How to Knit a Hat and Make a Pom Pom

Just before New Year’s Day, temperatures in Nashville dropped to the single digits. Neck warmers were no longer enough to keep us warm.

We needed hats! Wool Hats. Hats long enough to cover our earlobes.

My sons and their girlfriends (and their dogs) were still in and out of the house while on their holiday break. Between having a full house and Arctic temperatures, I decided to stay inside and knit some hats. For the first two hats I knit, I used a mix of two strands of yarn: one a variegated worsted weight and the other a complementary wool in sock weight. My sons’ girlfriends loved them.

 

I knit a few more using the leftovers from the neck warmers. More of Mom’s stash!

It’s safe to say if you were in our house during any part of the freeze, you got a hat.

A Walk-Through of How I Made My Niece’s Striped Version of the Hat

The Yarn
I pulled out all the leftover pink and chartreuse balls of yarn I had. For cooks, it’s akin to pulling out vegetables from the refrigerator and asking yourself, What can I make with these? Better yet, What are they telling me to make?

I used two to three strands of yarn for each stripe. I didn’t make a swatch first because, by now, I knew that one strand of worsted weight and two strands of sock yarn created the right gauge. Using one strand of worsted weight and one strand of DK weight worked equally well. By the way, it doesn’t matter if you run out of one of the yarns as you are knitting; just substitute something similar. Nobody will notice.

Chunky yarns are too thick for this pattern unless you go up in needle size and down in the number of cast on stitches. I stayed away from changing the plan. That would require thinking and I couldn’t do that and binge watch A Place to Call Home. Think Downton Abbey Down Under, post-war.

Ultimately, the yarns in the picture above lent themselves to the color scheme below.

.

The Pattern:
All the hats were knit on size 9 needles with a cast on of 80 stitches.
Row 1: Knit 3, Purl 2. Repeat across row.
Row 2: Knit 2, Purl 3. Repeat across row.
Repeat pattern until the fabric is seven inches long and then start the decreases to shape the top.

The Decreases: 
The decreases are made while continuing in the ribbing pattern. It looks scary, but it’s not as long as you realize it is just a method to decrease 8 across a row while staying in the ribbing pattern.

Row 1 RS (Right side): K2 together, K1, P2, K3, P2, repeat across row. 72 stitches remain.
Row 2 WS (Wrong side): K2, P3, K2, P2. Repeat to end of row.

Row 3 RS: K2, P2, K2 together, K1, P2, repeat across row. 64 stitches remain.
Row 4 WS: K2, P2, K2, P2. Repeat to end of row.

Row 5 RS: K2, P2 together, K2, P2, repeat across row. 56 stitches remain.
Row 6 WS: K2, P2, K1, P2. Repeat to end of row.

Row 7 RS: K2, P1, K2, P2 together, repeat across row. 48 stitches remain.
Row 8 WS: K1, P2, K1, P2. Repeat to end of row.

Row 9 RS: K2 together, P1, K2, P1, repeat across row. 40 stitches remain.
Row 10 WS: K1, P2, K1, P1. Repeat to end of row.

Row 11 RS: K1, P1, K2 together, P1, repeat across row. 32 stitches remain.
Row 12 WS: P2 together, P2, repeat across row. 24 stitches remain.
Row 13 RS: K2 together, K1, repeat across row. 16 stitches remain.
Row 14 WS: P2 together, repeat across row. 8 stitches remain.
Row 15 RS: K2 together, repeat across row. 4 stitches remain.

Cut yarn tail to about 12-inches long. Using a blunt sewing needle, capture the remaining 4 stitches and pull the yarn through them. Do not cut the tail of yarn.

Finishing:

Lay the fabric flat, wrong side facing up. It’s time to clean up the loose threads. I tied a single knot between the strands of yarn where the color changes occurred (example: between the yellow and pink yarn) to secure them. Next, I wove the yarn ends into the ribbing for about one 1½ inches.

I snipped the remaining tails of yarn. Now it is nice and clean.

I tidied up the other loose ends in the fabric from where I had to add more yarn in the middle of a row.

Sewing up the seam:
Align the two sides of the hat together with the right sides facing. I use quilting clips to temporarily line up and attach the sides together.

Next, thread a 12-inch strand of strong, matching yarn (I use cotton yarn) through a blunt sewing needle to sew the seam. If the tail of yarn leftover from the cast on row is long enough, you can use it instead to sew the seam.

