Triple Helix – a super mathy hat

spencer 6

People ask me to knit things for them relatively often, and I usually politely decline by explaining how busy I am. School starts up again tomorrow. (My final year of nursing school! I am so excited that this experience is drawing to a close that I am very nearly almost smiling as I type this. It’s a real moment.) Once school starts, all I tend to do is study, work, sleep, and complain about studying, working, and sleeping. It doesn’t leave much room for recreational activities, hence the overload on knitting projects and ice-cream-based dessert blogging this summer.

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However, there was a particular project that I knew that I had to finish before the summer was over. My friend and co-worker Spencer had asked me to make him a hat sometime last winter, and after a great deal of pretending like I didn’t want to do it, I got started with gusto.

Spencer is a math person. He makes jokes about the Monty Hall problem and never stops to see if you understand, just assumes that you will, because otherwise why would he be talking to you? That kind of person needs a mathy hat.

spencer 2

(He’s also a photography person, coincidentally, and the exceptionally lovely first, third, and fifth pictures in this post are all his. Beautiful stuff.)

How do you make a mathy hat, you ask? You take a deep breath and fall down into the rabbit hole of helical knitting. You remember that you saw that the amazing Grumperina knitted some helical striped socks a few years ago, and you dig through your stash to find something that works.

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I decided to go all out with the helical goodness here. Three rows of ribbing, three colors of continuously spiraling helical striping, six-part decreasing in order to create diminishing hexagons in the spiral as it works its way up? This thing is practically an episode of Schoolhouse Rock. Three is a magic number, indeed.

spencer 1

Want the pattern? Keep reading below, or go ahead and click on this handy link for an easy-to-read printable PDF.

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Triple Helix
a super mathy hat

This original hat was made to fit heads up to 24″, and changes in size can be made easily by decreasing/increasing the number of stitches cast on in multiples of six.

Yarn:
Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted (85% wool, 15% mohair blend, 190 yds. per skein), 1 skein each of M-75 Blue Heirloom (Color A), M-03 Grey Heather (Color B), and M-06 Deep Charcoal (Color C)
(Really, any good quality worsted-weight wool or wool blend will do.)

Supplies:
US size 8 (5.0mm) 16-inch circular needle
US size 8 double-pointed needles
stitch markers (in at least 3 different colors or styles)
tapestry or yarn needle
scissors

Gauge:
5 sts per inch on US 8 (5.0 mm) needles

Pattern:
CO 108 sts with Color A on circular needle. Join into round, being careful not to twist.

Knit in 1×1 ribbing (k1, p1) for 2 rounds.

Using stitch markers, divide stitches evenly into 3 sets of 36 sts. I found it helpful to use stitch markers that were all the same color here, in order to differentiate from the marker you’re using to mark the beginning of the round and the stitch markers that will be used later to indicate the decrease sections. Using 3 distinct colors or styles will help to prevent a lot of confusion down the line.

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For the setup round, knit the first 36 sts with Color A. When you reach the first stitch marker, drop Color A, join Color B and knit with it until the next marker. At this marker, drop Color B, join Color C and knit until you finish the round.

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For the next round, continue knitting with Color C until you reach the first stitch marker. Then, drop Color C, pick up Color A (where it was conveniently left for you), and begin knitting to the next marker. Resist the temptation to twist the colors at the marker or to pull aggressively at that first stitch. Just drop the color you’re working with, pick up the one waiting for you, give it a tiny tug to even out the tension, and get going. You’ll continue to do this same maneuver over and over again, spiraling the colors upward in rounds until the piece measures 6″ in length (or whatever your preference might be). Keep in mind that the last color for each round always ends up being the first color that you use for the next round, so there’s no color-switching as you go past the beginning of the round.

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Decrease section:
Now, divide your sts further so that you have 6 sets of 18 sts each. It’s easiest to do this by just dividing each section in half with a different color of stitch marker, especially if you use locking stitch markers so that nothing has to come off the needles.

Decrease round: *ssk, k to 2 sts before next marker, k2tog, slip marker* until end of round, while continuing to switch colors at the appropriate stitch markers. (12 sts decreased, 96 sts remain.)

Plain round: k all sts, continuing to switch colors at the appropriate stitch markers.

Repeat these two rows 7 more times, until 12 sts remain, switching the double-pointed needles when appropriate. Use the gaps between the needles to stand in place of your color-switching stitch markers.

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Final decrease round: *ssk, k2tog* until end of round, while continuing to switch colors at the appropriate stitch markers. (6 sts decreased, 6 sts remain.)

Break all yarns, leaving long enough tails to weave in for Colors B and C, and a longer tail for Color A. Tuck the strands for Colors B and C into the hole at the top of the hat so that they are on the inside. Thread Color A onto a yarn needle and pull the yarn through the remaining 6 sts on the needles, pull snugly, and secure to the inside of the hat.

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Weave in all ends, and then spend a few minutes staring lovingly at that awesome spiral. Finish the hat by thoroughly washing and wet-blocking it, which will ensure that the tiny ribbed section stays flat and that the color-switching areas settle down. When the actual knitting is taking place, these areas might feel stiffer or tighter than the surrounding fabric, but a good blocking makes it all even out nicely.

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Now, go pretend that August is a reasonable time to wear a wool-and-mohair blend knit hat and go show it off. Not everyone might know right away that it’s a hat that displays your spectacular math love, but the right people will.

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5 thoughts on “Triple Helix – a super mathy hat

  1. Pingback: Year-End Thankfulness and Awesomeness Round-Up (or…Thankful for Pie: Damn Fine Cherry Pie Super-Late Edition) | jingersnaps

    • I went and looked up average sizes for 6 year old heads, and it looks like the consensus is about 20″. Because of the stretch in the hat, I’d go with a 18″ hat circumference, which would (if you have your gauge correct) mean casting on 90 sts to start.

      However! You should get the measurement of the head of the recipient if you can, just to make sure! Kids’ head sizes vary waaaaaaaay more than adults, and it’s better to end up slightly too large than too small.

  2. Pingback: Hurricane Helix Socks | jingersnaps

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