Wednesday, 7 September 2011

WW: Beaded Wristlets

Another intriguing pattern for wristlets, this time from an agricultural journal. Unfortunately there is no accompanying picture and no time at present to knit up a test one, but I think they sound quite elegant.—K.

A lady tells how she knits wristlets:

"Take Saxony yarn, any color you wish (mine is black), and about three bunches of black bugle beads; thread them on the yarn, leaving them a short distance apart; cast on forty-seven stitches, knit once across plain; second row, throw a bead up through every other stitch, and so on; leave a loop at one end each time of about eighteen beads. Continue in this way until you have about forty loops, bind off and join, and I think you will have a pair of wristlets that will please any one."

Originally published in the Michigan Farmer and State Journal of Agriculture, November 1884.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Exercise: Shell-Work Wristlets

The shell-work wristlets pattern proved irrestistible; I had to cast on the next day to experiment with the results. I used Jamieson's Shetland wool in four different shades, blending from dark to light, which was a common recommendation in nineteenth-century patterns. I think it would look lovely in one shade throughout, especially a lighter color. The striping that would be produced by two different shades, as the pattern suggests, would also give a pretty effect.

My pattern notes are as follows:

  • Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift Wool, less than 10 g of each (colors from dark to light: Old Rose (#556) Wild Violet (#153); Dog Rose (#268); Eesit (#105)
  • Size 0 double pointed needles

CO 54 stitches using a long-tail cast on (the "double knitting" specified in the pattern) and distribute 18 stitches on each of three needles.

Row 1: *Purl 2; knit 1; yo; knit 4; k2tog*; repeat * to * to end of round.

Row 2:  *Purl 2; knit 2; yo; knit 3; k2tog*; repeat * to * to end of round.

Row 3: *Purl 2; knit 3; yo; knit 2; k2tog*; repeat * to * to end of round.

Row 4: *Purl 2; knit 4; yo; knit 1; k2tog*; repeat * to * to end of round.

Row 5: *Purl 2; knit 5; yo; k2tog*; repeat * to * to end of round.

Repeat these five rounds until desired length is reached; then cast off in pattern (including yo and k2tog).

For my sample wristlet, I knit two rounds of each of the first three colors, and then three rounds of the last one (for some reason, only two rounds looked too short). The resulting dimensions are 6 inches in circumference and 3.75 inches in length.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

WW: Shell-Work Wristlets

This pattern for wristlets is in honor of another article in Piecework magazine, this one about the treatment of needlework in the book The Mill on the Floss. The pattern I chose to accompany the magazine article was historically accurate, both in time and construction, but it was somewhat plain as a result. These wristlets are a little fancier, but true to a period approximately forty years after the setting of the book.—K.

Get two shades of single zephyr (or more if desirable), as it takes from one to one and one-half ounces for a pair.

Cast on with the worsted double (in double stitches) twenty-seven on two needles, eighteen on the third. Nine stitches form one shell, eight shells the usual size for a lady's wrist, nine for a gentleman. Do not knit around plain, but with a single thread seam two, knit one, widen by throwing over thread, knit four, narrow; continue thus around the wristlet.

SECOND ROW.—Seam two, knit two (that includes the loop made by widening), widen, knit three, narrow.

THIRD ROW.—Seam two, knit three, widen, knit two, narrow, and so forth.

FOURTH ROW.—Seam two, knit four, widen, knit one, narrow, and so forth.

FIFTH ROW.—Seam two, knit five, widen, narrow.

This forms one row of shells; then set in another shade of worsted, if you like, and begin as at first. It is pretty knit with two rows of shells of each shade or with but one, according to the taste. Bind off on the last row of shells the last time around. Be sure not to knit plain, but seam, knit, widen, and narrow as usual, binding each stitch over the last. When you knit the first time around, be sure to take the stitches double, making seventy-two around the cuff. Do not knit very tight.

Originally published in Ballou's Monthly Magazine, 1883.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

WW: Knitted Braces

This pattern was published, almost word for word (but without attribution), in Godey's Lady's Magazine a year later.—K.

Materials.—Knitting Cotton, No. 6, Messrs. Walter Evans and Co., of Derby; two Knitting Needles, No. 15, Bell gauge.

The great charm in these braces is the readiness with which they can be washed; so that they may be changed at least once a week. The only fittings required are two broad buckles, attached to loops of buckskin leather, through which are slipped leather straps having a button-hole cut at each end. There is a button-hole made in the knitting itself at the other extremity of each brace; so that the only thing to be done is to detach the braces from the buckles, and replace them with a clean pair, every week.

Cast on twenty stitches; and knit in plain garter-stitch about a finger-length, as tightly as possible. Begin the brioche-stitch thus: m 1, slip 1, knit 1. You thus increase to thirty in this row; and after it, do the ordinary brioche-stitch for 3½ to 4½ finger-lengths, according to the height of the wearer. Knit nearly a finger in plain-stitch, contracting to the original twenty in the first row; then, for the button-hole, knit backwards and forwards ten stitches only; then the other ten only; then eight rows the entire width; after which, knit together the two first stitches and then the two last except the edge-stitch, in every alternate row, until ten only are left, when [sic] cast off.

To make a good edge, slip the needle in the first stitch, as if you were going to purl it; and take it off without knitting, in every row, whether plain or brioche, throughout.

Fasten off the ends securely.

Those who knit very loosely should use needles somewhat finer, as it is essential the braces should be closely woven and strong.

Originally published in The Illustrated Magazine, 1860.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Net for Pony

The oppressive heatwave affecting most of the country these past few weeks has brought out the flies in droves. I can't imagine how much twine or how many hours it would require to make this garment, but I am sure that any pony would be grateful for the protection.—K.

