Lily Cotton
Purchased at a Salvation Army Thrift Store
in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. A knitting pattern for a tie.Scrolll right for instructions.
I travelled to Atlanta by Greyhound bus from Nashville then took a cab from the station to a downtown chain hotel, where the room smelt damp despite the brand. At night, after a day of fierce wet heat, I would swim in the hotel pool but it was an eerie and lonely activity.

One thunderous day, I went to an outer district with a contemporary art space. It started to rain heavily just as I got off the bus, so I ran into a Salvation Army thrift-store for shelter. In a basket of odd yarn, there was a solitary skein of American cotton which had been spun at Lily Mills. It was discoloured in patches from being exposed to the sun, perhaps it had lain in a shop window for a very long time. I bought it.

The graphic design of the paper label binding the mercerised yarn was exquisite, printed in black, white and bronze. The tail of the stylish "y" in "Lily" bloomed into a beautifully drawn flower..

Lily was one of very many mills which flourished in the cotton boom. In 1881, Atlanta had hosted The International Cotton Exposition, which came to occupy a significant place in the history of Southern cotton production. The Exposition had galvanized the new industrial ambitions of the South, in tune with the period known as Reconstruction; the aftermath of the Civil war and the abolishment of slavery.

Emancipated African Americans were barred from working in the new southern cotton mills right up until the late 1950s.The cotton continued to be farmed, picked, loaded and transported by black people but the mighty economic advantages of spinning and weaving at an industrial scale were monopolised by whites to employ only whites.

In 1896,Warren C. Coleman, a black North Carolina businessman called on his fellow black Southerners to support his plan to build a cotton mill that would be operated by black workers. He said;

"Will our colored people not catch the spark of the new industrial life?"

The Lily Mill had operated in Shelby, North Carolina. A woman called Mrs. Davis met her husband while working there. Mrs. Davis was part of the Lily Mill Women's Club.The group traveled to the World's Fair in New York City in 1964 and then to Montreal for EXPO in 1967, the mill paid for these trips.

Lily Mills was also a longtime supplier and supporter of the famous Penland Craft School in North Carolina. Weaving students from Penland often took class trips to the mill. In 1947, Penland was turning students away for lack of educational facilities, so Lily Mills gave $20,000 which covered half the cost of the Lily Loom House. The Lily Loom House is still a feature of the school to this day.

When the rain stopped, I walked the short distance to the gallery. It was closed. I decided on the bus back downtown that I would knit a tie from the Lily cotton. I think this was because I had spent days absorbed in photographs of very dignified and elegantly dressed people from the history of the Civil Rights Movement. I took the Amtrak train back to New York City the next day and bought thin knitting needles.

Mandy McIntosh 2005



1 skein fine mercerised crochet cotton, select your cotton according to the required tension and needle size, seek advice from the yarnstore if you are unsure.This pattern uses cotton which is no longer in production but it may be available from obscure sources.
2mm (size "0") knitting needles and equivalent crochet hook.
30sts and 36 rows = 3 inches.
K ; knit
P ; purl
Inc ; increase (for this pattern the increase is made by using the right hand neeedle to lift the yarn between first and second stitches onto the left hand needle, then knitting this as a normal stitch.)
sl1, k1, psso ; slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over.
K2tog ; knit 2 together.
To begin
Cast on 3 stitches.
Row 1: Purl
Row 2:K1, inc1, k1, inc1, k1.
Row 3: Purl (5 stitches)
Row 4: K1, inc1, k3, inc1, k1.
Row 5: Purl (7 stitches)
Row 6: K1, inc1, k5, inc1, K1
Row 7: Purl (9 stitches)
Continue in stocking stitch increasing one stitch at the second and second last stitch on the knit row until you have 68 stitches, ending on a purl row.
Knit 20 rows straight stocking stitch with no increases ending on a purl row.
Next row: K1, sl1, k1, psso, k to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.
Next row: Purl.
Repeat this decrease row every 21st row (on the knit side) whilst continuing in stocking stitch until you have 58 stitches.
Continuing in stocking stitch repeat this decrease row every 41st row (on the knit side) until you have 52 stitches. Continue straight in stocking stitch until the tie is the required length. For this pattern, the tie was knitted to a length of 53 inches before the tail decrease, ending on a purl row.
Next row: K1, sl1, k1, psso, k to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.
Next row: Purl.
Repeat these 2 rows until one stitch is left, cut a length of yarn and draw it through the final stitch, pulling to secure.
Leaving the tails open at either end of the tie, fold outer edges in and join the centre seam, working the join as flat as possible to avoid any bulk. For this tie, we turned the seam to the outside so the garment would lie flatter. If you want to make an edging along the tails of the tie, use a crochet hook and work one row of double crochet around either tail. Darn in all ends and press the tie gently with steam or wet it and let it dry flat with the seam running through the centre.


© Ham and Enos 2005. All rights reserved.This garment may be made and/or adapted by anyone. Not for commercial purposes.If you experience any difficulty with this pattern please email If you do make it, we would love to see a picture of your version.

Worn here by Alain Augère. Thank-you.

Research for this project originally supported by Scottish Arts Council.Featured in Knit Knit New York and the Low Grade exhibition at Futuresonic 2005.