My daughter in the SuperL hat, before I sent it off to my friend in California. Follow along with my process of making this hat, and you will learn how to create your own custom colorwork design.
This week I made a hat for my childhood friend who needs to channel her inner superhero. I wanted to send her encouragement in the best way I know how, which is, of course, through knitting. For as long as I can remember, her “signature” has been Laverne’s infamous “L” from the show Laverne and Shirley. So it seemed only fitting to design a hat that merged the Laverne “L” with the Superwoman “S” as a way to send my support and to let her know what a Kick-Ass Lady I think she is.
As I was charting out the motifs, it dawned on me that the way I started designing in knitting was by graphing and knitting hats with my best friend in college. We dreamed up crazy motifs (often sketched on hand-drawn graph paper) and knitted them up, using yarn we had found in thrift stores. I had so much fun chart-designing like this, I made hat after hat for just about every member of my family. I thought the SuperL hat was a perfect opportunity to teach you all how to create your own custom colorwork knits. Who knows, you may catch the design bug, like me.
HERE’S HOW I MADE MY SUPER L HAT:
(This gets super technical and will teach you how to chart your own custom design, figure out cast on amounts, and choose between Fair Isle and Intarsia knitting. Skip if you don’t want the technical breakdown!)
Fair Isle (aka ‘stranded colorwork)’: A type of colorwork in knitting where yarns are carried across the back of the work when they are not in use.
Intarsia: A type of colorwork in knitting where colors not in use are dropped. Bobbins are required to work Intarsia.
1. I MADE GRAPH PAPER THE SAME GAUGE AS THE YARN: The gauge on the yarn I used is approximately 28 stitches per 4″, so I created graph paper that had 28 squares per every 4″. That way I would know how big the motif would be without having to test knit it. I created my graph paper in Illustrator, but it’s not hard to make it using Microsoft Excel or using the Tables feature in Microsoft Word. Also, you can skip this step and use regular graph paper, but it is helpful to understand the motif’s scale at the start to avoid lots of trial and error in the knitting.
2. I TRACED, THEN CHARTED THE DESIGN: I found a Superwoman emblem on the internet and sized it to the actual dimension I wanted. I traced the design onto the graph paper. I knew the scale of the design would be the same as the drawing because my graph paper was sized according to my knitting. If your graph paper is not equivalent, you’ll need to actually knit up a swatch of the motif to get the sizing correct.
Next, I used the tracing to tell me which squares of the grid to fill in. This is the tricky part. I couldn’t follow the “S” exactly, of course, because curves are hard to make out of diagonal lines. I did this step in pencil so that I could fill in and erase squares as needed to get the chart to look as close to the tracing as possible.
I repeated these steps for the “L” motif. (Photos #1 & 2)
Photo #1: I tested the Superwoman S on a swatch before committing to the whole hat.
Photo #2: I started by knitting the whole thing in Fair Isle, in the round, but got frustrated and pulled it out.
Photo #3: Unravelling Fair Isle results in this. I threw it away.
Photo #4: On my second pass, I set up bobbins so each motif would be worked with it’s own little ball.
Photo #5: For colorwork projects with lots of blank space between motifs I use a combo of Intarsia and Fair Isle.
Photo #6: The final hat; the Super L and Superwoman emblems alternate.
3. I KNIT A TEST SWATCH: I wanted to make sure what I was seeing on the paper was going to translate into the yarn, so I knit one of the motifs to make sure. (Photo # 1)
4. I DID THE MATH TO FIGURE OUT HOW MANY STITCHES TO CAST ON: With so many repeats going on, this is a little harder than it would seem. Both the “S” and “L” motifs are 35 stitches across. I wanted my hat to be around 22″. The gauge of the yarn is 4″ per 28 sts. So I took 22″ and divided it by 4″, which gave me 5.5. Then I multiplied 5.5 x 28 sts. That gave me 154 stitches for cast on to make a 22″ hat. I used 154 as my starting point.
Each motif is made up of 35 sts (aka 35 grid squares). If I repeated both motifs twice, for a total of 4 motifs, I would use up 140 of those 154 sts, leaving me 14 sts for the white spaces between: 14 divided by 4 = 3.5. You can’t have 1/2 a stitch, so I needed to be left with a number that was divisible by 4 for the 4 motifs, like 156: 156-140=16. (Another way to look at it is each motif is 35 color sts + 4 white space sts or 39 sts total. 39 x 4 = 156.)
Because I wanted a mutlicolor brim I knew I wasn’t done yet. The brim repeat was this: 3 sts white, 3 sts orange, 3 sts pink. That meant my cast on needed to be divisible by 9. I could either start with 9 x 17 = 153 stitches, or 9 x 18 = 162 stitches. If I started with the 153 sts, I could increase in the all white row after the brim to 156, setting me up for the 39 stitch motif. Or I could start with 162 stitches and decrease two stitches to 160, making each motif 40 stitches. I chose to start with 162 and make a larger hat than initially intended. I made this choice because 1. the yarn didn’t have very much give. 2. Fair Isle knitting reduces the give. 3. I kinda like a looser hat these days. Either formula would have worked.
5. I KNIT THE HAT IN THE ROUND, IN FAIR ISLE (A BIG FAIL): I started in Fair Isle and carried the white along with all the colors, while working in the round. When knitting Fair Isle in the round, each row of the chart is always read from from right to left. Though the motifs were turning out correctly using this technique, the knitting itself was hard and looked like shit. The colors showed through the white, the knitting was uneven and had zero stretch. Plus it was nearly impossible to knit because the yarn was getting so tangled. I found a major mistake and had to rip, which caused a huge mess (Photos # 2&3) and forced me to rethink my approach.
6. THEN I KNIT THE HAT IN A FAIR ISLE / INTARSIA COMBO, AND IT WORKED: I made color bobbins for each of the four motifs (Photo #4). I used one strand of white across the entire hat, but picked up and carried (then dropped) the colors for each motif. Using this Intarsia hybrid technique, I had to knit the hat back and forth in rows versus in the round. That way my colored yarn was available at each row turn. In the round, it would have been abandoned on the wrong side. I also had to follow the charts a little differently: rather than always reading from right to left, I had to follow the knit rows right to left and the purl rows left to right. (If you look at the S chart in Photo #1, you can see my little arrows to remind myself which direction I was supposed to going; it’s easy to read a row in the wrong direction.) Turned out, this was the winning technique. The knitting was much easier; the bobbin yarn didn’t tangle as I progressed, as long as I kept the bobbins orderly as I knit; and the colorwork looked way better. I was careful to carry my yarns every third stitch so the floaters were nice and tidy at the back. (Photo #5)
7. I FINISHED THE HAT: After the knitting was complete, I seamed the side and wove in all ends. I carefully steamed this hat and it made a huge difference. The colorwork relaxed and laid much better after steaming. I also found that I had made a few mistakes in the colorwork. I fixed these using the duplicate stitch.
8. I MAILED IT OFF: My friend should get the hat and the card I made for her today!!!
I made this card for my friend and included it in the box with the hat.