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Honoring Knitting History: Weldon's Practical Knitting is Back

Feb 26, 2010

I love this quote about knitting from our new eBook series, Weldon's Practical Knitting: "It does not distract the attention or check the powers of the imagination. It forms a ready resource when a vacuity occurs in conversation; it impairs neither body nor mind, and requires no straining of the eyesight. It may be interrupted without loss, and again resumed without trouble. The whole apparatus is so cheap, needs little room, and is so light that it can be kept and gracefully carried about in a basket, the beauty of which displays the expertness and taste of the fair worker." Isn't that great? I don't think many of today's knitters would agree with the "cheap" part, but the rest of it is pretty accurate, I think!

When I looked through the Weldon's eBooks, I was transported to another time and another place; the time is the turn of the twentieth-century and the place is London, England. As you look through the patterns you'll be pulled back in time as I was, wondering how you can use the knitted knee-cap in your life (it sort of looks like a knee pad...).

Here's the story: In an effort to bring needlework to the emerging middle class, Weldon's, a paper pattern producer of the Victorian era, began to publish monthly newsletters devoted to various needlecrafts. These newsletters were typically about fourteen pages long and cost 2 pence. Later, they were collected into book form and titled Weldon's Practical Needlework.

Now, we've brought Weldon's Practical Knitting back in the form of four dowloadable eBooks, full of projects ranging from charming to simply strange, from lovely edgings and triangular shawls to knee covers and baby knickers. The instructions aren't as detailed as we're used to, but the stitch patterns and shaping instructions are often ingenious, and many of the objects transcend the century-plus span of years since they were devised.

At left is a taste of what you can expect from these amazing pamphlets.

It's really a treat to read through the patterns and reinterpret them into today's knitting pattern style.

For example, looking through the Lady's Mittens with Thumb pattern, I think "Berlin Wool" is probably fingering weight wool, and No. 14 knitting needles are US size 0. The "tag of wool" must mean the tail, but I'm not sure. What do you think? The last line of the pattern says, "Work 3 rows of herringbone stitch with the blue wool on the ribs which come in the middle of the back." Do you suppose that's an instruction for embroidering on some detail, or some sort of pick up and knit embellishment?

I think you'll love the Weldon's Practical Knitter series as much as I doit serves as a curiosity, an inspiration, a resource, and a link to a time beyond our memories.

And wouldn't needleworkers of that era would be amazed to see their favorite knitting patterns in a virtual format of which they could never have dreamed?


Featured Product

Weldon's Practical Knitter, Vol 1, Series 1-4

Availability: In Stock
Price: $29.99


How to Make Useful Articles for Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children. A total of 148 Projects!


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jz201 wrote
on Feb 23, 2012 11:31 AM

Fionap.  I also learned to knit when I was 4 years old - only it was at my great-aunt's knee and my first projects were mittens in the round.  

I agree that the Berlin wool would be a light fingering weight.

And yes, in addition to the American size 0 knitting needles, there is also a 00 and a 000 which would be equivalent to the English 12, 13 and 14.

I have needles from both sides of the Atlantic and gauges to measure them with for either English, French or American sizes.  I was lucky to inherit my grandmother's and great aunt's needles and pattern books collections.  I didn't know back then what a treasure trove I had.  Today I know and treasure every little detail including the scraps of handmade  crocheted and knitted lace that I found buried in the bottom of my great aunt's work basket.

I feel blessed.

And this patter for the lady's mitten with thumb makes perfect sense to me as this is how my aunt taught me to knit.  I don't know about the herringbone-stitch though.  Sounds like an embroidery stitch and I was lousy at that.


MinaC wrote
on Mar 2, 2010 4:30 PM

  While e-books are becoming quite popular, I have to agree with some of the other comments.  On the inside of the publishing industry it's a known fact that e-books cost less to produce.  They're being offered at a discount compared to the hardback or paperback version.

  Weldon's being public domain (as is anything published 60+ years ago), others also offer it, so it isn't an exclusive item.

  I noticed the vol 1 seems to be available only in e-book form.  While I would love to have vol 1, it's not practical for me to purchase it as an e-book for these reasons.  My laptop has 2 hours of life only, this with an extra battery pack.  If I print the pages out, my cost increases in the long run.  Thus it's more economical to just purchase the hardback form.  However vol 1 isn't available in that form, which means for me I'd have to find someone willing to sell their copy which probably would cost me even more.

 That leads back to finding another source for the pattern, which Iva Rose Reproductions does just that.  It's only too bad she didn't compile them as Interweave did, so I'd be stuck with purchasing individual pamphlets in the exact form they were originally published.

