A Tale of Two Hats


We interrupt this series of “flashback” posts to bring you a brand-new FO. I finished Ysolda’s Cairn last week, and am tickled to be one of the first people to knit it. I didn’t make the mitts, and the hat wasn’t for myself, but it was for somebody whose head was approximately my size so I am modeling it in the above photo. (You can also see some of the surprisingly-rural-for-southern-California view from my balcony here.)

I knit it with Koigu Kersti, in colors K304 and K2420. It was a long and arduous search to find a DK-weight merino yarn that had a “mottled gray” colorway, but the mottled gray was something I couldn’t compromise on for reasons I’ll get to in a minute, and the merino was something that I wouldn’t compromise on because I’m always afraid when I knit gifts for non-knitters that they will be turned off by wool that is the slightest bit scratchy. It turned out to be a great choice. The yarn looks to me to be a three-ply, where each of the three plies is itself made of three super-skinny plies (I don’t know if this just called a 9-ply or what), but the end result is a yarn that is super-durable while having a sort of rugged texture perfect for manly knits.

A few months ago, my friend G. contacted me wanting to know if I could knit a replica of her boyfriend’s favorite hat, which she had borrowed and lost. Here’s the picture she sent me, with faces cropped to protect the innocent:


I informed her that, sadly, I could not knit a replica because it looked to me like her boyfriend’s hat was woven, not knit. But with the help of some friendly Ravelers, I was pointed to the wonderful world of slip-stitch patterns, and was able to tell G. that while I couldn’t knit something exactly the same, I could knit something that was sort of inspired by the original. I had made some vague mental plans to adapt the stitch pattern from Interweave Knits’ Windowpane Socks into hat form, but that was going to be a serious pain in the ass. Magically, a few weeks ago, Ysolda released Cairn and I realized it was perfect. Unlike the Windowpane Socks pattern, it’s not trying too hard to mimic the original, but it’s the sort of hat that a guy who liked the original hat ought to also like. I mailed it off to G. and she reports that they both love it, and are planning to repay me (and my boyfriend, who took the lovely photo above) in hospitality when we go to San Francisco in a few weeks for spring break. Score!


The Worst Hat Ever

The Worst Hat Ever has never before been seen by human eyes — unless you count mine, that is. Too embarrassing to ever be posted to my Ravelry profile, it lives in a dark corner of my stash drawer whispering warnings about the dangers of Fun Fur. Like so many of the worst projects ever, it was originally intended as a gift. Why is it, fellow knitters, that our generous impulses sometimes blind us to the realities of texture and palette that make some yarn choices objectively terrible? He loves the LA Lakers, so I will make him a purple and yellow scarf. It will be so fun and different! Ahem.

If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ll remember that when we last left our heroine (five years ago), she had just learned to knit and had successfully made a cabled hat and a drop-stitch scarf in addition to her first lovable-mutant garter scarf. Well, I got so high on those successful projects that I immediately decided I was capable of designing my own damn hat, and returned from the local craft shop with a skein of Lion Brand Homespun, two skeins of Lion Brand Wool-Ease, and one hideous skein of Fun Fur. I made a gauge swatch like a good little monkey, cast on an appropriate number of stitches, and improvised away. I even attached a little flower to the thing, following the instructions from the Head Huggers pattern in Stitch and Bitch Nation. Et voila:


It doesn’t look that bad, lying there demurely next to my toaster oven. It was envisioned as a gift for A., my best female friend from college. The qualifier “female” is important, because I was (and still am) one of those girls who has a million male friends and only a handful of female ones. (My knitting circle injects the largest single dose of estrogen into my social life most weeks, which is one reason that I love it so.)

The whole idea of the hat was to be ridiculous, and I certainly accomplished that aim. A. has a, shall we say, unique sense of fashion that juxtaposes thrift-store finds in unlikely combinations, and I thought that a wacky, one-of-a-kind hat with a flower on it might be exactly up her alley. But the Fun Fur was my downfall. Observe:


Though endearingly wacky in principle, a hat made with Fun Fur when worn on an actual human head causes one to look like a deranged Muppet. Even through my generosity-clouded eyes, I was able to perceive this more or less immediately. I had completed the hat just in time for a camping trip that A. and I had planned that summer, which would be our first significant time together since I had graduated the previous spring. The camping trip was great — in addition to successfully climbing a mountain, successfully lighting a fire, and successfully not getting eaten by bears, we also successfully crashed a motorcycle convention by jumping the fence and successfully got served free whiskey at said convention by the bartender we’d met at a local saloon earlier that weekend. Throughout this entire trip, The Worst Hat Ever lurked in my backpack, waiting for the right moment to be unleashed on the unsuspecting recipient. Ultimately, I decided not to ruin A’s weekend by forcing her to accept such a questionable gift. After all, it’s tough to fit in at a motorcycle convention when you look like an escapee from the Sesame Street Psychiatric Hospital.

