Thursday, June 17, 2010

Our Knitting Heritage Perpetuated by Franklin Habit

I went to the lecture about knitting history last night at the Knitter’s Connection. The introductory powerpoint slide said, “Our Knitting Heritage Perpetuated by Franklin Habit.” The talk was very interesting and I learned lots about the first knitting patterns (boy, am I glad I live now!), knitting needle gauges, proprietary needle technology, the Martha Stewart of the Victorian age, and terminology. I’ll give you a quick rundown and recommend that, if you ever have a chance, listen to Franklin talk about this subject (well, any subject really!).

First, did you know knitting patterns are relatively late to the game? Before the first patterns were published in the Victorian age, patterns passed directly from knitter to knitter. Or, if you wanted to remember how a lace stitch went, you created a lace sampler. You would cast on however many stitches would make a nice pattern repeat, knit your lace pattern, knit a couple of rows of garter stitch, maybe increase some or decrease some, do another lace pattern, knit a couple of rows of garter, do another, etc, etc. Nancy Bush showed us a similar strip of knitting when I went to her Estonian lace class. It was an easy way for knitters to share their designs with other knitters.

Franklin compared modern lace patterns to the original lace patterns by showing us a picture from Nancy Bush’s book and one of the first pattern books. Now, you all know what lace charts look like.

Lace Edging of Mlle. R de B, Franklin Habit,

Makes sense, right? The original lace pattern he showed us, however, was a solid page of text with two columns and minuscule font. Can you imagine?! And he told us that, at the very bottom of the page, was a horrendous mistake. UGH.

Not only are our knitting patterns formatted differently, but our terminology is different, too! As Franklin wrote in his “Stitches in Time” article in Knitty ‘08:

At first glance, these early books appear to the modern knitter as an invitation to headache and madness. The vocabulary is archaic; what we call a “purl” may be called a “pearl,” a “turn” or a “seam,” even within the same pattern. The “recipes” are often written in a stream-of-consciousness style that anticipates James Joyce. The errors – even in works that promise on the title page to be scrupulously accurate – are legion.
Franklin Habit, Knitty ‘08 

He said sometimes pattern writers wouldn’t even use the same terminology in the same sentence much less the same pattern!

Along with not using the same terms, needles sizes were not standardized. They were the proprietary software of their day. One woman put out the first needle gauge (and was the first to talk about knitting gauge) but of course the only needles that worked were ones that she sold. Can you even imagine how that could drive you crazy? The early knitters were made of much stronger stuff than I am!

The Martha Stewart of her generation was a woman who published something like 19 books in 3 years (I didn’t write down the exact numbers but it was a crazy amount in a very short period of time). She claimed to have invented crochet. Whether or not that is true is something crochet historians will have to duke out!

It was a very interesting lecture though I only gave it a brief mention here. Next time, I swear, I’m going to bring a working camera and/or a cell phone that actually has its memory card in it. I always find it so interesting to listen to famous bloggers talk. It’s fun to put an actual voice to the words rather than the voice you picture in your mind!


Janelle said...

That sounds like a great talk - right up my alley! Glad you got to attend.

Andrea said...

That sounds like a really interesting lecture. I can't believe all the discrepancies between knitters back then! It would have driven me bonkers.