Knitting instruction manuals have been produced from the nineteenth century onwards, at which time the patterns were often known as recipes or reciepts. Both the learner and the more experienced knitter may have consulted these books to learn new skills and improve their technique as well as finding instructions for new stitch patterns and garments, much as today. I don’t think that we ever really stop learning.
Knitting instruction books have always been produced for both children and adults in mind, sometimes within the same book, but often on their own terms. During the Victorian era and the first part of the twentieth century, girls were taught to knit from a young age as a matter of course, and the ‘learning to knit’ books at this period were nearly always aimed at either children, or teachers rather than adult learners.
Jayne Eayre-Fryer’s Mary Frances Knitting and Crochet Book (1918) is a beautiful, early children’s knitting book. It uses a storybook format with wool, knitting needles and assorted haberdashery as protagonists. Within a story about learning to knit, crochet and make things with her hands, Mary Frances is given knitting instructions of how to make the stitches and patterns (for her and her readers) to make before continuing with the book. Even if a child was too young to read the book his or herself, there are pages of clear illustrations that could be used to engage the younger knitter. In a reflection of the time, the book does appear to be aimed more at girls than at boys (who are not mentioned within the text).
If you live near the University of Southampton’s Winchester campus, you can see a copy of Mary Frances Knitting and Crochet book for yourself by visiting the Knitting Reference Library.