Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chemo cap knitting

Today I want to do a rundown on the free chemo-friendly hat patterns here at Hugs: I'm hearing a lot from people knitting one for friends or family about to go through treatment, and because there are so many options (here and elsewhere), sometimes they're not sure which hat to try.

Chemo caps have a few unique qualities over regular hats.

1. They have to be soft, because even hardy wool-wearers may find their skin is more sensitive when they're undergoing treatment and have no hair as an intervening party.

2. It's good if they can come down low in the back, to hide a missing hairline.  For the same reason, a really open lace should be considered carefully for its revealing properties... it's going to be a matter of style, I think, how much of that quality is appealing to someone who's just lost his or her hair.

3. Cosmetically, it's nice too if they have some extra details somewhere - something to add the bulk that went missing with the wearer's hair.

4. And technically - from the knitter's point of view - it matters whether or not they are complicated to make.  Because let's face it: when somebody you love is going through cancer treatment, you may not have the focus required for a lot of stitch counting.  Alternatively, you may want something completely absorbing and distracting so that the knitting is an escape from your worries.

A note on yarn substitution:

If you opt for non-wool to knit a pattern designed for wool, check this post on yarn substitution before you get going.  You can definitely sub in other yarns, but a little planning will help make your hat a success!

Since I keep being inspired by new hat designs, my library of free chemo patterns will probably go on growing, so I'll update this list as I needed.  For now, here are the main patterns people seem to like and my recommendations to help you choose which to try.  (or you can scroll to the bottom for a simple charty thing.)

Asymmetrical Cloche

This hat is very straightforward with a low-fitting asymmetrical brim achieved through simple increases, knits, and purls.  I designed it as a day hat for a friend in treatment who didn't mind wool, and in that version I used an incredibly soft sport weight superwash merino.  But I also did a version in heavier-weight cotton, for warmer days, and the pattern includes sizing for that.

Best on women, and an excellent choice for the distracted knitter.


Bobcap is essentially a toque, with a little detail over one eye to make it interesting.  It's that plain because it's designed to serve as a sleep cap - your head gets so cold at night when you don't have hair!  I designed it with the same sport weight superwash wool I used for the Asymmetrical Cloche, but if you lean toward generosity in your sizing choice, you could knit it in acrylic for someone who is too sensitive for wool.

Possibly unisex, but definitely cute on women, and another excellent choice for the distracted knitter.  (if the detail part is too advanced for you, you can leave it out.)

Double Double Cloche

This cloche uses a rolled brim to add bulk at the ends, and can tuck down low over the ears and neck, but the front has bonus detail with reverse-stockinette stripes and a button accent.  It looks interesting, but it's incredibly simple to knit - again, easy increases, and knits and purls.

Best on women, and an excellent choice for the distracted knitter.

Graduated Ribs Hat

This toque's simple shape is the ultimate in mindless knitting, especially once you have the ribbing started and can just keep knitting the same stitch again as the one below it.  There is a crown detail to make it interesting, and actually - this isn't in the pattern but you could make this modification with enough yarn - if you knit it longer than called for it would work as a slouchy hat that shows off said crown.  It's designed to fit a little loosely, in superwash wool, so if you need to use acrylic just be a little generous in your sizing choice.

Completely unisex, and an excellent choice for the distracted knitter.

Not Just For Chemo Reversible Cloche

Hands down, this is the most popular of all of my patterns.  It's also the most complicated to knit, because the linen stitch I chose to force the underspun Malabrigo yarn into a stiff-enough shape for the brim requires a ton of counting to keep in line.  Once the brim is done it's as plain as knitting can be, but you have to be able to get through that hurdle first.  The yarn I used is an incredibly soft wool that sags out as you wear it, so if you're using acrylic, do a good gauge swatch and plan to go up a size.

Best on women, and a not-so-great choice for the distracted knitter.

UpCountry Hat

This toque uses a DK weight superwash wool, a checkerboard of knits and purls, and a fold-under band of ribbing to add bulk as well as warmth.  I love this hat - it's so simple to knit and looks so interesting, without being too busy to compete with a self-striping yarn, and mine is so comfortable to wear.  I saw a version made for a man once, and it looks fantastic.

Completely unisex, and an excellent choice for the distracted knitter.

The recap charty thing:

Knitting for a man?

Go for either Graduated Ribs or UpCountry - both are super simple.  You might also look at Bobcap, for a sleep option.

Knitting for a woman and have no capacity for concentration?

For a day cap, try the Asymmetrical Cloche, the Double Double Cloche, or the UpCountry Hat.  For night, look at Bobcap.

Knitting for a woman and looking for something to absorb your attention?

Not Just For Chemo Reversible Cloche, no question.

Knitting for your local hospital's chemo cap stash?

You'll get the most flexible sizing and unisex qualities with Bobcap, Graduated Ribs, and UpCountry.

And that's my chemo cap library for now.  Happy knitting!


Marianne said...

Thank you for this post.. I am waiting on the results of a biopsy and thought I may go ahead and knit a hat for myself, just "in case" I receive news I don't want to hear. Have been trying to knit other things but keep coming back to the chemo hats.. now I know (thanks to this post) what pattern is best for me to use.
Hugs, stay warm!!

Mary Keenan said...

Oh Marianne - I will be hoping for good news for you! And also that you don't have to wait too long... keep me posted and big hugs to you.

Gayle said...

Thank you for the beautiful patterns & helpful tips! My best friend made me 8 chemo hats when I went through treatment for ovarian cancer 7 yrs ago (all clear now - or NED, as we say). I loved them! Couldn't wait to get home from work & take my wig off & put a hat on. Wore them out & about too. I always wore one to sleep in, because as you mentioned, we lose a lot of body heat from our heads...more than you woul d imagine. I still wear my fav & it looks lovely with a head full of hair.

Marianne - I will be hoping for good news for you as well!
I'm off to knit hats for the cancer center. Thanks again.

Mary Keenan said...

Gayle, it is SO GREAT to hear a success story like yours! and wow, what an awesome best friend you have :^)

Mimi said...

What I love about the internet---that this blog post sits here waiting until I need this info. Thanks. Found exactly what I wanted to know.

Mary Keenan said...

Heh - I was reading your mind in advance, Mimi ;^)

yarnshopgirl said...

Love these patterns! They're very stylish and look like they'll be fun to knit. :)

Mary Keenan said...

Thanks for the kind words yarnshopgirl!!