In New Ideas Part 1, I introduced the Spring 2015 issue of Spin-Off magazine with the theme “A Celebration of Stash”, referring to the materials spinners, knitters and any other hobbyists have stored away for some future project. I always try to look to my personal collection or “stash” before I look elsewhere when starting something new.
Earlier this year I taught a class on knitting with multiple colors, which is technically called stranded knitting, but is often referred to as Fair Isle knitting. My introduction to the technique was through Norwegian patterns and basically you create a picture with each stitch by carrying the yarn behind (the strand) in a horizontal float and knitting with it where appropriate to the picture.
In preparation for teaching the class, I borrowed a number of books from the library. I found one in particular that I really like and have since added it to my personal library (Thanks Santa!): Mastering Color Knitting by Melissa Leapman
The students in my class had taken the sock knitting class last year, and are now adept at working on double point needles, so we started off with a small project to learn the basics of working with two colors. I found a project on Ravelry: Colour-stranded Cup Cozy, by Anna Daku that I thought would be a good way for them to master the skills of stranding (reading the grid paper diagram, creating the horizontal floats, etc.) before advancing to a larger project like a hat, cowl, mittens, etc.
For my larger project – I’ve been wanting to make myself a hat with ear flaps for a while. So, I started digging through my collection of yarn but didn’t find any that was the right thickness or color. I’m currently trying to bring some semblance of order to my office space and so I had my collection of dribs and drabs from classes, workshops and my own experimentation pulled out and I found something I could get really excited about! But, was it enough for an ear flap hat?
Background on the dyed wool: My friend Terry grows her own Japanese Indigo to use in dyeing wool from her Shetland sheep flock. A while back, when she was gearing up to do some dyeing, she decided to make a mini workshop out of it. I was thrilled to participate and brought along a small bag of white Coopworth wool from my flock to see how it would take the dye. What you see above is the result! Terry soaked the indigo leaves overnight in rain water at room temperature and from that preparation extracted the deeper blue. The icy pale blue is the exhaust from the same preparation. The warm caramel tan is a second extraction after boiling the leaves. What a range! What beautiful colors that are completely comfortable together! If you would like to learn more about dyeing with plant materials (it is on my bucket list), a good source of information is The Dyer’s Garden by Rita Buchanan.
OK, so now I’m determined to get an ear flap had out of this little bit of lovely wool. I spun singles and plied them into a two-ply yarn. If felt like I was over plying, but I finally got a yarn that was balanced after washing to set the twist. The gauge swatch knit up to about 7 sts per inch using US size 2 needles. I started out with 74 yards of darker blue, 58 yards of lighter blue and 64 yards of tan. To keep this challenging, my search uncovered many hat patterns for two colors of yarn and gauges of 6 sts per inch. I knew it was crucial for me to use all three colors in order to have enough yarn.
So, I adapted several patterns I like. I started with the ear flaps from Cap for Learning Stranded Knitting by Cynthia Wasner. Then I moved on to the star pattern from Norwegian Star Earflap Hat by Tiennie. But, to make the hat large enough, I added one more star. From here, I alternated between the three colors and looked to the peeries and borders shown in Mastering Color Knitting for inspiration. I pulled out a pad of graph paper and drew my pictures for each section.
Coopworth wool is on the coarser end of the wool fiber diameter spectrum*, which makes it extremely durable, though perhaps a bit itchy on my forehead. For this reason, as well as to eliminate the risk of snagging the floats and to make it extra warm and wind proof, I chose to line the hat with a thin polar fleece. I made a search online to get ideas for how to shape the polar fleece lining and discovered a marvelous resource… from right here in Wisconsin! TECHknitting: Fully lining hats with polar fleece a blog post by TECHknitter was just exactly what I was looking for.
Even though I had added stitches, my hat was still a bit snug when I finished lining it, so I searched the house for something to slightly stretch the hat over while blocking it.
The smallest ice cream bucket in our collection was just the thing. My new ear flap hat fits just perfectly now!
And here’s what is left. Phew!
*Coopworth fiber diameter = 35-39, Merino fiber diameter = 18 – 24