For almost as long as I’ve been a knitter,
I’ve been fascinated by the history of knitting. I’ve
especially enjoyed the mind-twisting process of working with
the often obtuse and obfuscatory language of antique patterns.
There’s a thrill, I find, in watching a project emerge
row by row and knowing that other knitters, long gone, followed
the same path.
The process of decoding, testing and correcting isn’t for everyone,
though; and so in this column I hope to share the excitement of the journey
by removing as many of the roadblocks as possible. You don’t need
to be a historian to come along–just a knitter with a curious mind.
Listen, I’m as fond of a truly epic
knitting project as the next lumberjack.
But after cranking out the doll’s costume
from the last two issues–with its four
feet of lace edging and twenty-seven successively
larger petticoats (the outermost doubles
as a cow cozy)–when Knitty said, “For
the Winter issue, how about a scarf?”,
I said, “Oh, mais oui!” Because,
frankly, Daddy needed a break.
Scarf knitting, except perhaps of the Doctor
Who variety, is not generally held to be
epic. Scarves are for newbies. Scarves are
what you knit when you can’t knit anything
else, or when you really need a scarf. A
scarf is a breeze, a bore, a washcloth that
doesn’t know when to quit.
So I started rummaging through the books.
Plenty of scarves to choose from. Here a
scarf, there a scarf. Some, of course, so
simple as to barely count as patterns. (Cast
on, knit moss stitch until you’ve had
enough, bind off. You’re welcome.)
Others…intriguing. Lace? In multiple
colors? In intarsia? Don’t mind if
Except upon closer inspection, the most
interesting scarves also required that I “knit
until center measures approximately four
I’m sorry, no. Maybe some other time,
but not right now. Not on a deadline. Not
with the holidays almost at my throat. After
you’ve cajoled me into knitting four
wide yards of lace, you’d better not
follow it with “then” unless
what follows “then” is “let
me finish that for you, while you go get
I was on the verge of sending Knitty a
counteroffer (“How about a penwiper?”)
when I ran across Jane Gaugain’s “Faucett,
or Bandeau for Neck.” Right there in
the preamble, the eminently sensible Mrs.
Gaugain gives the dimensions for the completed
project: three inches wide, three-quarters
of a yard long. Wrap it up, I’ll take
So I jumped into this assuming “Well,
it’s for the neck. It must be
a scarf.” But it was impossible to
be sure. The more I knit, the less sure I
became. Three-quarters of a yard sounds long,
or at least long-ish, until you wrap it around
your neck and realize how long it isn’t.
Then you start asking yourself probing questions
like, “What the hell is a
faucett, anyway? And how are you supposed
to wear it?”
Myself had no answer, so I turned those
who might: my role models in the Historic
Knitting group on Ravelry.com. I’m
a member, but mostly a quiet member. I sit
on a little wooden stool in the corner, listen,
and learn. There are serious scholars in
there–professors of textile history,
dedicated re-enactors, living history professionals.
So I asked them, “What the hell is a
faucett, anyway? And how are you supposed
to wear it?”
To say I was deluged with thoughtful, eager
assistance is to understate the case. The
group galloped to my rescue like a cavalry
mounted on antique spinning wheels.* I had
messages from no fewer than forty-three expert
knitters in the space of six hours. They
provided me with an excellent answer to the
second question, and some fascinating theories
about the first.
The way to wear a faucett turned out to
be no great mystery. In the mid-19th century,
short, slender scarves (usually woven, less
often knit or crocheted) were a common adornment.
The enormously helpful mrsmcknittington was
first to direct me to images like this,
showing the garment in action.
Pinning down the name was more of a challenge.
Not a single instance of the term “faucett” (or
likely variations such as “faucette,” “fawcett,” or “faucet”)
was to be found in any of the dozens of costume
histories to which the researchers had access.
In fact, nobody seemed to be able to find
it anywhere except right there in
Mrs. Gaugain’s pattern book. Such is
the vague and shifting nature of fashion
Without hard evidence, the best one could
do was theorize, and so one did.
The most intriguing notion was that faucett
might be derived from a proper name. It could
have been that a Miss or Mrs Faucett–perhaps
an Edinburgh society darling who shone brightly
for a season–had worn the scarf with
such élan that her name became
associated with it. Fashion loves to do this
sort of thing. In the nineteenth century,
the famous soprano Henrietta Sontag lent
her name to a wildly popular style of triangular
shawl. In our own time, we have the Kelly
bag and (less glamorously) the Mao jacket.
Faucett might also have been a dressmaker
or costumier who made the accessory such
a signature that she (or he) and it became
inseparable–like Chanel and her suit,
or Stetson and his hat. Or Amelia Bloomer
and her…well, you know.
Unfortunately for this theory, what hasn’t
turned up (yet) is any mention in the historical
record of the original Faucett. She may be
there–perhaps in a faded newspaper
account of the guests at a fashionable gathering–but
unless we find her, she remains only a theory.
Less romantic, but also less speculative,
is the derivation put forth by multiple researchers
who very kindly combed stacks of dictionaries
on my behalf. They pointed to the Latin word** faux (in
the singular, fauces) meaning…throat.
Hmmm. Fauces survived the classical
era in derivations like the Old French fausett (the
hole or tap in a cask); and persisted into
modern times as the medical term faucal (of,
or pertaining to, the throat) and, of course, faucet (the
neck-shaped thing in the bathroom that pours
water into the sink).
It’s not a stretch, is it, to suppose
that the garment might be named after the
body part it wraps around? We have leggings,
don’t we? And wristlets? And booty
For whatever reason Mrs. Gaugain found herself
unable to call this thing a scarf, she nonetheless
turned out a scarf pattern that is simple
without being dull.*** And when I say simple,
I mean simple. This is the first pattern
I’ve ever translated for which the
notes are longer than the instructions.
