Saturday, January 25, 2014

And Then There Was a Hat

The Knitter in his favorite winter
hat in Malabrigo Worsted

Newsflash. It's January in the northern hemisphere and it's cold. Cold with a capital Polar Vortex. I don't think it's been this cold since last winter! Crazy how seasons work sometimes.

Wool hats. Alpaca hats. Any-kind-of-warm hats. Now's the time to dig 'em out and get 'em on your heads.

"So Steven," people ask me, "what is your favorite hat pattern?" (Well, of course, they ask me that in my head. Usually, it's just people looking at my hat jealously.)

I have one hat I wear more than any other. It's Malabrigo Worsted and has a wide hemmed brim, so it's two layers of wonderfully warm and soft merino right on my ears. I love it.

We've established many times that I'm a fan of provisional cast on and a hemmed brim is a perfect time to dig out your provisional cast on skills and go to town.

Sneaky picture of The Knitter's
mother in her favorite new hat
I whipped out another hemmed brim hat a couple weeks ago for my mother. She requested a slouchy hat. So many hats give a person that dreaded "pinhead" look and she hates that. I'm not a big fan either. But big slouchy hats can also be too much. I think the hat I knit for her is the best of both worlds.

For mom's hat, I dug out a discontinued yarn that I've been wanting to use and hadn't found the right project yet. It's The Fibre Company Khroma DK (50% alpaca, 50% merino). Instead of a plain hat, I added stripes to the brim with stranded cables over top in a diamond pattern. As you can see in the covert picture, mom loves it and it has just the right amount of slouch.

I think I'll make one for me since I have plenty of this yarn left over and it feels so nice. A great substitute yarn would be Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light.

I'm not very specific when I knits hats. In my opinion, hats are very forgiving projects. Approximately enough stitches is the right amount for a hat that basically fits. It just needs to fit enough that it doesn't fall down over your eyes or fly off if you bend over.

Here's the basics for my favorite hemmed brim hats in a not-very-professional-pattern-writer way:

Unglamorous flat-on-the-table picture of the
new hat using discontinued awesome yarn
Step One: find your gauge. But only basically - cast on 20 stitches, work in stockinette for about two inches and then measure your stitches per inch.

Step Two: find your head size. But again, only basically. You can get perfectionist and measure your head with a tape measure. I usually just assume that a head is somewhere between 20" and 22".

Step Three: multiple your stitch-per-inch by the size of your head. I multiple by 21" so that if I need to go up or down for stitch counts, it works for 20" to 22".

Step Four: provisionally cast on with waste yarn the number of stitches you need and join in the round. I do one of two things here:
  1. Cast on 90% less stitches (multiple the number from Step Three by .90) and work with the needle you used to check gauge, or
  2. Cast on with a needle a size or two smaller than you used for gauge and work the brim in the smaller needle.
Step Five: knit every round until the inner brim is as tall as you want it. I knit anywhere from 2" to 4".

Step Six: purl one round. This makes a ridge on your hat that makes it fold perfectly. Also on this round, either increase 10% (up to the number from Step Three) or switch to your regular needle.

Step Seven: knit every round until the distance from turning ridge to the needle matches the height of the inner brim.

Step Eight: join the inner brim to the outer hat. Magic. Pick up all stitches from the provisional cast on with a spare needle. Holding it behind your working needle, knit one stitch from your working needle together with one stitch from your spare needle. Super special side note: if you cast on fewer stitches from the inner brim and increased on Step Six, you need to skip the spare needle at the same rate as you increased in Step Six. For example, if you had "knit 9, increase 1, etc", on the joining row, you need to "knit from working needle and spare needle together 9 times, knit from working needle only once, etc." I hope that makes sense.

Step Nine: keep knitting around and around and around until the hat is as tall as you want it. I make hats for me about 9" from the turning ridge.

Step Ten: close up the top of your hat. I don't panic about this. I like a fast decrease and gathered top. I think it lessens the "pinhead" look by putting extra fabric on top.
  1. Decrease round one: knit 3, k2tog, repeat all the way around
  2. Knit one round plain
  3. Decrease round two: knit 2, k2tog, repeat all the way around
  4. Knit one round plain
  5. Decrease round three: knit 1, k2tog, repeat all the way around
  6. Knit one round plain
  7. Decrease rounds four, five, six, etc: k2tog around and around and around until you have a few stitches left, probably 6 or 8 or even 15.
  8. Break yarn and pass through all of the remaining stitches twice and pull tight to close.
Step Eleven: make all of your friends jealous because your hat is so much better than theirs.

I would love to see the hats you're making and hear what makes your hats special.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Another Stitch, Another Obsession: Brioche Knitting

You'll remember from several months ago when I was obsessed with star stitch. From that obsession, three new patterns were born: Carriage Trail, Quarry Creek and Ridgeview. (By the way, each are available individually in my Ravelry store or together as an e-book called "Stars Shine.")