I use the “mattress” stitch to sew the two sides together. It creates a beautiful, invisible seam. To do so, pick up two horizontal bars of knitted yarn from each edge of the hat. When I get through a few inches of picked up bars, as in the picture below, I pull the sewing needle taught (but not to the point of bunching) and continued sewing.

To say it works magically sounds childish, but every time I pull that thread taught, I think, Magic.

 

The last step is to pretty-up the bottom cast on row of the hat. After making the bottom edge look neat, I turn the fabric to the wrong side, tuck in the yarn, and snip what remains.

 

On the wrong side of the fabric, a ridge will be created by the side edges that have been brought together.

How to Make a Pom Pom (without a commercial pom pom gadget)


In the olden days, we wrapped yarn around a 2-3 inch piece of cardboard to make a pom pom. Now I use a cell phone, either my husband’s or mine, depending on whether I want a 2-inch or 3-inch ball.

I usually use four or five different colors of yarn to wrap around the phone to give the pom pom more color and texture.

 

Slide the yarn off the phone or cardboard (or even a credit card– whatever is handy!). Use a 12-inch piece of strong cotton yarn to tie across the center of the wad of yarn. You need a very tight knot to keep all the threads together. I use a hemostat to hold the first knot tight. Tie a second knot to secure it.

 

Next, using very sharp scissors, start snipping the loops as shown in the photo. Once the ball emerges, start snipping it to round out the sphere. Hang on to the ends of the cotton used to tie the knot. That’s what you are going to use to attach the pom pom to the hat.

Using your sewing needle attach the pom pom to the hat. Turn the hat inside out and tie the ends to the ends remaining from bind off row. Next, I use the sewing needle to go in and out of the pom pom a couple of times to better anchor it to the hat. Weave in the ends of yarn and you are done!

There are gadgets to help you make the perfect pom pom. I used one of them to make the 1-inch balls for this scarf.

These hats are for my goddaughter Leigh and her daughter who is due in March. Looking forward to having a little girl around — and her grandmother, Becky.

You can do it, Readers! If you have questions, ask them in the Comments section.

Next up: Pot Roast

Related Posts
A Birthday Tribute for my Mother: Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash
What to Knit for a Baby: a Hat, a Sweater and a Blanket
Sick Soup, Sometimes Known as Snow Day Soup

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe or pattern.

If you enjoyed this post, become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A Birthday Tribute for My Mother: Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash

Knitting and cooking were two activities Mom and I enjoyed doing together. It had been that way since I was a child.

A birthday card for Mom in heaven:
In December, I discovered, by looking at the photos in my Instagram feed, that sometimes the colors in a knitted swatch looked very similar to the shots of food I had cooked or grown. I went through my photos and pulled out pictures of knitted fabric that matched up colorwise with pictures of food, and sent them to my son, Andrew. He created a slideshow. Since today is my mother’s birthday, this is my birthday card for her to let her know I’m carrying on her legacy.

 

Mom loved color and texture, and there were always plenty of both to be found in yarn and food. She could not resist a gorgeous hank of smooth, hand-dyed wool any more than she could resist a shiny, plump eggplant. Accordingly, her refrigerator was a palette of colorful vegetables and her art studio shelves were overflowing with skein after skein of yarn.

When she died, as the only daughter of her seven children, I inherited her yarn stash. It was an extraordinary stash, filled with gorgeous single balls of unlabeled wool as well as multiple skeins of labeled yarn. The possibilities were endless — a knitter’s dream — and a gift to her daughter. In her collection were ten knitted squares, part of a quilt I had started her on when she was in rehab after her brain tumor recurred. To say the squares were not uniform is being gracious. Had she not died within the year of knitting them, I would most certainly have unraveled them. Instead, they became a final memorial to her. Morose, I know, but it was the last thing she had knit before she died and I am sentimental and there’s a thing called a grief journey and I’ve been on it. Having said all that, my mother was a beautiful woman who never left the house without looking her best; she would never have wanted to be remembered by those tangled-up, messy squares.

Homebound, while recuperating from the flu in October, I went through Mom’s stash to look for yarn to knit a sweater for my grandson. I came across The Squares. I looked at them for a while trying to decide what to do with them. Thanksgiving, Christmas, her birthday in January — all food and family days she loved to celebrate — were around the corner. The last two holiday seasons without her had left me feeling blue by the time her birthday rolled around. Mom would have told me to move on. She was always my friend and coach.

