Emergency hats and other knitting

· knitting ·

I’ve been on a bit of a knitting rampage recently, which all started when I needed an emergency hat. A work project means that I’m working outside a lot more than I used to, which is great, but also means that I get rather cold. I’m standing more or less still outside for several hours a day, and the cold, wet snap we had here in November left me overly chilly at the end of the day. So during the week I bought a skein of West Yorkshire Spinners’ Croft Aran Tweed yarn, and over a weekend, knitted a free pattern: Jason’s cashmere hat by Melissa Thomson.

I loved this pattern1. It’s not the first hat that I’ve knitted, but I had previously ended up with hats that were too large because I was too lazy/impatient to knit a swatch first to check my gauge. It always feels a waste of time to knit a boring square when you just want to get on with your pattern, but I have belatedly learned that it is a crucial step if you want your knitted item to actually fit. I obviously knit a bit looser than most patterns call for, so I need to use needles that are a size or two smaller than the pattern calls for in order to get the correct fit. It worked out perfectly this time, and this hat fits me really well: snug enough to not blow off in the wind, but not so tight I feel like I’ve got a woolly tourniquet around my head!

The pattern was the perfect balance of challenging enough to be interesting, but easy enough to memorise so that you don’t need to look at the pattern constantly. My only other experience with knitting a cable pattern was on a pair of socks and was not entirely successful, but I was really pleased with the way it turned out here. Cabling has always seemed intimidatingly difficult to me, but when you realise that it is just knitting stitches out of order, it becomes easier to understand. This pattern called for 3/3 cables, which is easy to do without a special cable needle by slipping stitches and then slipping them back (out of order) to be knitted. The finished hat is beautifully thick and squishy, due to a combination of the chunky yarn and the ribbed and cabled pattern. In recent years I have mostly knitted items which use very fine yarn and needles (like socks), so it has been a joy to use Aran weight yarn and marvel in how quickly it knits up.

That infected me with the knitting bug again, and I decided to go one step further to knit myself a fingerless mitt (just the one!) to help with another outdoor working problem. I have to use an iPad, but since the iPad is also in a waterproof housing, my gloves with their touch-sensitive finger tips struggle to register touch reliably through the plastic covering the screen. I’ve been using one gloved and one ungloved hand, so one hand ends up like a block of ice by the end of the day.

In a bout of voracious reading about knitting during this knitting frenzy, I came across brioche knitting, where you use slipped stitches with yarnovers to create a double-faced fabric in which you make two passes over each row to create one finished row of knitting. It creates a very stretchy and lusciously squishy fabric which is also reversible. If you knit with two colours, using each on an alternate round, you can create a nice reversible-colour item where the ‘ribs’ are in one colour on the front and the other on the reverse.

I used a Bluprint/Craftsy class to learn how to knit using this method, and then used the included mitts pattern to try it out. It’s not too difficult once you get the idea, but I messed up in a couple of places, as you’ll probably see on the glove below on the ribs nearest the bottom of the photo. I also used a cashmere/merino blend yarn that I happened to have left over from another project a few years ago. It was a little too chunky for the pattern, so I ended up with something which looks a bit like a woolly boxing glove or jousting gauntlet! I don’t mind though, because it will certainly be warm, and that was the main aim of the exercise. The finger part of the mitt is stretchy enough that I can also tuck my fingers inside it when I don’t need my iPad-poking finger and warm them up a bit.

That taste of brioche knitting whetted my appetite for more, and two grey projects made me long for some eye-searing colours. I bought some nice merino yarn (of a more appropriate gauge for brioche knitting) in bright turquoise and a burnt orange colour, and I’m using the hat pattern that was also available with the brioche class to knit a two-colour hat. I was going for colours that make you think of a kingfisher, and they are certainly zingy! In retrospect I perhaps should have gone for a slightly darker, less saturated teal colour, but I am loving the brightness in what has been an excessively grey and dreary autumn in the UK. I’m hoping to have enough yarn left to make a pair of the matching mitts too as a matching winter warmer set. I also have longer term plans to sew a long wool coat in teal with a burnt orange lining, so Birmingham residents might want to have their sunglasses at the ready!

  1. Yes, I know it is intended as a man’s hat. I don’t care: I like the way it looks and it keeps my head warm. ↩︎