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Dear friends,

Fall has arrived, and can I just say thank heaven for wool? After a painfully dry summer, we’ve had buckets of rain during the past two weeks along with a plunge in temperature. Damp cold is no joke around here, where old walls and windows mean the air inside often feels just like the air outside. Shawls, scarves, and sweaters to the rescue.

As I write, bundled up like Mimì in the last act of La Bohème, it seems impossible that about a month ago I was sweating through my undershirts–in Scotland.

I’d never been to Scotland, but had heard from reliable sources that one thing Edinburgh would not be was sunny and warm. It was. On the day I arrived, the hotel I was staying at was repairing a plate glass window that had cracked from the heat.

So I spent as much of my visit as possible in the shade.

Fortunately, Edinburgh and environs aren’t short of leafy green spaces. I took two long, memorable walks along the Water of Leith, both beginning at Dean Village, a setting so picturesque as to be scarcely credible.

Dean Village—Brigadoon, eat your heart out

Since I’m in the Mary, Queen of Scots fandom, of course I also strolled through the gardens at both the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Stirling Castle.

The Garden at Stirling Castle

Then, of course, there were the cemeteries.

If you get a frisson of happiness at the sight of a well-carved skull, Edinburgh will make you wobbly with joy. Those old Scottish cemeteries do not hold back on Grim Reaper content. 

The most famous grave in town, of course, belongs to a dog. Sweet, faithful Greyfriars Bobby, who held vigil by his late master’s tomb in Greyfriars Cemetery for fourteen years until, in 1872, he at last went to the big dog park in the sky. He is now commemorated both with a handsome monument, where visitors leave sticks, and a fountain outside the gates whose bronze nose is worn smooth from millions of loving pats.

The Goodest Boy

I went to see Bobby. Of course I did. But the grave I was most interested in visiting belonged to someone almost nobody remembers, but who is very important to me. And probably to you, as well, even though you may never have heard of her.

Jane Gaugain

Jane Gaugain may be fairly called the mother of the knitting book. She was born Jane Alison, the daughter of a tailor; and married John James Gaugain, an Edinburgh merchant who traded largely in dry goods imported from Europe. These included not only fabrics and laces, but also the sturdy, beautiful “Berlin wools” from Germany: fine yarns that were available in a dazzling array of colors (thanks to the arrival of reliable artificial dyes).

It appears that Jane’s acumen helped the business to flourish. By the 1830s, the Gaugains were able to afford to move to premises at 63 George Street in the fashionable Georgian neighborhood of New Town.

To encourage yarn sales, Jane began providing patterns upon request to her customers, well-to-do women who had taken up knitting as a newly fashionable pastime.

In 1840, Jane produced what was, in effect, the first knitting book as we think of them today: The Lady’s Assistant in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet. There were a few publications, like The Workwoman’s Guide (1838), that had included some knitting instructions. But these were aimed at those seeking either to teach, or to become, professional needleworkers.

Jane’s book, on the other hand, is emphatically for the woman who knits for her own amusement. The patterns include many of those that remain the bread-and-butter of the modern knitting designer: shawls, scarves, home décor, garments for babies and children.

There are basic instructions for casting on and off, knitting, purling, increasing, and decreasing. There are abbreviations (with a key) and numbered row-by-row instructions–both apparently Gaugain inventions, or at least I have yet to see them in an earlier book.

The Lady’s Assistant was a wild success, running to 22 editions. Jane went on to publish many more books, and instigated an international boom of needlework manuals for the genteel hobbyist–the genre she pretty much invented.

Now, I learned all of the above largely thanks to the designer and historian Kate Davies, whose article “In the Steps of Jane Gaugain” I recommend for a much more detailed account of her life and career.

Davies ends with the note that Jane was buried in Dean Cemetery, in Edinburgh. Seeing as her work has made my life possible, I thought it would be appropriate to make a pilgrimage to her grave and express my gratitude.

There was one hitch. Nobody, so far as I could find, knew exactly where in the cemetery Jane had been laid to rest.

