Labour of love

Attaching the group’s logo to a ‘teddy rucksack’, destined for a child in hospital.

A year ago I wrote a blog about the beginnings of my lockdown sewing adventures with Dudley For The Love Of Scrubs. Ever since, my machine hasn’t had much downtime and the range of projects to try my hand at has widened. After the first rush to supply scrubs, the organisation – which has evolved into a constantly growing ‘forever group’ now named Crafting for Communities – started creating other homemade items for a variety of local settings, from hospitals and care homes to women’s refuges and families in need, or goods for sale to replenish the resources we all work with.

Week by week I’ve been able to add a succession of makes to the well-oiled machine that gets the goods to where they’re needed: facemasks, including the tricky ‘smile’ ones with a plastic window for use with the hard of hearing or dementia patients, overalls and tabards for early years staff, dignity capes for screening, soft toys and other Christmas and Easter gifts, bags galore – drawstring, totes and rucksacks – and a host of goodies such as book pillows, drain bags and eye masks that go into special kits gifted to cancer patients.

The finished hat

Then came a request for knitters to produce special hats for people undergoing chemotherapy. What a lovely initiative; made with a delightfully soft 100% cotton yarn in variegated rainbow shades and knitted in the round, avoiding any irritating seams, this was too tempting to ignore, despite my recent lack of practice with anything other than sewing needles. People started posting on the Facebook group beautiful photos of their completed hats, and I wanted a go. How hard could it be?

Triangular knitting?

The instructions called for double-pointed needles (dpns) so I acquired a set of those, five in a packet. Cast on 28 stitches to each of three needles, it said. So far, so good. What I didn’t quite appreciate in the first instance was that you need to start the actual knitting onto a fourth one, so I managed (I’m still not sure how) to complete a row and a half just on the three needles. This triangular knitting was indeed a challenge. Perhaps I should have stuck to sewing. Things improved once light dawned and the fourth needle was brought into play, knitting on two needles at a time around the circle while the remaining two held the rest of the stitches – fiddly but at least I had a bit more room to manoeuvre and could see some progress.

Knitting onto the fourth needle

Unfortunately I could also see that it would be all too easy for stitches to slip off these multiple points unless I really had my wits about me, and it became quite stressful, especially once I graduated to the stocking stitch beyond the rib. That in itself flummoxed me at first and I had to ask for advice. Luckily behind every craftsperson in our wonderful group there’s always somebody (probably somebody you’ve never even met) willing to help you out, and this was no exception. With infinite patience, Rhon put me straight when I queried knitting every row rather than alternate knit and purl rows to make stocking stitch. It took a leap of spatial awareness, but then it was glaringly obvious that, knitting in the round, you always have the front of the garment facing you so knitting every row is precisely what you need to do!

Too much needle!

As for the needles, the Facebook chat revealed that Jan had also found the 4-needle technique too much of a handful and had switched to a circular needle, although she’d had to experiment with different sizes. Sounded like a good plan, except that instead of checking for confirmation of which size was best I went ahead and bought an 80cm one. I still hadn’t quite got my head around spatial awareness, had I? It should have been obvious this would be far too long, the stitches straining and the hat flattening to a pancake as I tried to knit from one pointed end to other. Once transferred onto a 40cm needle, the process became an absolute breeze, the tube growing neatly and effortlessly as I literally went round and round in circles.

That’s better!
Back to dpns for decreasing
Almost there…

Of course, I had to reacquaint myself with the dreaded dpns once the shaping was underway and the number of stitches became too few even for the shorter circular needle. And the fewer the stitches, the closer together the fistful of points, making the whole business a bit unwieldy. But fewer stitches also meant I was closer to completion and the resulting sense of achievement. I’m glad I was determined to keep going and produce a wearable hat. I hope the recipient will find some comfort in it and perhaps sense that it was made with love.

I’m told that the balls of yarn are sufficient for two chemo hats, so it looks like I’ll be making another, now I know what I’m doing. And if anyone has suggestions of what to make with an 80cm circular needle…?

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