With winter approaching, there’s nothing cozier than wrapping yourself up in a warm, hand-knitted scarf. But if you’re a beginner, determine the size of a scarf and and how to cast on can seem daunting. Even experienced knitters can struggle to get fit just right.
But fear not!
In this ultimate guide to knitting scarves, I’ll take you step-by-step through everything you need to know. From measuring gauge to determining length, I’ve got you covered. I’ll even show you how to make sure your scarf doesn’t curl!
- What is the Difference Between a Scarf, Shawl, Stole, and Wrap?
- 1. How Wide to Make Your Scarf or Stole?
- 2. Stitch Gauge: The Ultimate Determiner of Scarf Size
- Calculating Stitches: Finding the Right Number for Your Ideal Scarf Size
- Determining Length: Choosing the Right Size For Your Scarf
- Tips for Making a Knit Scarf that Doesn't Curl
- Shawl Dimensions: Anything Goes!
- Rock Your Scarf Size!
What is the Difference Between a Scarf, Shawl, Stole, and Wrap?
Before we dive in to sizing, let’s clarify some terminology. There are a lot of different items you can wrap around your neck and shoulders. The terms are often used interchangeably. And a single item can blur the lines between several definitions.
So let’s cover the 4 most common items we’ll be sizing:
- Scarf – A scarf is skinny and long rectangle, intended to wrapped around your neck.
- Shawl – A shawl is a much larger piece of fabric, worn around the shoulders or neck. It can come in any number of shapes from the traditional triangle to semi-circular, pentagonal, star-shaped or anything in between. Additionally, there are shawlettes—smaller skinnier shawls—and shawlankets—giant shawls that could almost double as blankets.
- Stole – A stole is usually rectangular and wider than a scarf, but not as big as a shawl. This is typically lighter-weight and often more formal in nature, intended for evening wear. It is worn around the arms and shoulders.
- Wrap – A wrap is an all-encompassing term that could refer to a scarf, shawl, or stole.
We’ll explore the size of scarfs and stoles first, because their rectangular shapes make them easier to figure out. And we’ll dive in to shawl dimensions at the end.
Before you grab your knitting needles and yarn, you need to determine 2 things get started.
1. How Wide to Make Your Scarf or Stole?
Determining the width of your scarf or stole is an essential aspect of creating the perfect size scarf. A scarf that is too narrow may not provide enough warmth, while a stole that is too wide could feel bulky and uncomfortable to wear. The ideal width for your project will depend on a variety of factors, including your personal preferences and the intended use of your finished piece.
Ballpark Width for the Perfect Scarf Size
Adult scarves can range from 5-11” (12.5-27.5 cm). Men’s scarves usually come in at around 6-7” (15-17.5 cm). Women’s scarves traverse the range. Dress scarves are often on the narrower end. Kid’s scarves size out at 3-5”(7.5-12.5 cm).
Ballparking the Width of a Stole
A stole is most often 20-30” (51-76 cm) wide.
Extenuating Circumstances That May Affect Your Stole/Scarf Size
One rule of thumb when determining the width of your scarf or stole is to consider the wearer’s size. A narrow scarf may be suitable for a petite person, while a wider stole may be better suited to someone with a larger frame.
Additionally, the intended use of your finished piece may also influence its ideal width. A cozy winter scarf may require a wider width to provide ample warmth, while a lightweight summer stole may be more practical in the narrower range.
It’s also important to consider the stitch pattern you plan to use when determining the width of your project. Some stitches, like 2×2 ribbing will require that you cast on a multiple of 4 stitches and won’t have a big impact on your ideal size. But some lace or cables pattern can span 20 or more stitches, not including border stitches to ensure that the finished piece lies flat, so you may need to choose your stitches carefully to get the correct size!
By taking these factors into account, you can determine the ideal width for your scarf or stole. Now, how do you get it?
2. Stitch Gauge: The Ultimate Determiner of Scarf Size
Gauge is the number of stitches and rows per inch that you knit with your chosen yarn and needles. Why is gauge important? Because it ensures that your size of your scarf will be correct!
To measure gauge, cast on a small number of stitches. I always aim for 4-6 stitches more than my desired gauge—usually around 24 for medium weights up to 32 for lighter weights) and knit a swatch in the stitch pattern you plan to use for your scarf. Make sure to use the same needles and yarn that you’ll be using for the entire project. Once you’ve finished your swatch, block it as you will block your project and then measure the number of stitches and rows per inch using a ruler or gauge tool.
If you’re making up this knit scarf as you go, this will help you calculate the number of stitches you need to cast on (see below).
If you’re working from a scarf or stole pattern and the gauge doesn’t match the pattern’s recommended gauge, you may need to adjust the size of your needles or switch to a different yarn weight. It’s always better to make a gauge swatch and adjust accordingly rather than getting halfway through your project and realizing it’s not turning out as expected.
By taking the time to measure your stitch gauge, you’ll ensure that your scarf or stole fits perfectly and looks just as you imagined.
Calculating Stitches: Finding the Right Number for Your Ideal Scarf Size
Once you have determined the ideal width for your scarf or stole, it is time to calculate the right number of stitches to cast on.
We’ll start by getting some raw numbers. If you measured 4”/10 cm of stitches from your gauge swatch, divide that number by 4 to get your stitches per inch. You’ll then multiply that number by your desired width. (Calculations will be done in inches, but they work the same in centimeters.)
