There And Back Again

“I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that he wished that!


The Hobbit, J.R.R.Tolkien, 1937, Chapter 2.


Two years ago, I decided to do something not at all Living History, veering slightly into Cosplay.  I decided to make one of my sons a version of Bilbo’s dressing gown, from ‘An Unexpected Journey’, the first film in  ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy.  Mainly because he’d made wistful remarks about wishing he had one.  Also, because I wanted to make the Christmas presents for my older sons, to save money and so they would always have special things made for them, with love.

Bilbo’s Dressing Gown. CREDIT: Hazel Mason

So I looked at sites to see who else had ventured into patchwork dressing gown territory and quickly realised surprisingly few people – even Tolkien geeks like myself –  had done a similar project. All those online are lovely but where they seemed to miss the mark was in the colour tone/depth of hue – picking colours too bold, or light. I watched , re-watched and paused the scene with Bilbo wearing his dressing gown and started to analyse the designer’s colour choices. There were earthy tones of browns and burgundy, with some primrose yellow, pale but dull-ish blue, and dusky rose colours. All colours from nature. The printed fabrics also reflected hobbits’ love of nature; flowers and foliage.


Based on analysis of images from the movie, and other bloggers’ recommendations, I decided to go with making the gown using 2 squares and a rectangle – measured in inches because hobbits aren’t metric!  The two squares would be 6” x 6” and 3” x 3”; the rectangle, 3” x 6”. I made templates from old plastic ice cream or margarine tubs, and added ½” seam allowance. I have a measuring gauge on the throat plate of my sewing machine (also pre-decimal because it’s on my 1956 Singer 221K) so I knew I could piece sort of accurately if I cut accurately and used the throat plate’s gauge.


When I started to piece the sleeves, laying out the patches on the cut-out lining, I compared my sleeve to the one in the film and realised there was no way the patches, the sizes recommended, would be right – far too large. So I revised them down to 16cm x 9cm and 9cm x 9cm, totally dropping the large squares. (Measurements include seam allowances. And I forgot to keep them imperial so when I re-make this, will revert to imperial!) Just counting down roughly the number of patches in the sleeves and body, from the movie’s version, it was apparent they were smaller than I’d thought.

Original 19thC fabrics – red flowery, next to edging, above sleeve. Black flowery on sleeve. On body (under elbow) cream fabric with bird’s body. CREDIT: HAZEL MASON

I meant to do the sleeves like this and leave the body with larger patches, but when it came to it I realised the disparity in patch size from sleeves to body, would look a bit odd, so ended up re-cutting the oblongs and squares I’d already cut out, down to the smaller size. This doubled the amount of cutting out I had to do.


The original seemed to combine texture as well as colour; brocaded and other relief patterned fabrics, velvets and silks.  Most of the other makers of replicas, so far, had stuck mainly with cottons – understandable as fat quarters are so readily available. But I was lucky, like a hobbit, to have a hoard of fairly rich looking silks and some brocades even a light green textured linen, from years of re-enactment and living history which meant I could incorporate texture, as well as colour,  into my version.  And yes, I’d happily make these on commission, but I’d have to figure out a fair price as it is incredibly labour intensive.  Essentially you are designing and making a fabric, as well as a garment.

My self-imposed limitation was to only use up scraps I already had – so to make this for zero cost –  with a rough colour criteria in my head as I sorted. I wanted this to cost as close to zero £s as possible and at the same time, use up scraps that had been lying around just in case, for years.  Hopefully, we’d end up with a useful garment that would also clear a couple of bags of scraps from the airing cupboard.

Haul of car-boot sale vintage cotton and linen thread. Probably a whole two quid’s worth!


So old patchwork fat quarters bought in a fit of enthusiasm a decade ago and never used; combined with recycled clothes and upholstery fabric and some living history fabrics were to be used.  Surprisingly, my own palette wasn’t as far off the costume designer’s as I’d imagined it might be. Only think I lacked were rusty oranges/umbers. I resisted the temptation to buy any fabric. I knew somewhere I had the perfect offcut of burgundy velvet; but was unsure if I could lay my hands on it. So if I couldn’t find it, would have to buy that. And that was going to be my only expenditure.  All threads I use as vintage; bought at car-boot sales. So I would use neutral cotton thread that came to hand. More than once in recent years, I was lucky enough to score huge boxes of 1950s – ‘70s threads at a car boot for derisory prices.  For this project, I selected mainly ‘Silcarn’ brand and all the threads used had to be sound.  Over many years of secondhand thread buying, I’ve noticed the threads that seem to degrade to the point they are unusable tend to be certain colours, which suggests their dyes are more corrosive – black and dark blues in particular.  I always try and yank apart vintage cotton when I buy it and if it stays intact, I keep it – if it breaks easily, I discard.


Later, after I cut the squares, I sorted for depth of colour – ignoring each patch’s actual colour but sorting into two piles – darker and lighter.  Then, when piecing each section, gave precedence to the darker patches, only using the lighter when darker ran out. In the end I used cottons, silk, linen, and the dark brown velvet was a recycled old smock-like top I’d had and not worn for years which turned out to be viscose and silk mix. There was a small amount of wool/cashmere leftover from a coat I made a couple of years back. I’d hoarded nice silk for years; leftovers from linings for re-enactment costumes and old tops I’d worn in ‘real life’ – if I got too fat for something made of silk – I never threw that out. Now the hoard came into its own. I can honestly say not a patch of this fabric is something I went out to buy; it was like something from The Shire, made from genuine scraps, leftovers and old clothing; not a single piece of the patchwork was something I went out to buy.  All of it therefore pre-washed and shrunk, and some of it aged like fine wine.