My First Scarf (and Other Love-Fueled Mistakes)

I know I alleged in my previous post that I would be keeping the “personal” writing and the “knitting” writing separate, but the more I thought about writing about my past knitting projects, the more I realized that these were going to be stories about me, not just stories about what yarn I chose and how difficult or easy the pattern was. Knitting has become for me — as I expect it has for a lot of you other knitters out there in cyberland — a way of framing time; I have certain vivid memories associated with the knitting of certain pieces, and that is what I’m going to try to describe in this series of posts.

I have no pictures of my first scarf, but you don’t really need to see it. It was a big old garter-stitch monstrosity, as all of them are, but mine was even wonkier than most. See, it took me a long time to figure out how to maintain a consistent stitch count. I kept mistaking the flipped-over stitch at the start of the row for two stitches, so the scarf had a big ugly bubble at one end, where the stitch count ballooned from 30 to something like 50 — and when I figured out what had happened, I was too afraid to rip back so I just looked up “decreasing” online and gradually brought the stitch count back to a respectable 35 or so.

The scarf was blue. Cookie-Monster blue, chosen on purpose for MJ, who I was dating at the time and who loved Cookie Monster and the Denver Broncos. I had wanted to learn how to knit since my college days in upstate New York, but I was always too shy to ask anyone to teach me. After college I moved to southern California for grad school, and early in my second quarter some of my friends started up a knitting circle and proclaimed themselves willing to teach all comers. So I went to Michael’s and selected the Cookie Monster yarn, priding myself on being clever enough to read the label and buy appropriately-sized needles. What I didn’t know, of course, was that Lion Brand Homespun is a boucle yarn and thus not a great choice for beginners. But my friends taught me patiently and I was off to the races.

You see, MJ lived in Pittsburgh, where it was cold. And Valentine’s Day was coming, and I couldn’t imagine a better thing to give him than my very first scarf, wonky bubble and all. I knit slowly and dutifully every night, often while drinking wine and listening to mix CDs I’d been given over the years by various friends. I didn’t hesitate to take my knitting to campus with me, knitting on park benches between classes while listening to Alison Krauss sing on my iPod:

And the people who love me still ask me
“When are you coming back to town?”
And I answer quite frankly,
“When they stop building roads
And all God needs is gravity to hold me down”

When my parents put me on the plane to California, only about four months before I started that scarf, I surprised myself by crying like a baby when I said goodbye to them and continuing to cry all the way through security and all the way onto the plane — people must have thought I was crazy. Sitting on those park benches in the beautiful 70-degree weather in January, spending my first warm winter someplace where the snow couldn’t get me and thinking about my family and friends and boyfriend back east, I felt very far from home. They were scraping ice off their cars and shoveling their driveways while I walked to class in flip-flops. I felt guilty — for being warm while they were cold, and also, I suppose, for leaving them. The next three things I knitted — which I also don’t have pictures of — were all for friends from college who were still stuck in upstate New York. They were:

“Hot Head” from Stitch and Bitch: Such a disaster that the intended recipient never, in fact, received it. I followed the instructions just fine, but let’s just say this was the project where I learned what a gauge swatch was and why you would want to bother making one. Also, why would any knitter in her right mind not knit a hat in the round? I was attracted to the pattern as a novice because I was afraid of DPNs and circulars, but I really wish that Debbie Stoller had just said, “Tough. You want to knit hats, you learn to knit in the round.”

“Basic Cable” from Stitch and Bitch Nation: This was for my best guy friend from college and no, I didn’t make the pom-pom. It was in black and red Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted, and I did use circulars and DPNs, and it came out just fine. But a million silent thanks were sent to the lady at the yarn store who helped me understand why I needed a 16″ circular needle and not the 32″ one I’d brought up to the counter.

