Knitting From History, Part One.

Knitting From History, Part One.

When I first agreed to write something for TQS, I wasn’t sure what angle I was going to approach the Victorian theme from. I knew it would probably have something to do with knitting, but that was about it. I briefly thought about copying knit items I’d seen in TV shows and movies about the era (like Mary Poppin’s scarf), but decided that wasn’t good enough. If I was going to do this, I should be completely true to the era.

And so it was that I found myself searching for authentic knitting patterns from the 1800s.  I soon realized that it was going to be harder to follow through on than I thought.  I tend to knit things like sweaters, gloves, socks and hats–which aside from the gloves–are NOT things that Victorians knit at all!  Victorians didn’t really knit clothing, they knit very delicate lacy things, things like doilies and stockings and edgings for their dresses. Things that require needles so small that if I failed at knitting with them I could always try my hand at acupuncture instead! Needles so small that I didn’t think anyone even made needles that small anymore. Actually, I was relieved to find out that there are companies that still make tiny needles, and I plan on purchasing the last 5 sizes I need for future projects, the smallest one being 0000-0000 (.5mm).

Even after finding this out, like a fool I still thought it’d be a good challenge. I found a pattern that looked relatively easy–patterns from the Victorian era assumed that you weren’t an idiot and knew what you were doing. They didn’t bother explaining every last little detail like patterns do nowadays. Nope, they figured that if you were going to knit something you were already an expert. Which, to be fair is rather refreshing but at the same time a little frustrating, especially when they didn’t use the same terms that we do now. It took me 20 minutes to figure out that when it says “throw thread over” in my pattern, that they actually meant I was supposed to do what we call now a “yarn over”.

Anyway, so my first project is a pattern called  Lady’s Fancy Mittens (http://www.victorian-embroidery-and-crafts.com/fancy_mittens.html). It was published in Art Needlework in 1895 by Brainerd & Armstrong.  There were several modifications I had to make, the first being that I did not own the tiny size 0000 needles required for the pattern. The smallest size needles I had were the next size up, size 000 needles. Thankfully I had some lace weight yarn already, but it wasn’t knitting silk like the pattern called for. Frankly, I don’t know if “knitting silk” is really made out of just silk or not and that’s something I plan to look into because I am skeptical. I could also be wrong, but I’m used to that.  I also had to size down the pattern because my first attempts came out a little too large—although I should have known since I was using needles .25mm larger and I tend to knit rather loosely in the first place.

I’m slowly making progress on these mittens. I’m not used to knitting with such small needles, and it’s taking forever. The stitches are so tiny that it makes me want to scream and I can’t even imagine having to knit something like this by lamplight.  I have a feeling that once I finish the first mitten there won’t even be a second one. I was planning on giving them to my mom when I was done with the pair since she’s also really into the Victorian stuff (she’s so serious about it that she even has two Victorian outfits), but I might wind up having to befriend a one handed woman instead!

Stay tuned for Part Two, when I finally finish at least one mitten.

14 Responses to “Knitting From History, Part One.”


  • Oooh, my favorite color. And this answers the question, “What did people do before the internet?” I cannot wait to see how they come out.

  • SJ, you totally store my response. I guess those Jane Austen characters had time for knitting delicate things.

    What you have started it really beautiful. How long did that take?

  • This is really interesting. I think there are some historical knitting groups on ravelry.com who might offer some encouragement, if not expertise, too. I shall investigate.

  • Oooh, yes, there is a Victorians group. I will join and propagandize them.

  • Not counting the time I spent knitting it too large, what I’ve got now took me about 4 hours. This would normally be the perfect sized project for me to take places to work on, but the fact that I need to concentrate on seeing means I can only work on this at home.

    The Governess, that’s a fantastic idea. I’m actually on Ravelry myself, but didn’t think to look up historical knitting groups. I should definitely take a look!

  • I’m so impressed that you are doing this. I took one look at Victorian knitting patterns and just threw up my hands before I even gave it a try. I’ll be really interested to see how these turn out!

  • Those needles are truly tiny. I am already re-writing the lyrics to Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” as “Tiny Needles” in my head….

    Tiny Needles
    From Victorian Times
    Make me happy
    Make me feel fine….

    Reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw3SUiYlfgM

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