Knitting a Chemo Hat: Five Guidelines

Recently, I knit a chemo hat for someone very close to me. Four weeks earlier, as we talked about her son’s upcoming wedding and our respective plans for the holidays, knitting a chemo hat for her was just about the furthest thing from my mind. But life has a way of throwing things at you without waiting to see if you’re ready to catch them.

As her husband said in his group email to family and friends, the cancer diagnosis was “a bolt from the blue.”

Bolt from the blue—I’ve heard that phrase hundreds of times but have never really thought about its true meaning until now. According to dictionary.com, “this metaphoric term alludes to totally unforeseen lightning or thunder from a cloudless (blue) sky.”

Yes, that is a very apt description for what this was—not only for those most closely affected, but also for their family and friends.

There is a certain sense of powerlessness that comes with finding out that someone you know is battling a serious illness. You do what you can to help, but it doesn’t always seem like enough.

I made a chemo hat because it was one thing I could do. At least, I was pretty sure I could. After all, I’ve knit a lot of hats over the years. But then I wondered if there were different requirements for chemo hats, so I did some searching online because I wanted to get this hat right.

It turns out that there definitely are things that need to be considered when knitting a hat for a chemotherapy patient.


1. USE NON-IRRITATING YARN

One of the most important requirements for chemo hats is that the yarn be soft and non-irritating. Not only does chemotherapy often cause hair loss, it can also make the skin more sensitive.

In my stash, I found two skeins of Yak DK by Western Sky Knits, an incredibly soft blend of merino, silk, and yak. Some of the guidelines I read said that you shouldn’t use wool, but I chose to ignore that particular advice after running the yarn by the recipient, who loved the feel of it. She also loved the luminescent green color. (Keep in mind, however, that if you make a hat for a specific charitable organization, you will need to adhere to their guidelines or the hat may not be accepted.)

the yarn used for a chemo hat

2. AVOID BULKY SEAMS

Bulky seams are a no-no because they can chafe the skin. Avoid seams altogether by knitting the hat in the round.

3. CHOOSE A STITCH PATTERN THAT PROVIDES ADEQUATE COVERAGE

The hat fabric should be dense enough to provide sufficient warmth and covering. Avoid open, lacy stitch patterns.

4. DON’T EXPOSE THE YARN TO STRONG FRAGRANCES OR SMOKE

Chemotherapy patients can be very sensitive to fragrances, so don’t wear perfume when knitting the hat, and absolutely avoid smoking around the yarn at all times.

5. CHOOSE A HAT DESIGN THAT COVERS THE HEAD BUT ALSO SUITS THE RECIPIENT’S PREFERENCES

From what I can tell from my research, there seems to be quite a lot of variety (apart from the guidelines above) when it comes to chemo hat designs. Obviously, the hat should cover the patient’s head adequately, but other than that, a lot depends on the wearer’s personal preferences.

I found several nice hat patterns in magazines and online, but in the end I decided to design one myself. I chose garter stitch because it is a very comforting and familiar pattern with just the right amount of cushiness. The Old Norwegian Cast-On creates a springy edge that blends in nicely with garter stitch (click on the “L-P” link within the glossary list, as our information is listed alphabetically).

After I cast on the stitches and worked a few rounds in garter stitch, I changed to a garter stitch basketweave pattern to add a little visual interest.

chemo hat

When I’d finished the hat and presented it to the recipient, I realized that I’d made a crucial miscalculation in the size. Not only was her head much smaller than I’d figured, she’d also cut her hair very short in anticipation of the hair loss caused by chemotherapy; as a result, the hat was too big by a couple of inches! Fortunately, I had that second skein, so I cast on again using 16 fewer stitches (two pattern repeats).

The circumference of the new hat came out to about 16″, which (I’m pleased to say) fit the recipient perfectly. Here’s the finished hat, being modeled by my daughter:

I truly hope that you never need to make a chemo hat for someone you love, but if you do (or if you simply want to make hats for some of the wonderful charitable organizations that provide them for chemotherapy patients), there are many great free resources available. At the end of this post, I’ve provided some helpful links that I found during the course of my research. I’ve also provided links to some free hat patterns, as well as a pattern for the hat I designed.


Hat Details

Finished Size 16 (17.5, 19)” circumference and 8.5″ tall.
Yarn Yak DK Western Sky Knits DK Weight (65% merino, 20% silk, 15% yak; 230 yd [210 m]/3.5 oz [100 g]): olive green, 1 skein.
Needles Size 2 (2.75 mm): 16″ circular (cir) set of double-pointed (dpn). Adjust needle size if necessary to obtain the correct gauge.
Notions Marker (m); tapestry needle.
Gauge 22 sts and 40 rnds = 4″ in Garter Basketweave patt.

Hat
With cir needle and using the Old Norwegian method, CO 88 (96, 104) sts. Place marker and join in the rnd. Knit 1 rnd, [purl 1 rnd, knit 1 rnd] 9 times. Work Rnds 1–16 of Garter Basketweave chart 3 times, then work Rnds 1–8 of chart once more. Shape crown: Work Rnds 1–16 of Crown chart, changing to dpn when necessary—11 (12, 13) sts rem. Break yarn, leaving an 8″ tail. With tapestry needle, thread tail through rem sts and pull tightly to close top of hat.

Finishing
Weave in ends. Block to measurements.

chemo hat

Find free hat patterns on the Interweave site here.

Further Resources

The Chemo Hat, Explained

Knitting for Charities

Look Good, Feel Better

Headcovers Unlimited

Charities that Can Use Your Helping Hands

Jelly Buddies 4 Mandy

Operation Chemo Comfort

Hugs for Your Head

Knots of Love

3 Comments

  1. Linda L at 3:29 pm December 29, 2017

    Thank you for this. Some of these tips would never have occurred to me such as no seams.

  2. Mette L at 9:02 am December 31, 2017

    Great insight and yes SOFT yarn – wish I had thought of this project when my mom was going thru chemo :-(. Its a wonderful gesture at a time when one feels so very helpless.

  3. Barbara C at 8:46 pm December 31, 2017

    I had Breast Cancer this year and this hat would have been wonderful and soft. I already had some hats out of wool and they gave me no problem.

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