How to knit a hat

A step-by-step tutorial on knitting a hat for beginners with circular needles

Winter is coming, as they say, and it’s always good to be prepared with beautiful hand-knitted garments. A scarf might be one of the easiest knitting projects for beginners. But what about headwear? It’s almost as easy and in this tutorial, I will show you how to knit a hat – step-by-step with beautiful ribbings for a perfect fit.

the finished ribbed hat after blocking in all its glory

This pattern, or rather detailed recipe, will work for any size, men, women, or even kids – no matter if you call it a hat, beanie, or toque. It’s meant to be knitted in the round on circular needles (or double-pointed needles, if that’s your thing).

a ribbed hat knitting pattern for beginners decorated with various knitting tools in the background

Now you might be scared and go like: I can’t knit in the round with circular needles. First of all, I have a full tutorial on the ingenious magic loop method for beginners here on my blog you might want to check out first. And secondly, the problems start when you try to knit small circumference projects in the round. A hat is typically fairly big and that’s usually were easy to handle.

So, let’s dive right into it.

Reading tip: Here’s how to read knitting patterns in case you need to catch up. Also, this pattern is for knitting a ribbed hat. If you rather want one in stockinette stitch, check out my Mütze 2 pattern.

Materials you will need

the materials you need to knit a hat on a wooden board

Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.

Knitting a hat is, as I said, a fairly easy project and you won’t need a lot of materials either. Just the basic knitting supplies any beginner should have anyway:

While this is entirely optional, I actually recommend having double-pointed knitting needles in the same size as well. It makes knitting those very few last rounds a bit easier.

Step 1: How many stitches to cast on for a hat

measuring a swatch for a hat to find out the gauge

First, you need to figure out how many stitches you need to cast on for your hat so it fits well. Now, if you download the pattern, it will give you a couple of size suggestions. But it’s very important to note that this means you would have to knit a swatch to meet my gauge as well. If I tell you to cast on 126 stitches but you are using a slightly heavier yarn weight and you knit a bit looser, then your hat will be much too big.

working out how many stitch to cast on for a hat using a swatch and simple math

If you ask me, as you have to knit a swatch in either case, you might as well figure out the size yourself – especially as it’s super simple math. Big promise! Also, it will give you the opportunity to practice the stitch pattern and see how well it works with your yarn.

  1. Cast on around 26-30 stitches using a simple longtail cast on and knit around 5 centimeters / 2 inches in a simple 1×1 rib stitch knitting flat.
  2. Bind off (but keep the ball attached, you can reuse the yarn), wash the swatch, and block it on a soft surface using pins. Stretch the swatch so the ribbings are clear and distinct but not overstretched – exactly the way you want your finished hat to look like.
  3. Once dry, use your tape or a ruler to measure how many stitches you need to cover 5 centimeter/2 inches in the center of your swatch. Note that number (e.g 13 stitches).
  4. Measure your head at the position you want to wear your hat – typically covering your ears/across the forehead. It’s easiest to do this in front of a mirror. Note that number as well. (e.g. 57 centimeter).
  5. Divide the stitches you counted by the length you measured (e.g. 13st/5cm = 2.6 st/cm).
  6. Multiply that factor times the circumference of your head (e.g. 2.6 st/cm * 57 cm = 148 st).
  7. Round down to the next number divisible by 6 (eg. 144 st).

And that’s how many stitches you need to cast on! Now, I know these are a lot of steps but trust me, it’s worth it and it won’t take very long. This will help you to knit perfectly fitting hats – no matter the size of your hat.

Step 2: Knitting the brim

knitting the brim of the hat on circular needles

Once you’ve figured out how many stitches you need to cast on for your head, it’s time to start with the actual pattern. Just like the swatch, the entire hat will be knit in a 1×1 rib stitch. And then we can talk about the actual cast-on technique because you want something that is both pretty & stretchy. Here are four popular choices:

comparing different cast-on techniques for a hat
Top: Tubular cast on 4 rows | middle: tubular cast-on 2 rows | bottom: in pattern longtail cast-on

a) Standard longtail cast-on using two needles. This would be the easiest version for absolute beginners. It can end up a bit tighter.

b) Alternating a standard longtail cast-on with a cast-on purlwise (also around two needles). This will result in an in-pattern edge. So, you always cast on a knit stitch, followed by a purl stitch.

c) A German Twisted Cast on. This will result in a very stretchy edge – a bit more ornamental. Again, I recommend alternating between casting on knit and purl stitches.

d) The tubular cast-on. This is probably the most difficult cast-on but it will create a very balanced and well-rounded stretchy edge perfect for a 1×1 rib stitch.

I leave it up to you and your preferences to decide which cast-on you want to pick. My sample here was done with a tubular cast-on. But if you pick a different cast-on you absolutely want to check out my tutorial on how to join knitting in the round which will show you a super invisible method (you will have to cast on one more stitch). Either way:

  • Cast on as many stitches as you require/according to the pattern with the cast-on of your choice
  • Join in the round; if you are using a tubular cast-on, finish the 2 (or 4) setup rows before you join in the round; you can close the gap by grafting one stitch later on.
  • Round 1-30: *knit 1, purl 1* across all stitches

Now, remember to take frequent breaks as you knit. Also, if you notice that your ribbing doesn’t look very neat, you might want to check out my post on knitting neater ribbings with a lot of very important tips.

