The knit goes on: woolly hats and owly jumpers

In between all the beach-sitting and picture-taking, I’m happy to report that I have also been managing to finish a bit of knitting here and there. As several friends are having winter babies, I’ve been working my way through Woolly Wormhead’s rather fabulous collection of baby hats, Wee Woolly Toppers, which rejoices in the subtitle “Smart Covers for Small Noggins”. I’m a huge fan of Woolly’s hat designs: not only are they cleverly constructed and interesting to knit, they are also genuinely beautiful finished garments. They’re hats that you would love to wear, and which would make even non-knitters stop and take an admiring second glance. Another charm of the adult hats, particularly if you, like me, are blessed with a 24″ head circumference, is the wide range of sizes in which they come: I’ve turned regretfully away from many other women’s hat patterns, unable to work out how to increase the circumference to fit my giant bonce without irrevocably messing up the design. Without Woolly, I’d have been condemned to many a winter of plain ribbed beanies (boring), or, worse, wearing shop-bought men’s hats.* Her designs for babies and toddlers are no less exciting: most are unisex, and they all manage to combine knitterly interest with a cute design which successfully avoids crossing the line into the realms of the twee. I’ve been knitting away with some beautiful hand-dyed aran-weight yarn from the lovely Alison at Yarnscape, and I’m very please with the results so far. For obvious reasons, though, I can’t post any pictures yet!

In contrast to the long haul of my Tempest cardigan, my latest knitted garment for myself was finished in, comparatively speaking, record time. For ages, I had been admiring the owls jumper by Kate Davies, a woman who is not only an extremely talented knitwear designer, but also a scholar of textile history, a stroke-survivor, a fellow Lancastrian and all-round inspirational lady. owls (sans capital letter) is one of her earliest designs, and it has rapidly become a modern classic: at the time of writing, there are 5805 versions on Ravelry. I knitted the children’s version, owlet, for Eoin this time last year; he is still wearing it now, and, as you can see, it looks pretty darned cute. I knew I loved Kate’s pattern writing style, and the design for the adult jumper was just as adorable as the toddler version. The only problem I had with knitting an owls for myself was the yarn requirements: the jumper is knitted in bulky yarn, and the number of balls required was likely to make the cost prohibitive, particularly if I used the recommended Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds. I mean, the jumper would be gorgeous and soft, and would smell beguilingly of clean sheep, but I’d be in serious trouble with the bank. However, Eoin and I happened to be in the John Lewis haberdashery department on the day when the Rowan Felted Tweed Chunky, a suitable surrogate for the Purelife, was being discontinued. It had been marked to £1.99 a ball; I promptly bought all the stock, and rushed home laughing gleefully.

I loved knitting the jumper, and I’m very pleased with the result, particularly the fact that it’s actually pretty flattering when worn. I’m not especially skinny, but, although this is a bulky yarn garment, I don’t feel it makes me look too much as if I am wearing a knitted fat-suit. You can judge for yourself, of course, as Stephen very kindly took photos of me, wearing the jumper and trying out a variety of Ysolda-ish poses (all a ploy on my part to stop me having to look at the camera) last weekend. Here I am, looking fixedly at something very interesting in the sky, owls proudly on display. Fat-suit or not, it’s lovely to wear. The yarn make a very warm, dense fabric which is still pretty soft against the skin, and which has so far resisted pilling, despite having come in for some pretty heavy use during the recent cold snap. I found the owl-eye buttons in Claire Grove (where else?): I had initially been tempted by some matt ones in a bright blue, which would pick up the tweedy flecks in the yarn, but, after laying the jumper out on the floor of the shop and trying out various combinations, I decided these pearlescent shirt buttons worked better: they have a tiny star detail cut into the centre of the button, and suggested a lifelike sparkle which seemed more appropriate than a blank blue gaze.