I unraveled the squares. I ended up with a colorful ball of heavy worsted-weight cotton and wool blend called “Nobori” by Noro Yarns. I found the matching skeins in Mom’s stash.

I used them to knit a bright and chunky, double cowl. I cast on 32 stitches on size 9 needles and used about 300 yards. The finished cowl is 8″ wide and 58″ long. I decided to knit it in the basketweave pattern so the edges of the finished fabric would remain flat instead of curled inward as they would have had I used the stockinette stitch. I love the way the changes in stitch direction, with the basketweave pattern, reflect light in contrasting ways.

 

That’s my bestie cousin, Marion, on the left. Her Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chip is one of the most popular recipes on Judy’s Chickens.

Once I finished my cowl, I knit one for my dear friend, Wendy Martin. Can I just say here that it is a thrill to see people wearing stuff you make for them? Wendy’s cowl was knit with a light worsted weight superwash yarn called “Wild Flowers” by Lichen and Lace. I bought it from Mason-Dixon Knitting’s online shop. I cast on 40 stitches on size 7 needles. The finished fabric was 8″ wide and 52″ long. I used a knit 5, purl 5 basketweave pattern. This cowl was light enough to be worn as an indoor scarf, as opposed to my bulky, outdoor cowl.

 

When Thanksgiving vacation rolled around and my sons were home, I knit a “neck warmer” for each of them using yarn from Mom’s stash. I changed the name from cowl to neck warmer because cowl sounded like a feminine garment. I wasn’t sure the boys would like them, but to my surprise, they all wanted one. You can imagine my delight when this photo of my son was posted on Instagram the day after he returned to school —  he wore his neck warmer to work! He liked it. He really liked it.

 

That gave me an idea. I decided I was going to make neck warmers for all my brothers, their wives, girlfriends, and their children using yarn from our mother’s stash for this year’s holiday presents. The side benefit was that I would be able to reduce the size of Mom’s stash and find a use for all the singlet balls of yarns that are often hard to use up. It was similar to cleaning out the refrigerator. In a way.

I Got Into It & It Got Into Me

To make knitting so many neck warmers creatively challenging I made a rule: I had to use at least two strands of different yarns twisted together for each neck warmer. This was because Mom had so much sock and DK weight yarn that needed to be used up. But, oh, did it ever make the entire process so much more fun. Mom would have loved seeing the results. I definitely felt her presence knitting by the Christmas tree in the early morning and evening hours of December.

   
   

Because the yarn weights varied, I did a swatch of each intended combination to see how they looked together and to calculate their stitch per inch count (gauge) so I would know how many stitches to cast on. The count had to be a multiple of four for the basketweave pattern to work. All of the scarves were knit on size 10½ needles with a cast on of anywhere from 20-36 stitches depending on the thickness of the strands. My goal was a finished product that was somewhere between 6½ and 7½ inches wide with a somewhat stiff texture. I didn’t want the neck warmers to be floppy. The length was 21 to 23 inches depending on when the ball of yarn ran out. For the children’s sizes, I made them 6″ wide by 18″ long.

The Basketweave Knitting Pattern
-If the number of stitches is divisible by 8, such as 24 or 32 do the following:
Rows 1-4: knit 4, purl 4, repeat across row
Rows 5-8: purl 4, knit 4, repeat across row
Repeat rows 1-8 until the desired length is reached.

-If the number of stitches is 20 or 28 (an uneven number of blocks) do the following:
Rows 1 and 3: knit 4, purl 4, knit 4, repeat across row
Rows 2 and 4: purl 4, knit 4, purl 4, repeat across row
Rows 5 and 7: purl 4, knit 4, purl 4, repeat across row
Rows 6 and 8: knit 4, purl 4, knit 4, repeat across row
Repeat rows 1-8 until the desired length is reached.

This chart of yarn weights might help you choose yarns from your stash:

By the time Christmas and Hanukkah came around, I was finished.

I mailed the neck warmers to each of my brothers’ homes. My brother Charles sent me this photo when they arrived.

Using my gifts of knitting, cooking, and otherwise caring for my family, I had a beautiful holiday season filled with the love of family and friends. I learned that grief has its own timetable and ain’t nobody gonna rush it.

