Hand Knitting Technique

Knitting For Profit Ebook

Knitting For Profit Ebook

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We are only interested in the production technique of articles on two to five needles. The knotless netting technique had already been dealt with in Chapter II. Neither shall we concern ourselves with crocheting with its vertical or horizontal arrangement of stitches usually used for articles having a looser and more decorative structure. The knitting technique always adopted a vertical arrangement of stitches. I. Emery describes it as a kind of vertical interlooping.4 Many dictionaries and handbooks not only have not captured the difference between knitting and crocheting, but also between flat knitwear, produced on two needles, and the possibilities of fashioning the knitwear by executing it in a circle by means of a larger number of needles.5 However, the necessity of using needles of a thickness close to that of the yarn has been emphasized. One of the major preparatory activities was the rewinding of the yarn into easily unwinding balls. Such balls of yarn have been often shown in iconographic material, particularly on guild insignia. They can be seen, for example, on the bowl, of the Prague butters from 1792, where stuck in a ball of yarn are five needles. In the period binder discussion, these needles were usually of metal, although sporadically also jjbone of wooden implements would be used for knitting coarser fabrics. (II. 11)

An important problem is the manner of holding the needles and the division

Ef functions, between the two hands in the process of knitting. T. de Dillmont in er excellent encyclopaedia of hand work claims that in Germany the knitter's ft hand works more in pushing the yarn, which accelerataes the execution of pitches by the right hand.6 The authoress managed to make many such ¡Observations in Alsace, a former hand-knitting centre. Fairly extensive iconog-

Iphic material from the whole of Europe from the fourteenth-eighteenth nturies does not allow this observation to be confirmed in the sense of being ile to differentiate between German and French knitters, but this perhaps suits from inaccurate observation of the artists. What is significant, however, is e economy of movement of professional knitters. They hold the needles close to e article being knitted, the hands slightly inflected, while in unprofessional Dmen knitting, wider hand gestures are observed.

This information could be completed from a book by F. Barrett who writes •out the American knitting in the late eighteenth century. She began with the struction how to make a ribbed band, after narrowing the stockings by making e ankle plain. The most difficult was the knitting of the heel.

Now divide the stitches, of which there should be an odd number, in two parts, putting half the stitches and the extra stitch on one needle. This extra stitch should be the seam stitch, and should come in the middle of the needle. The rest of the stitches are divided equally on two needles, and disregarded for a time. Knit back and forth on the heel needle (the one containing the seam stitch) until you have knit as many rows as there are stitches on the needle. In knitting back, be careful to purl all the stitches except the seam stitch, so as to keep the work 'rightside out", also slip the first stitch of every row instead of knitting in, in order to form an elastic edge. In the last four or five plain rows narrow on each side of the seam to give the heel a slight curve. Now knit to the middle of the needle, turn the two needles back to back or so that the heel is wrongside out. and with an extra bind off. knitting the seam stitch first, and afterward inserting the right-hand needle, always in one stitch of each left-hand needle, treating the two as one stitch."

Such instructions about hand knitting are very seldom in European literature. The same authoress wrote about the technique of making of the gussets in stockings.

An additional implement facilitated the hour-long, work of a hand knitter in many European countries. A stitch of wood, metal or bone with a fork or eyelet, supported one of the needles in a fixed position, thus relieving one of the hands of the knitter. It was either fastened to the belt or held under the arm. There is no Polish name for this implement, since it was not known in central and eastern Europe. In France it was called L'affiquet, in Germany - Strickholz, in England - Knitting sheaths or Knitting sticks, in Dalmatia - kanet, in Valencia - canuto, in Andalusia - daguilla, in Castile -palillo or varilla, in Danemark - strikkeskeer. This implement was first described for its decorative qualities, on the basis of material coming from Dutch villages, Lorraine and Alsace.8 Only the papers by M. Roussel de Fontanes and N. de Hoyos Sancho, however, showed its use against a wider comparative background. The knitting stick was known in France, on the British Isles, in Portugal, all the regions of Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. (II. 16ab)

J. Beckmann writes about a Swiss, Dubois, who in 1778 improved hand knitting in Hanover by introducing a stick with a small hook at the end which was attached to the left hand of the knitter. The description is not very clear but it seems that it could have been a kind of knitters' stick. So this tool was also used in Switzerland and some parts of German countries. Recently a Danish specialist Lise Warburg, after my lectures in Copenhagen in 1979, found some of the knitting sheaths in Denmark and Norway. The authoress found 9 knitting sheaths in Bergen: one made of horn and nine of silver and some in gift book from Copenhagen. She has presented very important new information about the Danish technique of hand knitting with a knitting sheath:

