three hats!

Perhaps it is the time of year, but I definitely find myself in full-on hat-knitting mode. I’ve finished the first clue of my Woolly Wormhead Mystery hat . . . I’m not sure whether or not the next photograph warrants a SPOILER ALERT warning, since it is purposely rather cryptic and unrepresentative, but if you are involved in the KAL and would rather not see, then look away now!

I am using Fyberspates Rural Charm (70% Bluefaced Leicester 20% Silk & 10% Cashmere) in shade “Forest,” a birthday gift from Jen and Nic (thanks, ladies). This deliciously luxe, and slightly variegated yarn is quite unlike anything I’ve been knitting with recently, and I absolutely love it. It is soft and smooth in the hand, with an amazing sheen, but the high proportion of Blueface Leicester means that it also springs up with a little bit of steam – the stitches bloom and puff out to fill their available space in a most pleasing manner. The ‘forest’ colourway is a beautifully complex green, with some dark undernotes and a lot of Autumnal gold in the finish. . this is beginning to sound like a whisky tasting . . . in any case, it is a very tasty skein indeed, and I’m looking forward to my next clue, so that I can continue working with it.

Clearly knitting Woolly’s brim has made me hungry for head coverings, as I immediately cast on another:

This is not, strictly speaking, a hat, but Anna Elliott’s Spirograph Headband which appeared in a Summer Issue of Knit Now, and whose neat simplicity I have admired for some time. One of the perils of working from home is the inevitable neglect of one’s personal appearance. Recently, I have been working very hard, and I would frankly rather spend time on my book and other important stuff than superfluous matters like, um, brushing and styling my hair. The only person I tend to see during the day is the postie (who doesn’t seem to care that I am dishevelled) and I only leave the building to go for a walk with Bruce (who happily has said nothing along the lines of ‘she’s letting herself go a bit’ etc). Anyway, some days when walking time arrives, I just want to gather up my unruly mane, squirrel its hideousness away in a pleasing TUBE, get out of the house, and go for a good four mile stomp. Until the book is done and I can be arsed dealing with my increasingly unkempt appearance, this headband will hopefully fulfill that function. I am using Kid Classic, one of my Rowan favourites, in shade ‘Nightly’ (846).

And finally, some yarn that has not yet begun to be a hat, but will certainly do so soon. The yarn is grey Shetland 4 ply from the lovely folk at Shetland Organics. This yarn has a great bouncy hand, a proper Wintery sheepy feel, and a real depth of hue in its natural fleece shades. I have been gripped by a familiar compulsion to make lots of festive things, and fear I am about to design a hat whose seasonal theme will make Boreal look quite restrained. We will see how this goes . . .

The Sixareen Kep

Hello from Shetland, everybody! Wool Week is in full swing, and it has got off to a great start.
I thought you’d like to see the pattern we produced yesterday at the Shetland Museum — named and photographed by the workshop participants, and modeled here by the lovely Tania — the Sixareen Kep.

In the workshop I talked a bit about the way I tend to build up ideas and inspiration for a project, and I thought I’d share with you a little of the background to the design of this kep (cap). This was my starting point:


Stanley Cursiter, The Fair Isle Jumper (1923) Edinburgh City Arts Centre.

Some of you may remember this amazing portrait from the front cover of A Shetland Knitter’s Notebook, and I’ve also mentioned my fascination with it before here. What the sitter is wearing on her head is is a sort of fancy seafarer’s kep. I just love this hat – perhaps apart from the pompoms – and thought it would be an ideal use of Jamieson and Smith’s Shetland Heritage yarn, of which I conveniently had six balls – one in each shade.


(mmmm . . .tasty Shetland Heritage . . . )

The shape of Cursiter’s sitter’s kep also reminded me strongly of the Phrygian or Liberty cap — a symbol of freedom that’s perhaps most most familiarly associated with the French Revolution.


I thought I would like to make the main body of my kep red, rather than white, recalling the Phrygian cap.

Then I started thinking about the different kinds of head-covering worn by fishermen around the coasts of Britain.

These noble chaps were photographed by Hill and Adamson in 1847, just down the road from where I live, in Newhaven. The one on the left is wearing what I think of as a kep — the kind of tall ‘wursit’ hat that would have been familiarly worn by Scottish and English fishermen throughout the Nineteenth Century. While the Newhaven fisherman’s head-covering is evidently fashioned in a single colour, in Shetland, such hats would have been knitted in several bright shades:

In the words of Samuel Hibert, in his Description of the Shetland Islands (1822):

“The boat dress of the fishermen is in many respects striking. A worsted covering for the head, similar in form to the common English or Scotch nightcap, is dyed with so many colours that its bold tints are recognized at a considerable distance, like the stripes of a signal flag.”

The collections of the Shetland Museum abound with beautiful examples of such hats. These keps are knitted at typically tight gauges, and feature internal linings which would have made them incredibly cosy and windproof. With a little further poking around the Shetland Museum online archives, I found this description of some wonderfully elaborate examples, that were knitted up to an old design in the 1950s:

“Haaf hats were the type of hats worn by the crew of a sixareen at the haaf (deep sea) fishing, and were typically patterned with small geometric designs . . .The skipper of the boat wore a bright red cap, while the rest of the crew wore darker ones. This differentiated him from the rest of the crew.”

