My big brother is one of my heroes, and I could go on and on about what an amazing human being he is, as well as his specific accomplishments in siblinghood – and to him, I do – but for the purposes of this project, I think it mostly suffices to know I love him dearly. I’ve also been promising him a hand-knit hat for an embarrassingly long time. I think most people don’t really need super-warm hand-knit hats, but my brother is a fishing boat captain, an avid hunter, and a general rugged outdoorsman who is frequently to be found in the woods or on the water in freezing, wet conditions, gleeful as could be.
My first attempts at hat-knitting for my brother were destined for failure, I can see on hindsight (I actually have a third attempt about 80% complete in my knitting basket, which doesn’t even fit me). I used a cotton blend yarn, needles that were too small, didn’t cast on enough stitches, and I attempted colorwork for the first time despite knowing it would cause additional tightness. I seem to come across the description “fat Irish head” a lot, and for my family, this description does seem particularly apt. My brother’s head is 24″ in circumference (I think mine is around 22″), yet I continued to knit standard “adult-sized” hat patterns, with all the gauge problems one could ask for, as if I would somehow stumble into a hat that fit. Spoiler alert: I did not.
I finally broke out the cone of oiled wool I had purchased years ago for a pair of shooting gloves for my father (still have to fix one thumb of those – jeez, I’m awful with gifts). I decided for a ribbed hat, to make it stretchier, and I found a really stylish and terrific pattern. Predictably, I had to go through a few failed attempts at this pattern, too, before I acknowledged that my yarn was thinner, my target size larger, and so on.
In a way, it’s good that all this fumbling delayed the finished hat because it gave me time to really think through this thing I was making. I wasn’t just gratuitously knitting my brother a hat – I wanted this to be the hat, the warmest, snuggliest thing he owned, which would keep his brilliant brain toasty even when it’s snowing on the ocean and remind him that his sister loves him every time he wears it. I started to think about the experience of wearing oiled wool next to the skin, and it honestly did not sound comfortable at all. I may joke about him being part Viking and a pirate, but my brother is also a stylish guy in his thirties, who has nice skin that he probably doesn’t want scraped raw with each wearing.
Fleece lining, I thought, will be the way to make the hat soft and comfortable, super duper warm, and give it structure. But boy do I hate sewing, and I didn’t even know where to begin with hat-lining. Here is where I blundered into what I consider one of the most brilliant ideas of my knitting career to date: to line a hat with fleece, buy a pre-made fleece hat and sew it in. Structure? Done. Seaming? None. Super weather-resistant, pill-resistant, washable fleece? In the bag.
The hat is blocking as we speak, but I’ve learned from my experiences. I’m going to make absolutely sure that the big Carhart hat I bought for a song (the Amazon comments of which extolled its virtues for fitting large-headed construction workers and outdoorsy men of the world) actually fits my brother before permanently sewing the hand-knit oiled wool part to it. I know the hat I’ve knit is finally big enough, and it’s the right style and feel, after all these years. It’s not his main birthday gift, or in fact being presented as one of this year’s gifts at all, since it was meant to be his gift way, way back in 2008, but I will be giving it to him when we celebrate our birthdays in a few weeks (mine is Nov 1, his Nov 3). I really hope he likes it!