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