Once you've mastered knitting flat items like scarves and dishcloths, knitting hats is a good way to practice basic shaping techniques. If you knit a hat from the top down, you'll start with just a few stitches on your needles and make increases every few rows. On the other hand, if you knit a hat from the brim up you'll start with a lot of stitches on your needles, then work decreases as you knit your way toward the top of the hat. Beginner hat designs are usually quick and simple projects, while more advanced designs can incorporate different techniques.
Free Basic, Reversible Ribbed Hat Pattern
Holding two different-color strands of sportweight yarn together (look for the symbol of a skein of yarn with the number "2" in it on the yarn label) helps this reversible hat knit up relatively quickly, and gives it the added interest of variegated color. If you'd like to knit a solid-color crown as shown in the image, you'll need an extra skein of yarn in the crown color. At the designated place in the pattern, drop the strand of yarn you don't want to carry into the crown and pick up the extra strand of crown-colored yarn, then continue following the pattern.
- Two different colors of sportweight yarn
- Size 6 double-pointed needles
- Size 6 circular needle (with a 16-inch or shorter cable)
- Yarn needle
- Stitch marker
- Holding two different colors of sportweight yarn together and using the circular needle, loosely cast on 112 stitches.
- Join, being careful not to twist, and place a stitch marker at the beginning of the round.
- Working in the round, do k4, p4 ribbing (knit 4 stitches, purl 4 stitches) until the ribbing is at least 6 inches long.
- Knit every stitch on the next round. (This is where you switch colors if you'd like to create a solid-color crown.)
Begin decreasing to shape the crown:
- Round 1: (k12, skp), repeating all the way around. Skp means slip one stitch to the right needle, knit the next stitch, then pass the previous (slipped) stitch over the knitted stitch and off the needle.
- Round 2: Knit even (no decreases).
- Round 3: (k11, skp), repeating all the way around.
- Round 4: Knit even.
- Round 5: (k10, skp), repeating all the way around.
- Round 6: Knit even.
Crown and finishing:
- Continue decreasing on odd-numbered rows, switching to double-pointed needles when you can no longer work comfortably with the circular needle. Stop when you have 8 stitches left on your needles.
- Cut the yarn, leaving an 8-inch or longer tail. Thread the tail end of the yarn through the yarn needle, then use the needle to draw the yarn tail through the remaining stitches. Slide the stitches off your needles and tug on the yarn tail to bring them all together, closing the top of the hat. Weave the tail end through the stitches near the top of the hat to secure it, then clip any remaining extra yarn.
Finding Free Hat Knitting Patterns
Once you've mastered the basic knitted beanie, it's time to explore the wide world of knitting patterns for other types of hats. There are enough free patterns available, from a variety of sources, to keep you knitting for a very long time.
- KnittingPatternCentral.com maintains a directory of links to free hat patterns, spanning the complete range of types, techniques and skill levels. This directory can be a little hard to navigate because there are no images to go with the pattern names, and no way of sorting the links by difficulty or material needed; but if you spend enough time looking, you're guaranteed to find something you'll want to knit.
- Free Vintage Knitting offers a directory of vintage knitting patterns that are free to use, including the jibber bonnet and a knitted stocking cap, which are both created using straight needles.
- Lion Brand Yarn is a yarn manufacturer that offers hundreds of free patterns for knitting, crocheting and even loom-knitting hats. As long as you have basic knowledge of how to knit, purl, and do simple stitch increases or decreases, you should be able to execute most of these patterns. Many Lion Brand patterns, such as the big dipper hat, call for a circular needle with a short cable (usually 16 inches or less) and double-pointed needles. A few, like the basic Nikki's hat, can be done with straight needles instead. (Note: You have to log into the site to see the free patterns.)
- Caron International yarn company doesn't offer quite as many free hat patterns, but you'll still find some attractive numbers mixed in among their scarf patterns. The scarf hat combines the two types of accessories, with a long tail that you can wrap around your neck like a scarf. This tri-color hat is an opportunity to learn basic colorwork skills. Both patterns require a circular needle and double-pointed needles.
- Bernat is another yarn manufacturer that offers lots of free knitting patterns for hats. You'll need to sign up for a Bernat account to access the pattern library, but the account is free as well. The intermediate-level spiral hat, knit on double-pointed needles, mixes basic knit, purl and decrease techniques, plus colored stripes, for a result that appears more complicated than it really is. The roving cowl and hat combination, knit on straight needles, is a good beginner project.
- Knitting Daily, the website for the popular Interweave Knits magazine, maintains a large, searchable database of free knitting patterns. Many, like the flowery poppy beanie (which is knit on straight needles) feature relatively complicated embellishments, edging, and stitch patterns. Knitting Daily also offers a free ebook of knitted hat patterns, many of which feature earflaps.
- Knitty, an online knitting magazine, also offers lots of free knitting patterns. Knitty also has an archive of feature articles that are a big help for understanding any new knitting techniques you might stumble across when attempting a new hat pattern.
- Vogue Knitting International maintains a database of free patterns. You have to sign up for a free account in order to access patterns like the eucalyptus cap, which is knit on straight needles, or the Sandra cabled cowl and beret, which is knit with double-pointed needles and a circular needle.
Using a Free Knitting Pattern
Downloadable knitting patterns stored in PDF format usually print out nicely. Most patterns are accompanied by a photograph of the finished product; if that photograph is of good quality and prints well, it can be a big help (and motivation) for deciphering the pattern. You can also print out non-PDF knitting patterns you find online although they may not be as nicely formatted as the PDF versions. Make sure you staple or paperclip the pages together so you don't lose any parts of the pattern.
If you're finding lots of inspiration from online patterns, start a special bookmark folder for storing the links to patterns you like but don't want to print out just yet. This saves you a lot of hunting around at a later date when you want to track down the perfect hat design you remember having seen online.
Creativity Is Your Only Limit
Once you've knit a few hats you'll start to notice that most patterns share the same basic structure. As you get more comfortable, experiment using small tweaks to make the pattern your own. Substituting different yarn than the pattern calls for, adding stripes of color, or switching stitch patterns are all good ways to ease your way into designing your own headwear.