How to Knit a Hat Without a Pattern: Part One

Posted on November 01 2021

How to Knit a Hat Without a Pattern: Part One

If you have a stash (I’m guessing you do), and if you have a stitch dictionary (not necessary, but expands your creative options), then you can knit a hat right now, this very minute, without a pattern. I can think of no better way to build confidence as a knitter than to memorize this method of making a hat. It might change your life. If nothing else, it will provide an excellent way to try out a new yarn, help you work through your stash, and tap into your creativity. It might also give you a head start on Holiday knitting.

Briefly, the steps:

  1. Sample your yarn to find the best needle size
  2. Cast on a few stitches (eight for these hats)
  3. Work increases at regular intervals until hat measures your target circumference
  4. Continue the body of the hat without increasing 
  5. Bind off—voila!

To amplify: To make the hats shown here (and as many more as your creative urges allow), you begin at the top, the tip of the crown. Cast on a few stitches and then work increases, regularly, every four rows, if working garter stitch (as shown here), until you've reached the target circumference of your hat. 

At this point, you work the body of the hat—the world-is-your-oyster section. This is where a stitch dictionary might come in handy. Make your hat striped, texture it with knit-and-purl patterns, add short cables, color patterns, even a few rows of a lace stitch. Knit extra rows for a turned-up brim or slouchy hat, make it shorter for a jaunty toque shape. 

The best thing about knitting a hat from a method, as opposed to a pattern, is that it frees you from the tyranny of the gauge swatch, no need to match someone else's numbers. You swatch to know your yarn, to discover what it can do on your given needle.

I recommend garter stitch for your first hat. In a lovely, buoyant yarn (Delaine Merino is pictured here) your hat will be airy and warm. If you want to jump start this hat method and get a little practice before going it on your own, the pattern for Ferncroft follows these steps exactly—and it's free with an order of our Delaine Merino.

Ready to dive in? Find a skein of yarn that speaks to you, check the label for suggested needle size (suggested is the key word here), and cast on 20 stitches to sample your yarn and needle combination. 

A word about hat swatching: For this particular swatch, where numbers don't mean much, I knit back and forth, even though I'll be working my hat in the round. My numbers may differ ever so slightly between flat and round knitting, but the fabrics made in each instance are close enough in look and feel that I'm not compelled to simulate in-the-round knitting.

That said, if you find that your round knitting greatly differs from your back and forth work, knit a swatch with the right side always facing, as follows:

With the needles you'll be using for your hat, circular or double-pointed, cast on 20 stitches. Knit across. Then, keeping the same side of your work facing you, slide the stitches to the right to the tip of the needle. Bring the yarn very loosely across the back of your work, no need to cut it, and purl the next row. For a garter stitch swatch, alternate knit and purl rows. This method of working only from one side of your work will mimic knitting in the round. When you're finished, rip out and use this yarn in your hat. No problem. No waste.  

Knit two inches or so, then examine your work. You are doing research. Does the fabric have the right look and feel for the hat you envision? Is it loose and a little too open and wobbly for a warm and cozy hat? If so, drop down a needle size or more, until you get what you're after.

Is your swatch stiff and unyielding? Then go up a size or two to encourage pliability and softness.

Is your swatch cushy and inviting? Good! You've found the just-right combination of yarn and needle.  

Remember: Everyone knits differently, and gauge is as individual as fingerprints. The nature of the fabric for your hat is up to you. There are no numbers to match, only your masterful evaluation of stitches. You’re free!

What kind of needle to use? I'm a die-hard fan of the Magic Loop Method for knitting in the round, but if you love your double-pointed needles, by all means, use them. Different strokes.

Curious about Magic Loop knitting? Explanations are everywhere on the internet if you Google the term. We especially like this tutorial from Tin Can Knits.

With yarn and needle(s) selected, perhaps a cup of tea, settle in on your couch. You're ready to start your hat.  Cast on eight stitches.

In Part Two, we'll tell you what to do next.








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