Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Struggle Was Worth It...Well, Mostly

So I've been wanting a "real" hat for years. And by "real" I mean a hat that doesn't look knitted or crocheted. I have plenty of hats that I made, ranging from simple ski caps to intricate lace patterns and they are fine, ostensibly. But I've always admired a lovely, wool, felt hat --- even had a couple when I was first in college. One thing I remember is, hot damn, they are expensive to buy. I think I got the two that I had on an off-season clearance sale from a hat store (Hats in the Belfry, on South Street in Philly). We're talking about 23 years ago too.

Heh, didn't even think Hats in the Belfry existed anymore, but it's still there. And, lo and behold, felted wool hats are still VERY expensive, by my standards. I can't afford to plop down $140+ for a simple felted cloche. Seasonally, it seems the wool ones will go down in price. But even still, $78 is too rich for my blood.

So last month, I finally decided to embark on a project to make a felted wool cloche with my own hands. I used two different wool yarns that I had in my stash, so it literally cost me nothing except time to make it.  But boy did it take time. This is the pattern I used. I, of course, altered it because, well, that's just what I do. I seem to never be equipped to knit a thing directly and exactly as outlined in a pattern. In this case, my yarn gauges were: dark gray Wool of the Andes bulky & American Beauty red Malabrigo worsted, not DK (and yay me for choosing two different gauges as well). I also felt like it looked too tall --- almost Cat-In-the-Hat-ish. So I reduced the number of overall rounds.

The actual knitting part was not too bad. Yes, it is knit ginormous. Like ridiculously large. You look like Dumb Donald when you try it on. And, indeed, I felt like Dumb Donald for taking on this project. Then the only other instructions are to basically felt the living shit out of it until you end up with something that fits your head.

"Godammit this cannot be right...."

Below is a picture of the pre-felted hat compared to another hat I knit in a lacy pattern. I wear this lacy hat all the time. (By the way, here's that pattern.) I knit it with cashmere and it feels lovely and is warm as hell...literally, I suppose. I might have to retire it soon, though, because I've worn it straight for 3 winters in a row now. It has worn like IRON, surprisingly. But I should have it dry cleaned and put away so that I don't wear it out completely. Anyway, here's the comparison:

I was happy with the color combination. The gray and red (and it's an unusual red, almost a red orange) have a sort of classic, bygone-era look to it, which is what I was going for. I wanted this cloche to look like someone lovingly stored it in a cedar chest since 1928.

Well to achieve that look took a metric ass-ton of work. Knitting took, off and on, about three days. But the felting was, well, pretty much a whole weekend, if you count the time to felt the hat AND make and felt the tie that goes around it (see pictures below). I have a front-loading washer and dryer and by all accounts felting in a front-loader is not an easy task. Also, since this is a wearable item, size matters. It's not exactly easy to gauge what's happening to the knitted fabric if the hat is in a washing machine for an hour. So, hand-felting it was.

I spent a good 90 minutes (or more) standing over the sink in my kitchen and a tub of scalding hot water to get the first round of felting done. Aaaand it didn't look all that much different:

"Great. This is going to be harder than I thought." So I spent another hour working the fabric with hot water and rubbing it between my hands. This is one time when wearing rubber gloves actually helps the process go faster. Starting to see more of a difference, right? Maybe? A little? BETTER SAY YES, DAMMIT! Whimper....

My arms, hands, and back were killing me by this point. I went to Ravelry to see what others had done with their felting. Some of the suggestions were just not going to happen. I wasn't about to take everything and a roll of quarters to a laundromat and use a washing machine there on a Saturday. Come on. Someone else suggested that it's the heat more so than the agitation that will shrink the size down and to toss the hat in the dryer for "a bit" on high heat. So that's what I did. I did it for an hour. Went to check on it. Still very wet and the same size. Another 30 minutes. Checked it again. Pretty much the same. Another 45 minutes. Starting to look and feel drier, but the size wasn't doing much.  Gave it another 30 minutes. Starting to budge now! Another 40 minutes. It was mostly dry by this point and I could see that it looked more like felt and less like stockinette (yay!) and I did see a difference in the size too. And I was also really flippin' tired from running up and down steps all afternoon.

