HNW - early knitting

Chris Laning claning at
Tue May 11 21:03:28 PDT 1999

Detta asked:
><<Most early knitting was done in the round, before anyone had even figured
>out how to purl back>>
>What kind of needles were used for circular knitting?

If the 19th century knitters of the British Isles are a good example, then
the answer is: double pointed needles, like you use for a sock, only a lot
more of them.

Most people work a sock on either three or four needles (with an extra one
to knit with); the body of a sweater can take up to a dozen or so needles,
depending on how long they are.

Gladys Thompson, in _Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans_ (my copy is
Dover, 1971)* says sets of five 18-inch double-points were used; I've never
seen those, but I vaguely remember seeing sets of 12-inch or so needles for
sale (possibly at Lacis).

My most recent experience with this is knitting an Elizabethan "flat cap",
which is shaped rather like a tam, with a diameter of about 12 inches. That
took 8 needles of the usual 8-inch size. I used Brittany birchwood
double-points and they worked very well -- the stitches didn't slide off.

I would add that I've seen a couple of pieces of early knitting that are
flat, but have a very visible "jog" in the pattern in a vertical line,
exactly like you'd expect from ending one round and starting another with
the next row of the pattern. I can't imagine how they would have got that
if they hadn't been knitted in the round. I currently have on loan _Tissus
d'Egypte: Temoins du mond arabe VIIIe-XVe siecles_ (by the Collection
Bouvier, Musee d'art et d'histoire de Geneve, 1993, no ISBN -- and sorry
about the lack of accents in the French title). It has 14 knitted pieces
from the 11th and 12th centuries including one with a very clear "jog".
IIRC, there's another in Bishop Rutt's _A History of Hand Knitting_ which
has quickly become the classic, indispensable reference.


*P.S. My mother always says this title sounds like "How to Knit Your Own
Cow." <g>

O   Chris Laning
|   <claning at>
+    Davis, California

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