There were some old fat quarters I’d cut into for a never-to-be-finished project. These were slightly too small for my smallest size patches, but I cut them into small squares anyway, and put them aside to use for the edges and shaping – particularly on the edges of the sleeves; determined not to waste a scrap. I used my vintage pinking shears – another £1 car-boot find – to cut fabric where I could, to minimise fraying.

Bird is an original 19thC cotton print fabric. Flowers, lower left, from an original 1940s’ print fabric. Here I was beginning to map out piecing.


Cutting out the squares – the first time –  and rectangles took just over a day solid.  I took apart an old dressing gown being determined not to spend a penny, not even on a pattern. This was one I was about to throw away anyway.  The fleece was later recycled to make a cosy cat bed (after I unpicked half the dressing gown, laid it out flat, and used it to make a paper pattern). I could then make the lining and put it together first, before risking messing up the precious patchwork. I made a pocket in the lining. We slipped a repro ‘One Ring’ into it.


I laid out the patches roughly on each cut-out lining piece to make an approximate calculation of how many squares I’d need (adding on a rough extra 10% or so, for seam allowances between the patches). It looked like I’d need roughly 4 large, 20 medium and 20 small patches for the back.


I’d intended to use some burgundy velvet I knew I had somewhere, for the facing and cuffs but it stayed elusive so in the end, I had to relent and spend a bit of money. £12 on eBay for 2 metres of 100% cotton velvet, which, when it turned up was nice but not quite right right shade of ‘wine’. So back to eBay to buy some burgundy Procion dyes and fixative. Having to over-dye the velvet slowed the project down but it was already slowed down anyway, whilst I fixed the size of the patches.  This gave me longer to arrange the patches on the front and constantly comparing to the Hobbit stills, I realised I needed a few more dusky rose colours and old golds as well as some olives. So a further raid of fabric stashes was done, more patches cut, and I was ready to finally piece the front.  My mistakes had slowed me down enough to give me time to really figure out how to get the front as good as I possibly could. More haste, less speed.  I pieced together bits of silk to make the piping round the edges, from scratch.  Never made piping before but it was easy.  To finish,  I sewed a tag inside for him to hang it up and embroidered his initials in Dwarvish runes.

In the end, the burgundy dyes set me back under £10 which meant I spent less than £22 for the velvet edging; but ended up with enough for two dressing gowns meaning this one essentially cost £11. No doubt the burgundy velvet I knew I had will turn up again once I don’t need it.

In the end, son got this for Yule, 2015, but only just – so I had little time to photo it before I wrapped it up for him and we forgot to get a shot of him in it when he was home for Christmas. He went back to uni and we both kept forgetting to get shots of it.

In amongst the fabrics were some scraps of genuine 19thC printed cotton  (mainly bird and flower prints) I bought in 2011 to make reticules as thank yous to Caro and Emma, for doing living history at Dove Cottage with us.

19thC fabric: bird with madder-red background, sleeve. Variety of fabrics – silk velvet, cotton prints, figured linen, plain wool.  CREDIT: Hazel Mason


I’m blogging this now as I’m about to re-make it using a more 18thC shape  for the gown (banyan).  I’ll share the results here.

I wanted to go into detail on how I did this project as it is my favourite thing I ever sewed, and also – when I wanted to make one, there was a dearth of info out there so I had to largely wing it. Hopefully, this will help someone else tackle this project.  Essentially, you need to draft or buy a dressing gown pattern, or pull apart an old dressing gown, or draft or buy an 18thC banyan pattern; then make panels of fabric (one for the back, two narrower for the front, and 2 for the sleeves).  Then cut into the panels (reinforcing wherever you cut into by re-sewing) to create the shape. Then, sew together.  The belt and edging were cotton velvet; the piping was homemade from silk, pieced by being cut straight not on the bias, which is how it was often done in the 18thC. It photographs almost white but is, in reality, much softer in hue.

I loved every second of this project, to the point I’m about to make another one, using the 18thC banyan pattern we drafted last year.  This time, for myself.  And mainly because I still have enough leftover scraps of various fabrics.  My only regret with Bilbo’s Dressing Gown was that I didn’t make it from a banyan pattern, to give it more of an eighteenth century shape with a waist and flared out shape.

But anyway. I’m about to go there and back again – again. Wish me luck.

1956 Singer 221K “Featherweight”. Project sewn using this well-travelled machine.



Lancashire Squares, Yorkshireficated.

See ‘Bob’s blanket’ project, on Ravelry. Squares dyed with madder, weld, cochineal. They work best done in garter stitch, as top right (cochineal) demonstrates.

Whilst ‘The Knitter’ 122 is still in the shops, I thought I’d do a quick post on the non -traditional way I constructed the centre square of the ‘Hetty’  hap shawl.

Well, I say non traditional – it’s very traditional. Just in Lancashire, not Scotland! Fusion knitting is a thing, right?

One thing that inspired me to try and make a different-but-still-traditionally-inspired hap was reading about the Yorkshire and Lancashire mill girls’ in their vivid shawls – usually woven, with geometric patterns in vivid colours. A woman’s shawl was also a way to express her personality as it may be a less expensive item of clothing; something you could change up, a bit more frequently.

