History Knitting

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




3 replies on “Lancashire Squares, Yorkshireficated.”

Fascinating! I can see the truly square part — but this method would make it a bit tricky to use up every last inch of yarn. Now to convince myself I need another hap. Or another blanket…


Perhaps I am just being dense today, but I don’t understand. Cast on how many? Worked from outside in, or inside out? Etc. Working three together in garter stitch is not easy to accomplish in some yarn/needle combinations.


Hi there. You have to apply the formula – so substitute “#” for “any even number”.

The formula reads: K2tog, 3(# + k3tog), #, k 2 tog
So, let’s say we call “#” 10.
K2tog, 3(10+ K3tog), K10, K2tog.
K2tog, (K10, K3tog)3 times, K10, K2tog
2 + 13 x 3 +10, + 2
= 2 + 39 + 12
= 53

So that means cast on 53.

Row 1: * K53
Row 2: K2tog, (K10, K3tog) 3 times, K10, K2tog. [You have decreased 8 sts this row and will dec 8 sts every dec row. Therefore you now have 53 – 8 sts, ie: 45 sts
Continue, alternating a row of plain knitting, with a decrease row where you decrease 8 sts in the row, at the same intervals; starting and ending with a K2tog and with three K3togs in the middle…

You can change “#” to any even number. Every other row, you are losing 8 sts.

Yes, this will certainly work better with a thinner yarn. But then it’s not often you’d need to make blanket squares with chunky yarn. The K3 togs are not noticeably different to the K2togs, using the Rennies’ Supersoft Lambswool 2/11.3 nm.

It is worked from outside in – this is more obvious if you see the pattern as it has a large number of sts casted on.


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