The stitch motif is one row long, and it
wasn’t until I’d knit about four
inches of it that I recognized it to be what
it is–a member of the brioche family.
But not the brioche I’d learned, which
took three paragraphs and two diagrams to
explain; and was about as much fun as removing
your own tonsils with a pair of tweezers.
Nope. Mrs. Gaugain gets her version across
in less than half a line, and it’s
so easy you can knit it while chilling with
your posse in a dark biker bar. The clever
woman also realized that when you block brioche
as though it were lace, it suddenly appears
to be this Whole Other Stitch; and very pretty
it is, too. Try it for yourself, and see.
*This simile works best if you don’t
think about it too hard.
**Which I also found, after the fact,
in the Latin dictionary two feet from my
writing desk. Boy, was my face red.
***Every woman who has visited the workroom
during the past month, and seen the faucett
draped around the neck of my dress form,
has either asked to have it or tried to
steal it, or both. If you have a smallish
amount of luxury fiber that you want to
use and show off, here’s your answer.
Recommended needle size [always use a needle
size that gives you the gauge
listed below -- every knitter's
gauge is unique]
set US #2/2.75mm needles
Needles two sizes larger for casting on and binding off (see Note)
20 sts/28 rows = 4 inches in stockinette
12 sts/32 rows = 4 inches in pattern
stitch, after blocking
PATTERN NOTES [Knitty's list of standard abbreviations and techniques can be found here.]
The piece is worked flat, wet blocked,
and then seamed along its length before being finished with
knotted fringes at each short end.
Casting on: This piece requires firm blocking
(such as is normally employed on knitted
lace) in order to bring the fabric to its final appearance
and dimensions. It is therefore vital that the CO and BO be
done loosely. I recommend using needles 2 sizes larger than
the pattern requires for both. Alternatively, CO using the long-tail
both needles held together in the right hand.
Yarnover at beginning of row: Bring the working
yarn from front to back over the right needle before working
the next stitch.
Counting rows: Watch out! The pattern
stitch creates columns of what appear to
be plain stitches running the length of the
of these stitches indicates two rows. --->This means that
at the end of a 12-row stripe, you’ll count only six of
these stitches from the bottom to the top.
Joining a new color: Mrs. Gaugain calls for
the knitter to “tie on” a new color when it is
introduced on a RS row. I prefer, instead, to thread the strand
of the new color onto a yarn needle and weave it lightly into
the WS of the fabric near the edge of the work, so that the
first maneuver of the row (a yarnover, because of the pattern
stitch) can be performed. This initial weaving can be neatened
up during the finishing process.
Carrying Unused Colors While Striping: Mrs.
Gaugain is mum on the subject of what to do with the unused
color while working the stripes at either end of the faucett. As
each stripe is 12 rows deep, simply letting it hang is unsatisfactory.
You could break each color as the stripe ends, leaving a tail,
and join in the new color; but that will create a lot of loose
ends to weave in. I prefer to leave the unused yarn attached,
and pick up the working yarn from underneath it at
the beginning of each RS row. This traps the unused yarn against
the selvedge, and as the piece progresses the extra color will
more or less disappear into the fabric. When it’s time
to switch colors again, the new yarn will be exactly where
it needs to be.
A guide to making knotted
fringe is available here.
Historic sizing: The original pattern calls
for both of its variations to be worked to a total length (excluding
fringes) of three-quarters of a yard, or approximately 27 inches.
Historic colors: The original pattern, which
calls for Berlin wool (substitute fingering weight yarn), suggests
Albert blue (a bright, rich blue somewhere between royal and
lapis lazuli) with stripes of “fire colour”–presumably
Historic variation: Mrs Gaugain offers a
finer version of the pattern, worked in Berlin embroidery silk
(as a substitute, try a silk or silk-blend two-ply lace weight).
Using needle approximately size US4 or 5, CO 30 sts and follow
pattern as written. Suggested colors are pink with white stripes
and fringe, or all black. Block the finished piece to three
inches wide, but do not seam.
With MC, loosely (see Pattern Notes) CO 21 sts.
First Stripe Section: Row 1: [YO, sl 1, k2tog] to
end. See Pattern Notes for a tip on working
the yo at the start of the row.
Work Row 1 11 more times.
See Pattern Notes for tips on joining the yarn and handling
the color change.
Row 13 [RS]: With MC, yo, sl
1, k2tog. With CC, [yo, sl 1, k2tog]
Optional: Break MC.
Work 11 more rows in pattern stitch with
Row 25 [RS]: With CC, yo, sl 1, k2tog. With MC, [yo,
sl 1, k2tog] to end.
Optional: Break CC.
Work 11 more rows in pattern stitch with
Repeat Rows 13-36 once more, and Rows
13-24 again. 3 MC stripes,
3 CC stripes.
Break CC, leaving 6 inch tail.
With MC only, work in pattern stitch until
piece is approx 54 inches long.
Second Stripe Section:
Work Rows 13-36 of First Stripe Section
BO loosely (see Pattern Notes).
Soak and firmly block piece, taking care to pin out with straight
sides (blocking wires will be extremely helpful) and even width
from end to end. Blocked width will be between 5 and 6 inches,
depending upon your gauge and fiber.
When dry, weave in ends. Fold long selvedges to lengthwise
center, and use mattress stitch to seam selvedges together;
piece will now be a long, flat tube with open ends.
Using eight 7-inch lengths of CC, finish short edges with
fringe, knotted or not according to your preference.