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 (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

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


Resolutions, Ripper Street and Tiny Toiles

This year’s new year’s resolution is to learn how to sew better.  I want to get to grips with hand-quilting, embroidery and dress-making.  In particular, I want to make some vintage clothes from old patterns.

This year sees the start of a new research project on material culture in children’s literature.  I’m taking a semester’s research leave to get started on a monograph and I’m surrounded by all things Victorian at the moment…books, catalogues, advertisements, cartoons…and so I decided that my first project of the new year should be something Victorian that ties in with my research.

Outside of the library,  I’ve been getting a regular fix of rollicking, romping, ripping Victorian entertainment through Ripper Street.  I know people complain because it’s not historically accurate.  I know that while it’s theoretically set in the late 1880s, there are all sorts of anachronisms and some things (like Jackson’s gun) appear WAY ahead of their time whereas other things (like some of the slang words used) are more than a little archaic.[1]

But I don’t care.

I don’t care because the whole thing is filmed in Dublin and I love watching to see if I can spot bits of the sets – Trinity College[2], the Dead Zoo[3], Dublin Castle[4]

I don’t care because the dialogue has a rhythm and a register all of its own that makes the world of the story unique.

I don’t care because even the small characters are brilliant and have their own little lives to get on with.

And mostly I don’t care because I adore the clothes.

The sleeves! The standy-up collars!  The skirts! The mad turquoise and orange palette that the third season rocked!  Everything Long Susan wears!

Behold her mighty sleeves. And those hats.



How I want to get a hat like that and stick it to the front of my head like a mad Victorian unicorn…I want to sit in a room wallpapered with gold and teal peacocks and snark at anyone that comes near me in an inferior get-up…

And so when the latest (and maybe last?) season of Ripper Street came to an end I decided that what my little heart desired most was a jacket like Long Susan’s.  Preferably one that I could actually get away with wearing in real life without small children pointing at me on the street.

So – to research!

My recent searches of late 19th century periodicals turned up some beautiful pictures but sadly no practical patterns.  I found some nice modern patterns that are based on old designs but that felt a little bit like cheating (bear in mind that I will cheat heavily when it comes to actually making this this…there’s no way I’m going without interfacing or my sewing machine so cheating at the pattern stage too makes the whole thing dishonest).

Then I found The National garment Cutting Book of Diagrams from 1888.  It’s from exactly the right period and it is a many-splendored thing.  It’s full of wonderful, strange, outfits with big bustles and enormous sleeves.  I love sleeves.

I was tempted by some of the coats and the dresses – even the aprons looked like fun.

But I loved this jacket the best.

Ladies’ Street Jacket, The National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams 1888

The pattern is…not what I’m used to.

Here it is in its entirety.


That’s it.  One page.  There’s no indication of how any of these bits fit together and the only advice for sizing is “use scale corresponding with bust measure”.  The description says ‘in ten pieces’ but only nine are drafted here.  Thanks Anonymous.  That’s so helpful.

After some serious moping, Karl suggested that I make a miniature version as a sort of tiny mock-up toile.  And so I did.

I traced over the pattern pieces as they are printed and cut the pieces out of some left-over quilting cotton (bad choice in retrospect because it frayed so much). It was a bit strange to sew sleeves that only had space for one or two pins.

Here it is.

Apart from the woejeous[5] stitching and the gammy[6] bits under the armscye I’m rather pleased with it. I did eventually (after some swearing) figure out where all the bits went and how the pieces fit together.

So, this weekend’s project is to make a full-size toile.  I have some canvas, a lot of pins and a heap of enthusiasm. And I’ll be following the (anachronistic) advice from Singer the whole time.


I’ll let you know where it gets me.

[1] Vanessa Heggie has an excellent blog post that points out that it’s not as far-fetched as it seems initially http://www.theguardian.com/global/the-h-word/2013/feb/03/victorian-science-of-ripper-street?CMP=twt_gu

[2] My alma mater…it doubles as a surprising number of buildings.

