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.