Materials.—Fine twine; coarse purse twist, or knitting cotton No. 6; colored wool, two large netting needles; and a common penholder for a mesh.

Make a foundation of 31 stitches; net eight rows, increased one stitch at the end of each row. Having 39 stitches, leave 13 at each end for the cheeks, and work thus, the 13 in the middle; net to the end of the 13; turn back, net the same stitches, taking the two last as one; turn back, work the row, take the two last loops as one; turn back, net the row, take the two last loops as one; turn back, net the row, take the tow last loops as one. You have thus decreased twice on each side, reducing your original 13 stitches to 9. Work three rows without increase or decrease; in the two following rows you make a stitch at the end of each row; after the fourth row break off your cotton.

Begin at the commencement of the work; net 11 stitches, leaving 2 for the eye; turn back, net to the beginning of the row; net three more rows, decreasing 1 stitch at the end of the first and third; net five more rows without increase or decrease, and four more rows, increasing 1 stitch at the end of the first and third; net a fifth row, the end of which comes under the increase in the preceding rows; then take a bit of cotton, make a loop with it, fasten this loop on your knee, net 2 stitches in it, take up the middle piece and net it; then take another needle and work the second cheek exactly like the first; break off the cotton of the second needle, and, having made a loop and fastened in on your knee as before, net in it two stitches with the first needle, and continue the row along the second cheek.

Your three pieces being thus joined in one, work four plain rows. In the middle of the fifth make 1 stitch, net 1, turn back, net 1; increase one stitch in each of the two following loops; turn back, net 2, increase 1 in the third, net 2, increasing in the last; this is the beginning of a piece in the shape of a diamond, each row being increased in the middle and at the end. When you have 21 stitches, one on each side of the increase in the middle, net 2 loops, take a rug needle, thread it with colored wool or cotton; fasten the wool in the third loop of the row, work with it in 5 stitches, so as to produce 4 whole colored loops; with your netting-needle, work in each of these colored loops in stitches, and continue to net the row (increasing as before in the middle). Within 7 stitches from the end, take your rug needle and colored woo; work in 5 loops with it, to produce 4 whole colored loops; break off the wool, take up your netting-needle, work 3 stitches in each of the colored loops, and finish the row; then work four whole rows, increasing 1 stitch in the middle as before, but decreasing on each side the first and last of the 12 stitches made in the colored loops; continue thus till the decreases meet, after which cease to decrease, but continue to increase in the middle till you have thirty-nine rows in the diamond, counting from the first stitch; baste each side of the diamond to the corresponding part of the head, and, when you have brought the ends to meet exactly, work in the loop- of the side of the headpieces first, on the one side, up to the increases of the beginning; then turn back, work the row, and pick the stitches along the other side of the headpiece up to the increases; work this row backwards and forwards, increasing now not in the middle, but at the end, till you have altogether 84 stitches, the net twelve more rows without increase or decrease, and twelve more, taking the last two loops along; break off the cotton.

Net the ears as follows: Cut off the colored stitches, and work round the opening, decreasing in every other round 1 stitch on each side of the opening, keeping the back of the ear larger to the last; when about six stitches remain, gather them and fasten off.

This completes the fore part of the clothing; the second is a square piece, rather broader than the broadest part of the firstsay 100 stitches in width, and 80 rows in length.

To take up the pony-clothing, after getting it washed and starched, if it has been made of white cotton, net or knit a fringe all round; gather the stitches round the openings for the eyes, to bring them to a regular shape, and sew round them a piece of gimp of a moderate width, and a band of the same gimp on the forehead, from the outside of one ear to the outside of the other; then sew on each five strings, each terminated by a tassel; two to fasten round the mouth, two under the head, and the other on the front of the neck.

Originally published in Godey's Lady's Book & Magazine, February 1856.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Bag for Clothes

In keeping with my article just published in the July/August edition of Piecework magazine, an item using macrame lace, as it was called in the nineteenth century. The directions for making the bag are fairly vague, in recognition of its simplicity, and adaptable to the materials at hand. Like many macrame designs of the day, a picture is presumed to be worth a thousand words. The macrame pattern is a simple combination of (it appears) loose square knots using alternating ends, with bars made of repeated square knots.—K.

Another new article, which would find ready sale at fairs, is a bag for soiled clothes, illustrated in Fig. 39. The materials are Macrame lace, lined with silk, satin, or wool goods. The lace extends only two-thirds of the length of the bag, and is finished with a ruche of satin ribbon. The bottom is completed by a handsome bow of ribbon and tassel made of the thread used for the macrame lace. Draw up the bag at the top with silk cord and tassels the shade of the lining. Fig. 40 shows the pattern of the Macrame lace.

Originally published in Potter's American Monthly, May 1881.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Pattern for Edging

A departure from complete projects; this pattern for a leafy edging was so perfectly suited to the first day of summer that I couldn't resist choosing it today.—K.

Cast on 17 stitches.

1st Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together 4 times, make 1, knit 1, then made 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, knit 2.

2d Row.—Make 1, knit 2 together, purl all but the last 3 stitches, knit 1, make 1, knit 2 together. All the back rows will be the same.

3d Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together 4 times, make 1, knit 3, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, knit 2.

5th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together 3 times, slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slip stitch over, make 1, slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slip stitch over, make 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, knit 2.

7th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slip-stitch over, make 1, knit 2 together, make 1, knit 3, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, knit 2.

9th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together 3 times, slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slip-stitch over, make 1, slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slip-stitch over, make 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, knit 2.

11th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slip-stitch over, make 1, knit 2 together, make 1, knit 3, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, knit 2.

