HNW - knitting needle question

Margo Lynn Hablutzel Hablutzel at
Thu Sep 16 04:32:49 PDT 1999

>Does anyone know when knitters stopped using four needles and started to
>two the way we do now? I've been hit with that question in Meridies, and I
>can't answer it. I know four-needle isn't exactly dead because I have a
>five-needle set from Germany. I wonder why people started to use two?
>Answers, anyone?

For those list members not in the SCA, "Meridies" is one of the Kingdoms,
located in the southeast.

To the question:  People never stopped using four needles, and they have
been using two needles since forever.

Now, with that non-answer <g> some explanation:  Heels were always done on
two needles.  No way to do with with four unless you short-row (which still
uses only two on the shorter rows), and the stockings and socks I have seen
all have the heel flap.  (I assume you knit socks and understand this!)

However, most knitting before the 1800's is depicted as being done in the
round, seamless, with four or five needles.  My guess is that knitting flat
didn't come in until purling was common, which is 17th Century and after. 
Without the ability to purl, or to knit-back-backward (another
possibility), you get garter stitch, which is not as attractive if you're
used to the look of knitting in rounds, and the ability to work in

There are cushions from the 13th Century which are most likely knitted
flat, although I have not examined them to check.  One would have to be cut
open and the edges examined to figure out if it was knitted flat or in the
round and steeked or cut open some other way.

Rutt is not helpful on this question.  I've done research on my own (and
have a talk I do within the SCA, with pictures and examples) and don't have
a definite answer.  It looks as though the styles waxed and waned, just as
anything does in the craft.  If you pay attention (I have to look in
pattern books because of my youth), in the middle of this century circular
knitting was just NOT done in the USA.  No idea why someone would want to
knit socks flat and have to seam them, but they did!  It has enjoyed a
resurgence, I think due to speed, lack of seams, and other advantages to
the time-impaired.  

                                                ---= Margo Lynn
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