Many mill workers were Methodists or other types of Non Conformists, and in nineteenth century novels and letters, you can find sniffy comments about their ‘garish’ taste in clothing and penchant for stunning, flower-covered hats, trimmed with pretty ribbons, often worn to outings, high days, holidays and feasts (al fresco picnics, a fairly common sight in the Victorian countryside). My own family in the West Riding wool industry, were largely Methodists or Baptists.

I wanted to design a hap (practical, everyday shawl) that encapsulated some of the mill girl spirit. Not just to remember those countless mill workers in Lancashire and Yorkshire  and elsewhere in England but also across  Wales, Ireland and Scotland, too.   Mill workers worked long hours, for low pay, in bad conditions and with everything stacked in the employer’s favour; not their’s. The women’s colourful shawls and feast day hats seemed somehow to transcend the grimness of everyday life, and affirm their spirit.

Way back in 1993, I saw something in ‘Spin Off’ magazine that piqued my interest and I always remembered it, in the dusty stacks at the  back of my mind even though I’m no knitter of blankets, or squares.   It was a ‘recipe’ for the perfect knitted square, based on a method used by Lancashire mill girls to use up leftovers from t’mills.  This became my jumping off point for making a hap, but a hap with a difference. I never forgot this unassuming letter to ‘Spin Off’ and guessed it maybe described what was once a fairly common way of making a reliable square shape, using leftovers – but one that not all contemporary knitters know.

A year or two ago, I wanted to knit some blanket squares for the friend of a dear friend, to contribute to a large blanket with squares knitted by many members of a Ravelry group, and so sought out the Lancashire squares – and here it was. It was a snippet on the Letters page. Anne Campbell wrote from Mold, Wales, describing a way of knitting a square that her mother in law gave her in the 1960s.:

… She was told it by an old lady at the cotton mill in Lancashire where she worked as a girl doing cotton reeling. She said that when the thread broke or was knotted and tangled they were allowed to bring home the pieces of cotton. These she unravelled and knitted or crocheted into blankets or tablecloths.
‘The beauty of this pattern is that all the squares come out truly square. It is knitted on two needles in garter stitch, with decreases at both ends and three other evenly spaced decreases every alternate row.’

From Spin Off, Winter, 1993, pp88ff.

Errata in Spring, 1994 pointed out the method used multiples of 8 + 5 stitches, and gave a more accurate example.


Back issues of ‘Spin Off’ including these ones are available from here.


I was to discover the errata had errata,  (ah yes, I know that glorious feeling) so I started experimenting by casting on various numbers, and checking whether or not I could make a Lancashire Square.

© The Knitter ‘Hetty’, ‘The Knitter’, 122.  Centre square is a giant Lancashire Square, sewn up along one edge with the border and edging then knitted outwards.

I managed to boil it down to a simple formula (Yorkshire-ificated the Lancashire square, if you like) which I apply to the first row and then knit the rest accordingly:

Pen’s Lancashire Formula =
K2tog, 3(# + k3tog), #, k 2 tog

(“#” = “any even number”)

You need to asjust the number every other row, as you are decreasing sts away.  You are of course, knitting the square from the outside in (or you’d be increasing, not decreasing, right?)

Although the pattern works with multiples of 8 + 5, officially; I discovered it worked with anything to which I could apply that formula, to so long as the number was even.  To work the square, all I needed to do was pick a number, plug it into my algorithm and voila. The squares are worked garter stitch – alternating a decrease row with a plain, garter st row.  And notice it’s ‘rows’ not my usual ’rounds’ so you do have a seam to sew up to make the square.  If done in garter stitch with a balanced yarn, it wants to lie flat, which is a help.





‘The Knitter’ magazine



“With His Head All Dyed A Brilliant Magenta Colour”

Well, I finally got round to making a tiny Etsy shop, to sell our mudags and some of my naturally dyed fibres:

So now the mudags will be available to folk who can’t get to wool shows in Yorkshire, this year!

And also, talking of dyeing, one of my (possible) Dawson relatives found this wonderful story about Longwood’s David Dawson, the 19thC Huddersfield dyer, who along with his son, Dan, developed the world’s first synthetic magenta dye. I’m still not sure whether or not  my great grandma x 5, Betty Dawson of Longwood, was related to David and Dan Dawson, but given my thirty odd year long quest to wring vivid colours out of the natural world;  it wouldn’t surprise me.



There was, too, the important firm of Dan Dawson and Sons of Milnsbridge. Old David was the first with the magenta dye. He could be seen regularly at the market on a Tuesday, with his head all dyed a brilliant magenta colour. They were first in these parts, I think, and I may say, in the world, to develop the new dye…


[The Huddersfield Examiner, April 1915,  ‘THE DYEWARE TRADE IN HUDDERSFIELD IN DAYS GONE BY’, John Sugden,  J.P].

What?  Hang on a minute…  he did what?  Is there another way of interpreting that sentence?  (And we are talking the 1860s, here).

The things some people do for publicity!  Now I know we have only just opened our Etsy shop, but even I can’t face going quite so far as the irrepressible David.

Still, I can now add to my recent discovery of the York early Victorian gents walking round with lovely red lip salve – the thought of my (possible) relative, David Dawson – over one hundred years before punk, being the first Brit to sport magenta hair….

In David’s honour, I will of course, be synthetically dyeing some of our Norfolk Horn fleece “bright magenta”.  But not my head.

Logwood dyed Norfolk Horn. Not quite magenta, but you can say you got it from a putative relative of the first man to dye his hair pink…



Many thanks to Lindsay Dawson, for her intriguing discovery.

“Boil Jently” – A Nineteenth Century Gentleman’s Lip Salve.

