top of page

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. is a good resource for antique books. They have nearly all the Godey’s and lots of other period magazines.