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.
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).
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 very easy to handle. This pattern is perfectly suitable for advanced beginners.
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
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:
- ~roughly 300 meters/yarns of yarn; if you are using DK weight yarn you’ll be fine with 100 grams for most sizes. With fingering yarn, you will only need around 70 grams. I am using the Tibetan yarn by Pascuali (A yak yarn & merino blend)
- circular knitting needles matching your yarn weight (3.5mm – 4.5 mm for dk; 2.0 to 2.5 for fingering). I am using the Knitter’s Pride Karbonz in this tutorial in the size 3.5 mm
- sharp tapestry needle
- Measuring tape
- Stitch markers
- pins (for blocking)
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- Divide the stitches you counted by the length you measured (e.g. 13st/5cm = 2.6 st/cm).
- Multiply that factor times the circumference of your head (e.g. 2.6 st/cm * 57 cm = 148 st).
- 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
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:
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
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
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
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.
Round 0: 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 1: 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, slip marker, k1, k2tog, continue until you are four stitches before the last marker, SSK, k1, p1, slip marker, 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, slip marker, k2tog, continue until you are three stitches before the last marker, SSK, p1, slip marker, 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- Around 300 yards (100g) of DK weight yarn in the color and quality of your choice
- DPNS or circular needles 3.5 mm. I am using the Knitter's pride Karbonz needles
- A sharp tapestry needle
- Cast on 144 with a tubular cast-on
- Round 1 - 40: *k1, p1*
- Try your work in progress on. Then, continue knitting until the hat is 23 cm long, then start with the decrease rounds.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Round 5: Knit all stitches the way they appear. As you successfully reduced one rib on all sides, it should be *k1, p1* consistently.
- 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.
- Last round: There will only be 2 stitches before and after some markers left. So, directly SSK/K2tog these respectively.
- 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.
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).
49 thoughts on “How to knit a hat”
Thank you so much. Your instructions are so clear . I will be making this hat or two for Christmas gifts.
feel free! And make sure to come back any time in case you need any help
Awesome website with so much helpful info! This is THE hat I’ve been looking for forever! Classy looking, good for anyone. Excellent work and thanks for sharing.
Thank you for the great directions…your sample looks great…
This is such a lovely pattern! Can’t wait to see how it knits up.
I tried following the decreases and it says in several places to knit to 3 stitches before marker, but then has 5 stitch needs (ssk, k1, p1, k1, k2 tog). Did you mean to knit to 5 stitches before, or to finish the instructions on the other side of the marker?
Yes, you need to slip the marker.
thank you so much for this pattern! It was a perfect way to get better at knitting while using up some stash yarn. I really love your tutorials, they really go the extra mile. Not just explaining basic things, but getting us hobby knitters to mastery.
I noticed that in the decrease section you have Round 2 twice. What you mean is probably for the setup round of the decreases (the one where the markers are placed) to act as Round 0, if that makes sense.
Ah caroline, that is obviously a typo. Thx for catching it!! Yes, the setup is round 0. I changed it.
You’re doing a great job explaining all these things to beginners. I just finished a hat for my hubby using your instructions and I really like it 🙂
I watched some of your videos and I like the work you’re doing. Struggled a bit before with decreasing, but thanks to you my knitting is looking a lot better.
Very happy to hear that, Mireal!
This is the best explanation of how to decrease a hat! My hat turned out perfectly! Thanks so much for great instructions!
very happy to hear that & you are very welcome, Jang!
Norman, do you wear the 1×1 rib stitch beginner hat with the 7 untouched rows in the front or the back?
I wear it with these rows in the front. Thought that was clear from the picture. But if it wasn’t, now you know. Still, wear it any way you like 🙂
The free patterns (hat, gloves) seem to require subscribing. I was already a subscriber, but subscribed 2x more to get those patterns. Is that the right way to go about it?
all new patterns are always sent out to loyal subscribers. But I am also setting up a patreon account as we speak (will be another 4 weeks or so) for a complete pattern library.
