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Thoughts on Knit Caps

NOTE:  When this changed from the old blog, images were removed from text and put into an album below. In text images referenced can be found in the album.


Well, as many people know; I LOVE WOOL. I especially love knit wool and wear wool caps all the time. I am also lucky to be married to a wonderful woman that will knit me caps. My only lament is that with my historical portrayals (being French/French-Canadian), I have few choices and variety. Basically all I have is a red tuque… choices being only the shade of red and whether the tuque is a single or double. After British conquest, there becomes more choices in color… like blue, white, or even two-toned, but still it is a tuque and rather plain.

I am envious of the reenactors that portray British and Anglo-American people; as there appears to be many more options for them. This blog posting will essentially be my run down of potential types of caps that are possible for these non-French portrayals and is springing from my dislike of the fact that, among reenactors, the only cap that you really see at reenactments are Rutt-type Monmouth caps. I am not saying that these are overrepresented, BUT there are many other options out there that are likely underrepresented.

To my knowledge, there have been no large studies on knit hats of the late 17th century and 18th century nor is there a typology for these types. I am going to type/classify these hats by their style and construction. I will not be going into the variations or sub-categories within these, especially dealing with color or knit designs. I am also going to just be showing different possible styles based on extant caps from Europe and America. I am not, at least at this point, going to cover written documentation or historic images showing caps. It is often hard to gather info from images and written documents on construction anyway (and not being a knitter… I am not perfect on my construction knowledge), and at this point, I am just looking at the variety of options not trying to do “hard-core” historical research. I am also not going to attempt to quantify the different types as far as commonality. My intent, again, is just to show the variety that existed.

The first hat I would like to mention is the all so common “Rutt-style” Monmouth Cap Basically this is a knit cap with a fold up/down brim that is knit double thick. The following is an example of one such cap from the Nelson Museum.

Another similar cap is the DeBraak hat (so named from the 1790 shipwreck it was recovered from), the main difference being the brim is more of a hat-type/stick out brim.  A similar cap is shown in Collector’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution by George Neumann.

The next series of caps are simple knit caps.  They are knit tubes with one end decreased to a closed end.  This is what most “stocking caps” are today in varying sorts.  The differences I will highlight will be based on the treatment of the bottom/brim area.

The first two caps shown below are Dutch caps (mutsen) from the Rijksmuseum that are rather fine knit (and in these examples knit with a pattern and a bit more “fancy”) with the bottom simply finished with a cast-off making the bottom naturally roll-up.

The next two caps (also Dutch and from the Rijksmuseum) are simple knit caps finished with a garter stitch at the bottom.  The garter stitch is commonly seen on the ends of stockings, mittens, and etc. as a way to finish/begin an opening. I should note that these are not circular hand-knit caps but seem to be machine/frame knit and sewn together in halves, but I think this “brim” treatment would be a viable option on circular hand-knit caps as well.

The next grouping shows caps with turned up “brims” or bands.  Many of these are hard to tell how they are finished off and some may even be double-caps with a band simply turned up, but this could be considered another “style.”  Cap “A” is one of two from the “Gunnister Man,” a man found in a Scottish bog from the late 17th century.  It is interesting that the brim has a texture-knitted design.  Another cap like this without a brim was also found on this man.  Caps “B-E” are Dutch caps from the Rijksumuseum and from the Spitsbergen/Smeerenburg collection.

The final “simple” cap I would like to show is a cap recovered from the wreck of the HMS Invincible.  It is a longer knit cap with very simple construction, but is decorated with striping and a pom-pom.  From images I have seen, it is hard to tell how it is finished off on the bottom (and I have not examined the original) but I have been told that the edge is essential folded over and knit or sewn into the rest of the cap, likely similar to the brim treatment on a Rutt-style Monmouth but in a much smaller and simple fashion.

In addition to the simple single-caps shown above, simple double-caps (knit like a double tuques) are also seen elsewhere inEurope and the Americas.  Below are several Dutch examples from the Rijksmuseum.  Although these are Dutch, similar caps are seen on men all over Europe in historic images as well as are seen in images of Anglo-Americans.  I should add that although the solid red “tuque” is a classically French/French-Canadian cap, they seem to have been worn elsewhere inEurope as well and even by Anglo-Americans.  Red worsted caps (very likely “tuques” ) are seen on a lot of lists, including those supplying frontier folks and natives.  One such example can be seen on a list from Feb 1760, Fort Pitt, George Croghan, which  can be found in Drums in the Forest, Alfred Proctor James and Charles Morse Stoltz, 1958 p. 113.  This list includes:

1 Worsted Cap single = 1 Doe

1 Double ditto = 2 Bucks

The fact that these are even separated into singles and doubles really makes me believe these are tuques, especially when elsewhere in similar documents they are called red worsted or red milled caps.

An odd (and likely more 17th century and European) style that I would like to add are the following two long, brimmed caps.

Finally, an interesting and very ornate cap was found on the wreck of the General Carleton of Whitby, a 1785 shipwreck.  You certainly don’t see anything like this at reenactment.

Finally, to these above styles of caps, we could include thrummed caps, Scots bonnets, and later century Scottish Hummel caps.  In all, this makes for a rather large variety of caps; most of which are not seen at reenactments.  But alas, I have my red tuque to wear!


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