I arrived at Dean Cemetery on a sunny weekday afternoon with my traveling companion. Happily, he is a knitter who was enthusiastic about the expedition as I. The place was virtually empty. Of living people, that is. The dead were bewilderingly abundant.

All we had to go on was a picture we’d found online of the grave of Jane’s daughter, Theresa. Theresa died before her mother, and lies beneath a handsome obelisk. The inscription notably highlights her relationship to Jane–and doesn’t mention her father at all.

Unfortunately, we also didn’t know exactly where Theresa was. We had no plot number and no map. So we started walking, trying to be systematic in an old cemetery full of winding avenues. We hoped for a guiding hand from beyond, or a miracle, or dumb luck.

Instead, we got a shout from the man who was running the place that day. He’d seen us wander into the grass, and let us know (gently, but firmly) that the cemetery rules require visitors to keep to the paths. Was there something he could do for us? 

I explained who we were looking for, and provided what little information there was: Jane and Theresa’s names, and their years of death. The gentleman leapt into action, first pulling from a safe in the office a series of enormous, leather-bound burial registers inscribed in that Victorian penmanship that is so often simultaneously delicate, precise, and difficult to read.

He scanned page after page, line by line. No luck finding Jane, but we found Theresa’s grave number.

You might think that would be sufficient, but no. The cemetery’s numbering system is … idiosyncratic. Rather than numbering the plots when the cemetery was laid out, it appears that plots were numbered as bodies were put into them.

So out came the cemetery map, also ancient, which covered the entire table. And our friend began to scan, and scan, and scan. And he found Theresa.

“I’ll have to guide you there,” he said. “You won’t find it on your own.”

No kidding.

Lead us he did, swiftly, until there we were in front of Theresa’s obelisk–which was half-hidden by an overhanging tree branch.

He wasn’t done with us, though. No. It perturbed him that there was no record of Jane’s burial where there ought to have been. Though we protested that he had already done more than enough, he insisted that he would do a little more rummaging around in the records. 

Leaving us with Theresa, he hurried back to the office.

We took some photographs, then joined him. He looked triumphant.

There, on a single line in yet another enormous book,* were listed all those buried in Theresa’s plot. 

After “S.L.T. Gaugain”–that being Theresa–there it was: “Mrs. Gaugain.”

Now it made sense. When Jane died, she was put into the family plot with her daughter.  But as there was (we must assume) nobody left to do more than make the most necessary arrangements, the stone was never altered to reflect the later burial.

We had found her.

So we sat by Jane Gaugain’s grave for a while, peacefully knitting.

There’s more to this adventure, but as this letter is already so long I’m going to post it and save the rest for next month.

But here’s a hint for you.



*I was allowed to take a photo for my records, but in the case of this and all the other amazing record books at the cemetery, I’m not allowed to publish or share them. Those are the cemetery’s rules, and of course I am bound to respect them.

About The Author

Franklin Habit has been sharing his brainy and hilarious writing and illustrations with the knitting world since 2005.


  • Wow. What an awesome adventure. Being of Scottish descent and a passionate knitter. I went to Scotland and the Shetland Isles last May. I wish I had known of Jane then, but your article was both entertaining and a lovely bit of history. Thank you!

    • I enjoy your posts and like everyone else, look forward to them. This knitting adventure in Scotland was exceptional. Thank you.

  • Thanks so much for such an informative post. The gentleman who helped you find Jane is a true treasure himself. I’m guessing you have a copy of her book in your library.

  • Hi Franklin, I’m from the University of Southampton and I thought you might like to know that we have digitized some of Jane Gaugain’s books and they’re free to the public. You can find them here:

    They include a digitized version of the book you have a photo of in your blog post:

    We have other digitized books, including a collection of Victorian Knitting Manuals.

    Hope you find this useful – thanks very much for this lovely blogpost!

  • This is so cool. Thanks for sharing.

  • Just to say please DO NOT RUB BOBBIES nose it is NOT lucky. Some stupid tour guide a few years ago claimed it was and how he’s being destroyed. I’m currently lobbying local politicians to have him electrified. The day I see piles of tourists on the floor round him will be a good one. Edinburgh Citizen

    • Our tour guide in 2017 was adamant that we not touch Bobby. We abided by this rule and went on to thoroughly enjoy Edinburg.

