What Are You For, Exactly? Knitting Nancies and the Great Haberdashery Conspiracy

Look at him. He’s clearly having an existential crisis.

One of the many things my Nana taught me when I was tiny was how to use a Knitting Nancy. This is also known as French knitting, which is one method for knitting in the round to produce a seamless knitted tube. Excellent for arm warmers, legs warmers, and snoods – which are bafflingly popular of late. Snoods haven’t been this hot since the middle ages. Everything really does come back in eventually.

There are two other methods for knitting in the round that I know of, and they each have their pros and cons. Words are hard so I made a table to lay these out for you (click to en-big-ulate):


The more pins your nancy has, the bigger the tube it produces. You can use roughly 50-60 pins to make one sock, so you can imagine that the four pin nancy I learned on produced a very slender tube indeed.


Trusting child that I was, I soldiered on without asking any inconvenient questions like ‘Why am I doing this?’. It was easy, and meditative, and I could do it while I watched the telly, so I kept going. I kept my nancy for years, picking it up every so often, joining on a bit more unwanted scrap wool each time. Eventually I had a tube of knitting with the diameter of a pinky finger and a length of several metres, all in bits of wool which were ugly on their own and unimproved by association with each other.

At age fifteen I finally asked myself the inconvenient question, and when the only answer my brain offered was ‘You could be the first World Record holder for longest knitted tube?’ I completely lost heart. I have a strong preference for achievements that I’m not ashamed to tell people about.

I wish I had a picture to prove how ugly and massive the thing was, but I don’t know where it is now. My mum probably threw it out. The only sentimental thing she’s kept from my childhood is my milk teeth in her jewellery box.*

I was remembering all of this when I asked myself just what on earth the four-pin nancy was created for? They’re sold everywhere, with their cute little faces and outfits, so they must have a legitimate use? Unless haberdashers and grandparents are complicit in a conspiracy to keep children subdued with pointless labour? I simply won’t believe it.

A quick Google turned up a plethora of articles on how to make a nancy yourself, or how to get started with one, but there were no sensible comments made about the end use of a long, skinny, woollen tube.

“It’s easy! Try it!”, said the internet. Well, so is growing mould in a mug, but I personally wouldn’t know what to do with the end product.

Then I looked a bit harder and found some truly hideous tat produced using these tubes. When I say hideous I don’t mean like an unwanted handmade Christmas present. I mean like an unwanted handmade Christmas present from your cell-mate. Real prison-chic. I’d post some of it here but you don’t need these nightmares.

I will admit that all of this is a little disingenuous, because I did once find a legitimate use for a nancy and that’s why I currently own one. I made stems for the flowers in a knitted hanging basket. Still, are we to believe that every haberdashery in the world stocks adorable little nancy-boys-and-girls for exactly this purpose?

Is this what the inventor intended?

What is going on here? After some serious thought I did come up with something else I could use my nancy for:


It turned out pretty well so I’ll post a tutorial next time. In the meantime feel free to tell me how very wrong I am in the comments. Also, let me know if you want a knitted flower tutorial and I’ll try to remember how I did that.

* Creepy? Yes creepy. I suspect she hasn’t ruled out using them to gain complete power over me through voodoo. Not because she’s controlling as mothers go, but who doesn’t want a zombie butler? I wouldn’t even resent her choice.** BACK

** The fact that zombie-me would be incapable of resentment in no way diminishes the validity of my point.


7 thoughts on “What Are You For, Exactly? Knitting Nancies and the Great Haberdashery Conspiracy

  1. The next time you want to make one of those bracelets you could use the milk teeth I have in my jewellery box 🙂 Mwahahaha!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s