A Winding Road to a Versatilde Headband

 

versatilde headband on 1

  

Hello! Life has just been a flood, a river of things lately, but this space has still been on my mind, and now seems like as good a time as any to share a somewhat long-lost project.

I took a workshop on Versatildes with Cat Bordhi in July of 2015. As you know if you’ve been reading here for a while, Cat is my knitting heroine—and Cat if you’re reading this I’d like to include a sincere and hearty thank you for all your warmth, humor, and love of knitting and of the world in general that shines through in your classes and projects!

I wanted to make something that I knew I would wear using the Versatilde ideas, and as usual I wanted to experiment, so I sketched this headband and started working on it during the workshop. It didn’t actually take that long to finish knitting it, and it was a fun journey. I’m usually a note-taking, think-it-through kind of person (as you might have noticed), but I really enjoyed Cat’s way of making these, which is much more about enjoying the process and not over-thinking decisions. There isn’t a chart, instead you decide things like when to make cable crossings and increase/decrease at the sides as you go, following a few suggestions to make it flow organically.

  

versatilde headband flat

  

I’m not sure if I over-thought it at the end. My original plan was to close it with buttons, but I couldn’t find any that went with the wool and the pattern without distracting from it, so eventually I just sewed it closed. Somehow, it took me the rest of the time until now to get photos of the finished thing and type this up … these things happen.

  

versatilde headband sewn 2

 

versatilde headband sewn 1

 

This yarn is semi-worsted spun Romney from Solitude Wool. I got it because I’m interested in single-breed wools, and I wanted to try some samples for another project, so it was already in my stash. I was also curious how I would feel about Romney next to my face, since it’s more of a “medium” wool, rather than a super fine one like Merino. It turns out it’s totally OK (at least for me, these things are individual of course). At first I could feel a little bit of a prickle, but certainly not enough to keep me from wearing it—if it’s cold I want my ears covered! And I was surprised to find that it softened more in the first wash, so that the prickle was less noticeable. I really like this yarn; it’s wooly, sturdy, and a little bit smooth/slick, and the finished fabric has both some drape and some spring. Also, whatever processing they use, it smells the best—sheepy and soft and clean. I wouldn’t choose this yarn for underwear, but other than it that it would be good for all kinds of things.

  

versatilde headband on 2

  

My plan worked; I’ve worn this headband quite a bit. It’s especially good for cross-country skiing and hiking when the weather’s cold, since it allows some heat to escape out of the top of my head while protecting my ears from the wind, which can be vicious around here. It stays on well too. And, you know, that art-deco-meets-rustic look is really big in the woods this year, right? But seriously, I’m really pleased with how this came out, and glad I’ll have it in my wardrobe for more cold seasons to come!

 

The Star Blossom Hat, A Pattern for Solstice

A free pattern to knit and embroider.

 

embroidered-hat-1

 

I designed this hat for myself, and decided to share the pattern after a friend declared it her favorite thing I’ve ever made. It feels like a really good time to put a little bit of beauty out into the world right now. I’ve been collecting the pieces of this pattern—the photos, the drawings, the yarn specs—in spare slices of time over the past weeks, and now it’s ready to go!

The Star Blossom Hat is mainly seed stitch ribbing, shaped with short rows for a longer back to cover your ears, and designed to be long enough to turn up all around. It has a stockinette stitch top to serve as a background for some sweet and simple embroidery, reminiscent of a cherry blossom or a starburst.

Yarn

Lucky me, I had a big skein of my friend Lauren’s handspun just sitting in my stash. All I remember her telling me about it is, “It’s alpaca.” It was just waiting for this hat I think. Assuming that Lauren didn’t go into production on this and start selling it around the country without telling me, here are the characteristics you want to match in your yarn to get a similar look and feel:

•It’s worsted weight, about 9 WPI.
•It has bounce. 4” of yarn will stretch another ½”, and then easily spring back. It needs a little elasticity so the ribbing pulls in just enough to keep its shape on your head. My yarn has some drape too, like most all alpaca, which is not a drawback here, but also not necessary for this shape to work.
•It’s not too fuzzy. An alpaca yarn with a lot of “halo” effect would obscure the textured stitches and the embroidery, so opt for something fairly smooth.
•It’s a 2-ply yarn, and each ply is a slightly different (natural alpaca) color. It’s also a little bit thick-and-thin, being handspun. Neither of these characteristics is essential to the hat, but both give the texture of the stitches a little more dimension.
•It’s soft enough to comfortably touch my face.

This hat took just about exactly 130 yards of yarn. 150 yards would give you plenty for swatching and margin of error.

