Since most scarves are knit flat with no seaming or shaping, they are a great project to learn basic knitting skills or practice a more advanced technique. But most knitters also learn that there’s more to knitting a perfect scarf than just grabbing your yarn and letting your needles fly.
Here are some quick tips (and some great patterns) for knitting a scarf that comes out perfect
1. Plan for the perfect size
A traditional scarf is commonly at least as long as the recipient is tall so the scarf can be wrapped around the person’s neck at least once.
Scarves that are worn draped, such as dress scarves, are shorter. A good starting point for length is a foot less than the person’s height. So if the person is 5’6″, you might knit a scarf that is 54″ long.
Other variations include neckwarmer scarves or cowls that might be as short as 36″. Children’s scarves range from 30″ to 45″.
Most scarves are between 6″ and 8″ wide. Dress scarves can be narrower, and scarves that double as shawlettes can be 10″ wide or more.
Here’s a fun way to measure the width of the scarf without a ruler. The average hand size (from wrist to finger tips) is 6.47″ for a woman and 7.44″ for a man. That falls right in the average width for a scarf! So just use your hand (or your recipient’s hand) to measure how wide you need to knit.
And if you want to know how many stitches to cast on to get the width you need, check out our post “Determining Yarn Weights.”
But the most important tip about size is to check on the recipient’s preferences before you start!
2. Buy the right amount of yarn
Of course, the amount of yarn you need for a scarf depends on the stitch pattern you are using, so always swatch!
However, here are some general estimates for a garter stitch scarf in different weights of yarn:
- Lace/Sock/Fingering – 12 yards per inch of length (864 yards for a 72″ scarf)
- Sport – 10 yards per inch of length (720 yards for a 72″ scarf)
- DK — 8 yards per inch of length (576 yards for a 72″ scarf)
- Worsted — 7 yards per inch of length (504 yards for a 72″ scarf)
- Bulky — 5 yards per inch of length (360 yards for a 72″ scarf)
For traditional scarves, you will probably need at least two skeins or hanks, but there are patterns available for one-skein scarves like the one below.
3. Keep your scarf laying flat
The same stockinette or ribbing that looks great on a project that’s meant to be fitted or seamed will look completely wrong on a scarf that’s meant to be draped or lie flat.
So if you’re using a stitch pattern like stockinette that curls up naturally at the edges, make sure to knit a border on your scarf. Borders can be a few stitches or rows of garter stitch, seed stitch or another mix of knit and purl.
You also want to be careful when you choose a rib pattern for scarves. The traditional knit and purl ribbing that looks so nice when stretched in a hat or hem will bunch up in a scarf. The solution is to select an alternate ribbing pattern that uses another stitch pattern in between the ribs to stabilize them, like the one below.
4. Making reversible scarves
Most accessories and clothing have an obvious outside that will let you hide an ugly or messy reverse on the inside. With scarves, you don’t have that option. Scarves are going to flap in the wind or be tied or wrapped so that the reverse shows. So you always have to consider what the reverse will look like when you knit a scarf.
The best solution is to use a reversible pattern. But what does reversible mean in knitting? Here are three ways I have seen reversible defined by designers.
1. The wrong side looks exactly like the right side. This is rarely happens unless you have garter stitch. The Flat Rib Scarf above looks the same on both sides.
2. The wrong side has an interesting look that is not messy or ugly but it doesn’t look like the reverse. For example, a stockinette scarf will have all knit stitches on one side and all purl stitches on the reverse. This is really a matter of taste as to whether you consider this reversible or not.
3. The wrong side is a reverse image of the right side so you will see a stitch pattern or a cable pattern in the reverse of the right side. The pattern won’t look exactly the same, but it will be complementary so it won’t be jarring. This seems to be the most common use of reversible designs.
You can achieve this type of reversibility in a variety of ways. Many knit and purl stitch patterns will create a complementary reverse.
5. Double your color with double knit
Color patterns in scarves present a great challenge…and opportunity. Any stranded colorwork like intarsia or fair isle creates messy wrong sides that you don’t want on a scarf. The solution is to use double knitting or slipped stitch colorwork that can give you a striking positive/negative pattern on both sides of your scarf. Double knitting involves knitting two layers of fabric simultaneously by slipping stitches.
As you can see in the double knitting scarf above, the grid design on the inside is the negative of the reverse side facing outward. Double knitting can be used for a variety of complex designs that go beyond basic geometric shapes including flowers, people, animals and more.
6. The two-piece scarf
Why would anyone knit a scarf in two pieces? If your stitch pattern or motif has an obvious direction, when the scarf is knit in one piece and wrapped around the neck, the motif on one end would be upside down in relation to the other end. The solution is to knit the scarf in two pieces and join by seaming in the back. If you haven’t tried seaming your knits, our FREE class Ins & Outs of Grafting is a good starting point.
7. The easy way to get a prettier scarf end
Tired of the flat ends you get with your scarves but don’t love fringe? Try a lace stitch or any stitch pattern that includes increases and decreases. The increases and decreases create natural ripples in the stitches that carry through to the ends of the scarf in scallops, chevrons and other shapes depending on the lace pattern.
Did you know Craftsy’s YouTube Channel is full of free, quick video tutorials?
Check out this one featuring top tips for knitting a scarf from Craftsy instructor Stefanie Japel.
See more on Craftsy’s YouTube Knitting Channel.