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


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.


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]


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!


[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.

The Owl Service Hat

It is impossible to have too many hats.  I won’t leave the house without one.  I have hats for fancy occasions, hats for everyday, hats for messing around in boats, hats for sitting in the garden, hats I wear when I’m grumpy, and hats I wear when I’m happy. Very often, people assume that this means I will wear any kind of hat.  I will not.  I am rather fussy about my hats.  I take my hats very seriously.  The Owl Service Hat was something I’ve been thinking about and planning for quite a while.

Last summer I went to see an exhibition of magical books in the Bodleian and saw many wondercrump things.  A facsimile of the Aleitheometer from His Dark Materials.  The Six Signs of power made for Susan Cooper by her husband.  Some old manuscripts about demonology and spells.  And, tucked into a dark corner, one of the dinner plates that inspired Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.

The Owl Service Plate

The Owl Service Plate

I don’t know if you’ve read the book.  You should.  It’s brilliant and bloody scary.  The book reprises the story of Lleu Llaw Gyfees, Gronw, and Blodeuwedd from the Mabinogion. As well as being full of difficult names, the story is complicated.  Lleu is unable to marry a human wife and so has a magician make him a wife out of flowers.  She is beautiful but, like many beautiful things in legends, not very sensible.  She has an affair with Lleu’s best friend, Gronw.  The two men, jealous and enraged, kill one another and Blodeuwedd is cursed for her infidelity and turned into an owl.  In Alan Garner’s book, the valley is haunted by the legend, a story that is ‘still happening’ in each generation.  The story, like the pattern on the plates that inspired it, is complicated, shifting, hard to pin down.  And even Alison, the character who is possessed by Blodeuwedd has to be reminded which she really is:

‘“You’ve got it back to front, you silly gubbins.  She’s not owls.  She’s flowers.  Flowers.  Flowers, Ali.” He stroked her forehead. “You’re not birds.  You’re flowers.  You’ve never been anything else.  Not owls.  Flowers…”‘ (Alan Garner, The Owl Service, (1967), p.155)

It’s plain that only a great effort of concentration can help distinguish the harmless flowers from the demonic owls.

So when I saw the plate I was mesmerised. The design was so obviously flowers and then at the next moment could never have been anything but flowers….like one of those magic eye puzzles where you can see the old lady or the young lady but not both at the same time.  Because the old lady IS the young lady and the flowers ARE owls.  And I knew I wanted to make it – to make a pattern that was owls and flowers and both at once.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to make with the pattern…it had to be something round for the pattern to work.  Maybe the yoke of a jumper or a semi-circular shawl?  On the end I decided to make something that was the same size as the original dinner plates. Because that’s the sort of logic that appeals to me.

And I wanted to make it out of yarn the same colours as the book cover.  Because that’s another sort of logic that appeals to me. I used Malabrigo Worsted Chapel Stone for the Main Colour and Malabrigo Rios Teal Feathers for the contrast colour.  I think they are a pretty good match.

So the plan for The Owl Service Hat was born.  I printed out a photograph of the Owl Service plates and traced over them (I simplified the pattern a lot because I am not mad enough to make something with a 120 stitch pattern repeat).  And I made a chart based on the pattern with this fabulous and handy website.


The chart looks like an owl by itself (and looks even more like an owl if you stand on your head) but once the patterns are joined up in the round the wings touch and make the outline of a flower with soft, rounded petals.

I used the chart for a hat but I think it’s pretty adaptable – you could omit the decreases and use the chart for a cowl or a pair of socks or something completely different if that takes your fancy.  I might try some owl socks in an idle week.

Once I’d settled on the design it didn’t take very long to make, about half a week’s worth of commutes.  The finished hat is something between a tam and a beret with a sort of lazy-fair isle vibe.  I used one of the dinner plates from my Dragon Aunt’s dinner service as a blocking template and, once I’d managed to stuff the hat in there it worked beautifully.  I’d totally recommend it.  Though if you have a small head or less hair than I do, maybe a soup plate would make more sense…


You can download the pattern here: The Owl Service Hat