The yarn is held in the right hand and pushed with the right index finger around the point of the right hand needle, where the left needle has placed the stitch to be knit, next lifting it over the yarn to form the new stitch. Immediately there after the next stitch to be knit is brought over into the right hand needle. This is all done with very small movements, so that with much practice and the use of knitting sheath it is claimed that a speed of up to 200 stitches per minute can be achieved. The method of knitting which we use in Denmark today is believed to have come from Germany [...] In Denmark this knitting method was first popularized in the Hammerum district, which from early times was known as a cradle of the knitting industry. Later it spread to other Jutland knitting areas and to the market towns, and by 1798 minister Joachim Junge maintains it was commonplace. This does not. however, agree completely with other sources or with portraits, which throughout the 1800's still show knitting women with the yarn over their right index finger and their hands holding the needles from above and close to the points.9

The knitting stick usually had an elongated shape, or sometimes - more rarely - circular. This stick was adorned with carving, and its elongated shape was suitable for portraying human forms or other figurative representations. Such supports were known in Swiss knitting of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An extremely interesting collection of these sticks can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in the Castle Museum in York, as well as in the Bergen in Norway and in the museums of Dalmatia. Whilst visiting a museum at York, England in 1973 1 also saw some knitting sheats but it was impossible to make a description of this implement. M. Hartley and J. Ingilby wrote about the knitting sheaths used in some parts of England. They are rather seldom dated, many adorned with initials and carved. Most of them are preserved from the eighteenth century. They have either a hole or a hook. Some motifes carved on knitting sheaths appear to have a symbolic meaning, for instance sacred hand and heart, symbols of faithfulness between two lovers. One of the tools published in this book has incised on it a rising sun, a cook, and other devices, perhaps of a religious significance. M. Hartley and J. Ingilby published forty of very interesting knitting sheaths of different forms such as fishes or snails. It is important to remember that only few carved knitting sticks have had the chance to enter museums collections. 1 have seen twenty-two knitting sheaths preserved in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and in the Smithsonian Institution Museum of History and Technology in 1980. The most interesting piece was made from bronze, dated from the seventeenth century and catalogued as Italian. It was a figure of a woman with crossed arms and twisted legs. Another, also Italian, was Judith with head of Holophernes made of bone. Some of the small tools are dated from the nineteenth century. Most of them were made of carved wood or silver. Some could have been imported from England, the modest made in America. It would be interesting to have this collection published.10 This implement appears in many countries which developed knitting. It is connected not only with the work of journeymen in workshops, but more especially with the knitting of itinerant knitters, shepherds or women supervising household chores. It was exactly because of this work that freedom of at least one hand was particularly important. This stick was not shown in the iconography because the artists did not appreciate its significance. Neither was such a tiny labour improvement was not mentioned either in the written guild sources. Only a few European museums have preserved these little sticks mainly for their decorative value. The knitting stick appears in the most important knitting production centres and in coastal regions exposed to foreign technical influences. Except for southern Germany adjoining Alsace and Switzerland, there is no evidence of this tool in central and eastern Europe which may, together with the absence of these decorative sticks in the museums, indicate the limited spread of hand knitting.

Recently, one publication shows a special technique of hand knitting, taking the thread from both ends of a ball of wool. "Double threaded knitting seems to have been principally used in the knitting of mittens, but it was also employed in the knitting of stockings and socks, and in the edging of woollen jackets and cardigans. In Norway it would seem that the technique was most widespread in the counties of Hedmark and Oppland, but scattered examples of its use have been found in the counties of Akershus, Buskerud, Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane, and More og Romsdal". This technique is still used but it is difficult to give the precise date when it began to be used, which is normal with the study of a peasant craft. "How far back the technique goes is somewhat uncertain, but the Nordic Museum in Stockholm has a pair of Norwegian-made mittens dating from 1787. It is thought that they originated in Laerdal in Sogn. A comparison with Sweden reveals both similarities and dissimilarities. Dalarna, Jämtland, Hälsingland are the Swedish areas where the technique of double threaded knitting was most widespread, but it was also to be found in Varmland. Specimens knitted in Värmland are those which most closely resemble those knitted in Norway". This research has not yet been completed. The diffusion of this technique in Scandinavia seems to be very interesting. L. Warburg wrote about this technique in Dalarne in Sweden, also analysing some Danish double threaded waistcoats and gloves. She supposed that the same technique was used in Iceland and probably in the Caucasus.11 This technique as a special solution is worth particular interest and should be discussed more in English book of its own.

