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Pick up any pattern book today and something like the vest below would require half a dozen pages, at least, to describe the pattern. There would be diagrams, photos, careful instructions on special stitches, and row by row descriptions of each and every detail.

In 1881, you get the drawing above, another from the back, and another similarly sized drawing of the stitch pattern:

And how much text by way of explaining how to reproduce this fashionable little garment?

One column of a three column page. Yes, I know that’s far too small to read. For the very curious, you can zoom in on the pages here.

There are a few fascinating things about the instructions:

1) That there was a standardized system for crochet hooks, even if I can find out nothing about it now.
2) Readers are expected to know pattern making and cut up a mock paper pattern first before beginning to crochet.
3) There is an expected “ordinary size.” I can’t even imagine what that might be. I’m sure I’d be an extra large in 1881.

Reading over the whole pattern, I really have no sense of how those four pieces are supposed to be shaped. I just can’t visualize it. And this is one of the most informative patterns I’ve seen from this era, giving hook sizes, specific wool types, and even a gauge measurement.

Crud, I’d make an utterly useless Victorian lady. I baked bread today. That counts for something, right?

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