13th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together 3 times, then make 1, slip 1, knit 2 together, and pass the slip-stitch over 3 times in succession, make 1, knit 2 together, make 1, knit 2.

15th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1, and knit 2 together 3 times, slip 1, knit 3 together, pass the slip-stitch over, knit 1, then make 1, and knit 2 together twice, make 1, knit 2.

17th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, slip 1, knit 3 together, pass the slip-stitch over, make 1, knit 2 together, make 1, knit 1, make 1, knit 2 together, make 1, knit 2.

19th Row.—Slip 1, knit 1, then make 1 and knit 2 together twice, make 1, slip 1, knit 3 together, pass the slip-stitch over, make 1, knit 2 together, make 1, knit 1, make 1, knit 2 together, make 1, knit 2.

20th Row.—The same as the 2d. Repeat from first row for length required.

Originally published in Arthur's Home Magazine, July 1855.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Knitted Garter

Just in time for a June bride, though if historial accuracy is not a concern, you may want to substitute a softer yarn (in both texture and color) for the red Berlin wool. Paragraph breaks were added to make the pattern easier to follow.—K.

Materials.—White knitting cotton, red Berlin wool.

This garter is knitted in rounds with white knitting cotton; at the edge and along the middle some rounds are worked in crochet with red wool. A wide strip of white elastic is drawn through the double knitting, and the garter fastens with a steel clasp.

Cast on 20 stitches, work 120 rounds, and cast off.

On both sides of this strip work in crochet with red wool, always alternately 1 double, 1 chain, missing a sufficient space under the latter.

On the middle round of stitches of the upper part of the knitting work 2 rows of crochet, as follows:—

1st row.—Begin on one side of the knitting, 1 treble on the upper chain of the next stitch of the middle round, 1 slip stitch in the second stitch of the next round of stitches, but 2 above the middle round, *2 treble, divided by 3 chain stitches in the upper chain of the 6th following stitch of the middle round, 1 slip stitch in the 6th following stitch of the 3rd following round above the middle round; repeat from *, so that there is always a space of 5 stitches after the 2 treble stitches and the slip stitch.

When this round has been worked, turn the work, and crochet a similar round, which must be opposite to the first: the treble stitch must be worked in the 2nd chain of the stitches of the middle round still remaining free.

Then draw a piece of elastic, 4-5ths of an inch wide and about 2 2-5ths shorter than the knitted strip, through the latter; fasten the ends, and sew on a steel clasp.

Originally published in The Young Englishwoman, June 1869.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Lamp Mat in Crochet

The colors suggested for this pattern are quite interesting; I must confess I cannot imagine them working harmoniously together. The dearth of concrete instructions in this pattern make it even harder to visualize, in spite of the black and white engraving.—K.

The material is zephyr of five different shades—black, deep scarlet, orange, sea-green, and white. The centre, in plain crochet stitch, is of sea-green.

Make a chain of five stitches, and join by passing the needle through the first stitch and uniting it to the last. Form five rows of green, widening at first every third, then every fourth stitch.

The next row is of white, in close shell or pineapple stitch.

Again a row of green, four stitches in depth.

The next color is black, then white again, following the pattern, as given in the engraving, in the three colors, black, green, and white.

When the last row is made, take the scarlet for the border. Knit as seen in the engraving, of scarlet and orange, until the last two rows, the edge being of white, and the row next to it black.

The effect of this mat, when it is neatly made, is very beautiful, and it is handsome for either lamp or vase.

Originally published in Godey's Lady's Book & Magazine, January 1862.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Gentlemen's Nightcap

This pattern, published in a London magazine, did not include a picture to aid in translating the directions, but the backstory compensated for the lack of diagram.

In April 1843, "Eliza" had sent in several knitting patterns, which were published in the correspondence section. She had stated at the end, "Perhaps, in return, some of your fair correspondents will have the kindness to favor me with the pattern for a gentlemen's nightcap."

The following month featured this response, which departs from the English habit of using only three needles to knit in the round. It does not appear that the "doubling" results from double knitting, but instead folding one end inside the other. -- K.

SIR—I gladly forward the rules for knitting a gentlemen's nightcap for your correspondent ELIZA.

DOUBLE NIGHTCAP—You will find 5 needles are required. Two stitches to be cast on each of 4 needles, and in the 1st row increase two, and in the 2nd, one plain stitch in each. In the 3rd row the centre stitch on each needle must be seamed, and you must increase on each side of it every other row, until you have attained the middle required. You then knit the 4th and every succeeding row plain, until the cap is of a sufficient length, say 24 to 28 inches ; then decrease the 1st row, and make the other end to correspond with that first knitted.

These directions are taken from a nicely-written work on the subject of knitting, &c. Will your Correspondent EMMA favour me with an explanation of the term "slip and bind," in knitting?

(Emma had contributed lace patterns in February, for those who had "advanced beyond the initiatory steps in the art of knitting.")

 Originally published in The Magazine of Domestic Economy and Family Review, May 1843.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Knitted Basket

A timely pattern this week. If you knit quickly, you may be able to get this one done in time for the Easter Bunny to fill it come Sunday! -- K.

Materials.— Six shades of 4 thread Berlin wool, in scarlet or any other color, and 4 bone pins No. 6.

With the lightest shade of wool cast on 13 stitches.

1st row—Slip 1, knit 1, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, † make 2, knit 2 together † twice, knit 1.

2d.—Knit 3, purl 1, knit 2, purl 1, knit 1, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, knit 1.

3d.—Slip 1, knit 1, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, knit 2, make 2, knit 2 together, make 2, knit 2 together, knit 1.

4th.—Knit 3, purl 1, knit 2, purl 1, knit 3, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, knit 1.

