Sunday, March 9, 2008

A truly flat hat top (and part 4 of "pocket hats")

5 illustrations, click any illustration to enlarge
*reminder--like the other posts in this series, the top part shows the general directions, the bottom part, directions for the KAL of the "pocket hats" which illustrate the post

For years, a truly flat hat top in ribbing eluded me. With spiral decreases, no matter how ferocious the rate of decrease, the darn thing never lay flat, nor could I find a suitable pattern for progressively eliminating ribs. With "all-at-once decreases" the ribs became even more distorted and the darn thing still wouldn't lay flat--the 12, 10 or 8 stitches at the top would form a little nipple when the yarn was drawn through--not quite the thing. On both kinds of decrease, the needles at the top of the hat went slipping out as fewer and fewer stitches remained. But today, I go on my way rejoicing, because a few months ago, a new trick revealed itself to me, a ...

for a ribbed hat

This hat top features 5 decrease rounds and a final working together at the top, 6 steps in all: these are labeled steps A through F on the illustration, and are described in the text. Step D is not labeled on the illustration because it is only a minor (although mathematically important) decrease. Some of these steps are ordinary decreases with which you are familiar: knit 2 together (k2tog) and purl 2 together (p2tog), but some of these steps have a little trick involved.
In the top part of this post -- the general directions -- the number of plain rounds to work between the decreases is left vague, partly because much depends on the yarn you're using: baby weight requires more plain rounds between decreases than does bulky yarn. In the bottom part of this post, round-by-round directions are given for the hat top in double knitting weight (DK, also called "light worsted") and you can use these row-by-row directions as a starting point, adding plain rows for thinner yarn, subtracting for thicker.

Part 1: general directions for the truly flat hat top

STEP A (decrease on the purl ribs)
This first round of decreases features an ordinary decrease done on the PURL stitches. Written succinctly:
  • *purl 2 together, knit 2* all the way around the first decrease round
Hidden in the purl ribs, the purl 2 together (p2tog) decrease will never show on the outside (although it does show inside). After this decrease round, knit several rounds without decreasing in the new pattern (k2,p1), and that is the end of step A.
One little note before leaving step 1: On a 2x2 ribbing, the rate of decrease in step A leaves 3/4 of the original number of stitches on your needles.

Step B (decrease on the knit ribs)
On this step, a knit 2 together (k2tog) decrease is done on the knit ribs. However, there is TRICK: an extra round added, a set-up round where only the purl stitches are worked, while the knit stitches are not worked at all, only slipped. As shown in the illustration, working the k2togs WITHOUT the set up row results in flabby, slanted stitches, while WITH the set up row, the stitches are more upright.
Including the set-up row, written succinctly, step B is in 2 rounds:
  • round 1 (set up round): * p1, slip the 2 knit stitches of the knit rib purlwise, while holding yarn in back* all the way around the round.
  • round 2 (decrease round): *p1, k2tog* all the way around the round.
By inserting an extra round of purls but not knits, the knits are forced to stretch upward. Of course they will slant somewhat, but with much their slack devoted to stretching up that extra round, the k2togs will lay smoother and more upright than if the slipping row were omitted.
Three little notes before we leave step B:

  • After this step, you will have 1/2 of your original stitch count on the needle.
  • From here on out, when you come to count rows, it will look like you lost a row -- if you find that you need to count rows, the row on which you slipped the knits will be invisible--you won't be able to see it unless you turn the work inside out to count rows!
  • Performing the decreases on this round will certainly result in so few stitches that they cannot POSSIBLY be stretched around a circular needle, however short. Therefore, if you were not already working on double pointed needles (dpn's) or by the magic loop technique, you would have to switch to one of those techniques now.
Step C (decrease away all purl ribs, change gauge)
The problem now is that there is STILL too much yarn and too much slack to make a hat top lay nicely flat. So the little TRICK of this step is to CHANGE GAUGE. Yes, simply by knitting with a smaller needle (2 sizes smaller works well) you'll be putting a lot less yarn into the hat top, and that'll help a lot with laying smooth.

