Baa-Ble Hat Knitting and Felting Misadventures
The Baa-Ble Hat has been on my mind for nearly a year and a half now – ever since it was released for free as the official Shetland Wool Week pattern of 2015. It’s been on the collective mind of the knitting world too, and in my estimation has achieved the status of an all-time knitting favorite. What knitter could resist those darling little sheep dancing around her head? Oh my. Frankly, I can’t explain why I’ve waited so very long to dive in and knit one.
I’ve been on a roll cranking out shop samples of late, taking up a new one just as soon as I’ve finished a last. I think of hats as weekend projects. On particularly insane days like yesterday, hats are one-sitting projects. Yes, I got home early due to the crumby winter weather, sat down, and knit for 10 straight hours, completing my second Baa-Ble hat in one sitting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sometime last week, Jennifer and I decided that Plymouth Homestead would be the perfect yarn for our shop’s official Baa-Ble Hat sample. It’s a 100% wool yarn with a cozy, home-spun look in an aran weight, just what the Baa-Ble Hat pattern calls for. I thought the grassy green and pale blue looked like a bright summer day, and what could be more joyful than a bright summer day on your head?
I grabbed my US 6 and US 7 needles (as per the pattern) and went to town. I spent two days on the hat. I could tell it looked quite large right off the bat, but went right ahead and finished it, a little skeptical, but hoping it would make a nice slouchy hat. It didn’t make a nice slouchy hat. It engulfed my entire head. The brim wouldn’t even stay folded because it was so loose and floppy. It was like a tea pot cozy, except for your head. A head cozy. It’s nice to have a cozy head, but nobody wants a head cozy.
The only research I’d done before I began was perusing the thousands of examples posted on Ravelry. Having seen SO MANY successful Baa-Ble Hats, I felt confident. I suppose I ought to have looked more closely at the gauge provided… I am embarrassed to say that I did not even look; I assumed a standard gauge of 4–4.5 stitches per inch on an aran weight yarn, but I was supposed to be getting a VERY TIGHT gauge of 5.5 stitches per inch. Now that I have delved into the blogosphere in search of answers (after making two Baa-Ble Hats), I have discovered that most people modified the pattern. C’est la vie.
But being the problem-solver that I am, I took the head cozy situation as an opportunity to try my hand at felting. Somehow I always thought that hand-felting would be easy. Given the precautions that people take to avoid felting, I suppose I thought that it might happen practically by accident. I began by running hot water at full blast directly onto my hat while scrubbing it against itself with my hands. Rather than resulting in a shrunken hat, this resulted in a comically enlarged head cozy, possibly large enough to be worn as a sweater if it weren’t closed at the top. I laughed at myself while Googling “how to felt by hand”.
Thanks to Christine Olea for her article on knitty.com, I realized that I could hardly have been more wrong about hand felting. I collected a bucket, a clean plunger and some dish soap. I placed the bucket in the bath tub, tossed the hat in, squeezed a bit of soap on top, then used the tap in the bath tub to fill the bucket about half-way with hot water. Then I plunged… and plunged and plunged and plunged until my arms hurt like crazy. For some time, I wasn’t convinced it would ever work. I checked the hat periodically and found that, exactly as Christine had warned me, it took about as long as a washing machine would take to felt my hat. If you ever feel bad about the lack of exercise that knitting encourages, I heartily recommend hand felting. Do it every day and I imagine you’ll look like a body builder in no time.
I’m happy to report that my felted hat is a near-perfect fit for my head! But I didn’t want a felted hat for the shop, so I knit my second Baa-Ble Hat with the copious leftover yarn entirely on US 5 needles. US 5 needles are pretty small for an aran weight yarn. My second hat turned out still a bit on the large side, but wearable. This one will be living at Over the Rainbow Yarn. Come try it on for yourself. You might find that you want to go all the way down to a US 4 needle or else use alterations suggested by Susan B. Anderson and others. But it’s a nice pattern nonetheless. I promise. Boy, do I love those adorable little sheep.