. He cites an article from 1923 in another Swiss journal (which I haven’t yet tracked down) quoting a number of reports received from various areas of the country describing local practice.

These designate knitting both with the German word stricken and the Alemannic lismen. Although the two are frequently used as synonyms, some of the reports use them to designate separate methods. Here is one that does so with particular clarity.

In the earliest years here the sheath was also fastened in the right side of the apron. The idea later developed that the knitting could be held more firmly by using a special belt board (Gürtelbrittli) by which the sheath could be fastened to the side with a leather strap. With that, lismen truly becomes easier than stricken.

Another report places the sheath on the opposite side.

The knitting sheaths were about 18–20 cm long, nicely turned in boxwood, with the hole for the needle lined with lead. They were placed in working position by wrapping the left apron string two or three times around them.

Here again, the generalized wording of this description suggests that it is not of the practice of an individual left-handed knitter. Although the right-side position is the more frequent in these reports, they still confirm that Netto was not alone among his compatriots in holding the needle at the left side. Presumably it was also adopted by his students in Germany, and was reported in late–19th-century Denmark, as well.

The Swiss applications of fixed-knitting related in 1923 are largely about 19th-century practice. However, that it dated back at least into the 18th century is apparent from Netto’s activity and a description from 1809 of skills taught to girls in Swiss cities including the fiber arts of “…Lismen, Stricken, sewing, spinning…”

This means that the use of a sheath was not seen simply as an adjunct technique to knitting but was a named craft of its own. This may indicate that the social gap between the contexts placing opposite priorities on efficiency and elegance was wide enough to be reflected lexically. Another more conjectural possibility is that the two methods had different points of origin and the circumstances of their merger remain to be identified.

Looped Fabric

Hooked knitting needles in the French parlor in 1817

I’ve noted the significance of “The art of knitting in its full extent” (Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange) by Johann Friedrich Netto and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann in several previous posts (but have yet to find a good way to vary the introductory paragraph). This was published in 1800 and reflected in German texts on knitting by other authors well into the 1820s including mention of the utility of hook-tipped needles. Both here and more generally in the craft press of that time, what we might call plagiarized wording is commonplace (earlier notions about the permissibility of the unattributed reuse of the work of others differed significantly from ours) but original material is often added, making it worthwhile to examine the full detail of what may on first glance appear to be a rehash of someone else’s material.

Netto and Lehmann published a French translation of their book in 1802, which was then co-opted in subsequent French texts. One, in particular, explicitly acknowledges the prior work of the German authors and also names the Swiss knitter, Dubois, who figured prominently in their book. This is the “Treatise on knitting – simple or complex” (Traité du tricot, simple ou compliqué) by Augustin Legrand. It is undated but displays the address where he was located from 1810 and includes an advertisement for material he sold there in 1817.

Legrand’s book also illustrates a burgeoning divergence between texts focused on domestic enterprise and those treating fancywork as a leisure activity. Whereas the German derivates of Netto and Lehmann are directed toward the former audience, the two gentlemen themselves together with Legrand more clearly target the latter. Legrand’s chapter “On needles with hooks” (Des Aiguilles à crochet) places such implements on the French recreational knitter’s workbench and adds yet another method for holding yarn to those considered in previous posts.

“These needles are of ordinary length and have a small hook at the one end similar to that of tambour needles. To knit with these needles, the thread is first wrapped around the left wrist to place it under slight tension. It is then held on the index finger of the same hand so that it is ready to be grasped by the hook that pulls it back through the stitch into which it was inserted. This forms a new stitch that remains on this needle.

It is easy to imagine that this work cannot fail to produce a great economy of time, and a greater regularity in the work. It is even claimed that by means of this process it is possible to make a sock in an hour.

All kinds of knitting can be performed with these kinds of needles; but they are especially recommended for gold and silver wire. This is because they reduce jarring and friction, causing less wear on the metal, leaving the work more lustrous.”

The reference to the production of a sock in one hour is all but certain to derive from a section in Netto & Lehmann that describes Dubois’s work (here). However, one of the salient details of Dubois’s method for flat knitting was his use of long needles, supporting one of them under his arm. Legrand specifically prescribes needles of ordinary length, precluding a fixed-needle technique.

Similarly, Dubois’s method for working in the round (described here) uses a shoulder pin to feed the yarn to the front of the work. To the extent that Legrand is referring to this as well, the yarn-around-neck technique is replaced by what might be called yarn-around-wrist, feeding the yarn to the rear of the work.

