Knitted Mittens

These mittens were knitted of blue and white homespun wools in the early 19th century. The shag knit used at the wrists is recorded in an American diary of 1803 as the "new Mode of Knitting." The knitted pattern throughout the mittens is a poem that starts at the wrist of one mitten, spirals to the top, and continues from the wrist to the top of the second. The "Xs" are part of the design and are used as line delimiters. The poem reads, "One thing you must not borrow nor never give awayXFor he who borrows trouble will have it every dayXBut if you have a plenty and more then you can bearXIt will not lighten yoursXXif others have a shareXYou must learn to be contented then will your trouble ceaseXAnd then you may be certain that you will live in peaceXFor a contented mind is a continual feast."
The thumb of each mitten is adorned with the name "William Watson." A printer of cheap or penny papers named William Watson was active in London from about 1805 to 1830. Each of his publications contained a woodcut, a story, and a poem. The Library of Congress has only one example of his papers, but its poem is of comparable length, and of the same moralizing quality as the mittens' poem, offering a direction for further research.
In No Idle Hands, The Social History of American Knitting (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988), Anne L. Macdonald pictures a single mitten patterned with half of the same poem. An undated newspaper clipping attributes it to Margaret Evans of New Hampshire, possibly 18th century. The thumb of the Evans mitten appears to say, "Son 4 U Mother" and "80." At the beginning of the poem of this pair of mittens, there are two initials or numbers, perhaps "OB" or "DB" or "08" or "80." Patterns for short inscriptions and dates in knitting were published from at least the late 18th century.
Currently not on view
Date made
early 19th century
Place Made
United States
Physical Description
wool (overall material)
blue (overall color)
white lettering (overall color)
handspun; hand-knitted (overall production method/technique)
overall: 10 1/4 in L x 5 in W; 26.035 cm x 12.7 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
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Home and Community Life: Textiles
Clothing & Accessories
Data Source
National Museum of American History