Hats are the best. A great way to learn to knit (or crochet!), pick up new skills, add variety to your queue, get that “I made it!” feeling fast. And of course, they don’t require a lot of yarn and they’re the perfect handmade gifts: The receiver is wowed with something you made yourself — without your spending a month or more making it! For this round of the holiday hat knitting cheat sheet, as I did with our Fringe Hatalong Series a few years ago (6 free patterns), I’ve organized it by the skills involved, from what I think of as the simplest to most challenging. You may dispute the order, and of course there’s no requirement that you knit them all or in this sequence, but if you’re looking for some fun patterns for charity or holiday gift knitting, and the chance to maybe pick up some new skills in the process, check out these gems that have caught my eye this year—
There’s a trick I have wanted to try for as long as I’ve known the term “short rows” but hadn’t until my Grace pullover — for reasons unknown. What finally prompted me to try it was that I was knitting this sweater out of chunky yarn and in pretty fitted proportions, the combination of which made the urge more pressing. What am I talking about? Making more room for my shoulders.
If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that (even before discovering the freedom of experimentation that comes with top-down sweater knitting) I learned to favor raglan sweaters at a young age because my shoulders are so broad that fitting into set-in-sleeve clothes is a challenge — if the sleeve cap seams hit at the tips of my shoulders where they belong, the garment will be too big for me overall, and vice versa. Raglans solve this in that there’s no sleeve seam to sit uncomfortably in the wrong place, but it can still be the case — especially on a snug pullover — that there’s not quite enough fabric to get over my big shoulders. It has always seemed to me that this should be addressable with short rows, and I’m glad I finally gave it a go!
This was an especially easy case for them, too, since the gauge of this sweater meant I could create extra fabric in only a couple of short-row turns. I’ve left my pink waste yarn in place for the pic up top so you can kind of see, but here’s all I did:
1) After separating my yoke into the sleeves and body and knitting a few inches of the body, as I like to do, I put my sleeve stitches back on my needles. (That’s the upper pink strand of waste yarn.) I’ve knitted my sleeves flat, as usual — picking up underarm stitches starting at the midpoint of the underarm (aka side seam), knitting across the sleeve stitches, and picking up the last few underarm stitches back to the midpoint — but this process would be the same if you were knitting in the round.
2) I then purled back across the WS of these stitches, stopping one stitch before the end of the row, and did a YO-and-turn. (You could wrap-and-turn, or whatever your favorite short-row method is.) Then knitted back to 1 st before the end of this third row, YO and turn. That’s one pair of turns.
3) For my second pair of turns, I placed them in line with my front and back raglan “seams.”
4) And then I worked my way back across the stitches one last time, closing up the YOs as I encountered them, to the end of the row. (That’s the lower strand of pink waste yarn.)
This amounted to a wedge of six extra rows of knitting at the sleeve cap before I continued downward with the full set of sleeve stitches as normal, giving me an extra 1″ of fabric to help accommodate my shoulders before worrying about my arms. For a finer gauge sweater, I would want to do the equivalent number of rows at whatever row gauge to create the same amount of extra fabric, and would distribute those turns within the underarm stitches.
This will factor into every top-down raglan I do from now on, stitch pattern permitting!
I’ve had a number of people ask for the details on how I made the kangaroo pocket on my recent Fen mods: tunic and dress variations. Following is how I do it — and since I’m not a sewing professional, there may be people with even better advice in the comments on this. You can of course adjust the numbers to your liking, but my measurements result in a generously sized pocket 14″ wide and 8″ tall. You’ll want to make and attach the pocket to your garment front piece before sewing the rest of the garment together.
MAKE THE PATTERN PIECE
Using tracing paper or butcher paper or whatever you’ve got, draw a rectangle 15″ wide by 9″ tall.
On the right edge, measure 3.5″ up from the bottom right corner and make a mark. On the top edge, measure in 3.25″ from the upper right corner and make a mark. Draw a line between those two marks for your slant pocket edge. Repeat on the left side. Cut that out and you have your pattern piece, with .5″ seam allowance included.
CUT AND PREPARE THE POCKET
Matching the grainline for your garment front piece, cut your pocket piece(s) out of your fabric. If you’re using lightweight fabric, like my linen, you may want to cut two identical pocket pieces and make it a double thickness. For sweatshirt knits or heavier woven fabrics, a single layer will suffice. Either way, you can zigzag or pink the edges if you like.
