I’ve noticed a few posts on the various lists, blogs and forums all asking about stitches by name, either requesting help in finding a particular one, or discussing how sometimes multiple patterns share a name, or one pattern is known by many. I ramble on as the dilletante I am -?with nothing to back up these theories other than noting certain similarities of name and pattern in dozens of stitch guides and publications going back to the 1800s.

Knitting texture pattern names are far from standard. Yes, it’s true that some stitches have more than one name, and that some names are associated with more than one stitch. There’s little point in arguing about which is the "true" Old Shale stitch. In one part of the world the exact size of the repeat, proportion of garter to openwork, and depth of the scallops is clearly defined and agreed to by the knitting community. In another, the name is loosely attached to a family of stitches. And in other areas there’s no differentiation made between Old Shale and Feather and Fan.

The same thing goes for the seed stitch/moss stitch debate. I’ve seen all three?graphs below called variants of seed or moss stitch (empty squares are knits, dashed squares are purls).

Most commonly, ?#1 is seed and?#2 is moss. But others identify #1 as seed, and #2 as double seed. Some people call #1 seed, but call #3 double seed. In still others #2 is double moss, and #1 is moss, and #3 is broken rib.Confusing, isn’t it?? Get 10 knitters in?room and I’m sure you’ll come up with multiple names for these three.

And there’s also the Shaker Rib/Fisherman Rib/English Rib naming overlap used to?confound people who want to work one of these deeply textured but simple stitches (all employ knitting into a stitch in the row below).

Why is this?

Well, as close as I can figure, in part it’s because knitting is a?relatively new craft. Crochet even more so (more on this tomorrow). Written patterns or guides for doing it are even newer. Exhaustive books on how to embroider were written in the 1700s; modelbooks describing how to stitch and offering up designs date back to the dawn of publishing in the early 1500s. But the earliest pattern books that specifically mention knitting don’t cover texture variations in specific. They offer up simple graphed repeats that can be used for colorwork or knit/purl textures. It isn’t until much later that anyone began trying to describe the creation of a manipulated texture in a manner that others could reproduce it (early-mid 1800s?). So until that point, without a written record to nail terminology flat and make sharing those terms across wide areas, regional/cultural variations in naming remained regional. It wasn’t until knitters began running into knitters from other regions either in person or through published works that they began to notice that terminologies differed.

Although knitting posesses a vast amount of possiblities for texture formation, some patterns appear to have been either invented or popularized in multiple areas. We can’t say for?sure where many particular textures/stitches first developed,?or what name should have the right of primogeniture. ?Perhaps?dissemination was by chance – ?some adventurous traveller wore a pair of socks featuring a particular design, and that design was admired in the area he or she ended up in. Local knitters loved the novelty and reproduced it. In a generation an introduced pattern could easily loose its association with the ultimate origin and become "Grandma’s Clock" and be considered native.

Most of our modern names for stitches come from three (now four) stitch dictionaries compiled by Barbara Walker. She collected stitch directions, corrected them, classified them, and named them. Although there had been stitch pattern collections published before, no one had ever attempted?to unertake the task in?such a comprehensive manner.Remember though that even?though she was a pioneer,?Walker wasn’t working in a vacuum. She did invent many patterns (notably in slip stitch knitting and lace), but she also mined earlier works including 19th century ladies’ magazines, books,?and needlework leaflets put out prior to the 1960s. She?even gathered up submissions sent to her after the publication of her first book.

Walker’s?format required that each stitch have a name. Sometimes she adopted the name of a pattern in an earlier source, or used the name by which the stitch was known to her. Sometimes if more than one name was current she noted that fact. In other places she supplied a name where one was lacking or was misleading (you can’t have fifteen textures all named Chevron Stitch in the same book).

Walker’s treasuries are so influential that her names are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. In many cases though, they conflict with names steeped in local traditions. Therefore alternative names and confusion still persist. Plus although four massive encyclopedias of stitches contain lots and lots of individual patterns – there are whole areas of knitting they touch only very lightly. The lace patterns used in Shetland knitting are?sparsely covered compared to the in-depth treatment they get in specialty books. Those specialty books offer up the texture/lace pattern names used by people with a direct heritage of Shetland knitting.

Then there’s a further layer of complication. There are no Knitting Police. No one enforces use of any common set of terms. We barely have concurrence on things a simple as increase/decrease (narrow/widen); cast off (bind off); and gauge (tension). Anyone can publish a pattern or stitch guidebook that uses an entirely unique set of names. L. Stanfield sidestepped this issue by using only numbers to identify the original texture patterns in her?book. And marketers, especially those writing clothing catalogs?often pick names out of thin air because 1) they don’t know knitting or crochet (or many times the difference between the two); and 2) they use what they thing will sell, not what might be an accurate descriptor.

So there’s one person’s over-long ramble. Stitch names aren’t standard. They spring from many sources, and have only recently been codified, classified and named.Names are moving towards a greater degree of standardization, but they’re not there yet and will probably never be. Live with it.

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