The Art of French Knitting or Spool Knitting

A "classic" knitting spool made from a wooden thread spool.
A "classic" knitting spool made from a wooden thread spool. | Source

Examples of Knitting Spools

Wire Knitting Doll Wood Needle Kids Novice Hand Tool
Wire Knitting Doll Wood Needle Kids Novice Hand Tool

A popular look for french knitters are these "knitting dolls."

 
Bates Knitting Knobby Spool Knitter Assorted
Bates Knitting Knobby Spool Knitter Assorted

Simple spool knitters such as these could easily have faces and other details painted onto them to turn them into "knitting dolls."

 
Knitting Mushroom
Knitting Mushroom

Another popular look for spool knitters is a mushroom, such as this one.

 
Susan Bates Crystalites French Knitter, Medium, Assorted Color
Susan Bates Crystalites French Knitter, Medium, Assorted Color

Because these are clear you can see the cord as it's being knitted inside the center of this french knitter.

 

What is Spool Knitting?

Some call it French knitting while others call it spool knitting. And the simple tool used has been called a French knitter, a knitting nancy, knitting spool, knitting knob, a corker and dozens of other names as well. In Germany it may be known as a strickliesel or as a tricotin in France. (A comprehensive list of names can be found at the Spool Knitter Blog...which is also probably the best resource on the Internet about spool knitting). But whatever you call it, this little device, used and played with by many generations in the past has made a comeback and children and adults are rediscovering its fun and practical uses.

You may be wondering, what is a french knitter or knitting spool or any of the other names I've listed? Well, a basic knitting spool consists of an object with a hole in the center and pegs placed around that center hole. For example, old wooden spools with nails placed around the center hole were once a commonly made into knitting spools. You can use a knitting spool to knit cords of yarn, by wrapping the pegs with yarn to form loops and using a tool to lift the loops on the bottom of the pegs over top loops. These cords (sometimes called i-cords) can then be used to make embellishments, ties, handles, and so forth for knitting projects. Or make small little toy animals, coasters, or even rugs. Modern spool knitters also use flexible wire and adding beads to create jewelry with knitting spools.

Knitting spools have similarities to a knitting loom, but are smaller and typically have only four pegs, although they may have a few more or even just two or three pegs.

Knitting spools also often come in many shapes and sizes. Including whimsical designs such as people, animals, mushrooms and more. The flickr group, Spool Knitting, has hundreds of examples of knitting spools.

Children enjoy spool knitting because of its simplicity. In fact, some children can spend hours on end making ropes of spool knit yarn. Spool knitting is a great way to introduce children to knitting looms or even regular knitting. Or simply a fun way to entertain them on a rainy afternoon.

To learn more about spool knitting check out the links below, which includes information on how to make knitting spools and how to use them.

Books on Spool Knitting

Corking (Kids Can Do It)
Corking (Kids Can Do It)

A great book for kids (or other beginners) to corking (spool knitting).

 
Spool Knit Jewelry: Make Beautiful Bracelets, Anklets, and Rings (Klutz)
Spool Knit Jewelry: Make Beautiful Bracelets, Anklets, and Rings (Klutz)

Spool knitting doesn't have to be used only with yarn. This kit includes a book, a knitting spool and elasticized cord for making jewelry with that is great for tweens and teens.

 
Knit with Beads: 11 Projects (Easy-Does-It)
Knit with Beads: 11 Projects (Easy-Does-It)

Although the focus of this book is not on spool knitting, it does have a few projects that use a knitting spool, wire and beads to make beautiful knitted jewelry.

 
Spool Knitting
Spool Knitting

This book was first published back in 1909. It has many creative ideas and gives a nostalgic look at the history of spool knitting.

It's also available as a Kindle book.

Free versions of this book are also available on the Internet (see information about it below).

 
A young girl from the early 1900s knits with a knitting spool. From the book Spool Knitting by Mary A. McCormack
A young girl from the early 1900s knits with a knitting spool. From the book Spool Knitting by Mary A. McCormack

An Antique Book on Spool Knitting for Free

The book Spool Knitting by Mary A. McCormack was originally published in 1909 and is now in the public domain (meaning it has no copyright on it). Because of this it is available a few places online for free. The Gutenberg Project is one place you can get a copy of this Spool Knitting book. They have it in several formats including HTML (used for webpages) and even for Kindle.

Google books has a PDF version you can download of the Spool Knitting book.

(If you'd rather have a hard copy of this book, check out the links above for the book available for purchase at amazon.com. This book is also available for the Kindle at amazon.com.)

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Comments 20 comments

mega1 profile image

mega1 6 years ago

I came across the term I-cord in a book just yesterday and didn't know what it meant - thanks for this hub which gives me some ideas. We used to make this when I was a little girl with wooden thread spools and nails and then sew the cords in spirals for coasters and pot holders and trivets. I had forgotten, now I want to try again. Something great to do while watching tv!


DreamsInBloom profile image

DreamsInBloom 6 years ago Author

Hi Mega1. I believe i-cord's can be knitted on knitting needles too, but that they are a little different? My knowledge of needle knitting is slim, so I just looked it up and found this link

http://www.chemknits.com/2010/11/how-to-knit-i-cor...


mega1 profile image

mega1 6 years ago

Oh! I see how that's done now - don't really need to use the spool, but it is fun to "spool" and not use needles. I just remember in third grade all of us little girls carried around plastic bags (or fabric ones) with our yarn and spools and sat on the playground in the sun making all this cord - we must have been awfully cute!