Changing gauge is not a conventional method of decrease, so it bears repeating one more time: by switching to a smaller needle, you are putting a lot less yarn into the fabric, and this creates a decrease all by itself. In other words, you will now: *switch to needles 2 sizes smaller and use these smaller sized needles for the remainder of the hat top.*

As it happens, in step C we NOT ONLY want to tighten up all the future stitches we are going to knit, but we ALSO want to decrease away even more of them. Therefore, IN THIS SAME ROUND that you're switching to smaller needles, you are ALSO going to do another k2tog decrease all around.
The k2tog's will look best if you arrange matters so that the purl stitch lays behind the knit stitch when the k2tog is finished. Written succinctly, and incorporating the previous part about smaller needles, step C can be summarized:
  • arrange matters so that one purl stitch is on the tip of your left needle, with a knit stitch the left of that. *Knit together the knit stitch with the purl stitch* all the way around the round, using the smaller needles.
As you can see from the illustration below, the combination of gauge change and decreases results in a very pretty and very distinctive change in fabric. After this decrease, work an additional round or 2 with the smaller needles and this will end step C.
Two little notes before leaving step C:

  • After this step, you will have 25% of your original stitch count on the needles.
  • In this step, you work away all the purls, and all the rest of the hat top will be by means of knit stitches only.
Step D (another set up row, possibly with decreases)
In step D, you're going to decrease away as many stitches as are needed so that at the end of the step, you'll have a multiple of 4 stitches on your needles. If the number of stitches on your needles is ALREADY divisible by 4, then you're all set, just knit a round plain. If you wonder WHY you need a multiple of 4, there is a green paragraph of explanation. If today is not a "why" day for you, just scroll past.

In Step F, the last step, you Kitchener-stitch (graft) the top of the hat together. Step E-- just before that final grafting--is a last decrease round in which you're going to decrease away the remaining number of stitches by half. So, in order to have the correct number of stitches for steps E and F, this step--step D--gets rid of any extra stitches which would throw off final stitch counts. In other words, this step, D, is a "set-up round." As you may remember from middle-school math, only numbers which are multiples of 4 (4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40 or 44, etc.) will yield an even number when further divided by 2. In other words, round E gets rid of half the remaining stitches, and the number of stitches at the end of round E has to be an even number of stitches, so rounds E and F will only work if we use round D to decrease away any leftover stitches ahead of time.

Written succinctly, in step D you must proceed as follows:
  • If on your needles, you have ANY NUMBER OF STITCHES DIVISIBLE BY 4, you're all set: just knit one round plain. If, however, you have ANY OTHER sort of a number, you must use this step to bring the number of stitches on your needles to the nearest multiple of 4 by knitting 2 stitches together as many times as needed. You can simply put the necessary number of decreases anywhere at random in this round, just so long as you don't put them next to one another.
Knit one additional round plain (no decreases) and that is the end of step D.

Step E (last decrease round)
This step is simply a round of k2togs--and it is the last decrease round. The only thing remarkable about this round is that these last decreases are a bit miserable. As a result of previously switching to smaller needles in step C, these stitches are already at a very small gauge. Knitting two together at this gauge (and on so few loops) means stitches that just want to POP off the needle. However, persevere, because the final result is worth it.

To make it easier, the little TRICK in this step is that you can either use a smaller needle (a tiny sock needle) OR a crochet hook to work the actual decreases, then replace the resulting loops back onto the needles you have been using (replacing the stitches back on the needles they came from assures that these last loops are of the correct diameter for step 6, replace the stitches RIGHT ARM FORWARD so they are in the correct position for step F).

Step F (graft--a.k.a. Kitchener stitch--the hat top shut)
Arrange the stitches so that they are divided in half. If you are working on dpn's, arrange 1/2 the stitch count on each of two needles. If you are working by magic loop, put 1/2 the stitch count on each needle of your magic loop set-up. The grand finale, the final TRICK of this hat top, is to graft the top together. (Click here for an easy method of Kitchener stitching.)

