Yarn Fit for a Hobbit

Who's seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? I have, I have! And it's a feast for the senses. The stunning New Zealand location, the serene beauty of the Shire juxtaposed with the harsh landscape on Bilbo's quest, the perfect costumes . . . it's all just wonderful.

Mary Hall and handspun. (Courtesy of Ashford's Wheel Magazine)
Lincoln wool ready to be spun into yarn for Hobbit costumes. (Courtesy of Ashford's Wheel Magazine)
Lincoln "wildspun" yarn on the bobbin. (Courtesy of Ashford's Wheel Magazine)

New Zealand is known for its fantastic wool production, and the movie producers tapped into that wealth for the costumes. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at some of the wool sourced for the movie:

Costuming The Hobbit

Two and a half years ago, Mary Hall of Hallblacks Natural Wool Products in Nelson, New Zealand, received a call about her wool. To her surprise, the caller was the buyer for the firm making costumes for Peter Jackson's upcoming Hobbit movies. The first movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was released this December.

The film company needed large quantities of yarn for costumes. Mary and her husband, Selwyn, supplied samples of Romney and Lincoln, both fleeces and sliver, along with various commercial and handspun yarns. The film company then sent a photograph of a sweater and asked if the Halls could re-create the yarn. They wanted a thick/thin yarn with straggly tips. A "wildspun" in Lincoln singles plied with plain twelve-ply yarn resulted.

Then came the orders: 9 pounds of yarn per costume (one pair of sleeves required 3 pounds). Because of the quantities required, most yarn was made on the Ashford Country Spinner, which could produce 2½ pounds of Lincoln "wildspun" yarn per bobbin. The Halls spun 95 percent of the handspun themselves—well over 200 pounds. Gwyneth Thomson, Nicole Thomas, and Tracey Taylor also helped with the spinning, and Judith Ryan stepped in to dye yarn.

Throughout the process, the Halls worked with numerous Hobbit departments: wardrobe, soft furnishings, set decoration, art, and even special effects, who bought a huge vat from them to make snow and ice. According to the Halls, all were a joy to work with.

—From Ashford's The Wheel magazine, as reprinted in Spin-Off magazine

Ori the Dwarf wears a beautiful knitted vest. (Photo copyright New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

This story reminds me of the handknit sweaters the Harry Potter costume designers ordered from various UK designers and knitters. It brings a new meaning to "buy local"!

When I did a little research on the knitted pieces that appeared in the movie, I came upon an interview with the costume designer, Ann Maskrey. She said that she felt lucky to be working in New Zealand because of its strong craft base. Apparently, one woman, named Beverly, made almost all of the knitted pieces in the movie—extraordinary!

Spin-Off magazine is a great source of information like this, as well as beautiful knitting patterns, knitting techniques, and inspiration for knitters and spinners. Subscribe now, especially if you're a spinner. You won't find a more valuable magazine.


P.S. Have you seen The Hobbit? Leave a comment below and tell us what you thought of the costumes!

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Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

38 thoughts on “Yarn Fit for a Hobbit

  1. I have seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey–twice now. I loved it. The knitted works were the first things I noticed. Beautiful amazing creations. Thank you for including the back story of how they came to be. I quickly got sucked into the story of the movie so I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at design and stitch creation, but you could hardly miss all the knitted wear. Someone is very talented.

  2. I loved the movie. However, it was my husband who kept leaning over to me and whispering in my ear, “Look at Gandalf’s gloves – you could make those! Oh! Look at that sweater!…”

  3. I loved the Hobbit … of course, the whole time I was looking at all the hand-knits and the Celtic metalwork … thinking about how cool those would be worked in cables.

    BTW, I knitted the WHOLE time in the movie … I had my book light on and knitted merrily while watching Bilbo and the dwarves!

  4. Wonderful story! I have not seen The Hobbit as yet. But I certainly will be looking at the knitted pieces when I do. It always doubles the fun of a movie if I know some of the background of how and why things were made for the sets and actors.

  5. The Hobbit costumes were really fabulous, and so interesting to hear the details about them. When I saw The Lord of the Rings films, one of the things that really stood out for me, were the hobbits’ stunningly beautiful travel cloaks and silver fastenings. Breathtakingly fine and beautiful work. I wondered if you knew if those were made locally too?

  6. I was going to post this to FB, but when I did the picture that shows up is an add for knitting daily, which gives no hint of what the link is about. Really too bad.

  7. I had seen the Lord of the Rings movies, so was excited to see The Hobbit, An Expected Journey, and enjoyed it too. Thanks so much for the info on the costuming, and making of the garments. Hard to imagine spinning over 200 lbs. of wool, it takes a LOT of time (I know as I am a spinner, too, but most of mine is fine (lace or fingering wt.) I hope someone makes available designs (or patterns) for some of the garments. It would be so neat to make and wear something from the movie.

  8. I loved the costumes in the movie. I would love to be able to get the knitting pattern for the hobbits vests. Also, are there any patterns for the knitted sweaters in Harry Potter?

