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THE HISTORY OF THE I-CORD


I-cord is the name given to a particular knitting technique by the renowned knitter and designer Elizabeth Zimmerman.  The initial I stands for ‘Idiot’, indicating that the technique is so easy that anyone can do it.

The cord is worked on two double-pointed needles and produces the same kind of cord which children make on French knitting dollies.


Mrs Zimmerman was born in London, England in 1910 and in 1937 she emigrated to the United States with her husband.  If you haven’t heard about this remarkable lady, there is a detailed obituary in the New York times dated December 12 1999, which can be viewed here.


Mrs Zimmerman had very strong opinions on many subjects, particularly knitting, she even titled one of her books, ‘The Opinionated Knitter’.  She believed that there couldn’t be anything new in the craft of knitting and never claimed to have originated her ‘inventions’.  Instead, she said she ‘unvented’ things.

She had an amazing insight regarding ‘nothing new’ and in her book ‘Knitter's Almanac’ she wrote:-

‘One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it out, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground.  I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles’.

Amazingly, Mrs Zimmerman was right about one of her unventions which she discovered by accident in 1974,  the I-cord.  This technique was in use in 1856 and probably many years before that date.  Here’s how I found it.

Over the years I have collected a large number of knitting books, leaflets etc.  And although the majority date from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day, my most prized example is a tiny hardback book from the nineteenth century.

1856 book title page

The book was published in 1856 in London, England and is titled:-

           THE FINCHLEY MANUALS OF INDUSTRY NO IV.
                                PLAIN NEEDLE-WORK

 All the details are given on the title page which is reproduced here.

At that time in the Victorian era, there were several religious organisations which founded schools teaching practical crafts to women and children, thus helping them to earn a living.  Here is a paragraph from the book’s Preface:-

   
"A practical acquaintance with needle-work is a qualification absolutely required in every girl, and in every woman, whatever may be the position of either of them in society.  As regards plain needle-work especially, this is more particularly the case with reference to females in humble life, whether with a view to domestic neatness or economy, or to profitable occupation in a pecuniary light."
 

The Preface covers three and a half pages and makes a fascinating read. At one point there is a note concerning the way that the instruction should be taught –
   
  ‘… the basic of ALL treatment must be patience, gentleness, kindness.’

 

There are twelve chapters in the book covering a wide range of needlecrafts, from shirt-making to samplers and fancy work.  The instructions are also laid out in a charming manner.  The teacher asks a question and the pupil provides the answer.

 

Twelve pages are devoted to Knitting and on page 40 we have – Elizabeth Zimmerman’s unvented I-cord.  Here are the 1856 instructions, worked on two double-pointed needles.

 

To Knit a Stay-Lace

A stay-lace is an old name for a corset lace and in the nineteenth century laces frequently broke with the continuous pulling to make the female waist as small as possible.


The child or woman who owned this little book has inscribed her name on the front end-paper:-

Eliza G. Grantt Nov/57

It’s fascinating to think of Elizabeth Zimmerman connected to another Elizabeth (Eliza) through the mists of time, by the I-cord.  There was Eliza knitting away at the stay-laces in 1857 and Elizabeth Zimmerman creating the I-cords for decorative, but still useful edgings in the twentieth century – unvented from the ‘recesses of the eternal consciousness’.
     

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