Goldilocks Knitting

After a very hot and humid August and early September, our weather has finally turned. We’ve had days where it’s been fresh and cool and breezy; in fact, the other evening, when my husband and our 10 year-old son and I went out for our (nearly) ritual evening bike ride, my hands got so cold that I found myself wishing I had a pair of fingerless mittens.

I almost have a pair. I had been so pleased with the pair I made for my daughter:

Sorry the photo’s blurry; it’s all I’ve got as the mitts are now with my daughter in another city. This was my first attempt at cables, and they are surprisingly easy to do. The pattern is Queen Street mitts by Glenna C

… that I decided I needed a pair as well. So last spring, I began working on these:

Sprig, by Glenna C. (And who (whom?) am I kidding? All my photos are blurry).

While the ones I made for my daughter feel a bit too snug (she’s pleased, but in hindsight, I should have gone up another needle size), these ones are neither too snug, nor too loose, but are turning out juuust right.

I should have finished them by now, and would have, had I not put them down this summer in order to begin knitting a hat for my daughter. She had spent the latter half of last winter wearing the hat pictured below, an overstretched monstrosity whose only redeeming feature is that it’s not itchy (unlike the beautiful one I had bought her for Christmas two years ago):

It looks worse, sitting here on the kitchen table, than it does when actually on her head; still, it IS rather ratty looking …

When my daughter came home for the summer I promised her I would make her a new hat, and after some online searching, we found this pattern for Hermione’s cable and eyelet hat, a knock-off of the one Hermione wore in the sixth Harry Potter movie. The designer’s instructions are a little vague: this is a children’s size hat, she says, but for a woman’s size hat you could try adding another repeat — or two — and then lengthening the hat by one full repeat. Now, I don’t know about you, but all of this sounds very imprecise and a bit fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants — not the kind of knitting instructions I usually like to go by.

Plunging in regardless (because, hello!, it’s Hermione’s hat!) I cast on as directed, using a new-to-me method: alternate cable (which was an absolute bear and required several attempts to get right), but once I got past that, the hat went swimmingly.

Or so I thought.

About halfway up, I started wondering if the hat was going to be too big. The alternate cable cast-on seemed way stretchier than anything I’d ever encountered before, and as soon as the circular needles allowed for it, the hat-in-progress began to go on and off both my daughter’s head and mine, many times over, both of us hemming and hawing, both of us wondering, Is it too big? Or just right? Too big? Or just right? while I kept on knittingknittingknitting, until suddenly, the thing was done and sitting there … and yes, it does fit … but the question lingered each and every time either my daughter or I donned it, as we did several times a day over the course of several days: Is this hat juuust right, or is it too big?

Because I’ve knit a stretched-out monstrosity once before (see the blue and green hat above), I’m more than a bit worried that after a wash and a few wearings, it too, will stretch out irretrievably. So I’ve not yet taken the final plunge and blocked it, because I’ve always assumed that that’s the point of no return. Once it hits that water, there’s no going back to unravel the sucker; you’re stuck. (Is that actually the case? I truly have no idea).

Just after finishing the hat, my daughter and I found ourselves in the yarn shop yet again, this time to choose some yarn for my daughter to take to university, so she’d have a crochet project to work on during her spare time when she comes home for Christmas. Completely forgetting that I had a pair of unfinished fingerless mitts I could be working on, I said to my daughter, How about I make you another hat? Maybe two hats would be nice. And maybe this one will be juuust right … 

Like most other 19 year-old females, when faced with the possibility of more fashion, she couldn’t resist, and said, SURE! That would be great!

(It makes me inordinately happy that, unlike my two sons (my 16 year-old, who hasn’t worn anything hand-knitted for years, and our youngest, who has just declared he doesn’t want my hand-knit mittens anymore, despite the fact that just last year he said they were THE BEST for making snowballs), my daughter is ever-appreciative of my knitting).

So we chose another yarn and another pattern:

Determined not to make this one too big, and casting aspersions on the über-stretchy alternate cable cast on, which I contend may be the root of the problem with Hermione’s hat, I cast on using my usual method, but this time with smaller needles (because by this time I had done some hat construction research), and at the same time, I also slightly modified the pattern, because although my daughter loves this hat, she doesn’t want a slouchy look; she wants more of a beanie-type hat. Oh, and I almost forgot: I was also using DK weight yarn — not worsted, as the pattern calls for — so I had to do some calculations to figure out how many stitches to cast on.

(So, yes, in case you’re thinking, Oh, I can tell already that this is not going to end well … sigh … you’d be right … )

Now, when knitting with circular needles, it’s hard to tell what the eventual size is going to be. Everything seemed to be going so well, until the day came where I was forced to say:

“So … um … I’m kinda wondering if this is coming out a bit small … ”

My daughter picked it up, tried — and failed — to get it on her head.

“I think it’s just the needles making it so you can’t get it over your head,” I reassured her, suddenly deciding to rally. “I’m just not far enough, I think.”

I decided to go further out onto the limb, despite the fact that I could hear it creaking: “Actually, I think it will be juuust right … if Hermione is too big, then the changes I’ve made here should be perfect.”

“Okaaay,” she said, doubt in her voice. “You’re the knitter!”

Of course, the farther you get in a knitting project, the more you have invested; despite thoughts of Too small? No, juuust right. Too small? No, juuust right. Too small? running through my brain, I kept right on knitting, and then, one day, I inspected it closely and saw this:

If you look closely at the centre-most line of cabling, you’ll see that I made a mistake. Can you see it? The cables don’t all lean left; I zigged where I should have zagged 😦

At this point, I may have muttered words that rhyme with truck it.

