Hand-embroidered hats: Top Gun logos

I don’t often see the words “Top Gun” and “embroidered” in the same sentence. The combination brings to mind a cut-throat needlework academy – a place where high-flying crafting hopefuls train their way to the top, and break all the rules doing it. But, I digress. This week, I finished the embroidered knit project I had been working on for February.

The Task

The beau’s cousin, J, recently asked if I could knit him and his best friend a pair of matching caps. Children of the 80s, J and his pal are both big fans of the 1986 film Top Gun. I admit: what I know about the plot comes very second-hand. I haven’t redressed my lack of knowledge by watching it, but in the film “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) and “Maverick” (Tom Cruise) are fierce aviation-school rivals who develop a loyal wingmen friendship by the end. They also happen to be J and his pal’s favourite on-screen buddies. The knitting request was simple: could I knit 2 caps – an “Iceman” and “Maverick” hat for J and his pal, respectively? Knowing little about Top Gun fandom myself, I liked the idea of making something in the name of friendship while trying some new knitting techniques.

The Caps 

I chose to knit the Scraptastic hat pattern, using size 3 needles and two strands of fingering weight held together. At my gauge (slightly looser than the pattern), Medium turned out good, though a tad roomier than I expected. I knit the subsequent hat in Small for a closer fit.

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The Graph

Given full creative hat-design leeway, I thought that using the movie logo would be 80s nostalgic while channeling a little bit of the irony of a knit-embroidery tribute to a movie about fighter pilots.

I used Stitch Fiddle to graph my design out. It allows you to enter your gauge (over 4″/10 cm) to render a grid that reflects your particular tension for making colour work charts. Stockinette stitches tend to be a little wider than they are tall. Because of this, using square-box graph paper to plan a design may result in a slightly skewed final project. Programs like Stitch Fiddle allow for a better idea of what the finished design will actually look like. It’s simple to use; rows and columns are added and deleted with a mouse click. It’s like Excel for your DIY colourwork, embroidery, and cross-stitch projects. All I have to say is “yes!” to this indispensable online tool, and others like it.

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The Embroidery

Just a single strand of fingering weight and some duplicate stitching was enough to do the trick. I eased into embroidering slowly, working on the hats during free moments during the day. I tend to find my stitching stride best at night, after dinner. The fluid motions of embroidery, and the vigilance to tension, develop a finger-tip attentiveness to the materials quite different from knitting. In contrast to the hardy, elastic, and structured fabric of knitting, embroidered things feel a bit more fragile and precarious to me – until they’re done, my m.o. is to handle with care.

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Less exciting was weaving in all the ends. I learned late in the game to use a single long strand to embroider multiple letters, rather than cutting my strand after each character.

Also, I personally find it best to work the duplicate stitch from the bottom to top, starting at the base of a letter, then working up and across. It’s just a little neater that way, I find.

Finally, the Top Gun hats

On the way…

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And done.

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All in all, this was a fun project. It’s hard not to see blank stockinette surfaces as a canvas for some stitchery waiting to happen. It was a surprise for the knitting to unexpectedly serve as a gateway to embroidery.

To embroidering, and matching hats…and friends!

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Simple ribbed cap

The thread of knitting puts you back in touch with who you are…[Knitting] makes life more livable. It makes you happy to be in your own company.  

– Kaffe Fassett

Knitting and other forms of hand-crafting are, to me, apprenticeships in living well – they’re tutors in patience, (self-)care, focus, commitment, reciprocity, and pleasurable flow. Sharing knitting with others shares a little bit of these good things. Double the happiness if you happen to be knitting or crafting something special for yourself this week (’tis the season!).

That said, my holiday knits recently included a new hat for a very good friend, my partner’s cousin, J. This project was a good lesson in knitting for others. When he first requested ‘a hat,’ I did what perhaps most enthusiastic knitters would do: I took to Ravelry to feed my eyes with ideas. Maybe I’d try an interesting stitch pattern, or cables, or helix stripes, or (gasp!) stranded colour work… In the end, J preferred something far more simple: a classic monochrome ribbed cap.

So, I found a simple pattern, adapted the number of stitches to my gauge, cast on, ribbed (7.25″ from the edge) and resolved to navigate my way through the crown decreases on my own. As luck would have it, the Red Heart ribbed hat pattern calls for the exact number of stitches I was working with (112). Good old reliable Red Heart saved my crown from becoming a knotty knit-experiment gone bad. The capricious knit gods were smiling upon me that day.

