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You need a knitted tennis ball cover!

May 18, 2011
The tennis-ball cover from the 7th series of Weldon’s Practical Knitter

Baby’s Open Knit Spencer from the 5th series of Weldon’s Practical Knitter

Aspen Leaf edging from the 6th series of Weldon’s Practical Knitter

A note from Kathleen: I just finished watching the new episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs on Masterpiece Theater. I've been hoarding them on my DVR because I didn't want it to end! I've just ordered up the original series on DVD, though, so I've got hours and hours of British properness and (improperness!) to look forward to while knitting.

In these types of programs, women have a lot of leisure time; they're usually shown doing needlepoint, reading, doing millinery projects, or playing cards. I don't often see them knitting, but I know there was lots of that, too. Maybe knitting was more of a "downstairs" activity than an "upstairs" activity.

My friend, and the editor of PieceWork magazine, Jeane Hutchins, is here to talk about knitting in the Victorian era, including some fabulously quirky patterns, like the tennis ball cover!

I'm totally fascinated by how and what previous generations of knitters knit.

When we discovered Victorian England's Weldon's Practical Knitter series several years ago, I was thrilled. These volumes are just packed with details on what Victorian knitters were doing.

And they were knitting copious quantities of things—from undershirts, fingerless mittens, edgings, counterpanes, cuffs, socks, gloves, shawls, petticoats, muffs, caps and hats, and toys, to jackets, vests, booties, diaper covers, overalls, and boas for baby! They even were knitting covers for tennis balls (I've thought about this a lot and am still at a loss for why one would need/want tennis-ball covers—clearly this comes under the heading "only the Victorians"!).

In an effort to bring needlework to a then emerging middle class, several companies in the late 1800s in London began publishing knitting patterns. Unlike other magazines available, which ran one or two needlework projects in an issue filled with fiction, fashion plates, recipes, and housekeeping hints, these new publications were devoted solely to needlework. In about 1885, Weldon's, a well-known English paper pattern company, began publishing Weldon's Practical Knitter, a monthly 14-page newsletter, including engravings of many of the projects.

Now we take a historical leap from the late 1800s to 2011 with PieceWork magazine's digital editions of Weldon's Practical Knitter. These eBooks offer the first eight series in their original Victorian England form (neither alterations nor corrections were made). Series 1-4 and 5-8 are available for download individually or as sets.

In addition to being astonished at the quantity of knitting in these series, I am amazed at how well the designs have held up. There are any number of sock patterns that I love; Baby's Open Knit Spencer complete with ribbon ties is adorable; the Leaf and Trellis pattern will be perfect on an elegant pair of gloves; and my husband would really love the Cycling Cap (the tennis-ball covers or the Gentleman's Traveling Cap not so much!).

These editions of Weldon's Practical Knitter really open a window on another time and another place but feel completely at home in the digital age. I really hope you'll find your venture into Victorian England as fascinating as I have!

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Weldon's Practical Knitter, Volume 3, Eighth Series

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How to Knit 29 Useful Articles for Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children.


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on Jul 26, 2013 6:33 PM

On the tennis ball covers: my veterinarian has told me to stop using tennis balls as they are abrasive to dogs' teeth. My golden does not like smooth rubber balls or kongs. I could knot ball covers of a soft yarn that may be less abrasive. I'm going to check this out!

Karen_183 wrote
on May 19, 2011 11:06 AM

I have been thinking of a project like this. I am going to use a tennis ball as filler for a knitted toy. A little round creature, like an 'Angry Bird', but maybe less angry. :-) So, yes, I need to knit  a tennis ball cover!

Zaz wrote
on May 18, 2011 6:50 PM


i am not getting knitting daily's newsletter anymore. i have searched but have not found "contact", please send knitting daily's newsletter to me, thank you.

afteryears wrote
on May 18, 2011 4:58 PM

Good thing my dogs can't read and weren't looking over my shoulder when I was looking at the Tennis Ball Cover picture. If they had seen it I would have to knit at least two of them. I might just have to do it anyway - I think it might make for a very interesting and attractive dog accessory!

Uh-oh! BB said she would like hers to be either pink or green. Could she have both she asked? I'd do anything for that dog.

on May 18, 2011 4:51 PM

I actually saw felted dryer balls somewhere amongst all my magazines and blogs and was thinking you could make them by knitting the tennis ball cover bigger than normal and felting it around the tennis ball. I think it might work. This would make a great pet toy too and a good way to use up odd amounts of wool yarn. I just might try it. Great info Kathleen!

AnnF@22 wrote
on May 18, 2011 11:40 AM

The Lady was knitting tiny things for her expected little one!  As for the tennis ball covers, maybe that was how they made tennis balls???  Maybe knitting covers, which they then stuffed with whatever, for a form of lawn tennis, played less violently than one with leather-covered tennis balls (a cross between tennis and badminton??)  

It's fun to speculate!

sewR wrote
on May 18, 2011 11:25 AM

Maybe they covered tennis balls to use as a child's toy. No more nasty scuff marks from the clay court, just a nice mother-made ball. Recycling.

ChanellG wrote
on May 18, 2011 9:35 AM

Figuring a knitted tennis ball cover must have something to do with the history of tennis balls I did a Google search and discovered there was more than one kind of ball because there was more than one kind of tennis.

The leather balls filled with whatever (like a baseball) no doubt would wear out easily. Knitting a cover could have been a way to make them last longer.

If anyone is interested:

AudreyD@2 wrote
on May 18, 2011 9:29 AM

When I saw the title, my first thought was "I need a knitted tennis ball cover...why?"

Then I thought it might be a nice project for people who put tennis balls on the bottoms of metal chair legs or walkers so they don't scrape up the floors. The balls start looking ratty very quickly, and chartreuse (which most tennis balls seem to come in nowadays) isn't really number one in most people's color decorating schemes.

Then I read the article. Oh.

I still think the tennis ball cover is a good idea for the walker/chair leg thing, though.

MarilynF@6 wrote
on May 18, 2011 9:29 AM

They actually do show the Lady of the house knitting in one of the new episodes. Although she did look awfully awkward