I was supposed to be knitting a little brioche stitch scarf to send to Italy, but I couldn’t find the King Cole Riot yarn left over from the scarf I made for myself. (One of these days I’ll sort out my yarn stash and catalogue everything, just not in this lifetime.)
Instead, I came across a couple of skeins and a small ball of pure wool aran weight yarn in a natural colour, plus a small amount of a loosely spun blue wool that is a little heavier than aran.
They would make a nice hat, I thought. Now, knitting a woolly hat for a woman who lives in Italy may seem bonkers, but my dear husband’s Skype pal and his wife are from the Dolomites, a skiing region where winters are long and cold.
Since conquering my fear of Fair Isle last Christmas, I’ve been longing to knit something else in stranded colourwork. I searched on Ravelry for a suitable pattern and came up with the Endless Rose Hat, a very pretty hat based on the traditional mitten design of the same name from the Selbu region of Norway. It starts with a Latvian braid, something I’ve never attempted before, but I didn’t let that put me off. I launched in without knitting a tension square, telling myself there is no point knitting a swatch back and forth when the hat is to be knitted in the round. (True, my in-the-round tension is quite different.) The hat itself would be the tension piece.
The Latvian braid instructions in the pattern were beyond me, but I found a Drops video that made sense. The “arrowheads” in my braid point to the right instead of to the left, but who cares.
The process is basically the same as knitting alternate colours, stranding the one that isn’t required, except that you purl instead of knit and strand at the front of the work not the back. Really, it couldn’t be easier, even though it looks quite impressive when it’s done.
You start by knitting a round of alternating colours, then you purl the next round, working each stitch in the same colour as the round below. The important thing is to bring the yarns up to work in the same direction (clockwise, say) consistently. The third and final round is also purled, with each stitch again in the same colour as the first two rounds, but this time the working yarn must be brought up in the opposite direction (anti-clockwise, say). If this doesn’t make sense, have a look at the Drops video. Once you’ve knitted one of these braids, you’ll remember how to do it for ever. It gives a nice firm edge as well as being decorative, so it would be good for gloves that don’t have a ribbed cuff as well as hats and bags.
I loved the Delft-y look of the blue and white Endless Rose pattern, but the fabric was quite dense and unyielding.
I know, I should have knitted a tension swatch in the round before casting on for the hat. More worryingly, I ran out of blue yarn, even though I started with a plain band. I could have finished it in the plain colour as well, but the top of the hat really benefits from the colourwork to show off the shaping, and stopping the Endless Rose chart at a random point just looked silly. (The clue is in the name: it’s meant to be endless.)
I ripped out all my work, including the Latvian braid, and did another Ravelry search to try and find a similarly-shaped hat knitted on larger needles (for a softer fabric) that didn’t require much of the contrast colour. I couldn’t find anything. Necessity being the mother of invention, I decided to design a hat to suit the yarn I had. I swatched to establish a suitable tension and worked out how many colourwork rounds I could knit from the blue yarn. I then dug out the three machine-made Norwegian sweaters we possess and studied them for inspiration.
One of them includes this motif, which is a variation on a theme I have seen in various Selbu patterns. At 24 stitches across and 19 rows tall, it was just the right size for what I needed. And, being composed of four triangular elements, it suits a hat with regular decreases at the top. Many Selbu designs are like this, presumably because Selbu mittens have a triangular end for the fingers.
My design doesn’t have colourwork all the way up the hat, just around the bottom and at the crown. The stranding around the lower part will keep the wearer’s ears nice and toasty, while the patterned crown shows off the shaping and makes the hat look interesting from behind as well as from the front and sides. The plain section means it’s easy to lengthen or shorten it. Here’s a preview – I’m using a can of emulsion paint with a padded-out top, all enclosed in a plastic bag, for blocking.
When both hats have finished blocking, I’m going to take some proper photos and then try and get the pattern test-knitted via Ravelry. All being well, I’ll then make it available. It seems a shame to have put the effort into designing it if I’m the only person who will ever get to knit it. And I’m sure the whole exercise will be a useful learning experience, to find out what makes a good knitting pattern. My brioche scarf plans may have gone awry, but I hope the Italian lady will like her unique hat.