Vintage baby hat knitting pattern

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It’s a looong time since I posted a tutorial or even anything particularly crafty… but I finally have something to contribute, and time to write it up!

Going through a box of family hand-me-downs and heirlooms, I found this adorable red wool cap, which belonged to one of my aunties as a child. I love the shape and detailing, and resolved to figure out how to make it. My mother pointed out that it’s basically a sock heel, and after looking at some flap heel tutorials online, I understood how the hat was constructed. Here’s how I made my own. It’s more of a how-to than a pattern per se, but I don’t really like knitting patterns that only work if you’re using that exact yarn.

This is a great project for a knitter who’s mastered flat knitting and the basic stockinette and rib stitches, and is ready to try a little shaping. It’s quite easy, much easier than a sock, I think – plus you don’t have to have two of them turn out the same! And there’s something a little magic about the way it comes together. If I mention any techniques here that aren’t clear to you, look them up on Google or leave a question. And please believe me: I am NOT a very skilled or well-trained knitter. If you’re an expert, by all means, tactfully correct my errors. If you’re a novice, know that if I can do this, you probably can too!

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What you’ll need

One skein of yarn – your choice. I like bulky yarns, and this hat certainly works up well in a bulky yarn.

A pair of straight needles or a long-ish circular needle one or two sizes smaller than the size recommended on the wrapper for your yarn

A pair of needles one size larger than the size you’re using, just to cast on with  – nice, but not necessary.*

A yarn needle

Yarn of another color, for detailing

To make the knit of this hat nice and firm and warm, I’ve used smaller needles than recommended on the yarn label. This makes the knit tighter. The one in the pictures is made with Baby Alpaca Grande yarn. The label suggests 10.5s, and I knit it with 9s. That came out well, but it would have been a little better on size 8s, I think. I’m making another one now with Noro Iro yarn, which is recommended for use with size 10 needles; I’m using 7s and it’s coming out just fine, not too tight or stiff.

* I find that if I cast on directly onto the needles I’ll be working with, especially when I’m starting out in rib knit, that cast-on edge is a little tighter than the rest of the knit and thus pulls in a bit. This works OK on the hat – the cast-on edge frames the face, so the tighter edge just pulls it in around the face. But I did choose to cast on with a larger needle in starting my second hat, to get a nice straight edge. You can take either approach – or just do what you’d normally do and see how it turns out.

Measurements

You need two measurements to make this hat. First, measure the head you’re hoping to fit from the jawline a little forward of the ear, up over the forehead, and down to the same place on the other cheek. (Visualize where the front edge of the hat will fit; that’s the measurement you want.) On my baby daughter, this was about 12 inches. On my 4-year-old son, it’s about 14 inches. Next, measure – or at least eyeball – from the upper forehead back to the peak of the head, where the curve of the skull turns downward.

Gauge swatch

Knit a gauge swatch of 20 stitches in rib knit (1×1 or 2×2, your choice), with your yarn on your chosen needles. This is important for sizing, and it’s also a good chance to make sure the combination of your needles and yarn produces a nice firm knit, neither too tight nor too loose. Knit for at least six or eight rows, then measure to see how wide your swatch is.

My gauge swatch for the green hat was 20 stitches in 1×1 rib knitted for about eight rows & bound off. It came out to just shy of 4 inches. So for 12 inches, I need around 60 stitches – I’ll add a few and call it 64. (For my son’s hat, in Noro Iro on size 7s, I cast on 70 stitches.)

Mapping the hat

The 64 stitches/12 inches is both sides and the top of the hat. After about the first eight rows, I will bind off both sides and continue with just the top, so I need to figure out now how many stitches that will be.

The top of the hat should be a little less than 1/3 of the total number of stitches. For the green hat, I had 20 stitches on top, and bound off 22 stitches on either side, after knitting the front edge:

[---side of hat, 22 st --- top of hat, 20 st --- side of hat, 22 st ---]

I think those proportions made the top slightly wider than I wanted. For my son’s hat, I made the top slightly narrower relative to the sides – I think this will come out a bit better.

