Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Another knit cap

The knitting deities have not been kind to me this past year. Regardless, upon flipping through my print-outs from The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, I found this cap: [original]
The description is courtesy of Google Translate. It's not really an ikat, but it gets the point across.
and decided I wanted to try to reproduce it. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because it’s so completely unlike anything I’ve seen. Maybe it’s because I’m a glutton for punishment. But on Christmas Day, I got started. Technically, I should have dyed some blue wool and then taken that and some white wool and spun them into a variegated yarn. Not happening, so I went with Plan B.

So first, I took a skein of blue wool yarn that very closely matched the original picture, and I tried to see if I could bleach the blue out of it. Nope. Using a few strands to experiment, I increased the ratio of bleach to water and found it started to dissolve the wool but it didn’t lighten the color. On to Plan C. Next I took a skein of natural merino wool, and wrapped it around and around the back of a dining room chair until I had a giant donut of yarn. Then I loosely tied it in a few places and pre-wet it. Then I folded it in half, and in half again, and put two of the resulting bends into a small crock-pot, with the other two bends sticking up.

Yes, that's Sweet Daughter's Hello Kitty toaster in the background.
I went down to my Rubbermaid tub marked “dyeing” and dug around hoping I had some acid dye in blue left over from a project over 15 years ago. Score! It was a rather bright blue, but it was all I had. I trotted back upstairs, read the directions for using it in a washing machine, and then extrapolated what I would need for the crock-pot. This highly scientific method meant I took an old rum bottle (it was all I had handy, really! *hic!*), and put some water in it. Then I added approximately ½ teaspoon of dye and shook it up until it was well dissolved.
This used to hold Cruzan Blackstrap Rum. You recycle your way, I'll recycle mine.
Then I carefully poured it into the center of the crock-pot, trying to keep it near the bottom. Then I added more water until the crock-pot was almost full. I turned it on (no “high” or “low” on this one) and went and played with Sweet Daughter for an hour or so.

I removed the yarn from the crock-pot and dumped it in a colander and let it cool a bit before rinsing it so it wouldn’t felt into a giant wad. (Agitation and/or rapid temperature change will felt wool.) I squeezed out as much water as I could by wrapping it in a towel and then hung it to dry.
One side.
The other side.
Then I rolled it into a ball.

I got out some size 8 needles and started knitting a swatch. Got my gauge. Started knitting the actual hat, and one of my big fears came to pass. See that original hat? See how the colors just sort of magically seemed to alternate with a minimum puddling of colors? Well, I got the blocks of color.  Sort of like this, but bigger.

I couldn’t have gotten the colors to line up like that if I tried. So I quit while I was ahead, and swore quietly under my breath and then it came to me … change the size of the needles, and that should shift everything one way or the other. I found a size 5 circular needle, knit a swatch, calculated my stitches, and started again.
I knit for an inch and a half or so, did a row of purl stitches (so it would turn nicely) and then another inch and a half. I then picked up the bottom edge in the next round, knitting them together, and then just knit in a circle for a while. The next challenge was figuring out how tall to make it, so when I felted it it would come out looking right. One thing I’ve found over the past year is that when you double the bottom edge, it doesn’t shrink (much) when you try to felt. The diameter of the rest will shrink some, but proportionately the length shrinks much more. No, I didn’t remember how much more, so this time I decided to get all scientific and measure. But first I had to figure out the decrease at the top. I decreased 4 stitches every row until I had eight stitches left which I looped onto the end of the yarn, pulled to the inside and secured.

Then I put it in a lingerie bag and threw it in the wash with some other laundry, not noticing that the cycle was set on “delicate”. It came out of the wash the same size it went in. So back in it went, by itself, set on “regular”. I stood there and pulled it out every few minutes to measure the progress. After the length had shrunk 2”, I spun the water out and blocked (shaped) it over two mixing bowls to get the curve at the top and the slight flare at the bottom. The color also mellowed out a bit but is still well within the realm of possibility for indigo dye.
Sorry - picture's a little crooked.

Not a perfect match, but recognizable. And I'm not trying to recreate a couple-of-hundred-years-old cap. I'm trying to make it look like it did when it was new. I’ll call it a win.


  1. You know, I was just saying yesterday that we need a new toaster.

  2. It toasts a picture of Hello Kitty right on the toast.

  3. I'd wear it.

    Now you should try dyeing some yarn with the Blackstrap. It's dark enough you could probably get it to work...

  4. I'd wear it too! :-) As for CTone's comment, are you sure you weren't a Marine in a past life??? :-)

  5. Old NFO, why that's the nicest compliment I've had in a long time. Maybe I was, and that's why I love making things go "blammo!".

    And between you and bluesun, I'd better get busy, eh?

  6. SOOOO full of WIN!

    Seriously, Nancy, awesome hat.

  7. DLG ... sorry you got got stuck with the prototype when I was still at the beginning end of the learning curve. I'll let you know if I ever do another one and it ends up in your size.

  8. I know it has been a long time since you knit this hat, but do you remember how many decreases per row did you use to shape the crown?