A hat and some history


I’ve recently finished knitting Rachel Coopey’s Bedale, and very pleased I am with it, too. There’s something so fresh about its graphic, two-colour Fair Isle and elongated crown (it’s by far the slouchiest hat I’ve ever made!) Admittedly it took a little blocking to create the right shape: unblocked it was long and thin and looked disturbingly like a chefs toque when I first put it on, but a quick dunk in a hat bath relaxed the stitches nicely. I love the way it fits.


Unfortunately, as this angle shows, I did make a schoolgirl error and – even worse – failed to go back and correct it! The shame! As you can see, my first repeat of the diamond motif looks far less crisp that the following ones. When knitting Fair Isle you should always strand your colours in the same relative position, and the strand that sits below will be the dominant shade on the finished motif. A moment’s careful thought would’ve told me that here the ecru shade needs to be dominant for the diamond motif to pop, but I blithely started off with the green shade stranded underneath. I quickly realised my mistake, but instead of frogging back I simply switched the strands and carried on, hoping it wouldn’t show too much. Who was I kidding!


As my knitting tapered towards the tip of the crown I was very impressed with how those spokes of cream emerged, cleverly disguising the decreases. But my pompom hides another embarrassing error! When, a few rows from the end, I needed to transfer my stitches from a circular needle onto dpns, and having discovered that I didn’t have the right size, why did I think it wouldn’t hurt to use needles a size smaller? Of course, the punishment for this impatience was an elf-like point that looked silly, but luckily the pompom disguises it beautifully.


Bedale comes from Toasty, Rachel Coopey’s most recent collection of patterns, all knitted in the sumptuous yarn above – baa ram ewe’s Titus. As well as being wonderful to knit with – a soft, plushy 4ply that mingles 50% wensleydale longwool, 20% bluefaced leicester and 30% UK alpaca – it’s a yarn with a story behind it. Produced in Yorkshire, Titus is a fitting tribute to its philanthropist, mill-owning namesake, Sir Titus Salt, who was not only one of the earliest champions of alpaca fibres in the UK, but who in 1851 built the elegant worker’s village of Saltaire, on the outskirts of Bradford. Rescued from the slums, his workforce enjoyed the benefits of bathhouses, parks, and superior housing, with running water, gas, and an outside toilet for every home. The mills have long ceased spinning, but Saltaire is a fantastic place to visit, as I was lucky enough to discover last month.


It’s a treat to wander up and down the neat rows of delightful stone cottages, now privately owned but preserved from development, and imagine them filled with nineteenth-century millworkers and their families. I wonder what they thought of their extraordinary good fortune; lifted out of the slums and away from England’s most polluted town, where only 30% of their children reached the age of 15, and brought to live in a beauty spot with a hospital, a library and an Italianate church. No doubt they felt blessed, but human nature being what it is I wonder if some secretly resented their benefactor’s control on their lives. A strict Methodist, Titus insisted that everyone attended chapel on Sundays, and spent their leisure time improving themselves and refraining from gambling and drinking. I love that Saltaire’s wine bar is cheekily named ‘Don’t Tell Titus’!


But the main reason to visit Saltaire is Salt’s Mill. Once Europe’s biggest textile mill, its cavernous halls are now filled with art and artefacts. There are books, homewares, antiques and even bikes for sale, and its galleries boast the world’s largest permanent collection of David Hockney paintings. There are also some very tempting cafes that I’m yet to try out – the portions looked enormous! An exhibition explains more about Sir Titus and West Yorkshire’s historic wool industry, which is fascinating. And if you want to buy some Titus yarn from its place of origin, simply travel 10 miles down the road to baa ram ewe’s gorgeous yarn shop in Headingly near Leeds.

My Bedale hat is ravelled here.

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2 Responses to A hat and some history

  1. Love the hat! I watched a very interesting episode of Who Do You Think You Are recently (can’t recall which celeb!) where one of the ancestors was a mill worker, it was fascinating. Glad you had a good trip.

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