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March 15, 2006

Decreasing, or "Make this tube into a hat!"

I'm making good progress on my Brangelina Hat Prototype (you can read about the EXCELLENT literary source that spawned my interest in the Brangelina hat on this entry). I'm knitting this one as a test before creating the real hat for the official recipe. Not that this one isn't a real hat, ya'll know, just that I have little issues to work out so that a hat pattern will be easy for everyone.

One of my issues, for example, is that I am an insanely tight knitter, and I have somehow managed to turn extra-bulky chunky Up Country wool yarn into this:

Hello, my name is Laurie and I am clearly working out some "issues" when I knit.

This hat has taken me just under two hours of commute-time so far -- and I am NOT a fast knitter. Hats are great small projects for ADD-ish knitters like ... who? I forgot my train of thought...?

Ha! Just kidding. Ya'll know I never shut up.

Anyway, this hat is now at the place where it's time to begin decreasing. It's not a magic formula that gets you to The Secret Decrease Spot, usually I just put the thing on my head and see if I'm happy with it, and how much of the top of my head pokes through.



When you knit a hat starting at the brim and working upward, you're knitting the widest portion first and hopefully somewhere along in the project you'll be overwhelmed by the urge to finish said hat, and that is when you need to Decrease Stitches, making the hat get smaller and smaller until it closes up at the top.

Most people are totally OK with the idea that we'll be decreasing the amount of stitches, and each row gets smaller and the hat gets smaller, and then happiness ensues.

The problem comes when trying to figure out how the math works: "If Sally wants to knit two stitches together, and Sally has 72 stitches on her needles, how many stitches should Sally knit in the row before decreasing so that things stay tidy and Sally doesn't give up and go get drunk?"

Let us address that question, shall we?

For the purposes of this really dorky illustration, let's assume your hat is sitting on your circular needles like my Brangelina Prototype, and it's all knitted up to the point where you begin to decrease. Usually, this means you have knitted your hat brim plus about 5 inches of the body part of the hat. Because Brangelina has a big huge wide brim than turns up, I did 4 1/2 inches of ribbing, and 4 inches of stockinette. I may add an extra few rows of stockinette in before I decrease, but I'm pretty much ready to start getting rid of stitches!

Let's also assume that for this illustration you have 30 stitches total, although a normal hat is more like 60 stitches (super bulky yarn) or a million stitches (little tiny yarn) but I am lazy and did not want to draw one million dots representing knit stitches. I may be crazy, but I am not that crazy.


Step One: My Shoe Theory and what decreasing really means

I swear by my theory that if you pretend the stitches are shoes it will be a happier experience ... because shoes make life happier. Here we have 30 stitches on our needles. We are ready to begin decreasing! For my hats, I do the world's Simplest Decrease, a.k.a. "knit two stitches together as if they were one stitch" or, K2tog.

That means when you are ready to decrease, you just knit X amount of stitches in the row, then knit two stitches together (decreasing!), then knit like normal for X amount of stitches, knit two together (more decreasing, the top of the hat gets smaller, so exciting!), all the way around the row.

The mathy part is figuring out what the crazy "X number of stitches is," right?

Step Two: Oh by the way, this only works on even numbers of cast-on stitches. Whoops!
For math dummies, you really should be casting on an even number of stitches. (We'll discuss figuring out how many to cast on in another entry, called "I went to Gauge City and all I got was this stupid giant mushroom hat!")

Step Three: Pick a small-ish number that will evenly divide into your number of cast on stitches. This is called your SHOE NUMBER.
Go with me on this. I promise it makes sense at some point. You just pick a small number that will go into your cast-on number an even amount of times. This becomes the SHOE NUMBER.

For example ... 72 stitches cast on? 12 is a good shoe number!
64 stitches cast on? 8 is a good shoe number!
30 stitches cast on? 10 is a good shoe number!

Step Four: Now we decrease.

We're dividing up the stitches (shoes) into easily managed chunks. Our stitches are scary, but shoes are fun! What you need to do is divide up all the shoes into pairs, and put all your pairs of shoes in one row in your mind -- just like stitches sit on one row of knitting.

We want to decrease and have a shorter line of shoes, right? So, every 10th pair of shoes gets thrown in the closet, making the line of imaginary shoes get smaller. Or every 12th pair of shoes goes in the closet. Or every 8th pair. The magic is -- you get to decide!

Here is the super-secret decreasing formula according to crazy lady:

a. We have 30 stitches.
b. And 10 goes into 30 an even number of times with no bad percentages left on the calculator (30 divided by 10 = 3, that's good!)
c. So, 10 is our SHOE NUMBER.
d. To decrease, we subtract one pair of shoes from the lineup at regular intervals.
e. Therefore, 10 shoes - 2 shoes = 8 shoes
f. Therefore, every 8 shoes, I will get rid of one pair!!
g. Yes, this really is how my mind works. Sorry.

I will knit eight shoes like normal, knit two shoes together, keep doing this through the whole row, then somehow it will magically work out! No poor straggler shoes will be left on the needles when I use the Mighty Shoe Formula!



The Next Row: You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It
On the next row, you will scale it back by one. This means, for our example, you knit 7 stitches, then knit two together, and repeat until you reach the end of the row. If you have picked a shoe number that easily divides into your cast-on, you'll never have weird "extra" stitches and your decreases will make a pretty swirl pattern on the top of the hat. Magic! Gnomes! Shoe gnomes.


Finally: Keep getting smaller!
Keep going down in your count ... knit 6, knit two together for a whole row.

Then knit 5, knit 2 together for a row and so on.

When you get down to just a handful of stitches, cut the yarn and leave a long yarn tail. Thread the yarn tail through a big-eye needle and run the yarn through all stitches. Pull to tighten. There's a good picture of this on my roll-brim hat recipe page. Weave in your ends and you have a hat!

Finally. The end of this really schizophrenic knitting column.

The prototype should be done today, then I start working on the real recipe hat. I wanted to make one using Wool Ease chunky, but all my local craft store had was Wool Ease Thick 'n Quick. Thank goodness this is a quick knit -- it's already March, and this hat will certainly be warm!

(Sobakowa might like a warm hat)

Posted by laurie at March 15, 2006 9:06 AM