Spinning geek details on the original yarn for those interested:

•Angle of twist 27°
•3.5 – 5 twist bumps per inch in plied yarn
•587 yards/pound

Yarn scraps for embroidery:

These are also something I’m lucky enough to have; little bits and pieces from my grandmother’s stash which I’m pretty sure were dyed with natural materials by her or her fiber friends. You can use any scraps you have in colors you like! Or even ask your knitting friends to share and swap scraps. Embroidery is my ultimate use for tiny bits of yarn too beautiful to get rid of. These are singles (one ply) yarns, which gives the stitches a soft fuzzy look.

 

embroidered-hat-2

 

Gauge

Before blocking I got 5.5 to 6 sts/inch in seed stitch ribbing, and 5 sts/inch in stockinette.
After blocking I got 5 to 5.5 sts/inch in the ribbing (stretched slightly during blocking) and the same 5 sts/inch in stockinette.

Needles:

I think I used US size 4. I knit pretty loosely. Size 5 would probably be a more common recommendation … the point is it doesn’t matter, use the size you need to get the gauge you want!

Sizing

I have a fairly big head, and I hate hats that squish my hair (or worse, my head!). Straight around my forehead, with the measuring tape snug but not tight, measures 22.5 inches, and that’s the size I made the hat (using 5 sts/inch for math). This gives me my personal hat fit of dreams: snug enough to stay on my head, but never tight or uncomfortable. I highly recommend that you measure the hat recipient’s head and take her/his preferences into account. You may have to modify the decreases for the top a bit, but that’s a small price to pay for a hat that really fits!

Seed Stitch Ribbing

This is just so nubbly, I’ve been knitting it into everything lately. I wanted a combination of stitches that would look good on the right or wrong side, so the brim of the hat could be turned up, and this is what I came up with. The columns of ribbing are always purl knit purl, with two stitches of seed in between.

It does look a little confusing at first, so put as many markers as you need, until you can see where the ribbing columns are and which are the seed stitches that should always alternate.

embroidered-hat-seed-rib-chart

Pattern

Cast on 115 stitches (or the number you determined from your head size). You’ll need a multiple of 5 stitches for the seed stitch ribbing pattern. I used this cast on.

Bring the beginning and end of your cast on stitches together, and knit in the round, in the seed stitch ribbing pattern, until the hat measures 6 1/2 inches tall. (If you have extra yarn, you can knit further at this stage, which mean you can make a deeper turn-up in the brim of the hat when it’s done).

Short rows:

Reserve 40 stitches (or about 1/3 of your total stitches if different) which will be the center front of your hat, by placing a marker on both sides of them. Keep knitting around until you are 4 stitches away from reaching the first marker again, and then turn and knit back until you are 4 sts away from the second marker. (Remember to match the patterns to what you see on the wrong side as you work back.)
Continue to work back and forth, each time stopping 4 sts away from the last turning, until there are 5 groups of short rows or 6 “steps” on either side of center front, and about 40 sts in the middle that will be the center back. The back of the hat should measure 8 to 8 1/4 inches tall.
Work around on the right side, integrating the turning stitches. My favorite is Cat Bordhi’s “Thanks-Ma” method, which uses a clever pick up to make the “steps” basically disappear. Cat’s video explains it specifically for her sock heel, but I’ve used it on all kinds of things since learning it. Still, if you have another favorite short row method feel free to use that instead.
Then knit one more round on the right side, maintaining the patterns, to smooth everything out.

You shouldn’t need to change the numbers in this section, unless your stitch count is very different from mine. If short rows freak you out, you can also skip them altogether, and just keep knitting in the seed stitch ribbing pattern until the hat is 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches tall, depending on how much you want to turn up the brim.

 

embroidered-hat-6

 

Crown:

Switch to stockinette stitch and knit one round plain (knit every stitch). Place a marker at the beginning of your round.
Round 2: Work a K2tog (decrease 1) at every column of knit stitches from the ribbing pattern (23 times around). Or you can think of it as k2tog, knit 3, repeat around. I just think it looks nice to line up the decreases at the knit columns.
Round 3: Same as round 2 (decrease 23 sts again in the same places, or k2tog, knit 2, repeat).
Rounds 4-8: Knit these 5 rounds plain.
Round 9: Decrease at every column again (k2tog, knit 1, repeat).
Rounds 10-14: Knit these 4 rounds plain.
Round 15: knit every two stitches together all the way around (k2tog, repeat).
Rounds 16-18: Knit these 3 rounds plain.
Round 19 to finish: Continue k2tog until there are only 6 stitches left.
Break the yarn, leaving a tail, and thread the tail on a blunt needle, and through the remaining stitches, continuing in the order you would knit them. Thread the tail through the top of the hat to the inside, and pull the last stitches snugly together. Secure the yarn on the wrong side of the hat.

