Free EBooks



Knitting in Victorian Times

Aug 25, 2014

Weldon's was an English paper-pattern company in that would go on to become one of the most recognized needlework publishers in Victorian England. Weldon's still exists, and every time I open an issue of Weldon's Practical Needlework, I'm intrigued by the items that I can't identify. Why did they knit these things? Today, it might be considered a waste of time, but in Victorian times, they had different needs, and time to spare.

Anklet to wear above shoes. Instructions were also given to fold up the bottom of the anklet, to emphasize the knitted ruffle on the bottom.
Knitted Boot Covering
Here's Interweave founder Linda Ligon to tell you about some of these items and the how and why of it.

Everyday Cloth

What's your everyday cloth? The rag you wipe your kitchen counters with? The laces for tying your running shoes, the towel for drying your coffee cup, the napkin by your plate at dinner? The pillowcase you lay your head on at night? These are purely functional. They are most usually store-bought, though you may have made or embellished them at one time or another, or you could if you wanted to.

Victorian and Edwardian women, those with the leisure to make things by hand, had a different view of what textiles were necessary in their daily lives or what was worth their creative effort. Of course they had the homely textiles described above (though the napkins might have had elaborate drawnwork and the pillowcases dainty tatted edgings). But they had more. So much more. Look through old copies of Weldon's Practical Needlework and your jaw will drop.

Pincushions Everywhere

You would have had a handmade pincushion in every room in the house (because you never knew when you might need a pin). Not just the boring tomato-shaped ones with a strawberry filled with emery on top either. Your pincushions might take the form of a rooster, a fan, a bow, a doll, a cream jug, a leaf, a witch's hat, a hassock, an egg, a spoon, a beechnut, an acorn, a folly! (And what's a folly? A pincushion that is "merely fantastic in shape.") You might knit, crochet, sew, or embroider your pincushions, and they would require some investment of time. What would you be thinking?

Finger Stall, a Victorian knitted bandage of sorts
Was It Modesty or Was It Boredom?

Victorian ladies were highly concerned with covering things. Not just their bricks, but their toasters, teapots, chair arms, piano lids, flower vases, cologne bottles, matchboxes-almost anything that would hold still. They might even have crocheted a covering for their ball of crochet cotton. They created little shades for their candles so that the naked wicks would not be exposed when they were not burning. They crafted multitiered frills for their baked hams (to avoid public exposure of a pig's ankle). This is a running theme throughout their craft publications. So many detailed project instructions for coverings, so much care and detail involved in their execution. They knitted coverings for their boots. That is, coverings for when they were wearing their boots down the street, so their boots would not get dirty or so they would not slip on ice. Of course, they also knitted coverings for their boots to wear when safely stored in the closet. They knitted fine cotton covers with straps (optional) to cover wounded fingers (called a "finger stall"). "These can be quickly made," their Weldon's Practical Needlework assured its readers.

The Why of It

Is this beginning to sound trivial or perhaps even a little neurotic? It shouldn't. Women above the working class had time. They had hand skills. They did not have computers or televisions or even radios to occupy their attention. They did not have jobs outside the home. What would you do in that situation? Small handwork projects for the home can provide so much satisfaction even if they are dispensable. Ladies of those earlier eras also made items that would seem perfectly functional today: shopping bags, nets for protecting their fruit trees, even netted billiard table pockets. But these were not plain vanilla items! The billiard pockets would have had fancy tassels. The shopping bag made of plain string would be "beautified with a piece of 1½ inch wide old gold colored fancy-edged ribbon." They represented a level of attention consistent with the aesthetic of the times.

A Continuing Tradition

Fast-forward thirty or forty years. Consider an apron-shaped clothespin bag and hand-made pot holders. Depending on your age, these are items your mother or grandmother might have made (to go with her apron with the clever little pockets and trim). Maybe the desire to imbue the simplest everyday textiles with personality and meaning skips generations, but it does not die. And today? Who has not seen a pattern for a knitted or crocheted or embroidered cell phone cover, iPod cover, laptop cover, or even television remote control cozy?

—Linda Ligon, from Victorian Times

Connect to knitters of the past with Weldon's Practical Needlework! Get this very special collection today, along with a free gift, the Victorian Times eBook!


P.S. Have you knitted vintage or antique patterns? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience!

Featured Product

Weldon's Practical Needlework: Deluxe Edition + Victorian Times eBook Bundle

Availability: In Stock
Price: $129.99

When you order Weldon's Practical Needlework: Deluxe Edition, you get the Victorian Times: 8 Projects to Knit eBook for FREE!