I am very keen to knit owls again, but I think I will be making some changes. I made a couple of mistakes, or errors of judgement this time around, which I think stem from my general sense of knitting dysmorphia. I’m sure I’m not the only person who does this: you’re afraid of the garment turning out too small, so you knit it in a size which is far too big for you, as a sort of yarn-based pre-emptive strike. I’m getting better at controlling this tendency, but, despite a thorough reading of the chapters on fit in Little Red in the City, I still knit to fit my full bust measurement, and not my actual body size. In this case, I knitted the 40″ chest, when I really should have been knitting the 38″. As you can see from the picture on the left, this means that owls is rather too big around my back and shoulders (though, sadly, it seems snug enough around the hips). It’s also enormous in the arms, though admittedly this is harder to tell from the photographs. Take it from me, though: I could be wearing several pairs of arm-warmers under there, and I’d still have room for a pair of full-length oven gloves. Clearly, the thing to do is to sit down with a pad and a pencil, and work out how to combine the 38″ body (perhaps with a bit of fiddling around as to the placement of the decreases) with the 36″ sleeves.

Putting my ongoing struggles with sizing and my slightly skewed body image aside, though, the jumper has gone down like a house on fire. When a group of knitterly friends came to visit recently, they all tried it on: they’re different shapes and sizes (though it’s safe to say we’re all possessed of substantial busts) and every single one looked great in it. I’ve even had people compliment me on it when I’ve been out with Eoin, though there was a rather bizarre incident when a lady followed up a number of very sensible, intelligent questions about yarn and technique by finished by asking “did you sew the buttons on, too?”, as if there were a possibility that they might have been magically knitted into the design somehow, instead of being attached by the prosaic needle and thread method.

I haven’t picked out a yarn for owls 2.0 as yet, but rest assured I shall be haunting the project pages of Ravelry for inspiration. This time, I’ll really try hard to make sure it fits everywhere. Promise.

Photographs of me were taken by Stephen Lynch.

*Seriously. I just don’t fit the women’s ones. I could blame my enormous brain, but, realistically, I think it’s more likely to be down to a combination of a thick skull and big hair.

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6 thoughts on “The knit goes on: woolly hats and owly jumpers

  1. Lovely! Always so helpful, too, to see these patterns on different body shapes and sizes. You look great.

    I have the same hat/big head problem. Inherited big head from my dad, with added masses of hair on top. Have found a lovely smart hat from M&S this year, after someone told me they actually sell *sized hats* (how novel!), but it’s a bit too glamorous for an at-home mom wardrobe, really. Kind of requires proper lipstick (not just gloss) and a nice skirt. I haven’t had any luck in knitting hats either – size aside, the things I think will suit me turn out not to… but I’ve been having a read of Woolly’s Ravelry thread on choosing hats to suit, and I think I have a great pattern picked out. (Dulcie.) So that’s in the queue.

    • Thank you! It’s a bit scary posting photos of yourself online if you’re not super-confident, but I think it’s worthwhile.

      The hat thing is tricky, isn’t it? I’ve knitted a couple of the WW designs several times, as it’s easy to stick to what works rather than branching out. I’m determined to try something new next time; I’m being drawn to Medici, though I’m not sure the shape will work on me. With the hats I’ve made, I do find that varying the amount of slouch tends to be a useful tactic: I’ve made Everglade to fit as more of a snug beanie, and it suits me much better than a slouchy version would, though admittedly it isn’t great at keeping the snow out! Dulcie looks lovely: I’ll be watching Ravelry with interest.

  2. Love this post – partly because I have been wanting to make this very sweater, partly because I have some sizing issues myself, and partly because I laughed that you were doing “Ysolda” poses. Excellent.

    • I’m glad you liked it! I wholehearted recommend Ysolda’s book if you’re struggling with sizing pullovers: she talks an awful lot of sense, and gives you some very helpful advice for how to get your knitwear to fit properly in all areas. As for the dysmorphia (which I think a lot of knitters suffer from), I guess we just have to work through that one a sweater at a time!

  3. Just saw a similar owl jumper on a colleague at a party yesterday and she says it’s the most popular pattern on the web and great fun to knit. It looks SO COOL – have a wonderful winter wearing it!

    • It is a fantastic jumper! The same designer has one inspired by puffins too: that’s on my list of things to knit for next year.

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