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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.
|Lace for Short Attention Spans|
Perhaps you have wondered, in a dreamy moment, whether it
might be fun to put down that sock for a while, and try knitting
a fine lace shawl.
You have imagined conjuring ferns
and flowers in yarn so light it floats on the breeze. You
have imagined saying quite casually, as admirers fawn over
your completed masterpiece, “Of
course, the entire shawl slips right through my
Then, perhaps, you have imagined spending two months to
a year or more concentrating on a single project, broken
a cold sweat, and gone back to your sock.
If this sounds familiar, pray allow me to introduce you
to the knitted lace sampler.
The idea is simplicity itself: a
collection of motifs, worked one after another as a continuous
strip of fabric. They were a common Victorian undertaking,
and many nineteenth-century examples survive. Possibly
the best-known, now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum,
was knit in Germany or Austria and includes a whopping
91 different stitch patterns–83
of them lace.*
Such pieces probably served both
as learning tools and memory aids. Once practiced and perfected
in a sampler, each motif was preserved for future reference.
Miss Pole and Jessie Brown, characters in Elizabeth Gaskell’s
1853 novel Cranford,
are said to have formed “a kind of intimacy on the
strength of the Shetland wool and the new knitting stitches.” I
like to imagine the ladies**
spending many happy hours sharing the lessons recorded in
If you’re a timid beginner,
or easily distracted, a sampler may be your perfect entrée to
the art. It requires no large commitment of time or materials.
You’re not asking lace to marry you, you’re just
meeting it for coffee to see if there’s chemistry.
Use what you have at hand, or buy a small quantity of something
you like. Pick a motif, work it until you feel you’re
finished with it, then
choose another motif. That is all.
A Quintet of Victorian Laces
You may of course put patterns from
any source into a sampler, but to get you started I’ve translated five from Frances
Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843), which also
gave us the Pence Jug
(Winter 2008). They are a potpourri of large and small, plain
and fancy. Most are lace knitting,*** with alternate rows
worked in purl or knit without patterning. One, “Fish-Bone” [sic],
includes yarnovers in every row, but as there are only two
rows in the pattern it’s an easy go even for beginners.
These patterns are part of a dozen
the author recommend as suitable for “d’oyleys [sic], tidies,
etc.” “Tidy,” in this context, is probably
used as a little-known synonym for antimacassar,****
a term that itself is seldom heard today. “Tidy” is
also, of course, quaint
English for a receptacle in which keeps small items that
would otherwise be untidy.
I’m thinking of making one for all my loose diamonds–but
not from a pattern that’s full of holes.
*The Brooklyn Museum’s
sampler was splendidly chronicled in a classic book, Knitting Lace: A Workshop
with Patterns and Projects by Susanna E. Lewis. It
has been out of print
for years–but a knowledgeable
little bird who may
or may not work at the Brooklyn Museum has tweeted to me
reliable rumors of a possible reissue. Cross your fingers.
**Because I am a total geek and this is the kind of
thing I do in my spare time.
***As opposed to “knitted lace,” which
includes patterning on every row. Please make a note of
the difference, as it will be included in your final exam.
****A subspecies of doily that
lives on the back of an armchair or sofa, to keep macassar
oil (the 19th-century precursor of Brylcreem*****) off
the upholstery. Aren’t
we learning an awful
lot today, boys and girls?
*****A men’s hair styling gel. And now I’m
just being silly.
by Franklin Habit
sampler shown is 36 inches
long and 4 inches wide
white or light-colored natural
fiber lace- or fingering-weight yarn that tickles your
fancy. The quantity you need will
vary according to the size
and number of patterns you wish to include. For the model,
I used less than an ounce of a mystery remnant from the
in a size suited to your choice
[Knitty's list of standard abbreviations and techniques can be found here]
The lace patterns used for the sampler shown were taken
My Knitting Book (1843)
by Frances Lambert.
Miss Lambert’s “Lace” motif
includes a clever centered
double decrease (cdd)
indicated by a triangle
(see Symbol Key) and
worked as follows:
one stitch as if to purl. Knit the following stitch,
then pass the slipped stitch over it.
Return the knitted
stitch to the left needle. Slip the next stitch
on the left needle over
the knitted stitch, and off the left needle. Pass the
knitted stitch back to the right hand needle. 2 sts decreased.
sk2p: Sl 1, k2tog, pass slipped st over. 2 sts decreased.
(Worked over a multiple of 4 sts + 3)
Row 1 [RS]:
Sl 1, k1, [yo, k2tog,
k2] to last st, k1.
Row 2 [WS]: Sl
1, [yo, p2tog, p2] to last
2 sts, p2.
Repeat these two rows until you can’t take it any more.
over a multiple of 21 stitches)
Row 1 [RS]: [(K2tog, k3,
k2tog, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1) twice, k1] to end.
Even-numbered Rows 2-12 [WS]: P all sts.
Row 3 [RS]: [(K2tog, k1,
k2tog, k1, yo, k3, yo, k1) twice, k1] to end.
Row 5 [RS]: [(Sk2p, k1,
yo, k5, yo, k1) twice, k1] to end.
