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How to Knit a Basic Hat

I'm the kind of knitter (and crocheter) who likes to make up patterns as I go along. I find that understanding the general idea behind how to make an item lets you be more flexible--and personal--in your designs. In today's post, I'm going to take you through the steps needed to knit a basic, fitted hat for anyone. There's--of course--more than one way to knit a hat, but I find that these are the basics that I keep coming back to.

As with any pattern, I recommend you read all of the directions below, before getting started, so you can get comfortable with the general idea. (And as always, all orange text is clickable for more help.)

You will need:

  • 1 skein of your favorite yarn (I like Wool-Ease, Jiffy, and Vanna's Choice)
  • Double-Pointed Needles (DPNs) or Circular Needles in your preferred size (see step 2 below for more details)

Here's how to do it:

  1. Measure around the head of the person who the hat is for and write down how many inches around their head your hat will need to be. (If you can't measure their head--it's for a gift--estimate based on your own head size; knitted fabrics are generally stretchy enough to accommodate different sizes.)
  2. Knit a gauge swatch in stockinette stitch to find out how many stitches per inch you get with the needles and yarn you are using. (If you’re not sure what size needles to use, start with the size recommended on your yarn's ball-band, and adjust up or down a size if you want a tighter or looser fabric.)
  3. Multiply the number of stitches per inch by the head circumference (that you wrote down in step 1).
  4. Round this number to the nearest multiple of 8 (for instance, if it’s 4 stitches by 21 inches for my head, it’s 84 stitches, but I round to 88 stitches so that it will be easier to decrease later), and then note what that number is divided by 8. (In my example, 88 divided by 8 equals 11; this will be important for decreasing later.)
  5. Now you have the number of stitches you will cast on. Cast on, join, and divide evenly among your DPNs OR join on your circular needles, depending on which one you're more comfortable with.
  6. K1 p1 (to create a rib) until you have 2 inches of fabric.
  7. Start knitting every stitch (creating a stockinette) for 5-6 inches. You can even put it on to see if it's deep enough for your taste (or just your head!).
  8. Now, based on the number we figured out at the end of step 4, place a stitch marker every [insert number here] stitches (in my example, 11 stitches).
  9. For the next round, every time you get to a stitch marker, you will k2tog after the stitch marker.
  10.  The next round, knit every stitch.
  11.  Repeat steps 9 and 10 until you have only 24 stitches. (For those on circular needles, you may choose to switch to DPNs as the stitches get fewer.)
  12.  Stop knitting; use a needle to thread your yarn through your open stitches and pull them tight to form a finished hat.
  13. Weave in your ends.

If you take these basic steps, you'll get a hat similar to our intern Jess's or to Michelle Edwards' pattern, Ed's Hat.

The great thing about this basic pattern is that you can do so much with it! Increase the length of the ribbed portion, so that it can be folded up as a brim. Make stripes instead of only using one color. Replace the stockinette portion with some other stitch pattern (just make sure to make your gauge swatch in step 2 in the new stitch pattern). Add a pom-pom on top like the hat pictured above. Duplicate stitch a design on top of your basic hat. Use a ssk instead of the k2tog to create decorative, left-leaning decreases.

I've even used these basic steps--plus some increases for a puffier look and knitting a longer hat body--to make a loose tam for my mom! The sky's the limit when it comes to your creativity!

Next time, I'll go through the steps to crochet a basic hat--it's also a great way to practice skills that are useful for many of our adorable amigurumi animal patterns.

And for those of you who prefer to follow a set pattern, we have tons of great hat patterns for knitters, crocheters, and loom-knitters available on! (You can also click on the Wool-Ease Thick & Quick hat pictured above, if you'd like that exact pattern.)

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