A Seaman’s Watch Cap

January 10th, 2013

Charity knitting was a popular pastime among ladies of the newly leisured industrial class during the mid-19th century. Before the advent of government sponsored welfare programs, women of means helped bridge the gap for poorer families by providing baskets of food and practical clothing (like warm socks or serviceable shawls). They were often motivated by religious duty as much as their own generosity. In addition to sponsoring indigent locals, ladies might also target other deserving groups, such as missionaries or sailors, with the fruit of their needles.

Visiting the Poor, 1844 (from La Magasin Pittoresque)
Visiting the Poor, from La Magasin Pittoresque, 1844

Fast forward to the late-20th century, and you find that many women are still eager to knit for those in need: hats for preemies, sweaters for penguins, and all sorts of other worthy causes. My own grandmother’s pet knitting charity was the Seamen’s Center, Port of Wilmington. It’s a service of the Episcopal diocese of Delaware, offering accommodations, clothing, and much more to merchant seamen while they are in port. Along with her guild, Gram knitted countless watch caps to warm chilly heads on the open seas.

While cleaning out my studio this week, I came across her last hat, maroon with a double white stripe above the band. It was nearly finished — I just had to sew the seam up the side. I wrote a little note explaining who’d made the hat, and her long-time dedication to their cause, and mailed it to the Seamen’s Center. Then I remembered that she’d given me a copy of the watch cap pattern years ago.

I whipped up this variegated version in a matter of hours.

Seaman's Watch Cap

Only I had to promise my husband that he could keep the hat before he’d agree to model it, so this watch cap isn’t going to sea. But the next one will. And the one after that.

Would you like to knit a watch cap too? The pattern is linked below. I didn’t write it, but I figure it’s okay to share on the honor system — which means, if you want to use it, you have to knit at least one watch cap to donated to the Seamen’s Center. Their address is listed on the document. There’s no deadline, no rules about color or fiber content.

Seamen’s Center Watch Cap Pattern

If you do make a cap, I’d love to see a picture. Leave me a link to your blog or photo page in the comment area of this post.

  • [...] been knitting again lately. First the seaman’s caps. Then a flurry of tiny garments for a special wee someone, who’s impending arrival is causing [...]

  • [...] O.K. Now you know who’s who and what’s what and what all the fuss is about. All of that to say: I just can’t get enough of those red hats and had to build an outfit inspired by them. What a statement piece! What a cozy yet rough and tumble, red-hot like the devil may care, jumble of woolen wonder! Historically, these caps were worn by sailors on watch and over time their name in popular culture has changed from Watch Cap to Beanie (not a classy switch in my opinion). (Read a concise history of the Watch Cap here.) [...]

  • [...] O.K. Now you know who’s who and what’s what and what all the fuss is about. All of that to say: I just can’t get enough of those red hats and had to build an outfit inspired by them. What a statement piece! What a cozy yet rough and tumble, red-hot like the devil may care, jumble of woolen wonder! Historically, these caps were worn by sailors on watch and over time their name in popular culture has changed from Watch Cap to Beanie (not a classy switch in my opinion). (Read about theĀ originsĀ of the Watch Cap here.) [...]

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