Monday, July 9, 2012

The four-day scarf

Yes, I knit a full-sized, longer-than-I-am winter scarf in only four days!

I was helped by the fact that I used bulky yarn - some yellow ochre merino that I scored for $3.50 a ball at a Knit World sale - and by the very, very repetitive stitch pattern, which meant I could knit while watching tv. The stitch pattern is a brioche stitch variant, which is stretchy, thick, and, most importantly for a scarf, identical on both sides.

A great explanation of how to knit brioche stitch can be found in Franklin Habit's 'modern translation' of Jane Gaugain's Faucett, or Bandeau for Neck (1846), which I used as the starting-point for this scarf. I left off the fancy fringe, and neglected to seam it into a tube. I simply cast on 27 stitches and knit till I'd used up four balls of yarn.

Trying out such an old pattern and really liking the result sparked me off into investigating other old knitting books. I downloaded a few onto my kindle from Project Gutenberg, and skimmed through some pdf copies from the Antique Pattern Library. I had no idea there were so many available!

The nineteenth-century books sometimes use quite different terminology from what I'm used to. Some are pretty transparent, e.g. "pearl" for "purl", but others are less obvious, and you do need to check the author's explanations. For example, Gaugain's Lady's Assistant (1840) uses "P" for a knit stitch ("a plain stitch or loop"), and "B" for a purl stitch ("a back, ribbed, seam, or pearl stitch").

If I didn't already know how to knit, I'm not sure I'd be able to learn how from the directions-for-beginners in these books, which are quite convoluted and awkward. And the diagrams, while sweet, aren't the most clear - and worse, aren't from the point of view of the knitter!

From Beeton's Book of Needlework (1870):

And from The Ladies' Work-Book:

Often, the books don't include pictures, so one needs to either be good at visualising what the instructions describe, or willing to do a bit of trial-and-error. There are plenty of plain and fancy stitch patterns in these books, for use on scarves, blankets, etc, and patterns (called "receipts", as in recipes) for shawls, caps, muffs, mittens, baby clothes, bags, socks, you name it. And, being products of the nineteenth century, most of them are really big on "D'Oyleys". These are crocheted examples, from The Ladies' Work-Book - impressive!

Because I was looking through these books while embroiled in making a brioche stitch scarf, I took note whenever I came across the same stitch pattern. It seems to have been popular for scarves (or "comforters"), and for cushions.

Mrs Beeton's instructions:
Ordinary Brioche Stitch is made by casting on an even number of stitches, and working the rows as follows:--
Make 1, slip 1, take 2 together; repeat. Note.--The made stitch and the slipped stitch of the previous row must always be knitted together, and the decreased stitch of that row slipped.
And from Cornelia Mee's Exercises in Knitting:

And from My Knitting Book (1843) by Miss Lambert:
The Brioche knitting-stitch is simply—bring the wool forward, slip one; knit two together.
Miss Lambert explains that a "Brioche" cushion is "so called from its resemblance, in shape, to the well known French cake of that name."

The upshot being, my new scarf is seriously old-school. :)

Knitting isn't the only craft represented in these old needlework books - there are tons of crochet patterns, embroidery patterns, and instructions for various kinds of lacemaking. As an example of some of the weird and wonderful things to be found, I'll take my leave with this fabulous crocheted Tobacco Pouch from Beeton's Book of Needlework...

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