Hats fit for Heroes

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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!

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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:

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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 (www.walkingwiththewounded.org.uk).

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: www.durham.ac.uk/palace.green/headstart

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
Durham
DH1 3RN

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: pg.library@durham.ac.uk or follow them on Twitter: @palacegreenlib

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In praise of Tom Crean: Polar Explorer and Hat Enthusiast

It’s Tom Crean’s birthday.  I celebrated by making large amounts of tea and using my new tea-cosy.  You see, it’s not just any old tea-cosy.  It’s a Tom Crean tea-cosy.  Hand-knit with the warmest, wildest Hebridean yarn I could find.

This post is not about my own research but rather related [1] to the research of Sinead Moriarty, a PhD student I work with at the University of Roehampton, who is investigating the representations of Antarctica in children’s literature.

One of the texts Sinead’s looking at is Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, a gorgeous picturebook about the Endeavour expedition which has been recently nominated for the Kate Greenaway prize for illustration.

Shackleton's Journey by William Grill, Flying Eye Books

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, Flying Eye Books

The book is gorgeous.  I’m enchanted by it.  I teach a module on Visual Texts for the MA in Children’s Literature at Roehampton and I love reading picturebooks and thinking about how words and images work together to create a text.

This picturebook is especially beautiful.

Grill makes excellent use of white space and his limited palette is appropriately matched to the spare text.  Grill’s landscapes are extraordinary; the tension between the tiny ship and the huge expanse of Antarctica is tangible in the third opening shown here with the ship placed down in the right-hand side, a position of uncertainty and danger.[2] The illustrations of the men – and dogs – have a Lowry-esque quality that at once makes the figures seem universal, like stick-men, and also deeply individualised.

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They are at once archetypal and unique, supernatural and real.

This is Grill’s portrait of Tom Crean.

from Shackleton's Journey by William Grill

from Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill

At once a real man and a legend.

Crean is the man who went to Antarctica with Scott twice[3] and came back alive and THEN went back to Antarctica with Shackleton[4].  Voluntarily. He’s a big deal.

I won’t get into all the details of the Antarctic voyages or recount the dozens of amazing stories and examples of Crean’s fortitude and courage.  Like the time he was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving for walking 56 km across the Ross Ice Shelf to get help for Edward Evans who was injured.  He did this walk alone with only a couple of biscuits and a stick of chocolate for sustenance.[5]   Or when the dog-handler Shackleton hired for the Endurance expedition didn’t turn up[6], Crean took charge of the dogs.  Including all the puppies.[7]

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There’s something wonderful about this giant of a man having an armful of puppies.

And after all his adventures he went home to Kerry, got married, and opened a pub called The South Pole Inn and led a very quiet life.

He was described as having “a fund of wit and an even temper which nothing disturbed.”  He enjoyed singing tunelessly and seemed to like animals very much.

Herbert Ponting's photo of Crean with Bones the pony in 1911

Herbert Ponting’s photo of Crean with Bones the pony in 1911

As well as taking care of puppies and ponies, he also smuggled a rabbit onto the Terra Nova.

He was also something of a hat enthusiast.

The first photo is probably the most iconic image of Crean and definitely my favourite of his hats. It’s definitely a ‘mighty’[8] hat.

Not that we have much historical evidence for this but Sinead and I both think this hat looks a bit like a tea-cosy.

In honour of Tom Crean, I made a pattern.  It’s a tea-cosy that doubles as a hat.  Very useful for cold research days.

It’s made with undyed Hebridean wool and is a nice chocolate brown colour. I picked it up in a sale in Fibreworks Oxford. While it wasn’t nearly as scratchy as the Jacob’s yarn I used for the Ragnar Blanket, this wool was pretty coarse.  There were bits in it.  Lots of little bits.  If I’d swept up all the bits afterwards, I could probably cover the floor of a very small rabbit-hutch.

The second skein has a slightly looser twist and is a shade lighter in colour so under some lights, if you squint, you can see where I changed skeins but I don’t really mind – that sort of colour variation is natural and the difference in twist is, I think, normal with handspun yarn because different spinners work with different tensions.

It’s very warm and, if you choose to wear it as a hat, the rib-section is long enough to double-back on itself to make a double-layer over your ears.

It’s a very simple pattern and it makes for excellent TV knitting. Download the free pattern here: Tom Crean Tea Cosy Hat.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Sinead’s research on Antarctica in children’s literature, she’ll be talking at the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature (ISSCL) conference in Dun Laoghaire on April 11th 2015.  Do come along!

