PROJECT – DOUBLE KNIT FULLED HAT

Not every project turns out perfectly. Some start out well, but end up beinga bitshy of the goal.

Some years back my husband requested an ultra-warm hat. I took him at his word, and settled ona watch capin alpaca. Now, alpaca ismuch warmer than woolto begin with – but I didn’t know that at the time. To make sure thehatwas wind-proof I decided to knit it large, then full it to size. Finally to make sure it was nice and snuggly (and to have an excuse to try out the technique) I decided to do a double-knit hat. That’s not "double knit" as in the yarn weight designation – a yarn that knits up at 22 st=4 inches or 10cm. That’s "double-knit" as in a special technique that produces a fabric of two thicknesses, both of whichdisplay their knit-sides to the world (the purl sides are sandwiched back to back inside, between the layers).Those of us who remember the Leisure Suit ’70s, can think polyester double-knit, but done at hand-knitting scale.

Double knitting is a strange beast. It’s related to the famous sock-inside-a-sock trick described in the book War and Peace. In it the stitches of the two layers alternate on the needle. The knitter either works each layer from its own ball, or uses one ball of yarn to accomplish each round in two passes – first knitting the odd numbered stitches and slipping the even ones, then going back and slipping the odd numbered stitches and purling the even ones. The two-ball method if employed carefully can produce the two separate layers of fabric needed to pull off the War and Peace trick. Using one ball of yarn, or using two colors, swapped back and forth between the layers makes a two-sided fabric that does not separate.

Always being up for a challenge, I decided to use a two color stranded pattern, worked in the round. My intent was to employ only two strands of yarn, trading them back and forth to meld the two layers together into one unit. The result would bethe same design showing up on both sides of the work, but in a positive/negative value trade. On one side Color A would be the foreground and Color B the background, but on the other side Color B would be the foreground and Color A would be the background. You can sort of see the difference between the hat body and its reverse side, shown on the flipped up cuff-style brim:

The knotwork design isan out-take from my book of graphed counted embroidery from pre 1600 sources. I havethis onein the notes I drew upon to compose the book, but my documentation of the exact source wasn’t good enough to include in The New Carolingian Modelbook. I used Indiecita Alpaca Worsted 4-Ply, a worsted weight 100% alpaca yarn imported by Plymouth, and knita bittightly at 5.5 spi. Experienced fullers/felters are beginning to shudder here.

I won’t say I truly enjoyed the knitting. Having to remember that two-stitch groups (one inside and one outside) equalled on box unit while following a complex graphmade the project perhaps a bit overly ambitious. Eventually I muddled through, finished the cap, and with much difficulty – fulled it.

What made the result a disappointment?Several things.

Remember how warm I said alpaca is? Double knitting means that the fabric is two layers thick. This watch-style cap with a folded brim has FOUR layers of fulled worsted-weight fabric in the ear-band area. Although I live in an area of the US known for cold, wet winters I will say that in the eight years I’ve been here there has been only one winter with a solid month of below -10F (-23C) weather, cold enoughto wearthis portablelittlehead-oven in comfort.

Fulling alpaca isn’t as easy as fulling wool. Also, I knit this piece much too tightly for something that was to be fulled. There just wasn’t enough room in the already-densely packedpiece for the stitches to pull together properly. It did shrink, but not as much as Iexpected – especially in width. The hat ended up being a bit too wide for the target head. Plus the two colors didn’t shrink at the same rate. It took many, many trips through the washer/dryer, plus a conserable amount of hand-bashing to even out the fast-shriking teal with the slow-shrinking black. It looks good now, but during the process I think I swore at it enough to provide an entire national navy with suitable vocabularly.

Fulling/felting something, a pattern with fine colorwork detail can be wasted effort. Especially if you’re using a rather hairy and soft yarn to start with. It’s tough to make out the detail of the knotwork patterning in my finished hat. In fact, it’s tough tomake outthat the flipped-up brim is displaying the same pattern in negative.

The upshot of all of this is that I learned some valuable lessons: 1. Save fancy patterns for after I understand the basics of a new technique. 2. Knit loosely if you expect to full a piece to shrink it. 3. Alpaca is extremely warm andmore difficult than woolto full. 4. Colorwork patterning is muddied in fulling. 5. My husband really DIDN’T want an ultra-warm hat. I wear this piece now and he’s much happier with his lightweight Ch’ullu, even on a -10F day.

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