 I'm not saying Interweave is being greedy.  On the contrary they just might not be aware that e-books actually started out back in the 1980's and died a horrible death because they weren't economical.  The publishers investing in them thought the convenience of having them in this form would be a great selling point.  The consumers thought otherwise.

 On average, a hardback that costs $16.00+ normally costs $9.00 as an e-book.

  I would love to have vol 1, but at the same price as the hardback version it's more economical to find someone selling a used copy.

harmonise wrote
on Mar 2, 2010 7:02 AM

I don't think my husband and kids would agree with "needs little room" either....more like "needs A little room"!! LOL

jean01 wrote
on Feb 28, 2010 12:34 AM

Agree with some of the negative responses.  $30.00 each for 4 eBooks that you simply scanned into pdf files is pretty outrageous!!

What an insulting blog entry -- just an excuse to milk your subscriber mailing list.

kathiemac wrote
on Feb 27, 2010 7:19 AM

Berlin Wool was used for needlepoint and tapestry, so fingering weight would be a good equivalent.

MelanieD wrote
on Feb 27, 2010 5:19 AM

How fascinating - I found something similar, a Swiss publication from 1912, at a flea market... isn't knitting history amazing?!! The ads in this kind of "magazine" are also always intriguing.

I also have a woman's home skills book (also Swiss) from 1941 that has some knitting for babies, children and adults and another of a similar period that is Austrian. Some of the old German language books (pre-war) tend to be in Gothic script, but it's not too hard to decipher. It's far more difficult to work out what the terms mean! The local antique markets are full of these unwanted books...

MargoL wrote
on Feb 27, 2010 4:35 AM

For anybody who wants to learn how to interpret historical knitting patterns, there is a group on Yahoogroups for historical knitting and we support each other in working through patterns.  Weldons is one of the resources from which people take patterns, I have made some things from my bound (bought on sale) copies.  Just go to the Yahoogroups site and look for "HistoricKnit" to find the group.

In addition, there is a class in historical lace knitting at the 2010 DFW Fiber Fest, if anybody is planning to attend.  The teacher has a regular column where he interprets historical knitting patterns.

Margo Lynn

Jessica-Jean wrote
on Feb 27, 2010 12:25 AM

"Honoring" knitting history you say? I say it's more like mining it for every red cent it can possibly yield. I'm betting it's long out of copyright protection. Doesn't that mean it's in the pubic domain? So, instead of offering it as a bonus or just for a bit more than the time invested in scanning the pages, it's to be sold to us for more money than I can spare for it. In addition,  not only must we 'modern' knitters deal with errata in newly written patterns, but now we are offered our great-grandmother's pattern books ... along with whatever unknown errors they had. At the asked price, I would have expected that maybe at least some of the patterns were test-knit, just to see if there were any errors. It might then - with the appended errata pages - be worth the thirty bucks. Too bad there aren't any negative 'stars' to "rate this item". Instead I offer a loud, wet raspberry!

mandyangela wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 3:15 PM


Elizabeth, I'm sorry, but I forgot to add something for you.  The needle size gauge used would be the old British one.  Size 14 equates to a modern-day 2mm needle.  I don't know what that size is using the US system, but I use size 14 needles when I'm doing Shetland Lace knitting.  I use Cobweb yarn from the Shetland Islands, and this equates to a #0 in the US system, and is roughly equivalent to a #30/40 crochet cotton thickness.

I can't find any reference to 'Berlin' wool, but as this pattern is for gloves, it would most likely have been a firm yarn as it would be subject to hard wear.  The most likely modern-day substitute I can think of is a good crepe wool yarn, which is spun to produce a close, tight yarn which is very hard-wearing.

mandyangela wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 2:59 PM

@Eunice 3 - I have that same book too - isn't it just awesome!  It dates to 1939.

I also have a collection of other needlecraft books produced in the 1930's.  A newspaper popular in 1930's Britain, The Sunday Pictorial, also published three books which I have - The Pictorial guide to Modern Home Needlecraft, Sewing, and Knitting.

I have a number of Paton's Stitchcraft booklets published during WWII, and a number of 'The Needlewoman' magazines from the early 1930's.  There's also a late 1920's Coat's Crochet book in my hoard, along with a few British Vogue Knitting books from the 1950's - the skill level there is just awesome.

My most treasured items are a 1930's Welson's Boy's Sweater book and a Weldon's Practical Crochet booklet published in the first World War.

Not that I'm a needlecraft collecting fanatic, you all understand - HONEST!!!

on Feb 26, 2010 2:30 PM

Kathleen, the last line of the instruction is to add three rows of herringbone emboidery stitch down the three ribs in the centre of the back of the hand of your mittens. On leather gloves and mittens, these ribs are usually stitched by hand in a running stitch, and serve to take the fullness out of the back of the hand. Of course, knits stretch to fit and so the tucks are not needed except for decoration. And, yes, the reference to the tag of wool is the tail.

