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A few weeks ago, I came home to find a box from Makers’ Mercantile on the doorstep.
That’s one of the perks of this gig. I don’t have to go out and hunt for wild yarn with my net and spear. Yarn comes to me.
Usually it’s yarn I’ve asked for. But not this time. Not in this box.
No, in this box…
was a Makers’ Mercantile sheep bowl…
HiKoo Simplicity (DK weight, 55% Merino Wool, 28% Acrylic, 17% Nylon) in red (054 Vavava Voom), white (001 White), and blue (051 Raffi), along with…
…one LOVaFUR Vegan Pompom, also in red, white, and blue.
At the bottom was a note suggesting that I take the contents (the yarn and pompom, that is–not the sheep bowl) and make them into something. A challenge. A dare!
I’m as patriotic as the next knitter, but those colors were a curveball. Red, white, and blue is a charged combination for lots of folks–not only Americans–and it’s not often associated with chilly weather. To me, it shouts fireworks, barbecues, and swimming pools.
I briefly considered crocheting a 1970s Yankee Doodle bikini,
a) HiKoo Simplicity streeeeeeeeeeetches when soaking wet, and
b) I couldn’t think of any place to stick the pompom that wouldn’t be either ridiculous or indecent.
With three skeins of wool blend and a pompom, clearly I ought to make a hat. Alrighty, then.
The pompom was the key. I have in my albums a few photographs of my mother in full 1960s regalia: Mary Quant knock-offs meant to give Detroit teenagers some of the verve and spark of swinging Londoners.
I saw that in the winter of 1969 she had gone to Niagara Falls in an oversized newsboy cap topped with just such a big, fluffy faux fur pompom. It perfectly matched her dressy short overcoat, with equally fluffy faux fur collar and cuffs.
The effect was goofy, but fun–an ensemble for a party girl who didn’t mind if her clothes shouted a bit.
There was my answer–let the pompom be the crowning touch on a hat that was boldly graphic, happy, even silly. A hat with some swing, in Union Jack colors. You can accessorize with red, white, and blue in the winter. Sure you can. James Bond did, while parachuting off a precipice in the Alps.
It didn’t take long to realize that the effect I wanted didn’t come across in conventional, concentric stockinette stripes running ’round and ’round from the band to the crown. I’d seen that a million times. It wasn’t surprising enough to support the pompom.
I toyed with a few other ideas, like an asymmetrical Mondrian-inspired take on stranded colorwork.
That didn’t get far. It’s not a bad idea, though structurally it’s more suited to intarsia than stranding. I might come back to this one another time. But no matter what I did, in these colors I couldn’t get it to look anything other than an Uncle Sam hat gone horribly awry.
Over the Top
I’d ripped back to just the band for the fourth time when I thought about the garter stitch short rows in the cage purse. Those had been so much fun to knit. I could do the hat in garter stitch, right? No law against that. And I could also build it in successive short rows. Like this:
Each stripe would “eat up” two of the live stitches at the top of the band. The stripes would run across the top of the hat, instead of around the circumference. And there would be none of the usual decreases in the crown to interference with the progression of red, white, blue, red, white, blue.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Nothing gets me overexcited like trying out a new way to knit a familiar shape. I hate stopping to eat, or pee, or answer e-mails, or see people. I just want to go go go go go go until I find out whether it’s going to work or not.
I figured before I began that I’d need to increase in each stripe or the hat would be very short and fit like a teeny-weenie beanie. I planned the placement and rate of increases and zoomed along until in a gratifyingly short time the hat was almost off the needle. So I stuck it on my head.
Oh, yeah. Fetching. Yeah.
Those two weird outcroppings at the right and left would have to go–or the whole idea would have to go.
The diagnosis? The bulges were the fault of the constant, violent increasing–clearly I needed to slow it down a bit. I’d been so worried about the hat being too small that I made it too big. Too big at each side. It sprouted saddlebags.
The next version, with increases tapering off about halfway through, was better.
I figured I could eliminate the remaining oddity in the shape with judicious blocking. HiKoo Simplicity is very malleable when wet.
As is my custom with any tam, I stretched the unblocked piece over a dinner plate.
Rather than soak it, I pulled out my steam iron and shot the top and (especially) the turned edge with jets and more jets of very hot steam, until everything except the band was quite damp. (If your iron doesn’t have a steam jet option, you can do this over a boiling tea kettle if you promise to be careful with your fingers.)
I avoided steaming the band, because wet Simplicity stretches and a sopping wet band would have grown too large to fit properly. (Simplicity returns to its original dimensions after a spin in the tumble dryer–but then the entire hat would have come unblocked.)
Leaving the steamed hat on the plate, I set it aside to dry thoroughly overnight.
Drying things overnight is wonderful, because at some point exhaustion kicks in and I fall asleep and stop poking the piece every five minutes to see if it’s ready yet.
To find the exact center of the dry crown, I measured with the hat still on the plate and marked the spot with a locking ring stitch marker.
I tied on the pompom. (LOVaFUR poms tie on, so you can change them out and move them around if you like.)
I called over a friend who has the perfect look for a hat like this.
I held my breath. I put it on her.
I’m calling it a success.
I’m calling it groovy, baby.
I’m calling it…the Tricolor Muffin.
Wouldn’t you know it, the yarn for the next project arrived while this hat was in progress. And wouldn’t you know, it’s also heavy on red, white, and blue–though this time in HiKoo Simpliworsted and with the addition of gold.
When I opened the box, somehow Rosamund (whom you may remember from The Adventure of the Warm Puppy and More Excuses to Show You Pictures of My Adorable Dog) knew the contents were intended for her. Smart girl.
Stop by in two weeks and I’ll show you what’s up.
In the meantime, we’ll be putting together a free pattern for the Tricolor Muffin. And if you don’t think you’re feeling quite up to the patriotic combo, we’ll have suggestions about other trios, other yarns, and other coordinating pompoms in the LOVaFUR line.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
HiKoo Simplicity (55% Merino Wool, 28% Acrylic, 17% Nylon. 117 yards per 50 gram hank)
Sheep Bowl (exclusive to Makers’ Mercantile!)
LOVaFUR Handmade Vegan Fur Pompom (shown in red/white/blue)
HiKoo Simpliworsted (55% Merino Wool, 25% Acrylic, 17% Nylon. 140 yards per 100 gram hank)
addi® Click Turbo Interchangeable Needle
Makers’ Mercantile Tape Measure (shown in Orange)
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.