Example CO Calculation for the Size of a Scarf
If I measured 20 sts over 4” –> 20/4 = 5 stitches/inch
If I want an 8” scarf –> 5*8 = 40 stitches
I would need to cast on 40 stitches for my ideal scarf width.
If you’re working with stockinette or garter stitch, this may be all you need to do to get started. But there may be other factors that affect the size of your scarf.
Other Factors that Affect Your Calculations
- The stitch pattern. Some stitch patterns require more or fewer stitches, depending on their width and complexity.
- Edge/border stitches you plan to include. These may add a few stitches to your overall count, depending on your design.
Example CO Calculation for a Patterned Scarf
If my stitch pattern is 9 stitches wide and I plan to have a border of 10 stitches. I’d use the base calculation above to get started:
40 sts – 10 border sts = 30 sts (area available for my stitch pattern)
30 sts/9 (size of the stitch pattern) = 3.33 (number of times I would repeat the pattern)
Since this is not a whole number, I can choose to repeat the pattern 3 times or 4 times:
9 * 3 + 10 = 37 sts –> 37/5(sts/in) = 7.4”
9 * 4 + 10 = 46 sts –> 46/5 = 9.2”
Neither option gets you to exactly 8”. You could accept that number, add or subtract border stitches, or choose a different stitch pattern! The options are endless!
Now that you’ve cast on, how long do you need to keep knitting?
Determining Length: Choosing the Right Size For Your Scarf
To ensure your scarf fits perfectly, it’s essential to choose the correct length. The length will depend on personal preference, but there are some general guidelines to follow. A standard scarf usually measures around 60 inches in length, while a stole can range from 70 to 90 inches. An infinity scarf will typically be shorter (around 50 inches) than a traditional scarf.
The main thing to consider is the recipient’s height when selecting your length. A taller person may prefer a longer scarf, while a shorter person may want something shorter. Additionally, the style of the scarf can dictate the length. A great starting point is measuring their “wingspan”—fingertip to fingertip with their arms stretched wide.
It’s also necessary to account for how the scarf will be worn. If the scarf will be wrapped around the neck multiple times, a longer length may be necessary. However, if the scarf will hang loose and draped over the wearer’s shoulders, a longer length may be necessary.
By determining the ideal length for your scarf, you’ll set yourself up for success in creating a finished product that meets your specifications. Next, we’ll dive into some tips for preventing your scarf from curling, so you can focus on creating a beautiful, well-fitting piece.,
Tips for Making a Knit Scarf that Doesn’t Curl
One of the most frustrating things when knitting a scarf is when the edges curl up, distorting the shape of the piece. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening.
Try using a different stitch pattern for the edges of the scarf. Rather than knitting the first and last few stitches of each row in the same pattern as the body of the scarf, try something like ribbing, garter stitch, or seed stitch. These edging patterns create a flatter, more stable border that won’t curl.
Finally, consider blocking your finished scarf. This involves wetting the piece and then laying it flat to dry, using pins to help shape it into the correct dimensions. Blocking can help to even out any tension issues that may be causing the curling, leading to a more professional-looking finished product.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to create a knit scarf that lays flat and looks great. Next, let’s explore the differences between scarves, stoles, and shawls, so you can choose the perfect accessory for your next project.
Shawl Dimensions: Anything Goes!
Shawls are versatile accessories that can be worn in various ways to add a touch of elegance to any outfit. As mentioned earlier, they come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses, giving you room for creativity when it comes to choosing the perfect size, yarn, and stitch pattern.
When it comes to shawl dimensions, the honest answer is that anything goes. I’ve seen shawls so small their basically neckerchiefs and some Stephen West doozies so big they manage to swamp even him.
But if you’re looking for a good rule of thumb, shawl lengths mostly land in the 65-85” (165-215 cm) range. The main thing you want to keep in mind is that if you intend to wrap the shawl around your neck, you want the tails to hang far enough down to be secure (and not always falling off your shoulders).
Shawl depths often ring in around 25-30” (63-76 cm). This is measured at the deepest point of the shawl.
When you consider the stitch pattern you want to use, remember that it will greatly affect you final shawl size. Some stitch patterns are more stretchy than others and may affect the final size of your shawl. For instance, a lace stitch pattern tends to open up and stretch when blocked, resulting in a larger shawl. Whereas cables will pull the fabric in, resulting in a denser stitches per inch.
Shawls are often blocked more aggressively than any other type of knit, resulting in significant size changes to the finished piece. I’ve had a shawl grow over 20” (50 cm). I like this “opening up” of a shawl because it increases the drape, which I love for a shawl. But if you cast off and absolutely love the size, consider just giving the piece a light steam block to set and settle the stitches.
Once you’ve considered all these factors, it’s time to cast on and start knitting your shawl or stole. Remember to check your gauge to ensure that you’re on track to achieving the desired dimensions. And don’t forget to block your finished shawl to give it the perfect shape and size.
Rock Your Scarf Size!
Knitting the perfect size scarf, shawl, or stole can seem like a daunting task, but with the right measurements and techniques, it’s easy to achieve this goal.
And when in doubt, go to a favorite scarf or stole in your closet and measure it out! Check out Ravelry for different ideas and choose a pattern you like! Or get that shawl’s dimensions and use it as a blank canvas to make your own design.
And of course, you can use these calculations to customize Midnight Frost, a free scarf pattern available here on the blog! Click now to get your copy and make it the perfect scarf for you!