Vernal Slow Worms


Yarnwise 51 is out. There, you can read more about our weekend at Dove Cottage and what Wordsworth had to say about the old hand spinners and knitters of Westmorland.

There’s also a great article by Lou Butt of Lou Butt Designs, about the Nude Ewe – brilliant project promoting our native British sheep breeds and their wool. Also, a great (contemporary) design by fellow gansey designer, Janine Le Cras of Guernseygal Designs. 

Busy time here. We’re about to visit a very special museum to document some knitted items and knitting artefacts from the 19thC – I can’t say where we’re going, just yet, but it is exciting.

The sample knits for reverse engineered 19thC gloves in the new edition of ‘Old Hand Knitters of the Dales’ – as well as the sample knitting for ‘River Ganseys‘ – are now well underway. We think we chose the most challenging pair of Dales gloves extant to reverse engineer – and when it came to it, got a bit more than we bargained for; as a result, the gloves are now a collaboration between three of us. (Unveiling my lovely collaborators in the near future. We were so lucky to get such experts to work with us on this!)

If you are interested in either or both books, join the mailing list at Cooperative Press, and you will be notified when they are ready for pre-order.

And finally…. nothing to do with knitting or history but a bit of Nature for you, as we’ve been all Wordsworthian… Saw my first ever red squirrel in Grasmere. He was too fast for our photographer, but… later in the day, he spotted this slow worm:


Thy fragments to the bramble and the rose; There let the vernal slow-worm sun himself, And let the redbreast hop from stone to stone




Miss Ryder Rides Again!

This pattern, based on instructions by Yorkshire knitting writer, Miss Elizabeth Ryder, was originally a downloadable elsewhere on the net. Figured it out last year, and thought I’d put it up for anyone interested in arcane stuff like how to knit an 1860s’ stripey sock.

Stockings with vertical stripes were fashionable around the 1790s. Into the 19thC, horizontal stripes became more popular. There are some great images of 19thC stockings if you search here. And more info about the background to Victorian stripes and Miss Ryder herself, here.

The site where it was, has gone kaput, so here for your delectation, is the pattern for:

Miss Elizabeth Ryder’s Child’s Sock Pattern; Richmond, Yorkshire, ca. 1870.

I knitted this “child’s sock” in contemporary sock yarn on fairly standard sized, by modern standards, needles and just by lengthening the leg and foot… it came out to fit me, an adult, size 5 foot.

I have re-written Miss Ryder’s pattern, using modern knitting abbreviations, and conventions, and making it stripy, like the sock in ‘Quiet’, the 1860 William W. Nichol painting, in York Art Gallery.  This sock is slightly longer and so has a few more stripes than the one in the painting.  In her book’s introduction, Miss Ryder mentions stripes and advises:

“The chief things to be remembered in knitting stripes: – to commence your sock, after ribbing the top, with a fresh colour, to bring your stripe right so as to commence the heel with a fresh colour – to take up stitches at the side of the heel with the same colour as you commenced the heel, thus bringing your stripes right across the foot…”

Miss Ryder says this sock would fit a child up to 3 years old. If you experiment with yarn, and needle sizes, by swatching, you can probably adapt the size up and down, accordingly, as Miss Ryder recommends, as that 73 stitch cast on is close to the number of stitches I would usually cast on for an sock for myself, let alone a sock for a 3 year old!

Bear in mind, if adapting this Victorian child size sock for a contemporary adult one, you will need to make the leg longer and also the foot, once you have finished shaping the instep, and before you start shaping the toe. Not so difficult, as you can try it on as you go, if necessary.

Miss Ryder rides again!

Work first  rounds in K1 P1 rib, to match the sock in ‘Quiet’, or K2 P 2 rib, as Miss Ryder suggests in her pattern, according to taste.

MC – Main colour (light)
SC – Second colour (dark)

Yarn: Any 4 ply sock yarn, two contrasting solid or heathery colours. Or use up odds and ends left from other sock projects. Victorian stripes often alternated a natural cream or grey base colour with a vivid dyed one.

