A look at Hat construction methods

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There’s an awful lot more to knitted Hat construction than it may first seem. The humble Hat is the most 3-dimensional garment we wear, which in turn means there’s an infinite number of ways to create it. I’ve a background in textile sculpture which is one reason why I love creating and designing Hats so much – I’m never going to run out of ways to make one!

Generally speaking Hat knitting patterns fall into 3 main categories and I’ve outlined each below. Each of the methods will be explained in further detail should you wish to learn more and I’ll be linking to those pages as they become available.


Vertical Construction Methods

Bottom-up Hat construction is the method everyone will be familiar with. A Hat knit this way starts with a cast on, then we proceed to knit the brim, the body and then the crown in that order before closing at the top. Hats made this way use decreases for the crown shaping.

Top-down Hat construction is the same, only in reverse – we cast on then work the crown, then the body and finally the brim before casting off. Hats made this way have increases for the crown shaping instead of decreases.

With both methods stitch gauge is the important factor when determining fit around the head, and row gauge helps us determine depth. Most of the time, depending on the pattern of course, a the depth of a vertically knit Hat can be adjusted as we work but once we’ve cast on the circumference isn’t adjustable.

Because we’re so familiar with these methods we’ve probably not given the direction of our stitches much thought, but if we think about the fact that the direction of our stitches follows the same direction as the depth of the Hat, or the line of the head, it’ll help us understand the differences between each construction method better.

One example of a bottom-up Hat is Castiel. An example of a top-down Hat is Cabled Cap.

Learn more about Bottom-up Hat Construction.

Learn more about Top-Down Hat Construction.

side view of the Castiel bottom-up Hat

front view the Cabled Cap top-down Hat

Sideways Construction Methods

This method is more unusual, yet it’s something you’ll see often within my designs. Here, our knitting is turned on it’s side and it’s my favourite way to approach construction.

We don’t work the brim, the body or the crown as separate parts of a Hat like we do in vertical knitting. Instead we work a little bit of each in every row we knit. We’re turning our knitting sideways, and turning it all through ninety degrees mixes everything up. Stitch patterns look and behave differently, different techniques are involved, even the yarn can look different if it’s hand-dyed or variegated.

Whereas with a vertically knit Hat the depth is adjustable as we go but the circumference is fixed by the number of stitches we’ve cast on, with sideways knitting the depth of the Hat is fixed by the number of stitches we cast on and the circumference can usually be adjusted as we go by changing the number of panels we work. That doesn’t mean the depth can’t be changed, it simply means you have to decide that before you cast on, just as you’d need to decide if you want to change the circumference of your vertically knit Hat before you cast on.

If we come back to thinking about the direction of our stitches, with the sideways methods the stitches are running around our head, not in line with it. The stitches sit perpendicular to the depth of the head. It’s important to clarify that when I refer to the direction of our stitches, I’m not talking about the direction of our knitting. With a traditional vertically knit Hat the direction our knitting takes is the same direction the stitches take. But once we break outside of that the direction of the knitting isn’t always the same as that of the stitches, and it’s the stitches that are key. It’s the direction the stitches travel in when the Hat is finished or worn that defines the construction type.

It’s often thought that there’s only one way to make a sideways knit Hat but that’s not true! Because our stitches aren’t following the line or the depth of the head, we’ve much more freedom with how we approach construction. Vertically knit Hats are a more restrictive knit, and that’s no different when it comes to design; there always has to be a hole at one end large enough for it to be worn, the size of which has to be determined before we start, and the direction of knitting will always be the same.

The Sideways Linear Construction is the method most knitters will think of when you mention working sideways. Hats made this way can also be known as side-to-side Hats or short row Hats. This method uses short rows instead of increases or decreases for any shaping. It’s made up of panels that are repeated around instead of distinct sections, and the panels are worked in line and are knit from the crown to the brim then back.

The Sideways Radial Construction uses increases and decreases for crown shaping, but may use short rows if the Hat has any shaping near the brim. Hats knit this way are made up of panels that are repeated around but instead of the panels being knit linearly, they’re knit from the centre out or the outside in. The panels are worked consecutively and the stitches still run around the head when worn, it’s how the panels are created that’s different to the linear method.

The Sideways Traverse or Brim to Brim Construction is yet another way to knit a Hat sideways. This one uses short rows for shaping throughout, and follows a more straightforward path similar to the linear method, but instead of being constructed from panels that are worked from the crown to the brim and back, this one is created by knitting panels that go from the brim to the crown then to the brim the other side and back.

An example of a Sideways Linear Hat is Diponaea. An example of a Sideways Radial Hat is Mirallat, and an example of a Sideways Traverse, or Brim to Brim, Hat is the Get Garter Envelope Slouch.

