Friday, January 22, 2010

Fiber Arts Friday - Learning to Knit

I have been learning to knit.

I knit several hats and scarves with knitting looms, but was starting to get a bored.  So about 18 months ago, I decided to learn to knit with real knitting needles.

I bought a copy of The Chicks with Sticks Guide to Knitting by Nancy Queen and Mary Ellen O'Connell and promptly started working on the first scarf in the book.  It's a simple garter stitch with fringe.  I was using smaller needles and different yarn than the pattern called for.  Which means I knit back and forth for what seemed like forever.

I didn't finish the scarf.  Don't get me wrong, I think this book is a great reference.  Using it to understand knit, purl and cast on has been working very well.

With the hats I was more specific about the yarn weight and needles, so I could follow the patterns directly.  But the one thing I didn't find was what size head certain patterns should fit.  So the patterns I selected didn't always fit the intended head.

When I thought I was ready to modify a pattern for the yarn, needles and head I intended, my hats were always too big.

My husband decided he wanted a hat, but it couldn't be too hot and needed to be machine washable.  I thought cotton would be cooler than alpaca or wool and it shouldn't felt.  So I knit him an orange cotton hat for his 24.5 inch head.  Of course the hat is way too big and the cotton doesn't hold it's shape very well.  We washed it a few times.  It shrunk a little, but not enough.

After two failures for my husband's modified London Beanie, I made a twitter plea for help.  There must be some sort of guideline to understanding how much a hat would stretch.

The answer is: it depends.

It depends on the yarn you are using, how tight you knit and what pattern you are using.  It may also depend on the moon but I'm not sure about that.  ;-)

The advice I was given for my latest hat was:
  • Knit 18 inches for a measured 22 inches
  • Plan for 20-30% stretch
  • Use 90 stitches
  • Put the big hat on his head, pull it to a comfortable tightness, then subtract those stitches
  • That's why knitting a swatch is a good idea
I put the big hat on Hubba's head and pulled it tight, counted the ribs and ended up with 93 stitches.  I also estimated 25% stretchage (that might be a new word) and ended up with 88 stitches.  So I did the math on the pattern and am beginning the modified London Beanie one more time.  This time I am casting on 90 stitches.

I'll let you know how it goes.


WonderWhyGal said...

Oh, I am totally going to file this away for when I start my hat...again. Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to see the next hat you knit.

Kathryn Ray said...

Andrea - thanks for the vote of confidence. This latest hat seems really small so far, but I'm going to finish it.

Learning is fun, isn't it. ;-)