[3] For non-Dubliners, the Dead Zoo is like the normal Zoo but it’s full of taxidermied animals rather than living ones. It’s a fantastic place and there are many wondrous things to see, including a lion who obviously died of natural causes.  Probably the mange.  It’s the saddest looking lion in the whole world. He’s gone all baldy and sideways in his case and the moths have been at him but he’s kind of brilliant because you won’t see a manky old dead lion so proudly displayed anywhere else.

[4] Also where they filmed The Tudors.  That’s less exciting to watch because history has already given out the spoilers.

[5] A word I learned from my mother which means very bad, worthy of woe, grief-inducing

[6] Unable to function normally due to chronic injury or pain (in this case, pain caused to my fingers)

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.


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.


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.

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.

gibson 2

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.


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:


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!




Birds that sound like violins!



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…

Land Girls and Coded Jumpers

I wouldn’t have lasted long in Wartime Britain.

If the tea-ration didn’t finish me off, the lack of knitting patterns would have done me in.

The ministry of war feared that knitting patterns could be used to send encrypted messages so it became illegal to send knitting patterns by international mail.  So knitters were stuck with whatever patterns they already owned or had to make up their own patterns.  To compensate for this inconvenience, the war office got busy making up knitting patterns and encouraging people to knit for the services.

As a result, there are lots of knitting patterns from World War Two in the IWM archive.  Earlier in the year I spent a happy morning looking through three archive boxes full of them.  There are more boxes but not everything is accessible at the moment because of the refurbishments.

The vast majority of these patterns are for men and there are dozens of copies of Service Woolies for Men and Knitting for the RAF/ARMY/Delete as appropriate.

And nestled in among them all a single, well-worn copy of Weldon’s Service Woolies for Women


Imperial War Museum Archives Eph. C. Fashion (Knit WW2 & Postwar) Item number K05/2622 18 page magazine in good condition – No. 14 Pages 12-13 Land Army

It’s 18 pages long and it has about a dozen patterns for pullovers, gloves and scarves which are supposedly for the ladies in the forces though I bet a lot of people knit them for their own use too[1]. There are some vile things and some pretty nice things – it seems that whoever set out the patterns was quite fair-minded because from what I can tell there’s one decent item and one terrible item for each of the women’s forces.

I chose to make the Land Girl’s jumper mainly because it was one of the few things in my size but also because there’s a certain romance to the Land Girls.  The romance isn’t helped by things like Wartime Farm and the BBC show Land Girls which have convinced me that Land Girls lived in a jolly world of eternal summer and perfect hair.

I shouldn’t blame them.  This is the image of the Land Girl we are all familiar with.  The posters for the Women’s Land Army all show the girl in uniform[2] – usually a svelte, smiling, brunette standing charmingly in the middle of a countryside scene straight out of the world of Enid Blyton.

Look at her.  You can imagine her saying ‘spiffing!’ and lounging around in a sun-dappled cornfield drinking ginger beer. She’s all red lipstick and tight breeches and breezy wit. She rides on the back of a hay-rick.  She waves coyly at American G.Is and throws her head back when she laughs.  Sometimes she might lead a horse around a field – a nice horse, with ribbons in its mane, and a name like Clumper or Queenie or something.  She’s everyone’s summer girlfriend. And she is lovely.

Except I’m pretty sure it can’t have been like that. The photograph records in the IWM archive show an awful lot of rat-catching.  On the BBC WW2 people’s war archive some former Land Girls talk about thistle-bodging[3] and stone-picking and all kinds of hard, miserable jobs.  There are some wonderful photographs too.  These are taken from the People’s War Archive.  WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar:

There’s loads of information on the Women’s Land Army at the National Archives and at the IWM.  I plan to do a lot more reading up about Land Girls in the next few months but I suspect I won’t find many stories about scampering around in fields wearing red lipstick.

In the meantime, I decided to content myself with some Land Girl-themed knitting and picked “A Ribbed Pullover in Two Sizes” for my first IWM project.  These scans are taken from a copy I bought online – sorry about any shaky words!


Khaki green is not my style so I decided to make this up in brown wool (Holst Garn supersoft – colourway: Conker).  I’ve knit with this yarn before and while it is kind of stiff and scrunchy in the ball it knits up into a fine, soft fabric.  The yarn is unwashed so it still has a whiff of sheep about it for that authentic Land Girl perfume.  Thankfully, the sheepishness soon washes out.  The grease helps stop the yarn splitting on the needle and has the added bonus of keeping your fingers nice and soft. The pattern calls for 10 oz of yarn but I haven’t a clue how much that is in new money so I ordered 300g initially to see where that got me.


