Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Joys of Jacob, or, How I Narrowly Escaped Having an Octopus on my Head

Above the marge of night a star still shines,
And on the frosty hills the sombre pines
Harbor an eerie wind that crooneth low
Over the glimmering wastes of virgin snow.
- from A Winter Dawn by Lucy Maud Montgomery
It's the end of November, and Old Man Winter has come and sat his big rump down on us here on the prairie. He's settling in... shifting in his seat so that he can stay comfortable until the warmth of spring sends him packing.

It's no big shocker. I'm a November baby - born in a blizzard, and used to bundling up against the bite of the windchill. I feel happy all snuggled up on the couch, surrounded by my balls of wool, slippers on my feet, with no worries of having to go out to face mosquitoes and do yard work. Instead, a doggie tries to rest his head on my elbow as a churn out a project, huffing when he can't get a good nap going...

The moment I brought my Jacob ram yarn home, I new what it would become: a pair of warm mittens, cabled, with just the right amount of coarseness, and with enough lanolin to make them somewhat water-resistant.

Two weeks ago, I cast on for my first mitten. I used the free pattern download from Ravelry called Eugenia's Mittens, with its unique mixture of cables. The snow had not yet fallen here, but I could feel the chill in the air, and it made me yearn for my new mittens. I sailed through the first one without any problems. Then, the snow fell, the thermometer plummeted, and I was all at once desperate to get them finished. I mean, how terrible it would be if I didn't get them finished before it got warm? Luckily, I did get them done last Monday, and I've been wearing them ever since.

I was so happy with them that I immediately decided I wanted a matching hat. Since I'd only used one ball to make the mittens, I was fairly sure I'd get a hat out of the other one, but my running-out-of-yarn fears still haunt me. The mittens hadn't even finished drying yet from washing and blocking when I cast on for a simple hat based on the Button Tab Hat from i like lemons.

I figured the hat would work up quickly. Seed stitch on the brim, plain stockinette up to the top, with simple decreases as it approached the end. I was working with needles one size larger than indicated. I cast on the required stitches, worked up the brim, tried it on, and decided it would be too big. That's strange, I thought. I've got a big head. It should be too small, if anything.

I ripped out the work and started again with fewer stitches. After two days, I'd worked up to the part where the decreases would start. I took out the needles, put the unfinished hat on my head, and walked into the bathroom to take a look.

It looked ok. But then, it happened. It started to creep up my head, like an octopus setting off for a feed. It pulled my hair upwards with it, until the hat sat atop my head like a crown with a fountain of hair threatening to spill over the edges. It was too small.

I sighed, took it off my head, and went back to the drawing board. Ten extra stitches and two days later, I had my hat:

There are a couple of things I loved about working with this yarn. One was the knowledge that one single person I met while on vacation in England at the craft fair at Cartmel had clipped, washed, carded and spun this yarn herself. When I finished my mittens, I washed them in some mild shampoo and conditioner and went to put a glug of vinegar into the rinse water to set the colour... when I realized that, since this is the natural colour of the fleece, it wasn't going to bleed. Ever. How cool is that?

Something I really didn't expect (but had heard of before) was the effect this wool would have on my new bamboo needles. The needles were cheap ones I'd bought on sale at Walmart, deeply ridged on the sides like bamboo skewers. After knitting the first mitten, I noticed that the oils from the wool had started to smooth them out. By the time I finished the second, they were practically aerodynamic.

Of course, this being a fairly raw wool, it has its drawbacks. It's itchy. Wool is itchy. Some of us (me included) don't particularly mind, because it's only really uncomfortable if you're too warm to begin with. However, I really didn't relish the thought of having this yarn rubbing against my forehead after my hat was finished. This in mind, I had the (unusual) foresight to use a provisional cast-on at the base of the hat, so that I could knit a band of cotton at the bottom that would flip up under the seed stitch band and save me from having a red forehead for the rest of the winter.

I did it in green, because I wanted to be able to easily distinguish between the band and the hat. I really like it, even though no one will see it. It's kinda like the sexy underwear under the sweatpants idea. Kinda.

Anyway, the photos of the hat were taken pre-washing and blocking, because, as every other knit-blogger has been experiencing, natural daylight for taking photos is rare these days. I'd just whipped the hat off the needles and sewn in the band before taking them. After that, I gave the hat a wash, and it's sitting on the table drying. That cotton band is taking the longest to dry, but it'll get there.

It could be worse. It was almost an octopus, after all.


YarnKettle said...

That set is beautiful. I especially love the mittens. They fell into my Ravelry queue while I was not looking. I do wish you had taken a picture of the octopus on your head.

Oh and "sexy underwear under the sweatpants" made me giggle.

AdrieneJ said...

I wish I'd thought of it, too. It was too much of an "oh no" moment, though. I should train myself to do more "in-process" photos. It would be proof that these silly things actually do happen to me!