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How A Knitted Swiss Hobby Horse Came Back to Life

Jun 24, 2009

A few years back, I shared an office with Ann Budd, and she brought in a piece of childhood knitting to share...except that this wasn't a misshapen scarf, or a lumpy set of mittens. This was a hobby horse, complete with I-cord reins and matching ears and a charming embroidered face, all based on a modified sock pattern.

Ann knit this bit of whimsical art when she was in the sixth grade, which by my reckoning, is about age eleven. Ann spent that year in Switzerland with her family, where her new Swiss teacher Frau Kruger was appalled to find an eleven-year-old girl who did not know how to knit (apparently all Swiss girls learned to knit at a very early age). Frau Kruger set about rectifying this unimaginable lack of womanly skills as soon as possible, and before long, Ann was knitting socks with all her classmates. But socks in the imaginations of eleven-year-old girls quickly became hobby horses, decorated according to each girl's dreams and fantasies. It's clear that Ann still treasures hers.

That hobby horse decorated our office for quite a long time, and I would give his nose a gentle pat every time I passed his perch near the bookshelf. I remember asking Ann if she could write down the pattern for that horse, and she would laugh and say, "You'll have to get in line--half the building has already asked me that!"

Well, I guess enough of us must have bugged her about that pattern, because it's finally here! I was overjoyed to find it included in the pages of Ann's new book, Knitted Gifts...that is, I was overjoyed until I started counting my nephews and nieces...because there is NO WAY I'd be allowed to knit just ONE hobby horse, I'd have to knit one for each and every one of them, in different colors, with different manes and personalities and names....oy. I'd be knitting hobby horses for the rest of my life.

I could knit Just One, I suppose: just one for myself. But then I might be thought odd...or even selfish.

Wait a minute...what if I knitted just one hobby horse, and she lived at my house, and the nieces and nephews could all play with her when they visited Auntie Sandi and Uncle Nicholas?

Sounds like a plan to me.

There are about 30 other equally imaginative and fabulous patterns--for everyone from baby to favorite uncle--in Knitted Gifts, available as a pre-order from our website--or ask your local yarn shop to order it for you.



Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


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RobbyD wrote
on Jul 5, 2009 7:58 AM

I made a sock horse for my daughter 30+ years ago, without a specific pattern.  I also made a sock caterpillar head on a broomstick!  Your difficulty with making many for your family would seem to have an easy solution - recycle your hand knit socks into hobby horses - just wash, patch and applique.  The large men's size socks would be plenty big.  Have fun!

carolily531 wrote
on Jun 27, 2009 4:57 AM

To KatherineH

I can't quite see men knitting lacy shawls or booties, (but then again, why not?) but there are definitely yarns and designs that would lend themselves to a man's taste.

HHansen wrote
on Jun 25, 2009 11:06 AM

I love Sandi's wonderful story of the Hobby Horse.  I always enjoy reading her work.  She is not only a talented knitter, but a gifted writer as well.    As other readers have commented, knitting has been taught in European schools for many years.  But it is not to encourage "womanly skills," instead, both boys and girls were taught to knit because it was believed to improve a young child's handwriting.  A doctor told me years ago that knitting is very effective in developing fine motor skills in children, along with other activities such as sewing, crocheting, etc.  It's what we've known all along--there's so much more to knitting than just two sticks and some string!

KatherineH wrote
on Jun 25, 2009 4:38 AM

The hobby horse is amazing. I love the face on the original!

But since when is knitting a "womanly skill" in this century? I was actually thinking of showing this article to some of my guy friends who have been considering taking up knitting -- the hobby horse would be right up their alley -- but now I'm going to have to tap-dance around the whole gender thing.

carolily531 wrote
on Jun 25, 2009 3:24 AM

I spent some time in Germany and went to a German school.  I had learned to knit in the US when I was 8 so I was prepared to knit the "kinder hose", socke und handschue in the 6th grade.  I got the same funny glances when I proceeded to knit in the English style.  I learned to do it the German way, but I just can't do it for long.  I also was impressed that we always knitted something useful.

I teach school and I always tell my students the story of my first period class in the winter months at my German school. (that story and the fact that all students STOOD when the teacher walked into the room!)   My school building was over 100 years old.  I don't know why, but we NEVER turned on the overhead lights during the school day.  We had lights on in a student lounge in the basement if we got to school early, but that was it.  Due to the high latitude, it was dark until about 9:00 AM.  No problem, we all had a candle (yes!) at our desks, and we knitted while our teacher read the day's lesson to us.  This was in the mid 1960's.  It sounds like life right out of Little Women, doesn't it?

