Saturday, 17 September 2011

Birthday Bells

September 17th 1847 was a significant date for knitters – but I doubt that many are aware of it. On that day, G Chambers and company patented their ‘Bell Knitting Gauge’ – this design was subsequently copied by other manufacturers – and I have two vintage bell gauges – a Chambers, and a Walkers


Knitting needle gauges were based on the gauges used in wire drawing – the technique that was used to form metal wires of varying thinness. Wire drawing was also used to mass-produce steel knitting needles (also called “knitting pins”) Professionals in the wire trade needed to accurately measure the diameter of wires and developed a tool called a “wire gauge.” These are circles with little cut-outs around the outer edges made to measure the size of different wires. To this day the “British Standard Wire Gauge” and the “American Standard Wire Gauge” are used by trade professionals to determine whether a wire is a “19-gauge,” 18-gauge,” etc.

Wire gauges were the models for the first knitting needle gauges. The makers of knitting needle gauges copied the size and shape of the cut-outs used to measure the needles. As with many aspects of the 19th century, needle gauges were not always uniform in their sizing, so the same needle might measure two different sizes on two different gauges. Sometimes the knitting pattern specifies “Use No. 16 needle as measured on Walker’s Bell Gauge.” If you look carefully at mine, you will see that that the Chambers goes from 1-28, but the Walkers from 1-24 – and they do seem to measure the same.


My newer gauge came from my Mother in law’s knitting bag. It is a plastic ‘Aero’ model [I have quite a few pairs of Aero needles] And there you will spot holes between 12 and 13, and 9 and 10 which are not labelled. Turning the gauge over, you’ll discover the back is labelled “Metric Sizes” and those holes represent 2½ and 3½mm respectively.

This one is particularly useful for finding equivalents when I have to find a ‘metric’ size pair of needles but only seem to have ‘english’ sizes in the knitting bag. Many of the newer needles had the size painted on, and it has worn off – the older ones have numbers embossed into the end caps.

These little gadgets are so simple, and so useful – I have them on a thin ribbon strung onto the zip-pull of my bag of knitting needles [like mobile phone ‘charms’] and when I pick up my bag, they really do jingle like little bells! Does anyone else out there use a Bell Gauge?


  1. I use one!I inherited it along with all my Mum's knitting kneedles. I also have knitting patterns for matinee coats that Mum and Grandma knitted for me and my sisters.I used those same patterns for the girls- there was something very special about using the same kneedles and patterns that they had used to knit for a new generation.

  2. I've never seen one of these, they sound like such a fantastic idea. When I use my DPN's I always have to guess what size they aree. I can feel an Ebay hunt coming on
    x x x x

  3. I havent knitted for years, but I remember my Grandma had one of the original ones. She was a great knitter, and I still have an exquisite 2ply bedjacket in shell pattern that she made.

  4. I didn't know there was such thing. The size number on my British needles are embossed in the metal on some, others have worn away from the plastic bobble on the end, but I will never throw them out.
    Jane x

  5. I don't have a Bell gauge (would love to own one), but I do have a square gauge that I bought here in the States. I have lots of different kinds of needles, Aero and some mm and American, and some with worn off sizes. The gauge really helps. Couldn't be without it. :-)
    Thanks for this very helpful post.

  6. I am beginning to worry about myself- needles does not start with a 'kicking k'!

  7. But wouldn't you rather have "knitting kneedles" than "nitting needles" ??

  8. I have had one for many years and used it only a couple of weeks ago. The printed numbers wear out fairly quickly and I have probably got a pair of needles in every size so it is invaluable.

  9. How does a steel knitting-needles, no. 14, bell gauge compare to today's needles?
    I have a gage for todays needles and the pattern I am looking at does not use no 14! Can you help determine what size needles I need to use?

  10. That is a 2mm needle - very fine


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