      • You had a quality tour guide!

  • What a wonderful article! I love that you located her with the help of the warden!

  • Wow is correct such dedication to knitting history…I love Edinburgh. Franklin your touching, and the pictures.

  • Lovely article. Thank you for being so dogged (Bobby would approve!).

    • Franklin, I love your adventures and what a great find in Edinburgh and love the wonderful story of Jane. Wouldn’t it be fun to come upon a copy of her book in a delightfully, charming old dusty antique shop? One never knows ……

  • Thank you for sharing, and for the lovely pictures.

    • Is her book still available per chance? A reprinting of course.

  • Thank you for this article. Could she be the reason I adore both Edinburgh and Scotland (and Bobby)? Wonderful to have this information. Wish I could hold her book in my hands.

  • A darling article, and quite an adventure! Thank you for sharing it with us❤️

  • I really enjoy every one of your posts, Franklin.

    • Hear, hear!

  • Fantastical!

    • Wow! Franklin the historian is back and I am thrilled! I have enjoyed musings like this since the Panopticon days.

  • Aside from the thanks due for this research and the help of the man at the cemetery. I note that your gratitude is wonderful. Acknowledging your debt, and that of all the knitting teachers , is gentlemanly in itself. Thank you.

  • Cannot wait to see what you will share from that book!

  • So interesting. Thank you for respecting the cemetery’s rules on not publishing the photos you were allowed to take of the record books. In this day and age, I’m sure many would have not hesitated.

  • I’d offer to collect funds to purchase a discreet grave marker, but your adventure is more memorable

  • As if I didn’t have enough reasons to want to go to Edinburgh, wandering through cemeteries, talking with the cemetery manager and looking at old handwritten documents, finding the grave of the mother of knitting for leisure, and stopping there for awhile to knit – my idea of a perfect and magical day.

  • Love this letter, Franklin. Thank you!

  • Thank you for taking me along on the visit. I felt like I was there with you!

  • Brought a tear to my eye, persistence wins. Thank you for a lovely article & knowledge of our beginnings into a peaceful & wonderful skill!

  • How perfectly lovely. Thank you ever so.

  • Thank you, Franklin, for taking us along on your adventure. It sounds lovely.

  • Incroyable!!

  • Thank you, Franklin. You said I need to go to Edinburgh…you weren’t kidding. I’ve always wanted to go (and raid the charity shops for tweed and other wooly things), but this just moves it up several notches on the list (never mind all the glorious architectural history and climate and…hell. Everything.)

    Does anyone know the correct pronunciation of her married surname?

  • Really enjoy your posts, Franklin. Thank you for sharing your experiences and adventures. Looking forward to the next episode.❤️❤️

  • What a wonderful post – thank you to you and the cemetery manager for locating Jane’s final resting place. Hopefully, the cemetery has now noted the location of the obelisk in some way to make it easier for more knitters to pay their respects.

  • Great post!!!! Love your letters and look forward to each one!!!! I am feeling the need for a trip to Scotland….including a good knit in the cemetery.

  • Great article, with your humor and nose for a good story. Next time in Scotland, please go up to the Hebrides and Shetland. Bon Voyage!

  • I could read your stories all day! Thank you for your always fun and adventurous stories!

  • Wow! Just spent some time in Edinburgh myself and had no idea about this history. Also the one day we had planned for Stirling Castle it was raining so hard we had to turn around and head back to town. Franklin, thanks as always for your storytelling!

  • Franklin, you’re fantastic! As a known cemetery stalker myself, I truly appreciate your diligence in allowing the caretaker to get the info you desired. Knowing, now, about Jane, I must see if her book is still available. Bravo you and your companion

  • Thank you for this glimpse into another world. Facinating!

  • Here’s a link to a digital copy of the 4th edition. Not the same as holding the book in your hands, but at least we can look at it. 🙂

  • So amazing! I want to know more!