Marian 6 years ago

Hi Dreams in Bloom!

This is Marian of the Spoolknitter blog. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post on spoolknitters and spool knitting. I also manage the Flickr group Spool Knitting and I thankyou for mentioning both the blog and Flickr. Did you know that there is also a Yahoo Group called Spoolknitter (I am currently the moderator for the group after taking over from the group Mom - Noreen Crone-Findlay - at her request - Noreen has written books on lots of different yarn crafts). We have competitions and prizes and lots of ideas, newsletters, links, a photo library of books to be found, and lots of information about everything to do with spool knitters and spool knitting. We welcome new members!

May I add something here about the I-cord. I have always hated this term (idiot-cord) and had actually thought that the term was only introduced recently along with the popularity of knitting in the past 10 years or so. I was wrong - it has been around a lot longer than that. I have recently purchased a book by Diana Blake Gray - Knitted Rag Rugs for the Craftsman. This particular author mentions learning to spool knit on her Grandmother's knee and her Grandmother called the cord - idiot cord! The author has three decades of experience in making rag rugs so the term of I-cord goes back further than I first thought. I am also an Aussie which might also explain why I had not heard it till recently.

... cheers, Marian aka Maz in Oz


DreamsInBloom profile image

DreamsInBloom 6 years ago Author

Thank you Marian for posting here. And I really appreciate your sharing more information about spool knitting. It's good to know about the Yahoo group.

And I had no idea that i-cord stood for idiot cord! Wow. How awful is that? I was actually wondering what the "i" stood for. That's the least thing I expected it to be. I now am certainly not fond of that term either. :P


prayers 6 years ago

I remember doing this when I was a child! I thought it was so much fun! I always thought it looked nicer with the multi-color yarn. I think I made some coasters and a small rug. Can wait to check out the book. Thanks!


Traqqer profile image

Traqqer 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Honestly, I don't find much interest in this for myself, but I think you've sold me on it as a great gift for my kids. I'm always trying to find something new for their birthdays or for Christmas. Thanks for the suggestion!


DreamsInBloom profile image

DreamsInBloom 5 years ago Author

Hey, Traqqer, I hope your kids will like the knitting spools if you get any. I love the ones that look like dolls. Also, if you have older kids (tweens or teens) they might like one of the spool kits that are for making jewelry better. Or they might like knitting looms instead.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 5 years ago

This brings back so many memories. I have to find one of these spools. Interesting hub.


TroyM profile image

TroyM 5 years ago

Getting creative ideas for children. Thanks!


JLSB profile image

JLSB 5 years ago

I thought that this was a lost art. I am glad to see it is still around. I did it as a kid and my kids did it to. It gave them hours of fun and keep them entertained when weather was bad and they could not go out. A fun hub thanks for reminding people about the simple things in life. It is fun.


BigSerious profile image

BigSerious 5 years ago from Harrisburg, PA

I'm an avid knitter and didn't know about spool knitting, though I have seen the Susan Bates and Knitty Knoddy plastic models of different names.

I-cords are great embellishments on knitted items and most knitters make them using double pointed needles. Elizabeth Zimmerman, knitting guru and fantastic woman, termed them "Idiot Cords" because of how easy they are to knit. With one double pointed needle, you cast two stitches or more, depending on how big around you want your cord. Then you push them to the other end of the needle, switch hands, and with another needle, knit those stitches. Repeat. Rather than turn work, as is custom, you are stretching the yarn behind knit stitches and knitting again, creating a tight tube. Quite fun when you want knit and not think and then use it as a drawstring. I-cord edgings are also nice but more fiddly with three needles. Still easily done with the right instruction and lovely on knitted garments.

Thanks for the hub!


Pam Kellogg profile image

Pam Kellogg 5 years ago

I remember making miles and miles and this when I was little. Your article is quite helpful and well written. Thank you so much!


ETC profile image

ETC 5 years ago

Really nice and thorough spool knitting hub. Hopefully this will introduce more people to this fun and easy craft.


Cross stitch 5 years ago

very interesting hub thank you


catsimmons profile image

catsimmons 5 years ago from Mission BC Canada

This is Awesome!

My Dad made me one of these when I was a kid, out of a wooden cotton bobbin with 4 nails knocked into the top. I used to have great fun making the thread get longer and longer with all different colours of wool.

I since also inherited a knitting Nancy, of the painted doll type from my Grandmother.

Thanks for the memories :-)


Linda 5 years ago

can you tell me where to get some free patterns on spool knitting


DreamsInBloom profile image

DreamsInBloom 5 years ago Author

Hi Linda. If you look at the part of the article where it says "How to Spool Knit Tutorials" you will find some spool projects/patterns.


Kiera G profile image

Kiera G 4 years ago from Australia

Thank-you for the links. It's often hard to find patterns for French knitting


jennabee25 profile image

jennabee25 2 years ago from PA

Last year for Christmas, I received my grandmother's knitting box. Included in it was one of these spool knitters. It inspired me to learn how to use it.

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