Tension, Needle Size and Yarn
This pattern is called “Child’s Sock, No 2”.  It was suitable for a child of 18 months – 2 years.  Incredibly, when the pattern is followed exactly but knitted using 2.5mm needles and any contemporary 4 ply sock yarn, what you end up with is a sock to fit an average woman. This tells us that Victorian needles were skinny and yarn extremely fine.

Miss Ryder writes:
“Size of needles depends much upon the knitter, as some knit much tighter than others. Needles Nos. 16, 15 and 14 are the three sizes generally used in knitting socks. Nos 12 and 13, if very coarse wool is used…”
No 16 was 1.62mm, size 15 were 1.75mm and Nos 14 were 2mm.  Interesting to note, the shockingly ‘fat’ needles only fit for coarse knitting were nearer the modern day standard, of 2.5mm and 2.75mm!

The yarn Miss Ryder recommended were “Merino” and “Andalucian”. These would be far finer than our contemporary 4 ply sock yarn; possibly close to our laceweight.

Knitted on 2.5mm needles with modern 4 ply sock yarn, you are looking at a small-medium sized woman’s sock. If you wanted to replicate an 1860s’ child’s sock, you need to go down to 1.75mm needles and any fine, strong worsted-spun wool or silk, you can find.

Andalucian yarn was recommended for these socks, which she said usually needed a 1.62mm needle for a loose knitter or 1.75mm for a tight knitter.   So many mid 19thC patterns mention ‘Andalucian’ that it seems to have been a generic thickness/type of yarn.

As for needles, fine sizes were available but some knitters improvised. Yorkshire contract knitters at these dates often used blunted hat-pins to knit gloves and socks, which suggests the fineness of Victorian knitting.  To knit fine yarn on tiny needles was practical, as it made for a harder-wearing item.  Sock wool was worsted spun, so smooth, tightly spun and again, hardier.  If re-creating this sock for yourself, in 4 ply sock yarn, look for solid colours. Miss Ryder suggests mauve and white, or scarlet and grey, for stripes. These were popular mid Victorian colour combinations. In 1876, Miss Ryder wrote a book called ‘How to Knit Spun Silk Socks and Stockings’. A child’s stocking needed 2 ½ ounces of silk. If you want to really go for it and make a repro of a child’s sock, a good bet might be an indie yarn supplier’s lace-weight silk, or silk blend.

If you use a 2.5mm needle and standard 4 ply sock yarn, these socks for a 3 year old will come out big enough for a older child or yourself. If you want to make repros, it’s 1.75mm needles and the finest, strongest worsted silk or wool you can find.

Stripey socks are a great way to use up leftovers from earlier sock projects, so they are thrifty, too.

No tension (gauge)  was given in most Victorian patterns. Worked with contemporary 4 ply sock yarn, on 1.75mm needles, I got a tension of 8 stitches per inch.

To size your own pair of socks, you need to do a tension square and change needle size to get 8 stitch per inch, if you are aiming at making a pair for an adult. This does suggest how fine Victorian children’s socks were knitted.

Miss Ryder mirrors her decreases, using a S1, K1, PSSO and a K2tog, one stitch either side of the purled seam stitch, when decreasing down the leg and again, when decreasing for the instep.  Some Victorian writers simply K2tog, and didn’t worry about mirroring a left sloping decrease with a right sloping decrease.  S1, K1, PSSO was the standard way of creating a left-leaning decrease. It looks less tidy than the modern SSK left-leaning decrease, but SSK appears to be a 20thC development. Miss Ryder was particular about her S1, K1, PSSO.

Jogs in Rounds in Stripey Knitting and the Seam Stitch
When knitting in the round, you are in effect, knitting a spiral. As a result there is a slight ‘jog’ between the end of one round, and the start of the next.  This jog is more noticeable when knitting stripes.  21stC knitting gets round this by using various jogless join techniques. Victorian knitters hid joins in stripe patterns with a purl stitch every row, or every other row, on the centre back seam.

The seam stitch was also a handy marker for the start of a round, and a useful place to stick your decreases or increases. There ios little evidence for decs or incs placed evenly right round the leg, in Victorian sock knitting. All the shaping seems to have happened one or two stitches away from the seam stitch.

If you want to try jogless joins and want more  info, check it out on the web as there are tutorials and videos that can help.