If your stitch count is different, I suggest trying the same number of decreases in each decrease round as you have knit columns from the ribbing, and using my spacing of plain rounds between. If that doesn’t work or you have questions feel free to get in touch, I’d be happy to help you figure it out! I unraveled my crown twice to come up with this formula. It should have a little curve (like your head), but not be too loose or floppy, to show off the embroidery.

Embroidery

I used just two stitches; the simplest running/satin stitches (in two different groupings), and Colonial knots, both which I explain in this post.

I used pins to visually mark the placement of the five knots nearest the center, and then based the other motifs on those, moving outward.

embroidered-hat-drawing-1

Tips for embroidery on knits:

Whatever stitching you add will also add some bulk and stiffness to the knitted fabric. You can minimize this by:
•Taking the shortest path on the wrong side between the end of one stitch and the beginning of the next.

embroidered-hat-drawing-2

•Stretching the fabric gently after every few stitches (minimizes puckering).
•For longer stitches between motifs on the wrong side, catching a little bit of the yarns in the fabric as you go along, so you don’t have long floats that can catch on things (I show this for yarn ends in this post).

 

embroidered-hat-5

 

That’s all, folks! I really hope you all enjoy this pattern, and if you decide to make it of course I’d love to see! It’s now up on Ravelry as well.
Take care everyone and enjoy your winter!

 

A Failed Attempt

 

It’s so tempting for our online lives to show only the bright side; just our beautiful finished projects (neatly ironed), our best ideas translated fluidly into tangible objects. I’ve definitely swept my share of failed makes under the rug, never to see the digital light of day. And actually I think that’s fine too—some things we learn from, and some we just don’t want to talk about. I’m going to talk a little bit about this one though, and see how it goes.

 

failed refashioned sweater 2

 

I had so many reasons to love this sweater and try to save it. My mom knit it for my grandma, and after my grandma passed on I took it, thinking I could turn it into something I would wear. It started out as your classic grandma Aran cardigan; white and long and covered in cables and textures, slightly too big for me, with a high neckline and little pearly buttons. Although I’m sure it could have fit right into some people’s wardrobes with minor adjustments, it made me look ridiculous. Maybe I should have stopped right there, but I have a lot of faith that things can be refashioned to work in a new wardrobe (built on a solid foundation of makes that have worked out).

My first attempt to refashion the sweater was a few years ago, and included: shrinking/felting it slightly, dyeing it with tea, widening the neckline, and knitting new bands for the bottom and cuffs. It was a fair amount of effort, and I still didn’t wear it much. It felt strange, and the strain on the neckline proved too much, the yarn started to pop in several places. Not sure what to do next, I put it in a plastic bin in the garage, and there it sat, occasionally nagging at the back of my mind.

I got it out again last fall at the start of Slow Fashion October. What could be a more appropriate project? And I had a plan, in several steps, thought out beforehand, which looked good in my head. I trust those plans and my ability to envision how they will come out.

I dyed more yarn and ribbon in tea. I stitched the ribbon in to reinforce the neckline. I shorted the body and used the extra to add a collar onto the (ridiculously wide) neck. I figured out what stitch pattern I had used before, and knit another piece for the collar, and then another one because the first one didn’t work (actually I think there were three attempts at the collar). I wasn’t convinced it was great, but I also wasn’t able to take a step back from all I had invested, and I went ahead and overdyed the whole thing  with madder, hoping for some kind of warm soft brown. It came out, well, salmon, and that’s when I was forced to take a step back.

It wasn’t just the color, it was the spottiness of the color that really got me down. I knew this could be an issue dyeing garments (even though I haven’t had many problems using tea) and I had tried to strategize against splotches, but evidently not well enough. On top of all that, it was inescapably not my style—particularly that blasted collar.

 

failed refashioned sweater 3

 

I put it down, knowing it was no good, but not emotionally ready to let it go. It’s been a while since I had a downright project failure, particularly of something that I put this much effort and planning into. I still have plenty of “um, well, I won’t do that again,” learning moments, but at this point in my creating life, the results are usually fixable, or cause just a minor inconvenience in the finished garment. I had kind of forgotten what it feels like to have to give up completely on something that I’d worked so hard on, and how it takes the wind out of your making sails for a while. I definitely felt a little intimidated to start another project after this one.

