How to knit a scarf

By Megan Goodacre

How to knit a scarf

A scarf is a great first knitting project. I mean, it’s basically a big rectangle, and a knitted rectangle is where most of us start. And a scarf is a practical layering item that you’ll actually use, or that you can gift to someone.

What kind of yarn is best for knitting a scarf?

Worsted or aran weight yarn (medium or bulky weight) are great choices. They are thin enough to make a flexible knitted fabric that will drape, and thick enough to be warm. Finer yarns, like DK, sport, fingering, or lace, make lovely scarves too, but will take more time. Heavier yarns, like bulky, make for fast knitting but the scarf will have less drape.

A scarf will sit next to the sensitive skin of your neck, so make sure you pick a fibre that won't irritate. A fibre that you can wear as a sweater or socks might be more irritating as a scarf. Look for blends with superwash merino, silk, cashmere, or cotton. 

How much yarn do you need to knit a scarf?

I’ve knit 2.5 scarves this year, and I had the same question. I was weighing yarn, and trying to figure it out, then remembered that I actually figured this out when I wrote my first book! It was a cool moment for me to use my own book to get an answer. I gave myself a little high-five for that one.

The answer is, it mostly depends on the size you want and how much texture the knitting will have. A smallish worsted weight scarf can be made with as little as 350 yards (320 metres). I prefer my scarves on the larger side, and I don’t like to worry about running out of yarn, so I usually allow about 800 yards (730 meters) of yarn.

The nice thing about a scarf is that, as you go, you can see how much length you get out of a ball of yarn, and calculate how much more yarn exactly you'll need.

In Chapter 16, A Guide to Yarn, I talk about types of yarn fibers, from cotton to possum (yes, possum), thickness of yarn (from lace to super bulky), and how to estimate how much yarn to buy.

About Yarn in Idiot's Guide to Knitting


Do you need to make a gauge swatch when making a scarf?

Well that depends, but the short answer is no. If your gauge (the size of your stitches) doesn’t match the pattern, your scarf be narrower or wider than the scarf in the pattern. And unless you’re wildly off, that doesn’t matter too much. (It would matter with a sweater, but that’s a different blog post).

What size should a knitted scarf be?

A “standard” scarf is about 7 x 60 inches (18 x 152 cm). But there’s a lot of range in a scarf.

Width can be from 6 to 16 inches (15 to 41 cm)
Length can be from 55 to 80 (140 to 203 cm)

Remember that while there’s a lot of range in the size, you don’t want it too narrow because the knitted fabric will tend to curl on itself and stretch lengthwise. Too long, and you end up with a scarf that you trip on.

Choosing a knitting pattern for your scarf

This part can be daunting. At this moment there are over 35,000 knitting patterns for scarves on Ravelry. That’s too many to sort through. To be honest, when it comes to knitting a scarf, I usually design my own. Partly because there are too many to choose from.  

I’ve made some scarf patterns you might like

Gansey Scarf

In my book Idiot's Guide to Knitting, I included a pattern that uses traditional knit-purl combinations in a beginner pattern, the Gansey Scarf. For that scarf, you’ll need about 330 yards of worsted weight yarn. You could easily substitute aran weight yarn. The finished size of that scarf is 7 x 56 inches (18 x 142 cm).

Gansey Scarf in Idiot's Guide to Knitting by Megan Goodacre 

Olivia Scarf

My free pattern for the Olivia Broken Rib Scarf was my first project after a long hiatus from knitting. It’s a very easy pattern that you could easily customize for your own tastes. Change the width, length, or the yarn. The stitch pattern has a pleasing texture but it’s so easy to knit.

Olivia scarf free knitting pattern

And if you feel like getting a little more advanced, my Lyric and Lexicon patterns are both really good options. They have a little bit of added interest in the texture, but without any complex techniques.

Lyric scarf pattern color block version

Lexicon scarf knitting pattern


Cast on and knit your scarf!

Unless the pattern tells you otherwise, use the cast-on method that you know best. I usually use the long tail method of casting on. It's fast to do and fairly elastic. 

Then follow your pattern. Once you get going (as long as the pattern is simple) it will get easier and easier because you'll memorize the pattern. 


Tips for keeping it interesting

Scarves are long. Set yourself small goals, like knitting 10 rows at a time. Or choose a pattern that has stripes or texture changes. My Lexicon pattern is great for that, and the Gansey Scarf from IG Knitting is too. And with Lyric, I worked in colour blocks. Changing colours is a good way to revive your interest in a long project. 


Cast off and block

When you're done, wet block carefully and lay the scarf out to dry on clean towels. Take the time to straighten out the edges, and let it dry.

(Feature photo copyright Idiot's Guide to Knitting)