Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Argus Hat

I designed a hat!

Eons ago, Hera, the queen of the gods, had a trusted guard - the giant Argus with one hundred eyes.  Argus was an exceptional guard - he never closed more than half his eyes, even when he was sleeping.  Hera asked Argus to guard Io, a young mortal woman being pursued by Hera’s husband, Zeus.  

Zeus sent his son, Hermes, to free Io from Argus and Hera.  But Argus’s peculiar sleeping habits and his many eyes proved a difficult problem. Finally, Hermes simply told a story so long and so boring that eventually all of Argus’s eyes closed in sleep. Hermes seized the opportunity and killed Hera’s trusted servant.  

To commemorate her faithful servant, Hera preserved his eyes in the tail of her favorite bird - a peacock.

Even today, Argus is synonymous with watchfulness and a guardian spirit. J.K Rowling even gave his name to one of the characters in her Harry Potter series: Argus Filch, the caretaker of Hogwarts school, who always seemed to know when students were out of their beds at night.

This hat is the first of a series of free-form hats that I designed that use short rows to concentrate colors and form “eyes.”  It is designed for variegated yarn and helps to tame the chaos that variegated yarns produce.  You will respond to the colors in the yarn and learn how to control where the eyes fall.  This hat is also a helix knit, alternating 2 strands of yarn to form an unbroken, jog-free garter stitch spiral. 

The hat itself is a reasonably simple pattern, but the short rows in response to color changes, and helix knitting make it a more challenging knit, suitable for adventurous knitters who enjoy making decisions on the fly and are comfortable with a bit of chaos.

Freeform knitting is extraordinarily difficult to explain because it's conceptually pretty different than standard knitting, and the pattern includes detailed instructions on how to control where the eyes fall.  As a result - the pattern is 14 pages long!

Here's the hat being modeled by my daughter:

The hat is available for sale in my Ravelry store.   It provides instructions for one adult size, and is designed for worsted-weight yarn, but adjusting the size (or converting for use with other yarn weights) isn't hard to do. To save space in the pattern itself (which is already pretty long), I include the instructions for adjusting the size/yarn weight here on my blog.  You can use the instructions to change yarn weights, make a fitted hat (instead of a slouchy one), or make a new size (baby, child, teen, or for someone with an extra-large noggin). 

Here's the pattern page on Ravelry. You can purchase it there, or by clicking on this link if you prefer: buy now.

Custom Fitting the Argus Hat

Adjusting the number of CO stitches or the circumference of the hat

I designed the Argus Hat for an averaged-sized adult head, which is around 22 or 23”/56-58.5cm, and if you are using worsted-weight yarn, you should cast on 96 stitches (or 88 if you like it a bit tighter).  But what if you want to use a different weight yarn (fingering, sport, DK, and aran/bulky are all possible), or what if you want to custom-fit the hat to someone with a bigger head (like for my husband who has a 24" noggin) or a child?

If using a yarn weigh other than worsted, you will need to get a nice firm fabric (but not as tight/dense as you'd try to get with socks) with your SMALLER needles.  This is the stitch gauge that you will use for the cast on.

If you are using a weight other than worsted, or if you want to custom-fit the hat, use the following table:

(Head circumference - negative ease) = hat circumference.
Hat circumference x stitch gauge = CO number.  Adjust up or down to the nearest number divisible by 8.
Head circumference

Negative ease*
Minus 4” or 7.6cm
Hat circumference
Stitch gauge per
1 inch or centimeter
CO Base
CO Actual: Adjust up/down to nearest number divisible by 8:

* Note: Negative ease means that the item is smaller around than the item being covered, so that the knitted item must stretch to fit.  Things like hat bands, cuffs and waist bands on sweaters, and the tops of socks are typically made with negative ease.  Conversely, positive ease means it's bigger around than the body part, and fits loosely. And zero ease means that it fits exactly without being loose, or having to stretch.

Adjusting the HEIGHT of the hat:

As designed, the hat is a slouchy hat. If you want a fitted beanie, not a slouchy hat, OR if you want change the size (a child-sized hat won't need to be as tall as an adult hat), then you'll use the table below.

To fit anyone regardless of size or age, measure from eyebrows over the top of the head to the base of the skull, and divide in half.  If fully covering the ears is a priority, then measure from the bottom of one earlobe, over the top of the head, to the base of the other earlobe, and then divide THAT measurement in half.  This is the height of a fitted hat from the bottom of the cuff to the top of the crown.

