Knitty: little purls of wisdom
Melanie Falick Books

For almost as long as I’ve been a knitter, I’ve been fascinated by the history of knitting. I’ve especially enjoyed the mind-twisting process of working with the often obtuse and obfuscatory language of antique patterns. There’s a thrill, I find, in watching a project emerge row by row and knowing that other knitters, long gone, followed the same path.

The process of decoding, testing and correcting isn’t for everyone, though; and so in this column I hope to share the excitement of the journey by removing as many of the roadblocks as possible. You don’t need to be a historian to come along–just a knitter with a curious mind.

beauty shot

translated by Franklin Habit from Mrs Gaugain’s Miniature Knitting, Netting and Crochet Book (c. 1843)






spacer photos: Franklin Habit


Width: 40 inches
Depth at center point: 17 inches


spacer [MC] Sunday Knits Brigadoon [100% finest merino wool Donegal tweed; 246yd/225m per 50g skein]; color: Birch; 1 skein
spacer [CC] Sunday Knits Eden [100% finest merino wool; 246yd/225m per 50g skein]; color: Sage; 1 skein

Recommended needle size
[always use a needle size that gives you the gauge listed below -- every knitter's gauge is unique]
spacer 1 US #6/4 mm circular needle, 24 inches or longer

spacer Safety pin or split ring marker
spacer Yarn needle


20 sts/40 rows = 4" in garter stitch
Note: Exact gauge is not critical for this project.


[Knitty's list of standard abbreviations and techniques can be found here.]

This project is worked flat, in one piece, in garter stitch. Instructions for the Shawl Variation follow the Neckerchief pattern.

Slipped sts: Slip all slipped sts purlwise, with yarn held to front of work. Bring yarn between needles to back of work before working next st.

Yarnover at beginning of row: Bring the working yarn from front to back over the right needle before knitting the next stitch. This is the method of increase employed at the long (top) edge of the triangle, and it creates a very pretty row of loops at the edge.

Joining a new color: Mrs. Gaugain calls for the knitter to “tie on” a new color when it is introduced at the beginning of a RS row. I prefer, instead, to thread the strand of the new color onto a yarn needle and weave it lightly into the WS of the fabric near the edge of the work, so that the first maneuver of the RS row (a yarnover – see above) can be performed. This initial weaving can be neatened up during the finishing process.

Changing colors within a row: When switching from one color to the next on a RS row, drop the color you have been knitting with, and bring the yarn for the next color up under the yarn of the previous color before you continue knitting. This will twist the strands around each other, preventing a gap from forming where the colors meet. On WS rows, bring the old color between the needles to the front of the work, bring the yarn for the next color up under the yarn of the previous color and between the needles to the back of the work. (Yes, it’s intarsia. But I won’t tell anybody if you won’t.)

Historic colors: The original pattern suggests pink or blue for the border, and white for the center.

Information about blocking can be found here and here.



Begin Right Border:
Using CC, CO 3 sts. After you have worked the first few rows, use safety pin or split ring marker to mark RS of work.

Row 1 [WS]: Sl 1, k2.
Row 2 [RS]: Yo, k3. 4 sts.
Row 3 [WS]: Sl 1, k to end.
Row 4 [RS]: Yo, k to end. 1 st increased.
Repeat Rows 3-4 16 times more, then work Row 3 once more. 21 sts.

Begin Center and Continue Right Border:
Note: Before beginning next row, see Pattern Notes re. joining a new color and changing colors within a row.
Row 1 [RS]: Join MC, yo, k1; using CC, k20. 22 sts.
Row 2 [WS]: Using CC, sl1, k19; using MC, k2.
Row 3 [RS]: Using MC, yo, k to last 20 sts; using CC, k20. 1 st increased.
Row 4 [WS]: Using CC, sl1, k19; using MC, k to end.
Repeat Rows 3-4 77 times more. 100 sts.

Work Left Border:
Break MC and CC, leaving tails to be woven in during finishing.
Rejoin CC to work, next to shaped edge (edge with yarnover increases).
Row 1 [RS]: Yo, k to end. 1 st increased.
Row 2 [WS]: Sl 1, k to end.
Repeat Rows 1-2 18 times more, then work Row 1 once more. 120 sts.
Loosely BO all sts.

Gently wet block, taking care to keep edges straight and short sides equal in length. When dry, weave in ends on WS.
Shawl variation

This pattern is the smaller cousin of Mrs. Gaugain’s “Chinee [sic] Wrapping Shawl” from the same volume.

To work the shawl, use a yarn of the same weight, but needles two sizes larger (gauge will be very loose). Work pattern as written, but continue working second section (center and right border) until the piece measures 1.25yd along shaped edge. Finish by working the left border as written.

For the shawl, Mrs. Gaugain suggests a brown border with a pink or blue center.


Franklin Habit is the author of an extremely silly knitting book, It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoonslink (Interweave Press); and proprietor of an even sillier knitting blog, The Panopticon.

Franklin spends so much time on the road these days, teaching and speaking about knitting, that American Airlines has just sent him a highly suggestive mix tape.