Honoring Knitting History: Weldon’s Practical Knitting

I love this quote about knitting from Weldon’s Practical Knitting: “It does not distract the attention or check the powers of the imagination. It forms a ready resource when a vacuity occurs in conversation; it impairs neither body nor mind, and requires no straining of the eyesight. It may be interrupted without loss, and again resumed without trouble. The whole apparatus is so cheap, needs little room, and is so light that it can be kept and gracefully carried about in a basket, the beauty of which displays the expertness and taste of the fair worker.” Isn’t that great? I don’t think many of today’s knitters would agree with the “cheap” part, but the rest of it is pretty accurate, I think!

When I looked through the Weldon’s eBooks, I was transported to another time and another place; the time is the turn of the twentieth-century and the place is London, England. As you look through the patterns you’ll be pulled back in time as I was, wondering how you can use the knitted knee-cap in your life (it sort of looks like a knee pad…).

Here’s the story: In an effort to bring needlework to the emerging middle class, Weldon’s, a paper pattern producer of the Victorian era, began to publish monthly newsletters devoted to various needlecrafts. These newsletters were typically about fourteen pages long and cost 2 pence. Later, they were collected into book form and titled Weldon’s Practical Needlework.

Now, we’ve brought Weldon’s Practical Knitting back in the form of four dowloadable eBooks, full of projects ranging from charming to simply strange, from lovely edgings and triangular shawls to knee covers and baby knickers. The instructions aren’t as detailed as we’re used to, but the stitch patterns and shaping instructions are often ingenious, and many of the objects transcend the century-plus span of years since they were devised.

At left is a taste of what you can expect from these amazing pamphlets.

It’s really a treat to read through the patterns and reinterpret them into today’s knitting pattern style.

For example, looking through the Lady’s Mittens with Thumb pattern, I think “Berlin Wool” is probably fingering weight wool, and No. 14 knitting needles are US size 0. The “tag of wool” must mean the tail, but I’m not sure. What do you think? The last line of the pattern says, “Work 3 rows of herringbone stitch with the blue wool on the ribs which come in the middle of the back.” Do you suppose that’s an instruction for embroidering on some detail, or some sort of pick up and knit embellishment?

I think you’ll love the Weldon’s Practical Knitter series as much as I doit serves as a curiosity, an inspiration, a resource, and a link to a time beyond our memories.

And wouldn’t needleworkers of that era would be amazed to see their favorite knitting patterns in a virtual format of which they could never have dreamed?


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