This Post Is Not About A Hat

In January, Justin and I booked a beach house with several other couples to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday and the start of a new year. It was the first time we’d taken a vacation with anyone besides each other or our families, and it was quite unlike any trip we’d taken before. Rather than scheduling out the five-day weekend, the guest of honor outlined a few activities that were important to him, and then left the rest of the time open for us to do as we pleased.

As a rather creative bunch with a tendency toward introversion, it was the perfect opportunity to read, draw, and knit, surrounded by kindred spirits, but without an obligation to be social, to be on the entire time. If you wanted to reflect and set intentions for the upcoming year, you took your journal out on one of the balconies to write in peace. If you opened up a laptop to watch a comedy special, you might be joined by others who were interested, but you didn’t worry if someone had wandered out for a walk, or was still sleeping in. We cooked for each other, we cleaned up together, we drifted in and out of each other’s orbits as our individual energy levels—our needs for various sorts of companionship—waxed and waned.

It put me in mind of the artists of the past who would spend a month at the seaside, or holed up in a little cottage in woods, puttering away at their art and taking walks and having time every afternoon to read and drink tea. When I’m feeling discouraged about my job or have a project I can’t find the time to get properly stuck into, I envy the freedom they had to structure their lives around making and doing things, to simply pack up and go somewhere else to live their lives for a while.

For my part, I brought more to do than I could have possibly accomplished if I’d spent five days alone doing nothing but my own hand-picked activities. I packed several skeins of yarn and all of my circular needles in case inspiration struck, but as it happened there was only one project I really wanted to work on: this hat.

The pattern is Tin Can Knits’ Apple Pie, and the yarn is more Malabrigo Rios in Natural, because I enjoyed using it on my mom’s hat so much that I wanted some for myself. Whereas the original hat pattern conjures the image of a pie fresh from the oven, mine is reminiscent of nothing so much as unbaked pie crust.

Knitting this hat might possibly be the first time I’ve twisted my cast-on while setting up knitting in the round. Usually the long-tail method makes it easy to avoid that particular foible, but I suppose I wasn’t giving it as much attention as I could while enjoying the opportunity to sit by the ocean in 70-degree weather in January. After not one but two false starts, I was able to complete the doubled brim portion, which is wonderfully squishy and warm and which will no doubt become a feature of future knit hats for me, before we returned home.

Looking back on that time now, I’m struck by how the less-than-idyllic moments of the trip have not been eclipsed by the current situation of a global pandemic, as one might assume, but instead seem to have foreshadowed it in peculiar ways. For instance, there were moments when we all came together to do something fun that had the effect of being intensely alienating for me. Ostensibly we were creating new memories together, but there were all these existing relationships and shared histories and in-jokes too, and though in theory I was being given access to them through this new experience, since I hadn’t been there from the beginning, I could only sort of understand the depth of the humor and revelry, and I felt I couldn’t fully participate.

These same friends and I are now experiencing a common struggle to find ways to create and socialize while limiting our physical contact. This shared experience, which by rights ought to cause us to cleave closer together, has instead left us all adrift in our own personal bubbles of loneliness and quietude. We keep reaching out, trying to connect and relate in meaningful ways, and yet can’t. It should be easier when we’ve all been served up a portion from the same plate of misery, and yet isn’t.

One of my secret desires during the trip was to have one-on-one time with a few of my friends in an effort to get to understand them on a deeper level. As a group we had several thoughtful, provocative, and at times vulnerable conversations, but I never quite found my opening for those more intimate interactions. There were only a few opportunities, but when they did present themselves, I could never quite step off the ledge. Would I ask something too personal? Would I unwittingly offend? Could we have the deeply personal conversations I craved, or would it just be awkward?

I never did find out, and I don’t know if I will. Between January and the start of lockdown in March, we spent more time together, embarked on an ever-widening array of adventures, but never quite gotten close to that place again. Even when we’ve had one-on-one time, there’s this reticence to be completely open. And the pandemic has made it worse. No one wants to admit how sad, or angry, or demoralized they are, because what would be the point? There’s not much any of us can do beyond what we’re already doing. It would just be empty complaining, right? So I don’t really know how my friend who is a nurse is coping, and whenever I ask how my friend who is (was) single is feeling, they always brush off their own negative feelings by saying they’re trying to keep an optimistic outlook and focus on solo pursuits.