Row 7 [RS]: [K1, (k1, yo,
k1, yo, k1, k2tog, k3, k2tog)] to end.
Row 9 [RS]: [K1, (k1, yo,
k3, yo, k1, k2tog, k1, k2tog)] to end.
Row 11 [RS]: [K1, (k1,
yo, k5, yo, k1, sk2p)] to end.
Repeat Rows 1-12.
(Worked over a multiple
of 7 stitches)
The number of sts
in the piece will
increase by 1 in
Row 1, then
decrease by 1 in
Row 1 [RS]: [K2, k2tog, yo,
k1, yo, k2tog] to last 7 sts, k1, k2tog,
yo, k1, yo, k2. 1 st increased.
Even-numbered Rows 2-14 [WS]: K
Row 3 [RS]: K1, [k2tog,
yo, k3, yo, k2tog] to end.
Rows 5, 7, 9 [RS]: [K2,
yo, k2tog, k1, k2tog, yo] to last st, k1.
Row 11 [RS]: [K3, yo, k3tog,
yo, k1] to last st, k1.
Row 13 [RS]: [K3, k2tog,
yo, k2] to last 8 sts, k3, k2tog, yo, k1, k2tog. 1 st decreased.
Repeat Rows 1-14.
(Worked over a multiple
of 6 sts + 8)
Row 1 [RS]: K2,
[k2tog, yo, k1, yo, k2tog,
k1] to end.
2-8 [WS]: P all sts.
Row 3 [RS]: K2tog,
k1, [yo, k3, yo, k3tog]
to last 6 sts, yo, k3,
Row 5 [RS]: K2,
[yo, k2tog, k1, k2tog,
yo, k1] to end.
Row 7 [RS]: K2,
[k1, yo, k3tog, yo, k2]
Repeat Rows 1-8.
(Worked over a multiple
of 6 stitches + 1)
Rows 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 [RS]:
[K1, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, k2tog] to last st, k1.
Even-numbered Rows 2-24 [WS]: P all sts.
Row 11 [RS]: K2tog, yo,
[k3, yo, cdd, yo] to last 5 sts, k3, yo, k2tog.
Rows 13, 15, 17, 19, 21 [RS]: [K1, yo, k2tog, k1, k2tog, yo] to last st, k1.
Row 23 [RS]: [K2, yo, cdd,
yo, k1] to last st, k1.
Repeat Rows 1-24.
This is your own private sampler,
so there’s no
pattern as such; but here
are a few guidelines to
get you moving.
Keep your cast-on edge
loose and stretchy to
allow the beginning of
the sampler to expand properly during blocking. There
are many ways to do it, but the simplest is to use a long-tail
worked over two needles held
Creating a Garter Stitch Border:
If your motifs are set
off by borders of plain
garter stitch, they’ll show
Begin by casting on enough
stitches to accommodate
your first motif, plus 6 stitches.
To determine the number of stitches needed,
look at the length of the pattern repeat; for example, the
German Pattern used at the beginning of this sampler is
worked over a 21-st pattern repeat. To use this pattern,
cast on 27 sts ([1 x 21] + 6) or 48 sts ([2 x 21] + 6).
Work 6 rows in garter st (knit every row).
Knit 3 stitches, place a marker,
and work the first row
of your motif. You should
have 3 stitches left.
Place another maker, and
knit those last 3 stitches.
From this point, keep your
edge stitches (outside
the markers) in garter stitch. End with 6 rows of garter
Choosing and Working Stitch
The choice of what patterns
go into your sampler is yours and yours alone. So is the
choice of how long you work each pattern. You may feel that
one full repeat is enough; or you may continue until the
phone rings, the plane lands in Albuquerque, the baby wakes
up or the Survivors decide who gets voted off the island.
For the model, I worked the Lambert motifs in this order:
German, Scotch, Lace, Fish-Bone, Point, lather, rinse, repeat.
Adding Garter Stitch Sections:
When you’re finished with a motif, work 5 or 6
rows of garter stitch–whichever number brings you
the proper side of the
fabric for the beginning
of the next motif.
These garter stitch buffer zones not only
look handsome, they also
hide the increases or decreases needed to begin a new pattern
with the proper number of stitches; work these on the third
or fourth row of garter stitch. (In a fine yarn, you can
easily add or subtract 5 to 8 stitches in these rows without
an appreciable change in the finished width.)
They’re useful, too, if you decide to pull out a
motif because you’ve messed it up or don’t like
it. Rip with carefree abandon
past the pattern rows to a garter stitch row; return all
the nice, plain stitches to your needle; and press on.
Once your sampler is the
length you want it to be, work 6 rows in garter stitch,
then bind off loosely. Weave in ends and block; links to
information about blocking lace can be found in the Pattern
Franklin Habit is a knitter, writer, illustrator and photographer
who lives in Chicago. His
first book, It
Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons,
was recently published by Interweave Press.
Visit his blog at the-panopticon.blogspot.com.
|Pattern & images © 2009.
Franklin Habit. Contact Franklin