Ever since I saw the Smeerenburg hats, I've rather wanted to make one. I have a stash of deep-purple alpaca which I already I know that I can't wear because it makes my nose itch, so I wondered if I could felt it (or more properly, full it), but after working a few samples I realized that even the fulled swatch is probably too soft for this kind of hat. Poking around in the remotest of my yarn cubbies, I found a bag of DMC Laine Colbert wool "pour tapisserie" which I'd inherited and completely forgotten about -- no less than eighteen skeins (360g!) -- which I couldn't really see myself doing needlepoint with, but it's about DK weight, and certainly knittable.
The wool is moth-proofed, and I wasn't sure how it would behave with either fulling or dyeing, so after I knitted up a swatch I dyed it with a packet of Blue Raspberry Lemonade Kool-Aid, which produced this striking but not very 17th-century turquoise --
so per the helpful and inspiring folks at Dye Your Yarn, I bought a small pot of Wilton food dye in Royal Blue -- I was aiming for a quintessentially-period woad blue, but luckily for me woad-dyed fabric comes in a wide variety of shades. Dyeing with Kool-Aid couldn't be simpler, as the citric acid in it means that you needn't mess around with mordants etc., but the Wilton on its own does require that, so I decided that I would use the two together, and just darken the Blue Raspberry as much as I could.
David liked the shape of this hat --
with the smart little brim, so for a pattern, I bashed together the brim from the "Gagiana" barret (flat cap) by Mistress Mairghead de Chesholme and the crown partly from the "acorn" hat by Cecilia Rosa de Sancta Maria (Dani Lawson), (whose PDF with the actual pattern has since disappeared), and partly just with the same shaping as a "round" sock toe, cribbed from Nancy Bush, and all adjusted to accommodate the size and shape I needed.
(I did appreciate Dani Lawson's comment that "based upon [the fact that there are no extant knitting patterns pre-17th century and] the generalisations used in period cooking recipes, it is suggested that period knitters either passed their patterns to one another verbally, following the oral/practice tradition of other craftspeople, or crafted items without a pattern, merely adding and subtracting stitches as needed to shape garments," and that this is why she decided to improvise her own pattern instead of simply knitting one of the patterns given by other historical re-enactors, since surely this is what knitters all through history have done, adapting a pattern to fit their own needs and materials. There is much to be said for historical accuracy, but when you are making something that a real person will be wearing, you want it to fit them!)
I was a bit puzzled by the dimensions of the hats given by the Rijksmuseum, which average about 60cm "width" (presumably circumference, as the average man's head size is said by Google to be 57 cm around) and range from 22cm to 30cm, so I decided to aim for around than 25cm, not wanting it to be more Seussian than anything else.
My gauge on US7 needles was about 18 sts and 24 rows to 4 in./10cm, and the swatch shrank by an astonishing 45% in height, and about 20% in width. So the instructions are basically to calculate how many stitches you'd need to fit your wearer, multiply that by at least 45, and add 67 for good measure -- and I am almost serious. That thing was huge. I could have hidden a baby in it, easily -- could probably have carried my laundry in it.
The brim is started on waste yarn, shaped, then folded and knitted together before continuing up the crown. I suspect this is not strictly period, but the original Smeerenburg hat has no obvious join or seam at that point on the outside, so it's difficult to tell from the photos.
I was charmed, by the way, to find that the Laine Colbert had on every skein a très utile metal clamp holding the two ends together -- no tangles here! I've never seen this in knitting yarn.
I did offset the shaping on the brim on alternate increase/decrease rounds, since I wanted a nice, smooth curve to the brim, not the "octagon" effect of stacked shaping -- you can see this staggered shaping most obviously in the "before" photos. I suspect that the smoother edge is more historically accurate also. Most of the reconstructions I've seen just stack the shaping without comment.
The top of the crown is basically a round toe, with the decreases starting at every 10 sts (K8, K2tog, with a couple of K3tog to get the stitch count even), and with the decreases staggered as on the brim. The last sts are drawn together with the end of the wool -- I did pull them down a bit as I wove in the end, since I didn't want that little nipple that sometimes shows up, but more of a sugarloaf effect.
This is three packets of Blue Raspberry Lemonade Kool-Aid on the left, and on the right that mixed with about a teaspoon of Wilton Icing Color in Royal Blue (which I added in 1/8-teaspoon increments until I thought it was about dark enough). The streaks are just reflections on the surface of the water. The color wasn't as dark as I would have liked, but I wasn't sure how much I could add in without changing the chemical properties of the stuff, and I had a hard time getting the gel to dissolve as well, so I decided to stop at "acceptable"! It took off most of the artificiality, at least.
The Wilton Royal did "break" a little -- which is when the component colors separate -- and this was apparent early on in the dye bath, with faintly purple splotches on the fabric where the red had come out. Luckily the results were fairly gentle, and I think the fulling tended to integrate it a little more, though you can see in the finished hat that the color is not completely uniform. It is, on the whole, much more woad-like than the Blue Raspberry Lemonade on its own, though, as I said, so I am pleased.
The texture is on the bouclé side, to be sure, but I wanted to full it pretty thoroughly, not knowing how much body the finished hat would need -- it has to be fairly sturdy to hold itself up, I suspect, the taller it is -- and I'm not experienced enough with fulling to know how much is "enough". This is after one cycle on a front-loader washing-machine, regular setting, before it got to the spin stage. It is obviously fulled considerably more than the original hats, most of which still have the stitch shapes clearly visible -- but there it is. In future I might try knitting at an even looser gauge, and maybe it won't spaz quite so much. I stretched the lower part of the crown a bit before drying, as it seemed a little small on my head, which is why the crown does not rise straight up from the brim.
The finished size is about 8 in. (20cm) high and 9 in. (23cm) in diameter. I'm actually glad it shrank so much, as it's already teetering on the edge of silly-hat territory! and this way it's merely amusing. I might try blocking the brim again to get that snappy tilt to it, though I'm pretty sure that a hidden pin would also do the trick.
To my pleasant surprise, David is so delighted with the hat that he spontaneously showed it off to visitors the other day!
The Project: a "Smeerenburg New Hat"
Year or Period: ca.1650-1700
Materials: about 220g DMC Laine Colbert tapestry wool (approx. DK weight), not counting swatches
Hours to complete: about 3 days of knitting and fulling, plus another for dyeing with blocking/drying time before and after (5-10 May 2016)
How historically accurate is it? points off for using stash moth-proofed tapestry wool (!) instead of something more appropriate, and possibly a point off for the brim being knitted-together instead of sewn, and points off for using Kool-Aid instead of woad (!!), but on the whole I think it's a fairly accurate reconstruction
Sources/Documentation: extant whalers' hats from Smeerenburg (which I posted about here), plus tips from reconstructions of the "Gagiana" barret and the "acorn" hat as mentioned above