The Wife of Bath's Cowl
Construction and Size
This cowl features a lace and cable pattern and is knit flat in a fingering weight yarn. Buttonholes are created at one end and buttons attached to the other to create a cowl. You can optionally leave off the buttonholes and buttons, work more pattern repeats, and create a scarf. Pattern includes both written directions as well as a chart for the cable/lace section.
Skill Level: Advanced Beginner
Skills needed: working cables, yarn overs, buttonholes (instructions provided)
US 6/4.0 mm needles
Three 1” (25 mm) buttons
Thank you to my test knitters (tsaria, wendylinjohnson, ftmhling, chau7, dambird, and lynx-ical) and tech editor (kwunder) who provided valuable feedback.
About the Name
The Wife of Bath is an iconic medieval character, found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. A larger-than-life figure, she is actually a weaver; however, her true profession, as her title suggests, is that of being a wife. She’s already buried five husbands and is on the pilgrimage less for religious reasons and more to find husband number six. The scarlet red color of the yarn in the sample was chosen because the Wife of Bath is described as follows: “Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed” (Her hose were of a fine scarlet red).
Before she starts her story, she tells a bit about herself and her previous husbands. We learn the most about her fifth husband, which was an abusive relationship on both their parts. At one point, she burned his book (which was full of stories of wicked wives) and he hit her so hard that she’s now a bit deaf in one ear. But she seemed to forgive him because, well, he had a great body (i.e., the sex was good). Now in her middle years, she may not be as attractive as she once was, but she is still quite interested in finding another husband (i.e., sexual partner). But she also is not afraid to tell her husband(s) or anyone else what she thinks and to do as she wants–having her own power is something important for her.
The tale she tells is of a knight in King Arthur’s court who has been judged for a crime against a woman with the task of finding out what it is that women want most. He cannot find the answer and makes a rash promise to a hag in the woods to discover the answer. When she tells him that what women want most is sovereignty (which is indeed the “correct” answer), her return favor is to come to court and marry the knight. The knight doesn’t want to marry such an old hag. What would everyone think? What would their private life be like? But it turns out that the hag is actually a witch and she has the ability to turn herself into a beautiful young woman. She gives the knight at choice: she can be young and beautiful but there would be no promise that she would remain faithful or she can be old and ugly but always faithful. The knight can’t decide and so he tells her to choose for herself, in essence, granting her sovereignty. Since he seems to have learned his lesson, she rewards him–by becoming young and beautiful and faithful. (Hmm…could this be a wish fulfillment on the part of the aging Wife of Bath?)