The beret

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I have been thinking about hats for a while, because I love them. I really feel dressed in a hat. I like to wear them in summer, to protect me from the sun. And I love to wear them in the winter to keep my ears and head warm. I enjoy millinery, and one day I will do a serious course and make a hat with a lobster, a shoe or a telephone.

I like classic hats and spent some time on a course where I made a few turbans. And then, more recently, once I learned to knit I knitted a warm, ear covering hat. So, over Christmas, I dedicated myself to another classic hat – a hat I love – the beret. My Dad used to wear a French beret, and he looked amazing. The photograph is of a very cool French fisherman in the 1940s. When my father was older he never wanted anything for his birthday or Christmas, claiming quite correctly that he had everything he ever needed, but he did admit he would like a French beret. So Nick and I found ourselves in a beret shop in Brittany. Literally – a shop which sold berets in every shape and size. What was interesting was the varying depth of the crown – some were very wide – more in the Basque style I would say. We bought a lovely, authentic, very deep navy woollen hat, with a soft leather band, and a nice French label, sewn in. My Dad loved it.

French fishermen

The beret has so many associations – school uniforms, the military, French chic, and radical movements from Che Guevara the Black panthers. Men’s headwear that women, from Coco Chanel onwards have appropriated. Traditionally made by shaping naturally waterproof felt, the two main ways you can easily make one at home is using a pattern, or knitting one.

Nick’s Beret

I knitted a few, taking my basic instructions from Elizabeth Zimmermann, who calls these a Tam O’Shanter. The difference is that the Tam is a Scottish bonnet, worn straight and features a pom pom. A beret is usually worn to the side, and it has a rats’ tail.

More of a Tam

In summary the pattern is as follows:

Using 5mm circulars (or the right size for your gauge and yarn), and DK weight, cast on 90 stitches (100 for a man, and 80 for a child). Knit ten rounds in stocking stitch, knit one round in pearl, ten more rounds of stocking stitch. Increase K2 M1 (or K3, M1 if you want less fabric, but I don’t recommend). Now knit 25 rounds, then decrease regularly (ever other round) until you get to the last 20 or so stitches, then decrease every round so you don’t get a point. When you have 7 stitches left thread the yarn through and pull them up. Darn it nicely together and finish the ends.Once it is complete soak it and block it on a dinner plate. This gives it a nice clean line. Add a pom pom or rats’ tail. To make the rats tail I crocheted the yarn, folded in two then stitched together, and inserted it in the hole at the centre.

Dark green with white flecks

You can of course include colours and patterns, on the brim or the hat, and you can do a firmer or floppier version depending on your stitch density and yarn of choice. If you do colour work it will be warmer and a bit firmer. I made all my hats from left overs – most of them are cashmere, just because I don’t want anything scratchy near my face. If you use a smaller needle and four ply yarn you can do fair isle patterns, but I wanted quick results.

Target in green, gray and pink

I may make a few more. Ideal as presents, always wearable. I managed to squeeze a little one out for my Grandson.

Kit with Jamaican flag Tam

Even when its cold you can just pull them down over the ears. I like a beret much better than a beenie, and if you have an angular face (like me!) then the strong straight line across the hat is more flattering than a head hugging, round look.

Crazy paving pattern

If the hat comes out just a tiny bit too loose then sew in a piece of millinary gros grain, measured to fit you head exactly, around the inside of the hat band easing the knitting in to make sure it fits. If you beret is a bit too floppy you can include a circular piece of interfacing across the brim. This means you can wear it with more of a halo-like look. And finally if you want to make your beret more hat-like use the sewn pattern at the top of this post to make a fabric lining. Lovely.

7 Responses

  1. Kim

    All lovely Kate. Somehow a hat really finishes an outfit. It’s sad they aren’t so widely worn now. Enjoy yours – they look great ?

  2. 1stitchforward

    Oh these are lovely! And I agree that knitting hats is a great idea (re-using scraps, making gifts, trying new techniques… there’s a bunch if reasons to go for it!).

    I have a question on the steps though: you say to knit 10rows in stocking atitch, then purl (that’s how I’m reading that pearl over there) and then 10x more in stocking stitch. Do you fold this over to make the hem then and sew it doubled up? Because from the picture the headband doesn’t look 20 rows high and it looks nice and thick! Love, G xx

      • 1stitchforward

        Yes, ribbing tends to loosen up very quickly. I have to say I still prefer the tubular ribbing but the hem in stocking stich means you can go wild with decorating it. A great idea!

  3. Joyce

    Fantastic as always. I will have to give this a go at some point. I like these little knitting projects. This type of hat would work on those cold mornings when I need to hit the grocery store and my hair is sporting bed head! I have never thought of adding a little stiffener with interfacing , I also think I would like one with a slouchy voluminous back. You have the best smile Kate! Have a great day and thanks for sharing the instructions.

    • fabrickated

      Thanks for your very nice feedback Joyce. I often think of how to blend knitting and sewing as it is pretty unusual. The interfacing is just cotton organdie, held in with cross stitch, It works a treat. I want to try a lined one too. You can do lots of different shapes with the beret and as others have said it is a great way to use up left over yarn and get an outfit where your sweater and hat match up, which is great.

  4. Vancouver Barbara

    Love your green tam with speckles. It’s very elegant and makes me think more of a turban or a head wrap than a tam. I love the next one too – the colours are delicious. I’d love to see more views of it. They’re all really special and those who received them as a gift are very lucky.

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