Knitting geekery

“You’re going to love me,” said my friend.

I should have replied, “I already love you,” but instead she meant she had a bag for me in her car. My friend’s mother, in the process of cleaning out her house, had given her a bag of stuff and said, “Can you use these?”

My friend looked in the bag and said, “No, but I know someone who can!”

(You can click on any of the photos to see them larger if you want to geek out too.)




Yeah.  This is a stash of knitting tools assumed to be from my friend’s grandmother and great aunt, and any other relatives who passed along knitting needles.  I sat at the kitchen table for about half an hour playing with the stash, and another half hour browsing through the patterns.


(I love how some of the needles were stored in a Thin Mint box.)

Some of the knitting books date back to 1936. (!) And the needles — some are plastic needles, but there’s a set of metal needles so much heavier than my aluminum needles that they pretty much have to be made of steel.

After I finished geeking out over all the needles, I started doing the geek-thing and analyzing, and I realized…knitting is the same, but the knit-tech is a bit different.

First off, whoever’s stash this was, they loved socks. There are sock needles galore in here, so many that in the needle case there’s no more room in the size 2 and 3 slots, so the extras are bunched up at the ends.


But no zeros or smaller. And oddly enough, no needles larger than a size 8. (I used my needle sizer and verified that the sizing is consistent with what I’m using today.)

So what’s the difference? These are the needles of a Real Knitter. And I’ll prove it, because I also have her patterns. And based on her patterns, what is she knitting?

1) Socks, lots of them. Argyle socks for the most part, but also some textured socks. No lace socks, but lots of cables and ribbing.

2) Hats, mittens.

3) Sweaters

Everything had colorwork. I can’t do colorwork because I haven’t learned it yet, but there’s colorwork in just about every pattern (at least those I could see — not all the patterns have pictures so you can tell what the finished object should look like.)

What’s not there? Shawls. Lace. Pretty decorative stuff. Weird things like Ken joked about in a recent comment (“tree sweaters”). Because this person was knitting to keep people warm, as opposed to knitting because it’s kind of cool to knit.

What’s also not there? Large-size needles. Nothing you could use to knit chunky yarn or super-bulky yarn. Maybe in part because it would be hard to do colorwork on super-thick yarn, but maybe also because no one was doing that.

What else isn’t there? Circular needles. I guess because a) no really long shawls and b) sweaters were all being done flat and seamed up, rather than being knit in the round.

A couple of years ago, my mother gave me my great-aunt’s crocheting tools for my birthday, and they’re just amazing too, working with the tools of people who used these tools to provide warmth and cover (or income) for their families.


This isn’t quite the same as putting your nose to the F-holes of an old violin and smelling the scent of Time. But it comes very close to touching Love.


  1. iGrrrl

    The needles and this post are so very lovely.

  2. captcardor

    When I was a kid in the early 1950’s I used to get lunch for the owner of a curtain store. He also did a side business in yarn and I recognize some of the pattern books in the picture. I guess I’m older than dirt…LOL!

  3. atomiclulu

    There are so many wonderful tutorials online how to do stranding and colorwork. I was very intimidated by it at first. Now I want everything FairIsle :). If you ever want to photo copy and swap vintage patterns let me know ! I adore old patterns too.

  4. itwasjudith

    wow, such a good luck 🙂 the Nordic magazine and the colourwork also seem very interesting.. enjoy!

  5. nantubre

    Awesome! My mother tried to teach me to crochet for years and I never could do much more than a chain stitch. But I can do basic knitting. I even knit wire with beads for jewelry! Love your blog, by the way.

  6. Pat

    I think knitting in the round is actually centuries old (there’s a lovely painting of Mary knitting a little shirt on dpns), but the circular needle is a recent invention.

  7. Ken Rolph

    There is a lot of good tools lurking around in sheds and spare rooms. I have a set of planes from the late 1800s which are perfectly functional. Recently was given a shoe box full of iron tools which the owners could not identify. It was passed down to them after a death in the family. It was a set of leather-working tools. I have a set of old saws for which I am making replacement handles.

    Currently in the shed is an old dining room chair upside down on some saw horses ready to varnish. It has lovely spiral turned uprights. I’ll need to get the seat re-upholstered. The chair was wonky from dry joints, so I took it apart, sanded it down and re-glued it. My cousin is a part-time chaplain in a retirement village, so I get passed on a lot of things from people moving from large houses into small units.

    Most of the old items are much better quality than anything we see today. Last year I bought a Chinese-made electric planer for $20. It lasted about a month. I don’t know if fibre and fabric tools have suffered the same, but I suspect you don’t break a steel knitting needle by sitting on it.