I’m reminded of a passage in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. The protagonist, Shevek, is leaving a regional academic institute to study at a larger, more central one, and his friends throw him a going away party. As the night wears on, only a few people stay up, and they start talking about big ideas, about science and philosophy and “…whether their childhoods had been happy. They talked about what happiness was.” Shevek asserts that suffering is a misunderstanding. That it exists, that it is real, and that we all recognize it when we experience it, but that we misunderstand its purpose. His friends think that pain is merely a warning against physical danger and harm, but serves no psychological or social purpose; Shevek disagrees.

He recounts a time when he witnessed a man who survived an explosion but was horribly burned, burned so badly that he died of his injuries a few hours later. Shevek describes sitting with the man, wanting to provide comfort but having nothing to give—no anesthetic, no doctor, not even touch, which causes the man terrible pain.

“There was no aid to give. Maybe he knew we were there, I don’t know. It didn’t do him any good. You couldn’t do anything for him. Then I saw…you see…I saw that you can’t do anything for anybody. We can’t save each other. Or ourselves.”

“What have you left, then? Isolation and despair! You’re denying brotherhood, Shevek!” the tall girl cried.

“No—no, I’m not. I’m trying to say what I think brotherhood really is. It begins—it begins in shared pain.”

Shevek wonders whether pain is not a thing to fear, but a thing that cannot be entirely avoided, and therefore a thing to get through, to go beyond. He clings to the idea that brotherhood does not exist to alleviate suffering—it can’t—but instead arises out of it.

I think about this passage a lot, particularly when I’m feeling isolated and lonely, when things are especially rough and I worry that I’m not giving my friends what they need or getting what I need in return. We’re all doing our best. Sometimes our best isn’t good enough. But that’s okay. It isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.

Doppelgänger

While I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I had the experience of witnessing a time-worn idiom come to life, when my mom approached me with hat in hand to ask for my knitting expertise. The very literal hat in question was a light grey, slouchy, slightly fuzzy beanie with alternating bands of plain and textured knitting, the crown of which had started to come undone. She had picked up the hat to wear when walking the dog, and she admitted that though it was nothing particularly special, she would nevertheless be sad to lose it to unraveling. She asked if I would be willing to take it home and try to repair it, which I readily agreed to do.

Fortunately for the hat (and my nerves), once I carefully unpicked the tangle of loops at the top of the hat, I discovered the situation was not as dire as I feared. The crown had not been cinched shut with the tail of the working yarn, but had instead been secured with a separate strand of yarn, and it was this strand only that had broken. None of the yarn used in the knitting itself was damaged—no snags or severed plies to fuss with—which meant it was a relatively simple task to latch up the few dropped stitches and then close the top of the hat with a strand of stash yarn in a similar weight and color.

Since I knew I’d see my parents again at Christmastime, I had the hat in my possession for a couple of weeks, during which time it occurred to me that I had the power to do more than simply keep a humble accessory from meeting an untimely demise: I could, in fact, template the cherished item and ensure that it lived on through an infinite number of iterations, should the owner so desire. Or, at the very least, I could create a copy, doubling my mom’s sartorial choices and prolonging the life of the original hat. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a close second behind hat-based immortality.

To make my copy, I started by taking some flat measurements of the height from brim to crown, the height of the ribbing, and the height of a pattern repeat. The stockinette and reverse stockinette portions were easy to identify, but I had a slightly harder time with the other texture, which sort of resembles ribbing if the knits were squatter and more pronounced and there were no purls between them. After some searching and comparison, I came to the conclusion that it was probably fisherman’s rib. Whereas the original hat had been worked flat and then seamed, I think seamless hats are one of the ways handknitting distinguishes itself as superior to machine knitting, so I found instructions for knitting fisherman’s rib in the round and was off.

The yarn is Malabrigo Rios; the colorway is Natural. The recipe for this hat can be found on my Ravelry project page. Contrary to the care note I sent my mom (hi Mom!), it is, in fact, machine washable, so long as it’s placed in a garment bag on a cold, gentle cycle. It still has to be laid flat to dry, but being wool, it doesn’t need to be washed all that often. I enjoyed working with the yarn so much that I used it again for another hat and also a sweater—more on them soon.

