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The Dodd Shawl: A Knitting Mystery

May 26, 2014

I'm an avid mystery reader. I love historical mysteries, thrillers, and even the occasional "light" horror story. I'm currently making my way through Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series, along with The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.

    
The large square shawl, purchased at a jumble sale in England in the 1980s, is bordered with a variation of Old Shale lace and has a small woven label on the edge with the name "H. A. Dodd" on it. It was knitted in garter stitch in Shetland 2-ply wool.
(Photograph © Joe Coca)
So imagine my delight when I came apon a little knitting mystery in the May/June 2014 issue of PieceWork! Designer Evelyn A Clark came upon a shawl with a mysterious label on it, and her curiousity was piqued!

The Dodd Shawl

At a small needlework gathering last autumn, my friend Rachel Norton surprised us at Show and Tell by pulling out a large square shawl bordered with a variation of Old Shale lace and with a small woven label on the edge with the name "H. A. Dodd" on it.

Like traditional Shetland shawls, this one was knitted in garter stitch in Shetland 2-ply wool with a center square and border. On the other hand, the construction (see below) and the Old Shale variant were both unusual as was ending the shawl with the border instead of an edging. And then there was that tiny tag.

Traditional Shetland shawls started with a narrow edging knitted long enough to go around the perimeter of a square. Then stitches were picked up along the straight side of the edging to individually knit four mitered borders toward the center, and the corners were grafted. Stitches from the _rst border were continued for the center square, which could be joined to the side borders as it was knitted or sewn later when the center was grafted to the end border. These options resulted in a shawl with few cast-on and cast-off stitches.

The slight hairiness or halo of Shetland wool in combination with garter stitch allowed the lace of the Dodd Shawl to be knitted at a looser gauge than usual; here, a blocked gauge of 12 stitches over 4 inches (10.2 cm). The center is knitted in a diamond starting with a single stitch and increasing and decreasing with a yarnover at the beginning of every row. Stitches were picked up in the yarnovers to knit each side of the lace border, and then the corners of the border were grafted. Knitting the center as a diamond results in a center square with stitches that are on the diagonal. Mary Thomas's Knitting Book refers to this style as "English and not Shetland in origin. It was a great favourite with Victorians, and always referred to as a Shetland shawl, because it was knitted in Shetland wool."

Whether the Dodd shawl was knitted in England or elsewhere is unknown. An American bought it at a 1980s' jumble sale in England and later tucked it away in a drawer for more than twenty years before Rachel received it.

Even the label is a mystery. I have learned that Dodd is not a typical Shetland name, nor is there any knitwear in the collection of the Shetland Museum bearing that name. Further evidence that the shawl might have been English and Dodd, the name of the knitter, broker, or merchant.

As for the border lace, whereas typical Old Shale has a cluster of yarnovers separated by a single stitch and then a cluster of decreases, this variation has two stitches between the yarnovers and two stitches between most of the decreases. Like other versions of Old Shale, this lace naturally scallops when it is cast off loosely. Many traditional knitters did not use patterns but knitted "out of their heads," and it is possible that this lace variation was unique.

    
The small label with the name "H. A. Dodd" on it on the shawl that was purchased at a jumble sale in England
in the 1980s.
(Photograph © Joe Coca)
Seeing the Dodd Shawl inspired me to knit my own interpretation of it. It, too, starts with a center diamond and yarnovers at the beginning of rows, and then stitches are picked up along the four sides to knit the border in the round. I also shifted the yarnover patterning to scallop the border corners since corners on the original were elongated with grafted stitches. I knitted the sample with an unlabeled souvenir 2-ply Shetland lace yarn purchased in Scotland in the early 1980s that is similar to Jamieson's Ultra Lace Weight yarn. Named for my friend, the Rachel Shawl also has a tighter blocked gauge—14 instead of 12 stitches to 4 inches (10.2 cm)—and a smaller finished size—48 inches (121.9 cm) instead of 58 inches (147.3 cm) square.

It is wonderful how knitting can connect people across time and distance. I like to think that the knitter of the Dodd Shawl would be amused to know that more than thirty years later her (or his) knitting inspired many questions, as well as another shawl, when it was displayed for Show and Tell a half a world away.