In another book, Miss Ryder recommends when changing colours, knit the old and the new colour together for the first stitch of the new colour, keeping the new colour loosely tensioned. If you want a genuine pair of Miss Ryder socks – that’s the way to do it. She also recommends that you don’t break off the colours between stripes, but carry the yarn up inside the work.


Miss Ryder’s Child’s sock No.2,  1860s

CO 73 stitches in SC. Join into the round, being careful not to twist stitches.
In SC, K1 P1 rib, 2 rounds.  Continue in ribbing, knitting 2 round stripes alternating colour,  until you have worked 30 rounds.

Now work in stocking stitch.
Purl first stitch of round,  to mark your centre back seam. As you go down the sock, purl this stitch every round. Place marker after purled seam st.

Change to larger needles, still working 2 round stripes.

Continue in this way down the sock leg, until you have completed round 52, commencing shaping leg at round 13…

Round 13: K1, Purl steam st, S1, K1,  PSSO;  K to 3 stitches from end of round, K2tog, K1.

Repeat these paired decs on Rounds 23, 29, 35, 41, [63 sts], decreasing 1 stitch either side seam stitch.


NB: For heel flap you can work plain in one colour of yarn. Miss Ryder recommends you double the yarn for the heel. Alternatively, you can get a double thickness of yarn into the heel by knitting  vertical stripes.
(Row 1:K1 MC, K1 SC, rep to end row;
Row 2: P1 MC, K1 SC, rep to end row).

On round 53, start Heel Flap.  (You can of course work the leg longer than this).
Knit heel on 31 stitches, using the purled seam stitch to mark the exact centre of the heel. You can now work this st in stocking stitch when you come to it.

Place remaining 32 sts on waste yarn or stitch holder.

Starting with a K row, work in stocking st for 24 rows, taking care to slip your first st of every row. Row 25: K19, K 2 tog,* turn;
P9, P 2 tog, turn;
Rep from *, Knitting or Purling final stitch before turn, with next st, to close the gap, until you have consumed sts both sides and only have 10 sts on your needle. This finishes the heel.

Using MC:

Needle 1: With this needle on which you have the 10 sts, PU 12 sts from side of heel, K 5 of the sts that were waiting for you on st holder
Needle 2: Knit all sts on holder except for remaining 5
Needle 3:   Knit remaining 5 sts, P.U 12sts from side of heel, then K 5 from start needle 1
Your needles now are configured: 22, 21, 22 sts.  [65 sts]

Next round:
Needle 1: K5, M1, (K3, M1)4 times, K5
Needle 2: (front/top of foot)K
Needle 3:  K5, M1, (K3, M1)4 times, K5      [75st].

Shaping Instep
Round 1:
Needle 1: * Knit til 7 sts from end; K 2 tog, K5.
Needle 2: Knit
Needle 3: K5; S1, K1, PSSO; K to end of needle
Round 2: K
Work these 2 rounds from *, until you have 62 sts on your needle.

Knit around 38 rounds plain.

Re-arrange the sts on the needles. Put as many sts on the needle for the top of the foot, as you have on the other two needles (underneath foot).  You may have to knit round a bit, to get back to new start of round.

NB: The needle with 31 sts is now Needle 1.

Arrange sts so you have 31 sts on Needle 1, 15 sts on Needle 2, 16 sts on Needle 3.
Round 1:
Needle 1:  *K1, S1, K1, PSSO,  K to 3 sts from end, K2 tog, K1
Needle 2: K1, S1, K1, PSSO, K to end of needle

Needle 3: K to 3 sts from end, K 2 tog, K1

Round 2:
Rep from * til you have 24 sts.

Arrange equally onto 2 needles (12 sts, 12 sts)
Cast off on right side of work, 1 st from Back needle over 1 st from Front. (Grafting).

Knit second sock to match.

“The Murmuring Wheel”

Caro outside Dove Cottage

Two weeks ago today, we were privileged to spend the weekend doing living history at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, where William Wordsworth and his family lived from 1799-1808.

Wordsworth was a revolutionary; writing about ordinary people going about their everyday lives; finding poetry in the mundane and his environment. He wrote about beggars, leech-gatherers, the disenfranchised, and those on the margins of society.