The funny thing is, I had been concentrating so hard down there, near the beginning! It was the early stages, and I’m relatively new to cabling, and I was being so damn careful to get them right. Further up, I was feeling rather cocky; I had thrown caution to the wind and was knitting while watching Netflix*.

And yet, after the swearing, I have to admit it was a relief: I knew then that I would have to unravel the compression bandage the hat. That cable that I sent up the wrong way would bother me every. single. time. I saw the hat. Never mind the fact that I wouldn’t see the hat very often; never mind the fact that I couldn’t possibly see the hat squeezed perched on my daughter’s head as she trudged through snow to make her way to her classes; I could still imagine her trudging through snow to make it to her classes, and when I did, I knew I’d immediately see the cable that zigged instead of zagged.

But although I knew the hat would have to be unravelled, I wasn’t sure exactly how to fix the problem. Should I add another repeat? Should I use bigger needles for the ribbing? Should I once again go with the alternate cable cast on?

Indecisive, but needing to do something (winter’s coming!) I went back to Hermione. Leaving Version One alone, I cast on Version Two with the leftover yarn, this time with my usual method, and with one less repeat.

Knitknitknit and this time my thoughts were running Okay, that’s better, this will be juuust right, juuust right, juuust right … as soon as I run out of yarn I’ll take Version One apart, and then … um … okay … wait a sec … is this juuust right or is this actually too small? Knitknitknit … Oh, dammit, do NOT tell me this is going to be too freaking small! Oh, bloody hell, I think this IS going to be too small … 

Does the new one look too small to you? Yeah, it did to me, too, but I couldn’t tell for sure because I was at the end of my rope yarn and I wasn’t yet able to get the hat over my head because the needles were in the way.

At this point, I needed to call in the cavalry. So I took all of the above to the yarn store. Their verdict? Version ONE of Hermione’s hat is perfect. The yarn store woman — who knows everything — assures me it should not stretch out like that other monstrosity: firstly, because 1X1 ribbing doesn’t tend to stretch out enormously like a 4X4 ribbing will; and secondly, because it’s merino wool and it has memory, unlike the acrylic/wool blend I used for the other hat. And even if it were to stretch out slightly, it’s superwash wool, meaning I could toss it in the washer, and then in the dryer, and that would bring it back down a notch. She told me to stop knitting the replacement Hermione hat and to go ahead and block the original Hermione hat.

As for the blue Brae hat: it’s definitely too small. I need to add another repeat to the pattern to get more width, but I should definitely use the smaller needles for the ribbing band, and then switch to larger needles for the main body. But this time I should probably take no chances; as Mad-Eye Moody would say: Constant Vigilance!, and that means no Netflix until it’s done …

* Last Tango in Halifax, just in case you’re wondering. A modern-day, almost soap opera-esque series about two families in Yorkshire, England, whose characters say “summat” just like Hagrid 🙂



4 thoughts on “Goldilocks Knitting

  1. I’m getting better about making modifications if I need to but I’m fussy about vague and guess-y type patterns. Love Hermione’s hat for your daughter AND your mitts.

    And I don’t know a knitter who hasn’t done the whole “too small…just right…too large…just right” as they keep knitting away only to kick themselves because they KNEW they should rip back. I actually tossed a SWEATER (oh my word, I’m dumb) because I knit the whole thing and the head hole was the size of an armhole and I didn’t even think about it while I was working on it.

    Also…you absolutely can rip back after blocking. But I think that would be soul crushing.


    1. Oh no! To make the armhole/head hole switch on a sweater … now THAT must have been soul crushing 😦 . At least a hat is a relatively small thing! (Said in a trying-to-stay-calm voice as I sit knitting the second iteration of the blue Brae hat, all the while hoping against hope it’s not now going to be too BIG!) (Because I did a calculation and decided on TWO additional repeats!)

      And I have to tell you that as I typed that question about ripping back after blocking, I thought to myself, “I sure hope Kate knows the answer to this!” Thanks, Kate! 🙂


  2. Oh, both of those pairs of mitts are beautiful! And what a hat saga! It has very much the feel of the sewing saga I’ve been in the midst of. I’ve been a bit demoralized about it all, really — plan A doesn’t work, very carefully make plan B, plan B goes sideways for a totally different reason, and all the while you just want to make something exceedingly SIMPLE like a tank top or a hat! But, your perseverance and good humor about it all is helping inspire me to get back on the horse. Maybe that’s just what making things is like — you have to nose your way there.


    1. Thank you for the compliments on the mitts, Sarah 🙂

      Oh, I wish you had better news to share about your sewing…it’s so frustrating when these things don’t go well. The things we creative types put ourselves through in order to make things (when sometimes we could just as easily buy them; perhaps not “exactly” what we wanted, but a close-enough approximation that we could just call it a day and be satisfied)! I think my perseverance with the knitting is due to the fact that I love the process just as much as the finished product. I think I could rip back a hat a half dozen times over and still find enough in the actual process to keep going with it. With sewing, though, I don’t find the process to be particularly fun/meditative; rather, sewing, for me at least, is nearly all about the finished product. I’m glad this post may have inspired you to try once again with your sewing. Perhaps Plan C will finally make your tank top go the right way (which would make it all worth while…wahoo for perseverance!), and then if you do a post about it, that’ll inspire me to get back to MY sewing! (Because just yesterday I took the fabric I had bought to make a couple of shirts out of my ironing basket (the place I store things to iron, as well as projects-on-the-go) and put it into my fabric stash…basically a complete giving-up, in other words…).


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