In times gone by knitting instructions weren’t communicated through written patterns, but were instead recorded in actual stitches. Many lace stitch patterns were recorded in samplers; very long scarf-like strips of knitting in which the lace pattern changed every few inches, with a few rows of garter stitch between each pattern. The UK Knitting and Crochet Guild (KCG) has two antique lace samplers like this in ‘The Collection’, an archive of knitting and crochet artefacts. Museums in Scotland have preserved similar artefacts relating to Sanquhar knitting; long scarf-like strips of knitting recording the two-colour stranded knitting stitch patterns that are used in Sanquhar gloves. Presumably knitters then referred to these samplers to choose patterns when planning a project, and to check they were knitting the stitch pattern correctly. They were experts in reading knitting!

This week I have been similarly engaged in reading a piece of knitting. My sister is knitting herself a pair of Yorkshire Dales gloves based on the Mary Allen gloves form the KCG Collection, and we are working on making her gloves match the guild pair as closely as possible. Fortunately we have a series of photos of the gloves that we took recently when recording a video with glove expert Angharad Thomas for my forthcoming Yorkshire Knitting Tour. From these we have discovered some interesting details that evidence a high level of skill and attention to fit in the construction of the gloves. As well as the thumb gusset increases, which any well-fitting glove would feature, the Mary Allen gloves also include staggered increases above the wristband at the outer side of the hand, and between each of the four panels that form the back of the hand:

Another thing I’ve noted when comparing these and other early 20th century Dales gloves with Sanquhar gloves is that the Midge and Fly pattern differs between the two traditions. The Scottish version has a 6-stitch pattern repeat, whereas the Dales version has an 8-stitch repeat, as seen above. I have, of course, used the Dales version in the cuffs I’ve designed as a workshop project for my Yorkshire Knitting tour:

Despite the overall similarity between Sanquhar and Dales gloves, there are many other differences between the two traditions. These include significant differences relating to treatment of the wristband and the back of the hand.

Something else I discovered this week when comparing the two traditions, is that the Dales tradition includes the oldest known knitted version of Shepherd’s Plaid, on some gloves knitted in Swaledale in 1841. Because of those gloves I’ve used Shepherd’s Plaid in several of my designs over the years, and it also features on the other side of the cuffs I’ve designed for my Yorkshire Knitting Tour:


6 thoughts on “Reading knitting

  1. Not long to go now before the holiday. Love these wristlets. ?

    1. Indeed! Preparations are going well, and various things for the tour keep arriving. I’ve just opened a huge box of needles that were delivered this morning! ?

      1. It’s getting very near! However, our preparations are going well, and it does look like we’ll actually be ready in time for it!

  2. What fun. It’s things like this that make me dream of being closer to things like this. Would be a lovely time with so much to learn. Gloves are lovely!

  3. I have to get to this plaid! I think my excuse will be a hat, mitts and cowl to match my pea coat…?

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