[---side of hat, 25 st --- top of hat, 20 st --- side of hat, 25 st ---]

Edit: As I work along on my son’s hat, I’m thinking the top is *still* a little wider than I want. It will fit & look fine, but the proportions don’t quite satisfy me. I wish I’d done 16 instead of 20. I would say the top should  be between 1/4 and 1/5 of your total cast-on stitches… whatever makes your numbers come out neatly.

Knitting the front edge

Cast on the right number of stitches, as determined by your measurements and gauge swatch. Leave a long tail; you’ll use it later for sewing. (Remember, you may choose to cast on with a slightly larger needle! As soon as you start knitting, use the needles you plan to use throughout.)

Knit in 1×1 or 2×2 rib for about 8 rows.

NOTE: I want the ends of this piece to be nice and neat – they will show. For the green version, I made sure it ended with knit stitches at each end, but wasn’t quite satisfied with that. For the next one, I added an extra knit stitch at each end, to try to give it a nice tidy stockinette edge. So in 2×2 rib, I knit k3 – p2 – k2 – p2 – (etc.) – p2 – k3. (That’s on the right side – the right side being defined by the side with knit stitches on the ends!)

Casting off the sides

When this ribbed edge is between 1 and 1 1/2 inches wide (proportional to the size of the hat – a wider edge for a larger hat), finish a wrong-side row, then knit and cast off the right number of stitches for one of the hat’s sides – for my green hat, that was 22 stitches. Do all your cast-off stitches knitwise, rather than keeping up the rib pattern.

A tip: I like using a crochet hook for casting off. I just use it instead of the right-hand needle. It makes it very easy to make the stitch, then immediately pull the stitch through the previous stitch to do the casting-off.

When you’re done, the number of active stitches still on your needles should equal the stitches for one side and the top. Knit across the number of stitches you’ll use for the top (for my green hat, 20 stitches). Then continue in the rib stitch for the rest of the row.

Turn your work and begin the wrong-side row. Now you’re going to cast off the other side of the front edge. Do your cast-off stitches purlwise so they’ll match the knitwise cast-off you did on the other side. Continue casting off until the number of active stitches equals the number you want for the top of the hat. Those stitches will be in the middle of the long rib piece. Purl across those stitches and turn your work.

The hat with side ribbing cast off and top flat partially knit.

Side ribbing cast off, top flat partially knit

Knitting the top of the hat

Now you’ll knit in stockinette (knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side), slipping the first stitch of every row. (So for my 20-stitch hat top, sl1 – k19; sl 1 – p19; sl1 – k19; etc.) You’re creating a simple flap that will be the top of the hat. Keep going until the distance from the front edge of the ribbing, to the end of the flap, is about the same as the measurement you took from the forehead to the peak of the head of the intended hat recipient.

Picking up the side stitches

This seems like the tricky bit, but it’s actually quite easy and creates a very cool effect! Finish a right-side (knit) row. Then pick up stitches down the side of the flap you’ve just knit. (Picking up stitches just means that you’re going to treat a loop of yarn in the knit fabric as an active stitch by picking it up on a needle and knitting or purling into it. It’s easy, and the slipped stitches on the edges of the top flap will create nice big well-defined stitches for you to work with.The far edge of those edge stitches will be curling under to the purl side of the flap. Just stick your left needle under one of those loops and knit into it, then do the next one. Do that all the way down the side of the flap, then pick up one more stitch right in the corner between the ribbing and the flap, to make sure you don’t leave a hole.

This basic process is illustrated beautifully, for a sock heel flap, on Youtube in a video entitled “Kelley’s Sock Class, Gusset, Part 1.” I recommend it to you.

Hat with stitches picked up on one side of top flap.

Stitches picked up on one side of top flap

Turn your work and purl all the way across all these newly-picked-up stitches and the top flap stitches. Then pick up stitches along the other side of the top flap, purling into each stitch, and again picking up a final stitch right in the corner between the flap and the ribbing.

It may be a bit of a stretch to get all these stitches on your needle. You are essentially forcing three sides of a square into a straight line, after all. But it should be do-able, and the tension in the stitches will ease up after another couple of rows.

