A Knitting-Book of Counterpanes

Saturday, October 03, 2015
The Knitting Collections held by the University of Southampton Library has a treasure trove of digitized 19th century knitting manuals. Among the selections that have been put online is A Knitting-Book of Counterpanes**.
image courtesy
University of Southhampton Library Digitization Unit
Finding this was the perfect opportunity to use a vintage pattern and reproduce a knitted piece for a counterpane like the ones I wrote about in Anne of Green Gables - Cotton Warp Quilts.

I purchased a tube of white Maysville 8/4 cotton warp. It is the kind of cotton warp yarn that would have been available when A Knitting-Book of Counterpanes was published as well as the Anne of Green Gables stories.

The book has patterns for square, triangle and stripe pieces and some of the square patterns were knit on the bias (knitting on the bias involves starting with one stitch and evenly increasing each row until the desired square size is reached and then evenly decreasing back down to one stitch). I chose a bias knit square called The Cable Square Pattern (page 8) and got started.

I began knitting with size 3 needles but that gauge was too loose. I restarted two more times before being happy with the result from size 1 needles. The terms used were different from current terminology but explained well enough that I was able to match them up. For example, plain=knit, pearl=purl, M=knit in the front and back and T=knit two together. The pattern was remarkably easy to follow. When finished the piece looked more like a parallelogram than a square! However, it did block into a very nice 6"x6" square.


There are a couple of considerations when knitting a square on the bias:
  • Knitting on the bias does not initially produce a square. The piece has to be blocked into a square shape. Did 19th century women block individual pieces before stitching them together into a counterpane? It wasn't difficult or time consuming to block one square but it takes dozens of squares to make a blanket and that seems like a bit too much work.
  • Symmetry of design. Increase and decrease stitches do not look the same and when the shape or design is mirrored by using them the look is different and slightly off. On this square you can see it in the middle with the chevron design and along the edges.

    Ravelry Project Page - The Cable Square Pattern

    Final Thoughts: I initially thought I would like to make a vintage counterpane but it would take a lot of time and work so now I don't think so! However, I did very much enjoy working this piece and might work more samples from the book just for fun.

    **As of 10/3/2015 this book is no longer included in their collection. At some point, the University of Southampton revamped how their digital collection is displayed. Hopefully, they will have it back soon.

  • 4 comments:

    Carolyn said...

    As of today, the book is again available at http://pdf.library.soton.ac.uk/WSA_open_access/00402936.pdf. Thank you for this post! I'm waffling on whether or not to put a counterpane on my list of knits.

    Jen Cragen said...

    If you look at the pictures chafed by Franklin Habit, he shows a picture from a museum of a square block of wood with nails at the corners and some on each side. The nails don't have big heads, more like finishing nails. And, the knitter or crocheter would make a pile of squares and then block them on the nailed wood thing altogether. Likely sitting the bundle near a fire to dry.

    ladynthread said...

    Carolyn - Thanks for the link! I don't know why the book isn't listed in their archive but it's nice to know it's still available.

    ladynthread said...

    Jen - I've seen this way of blocking for granny square but didn't make the connection. This solution may have put making a counterpane back into the realm of a possibility. Thanks for the information.

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