The finished cap, worked in k2 p2 ribbing – a winter staple.

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Snowy days are the cap’s new habitat.

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I’ve noticed that J and my partner are regularly wearing their handmade caps. It brings me so much delight to see my handiwork doing its job out in the world (and this winter is really putting my fledgling skills to the test with Chicago’s recorded temperatures colder than Mars yesterday). Seeing people wear your knits is incredibly reinforcing, in an almost Pavlovian way; it’s a happy sequel to the days or weeks (or months) it takes to move a project off the needles. There must be a German compound word to describe the specific happiness that comes with knitting for others: if Schadenfreude is the pleasure derived at another’s misfortune, then perhaps Strickenfreude (?) might be the happiness that comes with another’s knitting-gain.

Ribbed cap learnings

2 things in particular struck me about this project:

1. Measure.  This was my first hat made to measure. While my first 2 beanies took a more ‘one size fits all’ approach, it helped to have a head circumference measurement when making this more close-fitting, cuff-less cap. In tandem with swatching (revealing a gauge of 6 stitches to the inch using worsted weight yarn and size 7 circulars), I knew that the final hat ought to be around 19″ for the wearer, allowing for the rib to stretch about 4″. To find the number of stitches I needed, I did the following (I write this to jog my memory): 

6 / 1 = χ / 19   (or 6 stitches per inch = χ stitches to 19″)

Solving for χ yielded a count of 114 stitches. I rounded down to 112 (only certain even numbers preserve the alternating k2 p2 pattern when joining in the round).

It was a longer wait to cast on, but I think this prep paid off, and it taught me to how to adapt a pattern to work with the materials I have on hand. I’ll be swatching, measuring, and doing the math much more carefully from here on.

2. Do ‘simple’ well.  In my zeal to build my skill set, I was forgetting an important all-around principle: learning to do simple things well. Simple often gets conflated with easy, and easy is often overlooked or de-valued. The unexpected challenges of completing this seemingly simple knit taught me that attention and care go into making simple things look easy. At my skill level, I’m resolving to refine my handiwork and focus a bit more on doing simple well.

Thanks for reading. I hope you’re finding a little bit of calm, warmth, and downtime in the midst of the holiday rush.

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Beanies

The 2 beanies I’ve been working on are done. While I first tried my hand at knitting a number of hats a long, long time ago (mostly of my own design and requiring hilarious braided ‘straps’ to keep them on – they were simply too loose), these 2 beanies are my very first attempt at working directly from a pattern.

They were both done on Size 3 (US) needles. The green cap follows Purl Soho’s Classic cuffed hat pattern (minus the pom pom). The brown watch cap (above) is for the beau, and is Melissa LaBarre’s ribbed Icehouse Hat – a great beanie pattern available for free download on Ravelry. The pattern calls for 5 inches of ribbing before shaping the top; the beau asked for a cap with an ample cuff, so I added an additional 3″ to the 5″ = 8″ before shaping the top. I brought this knit with me on the bus and subway. It was an incredibly portable, train-platform-at-rush-hour kind of knit.

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Ribbing in the round, started November 11th.

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Getting there with my paper clip stitch marker.
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Left: Purl Soho’s Classic Cuffed Hat w/o pom pom. Slouchy and relaxed. Right: Melissa LaBarre’s ribbed Icehouse hat. A close-fitting utilitarian watch cap.

Some learnings

After completing my first pair of socks recently, I assumed that these basic hats – tuques as we call ’em in Canada – would be a walk in the park. Not so. Shaping the top of the Icehouse Hat – i.e. decreasing from 120 to only 8 stitches at a pace of 4 decreased sts per row, and on slippy DPNs – required some pep talks. So did keeping the 4 stitch-markers consistently in the right spots, as the decreasing number of stitches seemed to require that they be constantly redistributed across the needles. It was a long and winding knit staircase to the top. I have much to learn (counsel from wiser knitters welcome!).

Also, I’m learning that needles matter. I had not considered the material of the needles relevant before, but after trying to knit on a plastic 16″ circular needle whose nylon/plastic cord had not enough give, I shelled out for the higher quality bamboo. The bamboo needle, I felt, not only held the stitches more securely – preventing stitches from being ‘flicked off’ and dropped under tension – but its cord was more pliant. No need to fight against a rigid cord on every single stitch.

Lessons learned.

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