But running it through the dryer created another problem. It was nearly the right size (still not where I wanted it --- too tall) but it had no real shape or style to it.  It looked like a misshapen, upside-down bowl. Not happy. Also, because it was nearly bone dry by this point too, there was no way of shaping it. I didn't like how the crown looked either. Too floppy and sloppy. A felted cloche (which is French for "bell," by the way) should have a smooth, domed top. This was...eh:

Welp. Back to the sink! Tossed some earbuds in, got my gloves on: let's finish this bitch. I spent probably another hour working most specifically on the crown to get it to that smooth, domed shape I wanted and on the brim to give it that bell shaping. I paused a few times to try it on my head as well. This was not really that helpful. Putting a sopping-wet, woolen bucket on your head doesn't really give the same effect as the finished product. I kept measuring it with a tape measure to see if it was changing, shrinking, or growing in the ways I wanted it to.

By this time, it was like 5:00 pm. But I got it where I wanted it. Crap. Now I realized I had nowhere to put this thing to dry while holding its shape. I almost ran out to a local beauty-supply store to see if they had a styrofoam head I could buy. I was quasi delusional and thought, "Hey, what if I made a bunch of these hats in the future?!" Yeah. No.

But sheer exhaustion got the better of me and I ended up stuffing the inside with plastic grocery bags and propping it up on a plastic storage container we use for cat food. It worked out fine enough. Let the 2-day long drying process begin:

After about eight hours of dealing with this hat, the last thing I wanted to do was knit a 45-inch long i-cord. I hate knitting i-cords. But I cast it on anyway. Only got about a foot done during that Saturday evening. I was worn out and preferred to vegetate in front of the TV for the rest of the night.

Finished the i-cord on Sunday and had to felt that too. Since the i-cord was knit in the red Malabrigo, which is pretty much one step above roving, it was pretty easy to felt. It took maybe 45 minutes. I don't know if you notice it in the photos above, but even after just the first felting, the red portion was already full-on felt! Maybe if my sanity escapes me again or I get hit on the head with a brick and lose all memory of having made this cloche and I do it again, I will remember to use ALL Malabrigo....

So, it was done. It looks amazing, if I do say so myself. Now I just need a decent coat to wear with it. :-P  Next year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I'm Happy

The poncho arrived safe and sound in North Carolina last Tuesday. My sister texted me the following:

"Guess what came today while I was at work and they opened it. Doesn't it look great?! She won't take it off. :-)"

I couldn't be happier that my niece is so happy with it. The next day (Christmas Eve) my sister sent me another text:

"Thank you so much for the Christmas gifts! Aubrey still won't take off the poncho....Here we are outside the restaurant we are eating at tonight. Note the poncho!"

Honestly, there is nothing that makes me happier than when someone uses the thing I made for them.  Could be as simple as a dishcloth, but it is really so validating that the effort was worthwhile!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Love, Love, Love

If loving this 1985 cabled-icicle intarsia pullover sweater is wrong, then I don't want to be right.

I'd seriously knit this and wear it in a heartbeat.  The good news is that there are a few copies of the Vogue Knitting International magazine's Fall/Winter 1985 edition to be had out there. There are 2 on ebay and even a couple in the Amazon Marketplace.

