Little Women KAL!



If you love Little Women and love knitting (or even like one a lot and aren’t too sure about the other), this is the Knit-Along for you!

Through February – an appropriately “little” month – we’ll be re-reading Little Women and knitting along while we do it!

Choose your favourite Little Women themed knitting pattern – it might be one of the amazing shawls designed for Greta Gerwig’s recent film adaptation, created by Jenn Monahan, or a civil-war era sock-pattern, a pair of gorgeous slippers with a floral pattern, or simply something with a lot of furbelows – and get ready to knit it through February.

Every Saturday afternoon (3-4pm GMT), we’ll hold a live book-club chat on the dedicated Ravelry group about our work in progress and our reading. Join us here:

Feel free to post your work in progress on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #LittleWomenKAL.


A note about the reading

Little Women is often published as a single volume that incorporates the text that was variously known as Good Wives, Nice Wives, Young Wives or Little Women Married. We’ll be reading part 1 – the first 23 chapters, ending with the chapter “Aunt March Settles the Question”.

February has an extra day than usual this year and if you’re feeling up to reading a chapter a day, that’s a good way to get through it. We’ll be having a weekly online chat about our reading and our knitting progress and so we’ve also suggested the four “chunks” that the book could be usefully broken down into. These sections aren’t even (if you want to read the exact same amount every week you’ll read approximately 57 pages a go) but we feel they reflect four major phases of the plot.

Chapters 1-6 – These chapters establish each of the sisters and introduce Laurie to the family. These chapters set up the world of the novel – both in terms of its historical and cultural context and in terms of the novel’s moral compass

  • Chapter Playing Pilgrims
  • Chapter A Merry Christmas
  • Chapter The Laurence Boy
  • Chapter Burdens
  • Chapter Being Neighborly
  • Chapter Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful


Chapters 7-11 – These chapters are concerned with conflict, both at home and abroad. And fabric. So much fabric. Though there are only five chapters in this section, they are complex and are worth considering in their own terms.

  • Chapter Amy’s Valley of Humiliation
  • Chapter Jo Meets Apollyon
  • Chapter Meg Goes to Vanity Fair
  • Chapter The P.C. and N.O.
  • Chapter Experiments


Chapters 12-16 – These chapters are concerned with relationships between women and men, contrasting the tentative beginnings of Meg’s romance with John Brooke and the deep love between Marmee and Mr March.

  • Chapter Camp Laurence
  • Chapter Castles in the Air
  • Chapter Secrets
  • Chapter A Telegram
  • Chapter Letters


Chapters 17-23 – These chapters are about crisis and change. The climax of the novel is in these chapters as relationships are renewed and severed.

  • Chapter Little Faithful
  • Chapter Dark Days
  • Chapter Amy’s Will
  • Chapter Confidential
  • Chapter Laurie makes Mischief and Jo Makes Peace
  • Chapter Pleasant Meadows
  • Chapter Aunt March Settles the Question


If you do read ahead, that’s absolutely fine but we will only discuss chapters up to and including the ones set for that week. We know it seems unlikely that there are many people who won’t have read or seen Little Women in some form so spoilers aren’t a huge issue but it is important to keep the discussion manageable. If we’re jumping all over the plot from the first chapters to the last ones, we’ll get into a huge tangle. Let’s reread and savour the book rather than racing through it!

If you have a hard-copy that’s great – it will be interesting to compare the variations among editions. If not, you can pick up a free digital copy of the text here: and in plenty more places online. It’s also a good excuse to visit your local library and check out a community copy.



Choosing your KAL pattern

There are dozens of possible patterns for this KAL – we try not to be too prescriptive! Here’s a short list of options to get you started. We have stuck to patterns that are available online and easy to access. Some are free, some are not but we hope there is something here for everyone!

Jo’s Shawl:

Beth’s Shawl:

Marmee’s Broderie Shawl:

Sock pattern from 1862:

Little Women shawl:

Amy March’s Slippers:

Beth’s Patchwork Fichu:

Little Women socks:

Little Women Crochet Collar:

A set of Little Women amigurumi:

A Knitted Petticoat from the 1864 Godey’s Ladies Book:

And dozens more civil-war era patterns in Godey’s Lady’s Book:

You’ll find something you love I’m sure!

