Victorian Women Today: Fanny Kemble


Today is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate I am publishing a free pattern for a headband, named for a remarkable Victorian-era woman, Fanny Kemble.  NOTE: the fingerless mitts are a separate, paid pattern.

Fanny's Fancy headband collage1


Fanny Kemble was a remarkable woman in any era.  Frances Anne Kemble was born in London, England, on November 27th, 1809.

fanny juliet

Born into a well-known theatrical family it was perhaps inevitable that she would be an actress, specializing in Shakespeare—in fact, her debut was as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at Covent Garden Theatre, which was owned by her father (the portrait, above, is of Fanny in her role as Juliet).  After her separation and divorce from her plantation and slave owning husband, Pierce Butler, she gave readings of Shakespeare in both England and the United States to support herself and raise money for the abolitionist cause.  It was her abolitionist work and in particular her book,  Journal of A Residence on A Georgian Plantation (written in 1838 a journal when she went to the Georgia plantations owned by her husband but not published until 1863 to persuade England not to support the Confederacy), for which she is best known today.  Of interest, her aunt was famous actress Sarah Siddons; and her grandson was Owen Wister, writer of the well-known novel The Virginian (now also a movie).

Fanny Kemble not only worked to bring the true conditions of slavery to the view of the world: she separated from her husband, divorced him, supported herself, struggled for the right to see her 2 daughters, wrote poetry and plays as well as personal journals…all in an era when such activities were difficult for any woman to maneuver through.  It is informative and interesting to read the many online and published articles and books about this remarkable woman, as well as her own works—some of which are  available free, scanned online, at Google Books, including her most well-known:  Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839.

Fanny Kemble lived to the age of 84, loved and honoured by many, including long-time friend Henry James.  She died in London on January 15th, 1893.


The headband, as well as other designs in the Fanny Kemble Series, use a stitch I encountered in a Victorian-era pattern for a doll’s dress.  When worked in the round–as the original pattern used it–this simple stitch creates a lovely lace that resembles the knitted “faggot stitch” which is used so extensively in knit lace scarves, shawls, etc.  The only stitches you need to know are chain, slip stitch, single crochet!  The headband was made using vintage Patons 4-ply Purple Heather wool yarn, but you can use any light fingering/sock weight yarn with approximately 200 m per 50g ball.  I used a 6mm hook to make the beginning chain, to make sure it was loose enough; a 4.25mm hook for the main part of the crochet headband; and a 3.5mm hook for the edging.

Please contact me if you find any errors, need any help, or wish to comment.  You’re welcome to post photos of your finished headbands on my Facebook page, and I’d appreciate linking to my design on Ravelry, as well as adding it to your Favourites if you like and appreciate this free design.  I hope you’ll read a little more about Fanny Kemble too–there are many articles and photos about her online that are interesting to read, and many more historic photos.


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