Sunday, 3 June 2012

Iceni mitts

So, following on from the last post about Lavenham Blue yarn, here's what it inspired me to do:- 
"In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a great golden torq; she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch; and on her hands were blue wool mitts of studded ropes, through which her fingers pointed out the direction of her foe. This was her invariable attire."
The quote above was written by Cassius Dio, a Roman commentator - well, all except the bit about the mitts. I made that up!* I just loved the fanciful idea that Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, would have knitted her own gloves in Lavenham Blue DK, possibly at the camp fire, relaxing after a hard day in battle. We actually know very little of her life but we do know that knitting was unfortunately not around in the 1st Century - the earliest records of knitting are from the middle ages. However, the Celts of the iron age were skilful textiles craftpeople: evidence of spinning, dyeing, weaving (including intricate multi-coloured checks and tartans)and tablet weaving have all been found, while their iron-working ancestors were the original inventors of chainmail. Surely someone at the time was trying to create fabrics from a single strand of wool? I'm intending to continue my research into the textiles techniques utilised by contemporaries of Boudica, so watch this space ...

Boudica, Colchester
by Jonathan Clarke

But back to my Iceni mitts design. Boudica lived during the Roman occupation of Britain. Following the death of her husband the Iceni King, after which her daughters were raped and she was tortured and humiliated, she led a revolt which resulted in the burning of Colchester, London and St Albans, and thousands of deaths including her own. Obviously there was more to it than that (for in-depth analysis of this  "Barbarian Spring" in a rap style, you could watch Horrible Histories), but I digress!

Inspired by "what Boudica would wear," I decided that a vengeful Celtic Queen with a spear in one hand and a long chariot drive ahead of her would most likely need a pair of fingerless mitts. I liked the idea of a gauntlet shape, to fit snuggly up the arm, and I also wanted cables to symbolise Celtic interlaced designs.

Iceni mitts start with a cabled cuff ...

... then the sts for the hand
are picked up along one edge,
and the mitt is knitted in the round

The pattern is available in two sizes. I knitted the small size which measures 19cm (or 7.5in) around the palm, and two stocking stitch swatches, all out of one skein of Lavenham Blue DK. At 209m per skein, it is really good value for £10! It is spun from 100% Leicester Longwool and dyed with woad grown in Norfolk, home territory of the Iceni tribe. The mitts can, of course, be made in any yarn that knits to standard DK tension.

Iceni mitts by Anni Howard

Iceni Mitts pattern is now available for sale as a Ravelry download here.

Lavenham Blue DK is exclusive to  Cafe Knit - if you order online before midnight on June 5th 2012, enter the code CKJubilee at the checkout for a 15% discount on everything you buy!

*Actually, Cassius Dio may have made up his description of Boudica too - it was written more than a hundred years after her death. 


  1. Thank you Anni, for pointing us in the direction of the Lavenham Blue yarn. I would never have found it otherwise and it's of particular interest as much of my postgraduate research was into woad indigo as an artist's pigment in the Renaissance - including growing my own in the back garden to use in experiments. And as a 'Knit Now' subscriber, I already have my pattern ready to use - so very excited!

    1. Although I now realise it wasn't a Knit Now pattern! It must have looked so familiar to me from looking at your other designs on your page. Oh well - off to the Ravelry pattern download store!

    2. You're welcome. Cafe Knit now also have a Lavenham Blue 2-Ply as well as DK, and there's a Celtic patterned shawl design swirling around my head ...

      Your research sounds interesting - did you use the woad pigment in your own artwork?