MKB 36: Shell Pattern

The 36th pattern in Miss Lambert’s unillustrated knitting manual, My Knitting Book (First Series, 1843), is the last of twelve stitch patterns for d’oyleys (doilies) and other household items (e.g. fish napkins, tidies, basket napkins). The pattern is called XII. Shell Pattern and is essentially a feather and fan stitch. The written design is reasonably straightforward, comprising just four rows:

Like with some of the other stitch patterns in this book, I made a few changes to the written pattern for symmetry substituting left-leaning increases (e.g. ssk) for some of the right-leaning decreases called for in the written pattern (e.g. k2tog).

I cast on 56 stitches for my sample to allow for two repeats of the pattern and a three stitch garter border on each side. I used fingering weight yarn and 2mm needles.

The result is what we might today call a feather and fan or old shale pattern. According to Barbara Walker, this is a traditional and “famous old Shetland pattern” and “in the Shetland Isles, no two families of knitters work the pattern alike” (A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (1998, p. 205). She also notes that the name “old shale” is said to be related to the ripple pattern that a wave makes in the sand. It is also interesting that in Barbara Walker’s version of the pattern, she uses only k2tog and no ssk.

I was curious to know when Shetland knitting became popular in England and discovered that its popularity soared when Queen Victoria became interested in this lace style in the 1840s. In her role as an embroideress to Queen Victoria and proprietor of a needlework emporium in London, Miss Lambert was likely up to date on the Queen’s preferences regarding fashion and could reflect this in her publications.

I have a blanket made in the 1970s that is a feather and fan pattern and I never really thought about how old the actual stitch pattern might be. Now I know that it has been around for over 177 years!

One thought on “MKB 36: Shell Pattern

  1. I really like this version of feather & fan as the scallops seem deeper than the ‘regular’ one in presnt day stitch books. Unless of course it is your knitting technique and not the pattern, in which case I need to up my game! Beautiful sample either way.


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