If you are new to designing a hand knit project, the easiest one to begin with is a straight scarf or knit loop (infinity) in which the ends are sewn together or made in the round. A scarf is also a good place to experiment with pattern stitches, and to learn the importance of gauge. Let’s look at the steps to designing your first scarf.
Capture the Idea
All projects begin with an idea, the first step in the design process. Describe your idea in words, or use a drawing or image of the scarf you want to make. I’m not good at illustrations, so I use words and a simple schematic on graph paper, which I later use to write the instructions on.
Once you’ve decided on the shape and style, determine the measurements. How wide do you want it? Length? Do you want to be able to double wrap the loop? If you are having trouble deciding on a size, measure a similar one or use measurements from one in a pattern book.
Choosing Yarn and Stitch Patterns
Consider your project’s characteristics: is it a light weight, lacy summer scarf or a cozier, warm winter scarf? The thickness or weight of the yarn affects the design. A thin, twisted fingering weight yarn works well in intricate lace and colour patterns. A thick yarn creates weight, and is not as suitable in a multi-coloured scarf requiring “stranding” the yarn across the back of the work.
The fiber content of the yarn affects characteristics like durability and drape. I’m biased towards natural fibers, because their wearability and longevity is far better than for synthetics.
Planning yarn amounts is not an exact science. From my experience, approximately 4-50gram or 2-100gram balls of medium weight yarn knits a simple scarf about 7inches wide and 65inches long. Your local yarn shop can give you an idea as to yarn requirements, as well as similar styles in pattern books and magazines. If you are not sure, buy one ball and knit up a swatch using the whole skein. Measure the swatch to get an estimate as to how far one ball goes. Purchase an extra ball or two for the unexpected. A scarf project is also a great opportunity to use yarn remnants from your stash; make a striped or colour blocked scarf. The more complex a pattern stitch, the more yarn you’ll need.
Pattern stitch books are a great resource for ideas. The sky is the limit, and the only way to find out what works with your yarn is to swatch! Think about the pattern direction when knitting a loop, whether it’s made straight or in the round. For example, a cable patterned scarf (where the ends are sewn together) knit straight will be oriented across the work when sitting on your neck, whereas knit in the round, the cable runs vertically. Have fun experimenting with your yarn choice. Don’t be afraid to change direction if your plan isn’t working.
Work a large swatch to accurately measure gauge. Measure this test swatch and calculate the number of stitches and rows per inch of fabric. This is important to determining the number of stitches cast on, and also that you achieve the finished measurements. When knitting a project vertically, as for a straight scarf, the width is determined by the stitches that run horizontally across a row. Length is determined by rows that run vertically along the knit fabric. To calculate the number of stitches to cast on for a straight scarf, multiply the stitch gauge by the width measurement. This number may need to be adjusted for multiples or pattern repeats. For a scarf knit in the round, the length is the depth of the scarf.
Overall, gauge isn’t as critical for scarves as for garments. In particular, the row gauge is not as important unless a pattern repeat is involved, then you need to decide where you want the pattern design to finish, so that the repeat looks symmetrical along the length of the scarf.
Writing Simple Pattern Instructions
I like to write out pattern instructions on graph paper where my schematic was drawn. In depth instructions may not be important to you unless you are publishing your design. Writing out some of the important components of the pattern will serve as a guide to knitting your project, as well as a reference for other projects. I would include the finished measurements, the pattern stitches used and any colour arrangements, gauge, materials and number of stitches cast on. Take a pic of your finished project and keep your test swatch.
Weave in all yarn ends. I also like to wash the finished scarf to block it, but also to have a clean accessory to wear or gift.
The design process is far from a static process, and sometimes needs tweaking. Remember to keep a record of your project as a reference. Enjoy making your first designer scarf, and don’t worry about perfection, it’s all about the process.