Kitchener-stitching the top shut achieves three big aims:
  • first, the short lengthwise graft pulls the entire top into the pleasant-looking oval shape of the finished decrease (see illustration below)
  • second, grafting prevents you from having to work final decrease rounds on a tiny number of stitches, with needles falling out in all directions and
  • third, it makes a really smooth top, avoiding the pointy-looking decreases of other hat tops
This decrease looks very well, and goes very fast--faster and faster on each round as you decrease away more and more stitches.

Part 2: Round-by-round directions for the pocket hat KAL

In the previous post of the pocket hat KAL, we left the pocket hats 4 stripes high, with the fifth color just added by the jogless back join method. In this post, all the decreasing of the entire hat will be done in this final color.

The row instructions are written for the Watch Cap.
For the Stocking Cap, add another round in pattern between rows 2 and 3.
For the Rasta Hat add another round in pattern between rows 2 and 3 and also between rows 5 and 6.

Stitch counts appear for the two different widths of hats (116 sts = regular size, 120 sts = extra large head size)

  • Round 1: After performing the jogless back join in the new color yarn, knit around (no purling) ending just before the first two purl stitches to be worked in the new color. Place marker. (116, 120 sts)
  • Rounds 2 and 3: *p2, k2* repeat around (for stocking cap and rasta hat, add another round between rounds 2 and 3, per note in PURPLE, above)
  • Round 4: *p2tog, k2* repeat around (87, 90 sts remaining) ROUND 4 corresponds to STEP A of the general directions in part 1 of this post, above.
  • Rounds 5 and 6: *p1, k2* repeat around (for rasta hat, add another round between rounds 5 and 6, per note in PURPLE, above)
  • Round 7: *p1, sl2* repeat around. (Slip stitches purlwise so as not to twist, slip with yarn in back.)
  • Round 8: *p1, k2tog, repeat around (58, 60 sts remaining). Things will start to get tight at this round – it’s time to switch to dpns or the magic loop technique if you haven't done so already. ROUNDS 7 and 8 correspond to STEP B of the general directions, above.
  • Rounds 9 and 10: *p1, k1* repeat around
  • Round 11: Switching to needles 2 sizes smaller, and using a long magic-loop type set-up, or a set of dpns, *k2tog* around, setting up so that you have (15, 15) stitches on your first needle, and (14, 15) on the second (29, 30 stitches remaining). ROUND 11 corresponds to step C of the general directions, above.
  • Round 12: Knit plain (no further purling on this hat top).
  • Round 13: In order to make the final graft work on this hat it is important to have a multiple of 4 stitches at this point:
    • For the 116 st hat: k13, k2tog, k to end of round (28 sts remaining)
    • For the 120 st hat: k13, k2tog, k13, k2tog (28 sts remaining). ROUND 13 corresponds to step D of the general directions, above.
  • Round 14: k plain
  • Round 15: *k2tog* around. (14, 14 sts remaining). ROUND 15 corresponds to step E of the general directions, above.
  • Round 16: Kitchener-stitch the top of the hat closed. ROUND 16 corresponds to step F of the general directions, above.
Try the hat on. If you find it is too short or too long, the hat need not be ripped out all the way to the beginning to rebalance the color proportion among the stripes. No. As stated in the first post of this KAL, the ultimate fit of this hat can be somewhat adjusted by working more or fewer rounds only in this last color. So, if you need to fix the fit, rip out to round one of this last color, then re-work, adding or subtracting in the plain rows to make the hat longer or shorter. If you want to know WHY this procedure does not distort the color pattern even though it seems like it would, a (long-ish) art- history type explanation is here.

If you are following along in the KAL, the steps still remaining to a finished hat are
  • BLOCKING and

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ADDENDUM, 2011:  The KAL laid out above stretches out over 5 posts, of which this is fourth, and it is free.  However, some folks have written to say they find it hard to follow the pattern over so many posts. So...if you like, you can buy the pattern in an easy-to-print, all-in-one place pdf.
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