You need a knitted tennis ball cover!

The tennis-ball cover from the 7th series of Weldon’s Practical Knitter
Baby’s Open Knit Spencer from the 5th series of Weldon’s Practical Knitter
Aspen Leaf edging from the 6th series of Weldon’s Practical Knitter

A note from Kathleen: I just finished watching the new episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs on Masterpiece Theater. I've been hoarding them on my DVR because I didn't want it to end! I've just ordered up the original series on DVD, though, so I've got hours and hours of British properness and (improperness!) to look forward to while knitting.

In these types of programs, women have a lot of leisure time; they're usually shown doing needlepoint, reading, doing millinery projects, or playing cards. I don't often see them knitting, but I know there was lots of that, too. Maybe knitting was more of a "downstairs" activity than an "upstairs" activity.

My friend, and the editor of PieceWork magazine, Jeane Hutchins, is here to talk about knitting in the Victorian era, including some fabulously quirky patterns, like the tennis ball cover!

I'm totally fascinated by how and what previous generations of knitters knit.

When we discovered Victorian England's Weldon's Practical Knitter series several years ago, I was thrilled. These volumes are just packed with details on what Victorian knitters were doing.

And they were knitting copious quantities of things—from undershirts, fingerless mittens, edgings, counterpanes, cuffs, socks, gloves, shawls, petticoats, muffs, caps and hats, and toys, to jackets, vests, booties, diaper covers, overalls, and boas for baby! They even were knitting covers for tennis balls (I've thought about this a lot and am still at a loss for why one would need/want tennis-ball covers—clearly this comes under the heading "only the Victorians"!).

In an effort to bring needlework to a then emerging middle class, several companies in the late 1800s in London began publishing knitting patterns. Unlike other magazines available, which ran one or two needlework projects in an issue filled with fiction, fashion plates, recipes, and housekeeping hints, these new publications were devoted solely to needlework. In about 1885, Weldon's, a well-known English paper pattern company, began publishing Weldon's Practical Knitter, a monthly 14-page newsletter, including engravings of many of the projects.

Now we take a historical leap from the late 1800s to 2011 with PieceWork magazine's digital editions of Weldon's Practical Knitter. These eBooks offer the first eight series in their original Victorian England form (neither alterations nor corrections were made). Series 1-4 and 5-8 are available for download individually or as sets.

In addition to being astonished at the quantity of knitting in these series, I am amazed at how well the designs have held up. There are any number of sock patterns that I love; Baby's Open Knit Spencer complete with ribbon ties is adorable; the Leaf and Trellis pattern will be perfect on an elegant pair of gloves; and my husband would really love the Cycling Cap (the tennis-ball covers or the Gentleman's Traveling Cap not so much!).

These editions of Weldon's Practical Knitter really open a window on another time and another place but feel completely at home in the digital age. I really hope you'll find your venture into Victorian England as fascinating as I have!

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