Related Posts
+ Add a comment


on Aug 31, 2014 6:51 PM

At the end of you article as you listed current household items we make, all I could think of was 'toilet paper roll covers' (usually crocheted), are some of the things we make any less frivolous than some of the Victorian ones?  And yet they bring satisfaction to the maker.  :)

weiss.bee wrote
on Aug 30, 2014 12:31 PM

In addition to those coal and wood stoves in winter, you had open windows in the summer, also a source of dust and dirt.

But I wonder, too, if all of these item were necessarily made. How often are the patterns showing up?  Are there knitted boot covers over the years or was it one pattern in one issue?  We likely have many craft projects in magazines today that may be made by a few people but never really catch on.

I'll echo the thanks for these newsletters too!

kathyswan wrote
on Aug 30, 2014 9:03 AM

I *still* make apron peg bags.  As soon as one wears out I'm on the sewing machine to make another.  So much more convenient than a peg bag which just sits on the washing line and is never where you want it.

If it's tied around your waist it's much quicker than having to bring the washing in if there's a sudden shower too.    

As you can gather, I like my washing dried outside in the fresh air!

AlmaH wrote
on Aug 30, 2014 8:46 AM

The "working class" woman had textiles (which includes knitted/crocheted items) which she really needed; purchased garments were few and far between for her, and expensive when they were available. She bought material to make garments which, in course of time, would be cut down or re-used to clothe children, "Make do and mend" was the concept she lived by. The upper class woman actually worked hard also....the concept of "leisured" was not one she was really familiar with, despite the popular view; her needle skills were an element in her list of necessary accomplishments, and served to ornament her husband's/father's home. For the vast number of impoverished middle-class women...largely unmarried or widowed and of a certain age....needle skills often made the difference between starvation and survival, as they were the major skills which they could actually sell. Don't imagine that these women knitted or crocheted to alleviate boredom!!

oneofeight wrote
on Aug 26, 2014 4:14 PM


mannanurse wrote
on Aug 26, 2014 10:42 AM

Thank you for the article.  I'm 67 yo. I grew up with many of those things in my grandmother's house. My mother saved as much as she could. Then--she moved in with me 2 years ago and brought it with her. Oh, the covers on things, oh the little do-dads, all the pictures and brick-a-brack! Oh my! At least, I have a newer understanding. Good ole Mom.

on Aug 26, 2014 1:10 AM

I have a copy of Weldon's Practical (Victorian) Crochet published by Dover Publications.  It is a REPUBLICATION of the 1895 book.  I'm wondering if it is the same book you offer.

I am 69 years old, taught to crochet at age 8 by my dear grandmother.  I used this book to copy 'swatches' in a bedspread cotton that split terribly.  Not one to be wasteful....I applied the swatches (in a ecru color) to a natural-colored linen vest I made.  I made it in 1974 and although I've gained weight....I intend to make a larger vest and recycle the swatches as well as add new ones to it.  My initial 'S' is there, a heart as well as another sentimental one that was my grandmother's favorite.  I enjoy your online newsletter.  Thank you.

on Aug 25, 2014 7:40 PM

I've made a couple of things from 'Beeton's Book of Needlework'. I made 'knitted knee caps' for my mother in law. They kept her legs nice and cozy and she was very pleased.

Beeton's book is interesting, with instructions and well as patterns. Its a treasure for anyone interested in Victorian handwork.

gginastoria wrote
on Aug 25, 2014 7:20 PM

I knit a WWI balaclava for my son (his request)  The instructions were in a booklet that was provided to helping hands at home, providing suggestions for items needed by the troops.  During WWII I helped my aunt knit socks for amputated limbs.  I was twelve and using dpns for the first time.  I think this was a project sponsored by the Red Cross..

Kitty Hume wrote
on Aug 25, 2014 7:19 PM

One point most of us don't remember is that in the Victorian times, homes were heated by coal or wood, just turning to gas in most cases.  Living in this environment is DUSTY!  I'm sure some of their infatuation with covering items had a lot to do with keeping 'staff' to a minimum so that money could be used elsewhere.

Great article, I loved the info.


kaymac13 wrote
on Aug 25, 2014 12:03 PM

I love reading about the history of needle crafts. From knitting to sew to see that everything was made out of necessity and with great care has always been of interest to me and it is something I love sharing with people as well as my future students. I have a book on quilting and the underground railroad and I love to tell people how sewing saved lives. Keep the article coming.