Orkney Robe of Glory DK pattern released

Those of you who have been with me some time (thank you!) will know about the Robe of Glory. The story as we know it is this.

Back in 1981, Good Housekeeping released a pattern they called Blessings for a Baby. This was said to be based on the motifs used on the Robe of Glory, a sweater given to a boy when he reached manhood. It was said to have been traditional on the Fair Isle.

However, Anne Sinclair, who is a knitting historian who was born on Fair Isle, and who is now in charge of the museum there, has never heard of it, and there is no documentary evidence either.

It was Rae Compton, a very diligent researcher of traditional knitwear, who describes the Robe of Glory in a Shire book, Fishermen Knitting. She does not give her source, but unlike some researchers of that era, she was not given to making up fanciful stories! If she talks about it, it must be ‘true’.

Enter a friend of mine who was born and bred on the Orkney island of Stronsay. She has a pram blanket using the same motifs in a similar way, but knitted before the Good Housekeeping pattern came out. She remembers older ones too, and that the blanket was given to the first baby in a household. Talking with other Orcadians, I get infuriating glimpses but no definites! Many old people say ‘That rings a bell’, but I can’t get further than that. There is definitely a Stronsay connection, and probably a Westray one.

robe editted

The next interesting bit is that there were two big emigrations from Fair Isle in the Nineteenth Century. In both cases, several large families moved to Orkney, specifically to Stronsay. Was the Robe of Glory a family tradition, and did they bring it with them to Stronsay? I have yet to find photographic evidence, but it is a definite possibility.

Whatever the exact history, you can now knit the Orkney Robe of Glory for your own family! This version of the pattern uses DK yarn, and the back of the blanket is knitted in stripes with the yarn left over from the Fair Isle on the front. I used Paton’s Diploma, a 50% wool, 50% (good!!) acrylic which keeps its looks and its warmth through many machine washes and tumble dry cycles.

DK Robe of Glory 003

The front is knitted first in the round with a steek, then the edging is crocheted.

DK Robe of Glory 002

The back is knitted in stripes, the steek cut, and the back is sewn to the first row of the crocheted edging. The pattern has photos showing the various stages of construction.

steek with writing

dc into both legs

The pattern includes charts for all letters of the alphabet, and numerals, so you can personalise the back (or front) with the initials and birth date of the baby if you want.

DK Robe of Glory 001

I have knitted several for different babies, choosing the colours to match the pram. I crochet the edging in whatever colours suit, and which ever I have left over!!

PhotoELF Edits: 2013:07:03 --- Save - Overwrite --- crop; resize

PhotoELF Edits: 2013:07:03 --- Save - Overwrite --- crop; resize

DK Robe of Glory 004

You can buy the pattern from Ravelry for $6 – you do not need to be a member of Ravelry.

9 thoughts on “Orkney Robe of Glory DK pattern released

  1. Hi Liz,

    This is a lovely new pattern and I’m always excited to read fascinating lore and history, and hear research like yours all combined. It makes a project so meaningful, especially for an heirloom piece like this one.

    It’s fun to see how the Fair Isle designs look in different colors and tonalities, how it changes the motifs.

    Thank You.
    Hope you are having some good summer weather so far north.


  2. Thanks for the pattern, and for the piecework history: it’s so much better to collect and articulate what we know (especially if it’s incomplete) and record what leads us to know those things than to stick with a single story that is maybe not true, or is only partially true. I wish we knew what led Rae Compton to say what she did!

    The blankets are lovely. What lucky babies!

  3. Liz, you have outdone yourself this time. What a beautiful blanket and what clever construction. And you even found a good yarn that will hold up to machine washing and drying. You are, as always, simply amazing.

  4. I wouldn’t trust anything with ‘Good’ and ‘Housekeeping’ in the same sentence. Your blanket is truly amazing and never mind knitting several, I wouldn’t be capable of knitting even one! Love the first pic with the ferry in the background. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I made that blanket back in 1982 from the Good Housekeeping pattern which was also printed in the UK. I came here to research the story of it as I am just about to give it to my 30 year old son as an heirloom. Sad to read that the whole thing may be a myth as I was captivated by the symbolism in the design. Never mind. It’s still a beautiful object with great sentiment.

    1. It isn’t totally a myth, it is just that I think the connection is Orkney not Shetland. Rae Compton was an excellent researcher, and she wouldn’t have put something in a book that she hadn’t heard from someone! My GUESS (and it is only a guess) from what I have been able to piece together, is that it could have come from a single family which emigrated from Fair Isle to Orkney, as quite a few families did in the main emigrations from the Fair Isle in the Nineteenth Century. The writer of the pattern in Good Housekeeping could then have come across the blanket in the household of either an Orcadian visitor to Shetland, or a relative of the family living in Shetland. There was, and still is, a lot of interchange between the two counties!

  6. Thank you so much for this! Both for the pattern and for your detective work. My grandmother (originally from Aberdeen) knitted what must have been the 1981 pattern for several of my younger cousins and my eldest child (her first great grandchild). I remember her telling me the pattern was from a magazine and she gave me a written note of the meanings. She has since passed away and I have been trying to track down the pattern for some time, both to knit it and because the story behind the design motifs has intrigued me. My own children are now past the baby blanket stage, but I would love to continue the tradition and knit for future babies in our family, or perhaps I will have to knit Robes of a Glory sweaters for my boys when they come of age!

    I have stumbled on your blog via Google, but I can see I will have to read more!

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