Thursday, January 07, 2010


(or “How to get really, really good at ribbing,” or “Stashbuster hat”, or even, “What to do with those sock yarn leftovers”)

I’m pretty sure the title has been a dead giveaway. I see these types of hats all the time, available commercially in a far inferior form. Most sports team hats are of this ilk – a long doubled tube of stockinette stitch with the bottom half of the tube shoved up into the top half of the tube, all gathered together at the top and sewn shut, with a large pompom, and the wearer rolls up the bottom to fit the hat to his or her head. As I said, this is a much inferior version of the handmade type.

In the handmade version, the tube of the hat is made in the ribbing style of your choice, which creates a better fit and a much warmer hat; each end is rounded, not gathered, so there is no need for a pompom, which the wearer may not like; and because there is no sewed portion, the hat is completely reversible. And that’s not even counting how you can customize by yarn weight, fiber type, color, age/size of the person wearing the hat, and so on.

(Two AWTs, on the left is one made with worsted weight yarn, the one on the right is made with sock yarn)

Since I make a great many socks, I always have sock yarn leftovers, which has led to some hard-to-believe projects, like my afghans, but this is a great way to use up even shorter lengths or smaller quantities of leftovers. You can use any weight of yarn, and I really mean that.


Yarn leftovers (sock yarn, about 450 yards/5-6 oz. of bits; with other weights, I’d make sure I had a standard plastic shopping bag of bits). You will just add in as necessary, resulting in very pleasing striping.

Needles ONE size larger than the largest size recommended for that weight yarns, for example, socks are usually on 1’s and 2’s, so use 3’s; worsted weight is generally on 7’s or 8’s, so use 9’s.  Both a set of dpns and a 16” circular needle. If you don’t have a 16” circular needle, you can do the whole thing on dpns, but it will get very dreary after a while, and you might find you like these hats and want to make a raft of them with all your annoying leftovers, so don’t be afraid to go ahead and get the circ.

Sizes: (taken from the reference chart in Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns, a book which I think should be on every knitter’s reference shelf)

Preemie 15”
0-6 months 16.5”
6-18 months 18.5”
18 months – 4 years 20”
4 years to adult small 21”
Adult med/large 23”

OR your measured head size


Hat is worked with 10% negative ease because of the stretchiness of ribbing. This causes the hat to fit snugly, but not tightly, and spreads the ribbing attractively.

Swatch a 20 st wide test swatch in your chosen ribbing (1X1, 3X2, whatever). Knit until approximately square. Measure SLIGHTLY stretched (enough so you can see the all the purled stitches, but there is still a moderate amount of stretch left in the swatch).

Thinking it through:

Let’s say my head measurement is 22”. So, with the negative ease, I will want a finished measurement of about 20”.

I swatch in sock yarn, getting a slightly stretched width measurement of just under 3.5 inches. At 20 sts per 3.5 inches, this means I’m at 5.7 sts per inch or about 6 sts/in, rounding very slightly up. That is just fine for a ribbing hat.

I know I will need to increase up to 120 sts for a hat with a slightly stretched final circumference of 20”, in accordance with the negative ease mentioned above. When in doubt, add that extra stitch rather than subtracting it; ribbing is your friend in estimating without resulting in inadvertently creating a hat for a yeti.

Casting On and Knitting:

Leaving a tail of at least 6 inches, and using dpns, cast on no fewer than 4 stitches, depending on the ribbing you’ve swatched for. Join.

Try to avoid casting on too many stitches. I think 10 would be too many because then you have to “drawstring” it shut later. In my example, I cast on 5 for a 3X2 ribbing

1. K one row plain. Next row, K1, increase 1 st M1 style, repeat around. (10 sts)
2. K one row plain, next row, K2, increase 1 st M1 style, repeat around. (15 sts)
3. K one row plain, next row, K1, increase 1 st M1 style, repeat around. (30 sts)

Continue in this manner until you have enough stitches to do ALL the knit stitches in your chosen ribbing. Throw in an extra increase on a plain row if you need to, to make it come out right.

In my case, with a ribbing pattern which uses 3 knit and 2 purl stitches, and 120 stitches total, that’s going to be a total of 24 repeats around (120 sts/5 sts in each repeat = 24 repeats) when I get to the final number. So, I would continue the increasing until I have 72 (all the knit stitches I will need: 24 repeats x 3 knit sts = 72 sts) sts.

1. Knit one row plain
2. K3, M1 around (96 sts)
3. K 3, P1 around
4. K3, P1, M1 around (120 sts)
5. K3, P2 around

Knit in ribbing for an unspeakable amount of time. I am not kidding. Because the hat will be folded inside itself and then have a deep folded brim (which gives you FOUR layers over the ears), it will need to be extraordinarily long. The sheer bulk of all that folding takes up room, too, so it’ll be about 2 and 2/3 times as long as a normal hat measurement.

For example, according to Ann Budd’s book, an adult m/l hat would be 9” from beginning of hat to where you start the crown. For this hat, work 24” from starting point to where you begin the decreases. (The math: 2 x 9 = 18, plus 2/3 of 9 = 6, so that’s 18 + 6 = 24… Please, use a calculator if you want, or just keep inverting it and trying it on your head to prove it to yourself; I do both.)

(The sock yarn toque in all its glory prior to being folded into itself)

Nearly The Last Part:

Before beginning decreases, invert the long tube (which probably looks like a closed sleeve by now) so that you are looking at the wrong side of the cast on end, pull the yarn tail through to the inside of the hat, and weave through the starting stitches, pulling tight if necessary, and tie off. Just leave the string hanging there on the inside – no need to weave it in; you’ll never see it again.


Basically, you want to mirror the way you increased. Again using my 3X5 ribbing of 120 sts as an example:

1. K 3, P2 tog around (96 sts)
2. K3, P1 around
3. K2, SSK around (72 sts, all knit)
4. K around
5. K 1, SSK around (48 sts)
6. K around
7. K 2, SSK around (32 sts)

Etc. This does lead to a very rapid decrease, just as it led to a very rapid increase at the beginning. If you don’t like it, feel free to adjust with another variation, your choice. Sometimes I change it around myself, like using a slower increase/decrease w/ a swirl pattern.

When you have decreased to the same number of stitches that you cast on, cut yarn, leaving a 6” tail, pull through, tighten, tie off securely, and pull the tail into the inside of the hat.

You now have a long tube, closed at both ends, and it looks like I’ve been playing knitting pranks on you because it’s MUCH too long to be a hat, right? Grasp it in the middle, put your hand at one end, and shove that end all the way inside the other side of the tube. Fold from what is now the opening (at the former middle) up about 1/3 of the way up the hat and put it on your head, adjusting the doubled bottom edge according to your tastes.

Warm enough to keep you toasty while waiting at a Chicago bus stop for your bus, which, in accordance with Murphy’s Law of Buses, does not arrive for 45 minutes. If you’re also wearing handmade wooly socks inside your boots, you’ll seem as tough as an Emperor penguin, babysitting its egg at the Antarctic, to all your freezing, envious bus stop cohorts. Heh, heh, heh!