No-Bull Book Review: Hat Couture, by Theressa Silver (Cooperative Press 2013)

“Wearing a hat is like having a baby or a puppy; everyone stops to coo and talk about it.” — Louise Green


I’m trying to get current on all my book reviews, and fresh in my in-box is Hat Couture, just published by Cooperative Press, so let’s coo and talk about hats.

hat couture cover

“Hat Couture” is a collection of patterns for knitted hats. But not the typical beanie or watch cap; no, these are hat patterns inspired by the glamour girls of Hollywood–Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn– and even style icon Jacqueline Kennedy. Author/designer Theressa Silver explains why she decided to write a book of couture-inspired hats:

Today hats are often seen as nothing more than a practical object; something to keep your head warm, or dry, or shaded, or as camouflage to hide a bad hair day. But consider the hat as it was embraced by generations of women before us: the fashion statement, the adornment, the object of desire and envy.

Silver’s aim, then, is to present a collection of knitted hats that are enjoyable to create but also fun to wear and perhaps reflect the wearer’s mood on a given day. Her collection of millinery consists of thirteen hats, some of which are designed mainly to be decorative, while others provide both warmth and style. All are topped off with embellishment, from ribbons to antique buttons to feathers, and indeed the embellishment is intended to be a crucial part of the hat’s design.

The book begins with some instructions, and it’s critical that the knitter not blithely skip over them, assuming that general knitting skills will substitute for Silver’s specific technical advice. For example, she cautions that yarns must be “sticky” rather than excessively soft in order for the hat to hold its shape, and she also advises knitting yarn at a tighter gauge than is typical for a stiffer, more structured fabric. That advice will be crucial when considering what yarn to use, appropriate gauge and what size to make.  Silver also mentions the use of buckram fabric, a sturdy mesh used in a few of the hats to help them maintain shape,  and discusses the importance of embellishment, the process by which patterns become truly individualized. This section ends with some tips on beginning the hats; while most hat patterns start from the brim and work up, Silver’s patterns are knit top down (beginning with a few stitches for the center of the crown, and working increases outward).

After that, it’s on to the hats. First up is the Audrey hat, named, of course, after Audrey Hepburn. Although easy to knit (and fast, given the thick yarn used), the embellishment and close-fitting style make it very chic.

Copyright 2013 Theressa Silver

Grace is a classic pillbox, shown in two colors with embellishment (in one case with netting, bow and buttons; the black version with braid and vintage buttons).


Copyright 2013 Theressa Silver

This hat uses a buckram insert to maintain its shape and it’s fun to see how it looks demure in white, and sizzling hot in red and black.  (It’s also a good reminder to remember how much color choice and embellishment can affect the style of the finished product.)

If you’re not sure about hats that are quite so structured, or would also like some more casual looks, fear not: Dorothy (as in Lamour)

silver dorothy

has a snug brim but a loose-fitting crown, while Mary

uses brightly-colored yarn woven through eyelets to perk up a neutral-colored base yarn.

Whip up a Clara for the opening of the upcoming Great Gatsby movie

silver clara

or pay homage to Carmen Miranda without attracting fruit flies:

The Lauren hat uses elaborate beaded trim (sewn on) to set off its beret-inspired shape.

silver lauren

Of course, where icons of style are concerned, we simply cannot forget about Jackie, a pillbox hat trimmed with a knitted bow:


As you can see, there are a variety of hat styles, all designed for women and all chock-full of glamour.  Most of the patterns come in two sizes, small (to fit actual head circumference of approx. 19 to 21 inches) and large (to fit actual head circumference of approx. 22 to 24 inches). Some of the hats are designed to be worn on top of the head, secured by combs or a hat pin, and so a few of the patterns only come in one size; don’t be alarmed if the dimensions seem smaller than usual for these hats. As noted above, all are knit from the top down and the patterns are written for five dpns (although translating them into the two-circular method shouldn’t be hard).

Yarn used tend to worsted and heavier weights (Categories 4-6) and are all solids and some semi-solid/kettle-dyes. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t play around with some handpaints, though, and part of the fun with the book will be seeing how people run with it, using different yarns and adding their own embellishments. Most of the patterns do not look terribly difficult, so newer knitters shouldn’t be intimidated by any of them. The book contains instructions for how to make some of the embellishments shown, which is very helpful, and I like the quotes about hats that are sprinkled throughout. I also like that the hats are photographed from multiple angles, showing the shaping, details and construction. Consider, for example, the Dorothy hat pictured above; were it not for the photograph taken from the back angle, I might never have realized that the crown of the hat is knit in jaunty stripes:


You can download Hat Couture in PDF version only for $16.95, or opt for PDF and printed version for $22.95, through the link above.


All photographs copyright 2013 by Theressa Silver. Used with permission.


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