textiles · exploration · misadventure

Madrona-ing, Part III: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Teaches Knitting for Speed and Efficiency


How do you do a blog post on something you have no pictures of?

The class was fascinating, Stephanie was her low-key, down-to-earth self, and we learned A LOT about knitting history. For instance, up until the Victorian Era, knitting was not only not gendered specifically female, but it was primarily income-based work for peasants.

In the gendered era of knitting, we see “pretty knitting,” like this:

pretty knitting








This woman ain’t gonna be getting anything bound off any time soon.

In the non-gendered “knitting is work” era, you see historical images like this:

a sock a day



See that sock in her hand? Women like this one typically produced A SOCK LIKE THAT IN ABOUT A DAY. They did it in between hauling peat, making bread, taking care of children, milking cows, making dinner, and god knows what else.

I know. It makes me want to drink too.

But knitting like that is what this class was about: how to hold onto it, what to put where, how to knit and purl, what we can expect as far as speed increase, how to work up to that, how this hand position is more ergonomically healthy. You use 14” needles: one stuffed under your arm, and the other to feed the stitches onto it. It’s not pretty, but it works. So, Second Clone: you get to learn efficiency and speed, and get all of our knitting done. Get to work!

Oh, wait! I have ONE picture. Here you go. Good stuff, right?

my one picture

6 thoughts on “Madrona-ing, Part III: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Teaches Knitting for Speed and Efficiency

  1. Marvellous Lou. As i love history, I was fascinated by your description, particularly taken in by the second picture of the barefooted woman with a burden on her back and a bunch of knitting in her right hand- where do you think she held the needles ?
    Why did you say the woman in the first picture is not likely to get anything bound soon ?
    And also why did you want to drink too ?
    Just curiosity !


    • I read somewhere that the pretty style, I.e. English, was developed to look attractive, or something, but is generally slower.
      Also, I’m not old enough to drink, but I would want to eat copious amounts of chocolate in envy of a person who could knit a sock in a day!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that’s exactly right. It was part of the gender transition of knitting from ungendered work done by women, men, and children for income, to frilly, pretty, non-income-oriented, decorative needlework performed by Victorian housewives who had much less to do with their time. Interesting, ney? And yes! Alcohol, chocolate, insert your addiction of choice! (:


    • Hi, Susie! So glad you are interested by the post. That woman held one needle in a special knitting needle belt around her waist. You can kind of see the needle sticking out from her waist, if you click and enlarge the picture. The non-dominant hand holds the needle with stitches on it, and feeds them onto the needle in the belt. It looks like she was using double-pointed needles, so those would hold some of the knitting too. The woman in the first picture is not going to get anything bound off soon, because the style of knitting she’s practicing—the same style practiced by a large portion of North America, England, and parts of Europe—is a style of knitting that looks delicate and feminine, but is relatively slow compared to the “lever knitting,” we learned in this class.
      I wanted to drink at the thought of that woman completing *that much knitting* in one day, while still doing all she had to do to run her household. That amount of knitting would take most of today’s knitters a week or more to complete. And women like one that churned out *millions* of stockings that big, day after day, week after week, year after year. It’s just boggling to consider the amount of knitting they completed in the time they had. It was desperately needed income, and they did what they had to do. Amazing. Sorry for such a lengthy reply—so much to cover!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the lengthy reply-no, don’t apologise. It makes me feel closer to you.


  2. The wealthier women of the past had the time to crochet & knit. The poor were lucky to get their hands or make any yarn & like you wrote, they worked non stop. Love the whole history.

    Liked by 1 person

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