Improvised stripey hats: a rough guide.

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know that I’m on a bit of a stripey hat kick. I find these hats to be just the right combination of mindless knitting and creative play: they use up all kinds of leftovers and little skeins, and I get to play around with colour without worrying whether it’ll look good in sample photos or the stripes are perfect or the colours are maybe a bit weird.

A handknit hat draped over the back of a chair. The hat is worked in stripes of teal and blue, with one stripe in a sort of bluish purple.

As invariably happens when I wing it and really like the result, I toyed with the idea of turning these hats into a pattern. On the other hand: 1. Does the world really need another plain hat pattern but with stripes in it? Probably not. 2. Really, the freestyle nature is part of the fun. Maybe I could just tell you what I did so you can go forth and freestyle your own?

So. What follows is more of a set of loose guidelines. It’s not tech edited, there are no fancy photos, it’s just a rough guide to making up a hat using yarn and needles found about the home.

A handknit stripey hat in progress, worked in teal, gold, pale yellow-green, and pale greyish-green.

What you need:

  • About a hat’s worth of yarn. This is kind of vague, I know. How much you need depends on the size of hat you want, whether slouchy or beanie style, what kind of brim you want (hem? ribbing? garter stitch?), your gauge, and the yarn’s weight. There are a few yardage calculators out there to help (I use Stashbot a lot, but it’s iOS only and it ain’t free, so it’s not for everyone), or you can look at some plain hat patterns for your yarn weight to get a rough idea. For these hats, I used about 216 yds/198 m of Sunday Knits 3-ply sport weight for the smallest slouchy & 256 yds/235 m for the largest. For your main yarn you want something with bounce or memory: a yarn that will stretch to fit around the head and still keep its shape. A high wool content is great for this sort of thing; a yarn with no memory grow and grow until by the end of a day’s wear the thing will be more of a head bag than a hat. The bounce is especially important for the brim; after that, if you want to do some stripes in a bounceless yarn, the main yarn will hold it all together.
  • Needles: Whatever size gives you a nice, springy fabric in your yarn. I happened to have a 20 in/50 cm circular in a good size for my yarn (US 4/3.5 mm), so I used that for most of the hat, adding a 24 in/60 cm circular to work the crown on 2 circulars. Whatever you prefer for working small circumference in the round is what you need here. If you’re doing a ribbed or garter stitch brim, you’ll need needles one size smaller for that part.
  • Stitch markers: 1 for the end of the round + 7 for decrease points (or + 5 if you’re doing a more rounded crown).
  • Yarn needle for weaving in ends and sewing down the hem if you do one.
  • If doing a provisional cast on: Scrap yarn & crochet hook in roughly the same size as your working yarn & needles.

Next, figure out what size and style you want to make. If you can’t measure the wearer’s head, you can use Woolly Wormhead’s helpful hat size guide to get a rough idea of what you’re shooting for. You want less negative ease for a slouchy (say, about 1-1.5 inches/2.5-3.5 cm); around 2 in/5 cm for a close-fitting beanie. If I don’t already know my gauge, I’ll use the middle number on the ball band as a rough guideline when calculating my cast on. For a flat crown like the hats shown here, you want a multiple of 8 stitches; for a more rounded crown, a multiple of 6. The first hat is a bit of a crapshoot, so you can block it part-way through to check the size and measure your gauge. If it’s not the size you wanted, just rip it back and start again (using numbers from that gauge you checked) or keep going and give it to someone with a different-sized head.*

Cast on! I used a provisional cast on at first so I could think about the brim as I worked on the hats. Since I decided on a hem for all of them, I stuck with that cast on: it meant if I didn’t have enough of the main colour (I didn’t), I could do a contrasting hem, plus it made the hem math easy. At some point I’ll do a tutorial for this cast on; in the meantime, here’s a good one from Carol Feller. If you know you want a ribbed or garter stitch brim, use a smaller needle for the brim and work a stretchy cast on (I like to use a tubular cast on for hat ribbing in fingering to DK weight; a German Twisted/Old Norwegian cast on for non-ribbing or heavier weights.)

