Adventure in an Old Book, Part One
When I have the luxury of knitting without a deadline, one of my favorite things to do is knit swatches.
I admit that I have odd ideas about what constitutes a good time. Most knitters I have met say they would prefer to give a cat a bikini wax rather than knit a swatch. I, however, have learned most of what I know about yarn by turning out hundreds and hundreds of itty bitty scraps of fabric.
Sometimes I knit swatches for mundane reasons: to check gauge, test drape, or plan a design. Other times, as in this adventure, I knit them just to see what happens. I get a kick out of that. And in the long run, it’s productive. Just as most of my best ideas for cartoons bubble up after hours of aimless doodling, so my best knitting designs follow miles and miles of stitching with no special goal in mind.
I have a particular goofy passion for working from nineteenth century patterns. I won’t go into all the reasons why here; but chief among them is the mystery. It’s not uncommon for pattern books from the 1840s through the 1890s to offer you either only a rudimentary or misleading illustration of what you’re making, or–most often–no illustration at all. You get a rather bald title–“For a Gent’s Patterned Glove, with Fingers” and that’s it.
To work from these is to participate in the original mystery knit-alongs.
I’d been wanting to play with The Lady’s Knitting-Book (1878) for some time. The author, credited on the title page only as E.M.C., has been revealed as Elvina M. Corbould. She was quite prolific. For this adventure, we’ll dip into the second series of The Lady’s Knitting-Book, which ran to at least four volumes; she also produced (or at least put her initials upon) multiple works on crochet, netting, and needlework.
One of the things I like about Elvina’s knitting books is that she is liberal in her dispensation of stitch motifs. I wasn’t in the mood to knit a Whole Thing, just little bits. If one of those little bits were to give me a bigger idea, I could see about turning it into a project.
I ran down the alphabetical table of contents
and chose three, based entirely on how interesting their names were.
First up was “Talisman Pattern,” because how on earth can you not be curious about something that calls itself that?
It revealed itself to be a variation of basket weave. Hmm. Well, okay.
A perfectly nice variation, but not something I felt like doing more of. Not now, anyway.
But here is the chart, in case you would like to try it. (Note: Corbould includes a garter stitch border for all her motifs; I put them on my swatches, but have omitted them in this article.)
Next I took a crack at “Lorne Pattern.”
This was intriguing because it was short–just three rows–and appeared to be lacy, as the instruction to “wool forward” (meaning yarn over, an instruction still to be found in some British publications) was frequent.
The result was extremely interesting: a fully reversible fabric displaying the characteristics of lace and those of ribbing.
Definitely worth another look. Here, if you would like to try it yourself, is the chart.
And then “Wheat-ear Pattern,” the most elaborate (or at least the longest) of the three.
Now this was interesting.
I like lace generally, but I particularly enjoy lace motifs that mess around with early and delayed decreases. What does that mean? It means that the openings in the lace–created with yarn overs–are separated by one or more stitches from the decreases that compensate for them. As here:
Used repeatedly and systematically, these do fun things to the grain of the fabric. It can cause the rows to ripple in curves, as here:
It can also, when taken to an extreme, cause a scalloped selvage:
This was a motif to explore further. After a few repeats I found I wanted to knit a bunch more, which is always a good sign.
Of the three I tried, this was the only one of Elvina’s patterns to include errors. I’ve corrected them for the chart.
Now, what to do with it? I have an idea. See you in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
Hikoo® Simplicity (55% Merino Superwash, 28% Acrylic, 17% Nylon, 117 yards per 50 gram hank). Colors: 013 Violette (Talisman), 026 Pale Yellow (Lorne), 036 Silver Hair (Wheat Ear).
Pages from The Lady’s Knitting-Book, Second Series by Elvina M. Corbould. Available in digital form here from the University of Southampton, as part of the Richard Rutt Collection.
About Franklin Habit
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His next book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book will be published by Soho Publishing in June 2016.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.