For a single layer pocket, press all of the edges under at .5″, then for the slant pocket edges (which will remain unattached), press the raw edge under another .25″; top-stitch along the slant edges, starting and stopping just shy of the corners.
For a double layer pocket, with right sides together and using a .5″ seam allowance, stitch the two pieces together along all but the long bottom edge. Clip the corners, turn the pocket right side out, and form and press carefully into shape. Fold the bottom edges inward and press; pin together if needed. Top-stich along the slant edges, starting and stopping just shy of the corners.
ATTACH THE POCKET
Mark the center of both your garment front piece and your pocket — I just fold them each in half and press at the appropriate spot, then line up the creases to center the pocket on the garment. Pin the pocket in place, being careful to keep the bottom and top edges parallel to your hem (i.e., perpendicular to the grainline).
First, stitch across the top of the pocket, starting and stopping at the rows of stitching you’ve done across the slant edges. Then starting at the lower slant corner on one side, sew down the side, along the bottom, and back up the other side.
Give it a good press, and carry on assembling the rest of your garment!
In this instant-gratification world of ours, being a knitter at all is an act of rebellion, in a sense — knitting something, stitch by stitch, that others would buy, discard and replace in the same amount of time. And yet even though we’re committed to spending that time, we often still want things to be as quick as possible, right? There are the steps and details we’ll happily avoid or skip altogether, where possible — from choosing seamless designs to leaving ends dangling inside a finished object. But there are also the little details we each feel are worth that extra bit of time they take to elevate our FOs. Things that might be technically unnecessary (like adding seams to a seamless garment) or could be done in some briefer fashion (e.g., a plain neckband versus a folded one), and things that simply look too good not to do.
For me, a no-brainer is the little bit of extra time it takes to do a tubular bind-off on top-down cuffs. (This is my Grace pullover in progress.) The difference in how much better it looks than a standard BO is worth it all by itself, but the additional stretchiness of that edge is just so much more pleasant to wear, and I’m aware of it with every push and pull of the cuff for the life of the sweater. (I like Purl Soho’s tutorial, if you’ve never done it.)
So that’s my Q for You today: What’s the little knitting detail you consider more than worthy of the time it takes?
I look forward to your responses, and wish you a happy weekend!
IN SHOP NEWS: We’ve got the butterscotch Porter Bin back in stock at the moment! While they last …
It occurred to me as I was shooting my beret the other day that I’ve never posted about how I make pompoms, although I’ve taught it in my classes. Here’s the tried-and-true method for making pompoms that I’ve been using since childhood, no special tools required:
1.) Wrap yarn around the fingers of one hand (or piece of cardboard, a spatula, anything that’s a bit bigger than you want your finished circumference to be). It takes more yarn than you might think. For a loose, shaggy pompom, use less yarn. For a denser, fuller pom, use more. Experiment!
2.) Carefully slide the bundle off your hand and lay it across a separate strand, then use that strand to tie a knot around the belly of the bundle. Pull it tight, but don’t break the yarn. If you need your pompom to have tails for attaching to something else, leave them long and keep them out of the way as you proceed.
3.) Insert your scissors into the clump of loops on each side of the belly band and cut through them, being careful not to cut the strand holding them together. You now have a limp, shapeless pre-pom.
4.) Start pruning! Trim the ends just like you would a hedge, shaping it into an orb. The more you trim, the denser the pompom will be. (Especially if you use a loosely plied yarn that unplies as you work.) Again, experiment to see what suits you!
That’s it! For a hat, run the tails down through the top of the hat, secure on the underside and weave in the ends. (Pictured above is my version of Courtney Kelley’s April Hat, a free pattern.)
If it’s going to be attached to any surface, I like to leave the bottom a bit flat. For any other purpose, you’ll want to make it fully round. Pompoms are a great use of yarn leftovers, and you never know what you might find to use them for!
Knitting a swatch is considered sacrosanct to some; a waste of time to others; and still others just can’t get their heads around how or why to do it. I’ve addressed the most basic aspects of how to knit a swatch before, but today I want to talk about why. Because there are more reasons for taking the time than you may have considered.
1. Meet the fabric To me, this is even more important than the standard reason cited for swatching (which I’ve thus demoted to No. 2). Casting on without swatching is like getting married at first sight. Think of the swatching process as you and the fabric getting to know each other first. If you’re using the yarn specified in a pattern, you might find out you don’t really like it, or would prefer it knitted at a denser or looser gauge. If you’re substituting yarn, a swatch will help you know if you’ve chosen well. What about your color choice — will the pattern (and the fabric) look good in that color, or will the yarn and stitch pattern drown each other out?
