Design Guidelines for Quickie Caps

Caps are a popular choice for quick gifts and for charity knitting. They're easy to design and fun to plunge into without a specific pattern on hand. Here are some things I've learned that may help you with your designs.


Adult head sizes are from about 20 to 24 inches around, including hair--they may be quite a lot smaller without. Kids' heads range from maybe 16 inches up to adult size, and for babies down to around 12 inches for full term newborns. Caps should usually be designed at or just smaller than the actual measurement, so they stretch a bit when worn, so they'll stay on and keep ears warm. The height of a cap as worn is about 6 to 8 inches, from eyebrow to top of crown.

Yarn Choice

Of course, anything goes here! But if knitting for a charity, do ask if they have a particular requirement. Often they will specify that the caps must be machine-washable. But if it's for children in a very cold climate, the request might be for wool only.

Chemo caps are a special case. Very soft yarns are a good choice, especially chenilles. Ease of washing is important. Besides daytime wear for warmth or looks, chemo patients may appreciate a very thin, soft cap for sleeping, as their scalps may be sore or tender.

Charity knitting may be a good way to use up leftover or undesirable yarn. But I find that I enjoy knitting charity caps more if the yarn is a fairly nice one in pretty colors, and I'm sure the recipients will enjoy the same qualities.

Styles of caps

It's smart to observe what children are wearing--especially teenagers! Kids have a sharply-developed sense of what's fashionable and what's not, and the success of your project may well depend on its social acceptability. See below for ways to decrease for the tops.

Rolled Brim: My teenage nieces call these "beanies." A plain knit tube will roll up at the bottom for an inch or more, making a simple brim. Knit an inch and a half in main or contrast color, or in stripes (remembering that the reverse side will show), before beginning any color design. Go another four to six inches, then decrease for the top.

Watchcap with folded cuff: This is a classic design, well-fitting and warm for all weather. A vertically ribbed cap of 9 inches or more in height can be turned up to form a cuff. K1P1 rib in navy blue is the sailor's classic, but K2P2 looks great, too. You might shift to plain knitting for the top shaping, but consider decreasing in rib. Color stripes are nice on these; to make a smooth line at the color change (not showing the interlocking colors), do the first row of the new color in knit stitch, rather than the rib pattern. Of course, if this is on the upturned part, then make it a purl row instead.

Snug pullon: A narrow ribbed edge keeps the cap snug, while the main body can express various kinds of color or pattern stitches. At the moment, I'm seeing tight caps like these on teenagers of both sexes. An inch or an inch and a half of ribbing (1x1 or 2x2) is sufficient to keep the cap on. Add stitches for the plain knit portion, which will not pull in as much--say 1 stitch for every 3 or 4 stitches in the ribbing--or knit the body on a larger needle than the ribbing.

Method of knitting

Most basic caps can either be knitted in the round (on circular needles or double-points) or back-and-forth on two needles and seamed. For the latter, an extra stitch at each edge should be added to allow for seaming. Each method has its advantages.

Circular: No seam. This is better for caps that will have a rolled or turned-up cuff. I confess to being a devoted circular knitter.

Cuff-up two-needles: Garter stitch is easier. No "jog" at the change of round; color and texture patterns can be lined up perfectly.

Sideways: Easier to do vertical stripes. Interesting novelty. Requires seaming or grafting.

Tapering Tops

There's a lot of leeway in how the top of a cap may be formed--but remember that your choice will affect the total length of the cap.

Gathering: This is the simplest, though it will eat up some length and is bulky on top. Do one round or row of severe decreases such as (k2, k2tog) around, knit a row or two plain, then pull the tail yarn through the remaining stitches an pull them together. Run the yarn through the circle again for strength and tie off.

Spiral decreases: Work a decrease at regular intervals (at six, seven, or eight points around the cap) every other round. For the final few decreases, work them every round to avoid making a little point at the tip. An example for a cap on a multiple of twelve stitches (say, on 72, 84, or 96 sts): Rnd 1: (k 10, k2tog) around. Rnd 2: knit. Rnd 3: (k9, k2tog) around. Rnd 4: knit. And so on, reducing the number of K stitches each time. Then when you're down to (k3, k2tog) around, stop doing a plain round between the decrease rounds. Go all the way to (k2tog) around, then run the yarn through remaining stitches and tie off.

If you decrease at 8 points around the hat, the top will be flat; at 7 points, slightly domed; at 6 points, fairly rounded.

Decreasing ribs: The trick with ribs is to work decreases while maintaining the ribbed pattern. With 1x1 ribs, decreases worked in a spiral manner as above will work nicely.

With 2x2 ribs try this: When the body of the cap is long enough, p2tog in each of the purl sections. Knit maybe 5 rounds, continuing in the new k2p1 rib pattern, then do a round where you k2tog in each of the knit ribs. You're now down to 1x1. Knit three rounds, then (p2tog, k2tog) around. Knit a round and finish off.

Cables: You can follow the same principle of decreasing all the way around in the spaces between the cables, then in the cables themselves, at nearer and nearer row intervals. See the Cabled Cap pattern for an example.

Trims and Doodads

Caps can be decorated and top gathering can be hidden, by a number of devices. Pompoms and tassels can be attached at the top. Crocheted flowers or buttons can be sewn on, and add enormously to the cheerfulness of the cap. I-cord "stems" or curlicues can sprout from the tips. Anything goes!

Copyright Judy Gibson, 2003. Contact:

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Judy Gibson, Descanso, California.
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