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The Lost Art of Knytting

Sep 10, 2013

One of my very favorite PieceWork eBooks is the First Series of Weldon’s Practical Knitter. Weldon’s, a pattern company in London during the Victorian era, began printing a series of newsletters devoted to a single craft—knitting, crochet, crinkled paper, smocking, all sorts of embroidery, tatting, lacemaking, leatherwork, and more. In 1886, the company began to combine several of the newsletters into hardbound volumes called Weldon’s Practical Needlework. Volume 1 contained the first through fourth series from the knitting newsletters, along with sections on patchwork, crochet, macramé lace, and stocking knitting.

Some of the engravings used to illustrate the "General Instructions" in Weldon's Practical Knitter (First Series).

It’s that first series of knitting that I find so interesting. Here’s Weldon’s explanation for why they devoted 2½ pages of Weldon’s Practical Knitter (First Series) to “Full Details and Stitches Explained and Illustrated”:

Details of Knitting

Diagonal Design in Knitting from Weldon's Practical Knitter (First Series).

From time immemorial we have had various revivals of what is termed the “lost arts.” At present the art of knitting is undergoing one of these processes, although it can by no means be called a lost art, even though for years it has not, as in earlier days, been considered a necessary part of a young woman’s education. . . .

In addition to the fact that the knowledge may be turned to account in case of necessity, as there is always a market for hand-made goods, it is a most delightful occupation.

An ancient writer says: “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. . . .

Authorities are divided as to whether the art of knitting was known first to the Scots or Spaniards. Probably to the latter, who undoubtedly received the knowledge from the Arabs, to whom they and we own many an invention.

Chatterton [Thomas Chatterton, English poet; 1752–1770] would have us believe that the art was known and practiced in England in 1461, for he makes mention of it in the tragedy of “Ella,” in the following lines: “She sayde as her whytte bondes whyte hosen were knyttings, / Whatte pleasure ytt ys to be married.”

Child's Shetland Sleeveless Vest from Weldon's Practical Knitter (First Series).
But unfortunately for Chatterton, his reputation for truth and veracity is questioned, and we are forced to believe that he was guilty of an anachronism. The first authentic information we have is of the woolen hose worn by Henry VIII, and later of the silken ones sent him from Spain. In 1561 Queen Elizabeth was vastly pleased upon being presented with a pair of black silk stockings, and declared thereafter she would wear no other kind.

The Germans, who are the best knitters on the Continent, make every variety of garment possible with their own industrious hands. . . . The Turkish women are also versed in it, as shown by the fantastic head-gear worn by the lordly Turk. These fezes are knitted, then dyed and blocked into shape.

No knitting exceeds in beauty of texture that done by the peasantry in the Shetland Islands. . . .

There you have it—the history of knitting, reasons why it never was a “lost art,” and examples of exceptional knitting—all in just a few paragraphs! Followed, of course, by step-by-step instructions and illustrations for how to knit. Whether an old hand or just learning to knit, this First Series also includes 39 patterns for edgings, beaded cuffs, children’s garments, mittens, gloves, shawls, a gentleman’s undervest, socks, and a lady’s hood. Brilliant! Visit PieceWork’s Needlework Store for more details.


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