Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How-To: Decorative Two-Color Braids

I've received a few inquiries regarding how I made the decorative ties on the Iceland Hat. And I'm not surprised: I think they add a particularly homey, festive touch. As with buttons, frog closures, etc, I think there's something very attractive about being invited, visually, to understand the way things go together.

And this particular cord is a favorite of mine. Made out of four strands and two colors, this braid riffs on the look of stockinette stitch by creating a column of nested V's in alternate colors. I think this would work particularly well as a complement to Nordic-style mittens or hats worked with knitted two-colored braids.

So without further ado, here is a brief tutorial! (Excuse the blurry photos; I'll try to have better soon).

For cords attached directly to the tassels, start with two strands of yarn, in Color A and Color B, each strand about 2.6 times the desired length of the braid. With a tapestry needle, thread the strands underneath the anchor string at the top of the tassel.

Pull the strands through halfway, so that each of the four ends is the same length (and consider tying an overhand knot for neatness and durability). Arrange the strands so their colors are ordered "A, B, B, A".

Create the braid using the following two steps:

1) Cross the right-most strand over its left-hand neighbor.

2) Cross the left-most strand over its two right-hand neighbors.


Properly executed, the strands moved in 1) and 2) should always be the same color, and at the end of the repeat the two strands should be crossed in the middle.

For additional clarity, here's a horrible MSPaint diagram. Good luck!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Iceland Hat

After a long hiatus from posting (and knitting), I bring to you my favorite hat ever:

The Iceland hat, alternately titled Capucine, had its start in my brother's birthday present to me: a gift of two balls of lopi in a beautiful, heathered blue ... carried by hand back from Iceland.

I'm always impressed with my brother. I don't think that many people would manage to get exactly the right color. Maybe it's because he has blue eyes, too!

So I've been on the lookout for a pattern to use this yarn in. Many of you will be familiar with lopi, thanks to the Reynolds line by the same name. The style of yarn seems to be an old standard of Icelandic knitting. The yarn is constructed from fairly long fibers of wool (staples!), simply twisted together without being plied for strength. So it has a sort of nature-ish, haloed, thick-thin thing going on. All in all, it's thick, hearty and lovely, evoking the "unprocessed" quality that brings such big bucks at Whole Foods. It needs a pattern that allows this quality to shine through; I find it can easily be overpowered by complicated cables and textures.

Because of that, I wasn't sure what to make with it, since lately I favor fine (and highly-processed) yarns in patterns meant to show off complicated stitch-work.

A search on Ravelry of free hat patterns quickly yielded a winner. And in spite of my general preference for more complicated knitting, this hat's structural interest, fit, and gorgeously outrageous tassels manage to showcase the yarn perfectly (IMHO), and I find myself fabulously pleased with the results. Totally cute.

Technical details:
I found my row gauge was a little off - I found it necessary to knit more rows than were indicated in the pattern, for all three sections: the ribbing, the garter stitch section, and the in-the-round crown.

I also decided that I liked the look of a proportionately wider garter-stitch section, so the first five or so rounds of the crown are in garter stitch. I inserted extra rounds of stockinette before the crown decreases.

The tassels (so fun!) are made according to these instructions, with the lopi and a few strands of a coordinating sock yarn I had lying around, to give them some textural interest and pick up some of the undyed strands of the lopi. I made them detachable, using decorative cords, so as to be able to wash the hat without damaging them.