‘The Knitter’ 122. ‘Hetty’ hap on cover is based on Lancashire squares.

Well that was a surprise.  Just opened my complimentary  copy of ‘The Knitter’ which has been languishing under a chair for a few days, to see if my history of prison knitting article is in – and my hap shawl is on the cover!  I had no clue.  I will write some more about it down the week as it has an usual structure based on an old Lancashire trick, the knitters here might enjoy. It was inspired by the colourful (woven) shawls of nineteenth century mill girls in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

One other place you might need a practical, everyday, warm shawl in the nineteenth century was prison.

I had already written and was about to hit send on the following blog post when I had my nice surprise. The piece is: ‘Secret Stitches: Stories of Knitting in Victorian Prisons’ which can also be found in ‘The Knitter’ 122. Check it out!  It represents a tiny corner of the research I’ve been doing for a couple of years for my upcoming book, which will take us into… let’s say the more gothic side of knitting history.


To accomplish this, I’ve been researching in the account books of York’s Debtors’ Prison, and, maybe unsurprisingly in the context, found some rather distractable debtors; who were supposed to be keeping accounts, but instead, wrote recipes and fascinating marginalia.

The debtors’ Day Books, and other paperwork survive in very small quantities; it seems that when prisoners were admitted, someone impounded their paperwork; business and domestic account books, invoices, receipts, and court judgements – as defaulting on a court judgement was what got most in debtors’ prison. Only a few debtors’ accounts have survived, and luckily, from my period of interest; late Georgian – early Victorian dates.

Considering the thousands of debtors who passed through York’s two debtors’ prisons in the 18thC and 19thC, only a small handful of York debtors’ records are extant.


Debtors often knitted for extra income, items which they then sold at the quarterly Assizes when the prisons and courts were thronging with visitors. I’ve been working on this for my forthcoming book, and have scoured the debtors’ accounts for information about knitting. Found none, directly, although what I did find was still intriguing.

One of ‘my’ knitting debtors, a York pub landlord, who ended up in the Debtors’ prison by 1841, wrote this intriguing recipe in his Day Book, in 1839. He was a man in his fifties, so this is probably a Georgian recipe. And don’t try this at home! I think the ‘marrow’ would be bone marrow from the leftovers in the pub kitchen, and ‘red bark’ may or may not be brazilwood – which could well be toxic.

But anyway, I enjoy thinking that middle aged men in York were walking round wearing red tinted lip gloss, scented with Bergamot!  I have preserved my gentleman’s spellings. He was an early fan of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, polymath, and pub landlord. But born on a North Yorkshire farm where, it appears, there may have been one of the farm-based knitting schools.  More of that soon.  For now – for reference only – here it is. A recipe from  the pages of a prisoner’s Day Book, 1839:


By Glatisant – Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1831, Public Domain,

To Make Lip Salve
Take 1/4 lb of Marrow when melted
1/2 Oz of White Wax
2 Oz of Raisins chop’d small
1/4 Oz of Sugar Candy
A small bit of Red Bark to colour it with, Boil jently, or simer it for 5 Minutes then strain it through a bit of Muslin, when nearly cold add a few drops of esence of Bergamot to scent it.

For Hair oil despence with the Raisins and Sugar Candy and double the quantity of Marrow”.

Nalbinding Crash Course


It started like this.

Day 1’s efforts!

Every year, I meant to get on the Nalbinding For Beginners workshop, run by the York Archaeological Society at the VikingFest.  Every year, it sold out before I could get on it.  But, I noticed a few years back, the course for Advanced Nalbinders didn’t sell out.  So, a few years back, I reserved a place on it with only a few weeks to go, thinking:

“I’ll teach myself the basics, then go on the second course.  How hard can it be?”  Well, I discovered, nalbinding is pretty hard to teach yourself. I’ve never had a problem picking up new knitting techniques from video tutorials, and I found some excellent nalbinding tutorials on YouTube.  But, pause and rewind as I might, I couldn’t get the hang of it. Just couldn’t.  So, in the end, I gave in and didn’t go to the course booked.  It’s inexpensive so not such a loss of money but still, really disappointing as I’d so wanted to learn this from the inspirational Mari Wickerts of Gothenburg Museum, who teaches every year during the Jorvik Festival.

Each year, I’d have another go at teaching myself. Each year, I’d fail. I had watched living history folk nalbinding, and they’d patiently answered all my questions and I’d think “When I get home, I should be able to do this, this time!”  But no.  Failed every time.  Some things about nalbinding are counteriuntuitive for knitters, I have to say.  And I alternated between over-thinking it, and not thinking enough about the right things…

This year – same old, same old. January comes around and I realise I forgot to book a place on the now sold out Beginners’ course. This year, like an idiot, I gave myself a massive task:  I booked myself again onto the second course. I had 13 days to teach myself to do something I’d utterly failed at several times.

Day 2 – joining in the round.

I decided to buy one book, and luckily for me, stumbled on Ulrike Classen-Büttner’s Nalbinding – What In The World Is That? 

Using it in conjunction with Samato09’s Neulakintaat YouTube channel, I managed, over those 13 days, to just about learn to nalbind. I found Ulrike’s book filled in the gaps for me and I was also mesmerised by her account of the history of this craft;  a precursor to knitting. Help and support can also be found on the Facebook nalbinding groups, and the Ravelry group Nalbinders of Ravelry.