Join to work in the round (you’ve checked to make sure there’s no twist in the edge, yes?) and work your brim if you’re doing that first. Your basic k1, p1 rib will work for any even number of stitches. For a multiple of 8 stitches, you can go with k2, p2 rib (super stretchy); k3, p1; or p3, k1 (subtle, rather pretty IMO). For a multiple of 6, there’s k3, p3 (also quite stretchy); k2, p1; or p2, k1. You can also get fancy and do some kind of syncopated rib, as long as it fits into your stitch count. You want at least an inch/2.5 cm of ribbing, preferably more; twice the desired depth for a folded brim. I’d say about an inch/2.5 cm is a good minimum for garter stitch, too.

Knit, throwing in stripes as the mood hits you. If you’re doing a ribbed brim, change to the larger needles for the body of the hat. To lessen the jog at the end of the round when you change colours, I’ve found it helps to do two things: slip the first stitch of the second round in the new colour, and then when you weave in the ends, bring each end well into its stripe to pull its stitch more in line with the rest of the stripe. (For stripes of just a row or two, you could do barberpole stripes, changing colour whenever you run out of a yarn.)

Keep going until you have about 6 in/15 cm from the cast on for a beanie, 8-9 in/20.5-23 cm for a slouchy. A folded brim will need your desired depth + the depth of the folded up bit. If you used a provisional cast on and have decided on a ribbed or garter stitch brim, add your planned brim depth to the total length here.

If you want to keep things simple, you can end the striping here, as I did in the blue hat up top. If you don’t mind working stripes and decreases at the same time, have at it. If you’re lucky, you may end up with a perfectly striped crown.

The crown of a striped, handknit hat.

Or, if you’re feeling industrious, you can work out the math in advance.

A blue and grey stripey hat in progress, with the crown decrease striping worked out in pencil beside it.

Start your crown decreases: divide your stitches by 8 (or 6, if you went with the rounded crown), and place your markers accordingly. On decrease rounds, (knit to 2 sts before marker, k2 tog), repeat to the end of the round: 8 (6) stitches decreased per round. I usually do (a decrease round, 2 straight rounds) twice, then decrease every other round until I’ve got 4 stitches between each marker, then every round x3. (That last rush of decreases helps avoid the dreaded hat nipple.) Cut your yarn and thread it on to your yarn needle, then run the tail through the remaining 8 (or 6) stitches, pull snug, and bring the tail to the other side to weave in.

If you went with a straight cast on and a ribbed or garter stitch brim, you’re pretty much done. Just weave in your ends and block. (See below for blocking tips.)

If you went with a provisional cast on, now’s the time to work your brim. For a ribbed or garter stitch brim, put the live stitches on the smaller needle and work your chosen ribbing pattern, or for garter stitch (knit 1 round, purl 1 round), until your brim is the desired length. You may be a stitch short for your ribbing pattern; just make a stitch in the first round to get to the right number. Bind off loosely. (A tubular bind off is useful here.)

For a hem, put the live stitches on your needle, place your end-of-round marker, and work a round in purl to make a fold line. Next, decrease for the hem: using Elizabeth Zimmermann’s 10% guideline, I worked this round as k8, k2tog until I ran out of stitches.** Knit until you’ve got a hem depth you like. If you’re doing a contrasting hem, I recommend working the first round or two in MC and carrying the yarn up to work the last round in MC as well: this will keep your contrasting yarn from showing at the bottom or in the sewing-down of the top. If you want to get fancy, you can go full Zimmermann and knit the owner’s name into the brim in stranded colourwork, using a fresh piece of yarn for each round.

Hem of a handknit hat, with the name knit into the hem.

The ends will be hidden in the hem, so there’s no extra weaving in here: just tie the ends to each other and trim the excess yarn, leaving enough of a tail to stop the knot from undoing itself. When you’ve got your desired hem depth, leave the stitches on the needle and cut a nice, long tail (about 3x the circumference of your hat should be plenty) to stitch it down. Turn your hat inside out and weave in your ends.

Sew down the hem. If your yarn is reasonably sticky, you can pull the needle out now: as long as you don’t pull on the thing, the stitches will stay in place. (If this makes you nervous, you can just work a stretchy bind off and whipstitch that edge to the inside of the hat.) With the hat inside out, fold the hem up and see which round those live stitches reach. You want the hem to lie flat all the way around, so if there’s no clear indicator such as the edge of a stripe, mark this round in a few places. Starting with the last stitch worked, use the tail to sew down the live stitches: bring the needle through the stitch, skim the corresponding stitch on the inside of the hat, pull yarn through. Repeat all the way around, one hem stitch to one hat stitch, skipping every 10th stitch on the hat body, until all the hem stitches are secured to the hat.

