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February 03, 2015



I didn't get to watch Outlander (not having Starz), but the pictures I've seen of the costumes are amazing. I agree about the knits, though. I'm willing to let certain things slide, but yeah ... that bulky cowl just has to go!

Claire Helene

This is interesting! I had no idea the knitwear was period. I know that the knit pieces have been attracting a lot of attention. One of my friends owns a yarn shop and she said she keeps getting questions about Outlander. After I read your post, I googled and found this: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alannaokun/the-knitwear-on-outlander-is-possibly-the-best-part-of-the-s#.nodGD1R8Q No wonder the costume person sounds so testy over the calls about historical inaccuracy. She sounds super pleased with herself over the pieces! I agree with you, though, it would have been an easy thing to discuss as you said above, but she's trying to have it both ways.


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Claire Helene,That is exactly what is bugging the historical-knitting purists, that people who dont know, now think that chunky wristwarmers and infinity cowls have been around since 1745. The Jane Austen Knits magazines are in a similar position very few of the items in them are really something that a Regency person would have knitted or worn, i.e. that even existed as knitwear at the time.This is very much like the question of historical accuracy in movies I mean actual events, not just clothing. How much leeway can we take with real events? Do we owe anything to the historical record? Where do we draw the line between the necessities of boiling a story down to 2 hours, and the historical record?Thanks for commenting,Jeanne


Some one has a costume blog I stumbled across where she points out the re-use of costumes, particularly 'historic' ones. If I could remember where or who, she might have the Cranford shawl. Sooo many people have asked me about the outlander cowl. Sheesh.


I enjoyed reading the knitting history in this post. If I had seen this show, I probably would've dumbly admired the knitwear and wouldn't have noticed how inaccurate it really is.


Sarina, I’ve learned a lot from the Historic-Knitting listers! There are some amazingly knowledgeable knitters there.


I'm pretty sure there weren't time travelers from the modern age running around in historic Scotland either.

Karen B

Very interesting blog post. I'm actually sad to hear all the knitted items aren't accurate. I (as a knitter) have very much enjoyed the knitted costume pieces in this show. Sad not accurate, but happy still beautiful. (I just knitted up that super chunky cowl, blocking now.)


Karen, I’ve seen some very charming and appealing designs in the “Jane Austen Knits” series of magazines! There is certainly no reason not to admire them or the “Outlander” designs – but we shouldn’t assume from either that they are historically accurate. And I see no reason not to wear them, either as part of a modern ensemble or a costume, as long as historical accuracy isn’t an issue!

debbi read

Importance in Scottish history
1855 sketch of a shepherd knitting, while watching his flock.

Knitting was such an important occupation among those living on the Scottish Isles during the 17th and 18th centuries that whole families were involved in making sweaters, accessories, socks, stockings, etc.[19] Fair Isle techniques were used to create elaborate colorful patterns. Sweaters were essential garments for the fishermen of these islands because the natural oils within the wool provided some element of protection against the harsh weather encountered while out fishing. ..... I take it Wikipedia got it wrong then???


Well, Debbi, I’m glad you pointed that out, because the answer to your question (“I take it Wikipedia got it wrong then???”) is I think “No, and yes.”

Wikipedia: “Fair Isle techniques were used to create elaborate colorful patterns. Sweaters were essential garments for the fishermen of these islands because the natural oils within the wool provided some element of protection against the harsh weather encountered while out fishing”. Yes, for the most part. Giving only one reason for fishermen to wear woolen sweaters makes it sound like that’s the *only* reason, though, when logically it is clear that a sweater in stranded knitting is also going to be warmer simply because it is thicker! (See also Norwegian stranded knitting and Swedish two-end knitting, which also make thick and thus very warm garments.)