Important: By now, you should have finished knitting your brim and it’s a good time to check if your hat fits and your calculations worked out. Don’t do this before, as ribbing will behave quite a bit differently after only 5-10 rounds. Besides, this pattern comes with a folded brim and you need a bit of fabric before you can do this.

So, fold your brim and put your hat on. It should fit comfortably without overstretching the ribbings. If you feel the ribbings are stretched out too much for your personal taste, or they are too condensed, you need to figure out how much less or more fabric you would need.

If your hat is too big, you can use pins to make the hat a bit smaller, and then you can count the stitches that you pinned together and cast on fewer stitches accordingly (remember divisible by 6).

If it’s too small, slide the hat up your hat until you feel it’s a comfortable fit, take the measurements, subtract that with the circumference at the position where you want the hat to sit, and then count how many stitches you would need to make up for that distance.

Step 3: Knitting the main part of the hat

the point where you can start decreasing the hat in this case after 23 cm

Once you are satisfied, you can resume knitting. The pattern doesn’t actually change here and you can continue knitting the 1×1 ribbings (even though you could switch to any other knitting stitch pattern as well with a similar gauge).

When to start decreasing a hat

starting to decreasing the hat

There’s literally nothing you have to take care of but eventually, you will want to start decreasing to shape the crown. And that’s why we need to talk about when to start with the decreases. This will entirely depend on your personal preferences but I will give you three different options as a first clue:

A) skull cap/tight fit: Knit until your work in progress (brim folded the way you like it) reaches the top of your forehead (so a bit above the typical hairline).

B) pointed hat: Knit until the hat reaches the crown of your head and there’s only a tiny wisp of hair peeking out.

C) slouchy fit: Some people prefer their hats super slouchy. In this case, I would knit until the work in progress actually covers the crown of your head.

As head shapes and preferences vary a lot, these are just general rules of thumb. At the end of the day, if you have something special in mind, you will have to adjust these suggestions and work out your own pattern. So basically that would mean finishing one full hat, and then knitting another improved version (or rip out the part you want to redo).

My sample here was knit with an 8cm brim and I want it a bit on the pointer side. So, I knit altogether 23 centimeters before I started decreasing.

Step 4: How to decrease a hat

decreasing the hat using double pointed needles for the last rounds as its easier for the last rounds
Many knitters prefer to switch to double-pointed needles for the last rounds

Now, I assume you are at the position where you want to start shaping the crown and now you are wondering how to decrease a hat, right? Well, this is actually a very extensive topic and one could say that it’s the sole reason to buy a hat pattern, to begin with.

I’m going to share the most basic version for a ribbed hat here. The pattern will give you quite a couple of different options you might enjoy.

placement of the stitch markers and the caclulation to start decreasing the hat

Round 1: Knit across in the 1×1 rib pattern and distribute 5 stitch markers as follows: Divide the total number into three equal parts. And subtract four stitches from the first section, and three stitches from the second section. This should leave you with 7 stitches in the middle.

  • In my case, that’s 144/3= 48.
  • 48-4 =44 & 48-3 = 45

So, I place my first stitch marker after 44 stitches, ending with a purl stitch. Then I count 7 stitches and place another stitch marker (this should be after a knit stitch). Then I place another stitch marker after 45 stitches, and one last stitch marker after 48 stitches.

I know this sounds very mathematical. But think of it as slicing a cake into three equal parts. And then grandpa decides to get one thin slice as well, so you carve it out in front.

Next, place a stitch marker to mark the beginning of your round (tie a bit of yarn around it so you can tell it’s a different one).

Round 2: knit all stitches as they appear until you are four stitches before the first marker, SSK, k1, p1, slip marker, knit across 7, slip marker, p1, k1, k2tog, continue until you are four stitches before the next marker, SSK, k1, p1, k1, k2tog, continue until you are four stitches before the last marker, SSK, k1, p1, k1, k2tog, finish the round.

Round 2: knit all stitches the way they appear; pay close attention before and after the markers. There will be two adjacent knit stitches (don’t accidentally continue with *k1, p1* there).

Round 3: knit all stitches as they appear until you are three stitches before the first marker, SSK, p1, slip marker, knit across 7, slip marker, p1, k2tog, continue until you are three stitches before the next marker, SSK, p1, k2tog, continue until you are three stitches before the last marker, SSK, p1, k2tog, finish the round.

Round 4: *k1, p1*

Round 5: Repeat rounds 1-4 until there is only a third of the stitches left (e.g 48) and then decrease in every row. So, skip rounds 2+4 from above.

Stop decreasing when you have only 18 stitches left.

In the last round, there will only be 2 stitches before and after the markers left. So, SSK/K2tog these respectively.

