Who Invented the Knitted Corkscrew?

mushroom hats
Linda Ligon’s knitted mushroom hats with corkscrews.

I went on a sort of knitting rampage this past fall, promising myself that I’d knit sweaters for each of my three children and caps for all eight grandkids. I’m still finishing one of the sweaters, but the caps made it into the Christmas stockings on time. The boys got beanies with a bit of knit-purl patterning, the girls got “mushroom” hats.

The mushroom hat is a classic pattern that first appeared in Jackie Fee’s Sweater Workshop back in the mid-1980s. You work k2, p2 ribbing for several inches–enough to turn up a nice brim–and then you switch to stockinette stitch for a few inches before doing several decrease rounds.  You can finish the top however you please–plain, I-cord loop, pom-pom, whatever. What I wanted was a cluster of knitted corkscrews or curlicues.

Finding instructions for these was harder than I thought, but they finally turned up in Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns (Loveland, Colorado: Interweave, 2002). They are easy and ingenious and sort of addictive. Here’s what you do: Cast on a bunch of stitches, maybe 15 or 20. Increase in each stitch by knitting in front and in back of the stitch. Cast off. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Ad nauseum. They added a perky touch to the caps, and the girls loved them.

Who devised that little construction? I remember the “cute” girls, when I was little, having corkscrew pigtail ties. That was maybe 60 years ago. I think I remember seeing them adorning some arcane object in an old volume of Weldon’s Practical Needlework. That would be more like 120–130 years ago. You just can’t help but wonder what clever knitter had that “Eureka!” moment, and how the trick disseminated into our shared lore.

If you love this type of knitting, check out PieceWork’s sister publication Interweave Knits. Each issue is a treasure trove.