Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Knitting Pins

In yet another diversion from the promised posts, I bring you antique knitting pins.

There's been a discussion over on Ravelry about antique pins, what they look like, feel like, their points, etc. And since I just happen to have a handful of them hanging around...

I took them outside on the patio and took pictures.

It all started with SeamsHistoric's question:
In the civil war era, at least, the heaviest yarns were about DK weight. The knitting needles were also much smaller; They had steel pins that were equivalent to today’s 0-000, I hear they went beyond 0000, and much longer than the steel dpns that we see today. Does anyone know what I’m talking about, and especially, where to see them/get them?
So today, coincidentally, I received my package from Webs with the yarn for my Christmas weaving. Also in that package was a brass knitting needle gauge that goes down to 0000.

So I sat down and started sizing my pins, and made a little display for you. The top pair is size 0, the regular 2mm needles we all so often use for socks. as you move down the image you'll find 00, then 000, then 0000, then a fifth pile: everything smaller than 0000.

So there you go, SeamsHistoric. They did indeed come smaller than 0000.

I went even further, and separated the pile of itty bittys (that'll be their technical term now, k?) visually. I think you may be able to trust me on this one, as I can identify by sight, without a reference, the difference between a 0.38mm and 0.58mm GC column. (So you may not know what that is, but know that I recognize itty bitties on a regular basis for work.)

Again, for scale, in the following photo you'll find the 2mm (size 0) needles. This time they're in the center, and I've placed one of each of the smaller sizes across the 2mm, with 000000 at the bottom. Yes. Six zeros.

And because I'm so particular about it, and wanted to see the gauge at which the stockings and such would have been knitted on these needles, since these are what are so often called for...I have 2x2 ribbing, 66 stitches around as an example.
That's a dime for scale. It really is 66 stitches around, and measures about 4" circumference, knit with wool crewel thread, and about equivalent to laceweight. Perfect for a baby bootie, yes? Those are 000000 needles, which would measure about 0.75mm if I had calipers here, since each size smaller than 0 goes down by 0.25mm.

each pin is made from steel, and is as smooth as drawn wire, but extremely straight and strong. Only the 0.75mm needles have any significant flex to them, but it's not more flex than a 2mm Brittany needle.

Each and every needle tip is unique. I suspect they were hand-sharpened and smoothed, as they aren't even symmetrical with themselves. The best I can do to give you an idea of the tips was to throw the lot on the scanner.

I have no idea how clear that will be, but for now it's the best I can do.

If I missed anything you wanted to know about antique knitting pins, please leave a comment and I'll see what I can discover. I do use these as knitting needles, and have knit several pairs of socks on them. I'm debating trying to do one of those Victorian patterns for baby socks that you can find online in the out-of-copyright books that are cropping up all over.

And thanks for letting me share another piece of my fascination with history and "women's work"!


Gloria Patre said...

Knitting pins are truly amazing! No wonder eyeglasses were invented! (rubber rooms too, I think!) I would imagine you could pour countless hours into a project and have only an inch or two to show for it! I can just imagine sitting a rambunctious child down to use them!! No quick gratification here! LOL!!

historicstitcher said...

I feel that way right now with the gansey I'm working on! It takes 4 hours to knit one inch of length over the 288 stitches around...I feel like I'm knitting the navy-blue-black hole!

Anonymous said...

Over at Lacis I noticed they have 8-0 pins. That's right, 00000000. Thanks for the look at your wonderful needles.

historicstitcher said...

I might have to get a set of those, just to give them a look-see. I wonder of modern knitting pins are more symmetrical or standardized than my old one?

Anonymous said...

A bit of research led me here, and I'm wondering: is knitting pin another way of saying knitting needle? Or is there a distinct difference between the objects themselves?

An internet search took me to a page telling me about these pins that look roughly like oversized safety pins that are pinned to your shirt near your shoulder and the yarn is threaded through and the purpose is to make the whole act of knitting, and especially purling, easier.

I'm thinking the term "knitting pins" has become a homonym which can either mean antique needles such as what you've shown in your post or these yarn feeder pins.

On a side note, from what I read earlier, the yarn feeders are mainly a portuguese way of knitting.

Any more information is appreciated :)

- Jenny

Debbie G said...

I recently came across two wooden cases while going through old family boxes. One has a manufacturers label which spirals around it that says "The Excelsior Knitting Pin Set". One has eight and the other six. Don't know what their age is, but they have some serious rust spots, but are oh, so interesting! And with the cases too! The cases made me think of chopstick cases or something. What a find!