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5 Steps To Designing Your Own Scarf

May 12th, 2014

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This column by Barbara Breiter, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, originally appeared in The Weekly Stitch newsletter.

Although there are many lovely scarf patterns available, a scarf is relatively simple to design, and it’s a great way to venture into your very first custom design. By understanding a five simple concepts, you’ll be able to design and knit or crochet beautiful scarves on your own.

While most basic crochet fabrics are relatively flat, many knitters venture into their own scarf pattern by simply working in stockinette stitch, and then they see it rolls and have knit what amounts to a big tube. Stockinette rolls. You can’t stop it. It’s the nature of the fabric that is produced when you knit one row and purl the next. What you can do is work the first and last 3 or 4 rows in garter stitch or seed stitch as well as the first and last 3 or 4 stitches in each row. This will usually keep a stockinette scarf from rolling.

Seasonless Scarf Knit Rainbow Ridge Scarf Angora Lace Scarf
Crochet
Seasonless Scarf
Knit
Rainbow Ridge Scarf
Knit
Angora Lace Scarf

1. How wide do you want your scarf to be?

The width of the scarf is your choice. Most scarves are between 6 and 8 inches. Yours can be skinnier or wider. There is no right or wrong.

Once you decide this, you’ll need to determine how many stitches you’ll need to cast on or chain. To do this, you’ll want to start with gauge. While you can approximate using the suggested gauge and needle size on the yarn label (as exact length and width of a scarf is less important than say a sweater or other piece that needs to fit exactly), you may also experiment. Make a swatch that’s at least 4 inches wide and 4 inches long and figure out the average number of stitches per inch and rows per inch.

Stitches per inch x desired width = number of stitches to cast on or chain. For example, if you want to knit a scarf that is 5 inches wide and you will be knitting at 5 stitches to the inch, you would cast on 25 stitches because 5 x 5 = 25.

2. How long do you want your scarf to be?

Again, there is no right or wrong; it’s simply a matter of personal choice. There are scarves 10 feet long that are wrapped twice around your neck and still hang down to your knees. Or you can knit a short scarf about 3 feet long that will just tuck around your neck for a more decorative look.

Tip: A good rule of thumb for a regular winter scarf is that it should be about as long as the wearer is tall.

3. What stitch pattern do you want to use?

Leaves of Grass Stitch

As I mentioned, you can knit a plain Stockinette scarf or crochet a plain single crochet scarf, but you can also explore the wonderful world of pattern stitches and use one or more for your scarf. Lion Brand’s StitchFinder offers a selection to choose from. Check out my other post about how to take a repeating stitch and turn it into a scarf or afghan you’ll learn to love.

Note that pattern stitches indicate a stitch multiple; this is the number of stitches needed for one repeat of a pattern stitch. A multiple of 5 stitches means you should cast on any number of stitches that is divisible by 5. A multiple of 6 + 1 means you should cast on any number of stitches that is divisible by 6 plus 1 extra stitch. Note that the number of stitches needed impacts the width of the scarf. It’s generally better to select one that has a smaller multiple such as 5 rather than 13 + 3 as you have more control over the eventual width of your scarf.

You can also combine multiple stitch patterns and work a certain number of rows of one and then switch to a different stitch pattern. This can be a bit tricky as you need to have the same stitch multiple for each you select and some can pull in or are loose and will be wider; in other words, gauge does not stay consistent across all pattern stitches. (Another good reason to make gauge swatches!) Still, if you don’t mind the possibility of your edges not being perfectly even, a sampler scarf is a fun project.

4. What type of yarn do you want to use?

Different textures and color-effects will have different considerations. For example, a textured or color-change yarn such as Homespun® does not show off a pattern stitch; intricate knit/purl patterns will get lost, so if you select a textured or fuzzy yarn, consider a simple stitch pattern or even Stockinette and the yarn will do most of the work for you. If you’d like to try a more intricate pattern, you need a yarn that has good stitch definition that will show off all the hard work you’ll put into it. LB Collection® Cashmere or Superwash Merino Cashmerewould be good choices.

Also consider combining yarns for a unique effect either through color work (striping, intarsia, Fair Isle, slip stitch, etc.) or holding the strands together. You can combine two colors from the same yarn line or yarns from different lines. Each will produce a look different than working with one alone.

5. How much yarn do you need?

You’re not following a pattern so no one has already knit up a version of the scarf to give you that information, so there is no exact answer to this question. Some stitch patterns use more yarns than others. Different yarns have different numbers of yards. If you’re willing to just knit until you run out, try two skeins. If you want a long one, you may need four or five. You can view a chart giving you approximate yardage for scarves (and other projects) based on an average size scarf and the weight of the yarn by clicking here.

If you want a more accurate idea, you can find it with a scale (a food or package scale will work best). Make a swatch in your desired stitch pattern and yarn. Weigh the swatch and make note of it; also, find the area (length x width) of the swatch. Calculate the area of your desired final scarf (length x width of your desired scarf). Divide the final scarf’s area by the swatch’s area to find how many swatch’s worth of yarn you’d essentially need to make your scarf. Multiply this number by the weight (in ounces or grams) of your scale to get the total weight needed in this stitch pattern and yarn combination. It’s always best to round up a little to give you some room for error (or for changing your mind later), but this is a good starting point.

Conclusion: You’re Done!

As you can see, it’s relatively easy to design your very own scarf, just by taking a few things into consideration and making some quick calculations. It’s also a great way to get you started thinking about designing just about anything, since every design requires the knitter or crocheter to start with these five questions, so perhaps someday you’ll design all of your own knit and crochet-wear!

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  • JusyB

    I do my own patterns, but its because I haven’t learned to follow a pattern–mine or someone elses. I never know what they will look like, they seem to always come out well.

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  • Kit

    When I am going to make a larger more complicated pattern in a yarn I have not used a lot, or that I have not done anything similar with, in stead of making a gauge swatch to measure a 4 x 4 square to see if I am getting gauge, I would rather knit a sampler scarf that includes some places where I can take measurements of 4 x 4 inch squares to check gauge on one or more needle sizes in one or more of the stitches from the more complicated project, plus whatever else I feel like experimenting with. I hate making gauge swatches, but I love making scarves, and meanwhile I have the info I need to get gauge, and equally important to me I know how the yarn comes off my needles and am thoroughly at home with it before I start on a sweater or whatever else my major project is. And if I am not in love with the idea of doing that project in that yarn by the time I have finished the scarf, then I do not do that project in that yarn. Sometimes I love the yarn, but want to do something else with it. Occasionally, but extremely rarely, I really really do not like the yarn. I got some yarn that made my hands break out badly enough that I did not even finish a scarf, but if I had just made an eight by eight square, I might not have been handling it long enough to know. I traded it with someone who loved the color and had no problems with that yarn at all. That is once out of thousands of skeins of yarn, and a rather extreme example of not liking a yarn. More common is that the yarn just does not look like what I expected once it is knit. I had that problem mostly when I was a new knitter, but again I was able to trade yarn with a friend and both come out the better for the trade.

    I love designing scarves on the fly, just playing with the possibilities that a new yarn offers. This is very different from designing a pattern that you hope to sell to other knitters, but perhaps what I do now will lead to that some day.

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