5th.—Slip 1, knit 1, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, knit 4, † make 2, knit 2 together † twice, knit 1.

6th.—Knit 3, purl 1, knit 2, purl 1, knit 5, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, knit 1.

7th.—Slip 1, knit 1, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, knit 6, † make 2, knit 2 together † twice, knit 1.

8th.—Cast off 8, knit 5, * make 1, knit 2 together * 3 times, knit 1.

This completes one pattern; join on the next shade of wool for another, and so on, changing the shade with every repetition of the pattern. The seventh pattern will be done again with the lightest shade; and 12 patterns will be found sufficient for the edging.

Sew the sides up, and on each of the three needles take up 33 stitches, from the straight side of the edging; knit 2 rounds plain, then knit 1, knit 2 together, knit to within 3 of the end of the needle, knit 2 together, knit 1; repeat this on the other two needles; knit one plain round, and one decreasing one alternately until only 4 stitches are left on each needle. Draw up the opening, and fasten the wool with a coarse embroidery needle. Make a handle of 3 or 4 pieces of fine wire covered with wool or ribbon; and put a round, similarly covered, at the top and bottom of the three rows of open hem to keep the basket in shape.

Originally published in Godey's Lady's Book & Magazine, July 1855.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: French Purse

Thread some beads on fine netting silk; cast thirty-six loops on each of three fine pins No. 20.

First round, plain.

Second round, plain.

Third round, knit four, cast on one, knit one, cast on one, knit four, slip one, narrow, pass the slipt [sic] stitch over, knit four, cast on one, knit one, cast on one, knit four, repeat to the end.

Fourth round to the fourteenth round, same as third.

Fifiteenth round to the eighteenth, plain.

Nineteenth round, with No. 22 pins; cast on one, narrow, knit one, narrow, repeat.

Twentieth round to the twenty-third are plain.

Twenty-fourth round, plain; pass a bead every stitch.

Twenty-fifth round to the twenty-seventh are plain.

Twenty-eighth round, cast on one, knit one, narrow, cast on one, knit one, narrow, repeat.

Now take the No. 20 pins. Twenty-ninth round, knit one, pass a bead, knit one, narrow, cast on one, pass a bead, repeat. The odd stitch which you knit in this round is the cast on stitch in the last.

Thirtieth same as the twenty-ninth, only passing two beads each time instead of one.

Thirty-first and thirty-second round the same, passing three beads each time.

Thirty-third round same as thirtieth.

Thirty-fourth same as twenty-ninth.

Thirty-fifth round, with coarser silk, knit plain.

Thirty-sixth round, all pearl.

Thirty-seventh round, pearl, passing a bead every stitch.

Thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth rounds, the same.

Fortieth round, pearl.

Forty-first round, knit plain.

Forty-second round, resume the fine silk, pearl.

Forty-third round same as the twenty-eighth.

Forty-fourth round to the forty-eighth same as the twenty-ninth.

Forty-ninth round the same as the thirty-fourth.

Now take the No. 22 pins. Fiftieth round to the fifty-second, plain.

Fifty-third round plain, passing a bead every stitch.

Fifth-fourth round to the fifty-sixth, plain.

Fifty-seventh round to the sixty-second the same as the twenty-ninth to the thirty-fourth.

Sixty-third round, take the coarse silk and work to the sixty-ninth round, same as the thirty-sixth to the forty-first.

Resume the fine silk. Seventieth round same as the forty-third.

Follow on the pattern from this round, till you finish the ninety-seventh as the sixty-ninth; divide the stitches six parts of eighteen each; slip the first, knit the next, pass the slipt stitch over, pass a bead, knit thirteen plain, knit two, passing a bead each stitch; repeat to the end of the round, narrowing at the beginning of every eighteen stitches.

Next round, slip the first, knit the next, pass the slipt stitch over, pass a bead, knit eleven, pass a bead, knit one, pass a bead, knit one, pass a bead, knit one, pass a bead; continue the same, narrowing as before, until you come to a point; sew on a tassel and slip in three rings to keep out the parts knit with the coarse silk; draw a string through the top.

The above makes a beautiful bag, worked with thick twist and large pins.

Originally published in Godey's Lady's Book & Magazine, March 1847.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Remedy for Hard Times

No matter where you turn these days, it seems, signs that we are not out of the woods just yet abound. A friend losing a job he has had for years, a friend making the hard decision to close her yarn shop, budget debates, benefit cuts... the list goes on and on. This "remedy for hard times" was originally published in 1843, almost 170 years ago, but it fitted my mood of today.

We have been asked repeatedly to give our view at length, upon the present state of the country, but we have thought proper, thus far to forbear. We fear that we might be accused of a political bias, foreign to the object of this paper. Still we think it legitimately within the scope of an agricultural journal, to give such views form time to time of the state of the nation as will tend especially to promote the interest of the farmers...

From a letter recently received... we quote a paragraph. Here is the best remedy for hard times that we know of, and if all states will go and do likewise, there will soon be an end of them.

'The people of Kentucky are righting up in pecuniary matters rapidly. The crisis is past. We are buying nothing and selling a good deal, though at low rates. ... Not only have we stopped buying foreign goods, but our people are returning to the old time-honored practice of manufacturing domestics by household industry. The wheel has lain idle for some years, but it is buzzing away now. Hemp, flax, linens, jeans, linseys, woollens, &c., the product of family looms, are substituted for foreign goods.'

American Agriculturalist, New York, May 1843.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Bicycle Cap

Materials.-- One ounce of Dorcas Germantown and a fine crochet hook.

Make a chain of five stitches, join in a circle.

First Round.--Two long crochets in every foundation stitch.

Second Round.--Like first.