The purple swatch above was for a potential Bellows Cardigan. I loved the sweater pattern and the color of the yarn, but as soon as I knitted the swatch in that color, I knew that was not a garment I would wear, so I changed course before ordering a sweater’s worth of it.
You want to know that you’ll want to wear this fabric, so knit a big swatch, and block it. Wrap it around your forearm like a sleeve. Tuck it in the back of your shirt collar and wear it around for awhile. Or if it’s for a hat, tuck it inside another hat, pressed against your forehead, and see how it feels. (And don’t forget to abuse your swatch to see how it holds up.)
You also want to know that you’ll enjoy knitting it. The swatch in the upper left is Mungo, and the one next to it is a strand of Mungo held together with a strand of Pebble, which I thought I might like even better. I did like it better, but not so much that the added expense of the second strand was justifiable, plus I discovered that it would have been maddening to knit, as those two yarns are super clingy with each other. So the second swatch convinced me to stick with the first.
2. Check your gauge (or “tension”) The only way to know what the finished dimensions of your knitted object will be is to know how big your stitches are. If you’re knitting from a pattern, and it states finished measurements, yours will only match those measurements if your stitches are the same size as those of the person who wrote the pattern.
Stitches are the building blocks of knitted fabric.
Imagine I’m hanging out with Monique and Tessa and I build a little castle wall out of blocks. The girls want to copy it, so I tell them how many blocks wide each of my rows is, and how many rows tall, so they can replicate it. If Monique is using the same blocks as me, her wall will match. If Tessa’s blocks are smaller, she will quickly realize that if she follows my directions, her wall will be smaller. If her blocks are bigger, her wall will be bigger. Same with knitting.
Knitting patterns include gauge so you can make sure you’re building with the right size blocks. If you don’t care how big your “wall” turns out — if you’re knitting a scarf or a shawl; or if the hat, socks or sweater you’re planning to knit can turn out any old size and you’ll find someone who fits them — then maybe don’t worry about it. But if fit matters, knit a swatch, block it and measure your gauge.
3. Try out the stitch pattern(s) Becoming a more advanced knitter means continually tackling new challenges and developing new skills. Lace, cables, short rows, different increases and decreases. These things can look a little messy on first try, or maybe you just want to see if you can do it before casting on a large project’s worth. Try it on a swatch! The swatch in the center right above is my first swatch for my Amanda cardigan, and in addition to establishing my gauge, it gave me a chance to get comfortable with some cable motifs I hadn’t done before at that point — the diamond, the braid and the honeycomb stitch.
This is also a chance to discover things you might want to know before you officially get started. That swatch was on gauge but I didn’t like how the honeycomb looked a bit cracked, so I wound up going down a needle size and liking it better. On my second swatch for it, at center left, I also decided to test whether cabling without a cable needle would impact my gauge — and boy did it! If you look closely at that center left swatch, you can see that the bottom half of the honeycomb is sort of squashed, compacted. That’s the part I knitted without a cable needle. For the upper part, I did use a cable needle and it gave the honeycomb a more natural look. So even though that’s a ton of cabling, I had to make the commitment to do the entire cardigan with a cable needle — and I’m glad I knew that beforehand.
Likewise, if you’re doing colorwork you may simply want to practice first — but you might also find your colorwork gauge is different from your single-yarn gauge. So if you’re knitting, say, a sweater with a colorwork yoke and a solid-color body, you may need to use two different needle sizes to get the same gauge across those two different fabrics. (Many knitters need to go up one needle size for colorwork.)
4. Do your own math If, like in the cable example in No. 3, you consciously decide to knit at a gauge different than pattern gauge, then knowing your gauge (the size of your stitches) in comparison to the pattern gauge is the way to control the outcome. Going back to those building blocks, once Tessa realizes her blocks are smaller than mine, she can choose to stick with my numbers and let the wall be smaller. If she wants to know how much smaller before committing, knowing the size of her blocks and mine will allow her to calculate that. If her blocks are half the size of mine, her wall will be half the size. If, on the other hand, she likes the look of her smaller blocks but wants to use them to make a wall the same size as mine, again, knowing the size (the gauge) of her blocks is the key. If her blocks are half the size, she’ll need twice as many. Or she might decide to build a wall like mine but to her own preferred measurements, which she can easily calculate if she has simply measured her blocks. If each block is 4″ wide and she wants to build a 20″ wall, she’ll need 5 blocks per row. Just like stitches! (Of course, if there’s a stitch pattern involved, you always need to keep its multiple in mind. E.g., a 6-st cable that repeats across the fabric would require a stitch count that’s a multiple of six.)