To end, here’s a picture of Mom knitting and smiling at her sons, Carl and Sam, who even as adults couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Mom laughed easily and my brothers loved to make her laugh.

Next year, I’m going to spiralize vegetables like this strand of zucchini and knit them into edible sweaters. Happy New Year, Readers!

A Few Stories About Mom
A Biography Tour with My Mom in Rochester, NY: A Remembrance
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Mom’s Roasted Lamb with Herb and Goat Cheese Topping
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
We Will Remember Them
Roasted Acorn Squash, Applesauce, and Cinnamon

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe or pattern.

If you enjoyed this post, become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Stocking Stuffers: Tools for the Cooking Life

As my kids grew up and got their own apartments, I started giving them kitchen tools that were featured on my blog as stocking stuffers. These were specialized tools above and beyond the typical measuring spoons and cups.

My list of specialized cooking tools includes:

Instant Read Digital Thermometer:  This thermometer works quickly and accurately. The digital screen can tilt back and forth. Last spring, when I was big into making yogurt, I gave each of my sons one for Easter. The “instant read” thermometer should only be used to periodically check the temperature of roasting meat as it cannot be left in the oven during the cooking process.

From: DIY Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese (aka Labneh)

 

The Microplane Fine Grater: I use this tool to zest citrus or to finely grate cheese, ginger, and nutmeg.

From: Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies (best cookies on the blog)

From: Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower

 

Citrus Squeezer: I use this tool to extract juice from lemons/limes without getting seeds or pulp into the juice. I also use it to squeeze the juice directly over fish, vegetables or pasta dishes just before serving.

From: Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin with the Most Amazing Marinade

From: Fettuccini with Rapini (aka Broccoli Rabe) and Garlic

 

Kitchen Scale with a “Zero-Out” Feature: This scale weighs food up to eleven pounds. Since I use eggs from my backyard chickens, I often weigh them rather than go by the number of eggs called for in a recipe. A large commercial egg weighs about two ounces. My chickens lay eggs that are less uniform ranging from one and a half to three ounces. Once I had a four-ounce egg (OUCH!). I use the scale to weigh vegetables, nuts, fruit, flour, and meat as I develop recipes. The scale costs about $50 so it may fall into the category of “an under the tree” gift instead of a stocking stuffer. I’ve had my scale for five years, and it is still using the original batteries.

From: 50 Ways to Make a Frittata

From: Fruit and Nut Bread

From: Lisa’s Award Winning Buffalo Chicken Chili

 

A French Wire Whisk (with a barreled handle)
I like my 10-inch whisk with the narrow head because it gets into the recesses of a saucepan when making gravy and also along the sloping sides of a bowl when mixing dry ingredients. The barrel handle stays cool to touch when stirring hot foods. I tend to use my Kitchen Aid when whipping cream or egg whites, where lots of air incorporation is needed.
 
From: Foolproof Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Gravy

 

Fat Separator (with a food particle filter): Great for separating fat from meat juice when making gravy or chili. I also use my 4-cup separator as a strainer when I make labneh (a spreadable yogurt cheese).

From: My Favorite Silver Palate Chili

From: DIY Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese (aka Labneh)

 

Basting and Pastry Silicone Brush: This gets a ton of use when I coat summer veggies or fish with olive oil before roasting. I also use it to lightly frost cookies before adding sprinkles. It goes in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.
 
From: Baked Ziti with Eggplant

From: Easy Roasted Salmon with Olive Oil and Garlic Pepper

 

Meat Tenderizer Mallet: I’m big on flattening chicken breasts to help them cook more evenly. I also smash garlic or nuts with the mallet rather than dirty the food processor for just one ingredient.

From: Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts

From: Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower

From: Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970

 

Pie Crust Shield: I make a lot of pies, and I want the bottom crust to be fully baked without burning the top. Covering the edge of the crust while it bakes shields it from browning as the bottom crust continues to cook. Another thing I do to encourage the bottom crust to cook is to bake the pie on a pre-heated pizza stone.

From: Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

 

Thaw Detector for the Freezer: My husband adopted this simple device for use in our freezer  We were never sure if a power outage, while we were out of town, lasted long enough to melt the contents of the freezer. Now we know if the penny is on the bottom, the food is spoiled.

