Elizabethan Knitting: A Monmouth Cap

It’s probably safe to say that knitting isn’t going to be a hobby I’ll be continuing on with in any serious way. Every craft is essentially built on the premise that the particular sort of fussiness and tedium that it brings to the table sits just below your tolerance level for monotony. Knitting is just not my particular brand of tedium.

I’m sure that’s not the last time I’ll say that.

Be that as it may, it’s time to finish off the Monmouth cap and move on to the next craft.

Just a reminder that I’m using a pattern provided by historical knitter Jennifer L. Carlson here with some backup from The Engineer’s years of experience and her multi-volume knitting library. We’ve taken some minor liberties with the pattern (like you do) and I’ll get into those below.

The results might be imperfect, but as I always say when crediting sources in the afterword of a book: My sources are infallible within their professional realms, my hands are less so; any errors are my own.

The Monmouth Cap

For her demo hat, Ms. Carlson used Lion brand “Quick & Thick” yarn, which The Engineer tells me is a synthetic fiber. To get a similar gauge, she advised me to switch to wool and use two strands instead of one.

At some point, I plan to card and spin my own yarn (Woolmen’s Company, here I come!) but for this project we’re working “off the shelf” with Paton’s Merino Wool in an ‘oatmeal’ color. It’s a worsted weight, size #4 wool, 3.5 ounces per 223 yards. All of which is essentially meaningless to me, but she tells me it’s important information for other knitters.

Working with double-strands is a bit of a pain in the butt, or at least it was for me. I kept getting the needle through one loop of the two and having to back up to where I dropped half a stitch. The Engineer tells me that my problem is that I’m a “tight knitter” and I need to ease off the tension a bit.

Step one: Cast 90 stitches onto three double-pointed needles like we did here. Leave an extra long tail, because Monmouth caps traditionally have a weird loop at the back because early modern knitters enjoyed having a big tail of trailing wool to get tangled in.

I know what everyone is thinking: Yes, I have a snoopy lap quilt. You may die of envy now.

Three needles is because this project is knitted “in the round”, though as you can see, they should call it “in the triangle” because that’s what it is. (The Engineer tells me I’m not allowed to rename centuries-old knitting procedures, but I think Pythagoras has my back on this one.)

The little pale pink, blue, and white circle thingies are stitch-counters. They’re that color because knitting companies like to discourage male knitters, I think. I placed them every ten stitches.  Make sure to mark your beginning because it’s how you’re going to count as you go round and round.

Step two: Knit for five inches, moving round and round from needle to needle. Do this by knitting onto a fourth needle. As you work the stitches off each needle, that one becomes the fourth needle in your… square.

Okay, it’s knitting “In the polygon” are you happy? It’s still not a circle. (Fist bumps Pythagoras.)

Note: A small tablet computer isn’t really mandatory for this process, though it’s handy if you want to consult your online pattern without dragging out a real computer. Also: you can watch endless repetitions of favorite TV shows you’ve seen a million times before. The Engineer assures me that this is an integral part of knitting that I’m not allowed to mess with. Who am I to argue?

By the way: This pattern doesn’t use the purl stitch, so I guess we learned that for nothing.

Step Three: When you get about five inches into your knitting, you can get that blasted tail out of your way by turning it into “I-cord“, which is knitting back and forth four stitches at a time to make (basically) a teeny-tiny scarf, which you’ll weave back into the middle of the bit of hat you’ve knitted for your loop.

I didn’t take any pictures of that because I forgot to do it. I put up with that stupid long tail for the whole of the hat and then did it last. If you decide to make one of these hats, you should do as I say, not as I do.

Then you’ll fold your knitting in half and knit the ends together to form the headband. The patterns warns that “this is the tricky part” which is an understatement. I think that the biggest problem was that I’m knitting with doubled yarn, so instead of picking up two stitches, I’m picking up for.

I managed it without screwing up for all of four stitches before handing it to The Engineer, in peril of my immortal soul from all the sublimated cursing.

We didn’t take pictures of that either. (sigh)  Ms Carlson has plenty of excellent pictures of this process on her site, though.

Step Four: Just keep swimming. knit and knit and knit and knit, round and round and round he goes until you have something that you can kinda/sorta put on your head…

It’s helpful if you can hypnotize the cat to sleep and ignore the bag of jelly beans next to him. 

Step Five: Reductions. On row 46, you’ll start the kind of knitting that you have hitherto treated as a grievous error. This means you’ll knit as usual for four stitches and then force your needle through two stitches at once, thus reducing the number of stitches on your needle and the circumference of your circle.

Yes, the knitted results of your triangle/square/amorphous polygon is a circle. That’s why they call it knitting in the round, of course. Sorry Pythagoras, it was a good run and a thousand years of knitters are sneering at us for questioning their collective wisdom.

Kids these days! I tell you…

These reductions happen gradually. First knitting together every four stitches, then every three, then every two and finally all of them until you have aching hands and a headache from passing a half dozen stitches between three needles THAT ARE JUST TOO DARNED LARGE TO DO THIS WITH!

(Deep breath.)

At this point, you can cast off to form a button as she indicates in the pattern, or you get to switch to a big needle and sew it together like I did.

Jelly beans aren’t mandatory, but are advised for sustaining the soul while knitting.
As you can see, my results were a bit big, so we felted it. 
I’ll go into the science of fulling/felting when we get to weaving. At the moment, we’ll suffice to say that it’s about agitating your knitted object in a basin of hot water with some kind of medium (we used detergent) to get the wool fibers to shrink and lock together into a more or less solid mass that you can then drape over a form to dry.

I’m rather proud of it and looking forward to never having to do it again because that wraps up the cappers guild and rounds off the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers. 

As you can see in the background there, I’m remodeling a kitchen and we have the worshipful companies of carpentry and joinery ahead of us. Sooner for me than for you, as you can see…


~ Scott

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