But ... the hat height = cuff+rise+crown decreases.   So, in order to make a fitted hat, you need to figure out how tall the crown decrease section is, and subtract that from the total, and that's how tall you make the hat, before starting the decreases.

Figuring out the height of the crown decrease section can be tricky.  Basically, you have to figure out exactly how many rounds are in the crown decrease section (counting both decrease rounds AND the rounds between them, as for this hat you decrease every other round).  I usually have to work it in a spreadsheet.  But, for the Argus Hat, I've done the work for you. :-)

Just plug in your values into the table, and do the math, and it will give you your hat height.

So, to fit the hat height, do one of the measurements described above, and determine your ROW gauge.  If you are making an adult hat, knit until the hat is right about 4" (10 cm) tall from the cast on edge and then determine your row gauge. Row gauge in this hat is tricky, because the number of rounds varies due to the short rows.  So, take several measurements, and average them.

If you are making a child's hat, determine your row gauge when it's about 3" (7.5 cm) tall from the cast on edge, and if making a baby hat, determine your row gauge when it's about 2" (5 cm) tall.

Sample hat
Your hat


Number of CO stitches

Divided by number of decreases per decrease round

Subtract 4
(because you only decrease until 32 sts remain). This is the number of regular decrease rounds.

Multiply by 2 (because  you are only decreasing every OTHER round)

Add one (because there’s an additional k2tog all the way around). This is the number of rounds in crown.

Determine your ROW gauge (per 4”/10cm)

Convert to rounds per 1”/1 cm

Divide number of rounds in crown by row gauge per 1 inch/cm. This is the height of the crown.
7 cm

Eyebrow-to-base of skull measurement divided in half:
19 cm

Subtract crown height from measurement above.
12 cm

Add additional height for slouch (optional).
0 cm

Knit to this height before starting the crown decreases.
12 cm

Here's the pattern page on Ravelry. You can purchase it there, or by clicking on this link if you prefer: buy now.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Periodicity 3.4: Common Effects - Richer Color

Sometimes though, what you get when knitting with a variegated skein, is a fully-mixed fabric with a depth of color that you didn’t expect.  These little gifts-of-the-gods can be very hard to predict, though.  I THINK they occur most often when the colors in the skein are very close to each other.

Fully-mixed fabric that really works for me, happens because the skein contained colors that are very close on the color wheel, and of similar tones, and intensities, so that then they are mixed, create a unified, rich color (Example: blue and green, that appears blue-green from a distance, and kind of flickery up close).

Or perhaps the skein is all one color, but different intensities.  Here's an example of that in my "Ravelry Red" Malabrigo sweater:
© Cathy Byland Weeks

... Or the light orange section of my brother's Jayne Cobb hat:
© Cathy Byland Weeks

Like all things, this is a subjective thing. If it looks good to you, go with it.

Back to TOC. Back to Effects Intro.

Periodicity 3.3: Common Effects - Color Confetti (AKA fully-mixed fabric)

Color Confetti (aka fully-mixed fabric)
As with pooling, when the gauge, number of stitches across/around interacts just right (or wrong!) with a yarn's skein length and color repeat length, it produces a fabric where the colors are evenly mixed, with no pooling or flashing. The color is often flickery, and reminds me of confetti or sprinkles of color.  My Ravelry friend Nathalie/Skeincharmer calls it buckwheat: "Each grain is different shade of brown but together they produce a uniform, cohesive look."

Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license.
Originally, I called this kind/sort of fabric "muddy," but a funny thing happened on the way to this article - one person's "muddy" was the next person's "rich and cohesive."  Over and over again, I saw examples on Ravelry, of projects the knitter who produced it called ugly, that I thought was gorgeous (and occasionally, it happened in the opposite direction).  And, as my Ravelry friend Jaya/Ermabom reminded me, mud-dyed fabrics and yarns are often rich, varying, gorgeous and highly underrated.  And another Ravelry friend Carole/Koiguki sent me a couple of videos on Japanese silk dying that uses mud to create a deep, rich, intensely dark fabric (here's one if you're interested).

So, I decided to call it “Color-Confetti”, because that’s what it most reminds me of - i.e. flickery mixtures of fully mixed color combinations with no apparent pooling.   They actually remind me a little of random-dot stereograms (but without the 3D part):

Random dot stereogram depicting a shark. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license

In my highly judgmental and utterly subjective opinion, I generally prefer pooled fabrics to color-confetti fabrics (although, there are always plenty of exceptions). The lovely colors in the skein sometimes seem to get lost in the “noise” when the colors are fully mixed.

