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What Did We Do Before Stitch Markers?



In a coffee shop the other day, with a sweater-in-progress sprawled across my lap, I noticed a woman at the table beside me glancing at my needles wistfully. When I caught her eye and smiled, she told me this devastating story:

She had brought her knitting that day as well, but was not be able to work on it. She had reached a crucial point in the pattern where stitch markers were required, and she’d forgotten to bring any. Surely I didn’t happen to have extras?

Sadly, I did not. But happily, I did have scrap yarn. And minutes later, I had fashioned for her a set of perfectly functional stitch markers, by knotting several short strands of yarn into rings.

Having done this for people several times now, the solution always seems to surprise the recipient. And their surprise, in turn, surprises me - as I wonder, what did knitters here do before commercially produced stitch markers (which surely must be a relatively recent thing?) were available.

I do not pose this question in criticism; I am genuinely curious. Because as far as I know, in much of continental Europe, tying scraps of yarn was the normally done thing for quite some time. Even as recently as 2010, when I last lived in Austria, I recall seeing knitters do this rather than use store-bought stitch markers. But then again I suppose 2010 is not all that ‘recent!’ Things change, and cultural memory can be short.

On the other hand, it is true that some knitting cultures seem to be more notions/gadgets oriented than others. Cable needles, colourwork rings, progress keepers, needle gauges, darning mushrooms, yarn winders… Strictly speaking, the job can be done without the use of these task-specific tools, yet in some knitting traditions they are perceived as essential and have existed for decades if not longer, whereas in others they have not been traditionally used at all (I was taught to darn socks over a glass jar, to wind yarn by hand, to knit cables and colourwork freehand, and to measure needle diameter using pinch-calipers).

So, for those of you who learned to knit BRE (before the Ravelry era), I am wondering - what did you do regarding notions which we consider essential today? Did they exist in your region/ knitting culture? If not, what was used instead?

And as far as stitch markers, admittedly I prefer to use pre-fab metal rings to the yarn-knot DIY method. But in a pinch, it is good to have alternatives - which in the past, have also included paper clips, safety pins, washers, even blades of dried grass!