The best silver lining I can come up with so far is this: that remembering this feeling is good for me as a teacher, in the same way that remembering what it’s like to be a beginner is good for me. There’s one big difference though: being a beginner is super fun if you have confidence you’ll get there in the end, but making a failed project is still no fun at all. I do know that my present confidence and skill is built on a whole bunch of projects that didn’t go very well (to one degree or another). And I’ve reminded myself that no time is ever wasted, as long as you’re making and learning, and enjoying the process. I just finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and one of my favorite things about that book is how much she is reassuringly down-to-earth about stuff like this: everyone fails, everyone has droughts of creativity, and crises of confidence (even highly successful authors). What makes the difference is whether we can use the good parts of a bad experience to move forward, or we get so bogged down in the bad parts that we give up on this path entirely and look for another one.

Needless to say, one crummy sweater will not derail me from the path of any of the fiber arts I love. Thinking about this one still stings a bit, mostly because I can still see the potential in some parts of it … but I’ve accepted that I cannot make it into what I want, and I’m ready to put it in the charity pile, and let it go to meet its future, which whatever that may be, is not my responsibility any more. It took a couple months of the sweater sitting in the corner in our bedroom for me to get to this point. To tell the truth I think, with the benefit of a little hindsight, that the whole second attempt was doomed, because the neckline from the first attempt was beyond saving.

But now, I’m ready to take what I learned, leave the sweater behind, and move on. I still trust my instincts, and my ability to plan a project in my head before I start. These skills are built on years of experience, and usually the plan works. Even when it doesn’t, it’s another step moving me forward on a path which I believe in with my whole heart.

 

Simple Textures

Here’s what I made with that first batch of my handspun yarn.  And how to make something similar yourself, if you’re interested!

 

first handspun cowl 2

 

I really wanted something simple, that would let the (ahem, very thick-and-than-thin) nature of the yarn shine through.  But, I’m not a knitter who’s happy with endless rounds of stockinette.  No offense to those that are, but I just need a little something pattern-wise to keep my brain engaged, and let me see that I’m making progress.

My gut-instinct guess was that I’d have enough yarn to make a small but substantial cowl.  Of course, there’s no label on my handspun to let me know the yardage, but I was able to estimate how much knitting I could get from the yarn pretty successfully.  I knit a swatch in my pattern, measured the dimensions, and weighed it, so I knew about how many square inches of knitting I could get from a certain amount of yarn by weight.  Then I weighed all the yarn I had, and used that number to figure out about how many square inches of total knitting I could make from it in this pattern.  I tried on a cowl I had, and estimated how big it would need to be to comfortably fit over one’s head, and how tall I would ideally want it, and arrived at a compromise number to cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 4

 

The finished cowl is 25″ around, and 7″ tall, which turned out to be plenty big!  At my gauge of 2.5 stitches/inch, I cast on 64 stitches.  I used Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast On.  (In this yarn—yes really!  More about that here.)  I did two rows (or maybe three? Forgot to write that down …) of plain knitting to make a little roll at the bottom, then switched to my pattern; alternating blocks of four knit and four purls stitches, and switching them after 4 rounds.

Of course you could use another simple pattern for the body of the cowl.  Just make sure that the total of your pattern repeat (in my case 8 stitches) divides evenly into the number of stitches you cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 3

 

When I was getting near my estimated total height, and at the end of a pattern repeat, I knit a couple more plain rows, and then bound off, using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind-off.  I ended up using almost every bit of the yarn, which was definitely my intent!

I almost never buy yarn this chunky, so it seemed like the whole thing took about 5 seconds to knit.  In reality, it took parts of two days of traveling, and it was done!  So far, it seems like spinning is actually speeding up my production of finished knitted items, if that’s possible.  I actually have another finished handspun thing that just needs photos … and this one is off to live with someone dear to me, hopefully it will keep her neck warm this winter!

 

first handspun cowl 1

 

In the meantime, I hope this is helpful if you’re looking for something to make with a special bit of
thicker yarn, whether made by you or not!

 

 

Me-Knit Blue Sweater with Lace

Plus some tips for finishing hand knits.

 

blue talamh sweater 2

 

First things first: stop press!  I finished the sweater which I started knitting in Me-Made-May this year!  Between times when I made a real effort to work on it at least an hour a day while on the road, and times when I was back at home and pretty much ignoring it completely, it averaged out to just about 6 months start to finish.  And I’m fine with that, I mean, it’s hand-knitting an entire sweater.

