1918 Knitting Hints for Beginners

Do knitting tips from over 100 years ago still ring true? In 1918, the Globe, a Toronto based newspaper, ran an article with sage advice from a knitting expert, and they relayed the following:

Beginners make the mistake of knitting too closely as a rule. Their motto seems to be that of the old Highland Chieftain: the tighter the stronger. Once they learn the art of holding the yarn carelessly, instead of – a sort of lariat for the lasoo-ing their stitches – the task is well began.

The wise novice- or, perhaps ‘wary’ novice is best- will help herself by making first of all a diagram of the pattern she intends to follow. This is done by drawing a horizontal line at the base of a sheet of paper indicating the row of stitches originally set up. On this mark the number and kind of stitches which are to be taken along that line, with specifications for the length in inches these stitches are to measure. From this she will proceed with the diagram, showing by lines each extension and contraction, and marking each with the number of stitches called for. In this way she will see before starting the garment the shape it is to take and the approximate proportions. When the design has to be altered she will see by a glance at the diagram just where the alteration is to be made.

There is a certain awkwardness about learning to knit, but time, that cures everything- or almost everything- will cure it.

You often hear amateur say: how can women go right on knitting day and night almost? Doesn’t it get on their nerves? In reality knitting ceases to be work after a time and becomes merely a play and relaxation.

The Globe, Feb 14, 1918, pg. 9

Her tips, simplfied:

  1. Don’t knit too tight
  2. Read your pattern and make a diagram or schematic of what it is you’re going to make
  3. Have patience when learning

Safe to say that these hints are still relevant, to some degree, today. Beginner knitters often have a death grip on their yarn and needles, afraid that if their tension isn’t tight that their stitches might fall off and unravel. This, we know, isn’t the case. It’s much simpler to loosen your tension, loosen the hold, you have on your yarn and needles. It will make everything go more smoothly.

Tip #3, having patience, is also still very important. Knitting is a new skill. It’s going to take time to learn the motions, how to read a pattern, how to cast on, and everything else. Yes, holding yarn and needles for the first time, and the next several times afterwards, is certainly awkward. But, after some time, the motions feel familiar, and holding needles comes as easily as the knit stitch itself. Patience is your friend.

All of tip #2 might not be as applicable today, in my humble opinion, but parts still are of great importance. In 1918, patterns weren’t as detailed as most are today, so drawing your own schematic might not be necessary. When you purchase your pattern, more often than not, they come with schematics, showing finished measurements. The lingo has changed since 1918 and, again in my opinion, become far plainer and easier to understand. However, reading through your pattern before casting on is a huge tip that is still applicable! It’s a tip I don’t always take to heart myself, and perhaps mistakes could have been avoided if I had done so.

The Usefulness of a Knitting Bag

All knitters have them, in fact, you may have several on the go for different purposes. Knitting bags. My go-to knitting bag has been my favourite for years, and it’s usually brimming with projects in varying stages of completeness, my pencil case with DPNs, ruler, pencils, and cable needles, and a few containers with stitch markers. My favourite knitting bag is complete with a little bit of flair (buttons and patches) and is brandished with the phrase ‘I Knit So I Won’t Kill People.’ A hyperbole, obviously.

I love my knitting bag(s) and can’t imagine not having at least one bag ready to grab at any moment. Naturally, when reading historic articles in the Globe newspaper, a Toronto based publication, an article titled ‘Knitting Bag Useful’ caught my eye. Of course it’s useful! Was that ever really in question?

The article, from August 16, 1918, reads as follows:

The knitting bag is being made to serve another purpose in many cities. Being generally very commodious it can be utilized on shopping expeditions. It is surprising how many small parcels can be tucked away in it and absolutely hidden from view. Now that war-time economy necessitates the curtailing of deliveries and the shopper is compelled to carry home many a parcel, it is well to remember that a very safe, attractive and roomy receptacle is the knitting bag.

The Globe, 16 Aug 1918, page 8

Roomy? Pardon me, but I must direct your attention to my bursting at the seams bag. Once a sweater or two, plus socks and a shawl for good measure, are thrown unceremoniously into the bag, it’s rather limited in real estate after that.

It is, however, an interesting commentary of the time. World War I was nearing its conclusion, but this was a society impacted by the conflict, evidenced by the limited deliveries being mentioned. The knitting bag is being remarked upon as being ‘fashionable’ (and, I’m SURE the anonymous author in 1918 would have adored my bag with questionable phrasing). It’s also interesting that the author emphasizes a need for discretion with parcels being purchased. Certainly, a bag slung over the shoulder could make carrying a number of parcels easier, but my ease is the factor for me, not discretion. And many women in 1918 would have been knitters, and even if knitting wasn’t a regular hobby, those on the homefront were encouraged to support the troops with knitting items to be sent overseas. It was likely that many women would have had this accessory at the ready.