Monday, June 22, 2009

Tunisian Crochet Chemo Hat: Pros & Cons

In the midst of hosting house guests and attending the TNNA conference, a new crocheted hat happened, known as "Vanilla Crown." Early in this blog's life I talked about "Hat Yoga": a hat designing journey for my dear friend Kalli.

The Vanilla Crown is the latest addition to the Hat Yoga collection and the first to feature two tunisian stitches for specific reasons.

We're having a heat wave here, and my house guest is not used to the extremes of air conditioning and humid subtropical heat. After all the chemo she's had, she doesn't need the extra stress on her immune system. So I wanted to create a summer hat that breathes but protects, and is of course exquisitely soft. I chose Decadent Fibers' organic color-grown cotton in "vanilla".

I've watched some of my hats stretch out over years of use. Sometimes it's due to the yarn, sometimes the stitch or gauge. For this hat I focused most on which stitch and gauge. The yarn is bumpy and fleecy and for it to be summery, I wanted a stitch that wouldn't amp up the bump, thickness, or weight; and one that wouldn't add stretch. My thoughts turned to tunisian crochet.

I wanted to frame my friend's face with a gently flaring brim that wouldn't droop over time. I thought of how tunisian simple stitch (TSS), worked firmly, naturally curls. It's also solid enough to block the sun.

As for what I was in the mood for: I was not up for doing tunisian in the round, nor entrelac. I needed something mindless enough so that I could socialize while crocheting. We also like to watch movies together. I was willing to commit to crocheting a rectangle, then seaming it to create a hat band with just the right fit before adding the brim and crown.

So here's what I think of the result based on the design goals:
  • I'm very happy with the tunisian corded knit stitch used for the band. It has zero elasticity horizontally (around the head) and just enough vertically so that the wearer can pull it down over the ears or not.
  • The stitch is also pleasingly protective yet airy, and shows off the yarn's texture without adding more bulk. It's a great stitch to design with.
  • Using TSS for the brim is also a good choice, once I worked out the amount of increases to add so that the brim flared just enough. (I ripped out these rows so many times before getting them right!)
  • The yarn is even more beautiful than I expected. It's soft, luminous, and great with different skin tones. I couldn't resist adding some pearls around the crown!
Those are the pros, want the cons? Well:
  • I ended up using 4 different kinds of hooks. This is a problem designing with tunisian. Sometimes you don't know what you're in for until you're part way through a new design! I discover missing sizes and styles once I need one while designing :)
  • My favorite tunisian hook was barely long enough for the rectangular band. Once I added stitches for the brim, I struggled to use my favorite hook but eventually switched to some new bamboo circulars, which I didn't like. For the crown I could use a regular crochet hook, but kept switching it because the yarn worked distinctly better with one brand over others.
  • I underestimated how much the finished crown affects the way the band settles around the head. That's not this design's fault, just a design issue I learned the hard way. And in this case the hat still fits fine, just not the way I originally envisioned it; it was meant to be a "bucket" hat and became a "cloche."
  • Lastly, seaming is not my first choice for a hat design. The seam did its job of making the hat enjoyable to make while socializing, so I would make a hat this way again in a similar situation. The seam, which is crocheted, looks okay except for a lumpy bit at the brim, but it doesn't really show.