5. Buy enough yarn There’s also the matter of yarn math. Pretty much every swatch I’ve ever knitted for someone else’s pattern has come in at tighter row gauge than theirs. If my building blocks are shallower than theirs, it will take more of them to reach the same height, right? If it takes me more rows to fill in a sweater than it did for the pattern creator, I’ll also require more yarn than they used. So again, you want to know a thing like that before you get started.
. . .
These 5 cases are largely focused on situations where you’re knitting from a pattern, but of course if you want to knit from an idea in your head, a swatch is the starting point. Swatching is a way to figure out what sort of fabric a given yarn might want or be willing to be. (“What happens if you hold two strands of Pebble together and try to cable with it?” See second-from-bottom swatch above.) And once you’ve knitted your yarn into a fabric that feels right for it, what sort of object does that little square of fabric want to become?
After sharing the latest pic and steeking progress on my mini Sólbein Cardigan on Instagram over the weekend, I’m getting a lot of questions about how I’ve adapted this pattern for child-size, and the specifics of what’s going on. Since it seems like a number of people are considering casting on, I thought I should tell you two key things now instead of waiting until I’m all done with the knitting—
First, I have made no adjustments to the pattern. It’s a perfect demonstration of how gauge matters: All I’m doing is knitting the pattern as written, following the instructions for the smallest size, but using smaller stitches. The pattern gauge is 3.5 stitches and 4.25 rows per inch on recommended US10.5 needles — aka bulky gauge. I’m knitting with heavy-worsted yarn (chiefly Kelbourne’s Germantown) on size US8 needles, and my blocked gauge is 4.25 stitches and 6.25 rows per inch. Smaller stitches add up to fewer inches, ergo the sweater is way smaller.
I did stop to check the math and make sure I didn’t need to redistribute the sleeve/body stitch counts at all before I separated them. Making sure to count the underarm sts, I divided the stitch counts from the pattern by my stitch gauge to see where it would put me, which turned out to be about 25-26″ chest circumference (once I factor in button bands) and just under 10″ upper sleeve. I then consulted this chart to see where that would put it in the size/age range, and I’m looking at a child size 6. To double-check (especially since some of those numbers and labels are a little odd to me) I also asked a friend to measure one of her daughter’s sweaters, and these measurements seemed fine. So I’ve stuck with the stitch counts from the pattern right through the sleeve separation, and all I need to do differently is knit the body and sleeves to size-appropriate lengths, rather than the lengths given in the pattern.
I’ve made the body 14.5″ long (the yoke came out to 6″, so 8.5″ for the body). I’ll make the sleeves 12″ long, and you can see I’m leaving out the lower colorwork, just knitting contrasting hem and cuffs.
One thing I did not take into account when shrinking my stitch size is that the pattern contains only 2 sts for the steek — you sew down those two stitches and cut the running thread between them. At my reduced scale, that is a very small target. Sewing along those 2 sts before cutting between them left me with no room for picking up stitches for the button band. I’ll need to pick up into the center of the first knit stitch, rather than beside it, which will leave me with a half stitch of colorwork butting up against the button band. I think it will be fine, if not ideal. But if you’re planning to do this, I would highly recommend giving yourself a couple of extra stitches in the steek, so you have more room to work with.
One side effect of my tenseness when I slid this under the machine to secure that narrow little steek is that I forgot to keep an eye on the tail of my waste yarn. And yep, I managed to sew perfectly along about a two-inch length of it. It’ll be my little hidden secret (my humble spot) once it’s turned under and covered with a pretty ribbon, but ack! I think I might be the only person in the entire #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed who had any trouble with the steek! It was fun anyway, and somehow the sweater is even more darling now that it’s cut open.
The other question I’ve gotten is why did I secure and cut the steek before knitting sleeves. The answer is two-fold: 1) I couldn’t wait to do it! 2) If I screwed it up, I didn’t want to have wasted time knitting sleeves.