Gerwig Little Women


Jane will be making Beth’s Shawl

I spent a lot of time dithering about which pattern I wanted to make most.  I re-read Little Women a lot. I teach it every year, sometimes twice a year. And I have opinions™ about it. But these opinions™ change from year to year. It’s common, I think, for women who write in any capacity to feel an affinity with Jo. And Alcott definitely steers us towards her – she’s a vibrant character, full of wit and easy charm, by turns deeply emotional and highly practical. She’s an easy favourite and her journey from girl to woman is the one that shapes much of the course of the plot. But sometimes on my re-readings I really feel for Meg – I can totally understand her need to buy all of that fabric and to feel, however briefly, the potential of her elegance. Other years, I feel that Amy is hard-done by and the seething wrath I felt for her when I first read the book has been tempered by the realisation that Jo’s’ first masterpiece probably wasn’t all that brilliant anyway.

But Beth has become my favourite of the sisters. When I first read the book, I found her a little insipid. I thought she was a silly, prissy, butter-wouldn’t-melt, goody-two-shoes, nonsense character, chiming sweetly “Birds in their little nests agree!” in response to family squabbles. At first, I felt the most interesting thing Beth did was die.

I’ve come to feel this is a little harsh. Beth’s life is not meaningless or empty. Her days are full and she is happy. She never complains of boredom, not because she won’t complain but because she is not bored. And Beth is just as creative as Jo or Amy. She makes things – the embroidered handkerchiefs for Marmee, the exquisite slippers embroidered with heartsease for Mr Laurence – and doesn’t care if these acts of creativity lead to money or fame. Beth isn’t unhappy and it’s a mistake we often make – and I have often made – in reading our own ideas about ambition or power on to her and finding her lacking. Beth is not thwarted because she doesn’t have a career, or cheated because her life lacks romance. She doesn’t want these things, or show any indication that she strives after them. When she dies, we should be saddened because she’s left the world, not because she didn’t manage to do enough within it.

And so when I saw the pattern for Beth’s shawl had been released, I had to make one. She’s the best of them. I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.



Charlotte will be Making….

Another Beth’s Shawl! I adored the shawls in the latest movie, and could picture myself, sitting at my desk (read: laptop), frantically scribbling away (or, typing) in layers of skirts and shirts (or, more likely, pyjamas), all polished off with a lovely shawl. I haven’t actually made one before, but have several skeins of yarn stashed away that I think will work well with this design, albeit with a slightly modern twist. There’s a skein of beautifully slightly variegated silvery-grey Malabrigo sock yarn in there, along with some navy blue and shocking pink yarn from Coop Knits. I’m looking forward to getting started! Now to find some needles…

Victorian Children, Consumerism, and Licking Alum

I just published a piece for The Conversation on my research on the Great Exhibition, children’s literature, and how the Victorians taught their children about sustainability and consumerism.

You can read the full article here:


I know it’s not about craft – though it is about archives in a way – but I promise I am working on some new posts. More later.

Hats fit for Heroes


I have some exciting news.

A couple of weeks ago, Charlotte from Palace Green Library at Durham University got in touch to ask if I would like to be involved in their Hats Fit for Heroes charity campaign. As part of their upcoming exhibition ‘Antarctica: Explorers, Heroes, Scientists’ (opens 17th October) the Palace Green Library in Durham are running a knitting event called ‘Hats fit for Heroes’. The idea is to ask knitters/crocheters/sewers to make hats based on those worn by Antarctic explorers and then to sell them with all of the proceeds going to Walking with the Wounded, a charity that works with wounded service men and women and which last year organised an Antarctic trek.

My Tom Crean Teacosy Hat pattern is one of the patterns they chose for the campaign.

I’m delighted to be part of the campaign. I’m very excited by the fact that something I did with this blog could have a real impact on the lives of others. I never thought that a teacosy could change lives! And I never thought anyone would ever describe me as a designer. But there you are.

