Thursday 2 April 2015

A Crimean Sleeping Helmet

One of the things that Joyce Meader showed at the Knitting in Wartime study day was a "Crimean Sleeping Helmet".  The pattern was published in a booklet published in 1900, "Women and War!  How to Knit and Crochet Articles necessary to the Health and Comfort of our Soldiers and Sailors" which Joyce also brought along for us to look at.  (1900 was in the middle of the South African (or Boer) War.)

The introduction to the sleeping helmet pattern says "These helmets are much prized by soldiers in time of war, as well as by many other men whose business or pleasure exposes them to much severe weather, or to night air."  The accompanying illustration has the caption: "Crimean Sleeping Helmet. With long neck, which, turned up, forms a warm wrap and comfortable support when sleeping."  The pattern specifies grey with crimson stripes, which is how Joyce has knitted it (though why would you want stripes on your sleeping helmet?  I don't know.)

The helmet is knitted in double rib, and I was interested to see that the trick of getting an even colour change when you knit stripes in rib was already known in 1900.  The pattern says "N.B. All through this pattern at each change of colour  the first round or row must be knitted plain; also the first stitch of the row must be knitted with both colours to avoid a break where the stripes begin and end."   I previously wrote here about a pattern published in 1919 that gave the same advice to knit the first row of each stripe, so that the colour change in the purl ribs is even - that seemed surprisingly early, but evidently it was known even earlier.

In the sleeping helmet pattern, the striped sections have just two rows in each stripe, i.e. two rows crimson, two rows grey, two rows crimson, and so on.  That means that alternate rows in these sections are all knit stitches ("knitted plain"), and only alternate rows are ribbed. So I think it's remarkable that this is not evident on the right side of the helmet - it just looks like ordinary double rib.  The wrong side does look less like double rib, but it is still corrugated as it should be.

Striped section, wrong side.
Thanks very much to Joyce Meader for her generosity in sharing these things.


  1. Thank you (and Joyce) for this interesting information. I also wonder why the stripes were considered desirable in this helmet; maybe they picked up colours in the uniform?

    Although I didn't know the the trick of getting an even colour change when you knit stripes in rib until I read your earlier post, I wouldn't be surprised if it hasn't been known since soon after people started knitting stripes in rib; given that it makes so much difference to the appearance I suspect someone fiddled around until they worked out a solution. And how long ago would that be? I gather from the Internet that the purl stitch was first seen in the mid-16th century, and that the first ribbing frame was invented in 1755. But I think hand-knitting as a hobby really began in the mid-nineteenth century, so perhaps that's when someone worked out the trick?

    1. It would be nice to find earlier patterns describing the technique - I'll look out for one. But I doubt if we''ll find anyone claiming to have invented it - and if they did, would we believe them?


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