Learn more about Sideways Linear Construction.

Learn more about Sideways Radial Construction.

Learn more about Sideways Brim to Brim (Traverse) Construction.

front view the Diponaea sideways linear Hat

side view of the Mirallat sideways radial Hat

side view of the Get Garter Envelope Slouch sideways traverse Hat

Modular Construction Methods

This construction method is so wide and broad that it’s hard to group them together under one umbrella. Generally, modular Hat construction will fall into one of following 3 methods, and again, keep the direction of those stitches in mind.

Modular construction, by definition, will involve some joining. It could be picking up stitches and knitting off in a different direction, or some seaming may be required. It could even involve some grafting or various bind-off or provisional cast-on methods.

The Folded Modular Construction method involves knitting a piece of fabric, usually without any kind of shaping, then proceeding to fold the fabric in a particular way and seaming it to finish. Occasionally there may be more than one rectangle of knitted fabric, but not often. You could argue that this isn’t really modular, as it’s usually only one knitted piece and not several, and yeah, that’s kinda true. But you aren’t creating a Hat with the knitting, it’s the combination of non-knitting techniques, the sewing and folding, that makes it a Hat. It still needs structuring and joining in some way that a sideways or vertical knit Hat wouldn’t. Furthermore, the stitches won’t all be laying in the same direction, they’ll be laying in lots of different directions, and that’s important. So whilst it’s not strictly modular knitting, this is where it fits most comfortably.

The Combined Modular Construction method involves one or more construction methods from the those described earlier. In short, it’s a mix of a vertical and sideways. Most often a Hat constructed this way will have a sideways brim with stitches picked up around an edge to create a vertically knit body and crown. You could think of this as a bottom-up combined method. You could make a Hat with a vertically knit brim and a sideways knit body and crown, i.e. a top-down combined method, but it’s rare to find a pattern worked this way. Thinking back to those stitches and how they travel, with this construction method the stitches will have distinct directions, usually perpendicular to each other.

The Pieced Modular Construction method is what most people think of when you mention a modular Hat. But it isn’t always about picking up stitches and knitting in a different direction – sometimes it’s about knitting different pieces and joining them together afterwards. Hats made this way will be made up of several sections and once joined, the stitches will lay in lots of different directions but usually in formation although they don’t have to be. A lot of the time the sections to be joined are the same size, but not always, as the Hat style and shape will determine that.

An example of a Folded Modular Hat is Diagonale. And example of a Combined Modular Hat is Campello, and an example of a Pieced Modular Hat is Tudor Cap.

Learn more about Folded Modular Construction.

Learn more about Combined Modular Construction.

Learn more about Pieced Modular Construction.

side view of the Diagonale folded modular Hat

side view of the Campello combined modular Hat

front view of the Tudor Cap pieced modular Hat

Why Stitch Direction is Important

When I was gathering all my Hat knowledge to write this it was fairly clear to me which method fell under which construction group, but I found it tricky to say exactly why. I kept thinking about the direction we knit in, as that’s what we think of when we talk about knitting vertically or sideways.

But then I thought about the Sideways Radial method, which is one that I’m particularly fascinated with right now. It doesn’t strictly use what are commonly considered essential sideways techniques – a sideways knit Hat with shaping created by increases and decreases? I hadn’t named this method at this point and in trying to define it’s differences to other sideways methods I sat and looked at the patterns I’d designed this way, Mirallat and the Lateralis Hats, and realised that the direction that we knit in was tripping me up. Each of the patterns I’ve published so far that are constructed this way use garter stitch and each absolutely has garter stitch sitting sideways in the Hat with all the changes in stitch properties that that brings. It doesn’t matter whether we knit in a straight line, in a curve, inwards or outwards or at right angles, it’s how the stitches sit within the Hat that we want to pay attention to. Stitch properties change when we construct our Hat – or any garment for that matter – differently, and it’s those stitch properties that determine fit and slouch and wearability and the overall pattern.

I hope this summary of the main Hat construction types helps! There’s so much to explore with Hat knitting, and there’s always an opportunity to try something new.

The title image shows my Buzzba pattern – a playful earflap pixie Hat in 6 sizes.

Woolly Wormhead

Woolly Wormhead is an internationally reknowned knit designer, specialising in Hats, technique and construction. Their patterns and techniques have been used by thousands of knitters worldwide. Join The Woolly Hat Society to be the first to learn of their latest projects and special offers!


  1. Susan

    Fascinating! Thank you – I’m off to read about radial hat construction now!

    • Woolly Wormhead

      You’re most welcome! I hope you enjoy the dive into the whys and wherefores of sideways radial construction, it’s a favourite method of mine!


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