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[1] If somewhat tangentially…

[2] See William Moebius, “An Introduction to Picturebook Codes” Word and Image 2 (1986) 2: 141—158 reprinted in Children’s Literature: The Development of Criticism, edited by Peter Hunt, 131–47. London: Routledge, 1990.

[3] Discovery expedition 1901-1904 and Terra Nova expedition 1910-1913

[4] Endurance expedition 1914-1917

[5] I find this amazing because I would struggle to get out of the house without at least a cup of tea as well.

[6] I wouldn’t blame him for having second thoughts…

[7] OK…maybe this isn’t a testament of his courage but it is a point in his favour in my book.

[8] This is the word I associate with massive, warm hats.  I was out walking in Mayo with my school group when I was only a slip of a girl.  I was cold so I was wearing the most enormous blue hat my mammy had knitted for me.  Out of nowhere a big mountainy man appeared, pointed at me, said “That a mighty hat, girl!” and promptly disappeared back up the mountain.

Southlands, Scrapbooks and Sad Mittens

Yesterday I went on an Expotition to the Southlands archive at the University of Roehampton.  This was an enormous undertaking because Southlands is technically another college (I work at Digby Stuart and we have a cat called Digby).

Digby. Who is awesome.

Digby. Who is awesome.

Sometimes when I’m working in my office, Southlands seems enormously far away and getting there involves some hideous effort. You have to go past the duck-pond and everything.

Actually, it’s a walk of about a hundred yards.  And it’s worth it because of the archive.

Part of the archive is kept in a swish glass display case beside the senior common room. I’ve walked past part of the display dozens of times on my way to get tea but I’d never actually got to play with it until yesterday.

Like the other Roehampton colleges, Southlands started out as a teacher training college and many of the items in the archive relate to the kinds of things student teachers were expected to learn. There are some pretty strange things, including a miniature shirt from 1900 (I’m assuming the place was overrun with semi-clad homunculi because I couldn’t find any miniature trousers)

Tiny shirt

Tiny shirt

There are a couple of really lovely stitched samplers and portfolios.  Including a sampler dating back to the 1870s (one of the earliest items in the collection.

And a lovely little scrap-book collection of very fine crochet work.

At the Mary Lamb colloquium at the weekend there was a great discussion as to whether collections of stitchery and needlework portfolio like this one count as commonplace books.  I like the idea that they form a record of your work and that the little pieces might act as material ‘quotes’ that could be used in a larger piece of work.  I really like the idea that textiles can be texts – that both are narratives of a kind.

There are lots of narratives we can tell ourselves about things like this – the history of the production of each of the constituent materials, the dye, the thread, the silk, the cotton, the story about the person who made it, about the person who used it, and the stories about its making…

One of the things that caught my eye every time I passed the little cabinet was this pair of mittens:

They were made in the 1942 by N. Samuel. On closer inspection they appear to be made of an undyed 2-ply wool yarn (maybe fingering-weight but I figure 2-ply is more likely) with a pattern picked out in a slightly slubby brown wool (again I suspect in its natural undyed state).

N. Samuel was not an expert knitter.  And there is a clear difference between the two mittens – not so much in the tension, that’s pretty consistent, but in the tone and the assurance of the work. The cuff of the first mitten is not joined very securely in the round and you can see where N. has joined the round after a couple of back-and-forth rows.

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These were obviously a piece to learn on. The second mitten has a much neater cuff.

The same can be said of the intarsia work.  This is the first mitten.

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And here is the second:

WP_20141202_007On the second mitten N. has got the hang of colour dominance.

The thumbs improve too but it was really hard to get a photograph of them.

Basically, these mittens tell the story of N. learning how to knit.  They were never worn and they were never made to be worn and, to be honest, I feel a bit sorry for them languishing in their glass case with all the other things that must have taken students such time and effort.  It seems a bit sad that after all the work N. put into them, they were just left behind in the college.

It got me thinking about my own unloved early crafting efforts…the, frankly terrifying, Santa dolly I made in primary school that Mammy still put up with the Christmas decorations even though it look like it was trying to run away from its own face, the wonky pink headband that stretched out of shape in about two minutes, the hideous acrylic purple scarf with extra purple….my early crafting was rubbish.  But it sort of didn’t matter.  Because at the time they was the very best things I could have made.  If I find a picture of the terrible Santa dolly, I’ll post it.  Sometimes I suddenly remember it and burst out laughing.  Sometimes this happens when I’m on the bus or in the library.  This is not so good.

Up the women…

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

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There’s a celebratory Google Doodle and everything.