“Yo. Drop It!” also from SnBN: I made this for my best girlfriend from college; I chose a wonderfully non-girly ribbon yarn in camouflage colors and I was really happy with the result. In my next post, you can read more about her, about why non-girly yarn was important, and you can feast your eyes on the never-before-seen Worst Hat Ever Made that I never got the nerve to actually give her.

What’s On the Needles

Hello, world. Welcome to my knitting-and-maybe-also-personal blog. Once upon a time, I had a personal blog at a site that shall go unmentioned, but I outgrew the need to write about teenage drama and romantic turmoil and I left that blog mostly neglected for several years. In this here frankenblog, I hope to simultaneously give voice to my growing desire to blather about my knitting adventures, and rekindle the love I once had for writing cleverly about all the fabulously interesting things that I do. These presently include: writing a dissertation about poetry and phenomenology, playing the flute in a rock and roll band, lifting weights in a fairly serious (but certainly noncompetitive) manner, going to Burning Man, and, yes, knitting and halfassedly crocheting. Aren’t you intrigued? Don’t you want to keep reading?

Good. This will be a knitting post, though — and for now, at least, I’m planning to keep my “knitting” posts and my “personal” posts separate, because while I fantasize that my knitting friends will be interested in my life-writing, I don’t in a million years imagine that my non-knitting friends will be interested in looking at a bunch of pictures of half-finished socks.

I figure the first thing any knitter will want to know is what I am currently working on, so this post will cover those things. A series of future posts will discuss some of my past knitting adventures, so you can get a sense of where I’ve been in addition to where I’m going.

Priority 1:

cairnwip1 This doesn’t look like much right now, but it’s Ysolda‘s brand-new Cairn. A few months ago, a friend of mine wrote me in distress, saying that she’d borrowed and lost her boyfriend’s favorite hat and she neeeded me to knit a replacement. I was in the middle of my Christmas knitting and said I could get to it in the new year, and when Ysolda released this pattern last week I knew it was perfect. The original hat was un-replicatable, at least for a knitter — it seemed to be woven. Ysolda’s new pattern evokes woven-ness while actually being quite distinct from the original article, allowing me to knit a hat that is “inspired by” the original without actually trying to copy it, which would certainly be a doomed effort. The yarn is Koigu Kersti, which I came to after a long and arduous search for a DK-weight merino yarn (it had to be soft!) that offered a “mottled gray” color like the original hat had featured. So far it’s going well!

Priority 2: woodsmokewip

Anne Carson‘s newish Woodsmoke Sock. I discovered Anne’s work with the Winter issue of Knitty and have been a devoted fan of her designs and her blog for the past month or so. She boggles my mind — it seems like every other week she is banging out a new, fabulous pattern. The yarn here is Fearless Fibers‘ lovely Tight Twist Superwash Merino in the “flame” colorway, which is so gorgeous I can hardly stand it. I love the yarn and the pattern to pieces, but I must confess– these socks are breaking my brain. My new knitting challenge to myself in the new year is to try more lace projects, and I’ve had some success, but the chart for these things (while very clear!) is massive and tough to follow. I’ve put these on hold until the chartkeeper that I’ve ordered from Knit Picks comes in the mail. It should also be noted that I do basically 100% of my knitting while in front of the television AND while drinking, which makes my whole lace-resolution seem like a bad idea. (I have to multi-task my free time; being a grad student is basically a 12-hour-a-day job.) But I am confident I will succeed, with the help of the magical chartkeeper. Yea verily.

Priority 3:

elmrowwip Now, this is a lace project I can get behind. This is another Anne Carson pattern; it’s Elm Row. I only cast on two repeats of the lace pattern because I’m doing this project to use up some leftover yarn. The yarn is yet another Fearless Fibers creation– it’s the Laceweight Merino in the “brunette” colorway. Someday in the not-so-distant future I will show you the lovely project that the bulk of this yarn went to. I considered this my first “real” lace project, and I started it while on a meditation retreat because I thought it would benefit from my increased concentration, but it has turned out to actually be quite easy compared to the Woodsmoke Socks.

That’s all for now. Tune in next time to see and laugh at some of the ill-advised things that I knit when I was just starting out. Fun for the whole family!