When I'm knitting, I think a lot about how we-knitters can rearrange two simple stitches, knit and purl, into almost infinite combinations. And with simple adaptations to those two stitches, even more patterns can emerge. Knit the stitches out of order and, voilĂ , cables! Throw in some planned holes and decreases and, tada, lace! Knit with two colors at the same time and, presto, fair isle! It's all just knits and purls.

Lately I've been looking at a lot of pictures of sweaters online, mostly from designers. Knitwear that has graced the runways of London, Paris, Milan, or New York. I see a lot of what looks to me like brioche stitch. Consider me inspired. I grabbed needles and scrap yarn and started swatching.

Miss Babs' Yowza in colorway Coffee Break
looks messy in a knit/purl pattern

Miss Babs' Yowza in the same color as above,
but in brioche stitch
I'm not new to the brioche stitch. One of my favorite gifts to my nephew was a blanket done entirely in stripes and double brioche. The fabric is fluffy and drapes nice, but still thick and cuddly, and that was with a not-my-favorite cotton yarn.

I'm surprised when I see brioche stitch labeled as advanced knitting. At its most basic form, it's nearly as easy as garter stitch; every row is the same. (There are plenty of free patterns available online for simple brioche stitch scarves. I suggest this one from Purl Bee.)

I think the confusion comes in because there is a slight bit of magic and sleight of hand required to make the stitch work. Oh, and some patterns use different abbreviations for stitches, like maybe brK or something like that. Don't let it confuse you!
In my opinion, the easiest form of brioche begins with an even number of stitches and one set up row:
*yarn forward, slip one stitch as if to knit, knit one, repeat from * to end of row.
Immediately, the knitter's well-trained brain sees a problem. "I moved the yarn to the front, how can I knit? The yarn must be at the back to knit!"

Trust me. When you knit the stitch with the yarn in front, a yarn over magically appears and it appears exactly how you need it, on top of the slipped stitch. This makes the rest of the rows easy peasy. 

The rest of the time, you'll only have to remember one set of instructions:
*yarn forward, slip one stitch as of to purl, knit two together, repeat from * to end of row. 
Won't a knit-two-together make fewer stitches? Don't forget, you're also adding a yarn over so it balances out. And bonus, the knit-two-together is actually already set up as one stitch because it's the previous row's yarn over and the stitch it covers! Magic!

Repeat that row forever (or close to it) and you'll have a scarf you'll love for its warmth and squishy-factor and even stretchy. It's also perfect for those variegated yarns that just look muddled and messy in other stitch patterns. The slipped stitches and yarn overs calm down even the craziest of dye jobs. Don't count it out for projects for the men in your life, too. It's the opposite of fussy knitting.

Of course, you can get wild and crazy with brioche. Two colors or offset stitches or in the round. Increases, decreases and cables. But sometimes you just need something that's a good switch from garter stitch or ribbing for a basic project. 

Also, brioche is a delicious bread and now I'm hungry. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

So You Want to Learn to Knit?

Once upon a time…

Okay, it was a couple weeks ago.

One knitter said to another, "I only know how to make scarves and I want to do more." The other knitter replied, "No problem, if you can cast on, knit, purl and bind off, you can make anything you want." And thus a knitting class was born.

That seems a little too easy. It also involved rounding up several other wanna-be knitters and the materials and the pattern and the space.

Where? Panera. Easy. Good food and a private room where we won't bother anyone.

Look at all these awesome colors
new knitters ordered from Fiber Wild!
Who? A ragtag group of old and new friends. And everyone, super nice.

What? I placed a call to Fiber Wild, a yarn store I've shopped with before online. I spoke with a clerk, maybe Nicky or Natalie or Jennifer (I can't remember), and explained the situation: short notice and need yarn and needles for eight. She assured me I could place an order online and it would arrive in time. I put out an email to all the new knitters asking for color choices and placed the order. Another call to Fiber Wild to confirm they received the order and spoke to Nicky or Natalie or Jennifer again. They even refunded part of the cost of the extra fast shipping! And the yarn showed up in plenty of time!
We used HiKoo SimpliWorsted, a wool blend yarn, and my Daily Gazette fingerless wrist warmers with thumb hole pattern. It's not the most elegant way to knit wrist warmers or fingerless mitts but it is a great way to learn to knit.

The biggest problem with most first-knitting projects is people generally go for scarves. Scarves are long. Big projects. Long big projects. Big long projects that feel like they are never-ending. It can take forever to finish if you just started knitting. The wrist warmers are only 30 stitches wide and 24 ridges (48 rows) so it's a totally doable and fast project.

Knitting Class!
I also love these wrist warmers as first projects because you get all of the basics in one pattern: knitted cast on, garter stitch (knit all the time - lots of practice!), and binding off. You ever get a little bit of extra fun because the thumb hole involves binding off in the row and then casting back on.

It's exciting!

What was your first knitting project? Or, if you're reading this for my sparking wit, what will be your first knitting project?

*ps: I'm not affiliated with Fiber Wild; they're just a really great store with a website and I had a great experience.