VOYAGEURS HAT/LIBERTY CAP

I’ve promised a re-enactor pal a forager’s cap that he can wear at historical recreation bivouacs with his Revolutionary War era British regiment. He described it as being basically the same shape as a voyageur’s hat (the ancestor of the toque) or a liberty cap – a rather blunt stocking cap of medium length related somewhat to the Phrygian cap seen on some statues of Lady Liberty, and omnipresent in the French Revolution (but without a turned brim).

It’s tough to see from the various representations of similar hats in paintings and illustrations (mostly created long after-the-fact tiny thumbnails of behatted folk rowing boats, or running around in idealized depictions of famous battles), but I don’t think they had a modern ribbed type bottom edge like most of the contemporary knitting patterns show. Some look to have a sturdy split section that was turned up to make a sort of a bottom cuff (the Phrygian cap variants), others look to have plain edges. Some look like they’ve been fulled or made up from fulled yardage of some sort. Voyageur’s hats are usually described as being either red or blue. So are liberty caps. Some liberty caps bore mottoes either knitted in or embroidered on the bottom edge. And finally both hats are mentioned as sometimes, but not always having a large tassel on the end.

Throwing any attempt at historical accuracy beyond this cursory level of attention to the winds, I’ve taken a middle ground among all of these. I am making a blunt end slightly tapered stocking cap, long enough for the top to flap down to just below the brim when worn. The verdict is still out on the tassel thing. To recap, I’ve decided that instead of ribbing, I’m going to use a doubled ear band done with a self-facing and turning row of welting. And I’m going to knit an X into the brim (my friend’s regiment number). I am also going to use a hand-spun single that’s probably heavier and probably coarser than what would have been used back then, but is closer in spirit to a period yarn than is modern factory-made DK or worsted. I am somewhat limited in color choice. As I described before, my red is heathered with too much white for this purpose. Instead I’ve got a nice, strong tealed blue/green, with the X done in a mustardy gold.

So. Here’s what I have so far.

forager-2.jpg

I ripped out what I had before because it was too big.

I began again on US #0s and did a better job of swatching. For my hat to fit snugly at my demonstrated gauge of 6.5 stitches = 1 inch on 2mm (US #0) needles, I cast on 130 stitches. I used a provisional cast-on and knit 32 rounds in stockinette. Then I purled two rounds, and knit another 7 rounds. At this point I was ready to begin my X. I adapted that letter from a graphed alphabet first published in the mid 1500s, but stretched it out a row to improve the proportions. Yes, this is wildly anachronistic, but the letter form was pleasing, and in keeping with type faces current in the mid 1700s. Then I worked my 18 row tall X in stranding. Sort of.

I’m knitting in the round here on two circs. I cheated. To do the first two rounds, I broke off a length of about 8 inches from my ball of gold yarn. Then starting in the center, I worked the first row of my X. I dropped the gold when I was done with that area and continued around. When I got to round two of the pattern, I used the second leg of my length of gold to finish it. I continued in this manner, using broken pieces for every two rows of my X chart.

When my X was done, I worked another 8 rows in stockinette. At that point when the brim was folded along the purl welt, the facing side was the same length as the X-bearing part. So I unzipped my provisional cast-on, and threaded those stitches onto a spare needle. I tidied up the X, and did a couple of anchoring stitches to keep the gold from wiggling loose and to make sure that the ends weren’t lumping up in one mass, but I didn’t bother doing a full darn-in/finish on them. They are after all going to be completely encapsulated in the double-thick hat brim. Holding the piece folded along the welt, on the next row I knit together one body stitch along with one stitch rescued from my provisional cast-on. When it was done I had my double-thick brim neatly finished, with no pesky ends of my X to peek through.

I’m now at the “make the thing longer until you can’t stand doing it any more” stage of lengthening the hat body. I’ve read several descriptions of how others have formed the top of their caps, plus other speculations. Since 130 isn’t a particularly convenient number for evenly staged decreases, I’ll be noodling out this part on the fly. Some descriptions of these hats opine that there is no taper at all, just a drawstring finish. But I don’t believe that the people who wrote that have ever knit. A drawstring on an untapered tube would not make the graceful shapes I see in the paintings, instead that finish would make something that looked like a gathered pants leg, with a bulby end.

I’ll keep posting here as I go along. Comments from anyone with real historical citations to either support or blast to shreds any supposition here are most welcome.


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One response

  1. A discreet increase now of two stitches would give you 132 stitches to play with, with many more options in terms of decreasing multiples. Good luck, and I look forward to seeing the result.

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