Third Round.--Two long crochets in every alternate stitch.

Fourth Round.--Two long crochets between every increase.

Fifth Round.--Three long crochets between every increase.

Sixth Round.--Four long crochets between every increase.

Seventh Round.--Five long crochets between every increase.

Eighth Round.--Six long crochets between every increase.

Ninth Round.--Seven long crochets between every increase.

Tenth Round.--Eight long crochets between every increase.

This finishes the crown of the cap.

For the band around the head:

First Round.--Ten long crochet, miss one, all around.

Eleven rounds of long crochet, without increase or decrease.

Originally published in The Dorcas Magazine, April 1885.

Monday, 28 March 2011

A Plea for Knitting

Knitting has a hold on the modern mind as a quintessentially traditional craft -- something every great-great-grandmother did, with universal competence and devotion.

Given this assumption, it is surprising to find how often the "loss" of knitting skills were bemoaned in the nineteenth century. I am reprinting this article in its entirety, in part because I was amused that knitters 150 years later are still using the same arguments and justifications for their craft, and garnering much the same reaction when they knit in public (though probably no longer on a river boat).

What has become of the knitters? Genuine, old-fashioned knitters, we mean, who understand all the mysteries of "heel and toe," "narrowing," and "seam-needle;" and who can, if necessary, knit a pair of men's socks complete in two days? The crocheting and fancy knitting of the present day is, valuing it according to its results, unworthy of occupying the place of this homely and useful employment.

Now and then there is some old lady -- God bless her for preserving the traditions of our youth! -- who still clings to the four slim needles, and, mayhap, the knitting-sheath, and keeps the feet of her grandchildren warm and comfortable. But how few there are of the present generation who know anything about it! Not long since, to pass away a tedious hour on board a river boat, we took from our basket a tiny mitten we were knitting in the good old-fashioned style; and it was amusing to see the number who gathered around, interested in the manner of widening the thumb, and various processes in making the pretty toy complete. Such ignorance as they displayed! I was ashamed for them, and indignant at their mothers, who certainly had never compelled them to knit a daily "atent" of "twenty times round," until from the slowest and most irksome of tasks, it became a positive delight, and they felt lost if they sat down to book or paper without the ever-present knitting.

Knitting is not very profitable employment in one sense. Even when one is a rapid knitter, the result is slow -- still slower if the hand is not perfect master of the work. But knitting should not be considered as steady, daily employment. It is work to be caught up in a spare moment, and dropped as quickly; to occupy the hands at twilight, when it is too dark to see, and still too light to bring out the lamp. It is the work for odd minutes, half-hours and hours -- times when one would otherwise be idle. And when we consider, what is actually true, that we can thus do the winter knitting for a whole family, its results are not so insignificant after all. And every one ought to know, though probably few do, how very much longer hand-knit stockings last than those which are bought already made.

Then there is another argument in favor of knitting. Very many women, in the press of household duties, cannot help but have a half-feeling, whenever they sit down to read, that they are wasting time which might and ought to be otherwise employed; while, if they could call in the aid of the knitting-needles to keep them company, and have a comfortable consciousness that, even as they amused and rested themselves, the stocking for Tommy's chubby foot, or the mitten to cover Freddy's rosy fingers, was progressing in their hands, they would read oftener and longer, and be all the better for it.

It is a homely accomplishment, but a useful one; and, when once acquired, one that the possessor would be unwilling to lose. It is a judicious friend and companion, capable of occupying the attention when required; but ready, when it is desirable, to retire utterly to the background -- asking only the company of the hands -- leaving mind and thoughts free for other matters.

Arthur's Home Magazine, March 1869

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Shetland Wool Veil for Infants' Wear

 (by Mrs. Jane Weaver)

MATERIALS: 1 oz. of white Shetland wool; bone crochet hook.

Make a ch half a yard in length.

1st row -- 5 ch, miss 2, and work it into the 3rd stitch, * 5 ch; miss 2, join to the next stitch, and * to the end of the row.

2nd Row -- 5 ch, and work it into the middle stitch of the 5 chain loop of 1st row.

The work naturally narrows at each end of every row. Work until the piece is half as wide as when begun; stretch and shape by placing the piece upon a clean napkin, with a damp one over it, then press with a moderately hot iron.

FOR THE BORDER: 2 rows of ch loops, 7 ch to the loop; 1 row of dc, 4 stitches to a group, 1 ch between each group; 2 rows of chain loop, 1 row of dc as before, and finish off with 2 rows of chain loops. This work should all be done loosely and evenly, making it much like lace as possible.

Originally published May 1862.

Monday, 14 March 2011


Another negative review of fancy-work in the media this week.

Reading this article gave me good insight into the lot of emigrating women. Many of them could not have possibly been prepared for what they were about to face. The lower their class, the better they must have been able to cope, and for those women the new country was probably an improvement in situation.

But for the poor girls who were only taught to crochet, play piano, speak French and paint wooden screens in the hopes of improving their stations, the new country must have come as quite a shock. However, how middle class girls could have assumed a servant's role in preparation, as this article suggests so practically, is just as much of a mystery.

(Again, I have added paragraphs but the italics are true to the original.)

A lady who has lately emigrated to Sydney writes: --

"I think, as far as I can make out, that Sydney itself simply has no opening for governesses or helps; the Colonial girls themselves are taking very much to going in for teaching, and they won't leave the towns; but if Englishwomen make up their minds to go up country they will find lots of situations.

"Teaching, however, is not of the first importance; they must have a thorough knowledge of housework, must be able to do it before they come out. Pray impress that strongly on their minds; tell them to take a servant's place for a few months before they leave England, or do anything they can to thoroughly learn the work of a house in all its branches, even to washing and ironing clothes, which I know is often required of girls if the servants leave at a moment's notice, which is a favourite trick of theirs out here.