First impressions

The first thing that strikes me about this pattern is how simple it appears to be.  There’s hardly any instructions.  The bit about ‘making up’, for instance, is barely a line long. The pattern author assumes the pattern reader is a) an experienced knitter and b) psychic.

While this pattern seems to have a gauge (yay) – it’s actually not a gauge at all.  It’s a cypher. The tension is ‘about 10 stitches and 11 rows’ but it doesn’t say to what…there is a rather unhelpful picture of the knitted fabric with the pattern

got gauge?

got gauge?

So I did a little swatch and got 10 stitches and 11 rows to 1 inch on 3mm needles (size 11) so I’m going to run with it and see what happens.

I cast on for the smaller size because I figure that ribbing is a fairly forgiving stitch and it will probably stretch or cling.  The sizes seem pretty vague anyway. I suspect this is a ‘one size fits none’ kind of pattern. Never mind.

Casting on

The pattern is simple and, if I’m totally honest, a little boring.  Nothing happens for rows and rows and rows. You increase a bit, then a little bit more, then a little bit more.  I am forced to count rows.  Karl gets excited by how often and how violently I smack the katcha-katcha on the head (mine’s shaped like a perturbed owl) and starts to mind it while I knit so he can smack it too.

Then all the excitement begins with the shoulder-shaping on the back.  Then there’s a MISTAKE!

It says you should end up with 36 or 40 stitches to leave on a spare needle but there’s actually either 46 or 50 stitches. So…either that’s a misprint or the pattern was never test-knit.

As I go on, and make the front I find MORE MISTAKES. The needle-sizes randomly change in the middle of the pattern.  The increases for the sleeves don’t work with the given gauge. The decreases for shaping the top of the sleeves make no sense.[4] So now I’m beginning to wonder if the pattern was ever test-knit at all.  Or even proof-read.

If they suspected that knitting patterns could be used to pass coded messages, I’m assuming that most patterns would have been checked by some official-type person.  How did these mistakes get passed over? Seriously, these people managed to crack the Enigma code – how could they not write a knitting pattern?

Then it clicked.

Maybe the pattern is a kind of test?

Maybe anyone making this pattern successfully would be immediately recruited to Bletchley Park on account of their genius?

Maybe I need to lie down.

After some strong tea and a sweet biscuit I calmed down enough to write out a new version.  Here: Land Girl Pullover


I am impressed by how economical this pattern is.  I bought 300 grams of yarn (6 50g balls with 287m / 314yds in each) but just used 4 balls.  I have one full ball, one almost full ball and a fair amount of odds leftover.  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have broken into the fifth ball at all if I was a bit more patient and didn’t try to knit the neckband before I started the sleeves..  This is economy knitting at its best – this sweater is the kind of thing you can knit when you’re down to the last couple of stamps on your ration-card.[5]

The ribbed material means the garment stretches and clings for any body shape and fits neatly and warmly.  I’m pleased with the finished garment too.  I would like it to be a little longer but that’s a problem I have with everything.[6]

Now to put on some red lipstick and find a hayfield…



[1] You could make these items in whatever colours you fancied though you could get khaki and navy yarns off-ration if you solemnly swore you were making something for the forces so it’s a good bet pretty much everything knitted in wartime was sludgy green or dark blue.

[2] The Women’s Land Army is a bit of a misnomer.  Actually, it wasn’t a military organisation at all and while there was a uniform (green pullover, brown trousers, brown felt hat, khaki overcoat) a lot of the Land Girls never actually wore it.

[3] I’m not sure what this is but it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

[4] Unless you have arms like a gorilla…

[5] You had to use your clothing ration to buy wool or cloth.  Each person received 66 coupons for a year (cut to 48 in 1942, to 36 in 1943 and to just 24 in 1945).  An adult  jumper or cardigan ‘cost’ 5 coupons throughout the war.

[6] I have a long torso.  Like a dog, I’m tallest when sitting.