Montgolfier Hat Kit

In honor of Aviation History Month, Interweave has released a kit based on the Montgolfier Hat from Interweave Knits Holiday 2016. (Okay, the timing is just a lucky coincidence. I’d like to think we’re just that good, but this time serendipity should get the credit.) Designer Irina Anikeeva wanted to capture the elaborate decorations of eighteenth-century French hot-air balloons. The result: a delightful cable-knitting adventure in which you create a cozy soft unisex hat in a deep golden color.

To mimic early balloons, Irina used texture rather than colors, and to my eye her design looks like the nets that attached a giant bag of hot air to the basket. Four sinuous cable motifs grow out of the ribbing at the hat’s brim, cross and recross, then finally meet at the top of the hat. When you buy the kit, you get a print copy of Interweave Knits Holiday 2016 and one skein of hand-dyed Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Worsted—plenty of yarn to make this hat and then work a contrast edging on some mitts or a scarf to go with it. Though we photographed it on a man here, it’s lovely on women, too. And it knits up quickly; I made two samples for the photo shoot, and each took me maybe three evenings of knitting. If you’ve been searching for gift ideas, this kit is your new best friend—you can knit this hat and then plan more gifts from Holiday’s 23 delightful projects.

A set of collecting cards depicting balloon aviation events from 1783 and beyond. The first Montgolfier flight appears in the bottom row, second from the left. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-02562; Admission ticket to a Montgolfier balloon flight in 1863 or 1864. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-02549;

A set of collecting cards depicting balloon aviation events from 1783 and beyond. The first Montgolfier flight appears in the bottom row, second from the left. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-02562;
Admission ticket to a Montgolfier balloon flight in 1863 or 1864. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-02549;

If you need another reason to love this kit, look to aviation history. The hat pays homage to the Montgolfier (or Montgoler) brothers, pioneers in hot-air balloon aviation in the late eighteenth century. They began experimenting in the 1770s, finally achieving success in the year 1783. The brothers and their collaborator, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, experimented with sending animals aloft in September of that year; about a month later, a human went aloft in a tethered balloon; and by November, a Montgolfier balloon made the first untethered flight carrying a human. Wikipedia’s list of “firsts in aviation” shows that from that point on, hot-air balloons would really take off, with women as well as men flying balloons in France and England. By 1785—a mere two years after the first successful flights—a manned hot-air balloon crossed the English Channel.

The Montgolfiers secured a place in history with their experiments. They also deserve credit for creating wonderfully decorated balloons. Perhaps the bright colors and elaborate designs came from contemporary wallpaper designs—their collaborator Réveillon made his fortune in that industry. Curlicues, spirals, festoons, flourishes, zodiac symbols, suns, and royal monograms popped from backgrounds of rich colors. It’s no wonder Europeans developed a craze for balloon-related material, buying collector’s cards, balloon-shaped clocks, and kitchenware decorated with balloons.

This balloon craze also hit the United States, especially in movies. Imagine The Wizard of Oz (1939) without the Wizard’s solo departure in his hot-air balloon! When Hollywood turned its attention to the Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days (1956), the screenwriters situated their travelers on a hot-air balloon, rather than a steamer and a train as Verne had done. Balloons add drama, color, and opportunities for wide shots that you just can’t get with other modes of travel. Aviation buffs continue to honor hot-air balloons as precursors to gliders and airplanes. See a 1/10 scale model of the first Montgolfier balloon at Seattle’s Museum of Flight and read about the artist’s passion for early aviation.

Montgolfier Hat Kit

Montgolfier Hat Kit

I’d like to think we planned the Montgolfier Hat’s golden color to echo the original balloon’s colors—royal blue with decorative motifs in bright gold—but we were probably just lucky again. Our luck is now yours: you can knit a piece of history that someone can wear on their head.

—Deb Gerish
Editor, Love of Knitting


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