Period Knitting Instructions



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Follow the links below for a variety of mid 19th-century knitting techniques taken directly from the pages of some antique Needlework books in my personal collection. If these instructions interest you, you might want to take a look at the variety of period Knitting Kits that I have available using patterns from the pages of these books. I have found these descriptions very helpful in trying to decipher mid 19th-century knitting patterns. I will add more as my collection expands. If you have any that you would like to share please Contact Us and I will add your credited information to this page.


Godey's Lady's Book 


The Ladies' Knitting and Netting Book  


The Ladies Self Instructor In Millinery & Mantua Making


Ladies Complete Guide to Crochet & Fancy Knitting


A Picture of German Home Life: and Knitting Book


The Work Woman's Guide


The Hand-Book of Needlework, 1842


Full Instructions in Needle-Work of All Kinds, Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, February 1857


Casting On.-- Hold the end of cotton between the third and little fingers of the left hand, and let it pass over the thumb and forefinger; bend the latter, and straighten it again, so that in the operation the thread shall be twisted into a loop; now catch the cotton over the little finger of the right hand, letting it pass under the third and second, and over the forefinger; take up a knitting needle, and insert it in the loop on the forefinger of the left hand; bring the thread round the needle; turn the point of the needle slightly towards you, and tighten the loop while slipping it off the finger; take the needle now in the left hand, holding it lightly between the thumb and second finger, leaving the forefinger free. This needle is kept under the hand. The other rests over the division between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, and the thumb, lightly pressing against it., holds it in its place. The forefinger has the thread carried from the left hand over the nail of it. Insert the point of the right hand needle in the loop of the left hand one; put the thread round it, and let it form a loop; transfer the loop to the left hand needle, but without withdrawing the other needle from it; again put the thread round to form a fresh loop, which slip on the left-hand needle, and repeat the process.

Plain Knitting.-- Slip the point of the right hand needle in a loop, put the thread around it, and draw it out in a new loop.

Purling.-- Slip the right-hand needle through a loop in the front of the left-hand one, so that its point is the nearest to you. The thread passes between the two, and is brought round the right-hand one, which is drawn out to form a loop on it. The thread is always brought to the front before purl stitches, unless particular directions to the contrary are given.

Twisted Knitting.-- Insert the needle of the stitch to be knitted at the back of the left hand one, and as it were, in the latter half of the loop. Finish the stitch in the usual way.

Twisted Purling.-- Insert the right hand needle in the stitch, not crossing the left hand one, as is usual, but  parallel with it. When the loop is on it, it can return to its usual place, and be finished like any other  purled stitch.

To Make Stitches.-- To make one stitch, merely bring the thread in front before knitting a stitch, as, in order to form the new stitch, it must pass over the needle, thus making one. To make two, three, or more, pass the thread round the needle in addition; once, to make two; twice, to increase three, and so on; but, when the succeeding stitch to a made stitch is purled, you must bring the thread in front, and put it once round the needle, to make one stitch.

To Take In.-- (Decrease.) Either knit two as one, which is marked in receipts as k3t; or, slip one, knit one, pass the slip-stitch over the knitted. This is either written in full, or decrease 1. When three have thus to be made into one, slip one, Knit two together, and pass the slip over.

To Slip.-- Take a stitch from the left to the right-hand needle, without knitting.

To Raise a Stitch.-- Knit as a stitch the bar of thread between two stitches.

To Join a Round.-- Four needles are used in stockings, mittens, gloves, and any other work which is round without being sewed up. Divide the number of stitches to be cast on by three; cast a third on one needle; take the second needle, slip it into the last stitch, and cast on the required number. The same with the third. Then knit two stitches off from the first needle on to the third. The round being thus formed, begin to use the forth needle for knitting.

To Join the Toe of a Sock, &c.-- Divide the entire number of stitches, putting half on each of two needles, taking care that all the front ones are on one needle, and the sole on another. Knit one off from each needle as one; repeat; then pass the first over the second. Continue as in ordinary casting off.

To Cast Off.-- Knit two stitches; pass the one first knitted over the other; knit another; pass the former over this one. Continue so.

Brioche Stitch.-- The number cast on for brioche stitch must always be divisible by three, without a remainder. Bring the thread in front, slip one, knit two together. It is worked the same way backwards and forwards.