Someone in a Facebook group tipped me off to this wonderful book:

 Miyoko Ihara: Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat

So basically this elderly Japanese woman (Misao) in took in a stray Japanese Bobcat (she named him Fukumaru) and this book is a photographic journal of their lives together. It's the most, lovely, endearing, poignant series of photos I've seen in a long time. Misao's granddaughter is the photographer. The depth and meaningfulness of their relationship come through so beautifully in these photos.  Here are few of my favorites:


Poncho is DONE! Mailed it off yesterday with the rest of the Christmas gifts for my sister and her family.  Fi-Fi was sad to see it go:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Poncho Update

Ok, so I did more math on this than I ever wanted to do.  Basically, this whole thing is a paradox.

So it turns out that the chart IS only supposed to be 69 rounds. I read the instructions incorrectly. It was the stitch count on row 69 that was like 77 stitches or something. Still, in my defense, it doesn't read very clearly. And it doesn't change the fact that the chart, when knitted, looks different than the pictured garment.

Also, the gauge is written as 19 rows for 4 inches. Ok. I am getting that or very close to it, despite using the smaller needle (not my fault). Well 69 rounds equates to about 14.5 inches in length. At what point does the length end up being 20.5 before the fringe? Can't be blocking. It's fair isle. It won't stretch out but only so much. Maybe that's the length with fringe? Not what the pattern shows, though. Brain hurting.

I did make the chart longer by one pattern repeat. This increases it by about 17 rounds. But I think that either A) I will run out of yarn, or B) it will be too long. 

So here's what I think I'm going to do: before the bottom charted border, I will add like 5 rounds of a simple, repeating heart pattern. Something like this:

WTF, Sally Melville?

I have the trilogy of Sally Melville's basic Knitting Experience books, which includes (1- The Knit Stitch, 2- The Purl Stitch, and 3- Color).  I don't necessarily have a problem with the "fashion" of these patterns, albeit a good number DO look a little dated to me.  The books' patterns (particularly those in Book 1) are mostly odd, asymmetrical, boxy things that don't really look good on someone my shape and size.  But the books have value for me not because of the patterns, but for the basic knitting instructions. It is what sets Melville's books apart from other knitting books.  The patterns are laid out very clearly with detailed information about gauge, yarn, needles, etc. 

Yeah, not so much in the 3rd book, sadly. The quality of the pattern instructions has really declined.

As of the date I am typing this, I am currently trying to knit "The Seventies" poncho pattern for my seven-year-old niece. She personally picked this pattern out. First of all, I am about 1/3 of the way done and I just noticed that the charted snowflake pattern that I've been diligently knitting does not match the pattern as it appears on the garments worn by the models in the pictures. It's not terrible---in fact it is the same pattern---just slightly different, like it's centered differently or something. So referring to the pictures is NO HELP when trying to determine if I'm staying on course. 

Second, I have also noticed that my poncho is turning out really small. Like toddler sized. According to the pattern instructions, the child size fits sizes 4 to 10. My niece is very tiny; she still wears a child's size 6. I must have missed something somewhere, right? So I looked back at the written instructions. There it mentions the unusual increases in the chart rounds. I haven't had any problems following the chart and the increases at all. But the instructions mention "rounds 69-77." Um...my chart ends at row 69.

So, Oops, I guess?

Thirdly, I decided to check the internet and, lo and behold, there are errata available for this book of patterns, and this pattern in particular.  Do they address the charting being off-centered? No. The missing 9 rows? No. But the errata DID mention that the entire poncho should have been knit on size 7 needles and not size 6. Awesome. Thanks for that.

So now I don't trust that anything at all is right with this pattern. I was getting gauge on size 6, but maybe that gauge is wrong? Maybe I was supposed to use bulky yarn instead of worsted?  What ELSE is screwed up?

I'm not ripping it out. I need to have this done and sent to North Carolina in time for Christmas. I am just going to have to extend the chart out on some graph paper.  Hopefully, I can get it close to the 20-inch length that it's supposed to be (not counting fringe). As it is now, if I don't do something, it will be like 14 inches long.

Hey, Sally, did anyone bother to test knit these patterns before you committed them to the book? This is like knitting patterns 101, here, Sally. Come on. Very disappointing.