"Of course, to be able to teach well is of great importance, particularly music, of which all colonial people are passionately fond; but still everything comes second to the thorough knowledge of housework, and ladies out here do not care to take girls as 'helps' who are merely willing to work but require to be taught. The heat of the summer out here is so great, and people get languid, and irritable, and indisposed to take the trouble to teach a girl what they themselves have been brought up to do from childhood. 

"It is a pity our English girls are not more sensibly trained; if they didn't fritter away so much time in fancy-work and those sorts of things they would be better housekeepers, and more likely to get on here in this country. I have been told of five ladies up country who all want 'helps' and can't get them -- ladies who will teach the children and help with the housework; one or two English girls from home have taken the situation, but have been found to be utterly incapable of doing more than teach, which, as I say, comes second in importance."

Work and Leisure, An Englishwoman's Advertiser, Reporter and Gazette, November 1883

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Pelerine, or Half Cap

White Berlin Wool -- Steel Pins No. 11

Cast on one hundred and thirty loops, knit one plain row.

Second needle -- pass the wool twice over the needle, and take two together; repeat to the end, and pearl back.

Fourth needle -- take two together, knit plain to the end; knit the next three needles plain, decreasing one at each end. The above to be repeated, decreasing one at each end of every needle, until there are seven rows of open knitting, which forms the head piece.

Take twenty-nine stitches off one end of the pin; knit as before, narrowing at the same end of the nedle until there are fourteen loops left, which must be taken off; take up twenty-nine loops on the other side, and knit as before, narrowing at the same end of the needle until the loops are reduced to fourteen. Cast off. This forms the back part; join it up behind, take the stitches at the front, and take up the loops at the back; knit one plain round at the top; next round, pass the wool over twice, then knit two plain rounds, and take off; pick up the loops behind, which will be about eighty; turn the wool over twice to make a row of holes, then knit two plain rounds and take off.

Run a satin ribbon through the holes at the top, and round the face and back. Sew on ribbon strings.

Originally published March 1847.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Our Paris Letter, December 20th 1881

This week's article presents a different and more practical perspective on fancy work than the misty-eyed view of the wonderful work table extolled in last week's entry. The following is an excerpt from an article presented as a letter from a French correspondent, who presumably should know a thing or two about fashion and the proper way to pay homage to it in everyday work.

As the letter reveals, she also knows a thing or two about brutal honesty.

A young lady thinks herself well qualifed as a worker when she can do crochet, tatting, lacework, cloth embroidery, macrame, applique, netting, Berlin wool, crewel work, and trace out figures of boys and girls in outline. These works, to speak truthfully, when made at home, are generally very poor copies, about third-rate work, although they are much praised by papa and mamma, and all our best friends, who think us most clever and industrious; but candidly, in your inmost heart, you feel that it may be better done, that those at the shops look fresher, more even and artistic, than your own, and you are down-hearted. Well, cease to do nothing but fancy work, and to lose so much precious time.

It is well to have a little fancy work, or as country people call it, parlour work, always on hand; but then do not undertake work beyond your ability and taste, and whatever you do, do well, with great care.

But beyond all fancy work, let me advise you young ladies to learn darning and mending, and well as cutting and dressmaking.

Dressmaking is certainly more fitted to occupy the leisure hours of a girl, than fancy work. Fancy work is amusing for a time, a short time, while dressmaking is a constant novelty...

An old lady friend of mine, the neatest worker I ever saw, used to say, 'A young lady ought not to think of getting married unless she can unravel an untidy skein of black silk.' I may add, and darn a fine sheet or a pair of silk stockings.

The London and Paris Ladies Magazine of Fashion, January 1882

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Infant's Shirt

 (by Mrs. Jane Weaver)

With split zephyr, case on 100 stitches, using fine ivory needles, or coarse steel ones, No. 11.

Knit 2 rows plain.

3rd row: Knit 1, bring the thread forward and knit two together; continue to the end of the needle; knit the last stitch plain.

4th, 5th and 6th rows: Knit plain.

Repeat these last 4 rows 4 times; then seam 2 stitches and knit 2 plain, alternately, until you think you have it long enough. The general length of shirts is a quarter or three-eights of a yard long. Bind off for one side.

Repeat this for the other side. Sew the two sides together, leaving 2 inches unsewed at the top for the armholes. Do the same for the other side. Begin where you finished sewing and pick up the stitches (on the right side) and on one side of the armhole; cast on 12 more stitches, then pick up the other stitches on the other side of the armhole and knit 1 row plain; then repeat the 4 rows of holes 4 times. Bind off, and knit the other sleeve in the same way. Join under the arm. Pick up the stitches all round the neck on 4 coarse steel needles. Make 3 rows of holes as before. Bind off and finish with cord and tassels, or ribbons.

Originally published May 1862.

Monday, 28 February 2011

The Ladies' Work-Table

As I read through periodicals from the 19th century, the different treatment of needlework is striking. The article excerpted below is clearly on the "pro" side, with the attendant view that women should have no role in the work place. If they had no business there, then they had to find some meaning in their lives elsewhere -- one suspects, at the hallowed "Work-Table."

I loved this article's description of the manic pace of life at that time -- 1856 -- with its "ceaseless agitation," and the importance of the home providing a respite. The more things change... Present-day resources still exhort and encourage us to make the home a sanctuary from the stress of modern living.

(The original had no paragraphs, but I have broken it down to make it easier to read.)

