It makes sense to knit hats starting at the top, so that you can try them on as you go. This way you can be sure that you don't end up with a hat that's too short, freezing your ears, or too long, covering your eyes. In theory, anyway. In reality, knitting hats top-down is difficult in its own way. I'm using the pattern from The Knitting Man(ual), which is more of a general guideline, and one that isn't working out well for me.
The book says to increase every other round "until hat fits head circumference." The problem with this is that you can't tell if it fits your head circumference because it's just the TOP of the hat and you can't try on a hat with no sides. You can set it atop your head, but that is not very informative. I've started two different hats, ripped back, re-started, done some math and still I'm ending up with hats which seem too large.
Here is the first, made with Sublime yarn, a very soft extrafine merino:
The gauge on the bottom part of the hat, after the increases, came out larger then at the top. My options are to rip back far enough to rid the hat of some of the increases, or to rip back until just after the increases and switch to a smaller size needle. I'm just frustrated that I did a lot of calculations to make this come out the right size, yet it continued to grow after I finished increasing.
The second hat, made with Classic Yarns Cashsoft Baby DK (I think this is from Rowan) is still in progress and a bit more promising.
I ribbed it so it would be stretchy, thus accomodating different sizes better. This may actually work. It feels loose on me, but not terribly, and I may make it long enough to have a folded-up brim which should make it more snug.
Adding a pattern during increasing is tricky, and may be one reason for the seeming unpopularity of top-down hat patterns, but I like how it looks.
It's a little messier than I'd like it to look (especially the very top) but in general I like the look of the ribs sprouting off one another. This is a great prototype for the top-down cabled hat I've been planning to make for myself for a while now.
These hats are especially difficult as I'm making them for my mother whose head is larger than mine, but she will be losing her hair from chemotherapy so they should probably be a little more snug than usual. I'm a little nervous because there are "chemo cap" patterns and I'm honestly not sure what makes them different from other hat patterns. I made sure to choose the softest yarn I could find though, and I chose DK yarn so they'd be less bulky. Will they be warm enough for winter in Maine though? I hope so.
Hopefully these will both be done in the next week, and I'll post final pictures before I mail them off!