The lost art of french knitting

And some unrelated roses….Ive been distracted this week by french knitting…what can I say, I’m obviously very easily distracted!

French knitting nancyMaia has been wanting to crochet, but at almost 6 it is still too difficult for her to master just yet, so we have been giving french knitting a go.  This lovely vintage wooden cotton reel was gifted by our neighbor Stephanie and with the addition of 4 nails, made just the knitter I remember having as a child. Unfortunately it was still not easy enough for her to manage on her own, so it was back to the drawing board…

French knitting nancyA quick look around the internet turned up many many options for french knitters (or knitting nancys if your prefer); so we devised this one:

french knittingAnd without the aid of a hook successfully created this scarf? Errr… necklace?

french knittingBilly wanted to get in on the photo shoot (actually I think he was eyeing up the wool)…

french knittingShe’s pretty proud of her creation, but I’m not convinced this will become a favorite pass-time just yet 🙂 Maybe in another year or two…

Have you ever tried french knitting or do you remember learning to as a child? I actually find it quite therapeutic, even now! Jxx

PS.The roses were a gift from the Mum of a school friend of Maia’s – I admit to longingly staring at them when I went to collect her (and perhaps mentioning once or twice just how beautiful they were) – so that they were offered is no surprise really.  I really had to share them, they are gorgeous, huge old fashioned blooms with a delicious scent, (oh how I wish I could share that with you over the internet).  These photos were taken just as they were at the peak of open-ness a few hours before the petals began to drop. Tonight they are looking rather sad, but I don’t want to throw them out just yet, so I think Ill leave them on the table for just one more day.

48 thoughts on “The lost art of french knitting

  1. Jo says:

    One lovely old lady in our family used to use a slightly bigger knitter than this one and then stuffed the knitted tube with sheeps wool as she went. You then stitch it together in a spiral and it makes the most beautiful and warm rugs! 🙂


  2. wendy says:

    beautiful roses, gorgeous daughter and I like your cat ☺☺ Clever girl and took me way back
    to when I had a knitting nancy gosh over 40yrs ago. I still would be happy to do the 4nail option.
    wendy in oz


  3. yellowlancer says:

    Loved French Knitting when I was in about grade 3. We had a real contest going at school to see who could make the longest. I’ve been writing a novel for NaNoWriMo and a few days ago my main character was reminiscing about French knitting 🙂
    Well done Maia 🙂


  4. silverblackbird says:

    My best friend and I started french knitting when we were about 7 or 8 – we both ended up with chains that stretched from one end of the classroom to the other twice over, but never actually made anything from them. I’m sure mine must still be around somewhere…


  5. ruthsplace says:

    I loved French Knitting as a kid. I bought my 5 year old a knitting nancy for her birthday, so far she shows no interest, though she is doing the tapestry kit we got her so all is not lost in terms of the yarny arts.


  6. mam'zelle flo says:

    I’m French and was quite intrigued when I saw the title of this post.
    Here we call it “tricotin” as opposed to real knitting with needles called “tricot”. I used to make long cords when I was little, I challenged myself to make the longer cords I could and I loved it. Didn’t know what to do with the finished cord though.
    And I think your roll & crayons loom is brilliant! one could easily add more crayons too. I’m going to try to convince myself that I really don’t need a new hobby, but it might not be easy 🙂


    • Linne says:

      I like the roll and crayons model, too. For myself (if I ever get to making one of those rugs, I might use something sturdier for the centre, like poly pipe, perhaps.


  7. Stocki says:

    Lovely neck-lace Maia!! I love French knitting…I have been doing it forever…and have several different sizes of ‘tooly things’…but recently (and hide this from Maia if you want her to carry on with her spool)…I bought a MACHINE!!! It’s only plastic… but my goodness it churns out the tubes! The downside… not much pride in what you produced because it didn’t take hours of work… but it is an alternative! Lovely roses :)x


  8. akaayla63 says:

    I’m feeling a lil left out, I have never heard of french knitting so this is new to me. I’m finding it fascinating & will have to do some research- thank you for introducing me to this! I really have to add that you have a cute lil model & what a great job she did on the necklace! I’m guessing the kitty is the stand in model – lol – both are very photogenic.


  9. rainbowjunkiecorner says:

    I remember that way of making a french knitting machine as all cotton reels were wooden when I was a child. I was also given one that looked like a doll with nails coming out of her head and still have it somewhere. I like your version though and think the resulting necklace is really lovely.

    Also love the thought of your roses. Everytime I am given roses, I go to smell them but these days am normally disappointed.


    • Linne says:

      I had my first one nearly 60 years ago and loved it, too. We just called it spool knitting; I like ‘French Knitting’ better; sounds elegant as the product.
      As to scented roses, I don’t know if you can get them where you live, but look for the David Austen roses; he bred old-fashioned roses that are more resistant to the common rose problems. I’ve had them a few times and they are delicious.


  10. Lori Lynn Lydell says:

    I remember my dad making me one of these out of and old thread spool of my grandmothers. I started to crochet when I was about 8 so it won’t be long for your girl. I just treated myself to an official knitting nancy when i was Christmas shopping on-line for my husband and sons. Another fun thing to try that makes a square-ish cord is a lucet. I picked one up a few years ago and have made some neat cord from it. ALSO you can knit or crochet with the cord you make from the knitting nancy or the lucet and make a neat rug, placemat, or coaster.


  11. badagle says:

    When I learned this, my mom called it spool knitting. It was the first yarn craft I could do on my own. But I learned to crochet when I was 6, with thread. I made lacy doilies of all chains for my dolls. I could count and that’s all I really needed to know besides the chain stitch.


