ANCIENT KNITTING BOOKS ON THE WEB

Back to a series started long ago, I present more summaries of out of print knitting-related books. But instead of exhuming these from my local library system, I found the full text of these works on-line via a Google Book Search.

Directions for Knitting Socks and Stockings. Revised, Enlarged and Specially Adapted for use in Elementary Schools, by Mrs. Lewis, printed in London in 1883 is a pamphlet written in response to a bit of British educational legislation, mandating that all girls be required to learn to knit. Aside from pedagogical pedantry in service of this goal, it does provide some interesting bits, although there are no illustrations. Pages 12-14 contain a comprehensive “sock recipe” chart, listing numerical sizes and the numbers of stitches to be cast on, and the number of rows or stitches that compose other sock and stocking features (rib depth, length to heel, heel stitches, length of foot, etc.). This chart however does not present gauge or finished measurements. From the measurements however, it’s pretty clear that gauge is quite small by modern standards, with the smallest boy’s sock size starting off on a 49 stitch circumference, and the largest man’s sock size starting off with a 121 stitch cuff.

Prose directions to accompany the charts begin on page 15. They describe socks with Dutch style heels. I would not recommend this booklet for a modern knitter starting off on his or her first pair of socks because the description style used in the directions is obtuse by today’s standards, although for the time – the instructions are pretty clear. But if you have done a Dutch heel before and are familiar with it’s components and features, you will be able to follow along.

The leaflet goes on to present directions for Muffatees with Thumbs (page 24) – fingerless mittens, but knit flat rather than in the round, and are worked sideways rather than parallel to the bottom edge of the cuff and seamed up the center of the palm. Wrist ribbing is constructed from knit/purl welting. This pattern is a little bit more accessible, although the description of picking up and knitting the thumb is a bit of a stretch. (I’m thinking of quickly trying this pattern out and posting the redaction here if anyone is interested). There’s also a beginner’s scarf knit in the flat, featuring a simple fagoting detail running its length. The booklet finishes with a description of various historical yarns. Names and in-skein weights are given, but aside from an estimate that a certain weight should be ample to produce a pair of socks – no yardage is described.

The Lady’s Assistant for Executing Useful and Fancy Designs in Knitting, Netting and Crochet Work, by Mrs. Gaugain, London, 1847 is one of those Ur books that informed later generations of stitch pattern reference works. I’ve seen it mentioned in bibliographies, and was excited to find it on Google. Sadly, I was very disappointed. Although it is listed as containing over 220 pages, the scan cuts off around page 70 or so, and of the initial 70, quite a few are skewed, truncated, or flat out missing. None of the netting or crochet sections are included in the on-line version. Given the difficult notation and lack of illustrations, I’d need more patience and perseverance than I have to spare tonight to make much headway with the contents.

The Young Ladies’ Journal Complete Guide to the Work-Table: Containing Instruction for Berlin Work, Crochet, Drawn-Thread Work, Embroidery, Knitting, Knotting or Macrame, Lace, Netting, Poonah Painting and Tatting, London 1885. This one is a bit more promising, more along the lines of Weldons Encyclopedia volumes or the illustrated needlework sections of Godey’s Ladies’ Book. The crochet section includes some nicely done illustrations of basic techniques, including a basket pattern I’ve not seen before (p. 12); and excellent illustrated beginners’ guides to Guipre style darned netting. The knitting section is relatively advanced, with descriptions of gauge and its importance. There are a few texture patterns shown – nothing that hasn’t made its way to modern sources; plus counterpane edgings and motifs, stockings, knee-caps, baby shirts and other items. On page 52 theres an interesting shawl, knit using two weights of yarn to produce a honeycomb line effect with lacy infilling. There’s also an unusual welted insertion pattern similar to the pattern shown on the cover of Lewis Knitting Counterpanes, except that in this case there’s no bundling of stitches using wraps ( p. 61).

I also liked the point lace (needle lace) section. The first style shown would be familiar to most people today through the Battenberg lace style, it is rarely illustrated in contemporary works on stitching and needle lace. This book shows various infilling needle lace patterns for use inside of the outlines formed by the loops of purchased woven tape. Other forms of point lace are also shown,

Poonah painting apears to be some sort of stencil work done with enamels and varnishes, applied to both hard surfaces and textiles. I have to admit I wasn’t that interested. More interesting was the macrame and tatting section. This is macrame as in fancy finework fringes – not heavy cording tied into owls or plant hangers. I have used some of the simpler style fringe tying patterns on scarves and knit blankets. They add another layer of complexity to the designs, and look much more finished than do fringes attached and left otherwise untied.

The book finishes up with brief sections on drawn and withdrawn thread embroidery styles and on some of the fancier forms of knotted netting.


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One response

  1. Thank you for searching these out and reviewing them. The Young Ladies Journal looks especially interesting. It’s too bad that the Lady’s Assistant got along so poorly with the scanner.

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