In the daily routine of domestic life, we know of few things having greater influence upon its peace and comfort than the "Work-Table." In those restless dwellings where its office is a sinecure, and all is flurry and excitement, from the rising up in the morning until the lying down at night, composure of mind is as much jeopardized as rest of body is sacrificed. We live in days of ceaseless agitation. The intellect is ever at work, teaming with new projects and aiming at ambitious desires, every faculty being strained to attain the desired end. ...

It is true that these are, or ought to be, masculine abstractions, in which the gentler sex have no share. ... When men are tempest-tossed and spirit-torn, they return to their own habitations with ruffled spirits and a brow but half-calmed from recent agitation.

What is the result?

If the impressionable mind of the mistress of the dwelling catches the reflection, and her household duties and domestic interests are disturbed, then all goes wrong.

But, on the other hand, supposing that the master of the house comes in from that outer world of strife in which he has got so bruised and wounded, and finds those who are dearest to him on earth sitting calmly round that "Work-Table," which is like the centre of a circle of peace, what is the consequence? He looks round on the happy faces, all so interested in those gentle labors, which seem to make him blush for the excess of his passion.... How pleasant is it to look on those smooth brows and those calm lips? The works of those busy fingers are for him and his; they are either for the comfort or adornment of his home.

The girls hurry to meet him; the wife looks at him a little anxiously, fearing that something has gone wrong. Shall he give vent to his troubles that the outer world has forced upon him -- his fears his cares, his anxieties, his distractions?


He thanks heaven for the happiness of that home, which is as a haven of rest to his troubled soul, and sits down with feelings of softening gratitude among the circle gathered round the "Work-Table."

 Graham's Illustrated Magazine, December 1856 (Philadelphia, PA)

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Party Hood, or Sortie de Bal

Materials: Two ounces of scarlet Shetland wool; pins, no. 16.

Cast on 78 stitches; knit 3 rows, then commence the pattern as follows:

1st row: Slip 1, a pearl 1, knit 2 together three times, thread forward, knit 1 six times, knit 2 together three times; repeat from a.

2d: Slip 1, a pearl 1, knit 18; repeat from a.

3d: Slip 1, a pearl 1, knit 18; repeat from a.

4th: Slip 1, a knit 1, pearl 18; repeat from a.

These four rows form the pattern, Repeat till one yard is completed. Cast off loosely.

For the crown, cast on 59 stitches, and knit the pattern as before; increase at the beginning and end of each row by making an additional stitch, till your additional stitches at each side are made. Knit, without increasing, till three nails are completed; decrease at the beginning and end of each row for three rows, then knit 2 rows and cast off. Pass the work through a thin solution of gum-water, and pin it out to dry upon a cloth stretched upon the floor. Make a cap with white silk, the size required; stretch the knitting upon it; sew it nearly round, placing the centre parts of each together; sew in the crown; cut lengths of wool and loop into the ends to form a fringe, as in illustrated design.

Originally published November 1855.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Aiken's Famous Family Knitting Machine

I found this article in the Wisconsin Farmer's Journal. I thought it provided such an interesting commentary on the times, as it was published eighteen months after the start of the Civil War, that I have transcribed most of it. (The same edition of the journal contained a poignant lament about the potential losses to agriculture and horticulture as a consequence of the conflict.) The women to whom this machine is recommended are not women seeking to fill idle hours with needlework with which to decorate their homes, but rather women who depended upon the production of their hands.

When Queen Elizabeth came to the throne of England, three hundred years ago, such a thing as a knit stocking had never been heard of in all her realm. Nor, indeed, have we any reliable authority to suppose that anything of the sort had ever been produced anywhere in the world.* But the tense, unyielding hose manufactured upon the loom were an uncomfortable, unsatisfactory thing, and so some ingenious mind -- it is not known whose -- conceived the idea, and executed the plan, of manufacturing them with the use of needes, in such manner that they should be both seamless and very elastic. The first pair knit were presented to Her Majesty, in the third year of her reign, who was so delighted wtih them that she would never again consent to wear the stocking of the old style.

As the result of the royal example and of the remarkable superiority of this wonderful manufacture, knitting became at once immensely popular, so that high-born dames and royal ladies emulated each other in princely halls and gilded palaces.

But the process of knitting with the fingers was slow and tedious; and so the brain of one William Lee ... stimulated, it is said, by a strong desire to supercede the needles of a beautiful young girl, whose passion for knitting appeared more all-absorbing than her coveted love for him, contrived a machine... [The inventor] established a factory at Nottinghamshire, which, to this day, has been and is the great seat of hosiery manufacture in Europe. ...

About a quarter of a century ago circular looms were introduced into this country from Belgium and France; since which time there have been several American improvements, all finding their climax in the wonderfully simple, cheap and capable machine of J.B. Aiken, of Franklin, N.H. As a factory machine this is unquestionably the most popular one now in existence, and every day seems to be adding to the high esteem in which it is held. ...

But all this remarkable success did not satisfy the ambition of Mr. Aiken. ... A machine which should come within the slender means of even a very poor family, and thus diffuse its blessings as the Sewing Machine has done, was needed. The simple and effective 'circular' machine of which the above cut is an illustration, was the result of this worthy and persistent endeavor. So simple and durable in all its parts that there is scarcely a possibility of its getting out of order; so rapid in its working that when operated by the hand of a child it will knit over four thousand stitches in a minute -- if by the foot five thousand -- or if by steam, to which it may be adapted, sixty thousand! -- so small in compass that it may be packed in a box less than a foot cubic; and withal, so cheap that it can easily be made to pay for itself in one winter, it can hardly fail of a very great demand even in war times. Indeed the harder the times the greater the need, on the part of the poorer families at least -- and nearly all are feeling pretty poor about now -- of everything which may come as a help in securing the means of support. ...