Garter Stitch.-- Plain knitting in anything which is in rows, not rounds. The sides appear alike.

Moss Stitch.-- Knit one, purl one, alternately, in the next row, let the knitted stitch come over the purled, and vice versa.

To Knit Rapidly and Easily.-- Hold the needles as near to the points as possible, and have no more motion in the hands than you can avoid; keep the forefinger of  the left had free to feel the stitches; slide them off the needle, &c. The touch of this finger is so delicate that by using it constantly you will soon be able to knit in the dark.

Ribbed Knitting.-- Knit and purl alternately so many stitches as two. In rounds the knitted must always come over the knitted and purled over purled. But in rows the purled stitch will be done over the knitted and vice versa. Thus, if you end a row with a purled stitch, that stitch must be knitted at the beginning of the next row to make it right.



The first instructions that I have listed appear in at least two sources, word for word (even the italics! so much for copyrights.). Let me know if you see them anywhere else!!!

The Ladies' Knitting and Netting Book, by Miss Watts, Second Series, no date, page 129
The Ladies Self Instructor In Millinery & Mantua Making, Embroidery & Appliqué, 1853, page 151-152

Explanation of the Terms used in Knitting

     A turn means two rows.

    To turn means to change from plain to purled, or the reverse

    A ridge is formed by two rows when knitting with only two pins

    A loop stitch, sometimes called making a stitch, sometimes lapping over the thread, is formed by passing the thread before the needle, and in knitting the next stitch, letting it take its usual place.

    To increase in knitting a Quilt, care should always be taken to increase by knitting twice through the last stitch, which is done by knitting a stitch, and then, without taking out the needle, knitting a second at the back.

    To fasten on in knitting. It is a secure fastening to lap the two ends contrary-wise to each other, and knit a few stitches with them both.

    To narrow or decrease is to make small, to lessen, as in shaping a stocking

    Ribbed stitch, purl stitch, turned or seam stitch, are all terms having the same meaning. A turned stitch is made by bringing the cotton before the needle, and instead of putting the needle over the upper cotton, it is put under.

    To slip, take off, or pass a stitch, is to change it from one needle to another without knitting it.

    To take under, means to pass the right-hand needle through the stitch on the left-hand one, so as still to keep the same side of the stitch towards you.

    Welts are the rounds of ribbed stitches done at the top of stockings, to prevent their rolling up.

    Cast off, or slip and bind, means to end your work in the following manner; knit 2 stitches, pass the first over the second, and continue the same until you have but one left, which is finished by passing you cotton through it.

    To Decrease or narrow, is to lessen the number of stitches by knitting 2 taken together.

    To increase, or make a double stitch, is to knit one stitch in the usual way, then, without slipping out the left-hand needle, to pass the thread forward and knit a second stitch, putting the needle under the stitch. The thread must be up back when the stitch is finished..

    Hang on means cast on.

    Bring the thread forward means to pass it between the needles toward you.

    Cast over is a term I believe sometimes used by knitters to signify, bring the cotton forward. I have only used it to express, bring the cotton over the needle, quite round.

    Round the needle means the same as the last term

    Reversed means quite round the needle, the cotton being passed over the needle, and then carried back to its place.

    Together means knit 2 stitches in 1.

    Set, or Tuft, the bunches of cotton used in making some of the fringes.

    To widen means to increase.

    The netting meshes are numbered from the knitting needle gauge, as I am not aware there is any other rule for them.



Ladies Complete Guide to Crochet & Fancy Knitting, by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, Garrett & Co. New York, 1854, page 7, 86-89

History of Knitting


    We should find it difficult to trace the origin of this particular class of work-table employment, of which our book treats, except as it sprang from those intricate stitches first introduced into old point lace. The transition from one needle to more, and the weaving of thread into forms of beauty, was a progress natural to the spirit of invention, and the facilities for thought which the first step in any art creates.

