Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Holding Needles

Sometimes I record strange little films on Turner Classic Films to have on while knitting. A description calls to me and I give it a shot. Such was the case with "The Ghost Train," a British film from 1941.

Imagine my glee when I saw that one of the characters was knitting! She seemed to be working on an amorphous blob. She was knitting rather rapidly, I might add -- although something seemed strange. It was the way she held her right needle like a pen rather than like a knife. I knew people knitted this way, but I'd never seen it.

I dug through my copy of A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt and found this on page 17:
By the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign (and perhaps for a while before) English ladies, as distinct from working knitters, had abandoned the older way of holding knitting needles. Instead of holding the right-hand needle under the palm of the right hand they began to hold it like a pen, grasping the point between the thumb and index finger and allowing the shaft to lie over the thumb joint. Before long, working class knitters, especially in southern England, began to emulate the new fashion, which is inefficient and limits the speed of knitting, but is to this day the commonest way of knitting in England.
Do you or anyone you know knit this way? I thought it looked quite elegant, but on reflection realized I would be terrible at it. The character in the clip, Miss Bourne, was played by Kathleen Harrison. I don't know if there is any correlation between longevity and the way one holds knitting needles, but Kathleen Harrison lived to the ripe old age of 103.

On my own personal knitting front, I'm kind of in project limbo right now. I'm still plugging away on the piano bench. I recently purchased some books that should show up soon, and I've also got some yarn together for a blanket project for the in-laws. But nothing to show right now. Hence the detour into film and knitting history.


  1. i love that you have knitting history books on hand. that's so great and also interesting.

  2. Ok, you are really a nerd. Don't get me wrong, I love it. How fantastic that you have this info at your fingertips!

    Have a good evening.

  3. So how many knitting history books do you have? ;-)

  4. Do you remember when the Crone had something negligble to say about knitting? I mentioned it on my blog ages ago:


    Hmmm maybe this is what she was referring to?

    Not that she was right. On this or, indeed, on any points.

    Uncle C

  5. Hmm.. looks like I have another movie to add to my list of films to watch. Ther very first knitting book I borrowed from the library insisted that the way shown in the film was the only way to properly hold the needles, that it was vulgar to place your hand on top while knitting. I had such a frustrating time holding the needles this way that I quit trying to knit for a couple years. The book was published in the fifties, I believe, and I'd love to be able to find it again. (It has the pattern my Nanny used for all my dad's sweaters.)

  6. I need to get that book, I'm sooo interested in reading it.
    I don't think I could successfully hold my needles like that.

  7. Funny - because this comes up in so many of my beginning knitting classes! Every 20th student (or so) naturally grabs one or both needles like pencils. I've read the Rutt book, as well as _No Idle Hands - The Social History of American Knitting_...and I always tell the students who do this that they're knitting the "pretty" way. I love to watch it in action. Thanks for the clip!