Saturday, April 24, 2010

Monmouth Caps for Pirates

When I used to think of pirate hats, the first hat I pictured wasn't a simple wool cap.  Little did I know that the hat (or cap) most commonly worn from the mid 15th century through the 18th century by sailors and the upper class, was just that.  The hats became known as Monmouth Caps because Monmouth, England was home to thriving industry manufacturing caps.

The caps were knit, but were then "fulled" to make them very dense, warm,  and almost water proof.  Fulling is like deciding to felt you wool item, then changing your mind when you get halfway there.  Many worn by soldiers were described as having a button top.  They at least sometimes had a loop for hanging, and the brim could be worn up or down.

I had to learn to make one.  I designed my pattern to copy as best I could the bad picture I could find of the hat in the Monmouth museum in England, which dates from the 16th century.   I've interpreted the button on top like others as a yarn "button" not a hard horn one.   I've usually used natural fiber colors, or madder red or navy.  And I've found there is a lot of interest in monmouth caps.

I sent my first batch with a friend to the Pirates in Paradise Pirate Festival in Florida.  They didn't sell well the first warm day in Florida, but I was lucky that a cold front moved in and they were all gone by the time the festival was over.

Since then I've been knitting for several re-enactors.  I have to admit it's a rush to sell your own work and have someone appreciate it.  

Mad Pete in my Monmouth Cap
But for some, even 3 oz of wool is not enough.  If you need a really, REALLY, warm and waterproof hat for your tall sailing ship, then you have to have a thrum cap.  These were traditionally made with "thrums" from the end and pieces of yarn that would have otherwise gone to waste.  And if a hat that shaggy isn't funny enough, all the pictures from the time show them rather conical too: A shag conehead, in other words.  It took a bit of experimenting to settle on my favorite method of making the thrums, but the hats are really fun to make.

Here is "Cross" in a thrummed cap I madly finished for him on a deadline.  Mine's the one on the right.

I'm loving making these hats as authentically as possible in wool, color, and construction. Now I'm selling them on Etsy.  What fun!


  1. Hi! Because I make a small but significant income from sales of my hats, I don't share the pattern. I've been considering offering it for sale. There are however a lot of people out there who have patterns or at least descriptions of what they do for free. Good luck! And if you're interested in my pattern for sale, I'd love to know that.