Looped Fabric

Double knitting in 1800

A while ago I posted the first of what was intended to be a series of descriptions of various aspects of knitting, translated from the first textbook dedicated to the topic yet noted. This is “The art of knitting in its full extent” —  Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange — published in 1800 by Johann Friedrich Netto and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann. (More details are given in the earlier post.)

This blog then moved into a range of topics, including early Arabic tubular knitting, with another earlier post suggesting that double knitting could be placed on the list of plausible techniques for its production. I had already tacitly noted that the Netto-Lehmann book includes a chapter on double knitting, albeit of an entirely different variety, and therefore left their description of it for use when focusing more broadly on early presentations of double knitting.

The first mention of that technique in English was published in 1838. This includes instructions for the tubular variety, which regularly appears in subsequent texts (to be detailed in separate posts). Netto’s and Lehmann’s description of the double knitting of two socks on the same needles indicates that the underlying technique was commonplace by their day. Here is my translation of that text.

Seventh Chapter

Two socks knitted at the same time, one inside the other, on five knitting needles.


The invention of knitting two socks at the same time, one inside the other, is a nice demonstration of human ingenuity. However, it is more an indication of artfulness than of utility, since two socks can be finished just as quickly when knitted individually as they can inside each other. Nonetheless, both as a curiosity and for the sake of completeness, we found it necessary to dedicate a chapter to this method of knitting. It requires a lot of attention but no particular skill. One takes two balls of yarn — at the outset before one has become proficient, one white and one gray — and casts them alternately on the needle as usual, first taking a white thread and then a gray one until one has as many stitches as are needed for two socks. The first stitch now belongs to the first sock, the second stitch to the second sock, the third again to the first, the fourth to the second, and so forth. Each stitch needs to be made carefully using the proper thread, that is, the white stitches are knitted with the white thread and the gray stitches with the gray thread. If the thread is switched even once, the two socks will be joined, need to be cut apart, and left with holes. Two seams are purled on the back, one white and one gray, and all decreasing is also done at the same time.

This knitting first requires very long thin needles and then a knitter who pulls tightly and knits densely. This is because the stitches in the one sock are stretched over those in the other, and otherwise produce a loose and flimsy knitted fabric. One must practice this double knitting using two differently colored threads for as long as it takes to acquire sufficient skill to work with two entirely white, or other uniformly colored threads without confusing them. Since all increasing and decreasing is done at the same time, two socks knitted in this manner will be exactly the same, which is not always the case when they are knitted individually. However, there are knitters who can knit two socks separately with equal accuracy and beauty, and again others who can knit two socks together with such skill and rapidity that both are completed sooner than if knitted one at a time.

Gloves can also be knitted in this manner, in fact even more easily, since one is not slowed or impeded by clocking and similar details.

Looped Fabric

Methods of holding yarn for crochet

The 1823 issue of the Dutch monthly publication Penélopé (cited in several previous posts) describes how the yarn is held for crochet, placing it in the same hand as the hook.

“For this one needs a tambour needle, with a small hook at the front…. This is held in the right hand, along with the thread being worked, about as though one were knitting.”

More detail is added in an issue from 1833, including an illustrated reference to a form of flat hook known to have been in use for slip stitch crochet at the latest by the 1780s.

“The needle, or hook, is held like a knitting needle in the right hand. Just as with knitting, the thread [is held] around the fingers, so that it rests on the first finger and is wrapped around it. The work itself is held in the left hand very close to the hook, but still protruding above the finger. For coarse work in silk or thick knitting cotton, one uses a copper hook of this form…”


The alternative of “a fine so-called tambour needle” for other work is then repeated.

In contrast, the earliest British publication that “shows the position of the hands, and the manner in which the needle and the work should be held” for crochet, My Crochet Sampler, from 1844 by Frances Lambert, illustrates the hook in one hand with the yarn and work in the other. This placement has remained in common practice through to the present day.


There is no evidence of a change in the way the yarn and crochet hook were held between 1833 and 1844, beyond what is implicit in the latter illustration. Precedent for the Dutch method is found in a German description of slip stitch crochet from 1800 (to be discussed in a separate post) using a flat hook.

That implement is also fundamental to the Swedish school of traditional crochet which never went fully out of practice between its origins — again documentable from the mid–18th-century — and its more recent return to the specialized craft repertoire. The following video shows Kerstin Jönsson using a flat hook in the manner described in 1800, and she discusses the Swedish craft further in her book from 2006, Smygmask virkning – teknik och mönster (“Slip stitch crochet – technique and patterns”).

My scouring of early publications never revealed any indication of the yarn-around-neck method of knitting described in the preceding several posts having a counterpart in crochet. However, the comments by Marie Jones on the most recent one made it clear that I had overlooked something of interest.

