Knitting Pattern: Home Fires Scarf
Above: my lovely mother, Lynne, modelling her version of the Home Fires Scarf; my DH Stephen models the original, in military grey.
With the Downton Abbey Christmas special on this weekend, my mind turns to vintage knitting. I love the styles of the past, and dream of having enough time to do vintage knitting 'properly', with tiny needles and impossibly intricate patterns.
But vintage knitting needn't always be so complicated.
A few years ago, when I still lived in London, I spent a lot of time in the British Library. They had all sorts of rare and interesting books I needed for my work as an educational illustrator.
But, they also have...a lot of craft books. Often amidst my history books I'd order up out-of-print Rowan magazines, or vintage knitting rarities I found trawling their online catalogue.
Left: Perhaps the unfortunately fictional Matthew Crawley would have worn a scarf like this during his military service?
I found this pattern in one such trawl. I was on the lookout for Christmas patterns, and found a booklet designed for women keeping the home fires burning during World War I. Double-knit in stout wool, this scarf was - heartbreakingly - designed to keep soldiers warm in the trenches.
Double knitting creates a double layer, making it the perfect technique for creating a simple but ultra-warm scarf.
I knit it for my dad, knowing he'd appreciate the connection to military history, as he's a veteran himself. I also knew that the double layer of pure wool would keep him warm in New York's brutal winters.
My mom loved wearing my dad's scarf so much (this is how things work in my family) that she asked for the pattern herself - and created the gorgeous pink version you see above on the left.
This pattern is incredibly simple - it only runs to about four lines of instructions. And it's great holiday knitting - you need to pay it a bit of attention, but not so much that you'll be distracted from Lady Mary's frustrations in the Abbey, or any other holiday entertainment.
Right: My dad wearing the scarf as it would have been worn in the trenches: crossed over in front for optimal warmth under a coat.
Yarn: The pink version used 4 skeins of Lion Brand Superwash Merino Cashmere, which I'd class as a DK weight yarn, and the grey version used 4 skeins of Jaeger Matchmaker Merino Aran - now sadly discontinued, but Karabella Aurora 8 in Charcoal (0022) would make a great substitute.
Needles: I recommend going up a size from the needles you'd normally use with your chosen yarn. For example, my mom used size 7 (4.5mm) for her pink scarf, even though with DK yarn she'd usually use a 5 (3.75mm). I used size 8 (5mm) because I knit very loosely - even with Aran yarn, I'd usually be knitting with smaller needles. Experiment a bit with different needle sizes...the snuggly end result will be worth it.
How to make the Home Fires Scarf: Cast on 60 stitches. Knit 1, bring the wool forward, slip the next stitch purlwise. Repeat these two steps until the end of the row.
Do this every row.
Continue to desired length - my mom's scarf is approximately one yard/metre. My dad's is about one and a half yards/metres - but try it on as you go for your perfect scarf.
To cast off, knit two together twice, passing the 1st stitch over the 2nd. K2tog, passing the first stitch on the needle over this one. Repeat until you're done.
Some knit hints: As with all double-knitting, be careful not to drop stitches. Picking them up again is quite difficult. Also, I recommend knitting a 20-stitch sample square first. It is important to make sure that you're getting a stretchy fabric with the needles you're using.
Happy vintage knitting - and happy Christmas!
[Downton Abbey image © ITV. All other images © Ellen Lindner]