From texting gloves to tragedy in high society

In which the cute story I thought I’d tell is quickly reduced to insignificance.

In honor of the recent nasty winter weather, here’s something I wrote back during the polar vortex of 2013-14.

Thanks to the folks at www.antiquepatternlibrary, I have a PDF of a book of knitting patterns for items women could knit for soldiers in World War I. The author is Maud Churchill Nicoll. One of the patterns is for a flip-top mitten that I thought would work as a texting glove. (Yes, I know that actual texting gloves are readily available at reasonable prices. But they don’t come with the fun of working a hundred-year-old pattern or the smugness of zero cash outlay.) I have one of the mittens completed (see photo) and I wore it today as a proof of concept, figuring that if it could keep my hand from freezing in -20F windchill, it would clearly be worth making the other mitten.

The last step in Mrs. Nicoll’s pattern was to brush the mitten with “a teazle brush”, which I had to look up (it’s a small brush with wire bristles). I didn’t think it would make much difference to leave out this step. But this morning’s commute taught me that Mrs. Nicoll knew what she was talking about. If you brush the mitten with a teazle brush, it gets felted, which means the -20F windchill does not stab into your hands through the holes in the knitting stitches (especially the huge m1’s at the base of the thumb, bad knitter). This taught me that Mrs. Nicoll has a reason for everything she specifies.

Here’s the story that eclipses the story about the mitten:

Because I was now curious about knowledgeable Mrs. Nicoll, I googled her, and found this blog entry. I learned that by the time she wrote her knitting book, she had lived through a death threat to her husband and the death of her only daughter, quickly followed by the death of her mother, who had overtaxed herself by traveling to attend her grandchild’s funeral.

Maud Nicoll clearly enjoyed a great deal of privilege (note the silver objects she gave as party favors at her Valentine’s Day party), but overall her story strikes me as very sad. And certainly more interesting than the fact that she knew what she was doing when she advised the use of the teazle brush.

See a portrait of Mrs. Nicoll at the New York Historical Society.

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