How to Knit a Scarf

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How to Knit a Scarf is the first in a series of 'how to' pages which provide knitting instructions for knitting novices. A lot of new knitters start their knitting careers by knitting scarves as they are easy to knit and provide an excellent project to practice their knitting on. 

If you are a beginner, your knitting technique is unlikely to be perfect and the knitted fabric you produce will contain mistakes (a knit stitch where there should be a purl for example) and in all likelihood your knitting will be uneven in patches.

© Knitting Naturally - Textured Scarf

Don't be discouraged, everyone has to learn and learning to knit evenly takes practice.

Knitting a scarf will not only give you the perfect opportunity to gain knitting experience but with any luck because you scarf will be wrapped around your neck, your errors will not be obvious to the casual observer.

And besides any errors you make will add character to your scarf!

In Knitting Terms: What is a Scarf?

Basically, a simple scarf is a straight piece of knitting in the shape of a rectangle.

You cast on the required number of stitches to make the scarf the width you want and keep knitting until your scarf is long enough to wrap around you neck a couple of times and hang down to your waist.

How to Knit a Scarf: Decisions...

Before I can tell you how to knit a scarf, you need to make a few decisions about your project.

Do you want a heavy or thick scarf or would you prefer a fine scarf?

Your decision will determine which ply or weight of wool you should use to make your scarf.

I generally recommend that beginners use an 8 ply yarn. This is a medium weight yarn that is reasonably easy to find in your local knitting store and you will also be able to find a pattern for 8 ply without too much difficulty. Personally, I prefer scarves made with finer yarns but many beginners like to use a 12 ply or triple knit as it takes less time to knit the scarf.

How wide do you want your scarf to be?

The width of your scarf will depend on personal preference. Some people like quite wide scarves that can be folded in half length-wise, while other prefer a nice narrow scarf that doesn't fold.

It also depends on who the scarf is for. Your husband or partner might prefer a bulky thick scarf (more manly) whereas if you are making the scarf for a child, a narrow scarf might be more appropriate.

How long do you want your scarf?

Adult sized scarves tend to vary from between 160cm to 2 metres long. Again it depends on who the scarf is for, if you want a fashionable scarf for a woman you would probably choose a longer length.

A very tall man will also need a longer scarf, but my daughter who is barely 5-foot talk tends to look for a scarf with a shorter length. As a general rule, your scarf should be approximately three times the distance between the waist and the shoulder of the person you are making the scarf for.

What type of stitch pattern would you like to make your scarf with?

Most beginners who are learning how to knit a scarf tend to keep it simple and use garter stitch or stocking stitch but if you are feeling more adventurous you can use any stitch pattern you like. Just bear in mind that the more complicated the stitch pattern is the harder it will be to finish your scarf!

First Steps

After you have made these very important decisions you should have worked out what ply you need and have the dimensions of the scarf you intend to make.  The first step when you are working out how to knit a scarf is to calculate the number of stitches you need to cast on to get the correct width for your scarf.

For the purposes of illustration, let's say you have decided to use 8 ply for a scarf that is around 20cm wide and 1.8 metres long.

For a scarf of this size you will need four or five 50 gram balls of wool, they don't have to be all the same color but it is a good idea to use the same brand of yarn as the weight and texture of yarn can vary between brands.

When you have your wool you need to work out your tension. Most balls of wool or yarn will have a guide to the recommended needle size and tension on the wrapper around the ball. If you are knitting your scarf without a pattern, I suggest that you use the recommended needle size so pick yourself up a pair while you are out shopping for your yarn.

If you are using a pattern, you will need to adjust the needle size depending on your how tightly or loosely you knit. Either way I recommend that you knit a tension square so that you can check your tension.

You should knit your tension square using the stitch pattern that you intend to use to make your scarf. When you have finished your tension square count the number or stitches and rows over a 10cm square. If you are using 8 ply with 4.00mm knitting needles your count should be close to the recommended tension of 22 stitches and 30 rows per 10cm.

Then you get to do a bit of math!

For a scarf that is 20cm wide, you would cast on double the number of stitches in your 10cm square. For a scarf that is 25cm wide, you would multiply the number of stitches per 10cm by 2.5.

To estimate the number of rows, you divide the length of the scarf (in my example above that would be 180cm / 10cm = 18) and multiply that by the number of rows in your 10cm square.

Getting Started

Now that you know how many stitches you need for your scarf you are ready to get started.

Cast on the required number of stitches and knit your first row. Continue knitting until your scarf is the length you desire, and then you can cast off your knitting and you are done!

How to Knit a Scarf - Patterns

If you are not keen on making it up as you go along and would prefer to work from a pattern, there are a few free scarf patterns on this site that you could use to knit your scarf. 

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