Sunday, 8 June 2014

Thrum caps as modern camouflage?

Thrum caps go back to at least the 16th century, where they were popularly worn by sailors who found the thick, shaggy pile of the cap a practical warm 'thatched roof' against bad weather. I regularly make these for re-enactors and am always on the look out for new-to-me images of these in use or the occasional very rare surviving example in museums around the world.

A few months ago, I was asked to make a modern interpretation of the thrum cap to be worn as camouflage in tule reed beds by a lovely gent in America.

We started with an image of the local tule. As you can see there are a huge range of shades and colour effects caused by light and shadow on the rushes here.

So, to get a clearer idea of the colour balance, I cropped the image and ran it through an image colour histogram programme to give me an approximate reference of the proportions of colours within the project.

I then used this to select yarn, from which thrums were cut and knitted randomly, the only 'rule' being that I always used two different shades in each knot of thrumming, and avoided using the same two colours two stitches in a row. I also deliberately chose yarn in varying textures which would felt at slightly different rates in the final cap. The interior hat was worked in a neutral drab background shade.

Also did a second version with the thrums somewhat more clustered to approximate a more traditional camo pattern. I still used two shades in each thrum to ensure a broken up effect but this time used the same shades for several stitches at a time to create a more solid block.

The hats were fulled and blocked, and went off to be field tested. They may look a bit odd sitting by themselves, but they are intended for a specific environment. Here's a couple of images showing just how nicely they blend into the background scenery. Warm and cosy for a long day out in the tule as well! We decided in the end that the more random selection of yarn in the first cap was ideal for this particular scenery.

If you fancy trying this effect yourself, using a historic pattern with modern shades to create a whole new type of sporting hat, I do have a pattern for a Thrum Cap available for download via Ravelry, and as always, I do take commissions for hats.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Coptic Socks

I've been fascinated for a long time by the often brightly coloured sandal socks that occur in Romano-Egyptian and Coptic Egypt. When first encountered by archaeologists and historians, they were assumed to be knitted, but it is now understood that these are made by a form of nalbinding, or single needle looping.

Nalbinding won't be what they called it of course, but its the term by which the technique is known today, and these particular socks use a stitch often called Tarim or Coptic stitch. Its not at all hard to work, but it is significantly slower than knitting, this pair took approximately 24 hours of work. A similar knitted pair worked at about the same final gauge would need just over half that time.

I based this adult pair of socks loosely on a child's pair at the British Museum, simplifying the colours to use two dyed and one undyed shade.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Neolithic String for Stonehenge

I've been a bit quiet recently, partly because I've been busy working on some replica artifacts and costume to be used in the Neolithic houses being built as part of the new Stonehenge visitor centre. As well as the houses themselves, English Heritage have commissioned a wide range of garments and objects to be used as handling items to help illustrate aspects of everyday life in the Neolithic.

Part of my brief is to create a range of cordage based on materials known to have been used during the Neolithic, and this includes deer sinew.

Its amazingly tough stuff, until you get a nice round rock and give it a good pounding to soften it and break up the fibres. Once you've done that, you can twist it up into fine, strong cordage with a huge range of end uses.

Here's just one picture of a partly pounded piece of deer sinew and some finished cord, if you'd like to read more, I've written a guest blog post on the Stonehenge Neolithic Houses project page which explains in step by step detail.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Welsh Wig pattern now available

You may recall my earlier adventures with the Welsh Wig in which I visited an extant example and reconstructed the likely pattern for it.

With the assistance of the lovely Historic Knitting group on Ravelry I've now assembled some references to help put this funny little cap in context, and am delighted to be able to make the pattern available.

These caps were worn by Dickensian clerks (think Mr Fezziwig), layered under other headwear by Crimean soldiers and even issued to polar explorers. A fun addition to you costuming repertoire!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Little Knitted Pumpkins

Its been a while since I posted, so here is a simple, seasonal little something to cheer up an autumn day:
These are a doddle to make starting with a short section of tubular knitting. I cranked mine out on the antique sock machine, but you could knit yours or even re-purpose an old sweater sleeve or a dead but decent sock. Mine is a good size for a pincushion, but any size goes with these.

I've written up instructions over at Downsizer:

And finally, because I can, here's Tesla the kitten modelling one. I have been warned that ginger kittens will eventually get their revenge for such sartorial slights, but I'm going to enjoy it whist he's small enough to put up with it without complaint ;)

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Knitted Archaeology: The Mold Cape

Recently (July/Aug 2013) the bronze age masterpiece known as the Mold Cape has been on tour in Wales, away from its usual home at the British Museum.

I've had the great privilege of being involved with some of the activities associated with its visit to National Museum Wales in Cardiff, amongst which was being invited to design a knitted interpretation of the cape to be used in the Clore Discovery Gallery as a handling and discussion tool.

Our bronze age ancestors did not use knitting, but they certainly had an eye for design, and the original beaten gold cape is ornamented with textures believed to represent beads and draped textiles. Knitted structures work well to evoke the general feel of this in a fun way which also stimulates discussion about comparisons between flexible textile forms and the rigid structure of the metal version which would have restricted arm motion.

Several people have expressed an interest in having a go at knitting one of these themselves, so I'm delighted to be able to announce that the pattern for my 'knitted Mold Cape' is now available as a Ravelry download:

Bronze Age Capelet:

Friday, 31 May 2013

Welsh Wig, part two

You may remember that a few weeks ago I went to study the Welsh Wig in the textile collections of St Fagans National History Museum, dated c 1854. I've just finished my first replica interpretation to see if I'm on the right track with the pattern, and so far, I'm very pleased with progress.

I used a 2ply yarn for this one, purely because that was what I had to hand. I also used a paler yarn that the original to make it easier for me to see the details if I needed to make any adjustments as I went along. The original is in a single ply yarn and my next example will use a more appropriate yarn in a darker shade.

The original Welsh Wig is a very small size in appearance, but I've found the replica, which fits the measurements of the original nicely, stretches to fit almost all head sizes. To illustrate this, its shown above on a really large head form, about 24.5 inches, where its really a bit too stretched, but it does mean that on most ordinary real heads its a very flexible fit.

I'm still gathering together a few references to help put the cap into a wider context, and once I've got those together and have worked up another sample in a more appropriate yarn, I should be able to finalise writing up the pattern. Ideal for Crimean and Dickensian costuming, and definitely a bit different!

Update Feb 2014: Pattern is now available