Close up of the hem of a stripey hat, showing the stitching that secures the hem.

Weave in that last end and your hat’s ready for blocking. I like to wet-block my hats by soaking them in some water with a bit of wool wash for about 15 minutes, gently squeezing out as much water as possible (you can get even more water out by rolling the thing up in a towel and walking on it), and laying it flat on a blocking mat to dry. As it dries, I’ll move it around to shift the fold lines, so I don’t get creases in the hat. When it’s almost dry, I turn the hat inside out to dry out the inside.

That’s it! You are done. Unless of course you’d like to make another one…

*You don’t even have to know this person. You could, for instance, leave it where someone with a cold head can find it, perhaps with a charming “I’m not lost” tag on it.

**This proportion (and a tonne of other helpful knitting advice) comes from Knitting Without Tears by the queen of improvised knitting, Elizabeth Zimmermann.

I love it when a plan comes together

Update Sept. 27/19: The pattern–Porcupine Ridge–came out on Ravelry today. Click the link for full pattern details and to buy the pattern.

Three weeks ago I was in Whitehorse, up in the Yukon, visiting my sister. She took me to her local yarn shop, because she knows me. They had qiviut yarn, because it’s the North. My sister saw the way I kept looking at that yarn. She insisted that I take some home. We pooled our funds, and lo, I found myself in possession of 190 yds of gorgeousness from Nunavut Qiviut.* I cast on on the flight back to Calgary.

A round of knitting, just cast on, and an empty coffee cup on an airplane seat back table. A tablet sticks out from the seat back pocket in back of the photo.
It was a very early flight. That was not nearly enough coffee. Which is probably how I ended up picking up that tablet in back there from Air North’s freight office two days later, after it made another trip to Whitehorse and back. Air North, I salute your customer service, and would fly with you again any time.

A cowl. A small cowl. In lace, both to make the most of the yardage, and because (as my sister wisely pointed out) this yarn was going to be stupidly, insanely warm, and putting holes in the fabric would be a good idea.

In Calgary I spent my days helping Dad get ready to move, and my evenings knitting repeat after repeat, throwing in an occasional decrease for shaping.

Lace and cabled qiviut cowl with a couple of inches done, on a project bag that reads, "Itsy-Bitsy Yarn Store".

I reached the bind off on the second last night of my visit, and blocked the cowl when I got home. I loved this little thing before blocking; now I’m a bit obsessed. This coming winter had better include a serious cold snap and/or another visit up north, so I can wear this bit of luxury. And would you look at that: not quite enough left over for one more round.

Qiviut cowl finished and blocked, with a tiny ball of leftover yarn.
They really need to invent touch-o-vision.

There will be a pattern, and I’ll be making another sample—probably in Backyard Fiberworks Prairie—for a different look (and a more affordable yarn alternative). It’s such a quick, addictive little project that I may make a few. At least, that’s the plan.

*The yarn is a merino/Arctic Fox qiviut/silk blend. I know some will question my choice, and I thought a lot about it: Nunavut Qiviut’s yarns support traditional Inuit lifestyles, and I support that goal. It is very much not my place to tell indigenous people how to honour their traditions.

Last Minute Travel Slippers

It started in May. I had a week to go before my road trip to Maryland Sheep & Wool, and the itch set in. The itch to make something for this trip. I can make something in a week, surely. It’s not like I have anything else to do. (I had a lot else to do.) I know: I’ll make some slippers! My beloved old moccasins are looking pretty beat up, and they take up a fair bit of room in the suitcase, and I bet I can whip out a pair of ballet-ish slippers that look nice and pack small and will keep my bare feet off the hotel carpet.

Now, this is not my first last-minute-travel-project rodeo, and though I was tempted to also spin the yarn for these things, I knew that that way lay madness. Besides, that’s much of the point of a stash, surely: to have exactly the right yarn when inspiration strikes, just waiting for you to pull it out and get knitting. So I did. I found some worsted weight from Imperial Yarn in a heathery bottle green, and off I went.*

Last Minute Travel Slippers in progress Continue reading

Well, that was a long gap.