The machine is adapted to the manufacture of stockings of every size and texture, undershirts, drawers, neck comforts, table covers, head dresses, cravats, caps, purses, rigolets and shawls, sontags, tidies, ladies' opera caps, undersleeves, nubias, scarfs [sic], suspenders, &c.

The price, owing to taxation, &c., has been increased $5 within the last month or two, and is now fifty dollars, including oil-can, wrench, screw driver, 20 extra needles, skein holders, yarn winder, and a book of instruction. But even this, for a machine adapted to so many uses, and with which so many may be made by even the younger members of the family in a short time, is cheap; and we recommend [it] to all families dependent upon their fingers for support, to all Soldiers' Aid Societies, and to all others, who, in these trying times desire to contribute to the public good by every species of honorable economy....

But even $50, small as the amount is,** will not be found in times like these 'growing on every bush,' and we have accordingly offered the machine to every enterprising friend of the FARMER who will furnish us with a club of 150 subscribers at one dollar each. If there are any young men whose mothers or sisters are dependent upon their hands for support, or any middle-aged men whose wives would cordially welcome so valuable a labor-saver as the Knitting Machine, now is their time to do two things at once -- secure a handsome present for those most dear, and at the same time extend the circulation of a worthy journal devoted to the best material and social interests of the people of the Northwest.

The Wisconsin Farmer and Northwestern Cultivator, December 1, 1862.

* They had, but were unknown in English-speaking countries at the time of this article. "The Oldest Knitted Stockings," an excellent article by Chris Laning in the Winter 2011 edition of Knitting Traditions, dates cotton knitted stockings to the 11th century, in Islamic countries south of the Mediterranean. You can see an example here.

** According to The Inflation Calculator, $50 in 1862 is equivalent to $1061.85 in 2009 (the most recent year available for calculation) -- not a "small amount" for struggling families.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Wednesday Workbasket: Crochet Afghan

Materials: Scarlet and white six thread fleecy; large bone tricot-hook.

1st row: * Put the wool over the hook, pass over one, one single in the next; put the wool over the hook, one single in the next; put the wool over the hook, one single in the next, keeping all the stitches on the hook. Repeat from * coming back; pull through four loops, * one chain; pull through the chain and the next four loops on the hook. Repeat four *.

2nd row: * Put the wool over the hook; work a single between the clusters of last row; put the wool over the hook, one single under the same. Repeat from * coming back, the same as for first row. The second row is then repeated until the stripe is finished.

When all the stripes are finished, sew together on the wrong side. Work between each stripe one double, * five chain, one treble in the first, pass over one, one double on the next. Repeat from *. Each stripe is finished in the same way.

For the border, three rows are worked the same as the edge of the stripe, in scarlet, working the second and third rows into the five chain of each preceding row, and working at the corners two patterns in one stitch.

Originally published in 1875.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Poetry of Knitting

My Valentine's gift to you: excerpts from an article entitled "The Poetry of Knitting," published in Household Words* on Saturday, September 9, 1882. The article describes knitting in various places around Great Britain, in particular Wales, Yorkshire and Cornwall.

The Welsh are described as using a "peculiar wool" that is treated "with an oil of so noxious a character that articles knitted with unwashed wool must be scalded seven or eight times before they can be quite cleansed of its penetrating odour." The Welsh "undyed wool" would "certainly bear away the palm at a wool show for softness and durability" -- were it not for the oil dressing used and the color of the wool, described as "just the colour of a very dirty sheep."

Switch to the Yorkshire dales, where knitting was done by virtually everyone in the first half of the century: "the waggoneer marched alongside his team, busy with his pins; the ploughman as he jogged home sideways on his lumbering horses, knitted industriously; even farmers on market-days talked of crops and cereals and knitted as they talked, in the very market-place."

Evidently the arrival of civilization, via the train, drove most men out of the habit of knitting or at least to knitting indoors in private, but the women kept it up.
They never move without their knitting and their knitting-sheath, attached to their waist by a belt, called a "cow-band" from its being made of cow-hide. ... A very common "fairing," Valentine's Day gift, birthday present, or sweetheart's keepsake, is a sheath and cow-band. Sometimes the swain carves a sheath with his pocket-knife from a bit of pin-wood out of his native woods... which he presents to his "ain lassie" at the trysting-stile -- a sure sign that she is very dear to him.
The description of a desirable marriage partner in Yorkshire is particularly awe-inspiring:
A lassie's value in the matrimonial market was calculated precisely according to her ability and quickness as a knitter. To be the "best knitter in the dale, able to make four bump-caps a day" was synonymous with being the "best match in the dale." Bump-caps, a knitted cap of a yard long, one half of which is turned in, are one of the chief manufactures of the dales.
Four yards per day is an amazing amount of knitting in anyone's book.

I'll leave you with the description of a Yorkshire knitting group, called a "sitting":
The "sitting" is often prolonged till midnight if the stories told are more than usually interesting, and the songs are hearty and fall in the temper and spirit of the meeting. ... They move in a peculiar way while knitting, a partly waving, partly rocking motion. A stranger coming suddenly in upon a "sitting" and ignorant of the sights and customs of the dales, is forcibly struck with the weird-like appearance of twenty or thirty creatures -- many of them almost in rags -- with unkempt hair hanging round their sun-bronzed faces, all swaying to and fro in time to the knitting-chorus.**
Sounds like a perfectly lovely way to spend an evening.

* The original Household Words was a weekly journal edited by Charles Dickens and published from 1850 to 1859. It sold for a tuppence per copy. His son resurrected it in 1881. The title was taken from a line in Shakespeare's Henry V: "Familiar in his mouth as household words."

** This website has further information about the history of knitting in the dales.