If you missed the original post, you can read all about Tom Crean and his mighty hat here. Since I posted that piece back in February, I’ve been following Antarctic Discovery, a blog that publishes pieces from Shackleton’s diary. It makes for fascinating reading and I’d recommend it if you want to find out more about Antarctic explorers of the heroic era.

Hats have already started to arrive at Palace Green Library and I’m really pleased to see that there’s a couple of tea-cosy hats there already!


If you want to make a teacosy hat the pattern PDF is here:Tom Crean Tea Cosy Hat

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the campaign at #AHatFitForAHero

Here’s all the details from Palace Green Library about the campaign:


Could you knit, crochet or sew a hat fit for a hero?

As part of our upcoming exhibition ‘Antarctica: Explorers, Heroes, Scientists’ (opening 17th Oct 2015), Palace Green Library in Durham is seeking crafting enthusiasts to make hats fit for heroes, inspired by Antarctic explorers.

All proceeds will be donated to Walking with the Wounded, a charity working with wounded service men and women across the UK. The charity organised a trek across the Antarctic in 2013 (

How can I help?

Get crafty and create your own hat fit for a hero. You can knit, crochet or sew your hat, and it can be adult or child sized. Be as creative as you like but if you are using someone else’s pattern, please make sure you have permission to make a hat that can be sold for charity.  If you are looking for a knitting pattern, we have teamed up with Woolaballoo in Hexham and knitting designers Jane Carroll of ‘Archives and Old Lace’ and Angelea McGarrah have kindly agreed to the use of their patterns based on authentic explorer hats. These will be available on our website in the next few weeks:

Then simply bring along your finished hat to one of the drop off points in Durham, Hexham or Harrogate:

  • Palace Green Library, Durham
  • Woolabaloo, Market Square, Hexham
  • Woolabaloo stall, Hall B, The Knitting and Stitching Show, Harrogate (26-29 November only)

Or you can post your hat to:

Palace Green Library
Palace Green

We need to receive your hat no later than 30 November 2015. Please include your name and up to 50 words about your hat.

We are also running two free craft workshops with pattern giveaways to help get you started – details to follow.

We will be selling our hats from 1 December 2015  in the gift shop at Palace Green Library, Durham. All hats will cost £15.00 with all profits going to Walking with the Wounded.  We hope to raise even more money as Barclays Bank has kindly agreed to match fund the first £1,000 raised.

If you can, we’d love you to print and display the attached poster in your venue. If you need any further information or would like us to send you some printed flyers, please don’t hesitate to contact the good people at Palace Green Library: or follow them on Twitter: @palacegreenlib


Hammersmith and Fulham Early Children’s Books Collection

The Hammersmith and Fulham Early Children’s Books Collection has arrived at the University of Roehampton! It’s MINE! Or ours, really, I know I have to share with the other researchers and play nicely. I wrote the post below for the NCRCL [National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature] and thought I’d share it here for readers of the Archives & Old Lace blog. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. The Collection is going to be a major part of my teaching and research over the next while. Would you like to come play with the old books? If you have any questions about the collection (or the other children’s literature archives at Roehampton) or if you would like to come visit the collection, just let me know! 🙂


FullSizeRenderHammersmith and Fulham Early Children’s Books Collection

By Dr Jane Carroll, NCRCL Lecturer

If you’ve been up to visit the children’s literature collection in the University of Roehampton in the past few weeks, you’ll have noticed a new set of old books up on the shelves. This is the Hammersmith and Fulham Early Children’s Books Collection.

This collection, comprising over a thousand early children’s books dating from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, was originally held by Hammersmith and Fulham library.   The collection began in 1931-2 with the first 300 books – it then grew by purchase and gift to a total of roughly 1,120 books.   Last year, Hammersmith & Fulham libraries approached the University of Roehampton to see if we would be interested in taking it on.

In May 2014 I visited the collection with Julie Mills (Subject Librarian) and Kornelia Cepok (Archivist). With the help…

View original post 714 more words

#loveyourblog challenge: beginnings, ferret-shock & old books.

