Knitty: little purls of wisdom
Modeknits - Franklin

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.

Circling the Square

I have always associated adaptation with oversimplification. My first encounter with the word was on the cover of a gift copy of A Christmas Carol that had been, so said a note on the title page, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR CHILDREN. Not only was the plot chopped into hash, but the genius in charge had decided modern American children would retreat in confused chaos if confronted with archaic words like "humbug."

"Christmas!" said Scrooge. "Oh, phooey!"

It's a wonder I didn't give up reading entirely.

My first encounter with Victorian knitting was also via unfortunate adaptations, courtesy of a book published around the same time as my Phooey Edition of Dickens. The projects were a mixed lot -- hats and scarves and whatnot -- but they were all SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR THE MODERN KNITTER. This meant the gauges were elephantine, the details were minimal, the yarns were 100% petroleum, and the patterns were as authentically Victorian as Judy Jetson wearing a bustle.

"Adaptation!" said Franklin. "Oh, phooey!"

I swore when I began writing this column that I would translate, not adapt. I'd substitute modern yarns, of course. I'd fill in gaps. I'd correct errors. But I would not adapt. The aim was to make historic patterns appealing and accessible to a broad audience. Adaptation would dilute and distort the experience.

beauty shot

But lately it has struck me that by always insisting that we stick close to the original path, I run the risk of doing exactly what I hoped to avoid: putting the old patterns into a special enclosure, apart from the rest of knitting. We don't hesitate to fool about with modern patterns, do we? No, we do not. We change necklines, change yarns, re-shape and adapt to suit ourselves.

And so we may do with antique patterns. When I ran across the Templeton Square in Weldon's Practical Knitter (Fourth Series), I knew I wanted to make it. I also knew I did not want to make it as written.

The Templeton Square is a building block for a counterpane (in the same manner as the Star Block). The fad for knitting counterpanes meant publishers cooked them up in profusion. This one struck me because of its unusual simplicity -- no fancy edges, no bobbles, no fuss, just bold geometry.

However, the construction is deceptive. You don't knit the square in one piece. You work four identical triangles, and then you sew the triangles together into a square. And then you sew the squares together to make the counterpane. And then you never finish the counterpane, and the counterpane sits in a bag in the bottom of the stash cupboard, and every time you open the cupboard you feel guilty and slightly sick.

Knitting triangles made good sense in the 1880s, when the only way to work the square in a single piece from the center out would have been on four double-pointed needles. As the square grew, it would have been necessary either to switch to very long needles -- or to add a bunch more of them. I have a large bundle of 19th century dpns in my collection. I calculated that it would have taken something like eight or ten to go all the way around the piece at its largest. Doesn't that sound like fun?

In 2012, we have circulars. Rather than four/eight/ten needles, we can get away with one or two. And so I re-wrote the pattern to take advantage of modern technology.

There's also no shame, by the way, in making smaller adaptations if you so choose. Take increases and decreases. The original pattern uses an increase I'd not run into before. It requires you to slip the right needle into the stitch as if to purl, twist the needle around, and then knit into the stitch before removing it from the left needle. Here's the thing: It's hard to do and it looks like hell.

So why bother?

Substitute an increase of your choosing (I did). You might have to test a few before you find the one that gives the look you want; but there's no reason to suffer for the sake of historical correctness. Unless you're actually knitting a piece for a re-enactment or a museum. But that's another column...


Contest Time: Square Off with Knitty

You'll notice that I made two Templeton Squares, in contrasting colors; but two squares do not a counterpane make. That's because for this issue, I wanted to give you a pattern and then see what you do with it.

We're going to have a contest, kids!

Here's what you're gonna do:

Use the Templeton Square pattern below as the basis for a finished project. It can be anything at all: a coverlet, a piece of home decor, a garment, a party tent -- the type of project is up to you. The only requirement is that the Templeton Square must be a prominent and essential piece of it.

Send us glorious photos of your creation, as many as you want, but three must be:

  • a full shot of your design
  • a flat shot of your design
  • a detail shot of your design

The judges will be judging from your photos so make sure they are lovely and in perfect focus, no smaller than 750 pixels wide.

Include a short paragraph describing your piece, including your inspiration.

Tell us your name, email address and what yarn was used for the project.

Deadline for entry: March 15, 2013, midnight, EST

And here is what will happen:

Our World Famous Panel of Judges:

  • Ysolda Teague
  • Brooke Nico
  • Fiona Ellis
  • Shannon Dunbabin (of Cascade Yarns)

...will choose one winner in each of three categories:

  • Best in Show
  • Most Creative
  • Most Ambitious

Winners will be contacted by email by April 10, 2013
Winners will be announced in the Surprise for the Spring+Summer Issue of Knitty in mid-April, 2013.

Here's what you could win:

  • Best in Show: Original Franklin Habit illustration, prize value $500, plus 10 skeins of Cascade Sierra yarn (your choice of in stock color), prize value $110, total prize value $610

  • Most Creative: 1 set of Addi Turbo Lace Clicks, prize value $169.95 plus 10 skeins of Cascade Sierra yarn (your choice of in stock color), prize value $110, total prize value $279.95

  • Most Ambitious: 10 skeins of Cascade Sierra yarn (your choice of in stock color), prize value $110

Send your entry to

beauty shot

by Franklin Habit, translated from Weldon's Practical Knitter (Fourth Series)











spacer photos: Franklin Habit




Approximately 11 inches per side after blocking


Cascade Sierra [80% pima cotton/20% wool; 191 yd per 100g skein]; 1 skein
spacer color: 50 Caramel OR 20 Navy
Note: 1 skein will make 2 squares.

Recommended needle size
[always use a needle size that gives you the gauge listed below -- every knitter's gauge is unique]
spacer US #4/3.5mm needles for working in the round
Note: the piece is worked from the center out, and so we recommend using Magic Loop or 2 circulars; if you prefer, you can start with a set of 5 dpns and change to a 16 inch circular as the piece gets big enough.

spacer 2 locking-ring stitch markers or coil-less safety pins
spacer scissors
spacer yarn needle


16 sts/28 round = 4 inches in stockinette st


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

The piece is begun at the center with Judy's Magic Cast On and worked in the round.

To allow the square to stretch fully during blocking, use Jeni's Suprisingly Stretchy Bind Off.

The chart for this pattern is very large and fits on a letter-sized page.
Click here and print the resulting page.


Using Judy's Magic Cast On, co 8 sts.
If working on Magic Loop or 2 circulars, divide evenly on 2 ndls, placing a marker in the center of the two needles -- the markers will indicate the transition between the 2 quarters on each ndl. If working on DPNs, place 2 sts each on 4 needles. )

K 1 rnd.

Pattern set-up round: [K1, yo, k1] around. 12 sts; 3 sts per quarter
Next round: Work Chart 4 times around.
Work as set until all Chart rows are complete.

Bind off loosely with Jeni's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off.

Soak and block firmly, taking care that all sides are of equal length. Allow to dry completely. Weave in ends.


habit-portraitBlank Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons(Interweave Press) and proprietor of the popular knitting blog, The Panopticon. He travels widely to teach knitting and photography, and his work appears with shocking regularity in perfectly respectable fiber arts magazines and books.

Franklin is most commonly worked from the center outwards beginning with a surprisingly stretchy center, but his seams keep coming apart.