"Pray try this mitten, for the size."
Desolation Island, Chapter Nine
So says Louisa Wogan to Stephen Maturin towards the end of this book. She has already knit him a comforter, knits him another and seems well stocked in wool; indeed, baby Leopardina, born at sea, who goes into her care, sleeps snugly in a box of wool. She keeps her fellow female prisoners busy with their hands, telling Dr. Maturin that they "...have been a gaggle of women all together, knitting without a moment's pause and trying to keep warm." I will not describe too many of the circumstances of this book in case of spoilers but I have given thought to Louisa Wogan and her knitting. She knew she was going to make a very long voyage to a place where she would not have the same access to goods and clothes as she did in England and America. Did she bring a supply of wool to knit things she would need or just to pass the time and keep her sanity? Her convict situation would limit social exchange so she knew she would be much alone. She knits for different people in an age without printed patterns so she is obviously somewhat accomplished in this art. Is she knitting with the typical needles of this era, namely fairly thin, metal, very sharp double pointed ones? She must have, like any conscientious knitter, stocked up on needles before leaving on her voyage or already had them in her possession as she seems to have supplied the other three (correct me if I am wrong) surviving women. These needles, however, like my reproductions, are veritable weapons in the wrong hands, especially this collection of dangerous female hands.
There are other knitters in the POB canon and I will, no doubt, be discussing them in the future along with their sisters and brothers in literature but for now I must credit Louisa Wogan, in spite of all of her other faults, for being one of the fold. Like those of us who will not lose a moment to knit whenever we can, she knits through storms and crises, and is generous with her output. The last time Stephen Maturin visits her before her escape, he notices "how the whole place was curiosly trim, almost bare." Even the table on which she had kept "Stephen's stockings to be darned" was swept clear. Stephen, of course, knows that she is about to make an attempt at flight but what I would like to know is did she take her knitting needles and wool with her to the American ship? In spite of being free, I would like to imagine her still knitting on her way home, this time, perhaps, for the crew of the whaler who would be grateful for any replenishment of woolen wear.
The wool in my Desolation Mittens is a hand spun that was given to me and I do not know its origns. Louisa Wogan had red and blue wool, and she might also have had an undyed thick and gloriously warm yarn like this one. The mittens are knit on 3.50mm double pointed bamboo needles with a gauge/tension of 5 stitches/inch. The cuffs are reminiscent of the 18th century style of garter stitch edges found on stocking tops and early knitted waistcoats/undershirts, and I have made them extra long and narrow for added warmth. They are a variation upon rather than a reproduction of ones of that era as I cannot document the style.
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