It started, as the best things often do, with Swallows and Amazons. All three of my children are audiobookworms and while I’m determined that a good many of my childhood favourites will remain tucked away, ready for the three of them to discover for themselves when they’re older, I wanted to dip their toes into the water, to establish the places and characters as woven tightly into the fabric of their childhoods, just as they were with mine. Years ago, before even Kitty had arrived, I looked for Swallows and Amazons on Audible but the reader at the time was just so terrible (the only word she emphasised was “and” and the rest of it was delivered in a half asleep monotone) that it wasn’t worth parting with a credit even to re-live fond memories. But while I will never quite be able to forgive the recent film for over-embellishing a beautiful story with some utterly unnecessary plot changes, it does seem to have renewed enough interest in the (infinitely superior) source material that the books have all been re-recorded, this time read by Gareth Armstrong, who has exactly the sort of grandfatherly tones to make listening to it like snuggling down under your favourite blanket.
We have two of the twelve; Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale; the next books Kitty has to read for herself and then when she and Elma and Pip have all finished the entire series, we’ll add the rest to our long car journey selection.
For those not in the know, (a) get you to a bookshop at once and (b) when you’ve read it you’ll see why my girls adopted the Amazon Pirates, Nancy and Peggy Blackett as their own personal role models. For several weeks Kitty took to saying “aye aye” in response to any request and “shiver me timbers” in response to any request that she didn’t like, and she and Elma play extensive “Swallie-Ammy” games, with Pip along as a sort of additional ships’ boy that seems to have stumbled into the story.
When her most recent tooth fell out she wrote a letter to the tooth fairy asking for a red knitted cap just like Nancy, and the tooth fairy, who had not received any notice whatsoever of this request, wrote back to suggest that she ask her Mama to knit her one. At Yarndale I had my eyes peeled for just the right colour red yarn and found it, I think at Laxations, who were selling off some of their test dyed aran-weight. Two skeins, at the bargain price of £4 each, was more than enough to knit up three red hats for my three Amazon pirates.
To keep the knitting interesting, and to be able to tell whose was whose amid the Christmas chaos, I decided to knit a different pattern for each and spent several happy lunchtimes browsing Ravelry on my phone and favouriting the nicest hat patterns. And this is what we came up with:
Kitty’s hat is the Clever Cables by Stitchnerd Designs and it was a joy to knit. The pattern is very logical and it swoops to a beautiful point at the top where the diamonds all meet so that it looks as good from the top as from the front. It’s the only one with a fold up brim, but as Kitty is the most prone to extraordinary growth spurts that end up with nothing in the house actually fitting her, I’m hoping that it gives me a little bit more longevity. It’s a one size fits all adult hat which would just about fit me, but my head is on the larger size of average anyway, and should keep her going for a while.
For Elma I needed something smaller, and chose Magnolia, partly because it’s pretty and partly because the small size turned out to be a perfect fit for my dinky little girl.
And last but by no means least, I knit a Declan’s hat for Pip; it’s a free pattern that’s sized from baby to grown up and basically it’s the same pattern every time, just using more or fewer segments depending on the size of head in question. Pip has a fairly substantial head, or at least it feels that way when it crashes into you, so a small fits him perfectly even though he’s only three.
The girls knew I had the yarn to make red hats for them, but hats are small enough to be knit stealthily on the train to work and, unlike when I make them jumpers, they hadn’t a clue until we handed them a round of very squishy soft little parcels on Christmas morning.
Because they are 7, 5 and 3 the chances of them all wearing them at the same time are relatively slim, but Kitty has taken hers as her school hat almost every morning this term, and as I write this she’s snuggled up in bed upstairs, hat firmly pulled down around her ears, just to feel that little bit extra snuggly.
And with that, this year’s minimalist Christmas knitting was finished. I’d love to be able to give them all a Christmas jumper every year but I think I’ve finally (see ages of children) realised that it’s just not going to happen. They love their hats, I loved knitting them, especially keeping them secret, and even better, because by next Christmas they’ll be 8, 6, and 4 (seriously, how!) they’ll still be abandoning hats in all sorts of strange places, which is the perfect excuse for knitting more.