“Knit a Monmouth Cap,” the headline of an article in the Christmas 2016 issue of Early American Life, hints.
Monmouth caps — named for the city in southeast Wales located between a thriving area raising Ryeland sheep and a busy port — were all the rage in the 17th century, topping the heads of commoners and noblemen alike. Even Captain John Smith included one in his 1608 list of necessities for those who would emigrate to the New World.
Why not knit an adaptation of this easy-to-knit, utilitarian cap for the Seamen’s Church Institute’s “Christmas at Sea” program, the article concluded. Why not, indeed, I thought.
Headquartered in Port Newark, New Jersey, the Seamen’s Church Institute is North America’s largest mariners’ service agency. Since 1834, it has supported these people who work hard on vessels that travel the world’s waterways to transport the goods that are so important to our lives. Professional chaplains offer friendship and pastoral care to these modern-day mariners, helping them stay in touch with their families, providing them with educational opportunities and advocating for their welfare.
During the Spanish-American War, in 1898, Seamen’s Church Institute volunteers began knitting warm clothing and sending useful items to mariners far away from home during the holidays. The “Christmas at Sea” tradition continues today. Donations of hand-knitted apparel and new utilitarian items like unscented hand lotion and lip balm, toothbrushes, sealed packages of candy, crossword puzzles, playing cards and chewing gum arrive at SCI throughout the year; after Labor Day, they start being packed for holiday delivery.
Diving into Christmas at Sea couldn’t be easier. The Seamen’s Church Institute offers several patterns for knitting and crocheting scarves, caps, socks, slippers and even a vest, all available for downloading at no cost. These stylish seafaring items were especially designed for mariners working on the water in extreme conditions, keeping in mind the need to conform to safety standards of their unique work environment. Purchase machine-washable yarn for your project at local yarn stores; some have been designated as SCI Knit Spots that stock the Christmas at Sea patterns and have designated the appropriate yarn for the projects. Jimmy Beans Wool, an online stockist, offers yarn for Christmas at Sea projects at a discount.
To raise awareness not only of how mariners contribute to our daily comforts, but also of the Christmas at Sea project, the Seamen’s Church Institute developed Watch This Cap, a miniature knitted version of a traditional seafarer’s watchcap. A tag explaining the project is attached to the tiny hat and placed in a conspicuous location between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
For more information on the Christmas at Sea project, links to patterns and directions for sending finished garments, click here. For more on the Watch This Cap initiative, including details of how the program began at local Starbucks stores in 2012, click here. E-mail the Seamen’s Church Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free informational tag to attach to the miniature mariners’ watchcap; click here to download the free pattern.