However, there are always exceptions. Here are some exceptions that I think are gorgeous:

Used with permission. ©Susi/SusiJB 


Used with permission. ©Kris/Kristoemily


Used with permission. © Jenny Sanders

I've been trying to figure out why - even though I prefer pooled fabrics - I like the above examples. I think it's because the colors are bold enough to not get lost, or the melange of color just "works," which I know is not terribly helpful.

Back to TOC. Back to Effects Intro. Forward to Richer Color.

Periodicity 3.2 Common Effects - Inconsistent Results

Another common effect, is that the fabric produced is inconsistent. It may produce inconsistencies in the same garment when you change skeins, between matching items (one sock patterns differently than the other), and when changing stitch counts in the same garment.

You might not mind the flashing so much, but then it stops, and looks completely different in another spot.  Or it's mixed nicely, then you start a new ball of yarn, then it flashes horribly.  Or it’s mixed nicely but you decrease or increase because you are creating covering for a three-dimensional shape, and BOOM, it starts striping. It's also very common for each sock in a pair to pool differently.

Example: Inconsistency caused by changes in gauge or stitch count
Pooling be caused (or broken) by changes made by the knitter - changing the gauge/needle size, or the stitch count (You see this in sweaters and hats - where the width of the fabric changes, the patterning does too).

Here's a planned pooling hat that I made - I was delighted with the pooling/flashing in the hat rise, but when I began the crown decreases, I was NOT amused.  I ended up frogging back to where I started the decreases, and did a completely different crown that allowed me to keep the stitch count consistent.  Eventually I'll release this pattern (once I figure out a different cuff).

© Cathy Byland Weeks
You will see similar effects in sweaters, in response to shaping to fit the contours of a torso.

Example: Inconsistencies caused by changing skeins of yarn.

Inconsistencies are also caused when you start a new skein - the colors are slightly different, and pool slightly differently. This is most common when using hand-dyed yarns. No two skeins are the same, even among skeins within the same colorway.  This can be sometimes be mitigated by starting the new skein at the same spot in the color-repeat sequence, but that's not a certain fix.  Note Natalia/Skeincharmer's sweater below - the blue arrows show where each new skein was started.

Used with permission. © Natalia Vasilieva/Skeincharmer

One skein of my Ravelry Red sweater was a little lighter than the others. You can the light streak going across it, a couple of inches below the top:
© Cathy Byland Weeks

Sometimes however, the inconsistency when changing skeins was caused by something beyond the knitter's control. In the case below, the knitter used a very consistent, machine-made yarn, but the final skein was wound in the opposite direction to the previous ones.   Note the direction of the stripes and spirals in the hem:

Used with permission. © Nicole/Grudgemom

Example: Inconsistencies between matching garments

It's even possible for matching garments (like two socks in a pair) will look different, even when they are made from the same skein of yarn.
Used with permission. © Rebecca/itgirl

I don't know what caused Rebecca's socks to turn out so differently from each other, but it can be caused by several different factors:  
  • Knitting from both ends of the cake: If a knitter knits socks 2AAT, and knits from both ends of a single cake, the socks are going to turn out really differently, because the colors are going in opposite directions. 
  • Starting each sock at different points of the skein color sequence.  
  • Knitting the two items with slight (or extreme!) differences in gauge. This can happen even when the knitter used the same needles and stitch counts.
  • Differences within the skein itself - the first half of the ball may have different color-lengths than the second ball. 
  • Check your stitch counts. Yarn Harlot wrote about her socks being different because she knit one sock as a medium, and the second one as a small.
Back to TOC. Back to Effects Intro. Forward to Color Confetti

Periodicity 3.1: Common Effects - Pooling and Flashing

Pooling and Flashing
Probably the best-known effect of working with variegated yarns is pooling, and its crazier sibling, flashing.  It is the opposite of a well-mixed fabric.

Simply stated, pooling is where the individual colors wind up near each other in the fabric, creating “pools” or patches of the same color.   Pooling is the result of your stitch count and gauge being just right (or wrong depending on your opinion on the subject).

