Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Tudor Merchant's Knitted Cap

On Saturday 15th March, I was part of a Knitting History Forum workshop at the London College of Fashion, where I learned how to make a Tudor Merchant's Cap. I have been a member of the Knitting History Forum for several years and have learned a lot about the history of knitting through the excellent Annual Conferences (see my earlier blog posts here and here). The Merchant's Cap workshop was run by Gary Hayton from Bournemouth University. Gary is an extremely creative knitter who uses precisely calculated shaping and felting to form the caps. His knitted sculpture work is currently on show at Mompesson House near Salisbury.

Tudor Merchant's Cap by Gary Hayton
Tudor Merchant's Cap by Gary Hayton
The day began with choosing a ball of gorgeous JC Rennie yarn that Gary had pre-wound for us. My selection was this green and pink combination. We started off straight away by casting on the required stitches and I could feel the lanolin from the wool making my hands soft after the first couple of rounds!

JC Rennie Yarn

There are three stages in the construction of the Cap. Firstly the brim, then increasing for the square and then finally decreasing for the crown.

Tudor Merchant's Cap by Gary Hayton
As we continued knitting, Gary explained the process of felting the Cap. The texture of the wool yarn we were using is ideal for this kind of project as the scales on the surface of the fibres fuse together during the felting process, in this case, in the washing machine after knitting. An important factor is the gauge of the knitting before felting. Seeing the multiple samples that Gary had made, showed how much thought and experimentation goes into his work. Through this experimentation, Gary showed that using bigger needles results in looser knitting. This looser knitting allows more movement in the fabric. More movement allows more fulling and more fulling results in a thicker fabric.

One of Gary's felting samples
As the day went on, the caps grew and grew and everyone got a good way into the project. Nicky very nearly completed the whole hat in the day! I got well into the increasing section and have been working hard since I brought the cap home and can now see the way the corners will form. I'm really looking forward to seeing completed caps at the Knitting History Forum AGM in November!

My work in progress!
For more information on Tudor Caps in British collections, there is an interesting overview that can be accessed through the Knitting History Forum Resources Page. Written by Dr Jane Malcolm-Davies of the Tudor Tailor, it is titled "He is of no account..... if he have not a velvet or taffeta hat': A survey of sixteenth century knitted caps".

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