How to Design and Knit a Hood on Your Cardigan

During the course of Shirley Paden’s 2nd Design Along (DAL2), I blogged about my Madame Butterfly Cardigan. In this post, I’ll revisit the project by sharing Shirley’s advice on constructing the hood. I’ll also share a few lessons I learned the hard way.

The Set Up

Shirley Paden Design Along: Back and Fronts Done

Stitches for hood placed on waste yarn.

My DAL2 garment was worked from bottom-up, so these instructions will reflect that. If your garment is worked top-down, please adjust accordingly. I began with the back piece which was knitted and bound off normally. But when I worked the right and left front pieces, I only bound off the shoulders as Shirley advised. Stitches that would eventually flow into the hood were placed on waste yarn to be picked up later. (See photo on the right.)

Flow with the Pattern, Grasshopper

Let’s backtrack for a moment. Before you set up for your hood or even knit your first stitch, it is important to visualize how the stitch pattern will “flow” throughout the garment. You need to know how pattern repeats will break at the seams, be affected by armhole shaping, and flow into the hood. Shirley suggests making  copies of your charts and taping them together to form a paper model of your garment. Use your “super chart” to help you flow with your stitch pattern. Here is post which shows part of my super chart for this project.

Maximum Headroom

Decide how wide your hood will be. I found my target width by measuring around my head from my right cheek to my left cheek. After adding an inch or so for ease I arrived at about 19″.  Your head measurement may be different from mine, but it will always be larger than your neck measurement. (More on this later.) Once you have the total width of your hood (before trim) subtract from this number the  total width of both hood fronts to arrive at the width of the back hood. (Total Hood minus Hood Fronts = Back Hood)

Work In Progress Wednesday: Some work, but no progress

Hood with too much ribbing.

If you are using a complex stitch in the body of the garment, you’ll want your back hood panel to be composed of filler stitches such as garter, seed or stockinette. I decided to fill in my back hood with twisted ribbing pulled from the lacy butterflies stitch I used for the body my cardigan.  Unfortunately,  this wasn’t a good choice. Why? Ribbing pulls inward, of course! Once I knitted a couple of inches into the hood, I noticed the fabric was getting narrower. The problem was resolved by removing sections of twisted ribbing and replacing them with reverse stockinette.

After calculations are complete and stitch patterns are selected, Shirley advises starting the hood as follows: First, work the reserved the stitches from one front piece. Next, cast on new stitches for the back of the hood (including extra for ease). Finally, work the stitches from the other front piece. While it may be tempting to skip the casting of new stitches by picking up across the back neck, just don’t do it. This shortcut will result in a hood that doesn’t  fit because (as I mentioned above) your head is always wider than your neck.

No Pointy Little Heads

You head isn’t pointy, and ideally neither is your hood. According to Shirley, a well planned hood will have a graceful curve at the top which matches the shape of the head. It isn’t simply a matter of  decreasing out the extra stitches that were added in at the back neck. You need to shape the hood in a way guarantees the curve will look right when the hood is on your head, i.e.  – no points. Frankly, this part of my project caused the most frustration for me. I frogged and reknit the hood shaping section 3 or 4 times and still didn’t get it 100% right. Why? Because I was very anxious to finish and tried to play it by ear. Don’t make my mistake. If I had to do it over again I would have used my super charts to draw out the curve the same way I did with the armhole shaping on the back and fronts. Failing to take the time to draw out this curve actually cost me a lot more time later.

Finish on Top


Close up of hood.

Once you have knitted your hood, you need to seam it together in a strong and attractive fashion. I chose to do a 3-needle bind off at the top of the piece, carefully matching the stitch pattern elements as I went along.  You’ll also have to seam the bottom of the hood and back neck together. Your choice of stitch is extremely important because the entire weight of the hood will pull on this seam when it is not resting on your head. You really don’t want this area to sag with wear. Shirley suggests the back stitch here because of the strength and durability it provides. Be sure to ease in the extra fullness evenly as you work the seam.

Finally, apply a trim. For my garment, the trim had to serve two key functions – disguise the center hood seam at the top of the head and act as a button band. Again, I used the trial and error approach, not  finding the right trim until attempt number four. This time experimentation was not a result of lack of planning. I swatched several trim options during the beginning stages of the project. My original strategy was to take elements from the stitch pattern, but I found that a simpler approach gave better results. As you can see in the photo above I ended up using plain old reserve stockinette.

More Resources

Follow these steps to plan and knit a well designed hood on your garment. To learn more of Shirley Paden’s design strategies, read Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits or sign up for her  Handknit Garment Design class at Have a tip for the perfect hood you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.