Pools can be big or small.  Here's a rather loud headscarf with small pools:

@ Cathy Byland Weeks

Pooling isn't always loud. It can be quite sedate, with bigger pools of color. Here's a hat I made for a friend. Note that the yarn was dark green, with the big light green sections. You can see the lighter green streaks.
© Cathy Byland Weeks
Argyles are a special kind of offset pooling, when knitting flat (knitting back-and-forth causes the colors to zig-zag up the piece, bouncing off the sides):
© Cathy Byland Weeks
Offset pooling in the round makes spirals.  I think it may be impossible to make argyles while knitting in the round, though I'm not sure of that.  I've come up with schemes similar to intarsia in the round that might work, or knitting hats sideways and then grafting them.  But that'll take some more work and experimentation.

Flashing is a type of pooling where the pools make lighting bolts or zig-zags.  This effect is most common in items made in hand-dyed yarns, which typically have inconsistent color-lengths.

© Cathy Byland Weeks

© Cathy Byland Weeks
The flashing in the socks and headscarf (above) wasn't planned, but I pooled the following hat deliberately (though the flashing wasn't deliberate, just a happy result). It's a tam that is knit at 2x my magic number:

© Cathy Byland Weeks

There are other kinds of pooling as well, which will be covered later.

One term you’ll see associated with pooling (or more specifically, planned pooling projects), is “magic number.” The magic number is the number of stitches at a specific gauge, that are taken up by one color repeat, or one loop of the hank.   Knowing the magic number allows you to use the pooling to deliberately create stacked pools or argyles.  But, more on that later.

For those that want to read ahead with magic number info (it is super-cool, and really intriguing), here are some pages I liked:

Back to TOC. Back to Effects Intro. Forward to Inconsistent Results.

Periodicity 3: Common Effects Intro

Images on left: © Cathy Byland Weeks.  Top Right: © Nathalie/Skeincharmer. Bottom Right: ©Susi/SusiJB.

One thing you can always count on with variegated  yarns; working with them is never boring. Disappointing, surprising, sometimes lovely, sometimes ugly, but boring it is not.

They have a tendency to surprise us, especially when we give in to our impulses and bring home that multi-colored skein of goodness, wind it into a cake and start knitting with it.  Some yarnies have a high tolerance for chaos and enjoy the often surprising effects. And others will find themselves dissatisfied.

And really, mitigating that dissatisfaction is the main point of this series.  The other point is for the ones who enjoy the chaos and winging it and just seeing what you get (and have a low tolerance for testing) by the end, if you are still with me, you'll at least understand why things turn out the way they do.

There are several common results when working with variegated yarns:
It is probably not surprising that knitters often seem to either love or hate the above effects, particularly pooling/flashing and color confetti. But even then, there are always exceptions. I can't tell you how many times I see stuff like, "I normally hate pooling but that is just ... cool."  Or, "Variegateds always turn to color-mush when I use them, but that fully-mixed fabric is kind of ... flickery and lovely."

So, I guess what I'm telling you, is that every project I show as an example - you may not like it. And that's okay.  Just remember that there could well be other examples you probably WILL like.

Back to TOC.

Knitting is some dark magic

The swatch knitted from VHS tape (yes, he still has it)

Years ago, when I was a beginning knitter, I looked down at my little square of knitting, and felt … wonder and awe that I’d created this fabric out of interlocking loops. Chris and I were sitting together watching TV, and I said, “This is … magical.” He looked at my little square and said, “…. Ok.” (obviously not getting it).

Early on, Chris kept asking me to knit him little samples of really weird fibers. I’ve knitted jute, sisal, VHS tape (never, never again. It squeaks something awful), even some flexible wire (never, never again. It’s murder on your hands). I finally just said, “why don’t I just teach you how to knit?” and he shrugged and said, “Ok.”

So, I taught him. I had to learn to back off though - he refused to let me teach him when I thought he was ready, and made me wait and only teach him new techniques when he wanted them. I think he made a LOT of garter stitch items before he finally let me teach him to purl. And then he was off and running. He continued experimenting with unusual materials, even going so far as creating over-sized knitting needles so he could knit rugs from strips of old jeans.  At some point, he saw a TED talk about making hyperbolic sea creatures in crochet, and he decided it could be done with knitting, dammit. He even had me make him a special 6 foot interchangeable cord so he could make bigger ones (and binding off took him foreeeeeever). Then he was fascinated with entrelac - that was the first technique he picked up on his own as I didn’t know how to do it (and still don’t). He wanted me to learn it so I could teach it to him.  I bought him an entrelac book instead.

Anyway, years and years after I’d said it, he sat gazing at his knitting for awhile, then looked up, and said, “you’re right. This is magical.”