Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plenty of Warmth & Style in a Thrummed Cap, c.1770

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Susan reporting:

Most surviving examples of clothing from the past belonged to the wealthy upper classes.  The clothes worn by ordinary folk were usually worn out, not preserved for posterity. There aren't many written descriptions of how milkmaids or blacksmiths dressed, either, especially not compared to the detailed reports of this duke's waistcoat or that princess's gown.

So since we've already discussed a cocked hat of an 18th c. gentleman, today we're featuring a hat popular with men who worked hard for their livings. This woolly hat (worn left by Andrew De Lisle, a journeyman wheelwright with Colonial Williamsburg) is called a thrum, or thrummed, cap, and in a cold winter wind, it couldn't be beat. The base was knitted of wool, and extra pieces of yarn or fleece were thrummed into the surface – either knitted in or woven in afterwards – to make the shaggy surface. Then the whole thing was fulled (much like felting) in hot water to shrink the knitted stitches, secure the thrums, and lock the wool's fibers together. The result was a dense, sturdy, windproof hat that resembles fur (or the 18th c. version of dreads.)

The same technique was also used inside mittens and carriage blankets when extra warmth was needed. The more a thrummed piece is used, the more dense and warmer it becomes; thrummed goods are sturdy, and can stand up to hard use. There are surviving examples of gauntlet-style thrummed mittens that were worn by 19th c. stage drivers who likely also welcomed the wind-proof warmth.

Thrummed caps were especially popular with English sailors from Elizabethan times onward (see the fellow to the right), and working men in general. They also made a wild-man fashion statement that must have had a certain appeal to men like sailors who proudly lived on the edges of respectable society. Personally, we think it's a style worth reviving, and not only because it's the warmest had imaginable. To this end, here's a link to download directions for knitting one for yourself, or any other wild-man of your acquaintance.

Photos courtesy of Sarah Woodyard.
Below: Detail of an English sailor, illustration from Habiti Antichi e Moderni by Cesare Vecelli, 1600.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks like Seventies Shag Carpeting for the head. Tres chic.

Diane said...

I haven't been brave enough to make myself a thrummed hat, but I did make thrummed mittens for myself in November and they are the warmest things ever! They also keep my hands totally dry, even when doing things like building snowmen! Wool is amazing.

Karen A. Chase said...

I love this kind of information. I'm writing historical fiction about the Declaration of Independence, and this little tidbit will be useful in creating helping define characters. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The high today was 17°F. That hat looks really appealing.

MissVicki said...

gee, I have never seen thrumms worn on the outside of a garment before!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

As a Knitting Nerdy History Girl, I'm fascinated by examples of historical knitting like the thrumming. Really a pretty ingenious way to take something that's already warm (knitted wool) and make it extra warm. Though I have to agree that wearing the thrums on the outside doesn't make sense. I've wondered if sailors in particular would ever turn it shaggy-side-in if the weather was particularly bad, but I've only seen pictures of it worn shaggy-side-out. So I guess it's just one more example of inscrutable fashion. :)

=Tamar said...

Thrum side out imitates sheepskin, and quite possibly sheds rain better.

Baggage said...

Pictures showing hats with the thrum on the inside would only look like a big wooly hat, not unlike a Monmouth cap, but with extra fleecy warmth hidden from view.
Having seen the existing work from Newfounland, typically mittens, I'd say it was mostly worn with the thrum inside, though maybe turned out when it got too hot?

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