Friday, January 07, 2011

Hat Hat Hat!

Watchcaps for my daughter and her boyfriend. The one on the right has been blocked. The one on the left, just finished being knitted, still looks somewhat like a mushroom. After soaking for a while in a sink of water and some Eucalan, it will relax and look more hat-like.

Knitting something over and over, with the same kind of yarn, is probably a rarity these days. As a result, it is unusual for me to get to know how a yarn behaves, how it responds to the amount of tension or lack of such that occurs when I knit, how it changes when it's blocked or worn for a while.

These hats are an exception. I've knit this pattern at least five or six times before. It's been the go-to pattern for a winter hat for my husband and daughters, who have managed to wear it, felt it accidentally, lose it, or wear it out. It's the International Seafarers Ministry watch cap with cuff: an authentic, British sailor hat (scroll down to the bottom of the page to get to the patterns). 

A good, honest watch cap with a deep cuff. And I've made all but two out of Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool. No longer such an easy yarn to find. But just right for this project: a DK weight, but not a superwash wool, so it feels a little bit stiff and well, honest. I love wool, and I can't get used to the acrylic feel of a superwash.

Here's another one, for my other daughter's boyfriend. (The Leinenkugel is just an artsy backdrop and bears no message.)
So, what happens when you knit the same thing many times, with the same yarn?

1. As the Yoga Sutra-s say, you move from the first stage of learning how to do something - when everything is awkward and takes a lot of thought - toward a state of ease, when the activity feels like second-nature. (Think about learning to ride a bike.) I can actually knit this hat and hold a conversation at the same time. (Though it's still awfully nice for watching Say Yes to the Dress.)

2. You learn about your habits. Especially gauge. Over time, my gauge has gotten looser and looser. I worked the brown hat up the same as the ones from the past, and it came out larger, looser, and used more yarn. On the same size needles and with the same number of stitches as the hats done a few years ago.

3. You learn new habits. When I showed the result to a teacher at the knitting store, she immediately sat me down and had me show her how I hold the yarn. No one, despite the number of people I've mentioned my loose gauge to, have ever suggested that. (I knit my Mimimalist Cardigan in Rown Felted Tweed on a size 2 bamboo circ. On Ravelry, most knitters are using a size seven or eight for the same pattern and yarn....) Turns out that, in this case, it's good to have tension. Who knew? The teacher showed me how to wrap the yarn around my pinkie and then over my index finger, instantly giving me more control and placing the yarn at more tension. The result: I soon was knitting so tightly that I couldn't move the stitches on the needle. I've found a halfway point by now, so that the knitting is tighter but not that tight. I'd always heard that you can't change your gauge, only your needle size. Not true, apparently.

Now I'm onto either something for me, or another hat, or a pair of Komi mittens for my husband (it's National Knit Mittens Month. Truly.Here's the official pattern.) . I gave away both pair of Brushed Suri fingerless mitts knit in December for holiday presents, and sent my old pair off with my daughter, who has a cold apartment and lots of studying to do. I'd like to knit up a new pair fast - but am trying to be more environmentally-conscious by using up what I already own, which is not the yarn I used for either pair. See, new learning curve: don't want it after the old-shoe comfort of knitting a familiar pattern with a familiar yarn.

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