From: How to Make a Thaw Detector for the Freezer

And then there are these tools that sit on my windowsill every December:

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Follow me on Instagram and Pinterest at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Karen’s Foolproof Make-Ahead Gravy

I love nothing more in life than to sit around the dinner table with friends and family of all generations and enjoy a meal filled with storytelling, good food, and laughs. I particularly love Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve because of the traditions and feelings of anticipation and gratitude that go with them.

To get to the actual serving of the Thanksgiving dinner, I have to pass through a few cooking hurdles. For instance, I suffer from indecision everytime I cut into the turkey thigh to test for doneness. Are the juices truly running clear, or are they still ever so slightly pink?

And then there is the gravy. So much mystery there.

If it’s not lumps, it’s blandness. Making a velvety smooth, full-bodied gravy has eluded me for years. It is the reason why, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the crazy hour before dinner, I nonchalantly ask, “Who wants to make the gravy?” as if it were an afterthought instead of a worry. Thankfully, there is always someone who volunteers, often, my husband Kelly and his mother.

This week, I was talking food with my good friend Karen Rolen, a joyful, spunky woman originally from Montgomery, Alabama. I asked her if she knew how to make gravy. She confidently and enthusiastically said, “Yes, I’ve been making it my whole life; where I come from, gravy is considered a BEVERAGE!”  Her written instructions arrived the next morning.

“Make a light brown roux* with equal parts butter and all-purpose flour. I probably use ¼ to ½ stick of butter.  Add hot turkey drippings and fonds** if you have them. Have two cups or so of heated chicken broth ready, and even if it’s good and homemade, have “Knorrs” or “Better Than Bullion” chicken base available for salt and seasoning later on. Slowly, stir broth into the roux and drippings and boil them on medium-high until you get the consistency you want. Season to taste with lots of ground black pepper and chicken bullion. It’s usually good enough to drink!”

*To learn what a roux is, check out Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage Gumbo and learn why you should save the turkey carcass and trimmings this year.

**Fond is French for “base” and means the bits and pieces of browned meat or vegetables left in a pan after roasting or frying.

My goal was to tweak Karen’s instructions to create a flavorful and dependable gravy you could make a few days or hours before the holiday dinner.

Yield: Makes three cups (this recipe is easily doubled or cut in half)

Ingredients: 

½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 quart) heated boxed or homemade chicken broth
½ teaspoon ground pepper
¾ to 1½ squares of Knorr Chicken Bullion (for “seasoning to taste”)

Instructions:
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Using a whisk, stir in the flour.

Stir continuously over medium heat until the roux starts to change color, usually about three minutes, give or take a few seconds. The picture on the left was taken at 2½ minutes. The one on the right was taken at three.
 

Think of the roux’s darkening color as “toasting” the flour. The roux should be medium brown when done. This cooking of the flour is what gives gravy its depth of flavor and that desired taste of nuttiness. I promise, if this is your first time making a roux, you are going to feel very accomplished as a cook once you make this gravy.

As soon as the roux changes color, whisk in the broth to stop the roux from cooking any longer. Whisk and simmer for about five minutes until the gravy thickens.

Stick with it, don’t let the flour stick to the bottom of the pan. Also, do not adjust the seasonings until after the gravy has finished cooking because as the liquid evaporates the flavors will concentrate.

“Salt and Pepper to Taste”
Add the pepper first because it is easier to adjust. Next, instead of adding salt, Karen and I use Knorr’s bullion cubes for flavoring. The amount you need will depend on variables such as whether you use unsalted or salted butter and regular or low-sodium chicken broth.

To successfully “season to taste,” cut the Knorr bouillon cube into four quarters. Add one quarter at a time until you hit that magical point where the gravy suddenly tastes beautifully rich.

Notice how velvety smooth the gravy is.

Reheat the gravy in a saucepan just before serving. Feel free to add strained juices from the roasting pan, if desired.

If you wish to make your own chicken stock, consider these two posts to learn how: Chicken Stock from Rotisserie Chicken Bones and Rotisserie Chicken Soup, Revisited

My friend, Renée, whose family likes to fry their turkey every year, reminds me there are no drippings for gravy-making when deep frying a turkey, so plan accordingly.

Epilogue
Thanks to Karen Rolen for teaching me how to make gravy. I’ll think of her every Thanksgiving when I make it. Once I got Karen’s recipe adapted for this post, I took a sample of the gravy to my friends. They each tasted it and agreed it was indeed sippable! Thanks, Mary, Susie, Corabel, Jane, and Mary for being taste-testers.

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.