I loved the design and method of decreasing. Great, thorough instructions, as always! My hat came out just as envisioned.
very happy to hear that, nona!
hi! may i ask if you meant 4 stitch markers (in the decrease section)? according to the diagram and your instructions, there seem to be only 4 points with stitch markers. in that case, won’t the final k1, k2tog be protruding into the next round?
I don’t quite understand? There are 4 stitch markers and 4 decreases? so, I am not sure what you mean?
Thanks so much for the awesome pattern! I have one question: For option 3 of the decrease (classic 4 way decrease), should I decrease around the beginning of round marker, or only the three markers placed after every 36 stitches in round 1?
No, after every marker, so that included the start of your round. It’s called 4-way decrease for a reason *grin*
Thank you!!! 🙂
This is a great tutorial for beginners! I’m a beginner knitter myself and this was really helpful.
Hey there, for option 3, once you’ve decreased to half the number of stitches, it says to decrease in every row….. should this be four stitches before the marker as in round 2 or three stitches before the marker as in round 4 (I’ll soon be up to this part so it may be obvious at that point)?
you just continue that pattern. So basically you skip rounds 1+3.
If I started a hat by casting on a number that is not divisible by 6, can I adapt this decrease method somehow? I came to this pattern after my hat was already close to the decreasing stage. I have 1×1 ribbing, 136 stitches!
I think for this hat I will use one of your other decrease methods, but I’m curious to know if I could make this method work.
Just start with one row that decreases to a number divisible by 6 and you should be fine 🙂
so, there will be one row with only 4 or so decreases but nobody will ever notice that.
Oh that will be easy! Thanks so much!
Hello Norman! My name is Heidi and I am a fantastic crochet-er but knitting has always been so difficult for me. And I think it was because of my tension and so forth but your videos helped me, so thank you!
I am writing you because 1 I want to thank you so much for your tutorials they are amazing.
And because 2 I am knitting my daughter this hat.
So my issue is I don’t know how many stitches I need for her head. I did the swatch and I found that in 2 inches I need 10 st.
Her head measures 18 in or 46.5 cm
I think my math is off. Could you help?
Her head measures 46.5 cm and so divide 10/46.5 it comes to 0.21
Multiply 46.5 x .21= 9.76
Multiple of 6 is 1.6
😬🙈🙈🙈🙈 what am I doing wrong. Plz help.
Also thank you for being so patient with me! 😊
I am not sure you are following my math correctly and I would advise you to re-read my pattern diligently. I do feel you skipped various sections or did not read them fully. Both your comment and you contacting me via dm clearly show this. Also, mixing measurements of inches and centimeter in the same calculation is probably not a good idea but I am sure you had your reasons.
1) 10st / 5 cm =2st/cm
2) 46.5cm * 2st/cm = 93 st
3) round down -> 90 stitches
So, please, go back to step one, watch the video and re-read the pattern. When I say this, I don’t say it because I am lazy and don’t want to answer comments but because I feel it is the solution and source of a problem. And DON’T just cast-on 90 stitches because I invested 3 seconds as an example.
I’m new to knitting and have done the required garter scarf etc 😄 and am looking forward to getting stuck into something I’ll actually want to wear or use!
My question is, after the 1×1 rib brim, could I change to stocking stitch rather than knitting the whole thing in 1×1 rib? Just to make the decreasing easier for my first project in the round. What would you recommend? I have DK 100% Alpaca yarn and 4mm needles.
Thanks in advance for your help!
I so LOVE your website and tutorials!! I was taught English knitting and could never get the hang of tensioning the wool through my fingers until I learnt the Continental way from you and I find it works so much better so thanks heaps!
you could certainly do that. Do know, however, that stockinette stitch is not as stretchy. So, the fit of the hat will definitely be different.
