You can’t visit Ireland without buying or at least admiring beautifully knitted garments especially the famous Aran sweater. It is amazing how nowadays, machines can create intricate patterns that once could only be made by hand. Stores were selling both kinds. Interestingly, I found that the handmade items had a more simplistic design and a higher price than those machine made. Making a sweater, for example, can take a long time. It makes sense to use a machine if someone’s living depends on knitting. However, people still choose to knit by hand not necessarily to make money.
You can always tell the difference between hand knitted items and those made by a machine. Most of the time, the hand knitted pieces of clothing are being easily noticed and complimented by others. See machine knitted sweaters below from different stores in Ireland.
While I was browsing thorough stores and touching sweaters, as I was trying to make a decision on which one I should buy, the times when I used to knit came to my mind. I actually finished a sweater a few days before I had left Romania. I had rarely knitted since I moved to the U.S. because I found it difficult to include knitting in my busy schedule. I thought that such a tedious activity would become useless when a variety of things already knitted could be purchased in stores at a lower price than what it would cost me to make them.
When I lived in Romania hand knitting was a way of life for many women. Girls learned the basics of knitting and sewing by hand in school when they were about 10 years old. Some of them took these activities to more advanced levels. The knitting and sewing skills would become useful later in life when they made clothing for their families and different decorative items for their homes.
I was lucky to have friends that loved to knit. We were exchanging techniques and patterns that we learned from other knitters usually our mothers and grandmothers. We were making warm and stylish clothes for the cold weather and showed off our own designs on scarves, hats, gloves, socks, and sweaters in a variety of colors and fabrics. Wool and mohair were our favorite materials. We also loved cable knitting. Sometimes we were lucky to come across the German knitting magazine Burda that was giving us more knitting ideas.
Back to knitting
It is too bad that hand knitting is not being taught in the American schools. Here, it is view more as a hobby than an useful skill. Some people see knitting as an “old ladies” thing that has been passed down to a younger generation. I am sure a lot of people think that knitting a pair of socks is a waste of time when you can buy them already made.
Although all these observations are true people choose knitting for various reasons. They can make whatever they want and in anyway they want it. Things made by hand are usually more appreciated than something that was bought already made. Knitting is good exercise for hands, helps relieve stress, and keeps mind off unnecessary things by channeling thoughts into something creative. There still is time available for knitting. Consider those boring TV moments or those minutes when you can’t fall asleep at night.
While I was visiting different stores in Ireland I realized how much I missed knitting. I missed making my own clothing, the feel of yarn, the knots and twists, and creating my own patterns. I wanted to buy an Aran sweater but I hesitated. I knew that I could make on my own any of the sweaters I have seen. I went ahead and bought some yarn, though. I took pictures of various patterns and brought them home to have as inspiration for future projects. As soon as I remembered how to read a pattern everything seemed doable.
First project in a long time…
I decided to start with an easier project. I selected a hat whose design I liked and knew I was able to make. I remembered I still owned a scarf I made long time ago and had never worn that had a similar color as the hat on display. It was made of acrylic and not wool. So, I recycled the yarn and used it for my hat. It was perfect for practice. I didn’t have to feel bad if I messed it up.
The inside of the hat from the store had a fine fleece liner that served several purposes. It was more suitable for the cold Irish weather, was holding the wool from stretching, and formed a divider between the head and the wool that sometimes could be itchy. I did not use a liner for my project because I live in a warm climate that doesn’t require such design. Acrylic is not as itchy as wool.
When I finished it I realized something was off. Casting on or the way I put the yarn and the stitches onto the needles was different than the one in the picture that looked much better than mine. It made sense to do it that way because it needed to hold up to the hat’s regular wear and tear every time it had to be placed on the head. Mine felt loose on my forehead. I tried to see if I can pull and adjust some of the yarn and found it very difficult. Below you will see the hat I made on the left side and the store model on the right side.
I thought it was normal to make some mistakes on my first project after such a long time of not knitting. The brim also felt too stretchy. I had realized that I should have used smaller size needles for a tighter brim. I did not want to re do it. So, I improvised. I extended the hat’s brim. I used wool yarn that was leftover from another project and extended the brim in the opposite direction of the 2×2 ribbing using the same number of rows. It was not difficult to do.
The wool extension gave the hat a new and cozy look and was not as stretchy as the acrylic yarn I had used before. The ending row made the brim feel tighter as well. I folded it on the outside so it won’t itch my head. If you like a two-color brim start from the beginning casting on the stitches properly and including the color desired in the design as a whole. As precised as knitting is, sometimes there are ways to fix mistakes without altering the quality of the final product.
See below binding off the brim.
The body of my hat fit four full patterns. The hat is a medium size. For a larger size you need to increase the number of stitches in the pattern since adding another full pattern will make it too large. Three full patterns would be sufficient for a child hat.
The crown required decreasing the number of stitches in the 3-3-3 rib first. The binding off or the last row of the crown had just a few stitches that I decreased all at once in one stitch. This technique helped the hat have a more rounded look and avoided getting a narrow ending.
I really enjoyed making this hat and am very pleased with the way it turned out. The extended wool brim added the stretch that I needed, texture, and an unexpected pop of color. I know I will be gladly wearing this hat when I take my dog for walks during the cold days.
In order to create this project some basic knitting techniques and tailoring are needed.
- level of difficulty: intermediate
- materials needed: 5 mm or 8 US size circular needles for a continuous look that won’t require assembling the hat by sewing; wool and/or acrylic yarn
- skills needed: reading patterns, casting on, knit, purl, cable stitching for a unique 3-D look, shaping the crown, and binding off.
- time needed to finalize: it takes a few hours or one day at most if everything goes smoothly without interruptions for fixing mistakes. Take your time. Knit slowly and check every stitch.
Making this hat is a great activity for those lazy winter days. It will make a great gift for the holidays. Get the children involved in knitting as well. I am sure they will remember you for teaching them to make something useful. They may like it and will get a great satisfaction from creating cool stuff with their own hands. Let me know if you are interested in further instructions.
Stay tuned for more projects, patterns, and techniques.
Live simply and happily. You can do it!