 

blue talamh sweater 5

 

An entire sweater which I’m pretty much totally in love with.  This is the Talamh pattern by Carol Feller.  I wanted a pattern with some lace, but also some edgyness, some modernity, and I thought the lace pattern she used really fit the bill.  I added the wide lace section to the center back (it looks awesome, right?) but otherwise actually made fewer changes than I normally do when I’m knitting someone else’s pattern.  If you’re interested, I decided to keep those notes on Ravelry this time, feel free to check them out!

 

blue talamh sweater 3

 

In this space, aside from how pleased I am with this project, I thought I’d share a bit about finishing, specifically sewing in a ribbon for stabilization around the neck (which totally saved this sweater!) and how I “weave in” yarn ends.

 

Adding grosgrain ribbon

As I was blocking this sweater (basically just getting it wet, stretching the lace out a bit, and smoothing out bumps before letting it dry) I decided to try putting it over my dress form (if it’s good enough for Kate Davies, it’s good enough for me!).  But the sweater kept slipping down, and, rather than pin it up every inch or so, I decided to let it dry flat.  Well, after it was dry and I tried it on in front of the mirror, the same thing happened.  The join between the body and the sleeves is a bit low anyway (my fault, and one of only two things I’d probably change if I make a sweater like this again).  As the neckline stretched wider, the underarms and the whole rest of the sweater sagged downward until it looked fairly ridiculous, at which point I’d tug the neck up again.  Clearly, the loose-ish ribbing at the top was not enough to hold the rest of the sweater in place.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 3

 

I had stabilized various parts of other sweaters with ribbon before, and it occurred to me that I could try it here.  I opened the drawer where I keep bits of ribbon, and there were two lovely grosgrain sections, probably salvaged from recycled sweaters, that both almost matched perfectly!  And each was a width to fit under part of the ribbing on the sweater.  Call it good karma for using up this yarn I’ve had for ages, or proof that if you save the good stuff, it does actually come in handy later.

Pinning the sweater inside out on my dress form to hold it in place, I shaped the ribbon around the curves and steamed it lightly to match them.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 1

 

Note that in order to curve nicely like this, you need authentic grosgrain ribbon, the kind with the bumpy edges, where the thick yarns in it are free to move a bit.  “Grosgrain” ribbon from your local big box store often has tight edges, which are fine for straight sections, but won’t curve worth a darn.

grosgrain ribbon

 

I bought sewing thread to match my yarn as closely as possible, and sewed the ribbon on with tiny whip stitches, at the edge where the ribbing meets the first plain knitting section.  After trying on the sweater to check that it was working, I put it back on the dress form inside out, and sewed around the top edge of the ribbon as well.  If you do this, don’t pull the sewing stitches too tight, just try to keep the ribbon softly snug to the sweater, and not to distort the knitting.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 2

 

This worked so well!  Like magic, my sweater now stays in place, just where I want it, and the ribbon is basically invisible from the outside.

 

Finishing yarn ends

There were quite a lot of ends in this sweater, mostly because I’ve had this yarn for over a decade (!).  Part of that time was before I knew how to deal with moths, and the outside of a few of the skeins got rather munched early on, leading to extra breaks in the yarn, and weak places that I decided to treat the same as breaks (ie, not use them, and leave the tails to work in later).  I usually tie the ends or the break/place I don’t want to use into a slipknot, just to keep a little tension on the yarn as I’m knitting around it.

 

finishing knitting 1

 

I’m sure there are other good methods for burying yarn ends, this is mine.  Keeping the tail going in the direction it was headed, I take a short stitch, then a tiny back stitch to anchor the thread, followed by a tunneling of the yarn along the back of the existing stitches.

Don’t pull tightly, or you’ll pucker the knitted fabric.  Leave enough yarn tail so that as the sweater stretches, the tail can move without catching or distorting anything.

Maybe my best tip is to use a needle with a big enough eye to hold the yarn, but a very sharp tip, making it easy to pierce just the backs of stitches, and keep the yarn tails out of sight.  My absolute favorite are “Chenille” needles from John James, available at fine sewing and embroidery stores.

With each end, take one short stitch, catching just the back of the knitting stitches:

 

finishing knitting 2

 

Followed by a tiny backstitch, which functions like a knot to keep the yarn in place.  I start just behind where the last stitch ended, and then continue skimming along the backs of the knitting stitches for the length of the needle. In a stockinette fabric like this, the purl “bumps” make handy diagonals, good directions to hide yarn without it showing on the outside.

If you’re particularly worried about this part of the knitting getting stress or pulling out, (or your yarn is slippery) you could take another short stitch and back stitch, then the long burying stitch. That should hold it!