I grew up in England, and am used to reading my grandmothers and aunts old knitting patterns. Needles are often called pins.

Jean in Canada

SherryW@8 wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 12:54 PM

If you have the time, you can search through many of the yahoo groups that are lead by our modern day civil war reenactors or victorian ladies.  Their insites and knowledge about the pattern writings such as those found in Weldon's are most helpful!

Sherry in MI

JudyH@2 wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 12:02 PM

I believe the Berlin wool is the same wool used for needlepoint work on canvas.  Such work used to be called Berlinwork.  If you use all the plies together (instead of separating them like for needlepoint), it is close to fingering weight.

berrylady wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 11:29 AM

Kathleen, I smiled at your wonder about the knitted knee-cap.  Just the other day my friend commented about her upcoming knee-replacement surgery, and how people say the replaced joints soak up the cold in our northern New England climate.  I smiled and told her I'd knit some knee bands for her.

I wonder if knitted knee-caps were meant for arthritic joints.

FionaP wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 10:06 AM

I'm 54 years old, and learned to knit , sitting on my grandmother's knee,  first lesson was when  was 4. This was  in England. I was dreadful at knitting for the first few years, but gradually developed my that by the time I was 10 I was competent.

I remember Nan using patterns like this ,and learning how to read them.

Now, as a folklorist who demonstrates the domestic life of previous centuries in schools, (Spinning and knitting) I often use very fine finger weight. wool, which was what I believe Berlin was. I also still use very fine "Knitting pins" at English sizes 12,  13 and 14.  (American 0 and is there an 00?)

Whilst it does take patience, I actually enjoy the painstaking small stitches. Knitting becomes a contentrated art, rather than a get it done thing (mind you...I come home and "get it done" on bigger needles!!)

Herringbone stitch is Swiss embroidery....where one outlines stitches, in contrasting colours,  by embroidery after the knitting is done.  

The tag is the tail. I was always taught to make a long tail, and stitch it in afterwards, so that in the event of a hole, I  could unpick the tail and use that for repairs.

on Feb 26, 2010 9:36 AM

Does this collection include instructions on how to interpret the knitting patterns?  For one - I have no idea what a size 14 knitting needle is, and without knowing the gauge of the recommended yarn, it'd be nearly impossible to find a substitute.

LizH@2 wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 8:37 AM

I can remember working herringbone stitch in embroidery as a girl.  It was a kind of long-legged cross stitch on the front side, and looked like two parallel rows of running stitch on the reverse (although it was produced in a way that was more like back-stitch, but with the odd stitches in one row and the even stitches in the other.)  I've never seen it applied to knitting, so I don't know whether it is what is meant in the pattern.  I can imagine it becoming a kind of alternating-half-duplicate stitch if the "back-stitches" were twisted a bit.  I hope somebody gives it a try.

Kate M. wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 8:34 AM

Kathleen, I want to respond to your query about herringbone stitch.  It is a crewel stitch, sort of like overlapping cross-stitches.  You can easily find how to do it.

I would agree that the "tag" is what we know today as the tail.

TessC wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 8:07 AM

I think that "tag of wool" means the little piece of wool... usually of another color, that was used to mark the beginning of a row.  That was how they did it before stitch markers were invented. In this case, "tag" means "marker."

As to the last sentence of the instructions, since the piece has already been completely knitted, the 3 rows of herringbone stitch must refer to an embroidered embellishment added to the mitten. Most girls/ladies would have learned to embroider in school, if not taught by their mothers. That little embellishment would also serve to mark the right from the left hand, since there's no other difference from one piece to the other.  

Tess Chatham

Eunice 3 wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 7:50 AM

I'm sitting here reading your article on the Weldons books and thinking to myself, "I've got one of those!". So I went and checked. I have the Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework. When I left school in 1963, Iwent out and bought myself the book because I wanted to improve on the basic skills that I had learnt at school and that my grandmother had taught me. It was an invaluable resource. I taught myself all the crochet stitches, some of the knitting stitches, sewing techniques etc. I have never regretted spending that money and will one day pass it on to my family.

jjpiano wrote
on Feb 26, 2010 7:22 AM

I absolutely love old needlework books.  I have several that my Grandmother had before the turn of the LAST century(1900)!  Will have to have these e-books. Herringbone stitch would be the chevron shaped V stitch probably done like a row of duplicate stitch as a decoration down the back of the mitt.  Three rows centered in the contrasting blue would be wonderful.  I may have to make these.  I'm on a mitt kick at the moment for my DD and DDIL.  

Jane in WI