I wish I’d had the common sense to take a photo of the original so I could show you both hats side-by-side and you could be impressed by what a good match they are, but I think we all know by now that that kind of forethought isn’t my specialty. Just picture the hat above in light grey and a little fuzzier. Pretty similar, eh?

Pomme

A quick entry on an exceedingly quick project. How quick? More than a weekend but less than a month. I know that I started it after I finished my Stone’s Throw cardigan, but before I started my next project at the beginning of February.

Normally I print out patterns to take notes on, but this is such a simple design that I downloaded the pattern to my phone and referenced it only a handful of times to make sure I got the proportions of ribbing and body correct and decreased the crown in a pleasing manner.

The pattern is Rocky Ridge Hat by Knox Mountain Knit Co., and it’s available as a free Ravelry download. The yarn is
Swans Island Washable Wool Collection DK, the leftovers from my cardigan. You can view my Ravelry notes here, but there’s precious little to say about it. I knit the adult medium size as written, including the length.

Can you believe this is my eleventh hat, but the first one with a pom pom? I know, me neither! When it comes to hats, I’m a fan of the whole genre, and I have no qualms about poms. In fact, I’m rather fond of them, and encourage them for others. But somehow none of my many beanies ended up with a dapper topper. Really, it was long overdue, and I’m glad the shortcoming was rectified.

This is also the first hat I’ve made that could be described as even remotely slouchy. Between you and me, I think it could have been slouchier, but the extra ease would have come at the expense of the pom pom, and that was a sacrifice I just wasn’t willing to make.

I foresee many more slouchy and/or be-pommed hats in my future. Until then, enjoy this ridiculous picture of my pom pom hype.

New Growth

When I look back at these photos, which have been sitting on my hard drive, edited, since the end of January, I recall distinctly how unhappy I was—that day in particular, but also that week, and indeed that entire season. Winter was a difficult time for me, the too-short daylight hours filled with a grinding work schedule aggravated by interpersonal conflict. Despite having few to no creative opportunities at work and craving self-expression, I often came home too drained to pick up any of my projects. 

That was frustrating enough by itself, but what added insult to injury was the fact that I was also being confronted on several sides by the opinion that the parts of myself I was managing to express were cold, intractable, and unlikable—in short, unacceptable, and in need of changing. I was counseled on being optimistic, willing to compromise, and above all, being personable. 

I spent a lot of time reflecting on what it is that makes me me, whether those things can be changed, and, significantly, whether they should be.

For a time, I practiced change. There were days when I exhausted myself with the effort of being easy to get along with. The act of being inoffensive.

I’ve never felt less like myself.

On the day these photos were taken, a Thursday, I was working from home due to the snow. After an increasingly taxing work assignment escalated to full-blown railing and stomping through the house, I finally set aside my computer and picked up my knitting and camera instead.

This hat is something new made out of things familiar and leftover: the pattern is the Lotus Hat from Uptown Purl, which I’d previously knit into my Meditation, frogged, and wanted to revisit; the yarn is the remainder from my Mashion. Modifications are detailed on Ravelry.

The whole thing came together in five days, and it only took that long because I kept doing the crown decreases expecting to run out of yarn. When I didn’t, I was able to increase the number of repeats to make a deeper hat.

Putting on a handmade hat (and handmade gloves), standing outside with Justin, and smiling at the camera in the cold reaffirmed that I make things, and will continue to make things, because I care about putting more into the world than I take out of it. I am resourceful, and I can adapt. I also have people who care deeply about me, and who I care about in return.

I didn’t know it at the moment these photos were taken, but the brief emotional respite they provided enabled me to understand, in the days and weeks that followed, that I was growing. It was difficult, and painful, and I would rather the catalyst for growth had been something other than this kind of hardship, but through it I found myself valuing my own work more and criticizing it less, strengthening relationships, and seeking to build new skills.

Spring brought its own share of troubles, but they were diminished in some small way by the feeling that I had survived worse, and could overcome this too. Summer has had its struggles as well, but more and more I find I want to focus on what I can make for myself.

