A Hat’s Humble Beginning

If you’d have asked me a year ago if I knew anything at all about knitting, I’d have laughed and replied with something to the effect of “Yes. You should also ask me about rocket science.” I had no knitting knowledge whatsoever until a wonderful woman named Laverne entered the picture. A warm, wise, eighty-something woman with the patience to teach an impatient, exasperated twenty-something me. Thanks go to my aunt, who, after watching me try to crochet with a stiff, clawlike, miserable excuse for a hand, picked up the phone and told me to go see Laverne.

The motivation for learning to knit spurred from my hat-loving boyfriend, Noah. At Christmas last year, we’d been dating long enough that we decided to exchange low-key gifts. What better to give a guy who owns no less than 20 hats another one? His neon and trucker hat collection lacked warmth. Noah’s a relaxed kind of guy, so I thought making him a hat would be a fitting way to give something heartfelt without being too cheesy or too basic.

So, back to Laverne. Laverne took me to her house where we sat in the cozy living room and she showed me the basics of knitting as we chatted about life in general. This woman is a miracle worker. I thought my pathetic try at crocheting meant that I would be an equally abysmal knitter. How would I ever even begin to mimic the skills of Laverne, who creates intricate finger puppets for her grandkids or amazing afghans or complicated lace patterns or slippers or sweaters?! Luckily, Laverne isn’t entirely gung-ho about crocheting, either, and she thought I should give knitting a try. After lots of demonstrations  and encouragement on her part and awkward, disjointed stitches on mine, things started to click. If I had a dollar for every “aha!” moment that day, I’d have some serious dolla dolla billz.

Anyway, I told Laverne a little about Noah and that I wanted to knit him one of those winter hats with earflaps. Sure enough, after a little rummaging around in the back room, Laverne the Knitting Sage produced a page from a project-a-day calendar with the perfect ski hat. I was thrilled. Something about the way Laverne asked questions and listened with such genuine interest got me so excited to knit things for others to show how much they mean to me.

Laverne loaned me some needles and shuttled me back home, where I practiced knitting some more, back and forth, over and over. After a couple inches worth of practice fabric, I felt comfortable enough to go buy the yarn for the project. Here’s where the disobedience to directions kicked in. Why oh why would I knit my neon color obsessed boyfriend a plain hat? The thought still makes me shudder.

A few hours spent browsing knitting websites (such things exist?!), I found patterns for snowflakes, but wasn’t happy with any of them as is. Using them for a springboard, I grabbed some graph paper and designed my own snowflake pattern. Noah’s navy blue hat would now include bright orange snowflakes. Little did I know that knitting with two colors could be a little challenging for a novice knitter like me.

Alright, enough jibber jabber, here’s the basics of the pattern:

  • bulky yarn [I used Charisma from Michael’s, and Sugar ‘n’ Cream for the contrast color]
  • size 10.5 [6mm] needles
  • gauge: 14 sts = 4″ [HA! I had no idea what gauge was]
  • First knit earflaps in stockinette st, ending on a purl row, and place on st holder.
  • Cast on sts, knit across sts of earflaps as you go.
  • Work in St st for 6 inches or so, then start the decrease.
  • Finish by sewing up the seam of the hat.

Gauge, you ask? Why bother? Well, I was struck with some definite beginners’ luck with this project. I didn’t bother to check gauge, which is basically a sample of how your fabric will look using a certain yarn at a certain tension. It can really mess with sizing if it’s not right.

I just guessed and knit an inch or two of fabric before adding the snowflake, and it turned out alright. The hard part was guesstimating how much yarn I’d need for each snowflake, because I figured carrying the same strand of contrast color would make a lot of long, unused strands on the inside of the hat. I ended up doing some fancypants thing called intarsia.  Basically, each snowflake had its own strand of yarn that would hang down in the back of the knitting. To keep them from getting tangled, I’d wind them up and clamp ’em with a clothespin. Good enough for me! At the time, I had no idea it was actually a technique – guessing tends to serve me pretty decently. If you’d like the pattern I made for the snowflake, just say so and I’ll get it to ya.

Here’s the almost final product:

I say almost final because it turned out the stitches were a little too big to keep the wind out, so I guessed again and knit Noah a bright green liner for it. Guessed again, got lucky again. Noah was pretty pumped about the hat, which made me even more excited about it. He wears it everywhere (even in Australia), which is big confidence booster and excites me to keep exploring different knitting projects and improve as a knitter.

Verdict? Triumph. [a lucky one, at that.]

A big part of continuing with knitting after this project was Laverne’s encouragement. To receive bona fide praise for my first knit hat from someone who taught herself to knit as a schoolgirl using pencils and string really inspired me. Whenever I was home, I started attending the knitting group Laverne leads at the local senior center. It’s the best thing ever. Sitting around with 10 ladies, all very much senior to me, listening to their stories and inquisitively watching their projects is such a comfortable place to be. Laverne, who I’m pretty sure knows everything there is to know about knitting, would teach me new techniques and give me new patterns she wanted me to try. Her seemingly boundless patience and  heartening words are really what keep me going. If I can be someone who even distantly resembles Laverne when I’m 80, I’ll be quite happy. She’s sharp, active, engaging, and generous. Recently, she’s invited me to come over some evening to hang out and knit. I can’t freaking wait.

p.s. one more picture, because it’s just so stinkin’ charming.

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