Monday, December 22, 2014

Stress-Free Knits - A Hat

I run into fellow knitters pretty often and one thing I hear a lot is "I need to make a hat for... " and "How do I knit a hat?" Everyone wants a hat, needs a hat, makes a hat. And there are so many hat patterns available. Hats of all kinds: lace and fair isle and big floppy and tight beanie and cabled and felted and beaded and... well, you get the idea. The patterns are out there. Go get one. (I would, of course, suggest my Bluestone plaid hat when you want a really special gift for someone.)

But, really, sometimes you just want a basic hat. All the fancy is great for hats for yourself. You know what went into it. You have all the pleasure of wearing that hat and knowing how you made it. But gifts for non-crafters? C'mon. Admit it to yourself. They generally aren't as impressed with what a hat looks like as you are. They don't notice fancy tubular cast on or intricate cables and lace. They say "Hey, this hat is comfortable and it keeps me warm and it's a color I like." So, go easy on yourself.

2 skeins Plymouth Gina
US #10 needles
Friday afternoon--yes, I'm not lying, Friday afternoon and in about 2 1/2 hours--I whipped up a very basic hat using two skeins of Plymouth Gina yarn, a really great wool with long color changes. It's the most basic hat: several rounds of ribbing, 1 round of increases, plain stockinette to the top, and four quick rounds of decreases. The secret to success with this basic hat is lining up the color change so that it starts in basically the same spot but offset a little - when one skein changes color, the other will start changing a bit later, staggering the color changes.

For my adult-sized hat, I used 16" US #10 (6.0mm) needles.
  • Cast on 68 stitches, join in the round (don't twist your stitches over the needle or you'll never have a hat!) and place a marker for the beginning of the round.
  • Work 9 rounds or 1x1 ribbing (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, over and over, around and around).
  • Increase round: knit 5, knit front and back and repeat all the way around. There aren't enough stitches to work another knit front and back at the end.
  • Keep going around and around in plain stockinette until the hat is 8" from the cast on edge.
  • Decrease round: knit 4, *knit 3, knit two together, repeat from * to end of round
  • Knit one round plain
  • Decrease round: knit 2, knit two together, repeat all the way around
  • Knit one round plain (you probably want to move your stitches to double pointed needles here)
  • Decrease round: knit 1, knit two together, repeat all the way around
  • Knit one round plain
  • Decrease round: knit two together all the way around
  • Decrease round: knit two together all the way around (yes, do that round twice with no plain row)
  • Cut your yarn and use a darning needle to slip go through all the live stitches. Remove your needles and cinch it up tight. Weave in ends and put it on. It's awesome!
Don't stress about your hat knitting! All your friends and family will have warm heads this and every winter.

A pair of hats made with this basic "recipe" for a hat
Spud and Chloe Fine
Do you have some yarn you want to turn into a hat? Here's my formula for a basic hat that will fit someone at sometime. (And I'm a bit of a heretic, I guess. I just go for best-effort.)

First, a little math. An adult head is roughly somewhere between 20" and 23" around. Generally. Knitting stretches so don't worry too much about perfection. It's a hat! Now, look at the band on your skein of yarn. You want to find two pieces of information: recommended needle size and gauge. Pretty generally, I pick out a needle that's a size or two smaller than the one recommended by the yarn but if it's a lightweight yarn, I don't go down too much either. Use your best judgment. You're smart!

Next you need to know the gauge. It might be in words or in a picture. Or ask the yarn store owner to help you figure out the gauge. Now, do a little math. If the gauge is something like "18 stitches/4 inches", divide 18 by 4 to find 4.5 stitches per inch. Then multiple 4.5 stitches by the hat size.

I generally start with 21 inches.
4.5 stitches per inch x 21 inches = 94.5
Subtract 10% of those stitches.
94.5 x 10% = 9.45

94.5 - 9.45 = 85.05
Round your answer to the nearest multiple of your ribbing (2 for 1x1 ribbing, 4 for 2x2 ribbing, etc.) Round up or down; it's one stitch. Who cares? Let's go 84. There's your cast on.

Once you have the stitches cast on, work ribbing for as far as you want. Like I said earlier, you're smart and you know what a hat looks like. Go long if you want to fold it over or short if you just want to get it done!

Finished with the ribbing? Now switch to stockinette. Remember how we subtracted stitches to find the cast on number? Let's add them back now. In the first round after ribbing, work 9 knit stitches and then knit front and back the next stitch. That adds an extra stitch for every 10 stitches. (That's 10%, by the way). And again, don't stress if you don't get around and it doesn't end even. No one will notice and it's a round object.

Keep going in stockinette (knit every stitch, every round) until you are about 8"-9" from the bottom edge of your hat. Why not measure from the cast on? Well, you might, but if you want to fold up your ribbing, you'll measure from the fold because that's the bottom of your heat. Now we start decreasing.

I'm a big fan of really fast decreases. It gathers up and, when I wear a hat of this style, I don't feel like such a pinhead. It's three rounds of decreases, each separated by a plain round. While you work these rounds, at some point you'll probably want to switch to double pointed needles. Do it. They're not scary.
Round 1: knit 3, knit two together - all the way around (don't worry about odd stitches left at the end!)
Work one round plain
Round 2: knit 2, knit two together - all the way around (again, don't worry about odd stitches!)
Work one round plain
Round 3: knit 1, knit two together - all the way around (guess what I'm thinking?)
Work one round plain
Rounds 4 - whatever: knit two together around and around. Keep doing that until you have some stitches left. Aim for 8 or so. That makes it easy to cinch the hat closed. Just cut the yarn and draw the tail through all the live stitches.

That's a finished hat!!

What are some changes you might want to make? Stripes, of course. That's easy. Fewer stitches for a kid's hat. More stitches for those people with big heads or lots of hair. Shorter hat for a little person. Longer hat for someone that wants something slouchy.

Have so much fun!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

High Fashion - A Rectangular Poncho That's So Easy to Knit!

Poncho - it's such a weird-to-me garment. They can be high fashion or "I made it with my grandma" (not that there's anything wrong with making anything with your grandma; I encourage it!). And who can forget the poncho craze ignited by Martha (Stewart) when she was released from prison and showed off a crochet poncho.

Rectangular Poncho
Photo: Paul Amato for
A poncho is basically just a square or rectangle or circle--polygon would be the right word--with a hole in the middle so you can stick it over your head. Fancy with lace or home-y with double crochet or granny square-esque  motif, poncho designs are all over the place. You may remember my first poncho pattern, Ruffner. Ruffner starts with a provisional cast on, a length of lace is knitted, then the provisional cast on is picked up and added to the live stitches, more lace is knitted and then you finish off and have a poncho with no sewing.

I loved designing Ruffner and I'm very pleased with the finished projects I've seen. Of course, I'd like to see more. And now, I have another poncho to add to my design portfolio. Published this autumn, Noro Knitting Magazine Fall/Winter 2014 has my Rectangular Poncho. It's knitted with Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn and is so easy! All stockinette with some easy increases and decreases and the gorgeous Noro yarn does all the heavy lifting color-wise.

There are a bunch of other really awesome patterns in the magazine. Check them all out at and pick up a copy at your local yarn store, bookstore or online. Happy knitting!