I think I’ve discovered the problem with keeping new release announcements and promotions to my newsletter, and only posting personal projects and the like here on the blog: 99.999% of my projects are work-related, I don’t often get time to spin, and so there’s not much to say a lot of the time. (Also, to be frank, the current political climate has knocked some of the stuffing out of me, and I don’t want to add to the noise, and it feels like there’s a lot of noise to go around right now.) And lo, seven months have gone by, tumbleweeds are blowing through here, and still loquacity eludes me. But!

I do have a new project I’m excited about, and it’s not a pattern sample (though it may evolve into a pattern eventually), and this right here is just the place to share it.

Remember this?

It’s some 60/40 Bond/Silk that I spun a while ago as part of the Discworld spinalong over on Ravelry. I’ve finally come up with an idea for it: Continue reading

No sooner am I home…

…than I’m off again. It feels like I just got back from DC (wait, I did just get back—I’ve only been home a week), and I’m packing to head up to Toronto. This trip is for fun: my sister, who lives up in the T dot, is getting married to a lovely man, and the clan is gathering for the event. My other sister has rented a cottage, so there will be city time and lake time and family time and time with old friends from the punk rock stompin’ around town years. Many of my internet friends are gathering while we’re there (for another wedding—apparently it’s the thing to do right now), so there will also be time with old friends I’ve never met in real life. And there will be knitting. I got shockingly little knitting done during TNNA, and hooboy, am I going to make up for that in the next couple of weeks. (See above re: lake time: there’s a whole nine glorious days of it.) Of course, most of it will be work knitting, but that’s my favourite kind of work, so I don’t mind one bit.  Continue reading

Meltwater Scarf

As a fan of woolly wool, I really like Brooklyn Tweed‘s yarns. I’ve noodled around with Shelter and Loft, and just love the light, spongy, cohesive fabric these woolen-spun yarns create, and the wide range of lovely, heathered colours are a colourwork fan’s dream. It pleases me that these beautiful yarns are made sheep to skein here in North America. (I love the house yarns by the mill they use, Harrisville Designs, for all the same reasons.) So when Brooklyn Tweed released Quarry late last year, just as I was finishing the next round of samples for photography, I had to try it. A bulky weight yarn at 200 yds/100g? I could get a hat out of that in no time at all, and have one more sample ready to go. When the skein arrived, I played around with stitch patterns to see what it could do, and it turned out that what Quarry does really well is texture. Ribs and cables turned out beautifully. I didn’t want to stop knitting with it: I wanted a big, generous scarf out of this stuff. Not the most practical thing for the South, but fie on that. Sometimes you just have to go where the inspiration takes you. I ordered more skeins, and knit. And knit. And very soon I had a scarf. And it was exactly what I’d pictured. It’s warm and cozy and the pattern reminded me of runnels of melting ice water, so I called it Meltwater.

Meltwater Scarf 1 | Continue reading

Sunday Sock Day

Yesterday was a most excellent knitting day here at the Casa de Cusser. All summer, I’ve been working on design samples, one after the other, many of which I can’t even talk about here until some time in December. They’ve been fun projects, and I’ve enjoyed making them, no doubt. Too many work projects in a row can make one a bit squirrelly, though. With all the note-taking, the directions-following (even if they’re your own directions), the need for a perfect finished object: after a while, a knitter needs to break free, you know? I try to have a fun, playful/mindless/doesn’t-have-to-be-perfect project to turn to, and with the end of the tea cozy, it was time for something new. I’ve been obsessing about self-striping sock yarns again, so I dug into the stash and found just the thing: an insanely bright self-striping sock yarn bought at the dreary end of winter last year. Continue reading

Icelandic for tea cozy

For a knitter, I sure have chosen a strange place to live. Most of the time, it’s hot, and when it’s not hot, it’s just sort of cool. Light weight sweaters are handy from late October ’til April, but those lovely heavy sweaters, the cozy cabled and stranded beauties that would be so perfect up north? Yeah, not so practical here. But finally, finally, I’ve come up with a way to have a lopapeysa of my own that will see regular use. Indeed, it will get used every single day. Continue reading