KathleenBC wrote
on Jun 25, 2009 1:59 AM

Though I think that both hobby horses are cute, the old one certainly has more personality!  You should knit just one and try to give it some personality.

MelanieD wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 10:05 PM

Lovely story! I have often seen this type of hobby horse around here.

I actually live in Switzerland - when I came to live in the German-speaking part, my new Swiss (teenage) friends laughed themselves silly at the way I knit: English-style! They couldn't for the life of them imagine why I would let go of the yarn etc. so they taught me how to knit the "proper" way ;) Knitting, especially using fantasy yarns, was an absolute craze here in the 80s/90s, less so now.

My three daughters (25, 18 and 13) all went to school here. The elder two both learned to knit in the 1st and 2nd grade, though these days there are no obligatory socks any more; they knitted sausage-shaped clown money "boxes" and hand puppets to learn circular knitting, in fact, what I always noticed over here is that they always knit or sewed or crafted something that was genuinely useful and attractive, which impressed me a lot.

Sadly, by the time the youngest daughter came along, knitting appears to have been dropped from the obligatory program, although they all learn to use a sewing machine in the 4th grade and this daughter just brought home the cutest black fur bean bag, decorated with appliqu├ęd gold stripes....

My eldest daughter now happily knits for her young son and her husband, as well as for herself, friends and sisters, giving us an additional bond!

Diane@2 wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 7:28 PM

What a delightful little horsey!  I vote for making just one  who will live at your house, and see from there how it goes.

One question:  Why does the I-cord on the picture of the original look like a crocheted chain?

Ellen wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 7:12 PM

I wish I could put into words how much this website means to me.  I have been enjoying it so much.  The girls do a fab job in all the fields here, esp. Sandi.     THANK you extra much!!!!

on Jun 24, 2009 6:11 PM

I love Ms. Budds Hobby Horse, and know that at 11 yrs. she was a "budding" artist!

When I was her age, I was with my family in Germany, and the same thing happened:  the wife in a couple who picked us up at the airport, gasped when I said that I had tried to learn to knit but couldn't, and explained to me that I would need to know this to go through school in Germany.  She took me to her home, produced a pattern and some yarn, and taught me to knit in an hour or two, the Continental Way (Americans do it so wrong!  This is the only right way, because you should be FAST).  The pattern she brought out was for an Aran sweater with five different patterns -- (Don't be intimdated -- knitting is only TWO stitches, knit and purl, and it is simply how you manipulate them).  The long end of the tale (tail) is that I was knitting an Aran sweater, not a garter stitch scarf, by the end of that day.

School opened a month later, and behold, "handarbitet" was a required course.  In other words, knitting was necessary to graduate from the Gymnasium.  I already had an intricate Aran sweater a month after enrollment, and was off to the knitting races, so to speak, because I had the knitting "bug."  40 years later, I am still at it.

Ilse wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 5:49 PM

to JaimeG:

I would love to join a KAL-CAL in July.


Ilse wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 5:48 PM

Hi Sandi:

The good thing about the adorable hobby horse is that you only have to knit ONE sock - I mean head.  I think it would be great fun knitting one of these.


ShelleyH@3 wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 3:48 PM

I think these horses are absolutely wonderful.  I can easily see why everyone would want one, though Aunt Sandi may need to knit more than one for her house or there could be a lot of fighting.

w.klassen wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 3:26 PM

All that Hobby Horse needs is what mine has...a zipper for teeth!  My grandkids just loved ours to bits n pieces..


jcrosby wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 1:47 PM

So cute.  Check out a crocheted Hobby Horse / Golf Club Cover I made for a friend.  Her name is Patricia.

Raynebair wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 1:31 PM

This book is definitely on my wish list now. My daughter would love a hobby horse, as would the other little girls in our family.

JaimeG wrote
on Jun 24, 2009 5:46 AM

Is anyone interested in starting a knitted and crocheted gifts KAL-CAL (knitalong-crochetalong) in July? A Christmas in July KAL-CAL? This would make a great starter project! Thanks for sharing the story Sandi. I learn something new about Ann Budd every day.