Yup. They exist.
Now, before we get too far into this, I would like to unequivocally state that of my four favorite places on planet Earth, three are libraries. Libraries are wonderful places, home of local knitting circles, knitting books (and other books), knitting magazines (and other magazines), knitting videos (and other videos). I am the proud possessor of no less than three (3) library cards, all of which I use regularly. I value my books more than any other possession, even my knitting needles :).
However, I am also a huge fan of eBooks. I was the grateful recipient of an e-reader last year, and it set me off on a search for knitting books in eBook format. Ideally, I would like a digital knitting book collection to rival my physical one.
Which is why I turned to the Gutenberg Project, internet home of expired-copyright books converted into digital editions and available for mass download.
So here you go: The five most-downloaded Knitting and Needlework books from the 19th and 20th centuries (you read that right, we’re talking knitting books written by Jane Austen’s peers) listed chronologically, ready for download in the 21st.
Note: Even if you aren’t a fan of digital editions, I encourage you to take a look anyway. These days, it’s easy enough to take a screen shot of a pattern you’re curious about and print off a hard copy to work from. In fact, this is how I prefer to knit from eBooks.
WARNING: Netting will be a recurring theme in all of the older books.
The List – Click Title to go to Download Page
1. (1844) The Three Musketeers is first published by Alexandre Dumas
The Ladies’ Work-table Book: Containing Clear and Practical Instructions in Plain and Fancy Needlework, Embroidery, Knitting, Netting, and Crochet. With Numerous Engravings, Illustrative of the Various Stitches in Those Useful and Fashionable Employments.
The knitting section consists of chapters 12 and 13. Unfortunately, there are no illustrations, and the instructions are fascinatingly brief. Take, for example, this single sentence pattern for a “night-stocking”–a garment I imagine would look something like this:
PATTERN: “A Night Stocking.—This is easily done: cast on 54 stitches on large needles, and pearl every other stitch, narrowing gradually toward the end.”
Apparently no one ever told the author that “Brevity is the soul of wit” not of “knit“. 😀
More useful is the stitch dictionary comprising chapter 12. Again, the instructions are brief, but written in a way which is easy to understand and even easier to graph on your own. Names like “Embossed Hexagon Stitch” and “Crow’s Foot Stitch” beg for further exploration. Who knows? They may end up in a future blog post…
2. (1850) Elizabeth Barret Browning publishes Sonnets from the Portuguese
The Lady’s Album of Fancy Work for 1850: Consisting of Novel, Elegant, and Useful Designs in Knitting, Netting, Crochet, Braiding, and Embroidery with Clear and Explicit Directions For Working The Patterns
Only two knitting patterns, but both are keepers.
The first, a bonnet preserver, is sadly missing illustrations, and I wasn’t able to discover an image online. But if I had to guess from merely reading the pattern, I think it’s something you wear on top of a bonnet to keep it nice. I’m dying of curiosity to see one. So much knitting, so little time.
The second is a pattern for the heart’s-ease flower, also known as a wild-pansy. For those of you who enjoy knitting flowers, this highly detailed pattern is a delight.
The remainder of the book is dedicated to crochet and netting.
3. (1870) Three years before Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is published
Beeton’s Book of Needlework: Consisting of Descriptions and Instructions, Illustrated by Six Hundred Engravings, of Tatting Patterns. Crochet Patterns. Knitting Patterns. Netting Patterns. Embroidery Patterns. Point Lace Patterns. Guipure D’art. Berlin Work. Monograms. Initials and Names. Pillow Lace, and Lace Stitches. Every Pattern and Stitch Described and Engraved with the utmost Accuracy and the Exact Quantity of Material requisite for each Pattern stated.
This one is a gem. Not only does it receive the award for longest-title-ever, the engravings actually are high quality, high enough so that inventive knitters could use them as inspiration for garments–ahem, more modern, perhaps–than a Knee-cap:
All joking aside, the knitting section contains your basic knitting instructions (cast-on, cast-off), a modest stitch dictionary with basic and more unusual designs, and a collection of knitting patterns for socks, shawls, antimacassars, doilies, and of course, knee-caps.
If you also happen to Tatt, Crochet, Embroider, or amazingly enough, Net, then this book is a real keeper.
Out of the selection listed here, this one is by far my favorite.
4. (1890’s?) [I’m guessing based on the font; don’t hold me to it.]
I’ll be honest; there’s not much in this one for a knitter. Baby booties, a doily, and that’s about it.
If, however, you happen to be of the crochet-persuasion (or perhaps possessed of a dual-nature and both knit and crochet 😉 ) then this is the book for you.
The Ladies Work-book has gobs, oodles, a plethora and more, of crochet. The fillet crochet patterns are beautiful, the doily patterns delicate, but it was the point-lace inspired crochet edging which truly caught my breath:
If anyone, ever, has actually made these edgings, I want to see them. The pattern is eye-watering-ly difficult, but the end result is amazing.
5. (1918) Final Year of World War I
As promised by the cover illustration, this book has actual photographs of lovely art-nouveau beauties modeling different sweaters and a crocheted tam:
I don’t know about you, but a girl can never have too many serviceable sweaters.
There are several layettes and children’s patterns included, as well as a pattern for ladies gloves which is quite nice. Knitted knee-caps make a reappearance [???], and unsurprisingly enough there is a special section dedicated to Red Cross Knitting complete with army-regulation bed socks.
And there you have it.
There are another five or six eBooks at Gutenberg.org which will come up if you search for ‘knitting’. Needless to say I downloaded them all immediately, and I’ve had quite a lot of fun going through them. I’ve even started attempting to decipher some of the lace edging patterns, and have been pleasantly pleased with my results.
So go for it! And as you are puzzling over these books–and hopefully enjoying the challenge of working with knitting patterns nearly 200 years old–take a moment to appreciate the fact that technology is keeping the art of knitting alive and accessible in ways which our fore-knitters could never have imagined.