The provision in hand knitting with some additional tools is now open to discussion. J. Stankovä has presented in her book and papers some Bohemian peasants 'solutions: a type of a small frame helping to make belts as well as wooden forms to make gloves or rather mittens with one finger. But it would be rather a special technique for plaiting or braiding. Perhaps the carpets were knitted and a kind of frame fitted with pegs was used to help. Now, it is very difficult to discover, without technical researches, what tools could change our definition of real hand knitting. Scandinavian studies of peasants' knitting in different countries could be very helpful in aswering this question.12 But it is important to remember that all the most complicated hand knitted fabrics could only be made with needles without any additional tools. The small tools such as knitting sheats or even the small frames were important mainly to speed up production and were used in work meant for sale and not for private needs.

Knitting stitches used in old hand knitting had less variety than nowadays, and even less than in patternbooks of the last century. Most commonly used was the simple stitch or stocking stitch, with the right and left side of the knitted article differing from each other. This stitch was used in the most complicated patterned knitwear of the day such as waistcoats, doublets or carpets. Much less frequently encountred are products made in ribbed stitch giving the same surface to both sides of the knitted item.13 To determine all the various technical resolutions used in the old hand knitting would require technological analyses of some hundreds of products scattered through more than a hundred museums and church treasuries all over Europe. It would then be possible to explain the transition from the simplest to the most complicated resolutions using modern knitting terminology. For the moment, Barbara Sowina has made a technological analysis of three knitted carpets kept in the museums of Wroclaw and Görlitz. Carpets were the most complicated of the patterned knit goods being produced by the hand knitting guilds, while their intricate ornamentation was resolved, from a technical point of view, in a similar way to the multicoloured waistcoats or other clothing articles. Carpets were the largest knitted fabrics, of up to 2 metres in width and 3.5 metres in length. Just on those three examples it is possible to ascertain different resolutions to the problem of knitting a pattern consisting of several colours and shades of woollen yarn. Thus, in one type of carpet, the coloured threads of the design run from the left side (the under-side) over the background stitches and are left loose. Sometimes they did not come up above the design and were broken off, but thanks to strong felting of the fabric the stitches "did not run". This method made use of a simple, or stocking, stitch: the left side differed from the right one by the additionally knitted threads of the design. The second resolution involved catching the coloured threads of the design under the background thread. In this way they were joined by the stitch of the background thread, but were not seen on the right side. Only on the left side can we perceive the method of their execution.14 Already from the analysis of these three patterned carpets it is possible to establish simple but ingenious techniques. The heavier carpets, intended for table covers or wall hangings, were executed differently to lighter articles of clothing. In these, the threads of the design were many a time broken off or left loose to avoid a thickening of the fabric. J. Stankova shows some patterns of original stockings from Bohemia and E. J. Gehret some from Pennsylvania.

The fashioning of knitted garments was one of the basic skills of a hand knitter, giving proof of his technical and professional preparation. Among the abundant English headgear preserved from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it is possible to distinguish articles knitted as one piece and others, usually earlier ones, which had to be stitched together. The production of flat knitwear on two needles required the fashioning of particular parts which were then sown together. Knitting on about five needles was used for making children's garments, headgear, gloves and sometimes also for stockings or sock. By the sixteenth century, European knitting in its leading centres had already established a high degree of skill in the fashioning of its products; the number of stitches was skilfully reduced or increased, taking into account either the measurements of individual clients, or the standard of products intended for marketing to unknown customers. English stockings were produced in a greater number of sizes than the French or Belgian ones, which catered to the simpler demands of the Spanish clientele or of customers from the West Indies or Latin America.15 Rules for journeymen of knitters' guilds in Austria, Hungary and Moravia from 1747, give 11 sizes and types of stockings produced by the hand knitting technique.16 French rules usually specify a product thickness of 2-5-ply and a weight of 18-30 dags for caps and stockings. Since it was impossible to carry out an enormous amount of technological analysis on the garments produced, we will not concern ourselves here with the problem of fashioning the most popular garments, as stockings were to become in the sixteenth century. They required simply sewing up and the foot was most easily executed in products of mass consumption. The use of the machine led to a standardization of knitwear and an intricate pattern used to be avoided.

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