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February 7, 2013

I like big hats and I cannot lie, you other brothers can't deny ...

This was The Winter Of Many Hats. In Los Angeles, "winter" is more symbolic than actual. It's a time of the year when other people have harsh weather and we pay tribute to them by wearing an indoor scarf and buying a new pair of Uggs.

A few weeks ago we had a bitter cold snap -- one day it was an inhospitable 59℉! And then the city immediately experienced a mini-summer, which is also part of winter, with afternoon highs in the 80s. The mini-summer which happens every January is our native cue for mass exfoliation and a reminder that bathing suit season is two weeks away.

It's the mornings that catch you off guard in this city. At night the temperature drops and by early morning it's just above freezing. When I went for a walk this morning I wore my hand-knitted beanie in the arctic 42℉ morning air. So you can see that everyone needs a knitted hat, even in Los Angeles.

My love for hat knitting hasn't waned a bit. Is there anything finer than a winter's evening spent settling in with a glass of wine, a delicious yarn and a Tivo full of Scandal episodes? I think not. When Olivia Pope is on the move my attention is glued to the screen (her opera-length white gloves!!!) (which she wears to the hospital!) and even after years of knitting I can't concentrate on a complicated knit pattern and watch TV at the same time. The simplicity of the knitted hat is just perfect.

Luckily my family is filled with brothers and uncles and cousins and nephews who live in far-flung places and love to wear my hand-knitted hats. I favor beanies and the standard 1x1 ribbed-brim cap in solids and dark washable yarns, but sometimes I go off the reservation and make wacky caps in stripy yarns.

For Christmas I made a pile of cozy hats:

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Roll-brim, hipster slouchies, 1x1 brim and beanies oh my!

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My current Noro fave: Noro Iro from my home yarn emporium (stash room).

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So much help.

The very best part of the holiday was getting all the family text messages with selfies of the recipients wearing my hand-knitted hats:

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Adorable Andrew and super-handsome Brett

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Hipster Cool Eric

Beginning knitters often feel wary of the hat-- the circular needles, the double-pointed bit at the end (or beginning, though I always knit my hats bottom up.) But basic hats are ridiculously easy and so fast you can make one a day.

Here are my recommendations for knitting a great hat:

1) Measure the noggin!
Measure your head or recipient's head and subtract 1 inch or 1.5 inches -- that's about the perfect size for a hat. Example: Your head is 23.5 inches around the noggin, ergo you should make a hat that's about 22" around. It isn't a party at my house until someone is measuring their cranium.

2) You can knit a simple hat from ANY yarn.
Once you know how many inches to knit, you can use any yarn. Knit up a quick swatch of your chosen yarn on any size needle you like, measure the gauge. Multiple stitches per inch by the noggin measurement -- that's your cast on number. Example: If you get 4 stitches per inch and you want a 22" hat, cast on 88 stitches.

3) When in doubt...
When in doubt, always cast on less stitches than more stitches.

4) Decreasing isn't hard.
Shaping a hat shape is so easy -- just decrease stitches evenly across the final rounds. I wrote a whole manifesto on it. But don't take decreasing too seriously. Here's the best trick I know: Once you've figured out where and when to decrease, place a marker after every decrease. Now you know that you don't have to count stitches or look for the telltale hump of a knit-two-together stitch. Just knit and when you see a marker, work the decrease on the two stitches in front of it.

5) Find a formula that works for you.
I tend to cast on hats using 88, 77, or 66 inches (depending on the yarn.) I like a 1x1 rib on the brim and I really love the easy decrease math of these numbers. If for some reason my hat needs different math, I will often decrease subtly to the nearest easy number (say, knitting down from 79 stitches to 77) and then place my markers and start my hat's descent into smallness.Don't be afraid to try new things on hats -- they're small and easy projects to experiment with.

6) Invest in a few great needles.
I LOVE the 16" Harmony wood circulars from Knitpicks. The needle portion is shorter than other brands, which works really well for hat knitting. Just find something that works for you. A good rule of thumb for a worsted weight hat is a size 7 16" circular plus a set of size 7 dpns.

And here are some things you may find useful when knitting a hat:

• The easy roll-brim hat pattern, the basis of all my hat recipes

Working with circular needles

• A little diatribe on decreasing stitches

• Great for chunky yarns: The Brangelina hat

• My regular ribbed-brim hat recipe

Hats are the best. I think I've gotten the hardcore hat phase out of my system (for now) and I'm onto wristies, so be sure to look forward to my scathing expose on the thumb gusset. Film footage at eleven!

Posted by laurie at February 7, 2013 7:00 AM