Wikipedia: “Knitting was such an important occupation among those living on the Scottish Isles during the 17th and 18th centuries that whole families were involved in making sweaters, accessories, socks, stockings, etc.[19]” (citing Ann Feitelson’s “The Art of Fair Isle Knitting: History, Technique, Color and Pattern” (Interweave, 1996). The passage on page 19 of Feitelson’s book discusses Fair Isle knitting in the 19th century, with only a few mentions in passing of the 18th century, so Wikipedia is *not quite* right. “In 1814, Sir Walter Scott visited Fair Isle and wrote of men wearing ‘striped worsted caps,’” with reference in the next paragraph to fig.1-5, an 1857 Dutch lithograph of Dutch fishermen wearing Fair Isle caps, possibly acquired by trading with Fair Isle fishermen. “The earliest printed notice of Fair Isle knitwear for sale in Shetland, shown in illustration 1-6, appeared in the ‘Shetland Advertiser’ in January 1862 … the knitting identified specifically as ‘Fair Isle’ is described as a curiosity, that is, a rare and attention-getting novelty.” And “Most nineteenth-century Fair Isle knitwear consisted of small items such as the aforementioned hats, and wristlets, socks, gloves, and scarves” – not sweaters.

The passage on page 28 of Feitelson’s book is quotes from Shetland knitters recalling knitting at home as children and young women, the earliest date specifically mentioned being “the early 1940s” but presumably there were earlier ones too, as she quotes “a ninety-four-year-old woman” – but the point is that these women *remembered* knitting items at home for sale, so they clearly were not knitting in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Regarding specifically Fair Isle knitting, Feitelson says, “There is no mention of patterned knitting … done on Fair Isle until 1842, when James Wilson, a scientist/traveler from Great Britain, noted ‘peculiar patterns of gloves and caps’…. Previous writers, such as Janet Schaw of Edinburgh, in a 1774 account of a trip to Fair Isle, spoke of ‘Island manufactures: such as knit caps, mittens, socks, and the softest cloth I ever saw made of wool” (15), though note that Schaw doesn’t mention the stranded knitting we now call Fair Isle.

(I am amused, by the way, that Feitelson says that Wilson was “from Great Britain” traveling in the Shetlands, as though the islands were so remote as to be not thought of as part of Scotland!)

Thanks for commenting!


PS, the dead link for the phrase "caps, stockings, undershirts, and gloves" led at the time of posting to a Google Books preview of "Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls" by Martha Waterman. The quote I was aiming at is on page 6:

"There is evidence that caps, stockings, shirts, and gloves have been hand knitted ... since the fourteenth century"

and the rest of that chapter on the history of shawls.

Emily Morris

My mother knitted the mustard coloured jumper for the Durrels. She is 76 and loves knitting. Our family friend Charlotte Holdich did the costumes for the Durrels and asked her to knit it. She will be really pleased that it was noticed.

Emily Morris

And yes it was all done by hand !


Oh darn! Well, I'll probably knit them anyway. For my first real knitting project, I did one of the shawls that Brianna wore, but I did learn some things in the process. Mainly that the yarn they used for her shawl was synthetic and not something that would have existed back then, what with the ombre/whatever-you-call-it colour. I opted for a pure wool yarn made from local sheep, and had to alter the pattern because it just didn't come in a thickness equal to that synthetic stuff. I was disappointed that they chose to do that, and extra disappointed that the shawls aren't period authentic at all! And the hand warmers. Who researched this? Wouldn't they have thought to look up what people wore and how they were made? How hard would it have been? And to not use synthetic materials...? Ugg.


Kendal, yes, you should *absolutely* knit them anyway if you love them, and enjoy both the knitting and the wearing! I don’t want to imply that they are not useful and fun knits, especially with the added pleasure one gets from being part of a fan community!

Just please, please, please enjoy them for what they are, not as historically-accurate clothing! :)


Thank you- I love the knitting in outlander but it has bugged me. Im from a nordic country of "farming" heritage. And when Ive seen okder knitting from our country from the 1800 and perhaps earlier it is always with very fine yarn. And the craft is very beautiful . With either patterns in colour or texture. Never coarse like those in Outlander. There are socks, mittens, caps and sweaters, The shawls were I think woven not knitted. But since Im not that goid at history I wasnt sure about it. But now I know I was right. The Outlander knit is lovely, but more 2000th then 1700.


What yarn was used for knitted garments in Outlander series? Rowan?

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