  • Thank you so much for your report of this wonderful adventure. Understanding the history of this craft that occupies us is something often overlooked.

    • Thank you!

  • Franklin, you are a treasure yourself. Thank you for sharing your enlightening, humorous, and always educational adventures

  • Franklin, your adventures continue to enchant me. Thank you for this.
    Theresa deserves the recognition.
    Chris H.

    • Meant to say Jane deserves it , but maybe Theresa does, too.

  • Wonderful story!!! Always love your adventures and this one was especially a good one. Thank you for being so dedicated in locating this grave. How lucky for you that you were able to do this. Love the photo!!!!

  • Thank you. I learn something new every time you write. And written so beautifully too.

  • I live next to the cemetery that for many years was the end of the trolley in Denver ( end of the line) and if the weather is perfect I will take my dog over for a very long walk and the history of the deaths of children are heartbreaking because now we have immunizations to prevent the loss of an entire family and this post was so interesting

  • I’ve learned through my genealogy research that cemetery sextons are wonderful!!

  • What a wonderful knitting adventure! Thank you for sharing!

  • I love that you save a lovely bit back for MDK, even from Patrons! Regarding Bobbie, how petting his nose damaging the statue when women are STILL rubbing Henry VIII’s codpiece? Lesser quality bronze perhaps? Inquiring minds need to know these things.

  • Franklin, I read all of your columns. Your adventures in Europe & the British Isles are so interesting & fun. Thank you for sharing.

  • Isn’t travel wonderful when you have a mystery to solve! And the JOY in finding just the right person who is willing not only to help but to bend over backwards helping. I smile thinking of the adventures I’ve had and send a little thank you to the many lovely locals who have shared their love of their home with me. Can’t wait to read the next post! Thank YOU for sharing your adventures!

  • Fascinating detective work, Franklin!

  • Fascinating and delightfully told, thank you

  • Thank you for sharing both the history and description of your adventure.

  • So, so cool! Franklin- this is the content I am here for!

  • Truly the best knitting info to date. Thank you for your perseverance.

  • What we all expect as normal , doesn’t mean it was in the past! Good hunting and discovery you’ve reported for us to enjoy. Thank you.

  • Always learn something new and memorable from your writings! Thank you.

  • Franklin, thank you for this, yet another intriguing story. This read like a detective story as I pictured the cemetery manager blowing dust off the tomes of antiquated accounts of who rests in eternal peace just outside his creaky heavy wooden door… I can’t wait for the next installment. Your photos were wonderful to add to the flavor of an enchanting day. How lovely to honor a lady who lived a good life, gave to others and yet died without a trace of having been here. Blessings to the cemetery manager for searching and finally finding her and to you for caring.

    • Thank you, Franklin, you are such a gifted writer. I love your work!

  • Oh I love a good old cemetery!

  • ❤️ (What else is there to say? That sums it up!)

  • Thank you for writing of your search for Mrs. Gaugain. One of the great joys of knitting for me is the history I learn through studying it.

    Well done!

  • We found my husbands’ family plot in the Highlands, Cawdor, near Inverness..
    No map, no caretaker. We just looked at every gravestone and found the family plot.
    Luckily, the cemetery was not too big.
    Can’t wait to read the rest of this story. Thank you.

  • I’m not crying. Thank you again for your enchanting missives.

  • This is incredibly thoughtful ! We also traveled to Edinburg in July 2018 prepared with lots of layers. The temperature was steaming and of course no air conditioning ! People are so friendly and helpful there!

  • Thank you for this wildly interesting and curious article. I know almost all the places you mention (my ancestry is Scottish), and Dean’s Cemetery is on my list of places to explore now. Can’t wait for your next installment. Literally! : )

  • Another lovely way to start my day. Thank you. Perhaps MDK could pull your essays together for a book. With your photos. I’d buy it.

    • YES!

    • Yes! I was thinking the exact same thing. How lovely, to curl up with a book of Franklin’s essays.