I already had several bone needles, bought hopefully by husband at re-enactors’ fairs, as he had long hoped I’d learn how to make him a nalbinded hat/mitts for work.  But as the days progressed, I realised none of my needles were quite right for me. And making my own was a craft too far, right now. Darning needles work well – especially for thinner yarns, but it is easier to learn, and develop some consistency, with thicker yarns at the start.

I wanted a needle about 9cm long; flat in profile, light and comfortable, and pointier rather than blunt – but not too pointy.  Which reminded me of another peril of learning a new craft – you have to start with tools that you may have selected before you had even done the craft.   And personal preferences are key, I think. Especially when it comes to needles and having consistent tension.   Via one of the Facebook groups, I had seen beautiful needles made in Tranby, Norway, by William Solberg – and gathered he’d make them precisely to your specs. So, with a mighty couple of weeks’ experience but now firmly knowing what kind of needle I’d like, I bought an antler (reindeer?) and one of  Mr. Solberg’s special ‘parrot wood’ (dyed birch?) needles – requesting one of a certain length and with two eyes, and these suit me much better than the needles I started out with:

Parrotwood needle, William Solberg



Only two pieces of nalbinding are extant in the UK.  One, a ‘sock’ (more like a slipper) from Viking York, down the road. The other, apparently, an eighteenth century baby bootee which is in the National Museum of Antiquities in Scotland. I haven’t been able to find a photo of this or any information about it yet.  The jury is out about the eighteenth century piece til I can see it, but the Coppergate sock can be seen at the Jorvik Centre, and is made from a stitch unknown elsewhere in the world – so is called ‘York’ stitch. It appears to have been undyed white/cream wool with a narrow madder dyed edging and was found in a corner of one of the collapsed houses, at Coppergate.

Day 3 or 4. Slight improvement. Not got the idea of tension, yet.

I also intend to be running some workshops and one to one teaching over the summer – spinning, maybe dyeing, certainly traditional knitting. And when I trained to be a teacher all those years ago, we were told that it is wise to be a learner yourself. Every now and then pick a new to you skill and try and learn it. Whilst you learn it, take note on all the things you struggle with, or find difficult, or those things that get in your way. It makes a better teacher if you can revisit how it feels to be an absolute beginner, every now and then.

4th week. Needles (‘parrot’ wood and antler, made by William Solberg).

The day I knew I’d passed my PGCE and we officially got QTS (Qualified Teacher Status), I remember our course leader finally addressed us all as ‘colleague’. It was profoundly important, in the profession, and only someone who was qualified could ever be called ‘colleague’ by another teacher. People can be gifted natural teachers but that is rare. You have to learn how people learn as well as knowing how to do the thing you’re trying to teach.  And you have to walk a mile in your students’ shoes, as well.

As I’ve been learning to nalbind, I’ve also been taking mental note of the process of learning itself.  Long forgotten insecurities surfaced, like: If I ask this question in front of other people – will I look stupid?  Why am I doing (certain steps of the process)?  

At the start, I set myself a number of finite goals, all of which I wanted to reach, if I was going to do the Nalbinding Advanced course (which was, as it turned out, essentially Intermediate, anyway).

The goals were:

1. Learn Oslo stitch.  (One of the simplest to learn).  Basically, just figure out how to make a chain, and start, this stitch, like a crochet foundation chain.

2. Practice that one stitch until it is vaguely neat. Tension is an issue when learning, as for knitting!

3.  Learn a second stitch.  I didn’t know how many of the literally hundreds of possibilities, the other workshop attendees might have.  As it turned out, some had been going more than a year, or years, with just one, so I needn’t have worried!  By the end of my 13 days I could do Oslo, York, Korgen and Mammen stitch. Korgen was my most reliable.

4. Learn the first two connection stitches (known as F1 and F2).  Although I spent some brief time with the F2 connection, where you pick up two connecting stitches, (Mammen), I spent 98% of my time mastering F1.  It was into the second week before I even truly understood what a connection stitch was!  At first, I thought it was the initial stitch when joining in the round, the first round to the second. It slowly dawned on me that you do a connection stitch every stitch you work, once beyond the initial chain/circle.

5. Learn how to start off in the round. This was hard! Learning to do a foundation chain first meant I had to ake my first hats from the brim (bottom) upwards.  But it is easier to shape, and more typical of historical nalbinded artefacts, to start from the top down.  I didn’t have this learning to work from a circle, in my original bucket list, but also managed to achieve this before Day 14.  For a while, joining then starting the second round was hgely difficult for some reason, so I hit on the idea of joining it any old way just to get going, then switchcing colour for the second round, so I could figure out visually, what stitches were where. I quickly figured out to improvise over stumbling blocks, then go back and fill in the blanks in my knowledge, later.  It was a good strategy.

It wasn’t till Day 6 that I could join in the round reliably. I just persevered. I had to get it, this time.

6. Learn to increase.  (This was easy. Two stitches into one stitch from previous round).


7. Learn to decrease.  (Again, easy. I’d allowed myself a day to master this but it took a few minutes).


To these I quickly added: Learn a start I can remember!  It was one thing doing them with videos in front of me; quite another trying to do them without.   I also wrote in my notes:

And by end of the crash course:

Make at least one small thing that is vaguely recognisable as nalbinding!

I wasn’t going to refine it much in 13 days but just needed to get the basics down.

In my notes to self, I wrote:

“Lots of ‘penny drops’ moments, but really just persisting. ”

Practice and more practice was the only thing that worked.  When you have been practising a craft like knitting all your life, you have put in the hours long since, to make everything effortless. Learning a new craft, it is back to the start, which is kind of cool.