Knit across all stitches, then turn your work and purl across. It doesn’t matter much how many stitches you have at this point, as long as you’ve done a good job of picking up stitches all the way along both sides of the top flap. Continue knitting on the RS and purling on the WS, across all the stitches. You’re knitting down the sides of the hat now. Keep it up for an inch or so, then look at the next steps.

Shaping the back of the hat (optional)

When it seems like you’ve knit down enough to reach where the back of the head comes in (try it on the recipient’s head, if possible, or just eyeball it), you may choose to make some reducing stitches to shape the hat so that it follows the back of the head. To do this neatly, find the center of your work (mark it with a bit of yarn on the needle, or a stitch marker), and do the reducing stitches about an inch out on either side of it.

Coming across on a right-side (knit) row, you’ll do an ssk stitch on the right side of your middle marker, and a k2tog (knit 2 together) stitch on the left side of your middle marker. Both of these are pretty easy and worth knowing, so if they’re not familiar stitches, look them up & try them out. But this shaping, while nice, is not necessary; you can skip it and have the back of the hat be straight, too.

Somewhat sloppy back shaping (with finished back ribbing)

Back shaping (with finished back ribbing)

Final ribbing

As you knit down the sides and back of the hat, occasionally measure the sides of the hat against the ribbing you knit at the beginning, by folding the ribbing down to lie alongside the knit side of the hat.

When the side of the hat is about 1 to 1 1/2 inches shorter than the ribbing, you’ll change to a rib stitch to finish the sides and back. Use the same rib pattern (1×1 or 2×2) that you used for the front edge. Continue knitting in the rib pattern until the sides are the same length as the front edge ribbing, then cast off. (It’s useful, but not necessary, to finish off so that the yarn end will be on the opposite side of the hat from the tail you created when casting on, way back at the beginning. That just means you’ll have yarn handy for sewing the hat together on both sides.)

The hat with all knitting finished - ready to sew together.

Finishing

Using either the yarn tails from your casting-on and casting-off, or another short piece of your yarn, thread your yarn needle and sew the front edge ribbing to the side of the hat. Tie off and trim the yarn tails.

I loved the decoration on the original red wool vintage hat, so I used a light-colored yarn and the surface chain method (with a crochet hook) to add a similar design to the green hat.

Add the closure of your choice. For the green hat, I picked up 4 stitches on one front corner of the hat and knit a chin strap, using small needles (size 6s, I think) and garter stitch to make it a firm, flat knit. I knit it long enough to cross under the baby’s chin and overlap the other side of the hat by about 1.5 inches. Then I sewed hook-and-loop material to the hat and strap, to create a hook-and-loop closure, and added a vintage button on the outside end of the strap for looks. I didn’t want a tie closure on the baby hat – paranoid about strangulation hazards! For my son’s hat, though, I’ll probably just pick up three stitches on each front corner and do an I-cord tie.

Enjoy! And I’d love to see what you do – or hear about your improvements to this basic pattern.

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6 Responses to “Vintage baby hat knitting pattern”

  1. Emma Says:

    It’s beautiful! And a beautiful model too :)

  2. Rachel Says:

    Aww, this is darling! I just clicked over via WhipUp and I’m so glad I did. I would love to link to this if you didn’t mind.

  3. Ren Says:

    Gorgeous, I love it! I wonder if I can manage to size it up to a big girl sized hat for myself… :3

  4. weirdbird Says:

    Thanks for the comments – so glad you like it! Rachel, you’re welcome to link it – your site looks terrific!
    Ren, I think it would size up just fine – it’s a pretty flexible pattern, you just have to get the measurements and proportions about right. Make one & try it out!

  5. herzliebster Says:

    Is that the Bean? So cute!

  6. 10 cool baby things « thrifted. Says:

    [...] Vintage baby hat knitting pattern from Weird bird in love. I dig this. She created it from an heirloom piece. I probably wouldn’t do whatever that blue embroidery is, because I think the pattern is really cute on its own. And I strongly stand by my opnion that helmets, bonnets or earflap hats are much more attractive on babies than beanies. [...]

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