Why I haven’t been interested in the history of my craft earlier is a mystery, although I was worried that I’d feel like I was slogging through mandatory school reading. But there are plenty of illustrations, photographs, etc. to hold my attention, and Mr. Rutt is rather a witty fellow.
I only made it to page 25 before emptying my ice coffee, but here are some tidbits that I have gathered so far.
1. Knitting needles have been made out of lots of different materials over time: steel, brass, boxwood, ivory, whalebone, casein, briar, bone, erinoid, galalith, vulcanite, tortoise shell, aluminum, and bamboo.
2. Knitting needle gauge varied according to manufacturer, even within Britain or the US. ‘British sizes were based on the British Standard Steel Wire Gauge, but were not always strictly to the standard’ (17). British needles maintained mm measures of .25 and .75, while German measures were at the .0 and .5 mm marks.
3. Rutt stresses the experiential nature of achieving proper tension: ‘…the handknitter’s knowledge of it must be intuitive and expressed chiefly through his fingers’ (16). He quotes Elizabeth Zimmerman, who says that “Time is a great leveller,” referring to the regularity of tension in older knitted pieces. Referencing wet blocking, he says that water can speed the process of stitches falling into place, but debunks the myth that knitters of the past were somehow that much more accomplished than those of us knitting today.
4. English style knitting is also debunked. Acknowledging that the form of holding the right needle like a pen is still most common in Britain, he says that it is not nearly as efficient as ‘cottage knitting’ (or Shetland) style, in which the right hand is over the needle and the needle tends to be propped under the right arm or in a needle holder of some sort. But, Victorian-era parlor knitters were concerned with delicacy and were prone to ‘airing of the little finger’ as in holding a table knife or a teacup… ‘[Ladies] thought of their work as artistic and refined’ (18).
Note: I could not find a photo that showed the needle being held pen-style, but my mother knits this way. I could only manage the Shetland style before switching to Continental, which is faster for me since I never mastered throwing. But Rutt claims that Shetland knitters could outshine not only English style knitters but also Continental.