I figured that if I could do the handful of things  I’d decided on, vaguely reliably, then I might be able to busk it and do the course.  By the end of the 13 days, I had it so I only had one loop on the thumb, and was working confidently with everything else behind. I thought it was still a bit of a risk but went to the course, anyway.

On the day when asked how long I’d been nalbinding, I kept it vague, as I didn’t want to say “This is Day 14!” so just said something like “Only a short while!”

Now anyone who has ever taught workshops that are not for beginners in a certain thing, knows that although you can put out ahead of time provisos like: “Only suitable for people who can already knit in the round!” you will, inevitably, have at least one person turn up who, despite the ads, leaflets and emails, admits “I can’t actually knit in the round yet!” or “I tried but it was about ten years ago and...”  It happens pretty well constantly. You end up trying not to spend the entire session getting that one person to the point they can participate at all – at the expense of the others in the room, who came already with the requisite skill level to benefit from the course.  I didn’t want to be that person.

Yet at the same time, I wanted to be able to nalbind and in the round and was prepared to just sit there and busk it, if necessary, just to get the benefit of an interesting workshop and OK, if I couldn’t do something, at least I’d have seen it done and could go away and figure it.  As it happened, I was able (just about) to keep up. I think a couple of the attendees had only learned the day before, at the Beginners’ class, so, technically, I had 13 times the experience of them!


On the day, I felt like the dumbest person in the room but regardless,  I learned a new way to start off from a circle – a method I haven’t seen anywhere online, on blogs or on YouTube. Although I have for now reverted to starting with a slip knot and some backwards loops cast on to the nalbinding needle, as per knitting, then pulling the yarn through the loops, which works for me. I saw some interesting pictures of artefacts and learned much more about nalbinding in an Anglo-Scandinavian context, which is precisely what I was hoping to learn.  And – over a month on – I can nalbind! I do it as a break from writing and knitting. It’s great fun as you work without patterns and I can see if I did this forever there would always be plenty of new things to learn.

We hope to be teaching a real, basic nalbinding how to, (or several) over the summer in one of the viking houses at the museum, if possible. Just the absolute how to get from not nalbinding at all, to doing a basic stitch.  Mari is keen to keep the craft alive and hopes her students teach as many people to nalbind as possible, and hopefully we can do that. Will keep yous posted.




End of Week 4 – the grey hat in Korgen stitch was the first of these as you can see from the obvious errors, but only the second hat I made. Used handspun and naturally dyed (madder and logwood) as well as some commercial yarn.

Historical Knitting to Float Your Boat

‘The Knitter’, issue 121.

In the shops now, ‘The Knitter’ 121, with a piece I wrote recently, about the history of knitting as reflected in marine archaeology.

I went in search of knitting from shipwrecks.  And found some great history, from the ‘Mary Rose’ to the more recent, and spectacular, Palmwood finds in the Netherlands. Via, of course, the wreck of ‘The General Carleton’ and a few others.

The knitted silk stockings from the Palmwood were found alongside an intact, 17thC silk gown and a leather book cover embossed with the arms of Charles I. I’d rate them as the most interesting knitted find, in archaeology, in a long, long time.  The Textile Research Centre in Leiden has been crowdfunding a project to reconstruct the stockings, although it’s not for the faint hearted as they are trialling the knitting of filament silk on 0.7mm needles. The Textile Research Centre is worth supporting, so they can continue to do this valuable work to reconstruct what is likely to be a unique, possibly English, 17thC pair of stockings.

For more info, about knitting from shipwrecks,  check out our piece in ‘The Knitter’ 121 and the links below to the fantastic project to reconstruct a spectacular piece of work.

Le Griffon, 1697, By Father Louis Hennepin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Museum of Kaap Skil

TRC Reconstruction Project

Crowdfunding the reconstruction

At Old Willy’s One Night


Self Portrait, 1832; François Aimé Louis Dumoulin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Archives were shut, yesterday, for some reason or other so I had to content myself with the Reference Library instead. Ended up spending some time in the company of  Robert Sharp; a shepherd’s son who became schoolmaster at North Cave, East Riding of Yorkshire,  from 1804 to 1842.

To entertain his grown up son, who worked away in London, Robert kept a diary of everyday life in North Cave.  His extant letters to his son and the diaries that survive, are in print. Sharp was a radical, politically-inclined, mischievous man with a dry sense of humour and great fun to spend some time with, yesterday, as I scoured his diary and letters for clothing references.

Not clothing, this, it was just so random and silly I thought other fans of Georgian England would enjoy it:


Wednesday 20th January, 1830

I was at Old Willy’s one night smoking a pipe, and his Cat set on the Table , and the old Gentleman in a sort of half Doze, when I blew a quiff♥ up the cat’s nose – which made her jump clean over his head on the Flour bin,  and then off again, in a crazy sort of way. Bless me he says how my Cat jumps about, it must be a sign of bad weather.


♥ “QUIFF” meant “a curl”.



The Diary of Robert Sharp of South Cave. Life in a Yorkshire Village 1812- 1837,

Eds. Janice E Crowther and Peter A Crowther, Oxford University Press, 1997.

The Nature of Errata: The Apparently Cursed Edwardian Fingerless Gloves

Edwardian Fingerless Gloves © Blacker Designs


Errata are the bane of the designer’s life. I’m thinking about it because of the Edwardian gloves pattern which has resurfaced, and needed my attention this week just as I was hoping for a few days of no knitting. But also because, alongside writing the next book, I am fixing the errata in the last.

