… or, how it took 2.5 balls of yarn to make a 1-ball cap.
This is the story of Shedir, from the Knitty Fall 04 surprise.
The plan for this issue had been percolating since the summer. Amy asked me to design a chemo cap, and she had already picked out the yarn and the colour. The colour, quite obviously, was pink. (Everything in the special edition is a shade of pink–but you noticed that already, didn’t you? Clever, no?) The yarn, Rowan Calmer, was something I never imagined using. Not because it was inappropriate for the subject matter–it’s very suitable–but because it was cotton and acrylic.
I hate knitting with almost every cotton yarn imaginable, because it lacks the resilience of wool. Most of my cotton projects wind up abandoned.
I have a fiber snob’s dislike for acrylic. I can feel my nose turn up as I type the word “acrylic.”
My stated mandate was to create an attractive chemo cap. I had internally amplified it to be a counteraction to every hideous, fun-fur-head-Muppet-free-pattern masquerading as a chemo cap on the Internet. I saw an example recently, from a well-known manufacturer of value-priced yarns. I suppose if you had invested a lot of your capital in furry, eyelash yarns, you’d publish those patterns too. How, then, could I make this thing out of an acrylic blend?
Fortunately, when I received the yarn (Amy had the foresight to request three balls; we had expected the cap to take up to two), I was somewhat mollified. The yarn’s construction gave it elasticity, and near silky-smoothness. It also quite clearly wanted to be knit on smaller needes than the label suggested. In fact, I have this issue with most yarns I use. I can get something close to the manufacturer’s label gauge on the suggested needles, but with few exceptions, I don’t like to follow the label gauge. It’s often too loose. I have a constant fear of pilling (that’s irrelevant with Calmer, but I usually knit with wool), and a suspicion that manufacturers have “chunkified” their label gauges to make them seem less threatening to novice knitters, who are typecast as having no patience for anything requiring needles under 6mm.
Anyway. I consulted Ronnie Spoll’s ChemoCaps website for advice, then with a suitable size of needles I cast on and started knitting flat, and tried a few stitches.
I tried 2×2 and 1×1 cable crossings, just to confirm that I should stick with 1×1. Cable crossings create a bit of a bump on the wrong side of the fabric, which is exacerbated by wider cables; since this was intended for sensitive heads, I didn’t want those bumps to be pronounced. I also checked the effect of 3-stitch wide cables; that is, 1×1 cables with a purl stitch in the middle. There wasn’t much of an appreciable difference between them and a plain 1×1 cable, but I decided to minimize their use.
Having picked my general cable type, I decided to cast on with the idea of starting with 1×1 rib. After a few rounds, it was abundantly clear it was too big. I had estimated my number of cast-on stitches based on my flat gauge swatch, and I thought I had compensated for the ribbing. But apparently I didn’t need to make that compensation.
I cast on again, worked a few rounds of rib, then launched into the travelling stitches and cables. I didn’t have much of a plan, except to wing it after a few inches of conventional Saxon braid . Usually, when I decide to improvise a cable pattern, I knit a lot of swatches. Or rather, I knit a few swatches, but I rip them back repeatedly and start over when something isn’t quite right–a single swatch can represent up to twenty design attempts (when I do this, I chart as I go, either crossing out or erasing the ripped rows, and it gets quite messy). But for this cap, I only had to rip back once–substantially. In the first attempt, all the travelling cables were merged into nothingness–there weren’t even those spines (the single stitch columns) leading up the crown. By the time I was nearly finished, I realized the crown looked like a big bald spot. Not the intended result of a chemo cap. So I ripped back enough to add the spines.
This cap is shown in the picture. It’s not the version published in Knitty, because it’s too short. It’s kiddie-sized. A chemo cap needs to cover the hairline; this first cap doesn’t do that. It’s now in the possession of an appropriately-sized person.
After some whining and bitching, I thought about cutting off the cast-on edge, knitting an extra inch or two of rib, and grafting them together. Then I came to my senses (remember, it’s Calmer, it’s smooth and slippery, and the grafting would have to be in rib) and figured I had plenty of yarn left over, I’d just have to knit another cap. Which I did, after further whining. I added nearly an inch of ribbing, and another repeat of the Saxon braid.
When it was finished, I weighed it on a digital postal scale. It was 48 grams. I had no idea what the error was, but I guessed it was between 0.1 and 1 grams. So technically, it was a one-ball cap, but as the pattern warns, with nothing left over for swatching.
And the name? It was inspired by the design formed by the stitches when the crown is viewed head-on. Try Googling to figure out why.