Hats. I've been thinking about hats.
I won't bore you with all my musings just yet. However, I will note that they are excellent projects for using up small quantities of stash yarns, especially when you're not sure if you have quite enough for a pair (of socks, mittens, wristers, etc.). Hats make good travel knitting. They are fun to knit for quick gifts. And they are a classic for many of the charity-knitting projects out there.
Given that, I thought I'd share one of my standard no-pattern hats that I've been making lately. Some of them are photographed here.
I started making these hats because I had all these small skeins of handspun yarn in my stash. Many were dyeing experiments, or small quantities of variegated roving that had somehow made a home in my fiber stash. The handspun yarn batches were all roughly 2 ounces, give or take a bit. All were variegated, though most of the variegation was fairly subtle.
Hey, I like dyeing and spinning that kind of stuff. Only later do I wonder what to do with all the one-bobbin's worth of variegated yarn skeins that I end up with.
Anyway, I ended up knitting a bunch of hats. Since I wasn't in the mood for extensive planning and swatching, I made them simple.
Yes, this is a very basic ribbed hat. It requires no real swatching, just some vague idea of what your gauge might end up being. It's very elastic, and thus will fit a variety of head sizes. It's long enough to have a folded-up brim, which I find essential in a winter hat. The length of the brim doesn't really matter -- it depends entirely on how much yarn you end up using, plus the head size and preference of the wearer.
Given the flexibility of the pattern, it's a good one for charity knitting, and for stockpiling in case you unexpectedly need a hat for a gift or for a guest.
Generic Ribbed Hat
If you already have a good ribbed hat pattern, you probably won't be interested in this. If you don't, here's the way to do it. You don't need a pattern, just a basic template or recipe.
Pick some yarn. You'll need roughly 2 ounces. A little more is fine, a little less will work, too. Pick any kind of yarn you want -- solid, variegated, thick-and-thin, whatever. Feel free to strand two or more kinds of yarn together. I tend to do that for my thinner handspun, since I wanted these hats to be fairly quick knits. You can also change yarns every now and then if you like doing that sort of thing.
I have found that a single 50g ball of yarn may or may not be enough. It depends on the yardage, which of course depends on the yarn thickness. You may end up with a rather short hat.
Pick an appropriate circular needle. Have a rough idea of what your gauge is going to be. I usually go for worsted weight, more or less -- anything from Aran to DK weight, usually working up at 4.5 stitches per inch (for the Aran weight) to 5.5 stitches per inch (for the DK weight).
Cast on about 20" worth of stitches, rounded to a multiple of 4. Calculate this by using your gauge estimate; it may be anywhere from about 80 to 120 stitches unless you're working with fingering weight or finer yarn. When I cast on, I don't fret if I end up casting on a few more or less as long as I have a multiple of 4. Hats can vary in size from about 18" to 22", depending on the head size of the recipient. Anyway, these hats are stretchy.
Join the cast-on and start ribbing -- *k2, p2*, ad infinitum.
As the hat grows longer, you can measure your actual gauge and thus confirm that the hat will fit. If you're using 2 strands or variegated or textured yarn, you can decide if you like the fabric. If you don't like the fabric or you think the hat will be too small or too big, unravel and start over. It was a gauge swatch, no big deal. You should also confirm that you're making a tube. It's annoying to accidentally put a twist into your knitting, but definitely better to realize your mistake sooner rather than later.
Eventually, you will be near the end of your yarn, or perhaps your patience. It's time to decrease the top of the hat and finish it.
I do different kinds of decrease patterns, depending on how long the hat is and how much yarn I have left. If I'm low on yarn and the hat is fairly small, I do very few decrease rounds, as few as two or three. If the hat is longer and I have more yarn, I might stretch it out over 6-10 rounds.
The fastest decrease is to do a round of *k2tog, p2tog*, followed by a round of *ssk*, and then rounds of *k2tog* until you're down to 12 or fewer stitches. This will make a very gathered-looking top, but it fits well.
If you have a bit more yarn, do a round of *k2tog, p2tog*, followed by a round of *k1, p1*, then a round of *ssk*, then a plain round of knitting, then *k2tog* until you're down to the last few stitches. You can separate some or all of the *k2tog* rounds by a round of plain knitting if you prefer.
The longest method is to do a round of *k2, p2tog*, followed by a round (or rounds) of *k2, p1*. Then, do a round of *k2tog, p1* (or *ssk, p1*), followed by a round (or rounds) of *k1, p1*. Then, do a round of *ssk*, followed by a round or two of plain knitting. Finally, do rounds of *k2tog*, separated by plain rounds or not as you wish, until you're down to those last few stitches.
To finish off, run the yarn end through those last few stitches, pull snug, and hide all ends.
If you're the kind of person who likes pompoms or I-cord or tassels, by all means go ahead and add them to your hat.
This isn't the only kind of generic hat I knit. I tend to use these kinds of mental templates for basic hat structures, plugging in various kinds of stitch or color patterns as the mood strikes. I tend to do that with most other knitted items, too. I suspect that many knitters are similar in their approach to basic hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, socks, etc.