    Probably the first progress which Knitting made toward a distinct art, was when yarn stockings were invented in Flanders. The stitch, as every New England housewife knows, is simple enough. But inventive genius has so adorned and varied it, that stockings are easily enriched with lace work, and lace itself is abundantly manufactured by a little thread and a pair of knitting needles. There is no female accomplishment so universal as this of knitting. The women of different nations perform the simple stitches with a process of their own, but the result is the same. In Germany and Russia, the yarn is held in the left hand, and wound in an intricate fashion among the fingers of that hand, while with us it is simply folded over the front and little finger of the right hand. The author remembers well the amazement and merry smiles of a Russian lady in St. Petersburg, when she exhibited this American method of producing the stitch the lady had been forming in the continental fashion; this was but natural; fro the amusement was quite mutual. Nothing cold be droller than the way in which she handled her needles.

    All over Europe, ladies may be seen in their balconies after dinner, grouped around their work baskets, while the gentlemen converse with them, or silently watch the progress of their pretty tasks. in the sitting-room of every mansion, some one corner is rendered cozier than the rest, by the well-used work-table, laden with pretty boxes and baskets, crowned with a rainbow wreath of Berlin wool. Fashionable as this household accomplishment is getting among us, American ladies devote themselves les to needlework than those of almost any other nation.


Knitting Instructions



Whatever other arts may become popular among ladies, that of Knitting will ever be held in high estimation, not merely from the elegance of the articles produced by an accomplished knitter, but from the great facility it offers for the employment of the invalid, the aged, and the blind. The dexterity the last named acquire, is too well known to need comment, nor would I remark on it but for the sake of convincing those who possess the blessing of sight, that there is no good reason for a piece of simple knitting so absorbing eyes, ears and thoughts, as to render them the mere knitting machines they usually are. To see young ladies stooping, with rounded shoulders and contracted chest, over a simple piece of knitting, no one would imagine that they are exercising an art in which the blind are the greatest adepts. The fact is, that the blind exercise their sense of touch as well as their memory, until the most elaborate pattern is produced in a manner perfectly mechanical; why then should we not be able, in the same manner, to use our fingers, whilst our thoughts, tongues, and eyes, are at liberty for the enjoyment of more intellectual pleasures? A few hints will very soon enable knitters to pursue their favorite occupation whilst reading, studying, or conversing; and although it may appear a matter of little or no consequence to be able to knit by touch, none of us can tell how soon sickness or weak sight may compel us to abandon all employment which requires strong light or exertion of thought.

    The sense of touch appears to be most accurate at the extreme points of the fingers; and it is desirable so to hold our work as to avail our selves of this power. The needles are to be held in the following manner: --

    The work being held in the left hand, the needle must be held closely pressed between the palm and the third and fourth fingers, whilst the foremost stitches are kept near the point by the thumb and second finger; the first is thus left free to assist in Knitting, slipping the stitches forward, shortening the point of the needle, &c. The usual mode of knitting, is to hold the stitch between the thumb and the first finger; and those who have been accustomed to this method, and will try mine, will be astonished at the rapidity with which the delicate point of the fore finger distinguishes between one kind of stitch and another; the other needle is held between the thumb and first finger of the right hand, and rests on the hand. The thread is passed loosely round the little finger, under the second and third, and over the tip of the first, which is quite close to the needle. The thumb should be quite quiet -- The jerking motion, so observable in some knitters, being both inelegant and detrimental to the work.

    Knitting needles should have no sharp points. The needles should gradually taper to a rounded, smooth end, half an inch, at least, being thus gradually diminished. I have, as yet, only found one make of this description; but in no manufactured article is there a greater difference than between good and bad knitting needles.

    Some patterns have a much better effect woven than knitted, principally from the superior method of diminishing; of that, and the best mode of casting on, I have given diagrams.

    Fig. 1. -- This gives the first process in casting on with two needles, (by far the best method.) Make a loop with your finger and thumb, slip the needle in, and with the thread (a) knit in the ordinary wary. This forms the first loop. You will now hold the needle in the left-hand; take another in the right, and slip it into the last loop. With the point of the finger, carry the thread between the two needles and bring the point of the right hand needle in front, (fig. 2) when the stitch is completed. It must then be slipped on to the left-hand needle, and the process repeated.

    Fig. 3 -- Purling, (or pearling,) is generally known, The right-hand needle is inserted in the front of the stitch, the thread passed round it, and then the point pushed backwards, and drawn out behind.

