The Coast Walk Project

Bonus Post: What’s a Thrumcap?


The Thrumcap


On the Saturday before Coast Walk 4, I met with Hilda Roderick, who shared some stories about the Thrumcap, a small island just off shore there, which you’ll get to read in the CW4 post, but she also said this: “‘Thrum’  is a word from the weaving community and it means the short ends after the weaving has been taken off the loom. And so these rocky little islands with some growth on top are often called ‘thrumcap.’ ”

I’d never once thought that ‘Thrumcap’ might actually mean something, although I should have known better, living on an island with such literal place names as ‘Sand Beach,’ ‘Seal Harbor,’ ‘Duck Brook,’ and ‘Bar Harbor.’ Now that Hilda had called this to my attention I started to wonder: if thrums are bits of thread, what’s a thrumcap? Well, that question led me into some fascinating corners of the internet! Who knew that there are communities of pirate re-enactors just as dedicated to historical accuracy as your average Civil War fanatic? Who knew that there are knitters stalking museum displays trying to decipher the construction of hats recovered from shipwrecks? But I digress. The internet has that effect on me.

This is a thrumcap:

The sailor on the right is wearing a thrumcap. I found this image in a chat room for piracy re-enactors.

from Habiti Antichi e Moderni by Cesare Vecelli, 1600 (via Kate’s Corner)

It was known as either a thrum cap or a thrummed cap, and according to Two Nerdy History Girls, “The base was knitted of wool, and extra pieces of yarn or fleece were thrummed into the surface – either knitted in or woven in afterwards – to make the shaggy surface. Then the whole thing was fulled (much like felting) in hot water to shrink the knitted stitches, secure the thrums, and lock the wool’s fibers together. The result was a dense, sturdy, windproof hat that resembles fur (or the 18th c. version of dreads.)”

A similar technique is still used today; in fact, you probably know exactly what thrums are if you grew up in northern New England – at least once in your life you’ve had a pair of mittens that looked like this:

Right-side out on the left and inside-out on the right. [Photo by Yarn Harlot]

Although they aren’t felted when you get them, they are super warm, and by the time you’ve had a few snowball fights those thrums are pretty matted.

Here is a modern reproduction of a thrumcap:

This one by Neils Yard, Newfoundland, has the thrums on the inside:

I also found a marvelous song called the Ballad of the Caps:

(d’Urfey, “The Ballad of the Caps”, Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, 1719) [image courtesy of the National Library of Scotland]

“The Souldiers that the Monmouth wear
On Castle-tops their Ensigns rear:
The Sea-man with his Thrumb doth stand
On higher parts than all the land…
Any Cap, whate’er it be, is still the sign of some degree.”


After all that information the question remains: why are so many islands named Thrumcap? There’s one off South Bristol, Maine; there’s one off Georgetown, Prince Edward Island; one in Nova Scotia; Captain Cook even named a Thrum Cap Island in the eastern Tuamotu archipelago (in the South Pacific.)

I can only guess that they are all shaggy, lumpy bits of land.





9 thoughts on “Bonus Post: What’s a Thrumcap?

  1. signa

    Jenn – When I first came to Patriot’s Point the island had trees – so there was some “thrum” – and was probably more before that. It’s only been bare these past few years.

    Good thing you don’t have to walk it – I hear it is very smelly! We call it Thumcrap Island as it’s less about the loose threads and more about the bird poo.

    Interesting findings! I have not read the other posts yet. Have you looked into the back ground of Sols Cliff? I was told Solomon jumped off the cliff to his death – whoever he was.

    1. Jenn Post author

      Oh no, I’m never going to be able to think of it as anything but Thumcrap now! More about Thrumcap and the cormorant guano is coming up in the next post … stay tuned for poop talk! I haven’t had a chance to research Sol yet, but someone told me years ago he was a relative of hers. Working on it!

  2. Leo Higgins

    jenn, I am enjoying your walk very much! Very interesting and I am learning a lot ,
    Even though I have lived here all my life.
    I am looking forward to your Sols Cliff
    Walk. I am the caretaker for the Gerard
    family that has the house at Sols Cliff.
    The house just had its 100th anniversary
    In 2014.
    Sol Higgins was the owner of Sols Cliff
    And I have heard several versions of him
    Jumping off the cliff, all with a woman
    Mentioned as a reason.
    Thank you for the nice reading Leo Higgins

    1. Jenn Post author

      Hi Leo, Thank you! I’ve heard a few stories about the original Sol, and will include them in the next post – I’m almost finished with it now… Jenn

  3. Vicki Salsbury

    Jen, I foresee a very fine book, when the coast walk is done, that includes all of the little details you are sharing with us now.

  4. Pingback: Coast Walk 15: Seal Harbor to Bracy Cove – The Coast Walk Project

  5. ellen joy

    I have saved all of the terrific Coast Walk posts, but if there’s a book on the way I will be so happy to have everything under one cover and not have to turn on my computer!!! Thank you for all of your wonderful and, we all appreciate, hard work!!!!

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