—Evelyn A. Clark, PieceWork magazine, May/June 2014

Get yourself a subscription to PieceWork magazine so you can knit Evelyn's version of the Dodd Shawl. You'll love the patterns, history, and mysteries you'll get in each issue of PieceWork!

Cheers,

P.S. What's your favorite mystery series? Leave a comment and share it with us!


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Comments

vi B wrote
on Jun 2, 2014 9:29 AM

I've seen name tapes like this one quite often on UK textiles.  They were often used to identify items that were going to be taken to a community -school, college, whatever-or where they were going to be communally laundered..  I wonder if HA Dodd took that lovely shawl away to school with her?

on Jun 1, 2014 3:13 PM

I think the dodd shawl belonged to a lady who was named dodd in nursing and residential homes in uk it is customary to tag all patients clothes with thier name for laundry purposes and to reduce confusion the label shown looks like an old cash one which until recently was a great label company which i have used myself sorry i could not be of further help but it does look like a lovely shawl and im sure the lady who owned it was nice and cosy

God bless all who have relatives in need of care

on Jun 1, 2014 3:13 PM

I think the dodd shawl belonged to a lady who was named dodd in nursing and residential homes in uk it is customary to tag all patients clothes with thier name for laundry purposes and to reduce confusion the label shown looks like an old cash one which until recently was a great label company which i have used myself sorry i could not be of further help but it does look like a lovely shawl and im sure the lady who owned it was nice and cosy

God bless all who have relatives in need of care

on Jun 1, 2014 3:13 PM

I think the dodd shawl belonged to a lady who was named dodd in nursing and residential homes in uk it is customary to tag all patients clothes with thier name for laundry purposes and to reduce confusion the label shown looks like an old cash one which until recently was a great label company which i have used myself sorry i could not be of further help but it does look like a lovely shawl and im sure the lady who owned it was nice and cosy

God bless all who have relatives in need of care

on Jun 1, 2014 3:13 PM

I think the dodd shawl belonged to a lady who was named dodd in nursing and residential homes in uk it is customary to tag all patients clothes with thier name for laundry purposes and to reduce confusion the label shown looks like an old cash one which until recently was a great label company which i have used myself sorry i could not be of further help but it does look like a lovely shawl and im sure the lady who owned it was nice and cosy

God bless all who have relatives in need of care

ombrerose53 wrote
on May 31, 2014 2:00 PM

Loved your "Tale of the Dodd Shawl"! Makes me want to knit one!

I too love mysteries & adventure novels. My favorites are anything

by James Rollins & the Agent Pendergast series by Preston & Child.

on May 31, 2014 11:10 AM

Hi, I have read your story regarding the Dodd shawl. That label is a 'Cash' woven label, which can be bought in the UK ( www.jjcash.co.uk ) Years ago everyone had these labels made, to stitch in their clothing if they were in a populated place like school or nurseries...or if the family had their clothes laundered with an outside company. Perhaps this will aid your mystery, or help find who H A Dodd is. Perhaps you could contact 'Cash woven labels' to see if they still have this name on file somewhere?....it is a possibility.

on May 31, 2014 11:07 AM

Hi, I have read your story regarding the Dodd shawl. That label is a 'Cash' woven label, which can be bought in the UK ( www.jjcash.co.uk ) Years ago everyone had these labels made, to stitch in their clothing if they were in a populated place like school or nurseries...or if the family had their clothes laundered with an outside company. Perhaps this will aid your mystery, or help find who H A Dodd is. Perhaps you could contact 'Cash woven labels' to see if they still have this name on file somewhere?....it is a possibility.

Juliet Jones wrote
on May 31, 2014 10:27 AM

I am from England, I'm 63, and here's what I think.  That little label is what we called a "name tape".  It would indicate the owner of the shawl, not the knitter or the manufacturer.  When I was at boarding school in the 1960s, every item you owned had to have a name tape sewn into it.  These were easily ordered, from a company called Cash's Woven Name Tapes.  Search for it on the internet, I think it's still around. This shawl may have belonged to a young girl back in the early days of the 20th century, and her mother sewed the name into it.  When my mother was at college in the 1930s, she had similar items.

olivleka wrote
on May 31, 2014 9:14 AM

Seeing this reminded me of my grandmother, who inspired me to knit.  

