The Quest for the Perfect Fitting Hat

I have a husband who’s not finicky about much, but he never likes a single hat I knit for him. This time I was determined to make something that he would wear…willingly.  It’s mildly embarrassing to be out and about and he is always wearing this thread bare, store-bought knit cap!   It would be okay…except I knit….a lot. I should be able to make at least one hat that he likes.

So this time I took a different approach.  I slowed way down.  This is something I’m learning with designing garments & accessories   Every time I rush into it, eager to just be on my way with the knitting I usually end up with an ill-fitting item.

So we started with dissecting his long loved, well faded, thread bare hat and came to some conclusions.  He likes it for a few reasons:

1. There is no ribbing, he cannot stand for the hat to be tight on his forehead.  This is something that baffled me slightly , as nearly every hat I’ve ever made contains some type of ribbing to help the hat stay snug and keep the drafts out.

2. It was not too short and not too long, a little bit of ear should be exposed.  Also new to me, I generally like my ears to be entirely covered, or else they get cold.

3. The angle of the decrease mirrored his head but wasn’t too tight like a typical “skullcap” design nor too to slouchy

So I measured Heath’s head, measured his old hat, measured my guage and applied what I knew to designing the size and shape of the hat.  I decided to do a hemmed border with a provisional cast-on, thus avoiding the rib and adding extra warmth over the ears as well as a nice finished looking edge.

Here I’m pulling out the provisional cast on and picking up the stitches from the very first row, getting ready to do the hem:

Pulling out the Provisional Cast-on and picking up stitches

And here we have the brim and the facing, with a purl row dividing them, getting ready to turn the hem.  I knit the facing one needle size smaller than the brim so it would hopefully lie flat and avoid flaring out:

The Brim and the Facing…before the hem

Here it is all folded up, as I begin to knit the hem using 3 needle knitting:

Knitting them together using 3 needle knitting

And voila!  The finished hem…rib-free:

The finished brim!

Really there was no reason to knit a fair-isle pattern on the facing, but I couldn’t resist playing with the colors.  I was literally itching to start seeing how they looked together, so I figured the facing was a great place to practice and add a little secret loveliness!

Let me take a couple steps back in this design process. I used Mary Jane Mucklestone’s wonderful directory of 200 Fair Isle Motifs to work through the fair-isle design process.  She has great information on color theory and garment design as well as the rich treasury of motifs.

Lights & Darks and "200 Fair Isle Motifs"

I started at the begining of her book, choosing colors, grouping lights and darks, converting the photograph into black and white to make sure my color values were varied enough to show up against one another.

Jamieson & Smith 2 Ply Jumper Weight: in color

Jamieson & Smith 2 Ply Jumper Weight: on the gray scale



I was lucky enough to have a fairly diverse stash of Jamieson & Smith Yarns that I brought back from Shetland. It’s embarrassing and thrilling all at once.  I just have to show you!  All the ladies from Shetland Wool Week will get a good laugh at this!  (I still can’t bring myself to count how many skeins I actually bought ):

Pile of Glory:  Jamieson & Smith 2 ply Jumper Weight & Shetland Supreme....mmm

It took a few tries and modifications along the way, even once I started knitting the colors weren’t quite as I hoped so I swapped out a few of them.  The colorwork that I found most intriguing was the ones were I could reign myself in and use two varied shades of the same color, a bright and a dark.  I know this is a principal tenant in Fair Isle colorwork, but it’s hard to put into practice, when there are so many great colors to choose from.  It seems to me that Fair Isle might be the most painterly of knitterly pursuits.

I choose a few motifs that caught my eye; booth small, peerie patterns and one larger border pattern to be the focal point.  Then I played with the patterns, I ended up rekniting the top 3 times, once for shaping reasons and the other two times, trying to find a pattern that wasn’t too busy. I can’t say I was entirely successful in that endeavor but at some point you have to just go with it. I can always knit another, “more perfect” hat.

Here’s the top I ended up with:

I had recently knit Kate DaviesSheep Heid and I used her decreasing chart as a guide as I planned out my own decreasing.  I kept with a central double decrease, as in the Sheep Heid, but found I had to adjust my rows significantly to accomodate the larger circumference of the hat.

As I worked through each step of design the mantra I kept repeating was “Symmetry” and “Subtlety.”  Easier said than done!  I think next time I will work with an even simpler palette and search out a dark and a light of each of the colors that I incorporate.

So anyhow here it is in its entirety:

Heath’s Fair Isle Hat

Side View in the Snow

It’s still new and fresh, and I’m happy with how my first self-designed fair isle turned out.  But the true test of success will be to see which hat Heath reaches for when he heads out in the cold!

22 thoughts on “The Quest for the Perfect Fitting Hat

  1. Congratulations on your success! Heath and Heath’s hat look great. The design and the colors are mesmerizing. You say you are embarrassed by all of the yarn, but I have a feeling you will have very little left by the end of winter. Continued success and keep warm.

  2. Shelley~
    What an inspiration! Your patience & attention to detail is amazing! The hat looks great! Impressive! Thanks for sharing your work–maybe I’ll get sizing one of these days. I struggle.
    Love & warmth to you & Heath–miss you guys!!!

  3. Lóve it! You don’t have to tell how much yarn you bought. As long as you keep making such pretty things with it, you’ll be fine, right!
    You quizzed your husband to make him the ultimate headwear. That makes your knitting extra special! If he’s willing to show off his hat on the internet, I’m sure he’ll wear it all the time!

  4. Wow, gorgeous, gorgeous hat! Your fair isle is stunning, and I love how you worked the top of the hat.

    Sheep heid is in my queue to knit after the holidays, such a fun pattern. And you’ve got snow! My household is very jealous of your’s!

  5. Hurray! You are blogging again! The hat is beautiful Shelly. Your analysis of Heath’s hat requirements reminded me of an intro to a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. It was great.

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