“For Oft When On My Couch I Lie In Vacant Or In Pensive Mood,” I Reach For My Version Of William Wordsworth’s Knee Rug

We entered the sitting room at Dove Cottage, the Lake District home where William Wordsworth wrote the poems that would make him famous.  We stood on its polished, uneven oak floorboards and looked at our surroundings.

Some of us gazed at the poet’s portrait that hangs above the fireplace, painted in 1806 and the only likeness of him made during the eight years he lived in this charming little house. Others admired Margaret Gillies’ 1830 painting of William and his wife, Mary, which shows them seated at a table stacked with books. Still more of us looked at a glass-fronted cupboard displaying Wordsworth family possessions, including the cameo brooch Mary wore when she and her husband sat for Gillies, locks of William’s hair, and his wooden ice skates with metal blades.Wordsworth's knee rug, Dove Cottage

I was transfixed by a knitted knee rug arranged on a chaise longue that was covered in checked fabric and had a caned backrest.

Strips of colored woolen rectangles with olive-green and brown borders were knitted in garter stitch. Each rectangle measured about three inches wide by two and three-quarters inches long and was embroidered with the same cross-stitch pattern. The rug was edged with a colored fringe and was probably made with yarn left over from other projects.

Our guide told us that the knee rug was thought to have been given to Wordsworth in 1843 when he and his family were living at Rydal Mount, another Lake District home. Although the colors are muted on the front of the rug, the back reveals how bright the yarn originally was.

I should knit one of these for myself,” I thought, as I took a photo of it.

Back in my room at Lindeth Howe that evening, I looked around on the Internet to see if someone else had the same idea. Sure enough, I came across “Simple Comforts at Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s Home,” an article written by June Hall for the Fall 2012 issue of Knitting Traditions, and “Wordsworth’s Knee Rug,” a project she designed to accompany her article. I knew that issue was waiting for me at home, part of my much-loved collection of Interweave magazines.

As soon as I got homMy version of June Hall's pattern for Wordsworth's knee ruge, I pulled out that issue and got started on my plans to create my own version of the nifty knee rug. The next day, my friend Barbara at The Yarn Shop helped me choose 19 different colors of Plymouth Encore Double Knitting Weight yarn, replicating those used in the rug as closely as we could, in the spirit of the colors favored in Wordsworth’s day. 

I’ve been working on this special reminder of my visit to Dove Cottage ever since.  I finished it today. 

As Wordsworth wrote in his poem, I wandered lonely as a Cloud, it’s perfect “for oft when on my couch I lie/In vacant or in pensive mood….”

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