    Fig. 4 -- Represents the woven method of knitting three together, which should always be employed where the centre stitch is intended for the uppermost one. The usual mode is this; -- slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slip stitch over the knitted. The best way is to slip two together off the needle, knit the third, and slip the two over. The centre of the three stitches will then be the front one. If a stitch is to be made before and after, you will merely bring the thread in front on each occasion.

   Figs. 5 and 6 -- Show the manner of purling three together in the back rows, to correspond with the knitted ones. We will suppose an open hem to be on each side, as seen in fig.7. Put the thread round the needle, immediately before the loose stitch c: then insert the point of the right-hand needle in b c, taking both off the left-hand. Purl a and slip the others over them.

    In working from knitting receipts it is necessary to remember that no two people knit alike, and therefore, the needles which suit one person admirably, will be too large, or too small for another. I give the sizes which suit an ordinary worker; but those who are conscious of being very light or very loose knitters, will do well to use needles one or two sizes coarser or finer.

    I trust that the above observations will enable every reader to understand perfectly the receipts for various choice and beautiful patterns in knitting, which I shall introduce, from time to time in our pages. I therefore proceed, at once to the articles represented in the Engraving.


A Picture of German Home Life: and Knitting Book, by Madame Apolline Flohr, G. C. Caines, London, circa 1848.

Definition of Terms.

Having already presumed that my fair readers are sufficiently versed in the art of knitting so as to render any explanation of the more familiar terms superfluous, I shall merely offer a glossary of those not frequently met with in works of the kind; thus

A row, when the stitches are on two, three, or more needles, is termed a round.

Knitting with the thread before the needle is termed pearling.

Ribbing signifies working plain and pearl knitting in alternate rows.

Making a stitch, by bringing the thread forward after a knitted stitch, is directed in the following pages under the term "bring the thread forward;" and making a stitch, by passing the thread over the needle before and after a pearled stitch, is termed "passing the thread over."

Two stitches, made by bringing the thread forward, and then (by turning it round the needle) bringing it forward again, are described as "bringing the thread forward twice;" and where this is done, one must be pearled and the other knitted in the next row.

The thread must of course be passed back under the needle where the stitch following a pearled stitch is to be knitted before it can be done; and when a pearled stitch is to follow a knitted stitch, the thread must be brought in front under the needle -- differing from the process of passing the thread over and bringing it forward, both which are done above the needle to make the stitch.

Changing the stitch from one needle to another without knitting it is described as "slipping or passing a stitch"

A weaver's knot is the best mode of fastening on in using silk or fine cotton; but in other materials, I recommend this process to be done -- by placing the two ends contrariwise and knitting six or eight stitches both together.

To knit and pearl three together means to knit or pearl three stitches taken together in one.

To cross two stitches -- the right over the left. -- Take the first stitch on a third needle; knit the second stitch; and then the first: the left over the right -- take the first stitch on the left side of the work on a third needle; knit the left stitch, and bring the right hand stitch forward and knit it. The same directions will suffice for crossing two stitches for pearling, using the word pearl instead of knit.

To twist and knit a stitch. Take the stitch from behind; twist it; bring it forward and knit it.

To twist and pearl a stitch. -- Bring the thread forward; take a stitch from behind; slip it from the left needle; twist it; put it back; and pearl it.

The mode of abbreviation most in use is adopted in the directions in this work, to prevent the tautology which could not have been otherwise avoided.

The Work Woman's Guide, by a Lady, 1838


General Observations - Knitting is the art of uniting worsted, or any other material together, w2ithout the aid of a loom. This work is applied to stockings, socks, boots, coverlids, and various other articles of wear or ornament, and is generally done with worsted, cotton or silk, but as the latter material properly belongs to fancy work, it will not be often mentioned.

Knitting Pins or Needles - As they are variously called, are made of iron or brass, for common use, and steel for best. They can be procured of every size and thickness, and are sold in sets, each set containing four pins. These sets cost from 1/8d. to 2d. each, according to the metal and size.
    Ivory, bone, whalebone, steel, rosewood, ebony, and cane pins, of a larger size and thickness, are employed for knitting coverlids, boots, carpets, and other thickly knit articles. These are sometimes twenty inches, or two feet long, and have a knob at one end to prevent the stitches from slipping off. Of these pins two or three form the set. For schools, common pins may be procured from a carpenter or turner, for 2d. a set, whereas the former are charged at from 1s. 6d. to 8s or 9s the set.

