Simple Pattern for Simple Socks.

A few weeks ago, I bought a beautiful skein of sock yarn online. I won’t post details about it because it was purchased with the intention of becoming a gift, but I will say the yarn is soft, squishy, and beautifully self striping. I was looking for an interesting texture or stitch pattern for this yarn to become socks; the yarn would do most of the heavy lifting because the stripes really would shine, and I didn’t want anything to take away from it, but I also wanted to make something more than a vanilla sock.  Hours, it felt like, were spent on Ravelry, Pinterest, and googling to try and find something that would be inspirational. Nothing seemed quite right to suit this yarn.

Then, I came across a blog written for Knitty by Franklin Habit, where he used patterns written in the 1840s by Mrs. Frances Lambert to create a sampler, and this got me thinking… was I looking in the wrong places for inspiration?

Well, I ended up in a historic knitting pattern wormhole. I downloaded both of Mrs. Lambert’s books, filled with historic patterns, and somewhere along the way, I found the Victorian Knitting Manuals collection on archive.org, maintained by the University of Southampton, where they had digitized The Stocking Knitter’s Manual: A Companion to the Work Table, by Mrs. George Cupples in 1870.  Here I found my inspiration.

 

The story of sock 1, made with the amazing self striping yarn, will continue in a further blog post another day.  I found a very simple lace pattern, adding interest to the overall pattern and yet simple enough so as not to take away from the yarn.

I’m currently experimenting with her ‘Simple Pattern.’  As written:

Calculate six stitches for each pattern

1st row – Pearl (sic) 3, O, T, P.
2nd row – Pearl 3, P 3.
3rd row – Pearl 3, P, O, T.
4th row – Pearl 3, P 3.

O means put over the thread
T is knit two together
P is plain 1

I charted this for knitting in the round, because I like charts.

FullSizeRender

 

My interpretation of this pattern, it looks like you’re working three garter stitches alternated with three stitches work as lace.

Worked as a sock, 12 or so rows in, it looks like this:

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It’s rather pretty and, as the name suggests, fairly simple.  This is further spinning my inspiration; the sock I’ve started in the picture is using stash yarn and isn’t intended for anyone. I’m right now knitting it for knitting’s sake and to test this pattern (shocking for a project knitter, I know!).  I’m adoring the lace ‘columns,’ but I’m also thinking how I could tinker with Mrs. Cupples’ pattern and make it something new.

I’m not at a loss for inspiration now.  The history geek in me should have known at the outset to start with something at least 100 years old!

Hopefully next week I’ll have another sock update!

Happy knitting!

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For Whom the Bell (Gauge) Tolls

Materials – Three ounces of three-thread fleecy wool; pins, No. 14.

So starts a pattern for a Woolen Chemisette from 1857.  There are many challenges facing a knitter when looking at a pattern written decades ago.  The most obvious is the language. Today, there’s an accepted phrasing for knitting patterns, terms and phrasing that are common and used with great frequency; technical editors help pattern designers ensure terminology is correct and consistent.  Reading and understanding a pattern from the 1800s isn’t nearly as clear as understanding modern patterns.

Once you get used to the lingo and understand what the pattern is wanting from you, the next challenge is figuring out the materials.  ‘Pins, No 14.’ While reading about historic knitting needles and trying to understand their sizes, I discovered the Bell Gauge, named as such for its distinctive bell shape.

Today, needle gauges are valuable tools, helping knitters discern their needle sizes, that is if it isn’t handily printed on the side, and they aren’t a modern invention.

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T.276-1979: Bell Gauge, from the Victoria & Albert Collection

It appeared these handy tools started creeping into popularity in the early to mid 1800s. It was in the mid 1800s when Henry Walker created his gauge, and commonly, patterns for the late 1800s call for knitting pin sizes based on the Walker’s Bell Gauge. According to Sheila Williams, a Walker’s gauge can be (somewhat) easy to date in that after 1876, their gauges feature an archer as the logo, where before 1876 and the death of Walker, it featured the Royal Coat of Arms, indicating royal patronage.

Interestingly, a book from 1885 recommended using a gauge to determine needle size, but also admitted that “many do not consider it necessary, especially as gauges are somewhat expensive” (Jane Cunningham Croly, Knitting and Crochet: A Guide to the Use of the Needle and the Hook, 1885).

Thankfully, there are knitting historians who have done far more research than I into methods from the past.  Colleen Formby researched and written quite notably about knitting during the US Civil War era, and she has shared information about needle sizes and their historical equivalent.  This is where I’m going to just insert my own personal opinion – a standard needle size would make oh so much since.  Being Canadian, I am very biased towards the metric measurement, but I’d be very accommodating if we could all just get along and come up with a universal standard, but I digress. Formby states that the size 14 that Godey’s was calling for may translate to a size 0 or 2mm – aka very tiny needles.  I plan on starting this chemisette, and perhaps writing another blog into the history of this undergarment, and knowing what materials to use is a great start.

I would love to add a vintage bell gauge to my collection of knitting paraphernalia, so I’m keeping my eyes open at thrift shops and antique shops.  It would be not only a good tool for future reference but a fun trinket from days gone by.


References:

Jane Cunningham Croly, Knitting and Crochet: A Guide to the Use of the Needle and the Hook, 1885, accessed from: https://books.google.ca/books?id=PUdFAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA51&ots=q-XkcKWlqp&dq=bell%20gauge%20knitting&pg=PA9#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Colleen Formby, Everyone His Own Knitting Needles, accessed from: http://www.raggedsoldier.com/knitting_1.pdf

Bell Gauge, Victoria & Albert Collection, accessed from: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O108412/bell-gauge-needle-gauge-g-chambers-co/

Sheila Williams, The History of Knitting Pin Gauges (Melrose Press, 2006), accessed from: https://books.google.ca/books?id=Y2gmkFgUEcwC&dq=walker+bell+gauge&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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