 

finishing knitting 3

 

If at any point you’re unsure if a stitch might be showing on the public side, just check.  One good thing about stitches is that they’re reversible.

Note that the ends should go in opposite directions, at least with the first short stitch.  Take them in the direction they’d pull from if you kept knitting, so that the two ends cross, rather than pull away from each other.

 

finishing knitting 4

 

On garment edges, a good place to bury ends is often along columns of ribbing.

 

finishing knitting 6

 

When you’re finished, trim the ends so that enough remains on the back for the end to stay there, and not poke through to the front.

That’s about it for now.  Just in case you’re wondering, I did make those matching buttons, and I’ll post about them soon too.  I hope this is helpful, and just let me know if you have more knitting/finishing questions!

 

A Hedgehog Anemone Hat

Plus, another way to fluff up knitted tendrils.

 

hedgehog hat outside 2

 

I know—what??  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please bear with me for a minute.

First, the hat.  This is one of Cat Bordhi’s designs, the Arctic Anemone Hat.  It just looked SO fun to knit, I really wanted to make one.  But I couldn’t see myself wearing it . . . I could see my mom wearing it, though.  She loves all kinds of sea creatures, hedgehogs, and plants with unusual spiny pods—so it definitely fits her aesthetic.  I had planned it as a surprise, but it ended up being so much better that I told her (when she was thinking about knitting one); I got to ask her what color she wanted, and get her to try it on as I went, and consult her about design details.  We decided to make the tendrils a little shorter, more like hedgehog quills, which I think went well with the grey color.

 

hedgehog hat outside 1

 

This was such a win-win.  The hat was every bit as fun to make as I thought it would be, from the moebius band (yes you can knit a moebius strip—from the inside out) to making the tendrils, it was a blast.  And, my mom loves it!  It looks so cute on her, too.  Actually, it looked really cute on every single one of my relatives who tried it on.  I knit this hat mainly on our Thanksgiving trip, so all my relations saw it in progress, and wanted to try it on when I finished.  However, Mom hates having her picture taken almost as much as she likes unusual creatures, so I decided to photograph the hat in the natural environment.

The only reason I got it back for long enough to photograph it at all, is that Cat’s directions suggest you use a superwash wool (one that’s been treated so that it won’t felt) and fluff up the tendrils by running it through the dryer.  I have a dryer, and mom doesn’t.  This definitely worked.

Before:

hedgehog hat before fluffing

After:

hedgehog hat after fluffing

 

But after fluffing, I began to wonder if there was another way to do it.  I’m a fan of untreated wool, and I wondered if I could get some tendrils to fluff up by steaming them.  After all, what’s happening in the dryer is: dampness, heat, and agitation.  I tried it out on a sample, knit with organic, not-superwash wool yarn.  This worked too!

Before:

tendril sample before fluffing

After:

tendril sample after fluffing

It might not produce quite the fluffiness of the dryer method (keep in mind that the yarn I used was also not as thick), but it wonder if the tendrils would continue to fluff up a bit with washing and wear?  I got the best results by using my iron—not touching the tendrils, but holding it above them and putting on lots of steam for a few seconds.  Then I picked up the sample, and, holding it upside down, gently scrunched and shuffled the tendrils around.  I decided on upside-down because the tendrils tended to wilt downwards with all the steam.  It also seemed to help some that were reluctant to fluff up if I sprayed them with a little water from my plant/laundry mister, then steamed and scrunched.

At least with my sample, it would have required a nearly impossible amount of effort to felt anything using the steam, and gentle fluffing.  However, wool + water (usually much more than this) + heat + agitation does = felt, so be advised.  I would agitate the base of the hat as little as possible while it’s steamy, just concentrate on moving the tendrils around and scrunching them up.

sweet tomato knee socks frontOne more note: in honor of knitting more lately, and knitting something that was so fun without even changing the pattern very much at all, I have finally decided to stop lurking Ravelry and using it only as the world’s absolute best pattern search (you can be shocked, I don’t blame you).  I’ve gone back and posted some of my favorite knitted projects from the past few years, whatever I could think of that I still had and/or had pictures of, and there are a few more of those still to add.  I even posted a few yarns from my stash that might find a better home.  If you’re on Ravelry too, come and say hi, I’m FrenchToastTasha.

Even if not, happy making!  I suggest making something that’s just plain fun to create, at least every once in a while.

Convertible Knitted and Felted Mittens

In which I remodel my mittens to make them better than ever, and show you how to calculate shrinkage when felting your knitting.