I don’t think of myself as a designer. More an historian who simply renders historical designs of long forgotten folk; I’m more of a writer, less of an artist.

As a Yorkshireperson, I’m culturally obliged to speak my (tiny) mind. And on some matters I have managed to keep silent a long time, maybe rightly so. Today I have to put up some errata for a little, and now rather old, glove pattern so thought I’d write a little about the nature of errata.

What follows is not a criticism of the publisher concerned – just of myself.

‘River Ganseys’ was dogged with errata – some my fault; some unaccountable. (So yes, still my fault). But at the end of the day, all my fault, as it had my name on it. And there were things I hated about its layout and things I had no control over and things which seemed to shift between the last time I saw it and the time it appeared in print – which brought me to the conclusion that I would rather self-publish books, in future, than use publishers, on the whole.  No reflection on that particular publisher – just seems to be a common experience, talking to other writers, particularly in the field of knit design, who don’t self publish, that they wish they had…

In retrospect, I wish I’d held RG back as it suddenly, finally, became A Thing in the weeks after my dear friend who had ridden shotgun with me on some of the research, died, and I wasn’t able to concentrate on it, at all.

I hate excuses. And that is still an excuse but I shared it in the interests of full (well nearly full) disclosure. It wasn’t the time for me to publish – it became a necessity during the worst few weeks of the past few years it could have become a necessity. But of course, you are beholden to other people’s possibly perfectly reasonable schedules. Launch Book A at Show C. No-one is going to listen to you mithering one of your dearest friends just died, and you need more time. Especially when you’ve had loads of time, already. If you want the brutal truth: I’d got to the point I assumed the book would never see the light of day – so I hadn’t re-visited it since I hit ‘send’ on it, long since. “Many a slip twixt cup and lip” but somehow, errata happen in that lost space, between a thing being ‘done’ and a thing being ‘out’. I’d had some exchanges that made me feel whatever I did was wrong, or creating too much extra work – so I had sort of written it off as a piece of work which was too sprawling, and difficult despite the text being pretty interesting and had, in the spirit of pragmatism which is all I really know, written it off.

There was much more under the surface with that book, that made me unhappy about it, as well as with it. Including the mysterious loss of what I felt to be the key chapter (indeed, covering something referred to in the book’s sub-title, that made no sense without the relevant chapter). As a writer, I never look at my work once published. That’s it, it’s gone and I’m already mentally on the next thing or the thing after the next thing. I don’t care how it is edited. I am not precious about my words. I don’t usually care what is cut because I’m not reading it once it’s out; I’ll never know. I can’t bear to look at anything I’ve written, even though the name on it isn’t my real life one.

I used to edit, many years ago for a national charity and knew from practice that experienced writers and widely published experts are curiously blase about their work. The inexperienced ones are and can make an editor’s life hell whinging about various cuts, even the slightest thing. Yet international names in the field? Totally not precious about their words. I learned from that. I always give more words than word count precisely so there is plenty to cut. And I don’t give a monkey’s what is cut. Cutting is good. You can tell that just from reading my unedited stuff here, right?

In all my years writing under different names, in different fields, I had never cared one jot what ended up on the cutting room floor. Except just once in my writing life – for this entire, crucial (and happened to be my favourite) chapter, unaccountably vanished. I’d understand if it was badly written. Or irrelevant. Or self indulgent. I didn’t feel it was.

That book had languished too long between my final full stop and going into print. By which time, I’d forgotten too much of it and this is indeed, the nature of errata, sometimes; that we have longeurs, during which things fall down the cracks in the floorboards. I went to the kind of university where you did everything at breakneck speed, and the only way to survive, academically, was to dump everything in your mind and move on to the next thing, and the next, and it has left me with that mind-set. Macbeth one week; Ben Johnson the next, Romantic poets the next…. I can pick up info quickly but also seem to move on from it quickly. A definite downside but it is how certain British universities worked an the only way I know how to research and write.

So revisiting errata doesn’t come naturally. (Obviously, duty to your readers over-rides any natural tendencies to constantly move on or avoid looking at your own published stuff).

Fingerless mitts using 5 ply guernsey yarn (wine colour and blue) and DK (grey). Using same gansey motif pattern.

I had researched the story of the writers of ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ – and that book too, languished several years on the publisher’s desk before seeing the light of day. Whilst the publisher brought out “vital” books on pig breeding, etc. Writing straightforward history is different to writing patterns, of course.

A kind of similar experience Elizabeth Zimmerman had with her work, in print. Not that I’m putting myself in such august company. But she came to a similar conclusion, having seen a design or two butchered by magazines. Although my experience of magazines has been much more positive and I have no intention of not publishing articles and short pieces and the occasional pattern as widely as possible, for certain favourite magazine editors as the tech editors, sub editors and editors of magazines I have worked with, have usually caught my glaring errors before they saw the light of day.

I wrote the Edwardian gloves pattern long before I had great experience of publishing knitting patterns, of course. I have since learned so much from magazine writing that there is no way I’d ever want to stop that learning curve.

More of book woes further down the line, when the second edition of ‘River Ganseys’ is about to come out.   Don’t get me wrong. It was a labour of love.  I still feel it is a good read and written with real passion; all the errors (apart from the loss of an entire chapter between the last draft I recall and the published thing), confined to  the patterns where they got chopped around too much presumably to fit in with book formatting. (All my charts were complete, not chopped up into separate motifs.  Now I’m aware that re-jigging them I face the same challenge in terms of page layout, the publisher did).  The history of Yorkshire knitting, the text itself, is fine and I stand by it. I will feel better about it when that book is truly “mine” but at least I have back the rights.