So with these resonances in mind — the hat in the Cursiter portrait; the red Phyrigian cap; the brightly patterned keps described in nineteenth-century accounts of Shetland; and the sixareen skipper’s red “haaf” hat — I knitted this:

My kep begins with a knitted-in lining, and the colourwork brim is knitted on 2.75mm needles. After joining the lining to the top of the brim, I went up a couple of needle sizes, knitting the main body of the kep at a looser gauge to make it drapey (as well as having great stitch definition for colourwork, because of the way it is spun, the Heritage yarn also drapes well). After knitting and shaping the body of the kep, I finished it off with a braid, made from 3 different coloured i-cords, which I plaited and joined together. Here’s the end result:

The workshop participants had a great discussion about what to name the hat — associations were made with Burra’s famous Papil Cross, the distinctive red geology of Ronas Hill as well as different aspects of Shetland seafaring. A vote was taken, and the name that won out was the Sixareen Kep.

So, the pattern for the Sixareen Kep is now available from Ravelry!

Many thanks to all who participated in the workshop: Victoria Wickham, Shelly Kocan, Tania Ashton Jones, Susan Freeman, Evelyn Mackenzie, Emily Poleson, Mandy Moore, Mary Pirie, Aileen Ryder, Outi Kater, Joyce James, Tori Seirestad, Charlotte Monckton, Ann Leibert, Mary Henderson, Monique Boonstra, Joyce Ward, Lesley Smith, Melanie Ireland and Jen Arnall Culliford.

frenzy

Happily, I always love to knit, but it has been a while since I have found myself in a total knitting frenzy. This particular frenzy struck on Friday, took over my brain and hands, and meant that I had to knit all weekend until I was done. To explain: on Friday morning, I popped into John Lewis for some snap fasteners for my cardigan. I picked those up, had a nice chat with Lindsay, and a good squoosh of the new Rowan yarns. I was particularly pleased when I saw the new ‘fine tweed’ range – one of my all-time favourite Rowan yarns is the now long-discontinued Yorkshire tweed and this new ‘fine tweed’ is very reminiscent of it. The colourways are named after Yorkshire and Lancashire villages, and the yarn is also spun in Yorkshire.


Fine tweed is a lovely nubbly, woolly single. It is very fine – the weight seems a little more sock yarn than 4ply – and the twist is punctuated with little tweedy flecks. There are 24 colours, and they are all amazing.

AMAZING

I went home, and spent the afternoon walking in the rain. I couldn’t stop thinking about those colours. Some were soft and faded, like old crewel wools, others were deep and rich and Autumnal. And tweedy. So tweedy. The frenzy slowly took hold – I just had to knit fine tweed! I needed to make colourwork! NOW! I had many other projects on the go, but to hell with them! To hell with everything! My fingers were itching for fine tweed. By Saturday morning, I was sorted. Oh, you tasty little yarn cakes. You are MINE, all mine.

I had lots of fun swatching

Did I mention how much I FOOKIN LOVE THOSE COLOURS?

Though the frenzy had by now seriously taken hold, with uncharacteristic restraint, I decided to draft up a whole pattern beforehand rather than, as per my usual practice, having a few design thoughts and knitting them up on the hoof. I spent the day immersed in Illustrator and came up with some hat charts from a couple of ideas I’ve been playing around with for a while.

These wee flowers have been knocking around my files for over a year now – I had intended them for something I’d just not got round to knitting. I find them very pleasing, but I was perhaps even more pleased with my crown chart. While the body of the hat would be covered with little flowers, the crown centre would resemble a larger flower. Big flowers! Little flowers! FLOWERS ALL ROUND!

Then I sat down and I knit like a loon.

By today – Monday morning – I had a fun new hat!

The frenzy has now evaporated, but it has been replaced by a sensation of self-satisfaction, which to others may manifest as the annoying smugness of a person who feels that she has got something RIGHT. I am really very pleased with this hat.

I think I am so happy with it because all of its design elements made total sense to me from start to finish. The yarn was utterly compelling and I felt I knew before I began how the colours I’d selected should work together. The design idea is simple, but this is really often best. It was fun to knit and to design (I enjoy playing around with charts in Illustrator). Though I think the crown chart placement still needs a stitch or two of tweaking, I love its kaleidoscopic effect and the way its decreases line up like a little braid.

This hat began in the FRENZY. It was made for the pure, knitterly pleasure of making it, and the fact that it turned out well is an unintended bonus. I didn’t intend to make a fine-tweed floral hat, much less to write a hat pattern, but this is what appears to have happened. I have lots of other things in the pipeline (including Betty Mouat, and the next issue of Textisles which will be out very shortly) but I am glad I gave into the frenzy and knit my arse off this weekend. Anyway, if anyone fancies covering their head with knitted flowers as the weather starts to turn, you should be able to do so in just a few days.

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