Knit wits: fashion statement makes a comeback

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YARMOUTH — When Dick Knight walked into the Yarmouth Historical Society wearing his winter hat, he brought back a trend the town hadn’t seen in decades.

The black and orange Fair Isle watch cap was knitted by Yarmouth resident Mary Burns in the 1950s when Knight was a high school student at North Yarmouth Academy. The historical society has now recreated the hat pattern, as well as a pattern for an ear warmer, so residents can create their own.

Burns, 96, said she’s glad a new generation of Yarmouth residents will be able to wear and enjoy the hats.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “They last forever.”

Knight’s hat, though faded, is still in very good condition despite being about 60 years old. Burns first made the hats and ear warmers for her own children and then began selling them to other NYA students. She made them through the ’60s, and is not sure many she made in all.

“Somebody would see one and want it, so I made quite a few,” Burns said.

According to Katie Worthing, the historical society’s program director, there was a point in the late ’50s when almost every NYA student owned one of the hats.

Many community members wanted the hats as well, so Burns started selling them at the town’s annual Yarmouth Clam Festival. She was one of the very first craft booths the festival ever had; the 2015 festival featured more than 140 vendors.

Burns said she only charged a few dollars for each hat.

“The prices were ridiculous that I used to charge,” she said.

The Yarmouth Historical Society has put the patterns up on its website for people to download and make their own head coverings. The historical society will also be hosting knitting circles once a month this winter so people can work on hats there together.

“I’m really excited to see the finished products when they’re done,” Worthing said. “It’ll be neat to see them popping up around town.”

The knitting circles will be held 1-3 p.m. Dec. 12, Jan. 16 and Feb. 13 at the historical society at 118 East Elm St. Also, on March 15 at 7 p.m., Anne Emlein of the Maine College of Art will be giving a lecture at the society on the history of knitting.

Worthing said recreating the hat and ear warmers are a fun way for people to connect with the town’s history.

“It’s a nice tangible connection to local history,” she said. “Knowing someone 50 years ago was crafting them and wearing them…It’s nice making and wearing something connected to Yarmouth history.”

Burns said she thinks the hats were so popular because she made each one by hand.

“There’s something about homemade things,” she said.

Burns, who owned Mary’s Yarn Shop in town, said there’s something else that made her hats so special.

“I always used good yarn,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Patterns for a hat and an ear warmer, originally created by Yarmouth resident Mary Burns in the 1950s, have been recreated so residents can create their own.Dick Knight wears a hat knitted for him by Mary Burns when he was a high school student at North Yarmouth Academy.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.