Emmeline-Pankhurst

 

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!

 

 

The Modern Old-Fashioned

Sometimes my research doesn’t really work out. I was looking forward to spending some time in the Bodleian with some old books this week.  I’d ordered up some copies of Stitchery [the craft supplement for the Girl’s Own Paper] and a contemporary American periodical, The Modern Priscilla.

 

 

I was both delighted and disappointed by them both. While both publications purport to include patterns and tutorials for all kinds of needlecraft and fancy-work in reality it seems that readers were expected to read the informative articles about how to make these things and send away for the patterns by post.  So there weren’t nearly as many tutorials and things as I had hoped.  Most of the patterns are for tatting work (not among my skills) or Irish Crochet (the patterns are basically gobbledygook to me because I’m so useless at crochet).  I was really hoping to find a pattern for a shirt-waist so I could spend the rest of the week dressed up as a Gibson Girl and lounging under a sun-dappled tree with my correspondence and a badminton racket.

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I admit I can’t see a badminton racket here. But I’m sure she has one. Or a croquet mallet or something.

 

Alas, I think my chances of finding some of those original paper patterns are rather slim. But what the publications lacked in useful patterns they made up for in bonkers advertisements and editorials.  I was kind of expecting this with Stitchery – after all it was edited by Flora Klickmann, matriarch of British craft publications, prolific author and expert at telling people what’s wrong with their furniture.

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Flora Klickmann: not to be trifled with

 

But The Modern Priscilla is a whole new kind of bizarre. What were they thinking? In the first instance, the name makes no sense.

Priscilla  fem. proper name, from Latin, fem. of Priscillus, diminutive of Priscus, from priscus “antique, old-fashioned, old, ancient, primitive, venerable;” related to prior (see prior (adj.)).

So if “Priscilla” means “old” or “antique” then the name of the magazine is “The Modern Old-Fashioned” which is a bit strange. And the whole thing seems to strike this weird balance between the deeply modern (with all the fashion plates and advice on the latest gadgets) and the profoundly old-fashioned.  Look at the covers:

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If anything, the cover suggests that this is the kind of magazine you share with your granny.  Or share with your granddaughter. And the pair of you will sit merrily making lace until you’re both half-blind. But then you turn the pages and all the crazy comes out in a rush.   The Modern Priscilla presents some of the most singularly unattractive patterns I have ever laid eyes on…

But the majority of the magazine is taken up with advertisements.  Astounding, wonderful, baffling advertisements including…

Detailed editorials on the health and beauty benefits of vibration!

Racy novels!

And she was a nice girl too...

And she was a nice girl too…

Terrifying tools!

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Birds that sound like violins!

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Craft courses!

Your friends will certainly be surprised...

Your friends will certainly be surprised…

 

But every now and then the adverts are interrupted by tutorials for the most useless and unnecessary trifles ever…

 

 

Who needs a crochet coin-holder? Why not just tie a knot in your handkerchief and save all that effort and faff? What were you thinking, Mrs F.L. Merritt?

Who needs a crochet coin-holder? Why not just tie a knot in your handkerchief and save all that effort and faff? What were you thinking, Mrs F.L. Merritt?

Once I’d stopped laughing (and for a time I was afraid I might never stop) I thought that there must be a logic behind it all…

Maybe the editors were being arch and ironic?

Maybe they were so snarky that they knew EXACTLY what they meant by “modern old-fashioned”… Maybe they were hipsters – effortfully quirky, painfully postured, sneeringly, ironically chic.  Maybe this was a blackly-comic and subversive publication that, while presenting itself as a nice little guide to managing your household and embroidering every available surface with flowers and ducks, was in fact a dark howl of enraged domesticity. If a nice lady decorates things then surely a really nice lady decorates all the things!  Pile on the chintz!  More ruffles!  More cross-stitch!  More useless and delicate items for the home!  Make whisk-brush holders, lacy shelf-edgings, doilies for every available surface.  Above all, decorate yourself and any small people you happen to be in charge of.

Though, actually,  probably not…

So, in honour of Mrs. F.L Merritt and the ladies of The Modern Priscilla I give you a rescued vintage pattern for a Crochet Rose from the Coin Handkerchief…

Crochet Rose

As this is the first time I’ve ever made something in crochet, I decided to test it out in big yarn to get the hand of things.

It was a lot easier than I expected though my stitches are a bit squiffy.  I will get hold of a wee delicate little crochet hook and see if that makes a difference. Who knows…maybe I’ll be able to surprise all my friends this Christmas with coin hankies…