  12. mlissabeth says:

    I have done spool knitting for a long time. My daughter got a kit where she could string beads on an elastic cord before putting it on the spool. She did one and quit. She is not the yarny that I am! I have also done this same technique on my fingers, and it makes a nice skinny scarf.


  13. fibercrush says:

    I remember this from when I was a kid. As others have mentioned, we called it spool knitting. I only remember making short cords. The biggest problem for me was having sufficient patience to make enough to the point where the cord would finally emerge from the bottom of the spool. For me, it wasn’t really working until I could see it!


  14. carine says:

    I was very surprised to learn the name of this tool in English (I am French), but I have never used it. I think it is useful to make the “handles” of a bag, as the string is strong. I guess, you could also use the string to create a flower like this one
    When I were a child, I had a weaving loom. I remember making a small blanket and a dress for my doll with it.
    Maybe, you should try making a flower loom for Maia from a ice cream lid Flowers are fun to make and to offer.


  15. Claire says:

    hi, I just have to write and let you know your blog is lovely! i was so tickled to see the wooden spool and nails because that’s exactly how i remember learning myself. my daughter just started spool knitting this week but has a much fancier plastic spool which is just not as fun. i’d love to find some wooden spools again, who knew they’d become obselete?!


  16. Lily says:

    I used to use a cotton reel just like yours until my Daddy bought me one shaped like a wooden doll. French knitting has become more popular here in UK with many companies selling more elaborate ‘looms’ on which you can even make sweaters (or so they claim!) I have been trying to show Little Son how to crochet but even at 8 he is having trouble holding the yarn correctly and he usually picks up crafty things quickly. Have a lovely weekend. We are Christmas cake and pudding making tomorrow. xxx


  17. heather says:

    So cute!!! I actually just saw a book in a catalog that had ideas of things to do with your finished knitting, but I can’t find where I saw it. My son has made huge tubes and my 5yo would like to start, but I’d love to have an end goal to their work before they start.


  18. Linne says:

    My last comment 🙂
    If you have roses like this, instead of throwing them out, lay the rose petals out to dry them, then put them in a jar or lovely dish to start a potpourri; I have often made these and when the scent fades, you can put a cotton ball with some essential rose oil into the container to freshen it up again.


  19. patriciahope20 says:

    I used to do French knitting as a child and bought a bobbin a few years ago. I have been doing some lengths to incorporate into a picture. I will post it when it’s done, or maybe in the making.
    I hadn’t thought to scale it up. Thank you for the idea. I will experiment and maybe fit more straws on to create a thicker rope. I love working large but may have to wait until the summer as I now live in such a tiny home.


  20. lazycritterstories says:

    I just started spool/French knitting a few weeks ago. I never learned it as a child but my mother who is 91 remembered doing it as a child. I love it! so far I’ve made a puppy dog, flowers, napkin rings, wine charms and now am making several chain link scarves for my niece. She wants them for Christmas gifts. I love it, it’s simple yet the things you make turn out looking so great. I picked up a plastic spool knitter on ebay to give it a try and now I have several different sizes and keep looking at more. All the different types of spool/French knitters you can get are just as much fun as actually doing it. If I could afford it I would probably have 1 of every kind available.


  21. Teal Lily says:

    I used to do this on a 4 nail wood spool loom just like yours in the ’70’s. I would unwind a coat hanger, glue plastic from a dry cleaning bag all around it for stuffing & waterproofing, I would tie it every few inches with thread to make it more secure. Then I would cover it with a spool-knit tube and wind the hanger back together. Then I would attach ribbon roses, silk flowers or small bows from ribbon or lace to the area below the hook. I would make these up in 6 packs as presents for my Grandmother, Mom & Aunts. I had a large wooden thread spool I drilled the hole bigger and used 6 nails. I used thin nylon cord on it to make a dog leash.The tubes can be used for straps on a tank top, halter top or purse. Curtain tie backs. Add 2 D-Rings for a belt. Chap stick/lip balm pouch to wear on a ribbon around your neck. Skirt, tube top, dress for a small doll or peg/clothespin doll. Necklace, bracelet, hair ribbon or scrunchie. Tie in a bow around a stuffed animal’s neck. Make a stuffed snake toy out of it. Tentacles for a stufed octopus. Small baskets (use fabric stiffener) for Easter decorations or a doll house.Corner ties for a chair cushion. Wind in a coil and sew together for a hat. Or a larger basket. Use to hold up a dowel with a banner hanging from it. Use as the rope on a doll swing. Knit with jute and wrap & glue around a jar or can for a vase, basket or pencil holder.


  22. Scrapiana says:

    Love it! Yes, this was how my grandmother used to do it – with a proper wooden spool and four nails. I have a collection of some of the more decorative Knitting Nancies, but these simple ones are the real deal.


  23. marakitteh says:

    I never heard of “French knitting” before, but I did learn a technique that results in a similar end product – we called it “finger knitting”. The final product of the process may be slightly different, but it appears to use similar principles as well. You do have to pull on the end to tighten the stitches with the method I learned, though, and I’m not sure if the same goes for true French knitting.


  24. Lisa Aurand says:

    Hi! from Lisa in Colorado. I just re-discovered my spool knitter from a few years ago. I did not learn this as a child, but I am going gung-ho on it right now. I have begun a collection of knitting nancy dolls, and I would appreciate any sources you may have for where to buy them. I can’t afford to pay very much, but I am quite interested. So far I have collected from the U.S., Canada, three from Bergere de France, and one from Germany. I very much enjoyed reading all of the comments above. Many thanks, Lisa


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