Materials for Knitting - Worsted, lambs' wool, or fleecy wool, is used for stockings, and other wearing articles.
    Cotton is employed for curtains, window blinds, bags, fringe, &c.
    These materials are always sold by the weight; one pound contains sixteen ounces.
    The expense of wools and worsteds varies so materially, that an average
price can hardly be stated. It has been sold as low as 2s per pound, and as
high as 6s.6d. Crimsons are the most expensive colours, greens and oranges
the next, blue is more moderate, and black, grey, purple, and pepper and
salt are the least expensive, always excepting white, which is the lowest of
    Grey and white common worsted contain a good deal of turpentine, and are often preferred by the poor on that account.
    Black should be well soaked in strong vinegar, to set the colour, and prevent its coming off on the hands while being knitted.
    Worsted are more suitable for men's and women's stockings.
    Wools for children's stockings, or for muffetees, ruffs, and other lighter articles of wear, which should be soft and warm.
    All worsteds and wools should be carefully wrapped up in the coarsest brown paper, which also contains turpentine, and keeps out the air. They should be often looked to, as the moths are apt to get at them and spoil them.
    Worsteds in use should be neatly wound in small balls, about the size of an orange.

On Knitting Stitches - In knitting, keep the ball in the pocket, or in a bag hung to the arm, or a basket, and do not allow it to roll on the table or floor, to get dusted.
    There are a great variety of knit stitches, all of which, are founded on the following kinds, beginning with casting or setting on stitches, all of which will be explained in due order.

The Hand-Book of Needlework, Miss Lambert, 1842

Explanation of Terms Used in Knitting

To cast on. -- The first interlacement of the cotton on the needle.

To cast off. -- To knit two stitches, and to pass the first over the second, and so on to the last stitch, which is to be secured by drawing the thread through.

To cast over. -- To bring the cotton forward round the needle.

To narrow. -- To lessen, by knitting two stitches together.

To seam. -- To knit a stitch with the cotton before the needle.

To widen. -- To increase by making a stitch, bringing the cotton round the needle, and knitting the same when it occurs.

A turn. -- Two rows in the same stitch, backwards and forwards.

To turn. -- To change the stitch

A row. -- The stitches from one end of the needle to the other

A round. -- A row when the stitches are on two, three, or more needles

A plain row. -- That composed of simple knitting

To pearl a row. -- To knit with the cotton before the needle

To rib. -- To work alternate rows of plain and pearl knitting

To bring the thread forward. -- To bring the cotton forward so as to make an open stitch.

A loop stitch. -- Made by bringing the cotton before the needle, which, in knitting the succeeding stitch, will again take its own place

To slip or pass a stitch. -- To change it from one needle to the other without knitting it.

To fasten on. -- The best way to fasten on is to place the two ends contrariwise, and knit a few stitches with both together. For knitting with silk or fine cotton, a weaver's knot, will be found the best.

To take under. -- To pass the cotton from one needle to the other, without changing its position.

Pearl, seam, and rib-stitch,. -- All signify the same.

N.B. The sizes of the needles are given according to the filière, drawn on page 94

It is necessary in giving or following directions for knitting, to caution knitters to observe a medium in their work -- not knitting either too loose or too tight.

Hints on Knitting

A plain stitch at the beginning of each row, called by Madame Gaugain an edge stitch, is a great improvement in most instances, as it makes an uniform edge, and the pattern is kept more even at its commencement. In most knitting, the edge-stitch is slipped.

It is said that knitting should be taught to children, when young; it is curious to observe how much more readily those persons handle the needle, who have learnt it in childhood.

It is easiest to learn to knit by holding the wool over the fingers of the left hand; the position of the hands is more graceful when thus held.

It is always advisable to cast on loosely.

When it is requisite to cast off, and continue the row on a separate needle, it is sometimes better to run a coarse silk through the cast off stitches; they are easily taken up when required, and the inconvenience of the idle needle is avoided, -- as for instance, in working children's shoes.



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