Last year I wrote a draft of a book about knitting that I'm working on revising and also drafting something of a sequal to. The book contains a discussion of some fundamental techniques but mostly describes the process for knitting a collection of projects, mostly sweaters, but a few other things as well. The chapters exist somewhere between an unconventional pattern and a long form account of the design and construction process of several specific garments, though I hope there's a sort of companionable air about it, even if the details end up being mostly technical.

In any case, this post is an attempt at the same form, more or less, but focused on a hat that I recently completed.

I'm going to be knitting a hat with a sort of unconventional empirical construction. There's not a lot of preparation work that you need: no gauge, no sizing information, no counting stitches (unless you want,) just knitting and figuring it out as you go along. The hat itself is a simple beanie-style knitted cap, with a "lining" for extra warmth and potentially comfort.

Cast on 16 stitches. Your gauge probably doesn't matter, within reason. I chose a fingering weight wool on the heavier side of fingering, and US size 0 needles. 16 stitches is about an inch and a half or two inches: from these stitches you'll knit a strip of fabric that will encircle your head, so better to keep it narrower than 3 or 4 inches at the outside. I cast on using the long tail method, and I made sure that there was a generous tail left over afterwards as I intended to take advantage of this tail.

Knit, in garter stitch, until the strip is long enough to fit around your head.

I, for my part, made the strip 21 inches or so, around. My head is (unfortunately) 24 inches around, and I think if or when I do it again, I'd make it shorter: maybe 19 or 20 inches around. You can figure out the length empirically, buy placing the knitting around your head and seeing what fits. It's okay to stretch the band a bit for a closer fit, but because there's going to be another layer of knitting on the inside of the hat, it's even expected that the hat will be a little bit big at this point.

When the strip is large enough, bind off, but do not break the yarn. You should have the tail from the cast on be on the same side of the work as the end of the working yarn from where you cast off.

With the same working yarn that you just bound off with, pick up stitches, knitwise, along the side of the strip, creating one sititch in every garter "ridge." When you get all the way around the strip, join and knit in the round. Knit about an inch plain, and then begin shaping the crown.

I do this weird crown shaping that I wrote about here 15 years ago (!!) that I adapted from the toe shaping of a sock. I think it works better for hats than socks, and is great when you don't want to figure out how to evenly divide into 4 or 5 "spokes" and have a spiral decrease. Convienetly, it also structures the decreases so that you switch to double points relatively late in the process. It does something like: repeat "knit eight stitches, decrease once (e.g. knit two together)," all the way around a single round, and then knit 8 rows plain. Then replace 8 with 7: knit 7 stitches and decrease, repeating around, then knit 7 plain rows. Continue on in this manner, moving the decreases closer together in the decrease rounds, and moving the decrease rounds closer together. Eventually, all your stitches will be decreases, and you can just alternate "decrease and plain" rows until you have 8 stitches or something, and then graft the remaining stitches together. I definitely always have the feeling of totally winging the ending: worry not.

Once you take have taken care of the crown stitches, I break the yarn and weave in this end. Turning my attention back to the long tail, I sew up the cast on and bind off ends of the original strip, and have the tail ready and the lower edge of the hat. With this yarn I fuse in the remaining working yarn using a felted or sewn join, and pick up stitches along the remaining garter edge, again at a rate of one stitch for every garter ridge, all the way around.

Knit about an inch here, until the hat is your desired length: I like to have 4 or 5 inches between the lower edge of the hat and the start of the crown shaping, but this is a point of personal preference. When the hat is the proper length, purl the next row to provide a turning round, and then stop. It's important at this point to make some decisions about the lining of the hat:

  • if you plan to knit the interior hat with the same color and yarn as the exterior hat, purl a second row and continue.
  • if you want to switch colors, knit the next row with the new color, and then purl the following row in the new color, before continuing.
  • if you want to switch yarns to a different weight, be careful, but proceed as if you were changing colors (even if you're not!) and do increases or decreases as required so that the interior hat is either the same or slightly smaller than the exterior hat.
  • if you aren't changing yarn, or are changing between two colors of the same yarn, then you could omit all purl rounds, and just knit plain.

For my part, I switched colors and to a different yarn type with a substantially finer gauge, and increased rather a lot at this point. I think I probably increased a bit too much, though the hat still works fine. I think I'd probably tend to keep things more simple in the future.

Finally, knit the interior hat straight away until the distance between the lower edge (purl round(s)) and the beginning of the shaping row are the same, and then repeat the shaping for the interior hat, and finish it off. Fold the inner at into the outer hat and place on head.


  • the hat will be quite warm, so knitting with finer yarn is probably better. Also because the hat is so heavy, it's viable to knit a bit loser than you might if it were single weight.
  • making sure that the inner hat's total length from the brim to the crown is the same as the interior measurement of the outer hat can be a bit tricky, but getting it right avoids flaring in either direction. Avoiding the purl/turning round entirely gives you a bit of wiggle room, if you like.
  • this is a weird hat: while the hat looks great while on my head, it doesn't quite lay flat. While I could have re-knit the crown to have a less aggressive decrease sequence (e.g. start with k9 k2tog, etc.) over more rows, I kind of like the flatter top look. Hats are super forgiving, and hats don't really need to lie flat anyway because heads are three dimensional.'