 

purple mittens finished 2

 

My friend Tom once commented that many of my clothes have stories behind them, and these mittens are no exception!  In fact, I’m going to tone it down here, story-wise, and stick to only the most interesting and relevant of the many angles I could go for.

 

A Very Short History of the Original Mittens

I started knitting these as my take-along project on our trip to Italy in February of 2010.  I knitted the main parts from yarns that we dyed the first time I ever did natural dyeing, with my grandmother and a bunch of dear family members in 2008.  (I’m telling you, I’m skipping  a lot of stories here).  My goal was glove fingers for finer dexterity, that could also be covered by a mitten flip-top for extra warmth.  Typically for me, I consulted a few patterns, but didn’t end up really using any of them.  I didn’t have enough purple for the fingers and the flap, and because I love purple and green together (one of my favorite color combos for the hats) I decided to get green yarn.  No one else was impressed with this decision, and I can now admit that one of my students at the time probably put it best when she said they looked like “dead fingers.”  So, moving on, when I discovered that they were too slippery to drive in, I sewed on a bunch of patches from faux suede samples in different colors.  Ignoring whether or not this made the green fingers look any better, and also the fact that all the fingers had come out too short after felting, I wore them all the time, all over the place, skiing, shoveling snow, etc., through last winter.  By the end of that season, one of the fingers had developed a rather large (and cold) hole in the end.

 

purple mittens before

 

A Plan for New and Improved Mittens

When I got them out this fall for the season, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do more than just fix the hole.  You see, if I was going to fix the hole, it made way more sense to knit on a little more finger, so that it would be actually the right length.  And, it would be ridiculous to do that for only one finger.  And, if I did it for the rest of the fingers, I would either have more green fingers or an even more ridiculous color mash-up than before.  I decided to start over on the fingers, and this time, do the math.

As fate would have it, last winter I sent my blog friend Alessa some American patterns, and she sent me some yarn and other lovely stuff from Germany (these mittens really are more full of stories than average, even for me).  Thanks Alessa!  One skein of the yarn (on the left below) was a lovely variegated purple in 100% alpaca.  Alpaca felts like a dream, and is just as soft felted as not.  I saw it in my yarn bin and knew it would be perfect for new fingers.

 

package from AlessaIs that not the most-awesome-looking tin of chocolate?

 

How to Calculate Shrinkage for Felting Knitting

Lots of times I tell my students that knitting can either be all math; full of charts, calculations, and exact numbers of stitches, or no math at all; flowing along and decreasing when it looks right to you.  In my mind, the happiest mix is somewhere in the middle.  When you’re felting, it really helps to have a least a little math, which comes from making a sample in your intended yarn and measuring how much it shrinks, especially if you need it to come out a certain size.  (I neglected to do this for the first fingers, and you saw how that went.)

I started out with a tighter gauge, then decided to increase my needle size, because looser knitting will felt faster (you can see from the before and after that it also affects the percentage of shrinkage).  I’m using two strands of the yarn since it was fairly fine, and I wanted the fingers to be nice and thick and warm when finished.  You don’t have to take a photo, but do measure and draw around your sample.  Also make a note of how many stitches are in your sample, they will disappear into the felted texture and you won’t be able to tell later.  (This is about the smallest sample that will give you an accurate idea.)

Before felting:

purple mittens sample before

After felting:  (As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge if you wish.)

purple mittens sample after

 

Here’s the math part, it’s not too scary: divide the felted measurement by the unfelted measurement, to get the percent of the original measurement after shrinking.  F/U = %  I did this across my various measurements and got an average of 79% for the width, 84% for the height.  I wanted both, because I had noticed when felting the fingers the first time that they wanted to shrink more in height than in width, no matter how I stretched them out, which meant that I had not added enough extra knitting in that dimension.

Now that you have your percentage, apply it like this (there was algebra involved but I did it for you): the unfelted measurement (the one you want so that you know how much to knit before it shrinks) equals the felted measurement (how big you want it to end up) divided by your percentage of shrinkage (.79 or .84 in my example).  U = F/%  Clear as mud?  Try it, you’ll see what I mean.  You end up with a number a bit bigger than the felted/finished number you put in.  You can check it by putting it back in the first formula and see if you get the right percentage.

For my finished/felted measurements, I used the width of the previous fingers (by now chopped off), which I liked, and measured the height of my fingers sticking out of the mittens, adding a little extra for the thick knitted fabric to go over the top.  I calculated the unfelted measurements, then used the gauge from my sample to figure out how many stitches to use for each finger.  You can’t have a fraction of a stitch, so round up or down, whichever is closer or you want to err on the side of.  I knit until each finger was about the calculated unfelted height, erring on the side of a bit extra at the top, which turned out to be a good idea!

