Idle Hands are the Devil's Workshop: Knitting and Crocheting

Knitting is seen in the 18th and 19th centuries in various forms. Pre-1840, knitting is often very plain, often done in natural wool colors (gray, white, cream, etc.) and generally worked in the round-stockings, mitts, gloves, knee warmers, baby caps, and wrist warmers. The exception to the natural color rule seems to be knitted silk purses. Post-1840, you see far more knitting options -- shawls, jackets, collars, etc. -- and often in fanciful colors. Knitting generally takes longer to work than crochet but it requires less yarn per square inch and is therefore more economical. Needles were often called "pins" in the period. Knitting in the round would require at least four needles and often more. Most patterns would require a pair of needles. Needles could be made of wood, bone, ivory, or metal and are often much smaller than what we today typically work with. Silk and wool yarn of an appropriate weight are going to be most common for period-correct projects.


When attempting period patterns, be careful because period terms differ throughout 19th century patterns. For example, the knit stitch is referred to as ‘knit’, ‘knit plain’, or sometimes as ‘knit forward’. Purl is either termed ‘seam’ or ‘knit backward’. Period patterns never quite agree on what to call things but generally there will be an explanation of terms at the beginning of the books.


Crochet patterns were first published in English in the 1840s. It starts almost entirely as home furnishings, and children’s wear. Very little women’s clothing and accessories were crocheted prior to the mid 1860s although you will find occasional exceptions to this rule. Crochet is fast to work but requires a lot more yarn than knitting making it not as economical to work. Crochet hooks were typically made of bone, ivory, wood, or metal.


Godey’s Ladies’ Book and other fashion magazines were the go-to for patterns for both knitting and crocheting. www.catalog.hathitrust.org is a good resource for antique books. They have nearly all the Godey’s and lots of other period magazines.


RESOURCES


www.lacis.com has bone and wood knitting needles, bone needle caps for double ended needles, wood and bone crochet hooks, and republished pattern books. They also have lace making and embroidery tools. It’s just a great place for needle craft supplies.


www.knitpicks.com has lots of good yarn. Their ‘Palette’ wool yarn is excellent for most period winter wear knitting and crochet. ‘Luminance lace’ is silk yarn good for purses (it’s a little on the larger side of period silk yarn but it is still appropriate). There are so many good yarns including fiber blends, etc. Make sure you stay away from man-made fibers and even cotton unless your specific pattern calls for cotton. Fibers are rarely interchangeable in the period for fiber crafts. Even though it makes sense for us to exchange silk yarn for cotton on a purse to make it more economical and not as ‘fancy,’ that is NOT how people in the 19th century would have seen it. Even those of the working class could afford silk yarns and threads for projects-silks and wool were more economical and readily available for them than for us.


www.yarn.com also has nice wool and silk yarns. Although expensive and on huge cones, they have a nice thread weight silk yarn that would be fantastic for very fine projects.


*Prior to 1840 it seems knitting was regulated mostly in the round works (wrist warmers (although you sometimes see these worked flat in the early 19th century and then sewn up one side with a hole left for the thumb), stockings, purses, etc. Because of the time it took to knit as opposed to simply purchasing yard goods (not to mention the expense is usually greater with yarn worked items as opposed to woven items), clothing items-shawls, jackets, etc.-were rarely knitted until it became fashionable to do so. Interestingly enough, the rise of superficially knitted goods correlates with the rise of the middle class (women who had time and resources to pour into crafts for craft’s sake as opposed to strictly utilitarian clothing items).

*Crochet as it is worked today is not seen either in extant pieces, being worked in portraiture, spoken about in diaries/letters/magazines, or in published patterns until the early 1840s. Even then it didn't surge in popularity until the mid Civil War. Until we find evidence of it happening, the chances of crochet being worked at all in Texas prior to the mid 1840s is slim to none. It is best to regulate working crochet after this time frame.

*When working collars, etc. in knitting and crochet for pre 1870, look for THREAD weight yarn. Cotton pearl in 20-80 weights are good for this. Collars from these time frames are very fine lace weight items-not clunky or bulky.


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