Tip: You may want to consider switching to double-pointed knitting needles a bit further up. A lot of knitters find it a bit easier to handle those last rounds than using magic loop.

Step 5: Finishing the hat

someone sowing over once to close the hole at the top

Cut the yarn leaving a tail of around 10 inches. Thread it on a tapestry needle, and pull it through every stitch remaining on your needles. Remove the needles as you go, pull tight, and sew over once.

Then weave in the tails on the wrong side. For ribbings, I would always use a sharp tapestry needle and follow a column of knit stitches for 5-8 rows, and then thread back in the other direction. Make sure to stretch out your knitting before you cut the tails.

weaving in the tails of the hat with a sharp tapestry needle

If you used a tubular cast-on, you will have to use your cast-on tail to graft one stitch to bridge the gap.

You may consider blocking your hat. Typically, I wouldn’t say this is needed. But since a 1×1 rib tends to contract on its own, the tip of your hat might look more like stockinette stitch.

So, wash your finished hat gently in lukewarm water, let it soak for around 30 minutes, then dry it carefully between two towels, and pin it to a soft surface without overstretching it! Let it dry overnight.

blocking the hat before wearing it on a blocking mat and using pins

Depending on your personal preferences, you may consider attaching a pom pom. You can create one your own in the same yarn (or using a contrasting yarn), or you can buy them on Etsy. They also have some fake fur pom poms that can look quite amazing as well.

a simple ribbed hat pattern in green yarn

And that’s it. You just finished your hat. Congratulations! I hope it will bring you much joy. Again, if you want more variations, a clear size guide, and so on, then get the pattern as it has tons of additional information. Plus you can print it out or put it on your smartphone or tablet.

How to knit a hat - the pattern

a ribbed hat kniting pattern seen from above

These are the printer-friendly instructions to knit a size M hat. Please download the pattern if you need more detailed instructions.

My gauge for a swatch in a 1x1 rib stitch: 13 st x 19 rows

Prep Time 30 minutes
Active Time 12 hours
Total Time 12 hours 30 minutes

Materials

  • Around 300 yards (100g) of DK weight yarn in the color and quality of your choice

Tools

  • DPNS or circular needles 3.5 mm. I am using the Knitter's pride Karbonz needles
  • A sharp tapestry needle

Instructions

  1. Cast on 144 with a tubular cast-on
  2. Round 1 - 40: *k1, p1*
  3. Try your work in progress on. Then, continue knitting until the hat is 23 cm long, then start with the decrease rounds.
  4. Decrease round 1: knit in pattern for 44 stitches, place a stitch marker, knit in pattern for 7 stitches, place a stitch marker, knit 45 stitches, place a stitch marker, and knit 48 and place another stitch marker.

    Consider shuffling stitches around so you don't have a stitch marker sitting at the very end of a row.
  5. Round 2: Knit all stitches as they appear until you are four stitches before the first marker, SSK, k1, p1, slip marker, knit in pattern across 7 stitches, slip marker, p1, k1, k2tog, continue until you are four stitches before the next marker, SSK, k1, p1, k1, k2tog, continue until you are four stitches before the last marker, SSK, k1, p1, k1, k2tog, finish the round.
  6. Round 3: Knit all stitches the way they appear. Be careful before and after the stitch markers. There are always two adjacent knit stitches. Don't accidentally purl one of them.
  7. Round 4: Knit all stitches as they appear until you are three stitches before the first marker, SSK, p1, slip marker, knit across 7, slip marker, p1, k2tog, continue until you are three stitches before the next marker, SSK, p1, k2tog, continue until you are three stitches before the last marker, SSK, p1, k2tog, finish the round.
  8. Round 5: Knit all stitches the way they appear. As you successfully reduced one rib on all sides, it should be *k1, p1* consistently.
    knitting a hat for beginners with circular needles
  9. From here, repeat rounds 2-5 until you have only one-third of your stitches left (e.g. 48 stitches, after 34 decrease rounds).
    Then, continue decreasing in every round (skipping round 3+5 from above) until you have only 24 stitches left. You may consider switching to double-pointed needles as it can be uncomfortable to knit those last rounds with circular needles.
  10. Last round: There will only be 2 stitches before and after some markers left. So, directly SSK/K2tog these respectively.
  11. Cut the yarn leaving a tail of 20 cm/ 8 in, tread it on a tapestry needle, pull it through all the remaining stitches on the needle, and remove the needles/markers as you go. Sew over once, and then weave in the tails. Pay attention that you weave in the cast-on tail on the right side as you will fold the brim.
    hat knitting pattern finished in green yarn

Notes

Consider blocking your finished work so your ribbing can shine in all its glory.

And last but not least, a picture of me wearing the hat in case you are wondering how it looks like on me (though you can also watch the video attached to this post).

me wearing the ribbed hat pattern

Anyway, that’s how to knit a hat. Comment below in case you have any questions.

how to knit a hat for beginners - a step by step tutorial for circular needles

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