Just in case, I made one finger as test (the index finger on the right below) and felted it before knitting the others.  It came out great.

purple mittens unfelted fingersEven though the old fingers were felted on, I was able to snip the green stitches and pull them out, leaving the purple ones which I could pick up and knit from.  It helped that the palms never got totally felted.

Other Improvements

The thumbs were too short as well, plus worn mostly through in one spot from gripping.  And having only one layer of knitting (the part between the thumb and palm where the stitches tend to stretch open no less) meant that my thumbs were sometimes cold.  I fixed all that.  At this point, there was no stopping.  Since the thumbs were somewhat loose, I decided to knit inner layers for them.  I thought that I might need to slash the top of the mitten flap and extend it too, but after felting the fingers, it fit snugly over them, which would be warm, and I could add a bit of ribbing on the palm side for a little more length and to help hold the flap down.  Neither of these new additions would be felted, and both were small, so this was the no-math part.  I made adjustments visually, pulling something out if it didn’t seem right, and tried on the thumbs a lot to fit the shape to my hand.

 

purple mittens knitting extras  This may be hard to believe, but according to my notes, the wool I used for the new ribbing is the same as the original flap and thumb!  So it has definitely faded with sun and wear and washing.  Fortunately I like both colors.

 

A Minor Miracle of Purple Suede

Finally, I needed something for grip on the fingers and palms.  (I’m telling this story whole, it’s a good one.)  I want to be able to drive and grab ski poles and my keys, etc., and I didn’t want to go back to the multicolored bits of Ultrasuede.  I briefly considered using some light green suede elbow patches I got along with a sweater for recycling . . . and was fortunately dissuaded by friends.  What I ideally wanted was something that would match the mittens.

Almost on a whim, I dropped into a rather old-school shop downtown, which sells saddles and leather and a few seemingly random bolts of blanket wool and skeins of rug yarn.  I remembered that the last time I was there, over a decade ago, they had a bin of leather and suede scraps, and I thought if they still did, I might be able to find something close.  I was the only one in the little shop, not too long before closing, and the woman working said that no, they didn’t have any scraps.  I had the mittens with me, I showed her what I wanted to do.  Suede and leather started at half a hide for $24, there were black and green and red . . . and at the end of the rack, four smaller, scrappier pieces, all in dusky, slightly mottled shades of purple.  Not just purple, four distinct purples that each were so exactly what I needed that they looked like they were dyed to coordinate with the mittens, and left on the end of the rack by magic.  “Oh,” she said, “You could use those!  They’re $9 each.  We sold all the red, all the black . . .”  Hardly believing my good fortune, I picked the color I liked best out of the thicker two (two were quite thin), paid for it, and practically skipped down the street towards my car.  A few times, when I’ve been intensely searching for a supply I cannot find, probably which doesn’t exist, I’ve dreamt that I went into a shop and found exactly that thing, only to wake up disappointed.  This is the only time, so far, it’s ever happened in my waking life.  I have a rather large piece of somewhat smelly purple suede left in my studio to prove it!

 

purple mittens finished 5

purple mittens finished 3

 

I love love love these mittens.  I finished sewing on the suede over our family Thanksgiving trip, and just in time too, when we got back our town had a major cold snap, not getting above freezing at any time for over a week, unlike our usual mountain cold nights but mild days.  I’ve worn these cross-country skiing, I wore them to art walk downtown at night (during the below-freezing week), shoveling snow, driving, and never one cold finger have I had!  Felted alpaca is like little down blankets for your fingers.  I can easily wriggle my fingers out of the mitten top for fine tasks without using the other hand.   Having placed the suede patches where the wear was on the old fingers, plus the part of my palm that I use when I grip things—surprise!—they are in the perfect spots.  I recommend the inside of the thumb especially.

 

purple mittens finished 4

 

If you want to make your own version, I’d start with a glove pattern you like.  Either refer to a flip-top mitten pattern, or make up the flap as you go (Basically:  I picked up sts across the back of the hand, cast on across the front and did a few rounds of short rows for a curved shape, joined everything into a round and knit, decreasing following the shape of the fingers underneath).

I realize that I haven’t talked about the actual felting, in fact that felting is probably the thing I know the most about that appears the least on this blog.  Maybe I’ll do something about that in 2014.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about making mittens or felting in general, feel free to let me know!

Happy Solstice, everyone!

 

purple mittens finished 1