Some of my early concerns were dismissed by a sub-editor was “first time writer’s jitters” which I found intensely patronising. I guess she wasn’t to know I had written in other fields, under other names, and my first time writer’s jitters were back around 1990… But the things that upset me about the book, as published, were not put right, and concerns I raised were, apparently, just my misguided naivete.  Never mind the person who emailed me this was probably in primary school the first time I published a book, and maybe not born the first time I wrote an article that made it into print…  You can’t blame people for what they don’t know.  But that was patronising and would have been, if I had been a first time writer.

Anyone with a first edition of ‘River Ganseys’ will be able to access the new version, gratis, of course, and more of that when it happens. Which I intend to bring out simultaneously with my new, shiny, and rather exciting, if gothic, book. There will be patterns, a few well chosen ones, amongst the stories and seams of historical ore I’ve been mining for some time.

At wool fairs, I have often been asked if there are any books on Yorkshire ganseys. I stayed silent that I’d written one, as I knew, for many months, I had the chance of getting back the rights.  If you want to read it and didn’t yet get it – hold on. I’ll trumpet here, when it’s out.


I love writing for magazines, and work hard with tech and sub editors to catch the glitches in the machine. For the most part, we succeed. The Edwardian Fingerless Gloves pattern finally (apparently – I hadn’t noticed) came down from the Blacker Yarns site where it had been a free download for a few years.

These were test knitted by others, at the time, and I made at least two pairs which I wore constantly, through several winters, when feeding/mucking out my angora bunnies. So the originals I had (not the ones pictured) may still exist but wouldn’t be worth photoing.

Although I made them using the lovely Blacker Yarns DK (it would work with any of their DKs), you can of course, use leftover oddments of DK or even leftovers of 5 ply guernsey yarn. Results may vary and a tension sample might be wise, but not vital.

I would add – feel free to swap out the Flags for a small guernsey motif you prefer, if knitting these. Structurally, they are the same as some Edwardian glove patterns I found at the time, and the motif itself came from an Edwardian jersey, IIRC but there are a few variants of flag patterns in guernsey knittings – and most more sophisticated than this. Gloves are a small canvas, and require the simplest version of a motif, sometimes.

Over Christmas, I got a request to put this now ancient pattern up myself, online. And I did but the pattern was so old, it was written in a way I felt was not very clear so I did a drastic re-write. But I don’t have the will to test knit it again after all these years, when I have so much more ‘deadline knitting’ on hand, I just can’t. As a result, I added in some errors. Not egregious ones, and the sort any knitter with a little common sense could spot and deal with, but still…

When it comes to my readers, I have always agreed with Jane Austen who once remarked:

“I do not write for such dull Elves

As have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.”

But that does not mean I’d gloss over errata or have no sympathy for anyone dealing with my errors. This will be several months of putting right errata as well as trying to avoid them in the new book. They are not totally unavoidable but I’ll give it my best shot – this time, in control of the parts of the process I wasn’t able to control, before. So the odds are favourable.

I’m wresting back control. Moral of this story? Never re-visit an 8 year old pattern, with re-writes, in the middle of Christmas! Thing is, if I hadn’t dealt with it instantly, I’d have forgotten, having a lot of more current work in the pipeline.

In early summer, look out for a totally revised and corrected version of ‘River Ganseys’ as I now have the rights back and can publish it myself, so put right all the things that were annoying me about it. (More on that very soon). I also have a fair few articles/patterns coming out in magazines, more distant pieces are beginning to come together, and on top of all of that, the new book – this time I will be in control of it, so any egregious errors will be my fault entirely. That involves some large projects (Shetland lace, new gansey pattern or two, and some really cool stuff base on historical knitting). So this was me being ‘efficient’, today – thinking about the nature of being inefficient.

You can download Edwardian Gloves for free, here (scroll down for link):


Anyway. To conclude. The nature of errata is that we learn from our mistakes.

I hope this is it for the cursed-seeming Edwardian Gloves. But of course, there will still be the possibility of… errata.

I need to link to errata on the Edwardian Gloves’ Ravelry pattern page, so here’s the errata. I re-wrote the entire section, so it is easier to follow:

Finger 1

Work this finger on first 7 sts of Needle 1, and last 7 sts of Needle 3. (ie: side of hand centred roughly over those final 2 plain knit sts, you worked at end of rnds. Place rest of sts (leave sts 7- 36 on waste yarn). Knit these 14 sts, M 4 sts [18 sts]. Knit round on these 18 sts for 5 rounds or for as long as seems good to you. Cast off loosely.

Finger 2

Take 6 sts from one end of waste yarn, and 5 from the other and put 6 on one needle, and 5 on another needle (ie: next to where you just made Finger 1). K 6, M 3 sts, K5, M3 sts [17 sts].

Knit round on these 17 sts for 5 rounds or for as long as seems good to you. Cast off loosely.

Finger 3

Work as Finger 2.

Finger 4

Knit across remaining 11 sts, M 4 [15 sts], K 5 rounds or as many as you fancy, then cast off loosely.

NB: One trick to avoid gaps, when picking up sts between fingers, is to pick up twice as many sts as required (eg: for Finger 2, P.U 6 st on a spare needle, then work immediately across them, K 2 tog so you end up with 3 sts, where you just picked up 6).

Darn in ends.

Knit Left Glove as Right, above.