You mention doing a “flat” swatch, will my swatch still work even though I’ll be knitting in the round? Double checking as recently learned to make a “fake” in the round swatch – which I’d rather NOT do. Or should I do a proper 4/5 dpn swatch? My hats have always turned out too big or two small when I stick to pattern measurements.
Well, maybe this post will help you: https://nimble-needles.com/tutorials/is-getting-gauge-an-illusion/
I wouldn’t worry too much about a swatch in the round. That will be quite the bother. Rather, take a good guess, start knitting, check after 20 rounds and if you are indeed off, well the adjust things.
You “fake” round swatch wills till not be perfect but soo much more time consuming to produce.
Things will be different if you were to knit a very intricate sweater etc…but for a hat. no. I don’t do that.
Morning from a very wet and dark Scotland.
Sorry, but I think my brain has gone to mush – when I get to 1/3rd of stitches left – do I decrease every row till I get to 18 if I want a relatively close fitting hat with following the instructions for the cast on sts being divisible by 6?
I’m determined to make a hat that actually fits!
Thanks for all your enthusiasm x
Not sure I understand your question completely, Clara. But maybe download the pattern. There is an option for a close-fitting hat in it
Thank you for the pattern and for sharing your knowledge. I have learned to make double decreases on 1×1 ribbing thanks you you!
I think there is an error in the instructions for the Classic 4-way decrease option, though. I think the number of stitches cast on must be a multiple of 16, not a multiple of 8. I know that with each decrease row, 8 stitches are decreased (one on each side of the center. But across the four (or two) rows of decreasing, 16 stitches are lost to decreases. In order to end up with 16 on the needles when you are very nearly at the end… you must start with a multiple of 16.
well, you are somewhat right. But you don’t have to knit that final round 5. So yes, round 2-5 decreases by 16 stitches, but if you cast-on a number not divisible by 16, you just skip the final round 8.
Casting on multiples of 16 would limit your choice of yarn and needle by quite a bit. 16 stitches is a lot..in most cases more than a size.
Hello, I saw your video on how to knit ribbings neater and saw that you suggest knitting or purling through the back loop. Would it be a good idea to try it here too? E.g.: knit back loop, purl front loop, knit back loop, purl front loop, etc.
well…you can certainly give it a try but it WILL change your gauge drastically. Also, the hat will than have a rightside and a wrong side (can be a pro or a con)
Fair point, I will skip it then. Thank you!
Thank you so much for your helpful videos and articles! I am new to continental-style knitting and your videos and tips have been really helpful. I am anxious to try a project but when I discovered this hat’s ribbing requires continuously alternating knit and purl stitches I got so discouraged as I am not smooth in that transition whatsoever. I find it very challenging in fact. I was surprised that this hat is a beginner level…are beginners that nimble with the 1×1 rib?? Yikes!
well, this is a beginner-hat-level. Not total beginner, more like advanced beginner.
But if you find it to challenging, give it a rest and do a practise piece in between.
Hi Norman, I appreciate the clarity of your instructions. I read your post evaluating different needles, and I’m ready to buy but 2 questions: 1. what length circular needle is best for this hat project (e.g. 40 cm(16″)?)? and 2. what length of dpn (15 cm or 20 cm)? Thank you!
This is Susan again. I should have added: I’m getting DPN just for the last rounds of the hat, per your suggestion. So for that, what length of DPN do you suggest? Thank you.
If you just need the dpns for the last rounds, 15cm will be perfect. You can later use these for sock knitting as well. Circulars, I personally prefer longer cables so (32″). But some actually use much shorter ones.
Personally i get the neatest results with relatively long cords – at least for magic loop.
Finished the hat. Ribbing turned out is super good following your tip to yank the purl stich.
Lost track a bit during reductions, so something to improve next time. One thing that took me a while to figure out is that the stich marker should be just after purl stich else the fourth stitch before the marker is not a knit stich. Great pattern and video tutorial, thanks a lot.