Today I am sharing an update on my progress with my MKB Project No. 15, A Bonnet Cap, from Miss Lambert’s 1843 knitting manual, My Knitting Book (First Series). I cast on and merrily knit along following Miss Lambert’s brief and succinct directions, thinking to myself that it is a pretty design, such elegant simplicity! Then, I reached the directions to cast off the first section of the cap and realize I was supposed to have created a “band of about four inches wide.” Well, I only have 2.5 inches!
First I needed to double check my work, did I do everything properly? German wool = fingering wool. Am I using the right yarn? Check. No. 16 needles = 2.25-2.75mm needles. Am I using the right needles? Check. Did I follow the pattern properly? I think so! I should have 36 rows, and I do.
This is the first time in the book that Miss Lambert mentions inches as a unit of measure and that got me wondering. Were inches standardized in 1843? Were they the same size as they are today? Is there any way that my 2.5 inches is equivalent to Miss Lambert’s 4 inches?
I took a brief look around the internet and discovered some interesting facts about the inch:
- In England, the Anglo-Saxons used a unit of measure called a barleycorn. From 1066 until 1843, one inch was equal to three barleycorns. This was considered to be a legal definition for centuries.
- The English and Irish still use the unit of barleycorn today when measuring shoe sizes.
- In 1324, King Edward II of England defined the inch in a statute as being “”three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end, lengthwise.”
- In 1814, the inch was further defined as “three grains of sound ripe barley being taken out the middle of the ear, well dried, and laid end to end in a row.” I suppose this more specific definition was intended to ensure greater uniformity of the grains and a more consistent unit of measure.
These definitions would be rather inaccurate, as “modern studies show, the actual length of a kernel of barley varies from as short as 4–7 mm (0.16–0.28 in) to as long as 12–15 mm (0.47–0.59 in) depending on the cultivar” (Wikipedia). This would mean that an inch according to the barleycorn definition could range from 0.48 inches to 1.77 inches!
But, unless Miss Lambert was basing her inches on barleycorns from the short or long end of things, my guess is that an inch really was similar to today. When Miss Lambert said four inches, she may not have meant it as a precise measurement but more of an estimate as there was no standard measure. And certainly, no one was going to lay out 12 barley grains end to end to see whether they had four inches when they reached this point in the knitting, were they?
Ultimately, I think the issue here is one of needle size. The fabric is quite tight with this needle size; I will cast on another sample, using a larger needle size than Miss Lambert calls for and see if that brings the cap closer to the required width. Wish me luck!