Here is my first historical knit of the year, and very timely it is, too, as the weather here can be quite cold at the moment (for southern California, mind), and in fact has gone all gloomy this morning, so a pair of warm cuffs is just the thing. I wanted to make something with that lovely Blue-faced Leicester wool, though at DK weight it is considerably thicker than the original "four-thread Berlin wool" (The helpful article "Everyone His Own Knitting Needles" by Colleen Formby tells us that four-thread Berlin is equivalent to modern fingering weight) -- but the British Blue is a pleasure to knit with, from start to finish, and I don't mind compromising a bit now and then, especially since I am also being economical by using what is on hand!
The Godey's page shows how very basic old knitting patterns were -- I mean, yes, it's pretty obvious that you would have to bind off at some point (!), but it doesn't tell you how long to make the cuffs, to put the top border on, or to sew it up. It's pretty generous of them, in fact, judging by a number of historical knitting patterns I've seen, just to tell the knitter what size needles to use.
The cuffs are fairly obviously knitted flat, by the double knitting instructions. But I really don't much care for seams on my hands, so I worked my cuffs in the round, since of course this was well-known in 1861. I can understand why this particular pattern isn't though, since double-knitting in the round nearly makes me tear out my hair. Knitting the first attempts -- and I made numerous ones, trying to get the sizing right in this gauge -- I said, "Gaahhh!" more times working these things than in all my life up to this point, I guess.
Over an even number of sts:
- Round 1: *K1, sl 1 p-wise wyif, rep from * to end.
- Round 2: *Sl 1 k-wise wyib, P1, rep from * to end.
For a long time, my brain just did not want to slip a knit stitch and work a purl one. This was not "mindless knitting," to be sure! I ended up having to stop murmuring to myself, "slip one, purl one, slip one purl one" since even though I was actually saying it, after a few minutes my fingers would just knit the stitch I was supposed to be slipping -- I had to stop thinking about the slipped stitches entirely, and just say "purl, [get the next one out of the way], purl, [get the next one out of the way]". It's also surprisingly difficult to tell which round you are on, since once you have moved the working yarn around to wherever it's supposed to be for the next stitch, the just-worked stitches compress and you can't really tell unless you really interrogate it whether you just worked it or slipped it.
I couldn't help remembering Elizabeth Zimmermann saying in The Knitter's Almanac that double knitting always seemed to her "though fascinating, a great waste of time," because each stitch has to be handled twice, either knitting it or slipping it, then vice versa on the next row. "The result is a rather charming tube of stocking-stitch, which occasionally sticks together where you made a mistake". She does admit, though, that double knitting is light and fluffy, which she of course would have understood is because of the slipping process, since it stretches the stitch a little bit lengthwise -- this makes one's gauge a bit larger than regular stockinette would be even on the same needles, but does give the fabric that soft fluffiness.
To compensate for this difference in gauge, Elizabeth always casts on far fewer stitches for the edging and increases to size for the double-knitted section. I suspect that the reason the Godey's pattern calls for such a large number of cast-on sts relative to the double-knitted section is because if you use a smaller number for the garter edges, you will have to work a more-than-usually stretchy cast-on and an exceptionally stretchy bind-off, otherwise you won't be able to get the cuffs over your hands! But I like a snug cuff, and so having learned the lesson early from Elizabeth, I went with her suggestion to cast on half the number of sts required, so that the cuff fitted smoothly but not tightly.
I ended up casting on 30 sts in crochet cast-on with the white wool, working 6 rnds of garter st (not 4, it just looked better with another ridge), with purple Kfb on every st, then 50 rnds of double knitting, then with white dec'd every other st (with an SSK because it looked better, disguising the decrease rnd), then 5 more rnds garter, and finally a suspended bind-off to match the crochet cast-on. (It's curious that although the British Blue must be considerably heavier than a fingering-weight "four-thread Berlin", my double-knitted section is only 6 sts fewer than the original larger size!) And as it happened, I set this down for a few weeks, and then when I picked it up again my fingers seemed to suddenly get the hang of double-knitting in the round, and I managed to whip out each cuff in merely hours.
I was tempted, though in the end I did not, to make a vertical buttonhole a few rounds from the top of the double knitting section, so that the cuffs could be worn as muffatees if so desired -- I think this would also be an appropriate period variation, and I might make another pair later and incorporate the idea.
(Double knitting in the round with one strand of yarn, by the way, produces a tube except at the beg/end of the round. Because the wool must be moved from one side to the other, it will necessarily have to go across the inside of the "tube" at this point. There is also a slight ladder here, so I would advise taking these into consideration also, when deciding whether or not to work it in the round.)
The new badge is a painting called "Old Woman Knitting" (ca.1882) by Thomas Eakins. I don't find anything more about it online -- I wonder if it was an oil sketch for a proposed, more finished, painting, hence the grid. I like it very much the way it is.
The Project: "Winter Cuffs in Double Knitting"
Year or Period: 1861
Materials: 2 skeins British Blue Wool (pure Blue-faced Leicester) in Milk (white) and French (greyish purple), 2.5mm needles
Hours to complete: 29 January and 31 January 2017 (a day for each cuff!)
How historically accurate is it? I think my modifications are quite within the bounds of what a period knitter might do with the wool she had in hand, except for the gauge of the British Blue and possibly the suspended bind-off
Sources/Documentation: Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, no.62-63 (1861), p.164 (the pattern is reproduced in full in the image in this post)