When she was in a nursing home, all of her items of clothing were labeled with her name.  Could it be the name was that of the owner and not the knitter?

on May 31, 2014 6:02 AM

I think this piece started life as a baby shawl.  I have knitted similar ones myself.  I think the name tag is the owners name and not the makers name.  I sewed these labels into my children's school uniforms and then later onto every item of my mother's clothing, towels, flannels, socks, everything, when she moved into a nursing home.  These labels were also sewn into patients belongings when they would go into long term hospital or convalescence care.

pepperuda wrote
on May 30, 2014 3:03 PM

Hello,

Like others posters have commented the label looks like a owner name tag.  I have sewn in hundreds of them for my childrens' school uniform and other clothes.  Well it seemed like hundreds.  The labels were easy to buy and there must be millions of them on millions of items of school uniform.  Maybe the owner lived in an old peoples' care home.  It certainly looks to have been beautifully knitted and well cared for.

SFionaD wrote
on May 29, 2014 5:13 AM

Hello, Dodd is a Northumbrian name.  The label is typical of name labels used in British clothing; it has the look of an old label.  I remember very well sewing labels in my son's clothes.  It may be worth sending the photo and a request for any further information to the local paper her; the Hexham Courant; it has a website..

I hope that is helpful!

Sfiona

on May 29, 2014 3:16 AM

I think the label is just to identify who it belongs to. We had labels like that on all our clothes at boarding school. My mother ordered them from a haberdashery shop.

ElsebethD wrote
on May 28, 2014 6:35 PM

The danish princess Mary used this schawl ,which she had inherrited from her mother, for her baby . Elsebeth

Knitpop wrote
on May 28, 2014 5:28 AM

This piece really caught my eye, as Dodd is my surname.

It’s a very common name in the north west of England, where my father’s family comes from, Cheshire especially. I’m afraid I can’t produce a great-aunt who knitted this pattern, as it was my mother’s side of the family who were avid knitters, not the Dodds. I can tell you though that I am very pleased that Dodd and knitting have a historical connection – and that I am continuing with my own (very different) knitting tradition. I tend to knit more weird and wonderful things, like my latest tribute to the UK entry in the Eurovision song contest. I fear that H A Dodd may not have approved!

www.youtube.com/watch

Nina Dodd (Brighton, UK)

Nollysister wrote
on May 27, 2014 10:22 PM

It looks to me like the label that is sewn into the hem of the shawl is of a type made by "Cash's" who were an English company who made machine embroidered name tages to be sewn into clothing - primarily for school children and the like. I personally have had them in my clothes when I was a child as they were available here in Australia as well. My mother had them sewn into my clothes and those of my siblings so that we could always be sure to get our own things from the  lost property should the need arise - plus there was no arguing over who owned what. This shawl may have belonged to a lady who went into sheltered accommodation where the clothes could sometimes be mixed up.

The actual history of the shawl may be lost in the annals of time.

HannahMecoe wrote
on May 27, 2014 7:30 AM

I think I started knitting that shawl as a teenager in London in the late 60s, from a commercial pattern (yes, Patons sounds about right).... But I don't remember ever finishing it.

As others have said, the label looks like a Cash's one. It was a tedious job before each school term started, to make sure each bit of clothing, right down to each sock, handkerchief, and "knicker lining", had its label firmly sewn onto it.  

The nursing home theory sounds plausible (although I was thinking it could be a nurse using the shawl as a coverup when leaving a warmer ward for the cooler outside). That leaves the depressing thought of the old lady dieing and her shawl ended up in a jumble sale....

olive22 wrote
on May 26, 2014 7:18 PM

Is there a download available for this shawl pattern?

I'm not interested in another subscription but I would

buy either a download for this issue or just the pattern.

s

Sharonp2 wrote
on May 26, 2014 4:10 PM

Hi

That woven label looks just like the ones made by Cash's in the UK. The firm has only recently gone out of business. The name labels were typically sewn on to items of schoolchildren's clothing or those in retirement homes to indicate ownership. All my school uniform items had them sewn on by my mum in the 1960s.

on May 26, 2014 12:01 PM

Hi

H.A.Dodd was a drapers shop in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.  To see an example of an advertisement  from 1923 for the shop at 414 Collins Street, Melbourne see trove.nla.gov.au/.../2015616

From the picture you posted it is a beautiful shawl!