An entry in Carol Ventura’s Tapestry Crochet blog describes a visit to Portugal and includes photographs of three crocheters. Two of them are working in the manner illustrated in the 1844 text. The third, however, has the yarn around her neck and is holding the hook with her thumb extended in the manner typical for Portuguese knitters using hook-tipped needles.


The same round of image-searching located a number of photos of other Portuguese crocheters consistently working in a somewhat different manner, using a shoulder hook, feeding the yarn through the hand that holds the fabric, and apparently focusing on lace. This is most clearly illustrated in this detail.


The way the yarn passes under all the fingers except the middle one, which it is wrapped around, precludes the mainstream technique of meting out and pre-tensioning the yarn for each new stitch by raising either the index or middle finger — yet again as shown in the Lambert illustration from 1844. The equivalent effect is provided instead by the tension placed on the yarn passing around the neck or a shoulder hook.

Similarly, altering the direction from which the yarn is fed changes the action of wrapping it over or under the hook. This now only requires the hook to be held against the yarn from the appropriate side, with the loop then completed by the same compact action of the thumb that characterizes Portuguese knitting.

None of this permits conclusions about when yarn-around-neck crochet came into practice in Portugal. The age of the method says nothing about that of the craft and the photos of contemporary practitioners needn’t signify anything more than a preexisting method of holding yarn for knitting having been adapted to crochet — especially if hook-tipped knitting needles were still in prevalent use whenever that might have happened. Nonetheless, there is obvious reason to keep an eye out for additional evidence indicating earlier forms of yarn-around-neck crochet in regions where that method of knitting is well established.

Looped Fabric

A stilted perspective on hooked knitting

The shepherds in Landes, the northernmost part of the French Basque Country, were a subject of popular attention during the 19th century for two traits. One was their use of stilts to deal with the marshy heathlands on which their flocks grazed, and the other was their practice of knitting while watching over them. A chapter on ‘The Shepherds of Les Bas Landes’ in the US publication Forrester’s Pictorial Miscellany from 1855 illustrates how widespread the interest in them had become. An article in the Scientific American Supplement from 26 September 1891 on ‘Stilt Walking’ describes the shepherds’ ambulatory prowess and social circumstance.

Illustrations of them knitting began to proliferate mid-century but rarely focus on its detail. The clearest one I have thus far been able to find is from 1863 (source information here) and shows yarn-around-neck (probably using a shoulder hook), with what may be a small pouch holding the yarn just below the sock that is in progress.


The shepherds’ knitting technique is described in Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book from 1938, showing the tools at the outset of the chapter on ‘Knitting Implements Ancient and Modern.’ (The preceding post discusses other aspects of her description of knitting in Landes.)


This photo shows an “ancient weatherbeaten knitting pouch” together with “modern…hooked needles…made by a shepherd…from old umbrella ribs…hand filed and shaped as they have always been made” in Landes. It is not clear what ‘ancient’ and ‘always’ actually mean.

Thomas says that hooked needles can be traced back to the Arabic origins of knitting, which applies in equal measure to the needles used in all the other schools of yarn-around-neck knitting discussed in previous posts. There is no evidence of a similarly characteristic shared use of a knitting pouch. It is of obvious utility for work while perched on stilts and, at least the form shown here, may have developed specifically in that context. The pouch is also seen clearly in a photo from the early-20th century, by which time the wetlands had been drained and the need for stilts had ended.


The knitting shepherds are also noted in the Victorian fancywork literature. The introductory remarks about crochet in The industrial handbook containing plain instructions in needlework and knittingpublished anonymously in 1853 state:

“This kind of work, which has lately become fashionable under its new name, was formerly called ‘Shepherd’s Knitting.’ It has long been a favourite occupation of this class of persons, particularly in the south of France, where, whilst tending their sheep on the mountains, they fabricate a number of useful and ingenious articles.”

This conflates the knitting of the Landes shepherds, who were approaching the heyday of their international renown, with the traditional slip stitch crochet called “shepherd’s knitting” and described in earlier British texts on crochet as the initial manifestation of that craft.

“Crochet,—a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook…”

That snippet was discussed in greater detail in an earlier post, leading to yet another form of knitting with a hook-tipped needle associated with Scotland, termed Scottish knitting or Tricot éccosais. This was most commonly referred to in the Victorian literature as “tricot” (now generally termed Tunisian crochet) and worked with a “tricot hook.” This gainsays Mary Thomas’s concluding remark about the practice in Landes, that “There appears no trace of hooked needles in Britain…”

Looped Fabric

More about Bosnian crochet

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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