  9. Great article. I saw the movie and have been wanting a closer look at all the costumes but that dwarf vest in particular. Would love to get my fingers on it just for a few seconds.

  10. As a child of the 70’s I have read most of the Tolkein available. The Hobbit book struck me as a first effort, almost like a children’s book. I wondered how they would make a movie triology out of 150 pages of novel. The movie has added more action while staying true to the original story. But even my husband kept saying “I don’t remember that in the book.” I loved it anyway , and can’t wait to see the next two movies.
    The costumes and the scenery were amazing.
    I will be retiring in a few years, and the day I retire I plan to watch all three Hobbit movies AND all three Lord of the Rings movies back to back.

  11. After seeing both movie series: Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings I was struck by the design of the knitwear and that has been one of my favorite parts of all of them.

  12. I don’t spin but I do knit – is there any chance of some of the knitted ‘dwarf’ vest pattern showing up in one of the magazines (NOT the spinning mag – don’t take it, and don’t need it) or the website?

  13. Thank you, Butter-Ball for that link to Beverley’s blog. Amazing woman!

    A few of you asked about patterns for the knitwear. I didn’t find anything official, but there are lots of folks on Ravelry who have made things inspired by the movie. And there’s a book of Harry Potter patterns, called Charmed Knits. It’s great.


  14. I did see the movie, and I laugh now, after reading your editorial, because while watching the scene early in the movie, when the dwarves are eating Biblo out of house and home, I’m eyeing their sweaters, and wondering; are they hand- knitted? And, oh, look at the patterns on them-that would be fun to knit!

  15. Haven’t seen the movie but I have seen Hallblacks! Traveling in New Zealand in 2004 we stopped in and found a wonderful shop, fantastic yarn, Selwyn as an informative guide and a wonderful cascade of sheep dogs from the back of his vehicle. A memorable experience and even better yarn!

  16. The first thing I noticed in The Hobbit were Gandalfs scarf and his fingerless gloves. Then all the dwarves came in with their fantastic vests. It was a feast for the eyes. I loved the movie and cannot wait for the next 2.
    About Harry Potter, I loved watching what Hermione would wear next, Ron as well. I am even making Hermiones sweater from the Deathly Hallows part 1.

  17. Loved the movie and loved the costumes. My son told me even the ponies had costumes. Too amazing. you guys did a great job on this one. Thanks, Nancy Johnsen

  18. I LOVED the costumes in The Hobbit! I found myself distracted by the knits and Celtic scrollwork very early on in the movie, and more than a few times I had to drag my eyes away from a beautiful piece of knitting or metalwork to pay attention to what what going on in the plot! I’m glad I’m not the only one who had that problem, lol. I’m sure at some point in the future someone will publish a book of Hobbit-inspired knitting, just as has happened for the Harry Potter movies. When that book arrives, I will eagerly snap it up 🙂

  19. HI all, thanks for all your kind comments regarding the costumes from “The Hobbit, an unexpected journey” I would love to put out a book for you all as many have asked and to tell you all about it. But all the designs belong to Warner brothers and New line and I am still under contract and unable to share about my job. Perhaps one day a publisher will convince them that there is huge interest in the knitting world Lol 🙂



  20. Since THE HOBBIT is one of my favorite books, I looked forward to the screen version and was not disappointed. Like other knitters, I got really busy looking at the costumes and watching for knitted items. Wow! Can we get patterns? I can hardly wait for the next movies.

  21. The costumes were amazing. I love how Peter Jackson goes for so much reality on the costumes and props. I noticed the sweater on Ori immediately. I love the fact they used local products.

  22. I have always been interested in costuming but now I’m going to have to watch the movie again with special attention to the knitted clothes. Thanks for this article.

  23. BeverlyF, my heroine!

    One of the first things that I noticed about the costumes in the movie was all of the knits. Ori’s hood/cowl is especially nice; his Dwarvish mother must really love him. 🙂 You did a fantastic job!

    If we Hobbit-ish knitters wrote to Warner Brothers and asked for a knitting book, do you think they’d respond? To whom would we write to suggest this? Interweave, could you help?

  24. I thought the Hobbit costumes fantastic, their hair and beards were really a work of art.
    Really enjoyed the film, scenery, acting and lovely “message”. Marcia from Australia

  25. good day—sure do love the look of those vests—-I do alot of historical reanactments and live near a ren fare—would love to have those patterns—will you be selling them ?

  26. good day—sure do love the look of those vests—-I do alot of historical reanactments and live near a ren fare—would love to have those patterns—will you be selling them ?

  27. good day—sure do love the look of those vests—-I do alot of historical reanactments and live near a ren fare—would love to have those patterns—will you be selling them ?

  28. good day—sure do love the look of those vests—-I do alot of historical reanactments and live near a ren fare—would love to have those patterns—will you be selling them ?

  29. Loved the film and -as many people here – loved all the kintting stuff! I would definitely buy a pattern book (or just separate patterns). Thank you for sharing the story 🙂