I’ve never been to New York. I imagine when I do I’ll fall completely in love with it, as I do most cities. These days when I imagine myself there, among all the famously fabulous places I’ll visit and food that I’ll eat, I see myself spending an entire afternoon in the wonderful Purl Soho craft and knitting shop. From my hours lounging (online) in wool and craft shops around the world, this is the one I think I lust after the most. Fabulous creations, lovely colours, crisp contemporary materials and a beautiful simplicity that takes my breath away.
The Purl Soho blog – The Purl Bee, is a wonderfully generous blog. Among articles on yarns and craft kits, you’ll find any number of absolutely wonderful patterns, for stitching, sewing and knitting. Last year I used one of their Sashiko patterns to make some lovely linen placemats as a housewarming gift for my equally lovely cousin. I dubbed them ‘The Table Mats of Shame’ mainly because I took so long to handsew the tricky linen, and because secretly I fear they may not be the most robust mats on the block.
When I was asked to make a winter hat for a friend’s baby I remembered the beautiful Garter Ear Flap Hat that I’d seen published earlier in the year. Described by the designer as a feat of engineering, this cool little number spoke to both of my inner nerds – the knitter and the engineer.
To make this little hat extra special, I was invited by mutual friends, Elizabeth and Paul MacDonnell to use some extremely lush alpaca wool from Hushabye Farm, their family farm near Killeigh in County Laois. Elizabeth writes a beautiful blog aptly called ‘Life on Hushabye Farm’ while (somehow) raising four kids, working and being an all round lovely lady (I dare you to read her post ‘A Letter to a First Time Mother’ and not get a tad weepy). Elizabeth and Paul have a growing herd of 50 alpacas, and now breed them for sale. They regularly post very cute updates on the animals including the impossibly cute crias (baby alpacas) on their Facebook page and also host school trips and tours.
Hushabye Farm’s pure alpaca wool was a prefect substitute for the Purl Soho’s Alpaca Pure which was originally used in the pattern. I had previously only used alpaca blends but instantly fell in love with Hushabye Farm’s 100% Alpaca Double Knitting Wool which is smooth and beautiful to work with. It literally floats off the needles. The jet black wool comes in 100g balls or 50g skeins and comes from a very handsome alpaca called ‘Dorchester’ – a hardy little fella who it is hoped will have a great eye for the ladies but who, I hear, is prone to a whinge after a hair cut!
The alpaca wool is soft, gentle, hypoallergenic (as it doesn’t contain lanolin) and, being warmer than wool, is perfect for a baby hat. After shearing, the Hushabye Farm fleeces are washed by hand and spun at a small alpaca mill, The Border Mill, near the Scottish border. The wool itself is lightly coated with a light mineral oil which protects it during processing and gives it a beautiful sheen. The endearing ball band notes that the fleeces may contain small fibres from twigs and grass, that the mischievous alpacas love to roll around in, and also advises a gentle handwash after finishing to remove the oil.
The Garter Hat pattern is beautifully simple and a great match for this lovely soft wool. The hat is knit seamlessly on circular needles. Short rows are used to create the ear flaps and a gentle stocking stitch rolled edge that sits gentle around the head. Simple shaping creates four beautiful little seams (easier seen in the lighter colour hats shown on The Purl Soho site than in black that I used) and give the hat a lovely quirky shape. The little tassle at the top just finishes it off.
If you crave a sublime Irish yarn then contact Paul or Elizabeth direct at Hushabye Farm and they can provide details of their lovely wool from just down the road in County Laois. They sell raw (unprocessed) fleeces by weight for spinning, and balls / skeins of 2-ply and 4-ply wool in a variety of colours – and you can even buy your own Alpaca (ha! try hiding that in the wardrobe). The alpaca I used here retails at €14 for 100g ball, or €9 for a 50g skein selling for €9. The hat, made in a small baby size, used 42g of wool and so cost less than €7 in materials, as the pattern is available for free, and just a few hours of work.
The extra special part is knowing it will adorn the head of a very cute baby this winter.