  • Wow, fantastic adventure. I so much look forward to your stories, they always make me smile. I love that you found Janes place of rest and all the information about her. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • I love knowing the origins of…. Modern day knitting. I’m of Scots ancestry and have marveled at how inexplicably “right” knitting felt when I learned it at the start of the pandemic. A cursory search of Scots knitting history revealed little, so I am delighted to have this insight. Even better that it’s told from one of Edinburgh’s lovely cemeteries. Thank you, good Franklin, for sharing your adventure and knowledge. Can’t wait to learn more!

  • Loved your story Franklin! My husband was from Edinburgh – we visited Bobby’s grave too! I brought him back there when he passed away! Thank you for sharing your adventure!

  • Synergy. I just read about Jane Gaugain in The History of Hand Knitting by Robert Rutt. Thank you for providing the visuals.

  • Franklin, you look so elegant!

  • What a treat you must have been for the caretaker. Someone who had come for a purpose, to pay respects to one of his charges. You gave him a puzzle and he was able to solve it for you. A good day for all concerned!

  • How very interesting and entertaining. Thank you, sir!

  • Thank you for searching for Jane’s grace, what a wonderful man who found her for you. And thank you for telling us her story.

  • An interesting and touching post! Loved that you and your companion honored Jane with knitting at her gravesite for a spell.

  • Thank you, Franklin, for another of your wonderful stories, full of history & adventure. I’m looking forward to Part Deux.

  • Ooohhhh, I just KNEW you’d get your hands on Jane’s book!!! Looking forward to your next letter.

  • Ooohhhh, I just KNEW you’d get your hands on Jane’s book!! Looking forward to your next letter!

  • Much, much enjoyment (& quite a lot of information) found in your posts. Thank you so much, Hmmmmmm probably to many ‘much’????


  • I love that you spent time knitting by Jane’s grave. A perfect tribute.

  • Well done! I love old cemeteries. Can’t wait for your next letter!

  • Fantastic! Thanks for sharing. I love Scotland, Kate Davies, and you!

  • Fantastic thank you love to Franklin Au revoir

  • As always, an interesting read. Thank you!

  • What a wonderful article. Fascinating! So nice to be able to follow you on your adventure and the history of Jane Gaugain! It’s always thrilling to learn about a woman who was able to create a successful career in a time when it was so difficult to do so. Your photo of Dean Village is gorgeous. Thanks so much.

  • Paris *and* Edinburgh, sigh . . . I envy you. Thank you for the directions to Mrs. Gaugain’s grave, Franklin. Yes, I did know who she was and will visit her gravesite whene’er I at last see Edinburgh. After visiting Bobby’s memorial first, bien sûr. After all, I’ve known (of) him longer.

  • I believe Jane is also mentioned extensively in Victorian Lace Todsy by Jane Sowerby.

  • This was so interesting. I began to hold my breath in anticipation of What? What will be found? Will they learn where she is buried? And so well written. I felt like I was There!

  • Oh, Franklin, you may as well be hopping about with a pocketwatch and complaining about being late for a very important date. Was so pleased to follow as far as the Kate Davies article only to follow through to see what must have been a gorgeous walking tour following Jane only to find that Twist Collective not only stopped but stopped and removed themselves from the inter webs, and surely you can ask, well, where were YOU in the meantime, “dear reader” indeed, indignant and sad four years after the fact (though I vaguely remember it at the time anyway), but we can’t keep all the things going all the time but then that means EXTRA THANKS to you and to Kate for keeping on keeping on and making all the wildly crazy fun things and sharing all the adventures. And Jane. Thank you, Jane.

  • Why is it, kind sir, that I always feel like crying when I read your notes? Pure and beautiful and inspiring. Many many thanks to you.

  • I am on Shetland Island right now but started in Edinburg. Walked by Greyfriar’s Bobby. My walking tour guide said please don’t touch …. and suggested that the loyalty part might be slightly exaggerated. Maybe at the end of the trip I’ll go find Jane. I highly recommend Shetland Island. It’s gorgeous.

  • Absolutely the best post I’ve read in ages! Thank you for sharing this perfect adventure!

  • Thanks for the amazing article. Heading for Edinburgh next year.

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