A Bonnie Scottish Bonnet
Knitting was just made for audio books, but Outlander, or rather the 18th century, is woefully short of knitted garment inspiration. It isn’t that they didn’t know how to knit a garment, small shirts were knit for infants and children, but knitwear was not fashionable. Furthermore, home knitters during this period can barely keep their households in stockings, even with skilled slave or bonded labor. Slave or bonded labor with needlework skills are prized, and should they go missing, advertised for extensively, with posters listing their skills and darkly hinting they might try to profit from them. So your creative options for knitwear, should you wish to stay within the 18th century period, are limited to stockings, mittens, caps (which the Scottish immigrants stubbornly continue to call “bonnets”), mittens, muff, gloves, and possibly scarves (period examples of scarves appear in paintings of Voyageurs, those hearty French traders and explorers of the 17th and 18th century).
While we wait breathlessly for the next book I am inspired by the last book, in which Jocasta makes her way to Fraser’s Ridge in bitter weather, to knit Jocasta a Scotch Bonnet.
I’ve never been a great fan of the beret, but I love the jaunty flair of a Scottish bonnet. A knitter might argue that a Tam and a Beret are virtually the same hat, one sporting a tourii (or pom-pom) on the top, and one not, but this is unimportant, for while the Scotch bonnet may have its roots in the tam, the shape has evolved from a round to a more oval shape giving the Balmoral or Kilmarnock bonnet a distinctive flair all its own.
The hat dates back into the 16th century (there is an example of a 17th century pattern from Plimouth plantation which is knit from the top down at Scotwars: here) when knitters started shaping soft wool caps then felting them to make them dense, water repellent, and, as an added side benefit, stiff enough to hold their distinctive shape. But while the pattern does date to the 16th century, what you are most likely to see today is the 19th and 20th century versions popularized by the HIghland regiments, complete with regimental or clan badges, rosettes, and ribbons. A terrific example of a man’s balmoral, complete with instructions for adding the trim and ribbons was created by Anne Carroll Gimore for Piecework Magazine (Jan/Feb 2011) and offered for sale on Ravelry’s website. In fact, this pattern is based on her work, but reworked for Bree’s Blue in Icelandic and Angora which is a dk worsted weight yarn, and resized, to make the hat smaller and more flattering to a woman’s head. You’d be well advised though to spend the money and buy her pattern so you can add the ties (which allow you to adjust for a custom size) and the ribbons (which are very swish).
Jocasta’s Scotch Bonnet
Depending on how densely you felt your hat this will fit a woman’s S-M head. You’ll need size 10.5 dp and a size 10 or 10.5 single points knitting needles and 200 yards of dk worsted in the main color, plus two additional colors if you want to do a check around the band. The pattern happens to work nicely with Lord John Grey’s Felted Wool Mittens, the wool left over from making a woman’s M mitten is just what you need for the trim on Jocasta’s Scotch Bonnet. Plus a bit of another color.
A word of warning: indigo blue will temporarily stain fingers blue as you’re working with it. This is perfectly normal, and it will come off with soap, water, and a little scrub. Once the wool is felted the dye will have set for good. But the action of handing the wool helps to set it at this stage.
Cast 102 stitches onto your straight needles, and K three rows back and forth. This is going to keep the cast on stitches from felting too tightly relative to the rest of the bonnet and, as an added benefit, will leave you with a tiny notch in the back of the hat, so you can put your hat on right even in the dark. Something Jocasta would have appreciated.
Knit the next row onto you double pointed (or circular) needles increasing 2 stitches at the end of the round (104 stitches). Mark your beginning and, if you’d like to make “dice” attach your first contrasting color. (K2 MC, K2 CC) around for 3 rows.
Add your second CC and (K2 CC, K2 MC) around for 3 rows
Cut your second CC and (K2 MC, K2 CC around for 3 rows.
Shift one stitch from your last needle to your first, and mark where the back of your work is. In MC:
K5, (K2, K2 together) until 5 stitches from end, K5
Knit one round
The distinctive shaping of the hat comes from Anne’s work, and if you’re confused you should definitely buy the pattern.
On the next round:
Knit 6 then [K1 inc1, K1 inc1, k1] 5 times (Anne does this by knitting into the front and back of each stitch, I do it with a yarn over and then knitting into the back of the loop on the next row) , K2 then (K1 inc 1 35x. then (K1 Inc 1, K1 inc 1, K1) 5x, then K5 to end the round: 135 stitches.
Knit around 17 rows, roughly 3.25 inches from the increase row.
Anne offsets her decrease rows and I’ve followed her lead, but changed her directions to tighten down on the size of the bonnet. So we’re going to:
(K13, K2 together) around, then knit 3 rounds.
then K6 K2 tog through the back loops (K12, K2 together ttbl) around, end with K6, then knit 2 rounds
(K11, K2 tog) around, K 2 rounds
K5, K2 tog ttbl (K10, K2 tog ttbl) around end K 5, then knit 2 rounds.
(K9, K2 tog) around, then knit 2 rounds
K4 K2tog ttbl (K8, K2 tog ttbl) end K4, then knit 2 rounds
(K7 K2 tog) around, then knit 1 round
continue in this alternating pattern, knitting one round between each decrease, until you reach (K1, K2 tog). Complete that row then K2 tog ttbl around, and, on the next row, K2 tog around. Cut your yarn with a generous length and darn around the top of the cap.
You can felt this in your washing machine, but where’s the 18th century fun in that? Besides, you’re using indigo blue, and part of the fun is watching it suddenly “set” and the water turn clear. Fill a bucket with very hot water, enough to submerge your hat and then some. I’ll often use rubber gloves for this just so I can have the water that much hotter. Grab a bar of Lost Lamb Soap (or dishwashing detergent), plunge your hat into the hot water, and then soap it up nicely. The water will turn blue. Squeeze the soap through the fabric, and don’t be gentle about it, there’s no need. Now, rinse out your hat under cold water. Give it a good solid rinse in cold water, then dump your bucket and fill it with fresh hot water. Plunge your hat back into the hot water, soap it up, squeeze it around a bit, and then rinse it clean again in the cold water. You will feel the fabric start to tighten up from the shock of it all. After 4 trips from hot to cold lay your hat out and get a feel for how much it has already shrunk down. Likely it isn’t small enough. Get it hot again, and good and soapy, and good and wet. A bathtub or enclosed shower is the best place to finish the felting… now throw your hat down with some force. Pick it up and do it again. Do it 25-40 times, then rinse it clean again in cold water. Try your hat on. If it slips down over your eyes get it hot, soapy, and nicely drippy again and whack it around for another 25-40 blows before getting the soap out with cold water. If you’re nervous just get it to “fits close enough.” You can always get Anne’s pattern and add ties to the back to adjust the size, or you can always get it soaked and soapy again and felt it a little tighter. Squeeze as much water out of the hat as you can. Put the hat on your head and shape it, high on one side and dipping jauntily on the other. Remove your hat carefully and set it over a pot or bowl to dry.
It can take 2-3 days for a felted hat to dry (which gives you some idea how weatherproof and warm they are). While you’re waiting, make yourself a pair of Lord John’s mittens to go with Jocasta’s Scotch bonnet.
You can download a booklet of this pattern which folds up into a handy carrying size here.
And if you’ve got questions I’ll be at the NY Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck NY the weekend after Columbus Day working in the Frelsi Farm booth. Stop by and say hello!