Out of my noggin and on to your head

… 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.

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30 Responses to Out of my noggin and on to your head

  1. Pingback: Knit The Hell Up » October Roundup, Part II.

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  4. j. says:

    Jen, Fixation isn’t very good as a substitute. Its texture is too bumpy for fine cables to really stand out. Also, it’s not a lighter weight.

    For a smaller Shedir, drop some of the repeats around the cap, and don’t work as many repeats of the saxon braid portion. Check out this variation:


  5. Jen says:

    Hi, I’d like to make this as a chemo hat for a 3 year old. (sob) Do you think a good sub yarn would be Cascade Fixation? I’m looking for a cotton blend that’s a lighter weight to create a smaller hat. If you have any ideas, please let me know. Thanks very much.

  6. Thank you for this pattern. I’m knitting for my niece, who has lymphoma. She would NEVER wear a muppety hat – this one is perfect. And I too hated knitting with most cotton, let alone cotton/acrylic, until I touched Calmer. Thanks again.

  7. Barbara says:

    Ok everyone….sorry to waste your time. It seems that I am an knitiot. Knitting right to left now and all is well. I couldn’t wait. Sheesh. I think it helped reading all the comments about how well the cap turned out for everyone else. I figured it had to be me. And it was. Thanks all.

  8. Barbara says:

    Oh, here’s a dopey question. I am knitting the chart rows from left to right….should I be doing it right to left? Could that be it?
    I’ve stopped at row 10 until I hear from someone. yargh.

  9. Barbara says:

    I’m trying to knit this hat. I’ve been to row 17 but did not see the pattern developing as I thought it should. I’ve started over twice. I am experienced with cables, I think the graph is easy to read, and the symbols easy to understand, but I expected to see the pattern developing sooner? I feel that I am purling stitches according to the graph, that would seem to want to be knit stitches judging by the knitting.
    Any suggestions? Do I just need to knit further?

  10. Theresa says:

    Hello..Getting back into knitting for the joy of helping others… I would like more info on your scarf with the Noro silk garden #84 that you mentioned in another article. Thank you…

  11. Shelley says:

    I just finished knitting your pattern and enjoyed every little bit of it. Thank you so much for for writing such a great pattern! I happened here after I knitted it and enjoyed reading your story of how it came to be. Thanks!

  12. Libby Bailey says:

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this pattern and the effort it took to design it. I have made six of these hats to date and am ready to start on no. 7. Most of the time I make it in Lion Brand microspun, but I also made one in alpaca. The comment I keep getting is how soft it is.
    I just made one for my sister who is a breast cancer survivor and she was delighted with how it fit. I left out one section of the repeats to make it fit her small head.
    It is really a fun hat to knit, even though it was frustrating the first
    time. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Libby Bailey, Lakewood,CA.

  13. j. says:

    Janet, have you tried a reference book of knitting stitches?

  14. Janet Stark says:

    I am trying to find the pattern for the Saxon Braid. Can you help me? Thank you

  15. Laurie says:

    I just finished my second Shedir. The first took 1 1/2 skeins of Calmer; the second took just under 1. I have no idea why. Anyway, this is a GREAT pattern – intricate enough so that making a second (and third) one isn’t boring, logical enough so that the second one went much more quickly than the first. Thanks again, Auntie!

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Beautiful Cap! It’s interesting to see what goes into the designing of a knitted item.

  17. Dorothy says:

    That’s Shedir for the name of the lovely chemo hat pattern in my precious email.
    Sorry for my error.

  18. Dorothy says:

    I have downloaded the Knitty directions for Shedia but did not find a chart. Can you direct me to the chart. I hope to make this hat for a friend and a relative. Thank you in advance.

  19. Laurie says:

    I’m a bit more than 1/2 through this, for a friend w/ovarian cancer. I love the pattern and the Rowan Calmer (I’m using a deep grape), but boy o boy it is taking me a long time! I know it will go faster now that I am close to the beginning of the decreases, and the cabling gets much simpler. But it sure is beautiful – thank you for creating the pattern.

  20. shetha says:

    I am so enamoured with this hat – I’m not making it in pink but actually a variegated yarn I picked up today on a retail therapy session. Anyway I just am so in love with it… you’re amazing!

  21. mamacate says:

    Thank you for the interesting read! I just overnighted my completed cap to SIL who is having her third treatment for breast cancer on Monday. Her hair is just falling out, so the timing is PERFECT. I’m so proud to send her such a beautiful item, and knitting it was a very mediative experience. I have not done cables in a while, and now that I’m done I need something else to cable. :) I didn’t swatch for this one, and I tend to knit loosely, so I’m sure that’s why, but my cap was *not* one-ball project. I used just over a ball. Ah well, now I’m knitting gloves with the leftovers. Photos on my blog. Thanks again! (Off to google “shedir”…)

  22. j. says:

    Thanks–and you know what else? In addition to the pictures of the finished caps, the pictures of the leftover yarn are terrific validation, too. They prove that it really is a one-ball cap!

  23. Ann says:

    Jenna, wonderful pattern. Thanks for such a clever construction, and for a good introduction for me to chart-knitting and one-stitch cables. I loved knitting it and am thrilled with the finished result. Woot!

  24. claudia says:

    Having just finished Shedir, that was an interesting read. Once again, so we’re clear. YOU ROCK! Thanks for another enjoyable knit.

  25. Liz says:

    Hey, thanks, I’ve only been carrying around the chart page with me (I’m at work right now) and hadn’t thought to pull up the first page with the notes. Guess this was my blonde moment for the month. *grin*

    I thought this was a great entry. It’s nifty to see the creative process at work. I’m definitely looking forward to your future creations.

  26. j. says:

    Liz, the instructions say that the first stitch of round 63 will migrate that way (it’s on the previous page of the pattern), but on the next page where you’re reading, yeah, you’re right, it doesn’t mention round 62.

  27. Liz says:

    In the process of making this cap right now; I had to leave out a cable repeat to get my size… geez, I have a small head. *grin* Anyways, I have a question… I finished row 62 last night and went to start row 63, and realized that the stitches didn’t line up. Is the stitch marker supposed to be moved at the end of row 62 as well? The instructions don’t list row 62 as being one of the rows this happens on, but I noticed that row 63 is a stitch ahead in the chart like the other row where the jog occurs.

  28. j. says:

    Hi Jo! (come back to Toronto sometime soon)

    The kid size is easy. Just eliminate one of the first repeats in the cable pattern (e.g. rows 45-52) to make it shorter. The finished circumference of the cap is fine, because in Calmer the cap stretches to fit an adult head.

    Possibly, if meant for a smaller head, you could get away with using an inherently stretchy merino wool, like Filatura di Crosa Zara–but I haven’t tried it.

  29. beth says:

    Thanks so much for this pattern. I am making it now – in the Calmer in the BRIGHT pink. Lovely- hoping it fits my big head. Then will make one for mom who had chemo a few years back but now has extrememly thin hair. thanks!!!

  30. ~Jo~ says:

    Thanks for sharing the “making of a hat” story, it’s nice to know it doesn’t all happen in a one time deal. I am swatching for the hat and just adore your newest design, bummer the kid size wasn’t included in the pattern. I have these cable obsessed kids! ;)