By Victorian times, wealthier ladies were taking up hand knitting again (including Queen Victoria herself who was an avid knitter). The 1850’s saw the introduction of chemical dyes, so a huge variety of new colours became available. As well as Crewel embroidery wools, cotton was now introduced as a knitting yarn. As these yarns were so fine, very thin needles were required (often made by the local blacksmith from wires) and intricate patterns started to develop.
With the advent of ladies magazines in Victorian times, knitting patterns started to appear. Yarns became more readily available and were not just a preserve of the very rich. Throughout Victorian times knitting supplies were still limited – knitting yarns were still basically embroidery threads of silk, cotton, linen and wool, but knitting needles were not commercially produced until the late 19th Century. Although knitting patterns were becoming more readily available, they were often written as a recipe rather than the step-by-step patterns we are familiar with today. During Victorian times hand knitted garments also became fashionable, as can be seen by the many surviving patterns from this time.
Fashion knits started to take over from household items in the early 20th Century. Advances in synthetic fibres, thicker knitting yarns and mass-produced knitting needles lead to hand knitting becoming a major pastime. Knitting yarn was mechanically spun into small balls, rather than large hanks (skeins) which needed to be wound by hand before they could be used, very often the task of the child or husband was to sit with hands held out, the hank of yarn was draped over the fingers and the knitter would laboriously wind the yarn into a ball.
Unfortunately by the 1960’s home-knitting machines had been introduced and these proved popular with many people, as the knitting process was speeded up. Although many people still enjoyed hand knitting, by the 1990’s fewer people were learning to knit. Thankfully the skills have not died out completely and knitting is enjoying another resurgence, with ever more extreme forms of knitting being introduced. Hand spun and dyed yarns are becoming popular again, as are very thin knitting needles, which are often required to work these special yarns.
Miniature knitters still use fine silk, crewel yarns, cottons and linens designed for embroidery and hand crafted knitting needles. So just remember next time you pick up your miniature knitting you are keeping very ancient skills alive and well….