I’m glad to finally say that, while there’s still plenty of room for improvement, I’m happier than I have been in months, and I’m relieved to finally close this post and start afresh.

FO: Oxidation

With the leftovers from Justin’s cabled hat and my own, I had exactly enough yarn to create a third hat. I’d hoped for as much when I bought the yarns—just ask Rebecca at Warm ‘n Fuzzy—but it was a huge relief when my little yarn scale confirmed it.

Rather than knit more stripes, because I’ve had enough of stripes for a while, I decided that there was no better time than now to try my hand at stranded knitting. Since I knew my yarn was limited, I didn’t bother trying to find a pattern, and instead improvised based on my most recent hat and some guidance from Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns.

I’ll admit I felt a bit of trepidation, which is silly, because I didn’t feel a single flutter of anxiety when I first tried cables. Maybe it’s because my very first knitting project was cabled, and I didn’t know enough to have the slightest idea what to worry about. Now that I’ve knit a while, I know what to fret about: Tension. Color dominance. Insufficient contrast.

There was nothing I could do about the combination of colors, since I was already committed to using up the yarn, and tension would only be solved with  practice and patience, so the only thing left was color dominance, which I was aware of and could easily look up online. Ysolda has a great introduction to the theory of color dominance on her blog, but the one thing she neglects to mention is the more practical question of how to carry the yarns so that the dominant and subordinate colors aren’t switched accidentally. Enter Dianna of Paper Tiger, who helpfully explains which yarn is dominant when knitting with one color held in each hand, both colors held in one hand, and with one color at a time. Thanks Dianna!

I knit continental, and I was tempted to hold both yarns in my left hand to keep things familiar. But I’ve heard that, once you get used to it, holding one yarn in each hand is quite speedy and prevents the yarn from getting twisted or tangled, so it seemed like it would be worth the effort to learn to do it that way.

It was pretty awkward. As expected, I struggled to keep the tension even. My tight-knitting tendencies are so strong that the blue stitches, which should be dominant/larger, are in several places dwarfed by the background copper stitches. Every time I started to get into the rhythm of alternating hands, I’d notice that things were moving a little more smoothly and promptly lose focus and knit the wrong color or drop the yarn.

But wouldn’t you know, it flew off the needles anyway. Anyone who’s ever said that there’s an addictive quality to knitting colorwork was definitely on to something. Before I knew it, I’d run out of blue yarn and it was time to decrease the crown and cinch it up.

If you’re curious about the knitting specifics, you can check out the notes on my project in Ravelry. The only thing of note is the crown, which has eight sections instead of the typical six. This was purely down to the number of stitches I’d cast on at the beginning. It does work, but I think there’s a good reason that six sections is the norm: this crown doesn’t lie down as smoothly, and it has a tendency to make the whole hat ride up a smidge, which you can see in the close-up above and the two pictures below.

The scarf I’m wearing is also me-made. It’s a lovely, drapey 100% rayon in a pattern and colors that I love that I snagged from Jo-Ann several months ago. Sadly, I should have purchased a longer piece than I did, because the woman at the counter did a poor job cutting it, so I lost a fair amount straightening up the edges. Once the corners were squared, though, it was a simple matter of rolled hemming the long edges, zig-zag stitching the short edges, and then removing weft threads to create a fringe on the ends.

There are several suggestions online for sewing a rolled hem. Grainline Studio recommends sewing a line of stitching to use as a guide for pressing, stitching, and trimming before pressing and stitching a second time. Craftsy suggests using a teeny tiny strip of interfacing to encourage the first several inches of the fabric to roll properly. I chose to take Megan Nielsen’s advice, which is to sew a few stitches without feeding it through the rolled hem foot, pull the fabric free without cutting the threads, and then use the thread to guide the fabric into the foot and sew.

I can confidently say that, after sewing the edges of this scarf, I am about two iotas better at using the rolled hem foot. Megan’s advice certainly helped to get things started, but keeping the hem even as you go along seems to come down to firm and steady tension applied to the fabric and a keen eye to keep it from veering too far into or out of the foot. So, practice.

Luckily, I got a to try my hand at it again on my next make, coming up next week. Today, I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from this shoot: