When I saw the "Muffatees for Miss Pole" by Mary Lycan in the preview for the January/February issue of Piecework, I was filled with a longing to knit them. The fact that they are adapted from a period pattern and are named for a character in the delightful "Cranford" series only added to their charm for me.
These muffatees are worked in Appleton's crewel wool in no less than seven shades of rose pink, which I received very efficiently and cheerfully from Wool and Hoop --
-- and are worked on size 000 needles (1.5mm), I think -- because I don't have a needle gauge that goes that small! (I had bought a packet of Boye steel "sock needles", four sets from 1.5 to 2.25mm mixed together, and had to peer closely for some time to decide which was which.) It was rather strange, knitting with crewel wool; it is finer even than sock yarn, but the Appleton's at least is very springy, so that it does knit up pretty well.
I usually like tiny, fiddly crafts, and for the most part I enjoyed both this pattern and the scale, but I'm glad that it was a small project and quickly done. The needles are small, the wool is small -- and prone to splitting -- I had to wear my extra-strong reading glasses simply to see what I was doing the whole time.
The only change I made in the pattern was very minor, casting off exclusively in purl instead of alternating at the tops of the ribs, as I don't much like that "chain" across the top from the knit-wise bind-off. As it happens, the ruffle curled enough that I don't think it really matters which is used. I don't think I really needed to use two needles to get a loose cast-on, either -- I used the Old Norwegian long-tail cast-on, and it probably would have been all right done with one needle.
I realized after joining the second shade of wool that I could simply splice in each new shade pretty much anywhere in the given round and it would hardly show, because each new shade was so similar to the last. I alternated placing the splices either some ways before the beginning of the pattern round or some ways after it, so that the splices didn't "stack up".
It was very amusing to see the ruffle, having been splayed out around the four needles during knitting, ruffle itself as I cast off.
The modern pattern advises using a spice bottle to block the muffatee -- obviously you don't want to flatten out the ruffle unecessarily. I tried a number of different objects from the kitchen cupboard -- Spice Island jars fit pretty well, but I felt a little dubious about putting wet wool on the paper label, for fear that something might transfer, ink or at the least paper gunk -- Morton Bassett's paper-labelless jars would have been all right, but seemed a bit big, and I didn't want to stretch out the rib at all, not knowing how the crewel wool would behave. This is what I ended up with --
This pattern is originally from Jane Gaugain's The Knitter's Friend of 1846. A muffatee (or as Mrs. Gaugain has it, muffetee) in its strictest definition is a step up from the simpler wrist-warmer, in that while being a plain tube it also has a thumb hole, so this particular one is perhaps not a muffatee as such, but this is a minor cavil as the ruffle certainly lends an air of elegance beyond the common sort (!).
Here is the original pattern, handsomely digitized for the Richard Rutt collection by the kind folks at the University of Southampton:
I haven't worked historical patterns from the original yet; our modern abbreviations seem a bit more obvious, but Mrs. Gaugain's are quite clear with her helpful key. P = knit ("plain"). B = purl ("back"). O = yarn over. OB = yo purl-wise ("by casting the thread quite round the wire").
The ruffle is very generous, which I think is not quite so obvious in the Piecework photographs. In person it quite reminds me of an Elizabethan neck ruff. Binding off that many stitches was tiresome in the extreme, but as I was of course watching "Cranford" while I knitted, this was not as much of a bother as it might have been.
I did run out of the last shade of wool barely halfway through the bind-off of the second muffatee, so knitter beware. Fortunately, the next-to-last shade was almost indistinguishable, so I finished the bind-off with that, but of course I would much rather have been able to splice it in the body of the knitting -- I regret to say that I could not face picking it out to do this, not at this tiny scale.
The crewel wool is, by the way, rather itchy, so I would not advise it for someone who is especially sensitive to wool.
Of course, these being the Muffatees for Miss Pole, this is the perfect opportunity to do another instalment of my "Knitting in the Movies" series, and look at the knits in "Cranford", that wonderful adaptation of Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford books. All of the pictures below are publicity photos except perhaps the second, but all are quite large, so you can click on them to see in great detail.
Mrs. Jamieson (Barbara Flynn), Miss Matilda Jenkyns (Judi Dench), Mrs. Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), and Miss Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), beautifully set off by the puffs of steam coming, one supposes, from the dreadful new steam engine. Mrs. Forrester is wearing a garter-stitch shawl, a simple triangle with a knitted-in ruffle. All of the ladies except Mrs. Jamieson -- who has no need to make knitted objects, of course -- are wearing mitts. (Note that all of these have a single opening for the fingers and an open tube for the thumb, which I am assuming are more strictly mitts than muffatees.) Miss Mattie has a very pretty pair with eyelet diamonds around the hand; Mrs. Forrester a pair in some kind of fancy rib, decorated with a little bow of ribbon; Miss Pole's are (perhaps unsurprisingly) rather fussy, with a band of eyelets at the wrist and garter bands now and then across the wide rib; Miss Tomkinson's appear to be in a brioche stitch with a band of ribbing to nip them in at the wrist, and are garnished with a little tassel.
Miss Mattie, Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), and Miss Jenkyns (Eileen Atkins). Here is a more detailed picture of Miss Mattie's pretty mitts. Miss Jenkyns is also wearing a pair -- much simpler than her sister's, one suspects -- but with what appears to be a surprisingly frivolous tassel.
Miss Mattie, Mrs. Forrester, Miss Tomkinson, and Miss Pole, in somewhat finer weather than before, but still all equipped with their knitted mitts.
From the second series, "Return to Cranford," Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie), Mrs. Jamieson, Miss Pole, Miss Tomkinson, Miss Mattie, Mary Smith, and Mrs. Forrester, just out of church, it seems. Miss Mattie is wearing her knitted shawl, a rather smaller version of Mrs. Forrester's in grey wool; you can see here that Mrs. Forrester's is long enough to wrap around her waist and pin in the back, where Miss Mattie's is short enough for the ends to hang in front rather like a tippet. Miss Pole, Miss Mattie, and Mrs. Forrester wear their knitted mitts; Miss Tomkinson probably does as well, though her hands cannot be seen here.