As usual, I’m late.  In my sort of defence, on the Monday when this post was due to go up I was sitting in an archive working through texts for my latest research project. But I guess it’s better late than never and I do want to participate in A Playful Day’s Love Your Blog Challenge.

love your blog creativity challenge with A Playful Day 1

While finishing things is usually the problem with my crafting (Made in Oxford has a lovely post about getting things done), I find starting things is often more difficult in my academic work. My problem, generally, is not that I am reluctant to begin things but rather that I want to begin too many things. We call it “ferret-shock”.


I often warn my students about the dangers of ferret-shock.

It goes like this.  If a ferret gets into a henhouse it goes a little crazy.  There are so many chickens.  All the chickens.  The ferret wants to eat the chickens and so it runs around the henhouse biting and clawing and grabbing chickens.  Feathers and panic everywhere.  In the morning, you will find the poor exhausted, confused ferret sitting in a pile of feathers.  It won’t have managed to eat any of the chickens. If it had been calm and sensible – like a fox – and crept in to steal away one single chicken, all would be well.  But there were so many chickens.  Too many chickens.  And, in trying to have it all, the ferret ends up with nothing.

Researchers are more like ferrets than you might expect.

Especially when we get into an archive which, let’s be honest, is basically a henhouse for books.


I felt ferret-shock descend on me last week when I made a visit to the Pollard Collection in Trinity College Dublin.The collection houses about 10,500 early children’s books.  Some of the books go back to the 17th century but, for this new research project I’ve been working on, my focus is children’s texts published in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. I’m particularly interested in stories that are told from the point of view of objects.

One of the biggest problems I faced when starting this research project was not knowing exactly what books I really needed to read. So many books.  Too many books. Research-ferret-shock starts to kick in.

It goes like this: you feel that there must be a book published about such-and-such a topic.  You don’t know when or where it was published, who wrote it or what it was called.  But you have to find it. Usually, this involves days of working through catalogues and indices and making lists of texts that might be useful. It’s particularly hard to locate texts that are published anonymously or texts that are not catalogued accurately (for instance when children’s novels are listed as school-books).   The solution – you think in your crazed state – is to order up everything.  And read everything.  But that’s not a useful or sensible way to spend your time in an archive.  Especially when texts often don’t have useful titles. For instance “Dolly” by Frances Hodgson Burnett is not about a doll but about a young girl who is nicknamed ‘Dolly’. After waiting an hour and a half for “Dolly” to arrive (a remarkably short wait for an archive, mind) only to discover the book was no use to me, I was ready to kick Frances Hodgson Burnett in the shins.

After the first day in the archive, I realised that I had to scale back my ambitions. I could not succumb to research-ferret-shock. I valiantly fought down my instinct to rip open all the boxes and sit on the floor reading random things and instead made some hard choices about what books I really wanted to consult and pared my list of hundreds down to dozens.

And so my beginnings were smaller and more humble that I had expected.

But I still got to look at some wonderful and weird books.

Now that I’m back in England and starting to write up my research from the archive, I have a little more time to reflect on the archive as a place for beginnings and fresh projects. These are not the crafty kinds of books I normally post about but I’m sure I can find inspiration in there too…The Adventures of a Watch has a section about watch-chains made from hair as love-tokens.  I don’t think I’m likely to try making things from my own hair any time soon (my hair is like badly-behaved wire anyway) but it does give me some ideas for other posts for this blog…let’s see where the #loveyourblog challenge takes me over the next few weeks!

Up the women…

It’s St. Swithun’s day. It’s also Emmeline Pankhurt’s birthday.


There’s a celebratory Google Doodle and everything.



I thought I would join in the fun by sharing some clips from lively but short-lived t.v. show “Up The Women”

Just look at those lovely shirt-waists!  The show is about Margaret’s attempts to transform The Banbury Intricate Craft Circle into a new (sort of) political group ‘Banbury Intricate Craft Circle Politely Request Women’s Suffrage’.    Most of the other members aren’t too sure what suffrage is or why they might want it but if there’s cake and fancy rosettes, they’ll give anything a shot. The best episode (of the three) was when Emmeline Pankhurst shows up and she’s not quite what anyone expected…

Happy birthday Emmeline!