Gill

LindaSellick wrote
on May 26, 2014 10:23 AM

The name on the shawl was probably the owner of the shawl and not the knitter.  Possibly she was living in a retirement home.  Those little name tags were made by the UK Company, "Cash".  Most school age children in the UK had their clothing labelled with customised Cash Labels.  My own clothes and those of my children were labelled just like the one on the shawl.

jane@48 wrote
on May 26, 2014 10:05 AM

I was intrigued with the Dodd shawl and the explanation that it is a variation of the old shale. I am making a pair of socks using that same variation, or it sure looks like it from the picture and description. The socks use 6 repeats, 12 rows of the pattern, then 4 garter stitch rows. My socks are an adaptation of a pair of socks I saw at the Illinois state museum exhibit of what women did during the civil war. The socks were in a display of items sold at a sanitary fair. After the exhibit closed I asked to see the socks, take pictures and replicate them. The socks had been mended and had several other curious knitting methods. They have no idea who the knitter or wearer was but the socks are a real work of art. I am writing the pattern as I go.

Jane h-j

4dscheer wrote
on May 26, 2014 9:49 AM

That label is the kind my mother purchased to sew into my sweaters and jackets when I started school in the 1950's.  So it probably referenced the owner rather than the maker.

4dscheer wrote
on May 26, 2014 9:48 AM

That label is the kind my mother purchased to sew into my sweaters and jackets when I started school in the 1950's.  So it probably referenced the owner rather than the maker.

evateaches wrote
on May 26, 2014 9:12 AM

The pattern looks identical to one I made in 1979 from a Red Heart baby book. The square had 199 rows of 199 stitches, if I recall correctly.  Stitches had to be picked up from each side to make that beautiful Old Shale pattern, which expand the whole thing and made mitered corners that had to be sewn together.The yarn was Red Heart baby yarn with little pearly bits. (I think Caron makes something like this now, but red heart does not) I have been looking in vain  for the pattern to make it for the next generation. My daughter still sleeps with hers after all these years.  I can't imagine putting a name tag on it and then later letting it go to a rummage sale, but that's just me.

on May 26, 2014 9:07 AM

I am wondering whether the label on the shawl was attached prior to the original owner moving to a nursing home simply to identify her belongings.

It is a lovely article of needlework.  This issue of Piecework is a delight.  As usual so much interesting material.

Sincerely,

Wendy Leigh-Bell

strongcat wrote
on May 26, 2014 8:59 AM

I've knitted that exact shawl myself.  It is out of an old Patons baby wear knitting book and is not Shetland in origin at all. The wool used is the only Shetland thing about it.  I hate the diagonal centre as it pulls out of shape.  Mine was for sale on my stall at my local farmers market for three seasons before finally selling at the end of last year.  I would never knit another shawl with a diagonally worked centre.  If I ransacked my collection of old patterns I could probably come up with the origin of the shawl pattern - name of the booklet, date of publication etc.  Not in my opinion one of the more stellar patterns ever to be put out by Patons.  Catherine Strong, Arnes, MB

C. J.K wrote
on May 26, 2014 8:08 AM

You might like reading "The Forgotten Seamstress "  by Liz  Trenow.  

Carol k

Ruth Ann R. wrote
on May 26, 2014 8:06 AM

My very favorite mystery series is the Miss Silver mysteries written by Patricia Wentworth.  She wrote the same time period as Agatha Christie (another favorite).  Alas, I've read them all.  But I still enjoy reading them again.  Miss Silver is the one who got me to pull out my knitting needles again!

GlynisE wrote
on May 26, 2014 7:40 AM

The label looks like a "Cash's Woven Name Label" such as was used to name children's school uniform and clothing belonging to people in care homes in the U.K.

I suspect the owner was a Miss or Mrs Dodd. Sadly this leaves no clue as to its manufacture.