Design Tips For Knit Hats

hand knit hat styles

Hats are among the oldest garments worn by humans. Early knitted hats appeared as caps just prior to the Renaissance, with knit caps and stockings the most common knitted items during this time period.

Hand knit hats come in a range of shapes and styles. There are styles that are part of traditional costume for some cultures, or symbols of historic events. The tuque (toque) is a 150 year old symbol of French Canadian nationalism, and is still a popular hat style.

Basic Hat Shapes

Although there is a huge variety of knit hat styles, they can be categorized into four basic shapes. These shapes can be customized with details such as rolled brims, cuffs, and colorwork. More or less slouch can be added at the crown.

  • Beanies – a small round knit cap that fits the head closely. It is typically worn low on the head to cover the forehead.
  • Berets (Tams) – a beret is one of the most flattering hat styles. It’s a flat cap that fits the head around the band edge, with fabric that flops or slouches at the crown.
  • Tuques (Toques) – although this style began as a symbolic hat, toques are now commonly known as a ski cap. The toque or ski cap is usually close-fitting, slightly elongated, that tapers to a blunt crown. Pompoms or tassels are often sewn to the top of the crown.
  • Hats With Ear Flaps – the flaps are extensions of the band covering the ears, and make for a warm, cozy hat.

Anatomy of a Basic Hat

  • Top 
  • Crown – the part of the hat covering the head. It can vary in depth; a beanie’s crown is shallow, whereas a toque’s crown is deep.
  • Rise – the portion of the crown that forms sides around the hat.
  • Band – many hat styles have a narrow band at the bottom of the hat, which fits close to the head. Usually this section is slightly smaller than the circumference of the head (negative ease) so that the hat doesn’t fall. The band is often knit in a rib pattern or on smaller needles for a snug fit. 
  • Brim, Cuff, Visor – are all details at the lower edge of the hat, instead of a band.
  • Ear Flaps – another detail extending from sides of lower edge of hat to cover the ears, which often include ties to secure under the chin.

hat sections

Key Measurements

  1. Head Circumference. Place the tape measure around the roundest part of the head, across the forehead and around the back of the skull. Measure with the tape snug for an accurate number.
  2. Height of the Hat. Place the tape at the top of the crown, following along the side of the head to the desired length. For many hat styles, this point will be at the bottom of the ear.
measuring head for a knit hat
(from Vogue Knitting, The Ultimate Knitting Book, 2018)

Most hat styles with a band should fit with negative ease, approximately 1/2 to 2 inches less than the head circumference. The hat needs to fit close at the band to prevent the hat from falling down on your face.

Yarn and Test Swatch

Yarn choices will depend on the degree of warmth desired, elasticity needed for a proper fit, and moisture wicking. The weight of the yarn is important for many projects. When stranding yarns in Fair Isle projects, use DK or fingering weight yarns, so that the hat is not too firm. Lace weight yarns are appropriate for lace motifs and inserts. The sky is the limit when choosing pattern stitches. However, always consider the yarn’s characteristics in combination with the stitch pattern, and hat style for the best results.

As for all projects, and to make sure your hat fits well, knit and block the gauge or test swatch. A loosely knit gauge may result in a hat that falls down on your face. A tighter gauge knit in a textured pattern stitch will be warm and wind resistant.

Knitting a Hat

Most hats are knit in the round on circular needles, switching to double pointed needles when the number of stitches left after shaping can no longer be worked on the circulars. Hats can also be knit in the round with the magic loop method or two circulars. Some hat styles work well knit back and forth on straights, forming a seam up the back. Hats can be worked from the band or cuff, up to the crown with either circular or straight needles. Other styles can be worked from the top-down in the round.

If your hat is worked from the lower edge, cast on stitches using a stretchy method like the tubular cast on. Any cast on method can be used when working from the top-down. When figuring out stitch numbers for a band, remember to make the hat slightly smaller than your head circumference.

Increases and decreases are used to shape crowns and the top of the hat. Increases shape top-down hats, and decreases shape bottom-up hats. Crown shaping should be aligned by evenly spacing decreases and increases, working them every other row/round or third row/round. Also consider the direction of the slant and pairing of the increases or decreases.

crown shaping of bottom-up hat

Some hat styles worked from the bottom-up may have increases above the band to add additional fabric, such as a beret. Crowns may be shallow or made slouchy by adding length.

Hats knit on circulars from the bottom-up are usually finished by drawing the working yarn through the last few stitches at the top of the crown.

Embellishments such as pompoms and tassels are usually attached to the top of the crown after the hat is completed. Consider other decorative details like beads, embroidery, buttons, ribbons, and appliqué. 

By virtue of their size, hats are a great project to learn design skills. There are many styles and shapes to choose from, endless stitch patterns and ideas for embellishment. The most important measurement is the circumference of the head. The band section of a hat must fit snugly around the head so it doesn’t fall down the face. For this winter, why not design and knit an original hat!