This Is Not My Hat* January 9, 2014 – Posted in: How to, Thursday This and That

*A hilarious children’s book by Jon Klassen. Also, a thought a knitter might have after finishing a hat that is too small, large or just not wearable.


Happy 2014 to you all! It is cold and we knitters like that. We get to knit all those things that hopefully keep us cozy and warm – which, I have to admit, has been difficult these past three weeks since it has been really cold. I’m speaking of mittens, scarves, cowls and, yes, HATS.
Let’s have it. The talk. The HAT talk. And the other one, the SWATCH talk. (Boy, I can see some of you rolling your eyes and tuning out now. If you are a swatcher, you are allowed to. If  you are a non-swatcher and have had size issues with any project at all, please do read on.)
The reason for having this particular talk is that this week I have encountered some knitters who had troubles with their hats. They turned out too large, too small, too floppy, too hot…well, the last one I cannot help, really, but for the other problems I have a solution.
First let me say it again: Knitting a swatch is not a punishment. On the contrary, knitting a swatch will keep you from being punished with an unusable finished object should you encounter gauge trouble. Now, hats and sweater patterns rely heavily on gauges. If a sweater turns out too large because you didn’t swatch you might be able to wear it as an oversized boyfriend version. If a hat turns out too large, then you cannot see while walking because it slides down over your eyes and that in my book is what I call ‘not wearable’. Yeah, sure, go ahead and fix it with elastic. It might work. Or not. Wouldn’t you love to have the hat you were thinking about when you picked the pattern instead of a ‘Frankenhat’ that came into being because you did not swatch?
Far be it from me to sound condescending or patronizing, I have committed this sin myself. And have been punished by having to knit a beret three times because I did not swatch. The only time you can get away with not swatching before knitting a hat is if you have knit with this particular yarn before and hence know which needle size to use for the gauge needed.
The particular problems this week were:
The hat turned out too large: This one might not even be gauge related, rather just to the fact that you picked a size that was too large for the head it was supposed to fit. Not all three-year-olds have the same size head, neither have all 13, 30 or any-year-olds. When you knit a hat, you want to pick a size that is at least 2″ smaller in circumference than the head. In a pinch and if you have to guess, 1″ will do, though it will be a looser fitting hat. Hats stretch a lot when worn. Unless it is a very tight, rigid pattern, the hat will stretch. Some hat patterns have a variety of sizes, others don’t. If there is only one size and the hat is too big, try knitting at a smaller gauge (using a smaller needle, making the fabric tighter) or use a slightly smaller yarn, of course you have to adapt the needle size here, too. HOWEVER, if your hat is too large because your gauge is 16 stitches instead of 18 per 4″, then there is not solution but to knit it again. To prove a point: for a larger head the size of a hat is usually around 20″. Which means you cast on 90 stitches at a gauge of 18 stitches per 4″. If your gauge is off by 2 stitches, you end up with a hat that has 22.5″ circumference, which is in this case a huge difference.
The hat turned out too small: I bet your gauge was off in the other direction. Instead of 18 stitches you have 19 or 20 stitches per 4″ and then it can turn out to be quite a tight fit. If it is a beanie or a tuque, those are meant to fit head-hugging, and it could be that it is just too short. In this case you can add length before you get to the crown decreases.
The hat turned out too floppy: Now, in the age of slouchy hats ‘too floppy’ might sound weird to you. But I do understand. There are hats that want body, structure – and they are not meant to be worn slouchy. This might not be a gauge issue per se, rather a yarn issue. Alpaca, for example, can be quite drapey (or floppy, if you prefer) when knit up loosely. Meaning, even though your are right on gauge, it is just too loose a fabric and thus floppy. The same hat knit with another yarn might be just what you want! The gauge swatch in this case would have been an indicator for the properties of the fabric. Another reason, besides the numbers, to swatch.
Yes, dear readers, I am aware that I sound like a broken record. Yet ‘swatch, swatch, swatch’ is the best advice I can give so you get exactly what you want. It is not wasted time, considering you might end up knitting the whole hat again…and again…
Happy Knitting, as ever!
– Mona