So that is what we portrayed: ordinary people.

In her Journal written at Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy wrote about their neighbours, who were small yeoman farming families just like my own Yorkshire and Westmorland ancestors, having to get up at dawn each day to card and spin wool before the rest of their day’s work, to try and earn enough money to hang onto their land. Wordsworth was later to write how sad he was about the spinning wheels going silent:

“Grief, thou hast lost an ever-ready friend,

Now that the cottage spinning-wheel is mute…”

In the silence that fell on the house, between parties of visitors, we could hear nothing but the Wordsworths’ clock and the murmur and whirr of our own wheel, which was rather special. And something he would have liked to hear too, I suspect.

In 1812, he wrote this:

“Song for the Spinning Wheel

Swiftly turn the murmuring wheel!
Night has brought the welcome hour,
When the weary fingers feel
Help, as if from faery power;
Dewy night o’ershades the ground;
Turn the swift wheel round and round!

Now, beneath the starry sky,
Couch the widely-scattered sheep;–
Ply the pleasant labour, ply!
For the spindle, while they sleep,
Runs with speed more smooth and fine,
Gathering up a trustier line.

Short-lived likings may be bred
By a glance from fickle eyes;
But true love is like the thread
Which the kindly wool supplies,
When the flocks are all at rest
Sleeping on the mountain’s breast.”

Emma at the Gossip Wheel

Caro, Emma and I spun and knitted in the Wordsworths’ children’s bedroom. Which provided its own challenges in terms of the light quality (exactly the same as that 18thC and 19thC spinners had to contend with!) And also the fact I bought this Timbertops 2 flyered Chair wheel, back in the mid 1990s, but had never once set it up for two people to spin on, or even seen two spinners on such a wheel. It took us two days to figure out how to configure the drive bands, but finally, on Sunday, Emma had it sussed. (Video on YouTube coming soon).

Dave and Alfi were beggars as described in Dorothy’s Journal, out in the lane.

Beggar child with Gentleman

And Dan and Alex were a gentleman tourist and local Westmorland militia man, respectively.

One line of my family were the Westmorland Speddings, and a great great etc grandfather, a steward to Lord Lowther, for whom Wordsworth’s father had worked. So I have a tenuous Wordsworth connection. In the 18thC, my Speddings married into the Bellas family, who were Westmorland sheep farmers and fell pony breeders. Wordsworth was friends with another branch of the Speddings. I descend from Thomas Spedding of  Woodside, who  married Mary Birkbeck of Kirkland at Brougham in 1701. He died in 1739, leaving goods valued at 19 pounds, 9 shillings, inventoried as:  “one heifer in calf, another heifer, one gelding, bees and hens and geese.” I love the fact you could leave your bees in your will! I descend from his daughter, Barbara Spedding.

Westmorland Militiaman and Gentleman Tourist

The Wordsworth Trust’s Museum has a small collection of knitting sticks, some of which were illustrated by Marie Hartley in ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’. Between working on the Gossip Wheel – and gossip – Caro and I worked on stocking knitting. I was using Wensleydale wool, for my version, on 1.5mm steel needles, and working with a goose-wing knitting stick; a typical shape stick for the Dales.

Knitting stick at work.

We tried to get a photo, as so many people ask how knitting sticks work. The light wasn’t great, and this was the best image we could come up with. Most of the time, the needles were more bent, and to make the stitches pop off the end of the needle, you have to work with them very close to the end.

It was a Saturday of torrential rain – water was literally pouring in cataracts across the roads and was so bad, some Woolfesters got rained out of their tents, and the evening event was cancelled. There were breaks in the rain on Sunday, so the shots in Dove Cottage’s garden make it look deceptively sunny. We saw a red squirrel – I have never seen one in my life – and a slow worm, which the boys filmed.

For me this is what living history is all about – bringing to life the small details of everyday life; doing what our ancestors did, and valuing the ‘ordinary’ in our histories; rather than the grand deeds of kings, queens and battles; honouring the real. Which Wordsworth would have understood. Tonight, whilst the sheep sleep on the hills, I will spin their wool, just like my Westmorland ancestors once did, and dream a little of that rainy but perfect weekend with friends and family, at Grasmere.

Dove Cottage Garden