Scarves can be lots of things. They can be exciting fashion statements, or comforting chill prevention. What role they fulfill is up to the knitter. Because they are basically rectangles, they make a good beginner’s pattern. Here is the advice that a beginner needs to avoid just buying whatever yarn and pattern the store wants to sell. As I put together the instructions for Knit A Super (Steelers) Scarf, I thought about the decisions that each scarf, or any knitted garment for that matter, requires. Sometimes you make decisions about the scarf based on who it is for and sometimes based on the yarn that you are eager to feel flow through your fingers. I think it might be helpful to other knitters to know how I make those decisions. What are the reasons that one scarf goes to one person and one scarf goes to another.
If I am making a scarf for a specific person, I first consider how that person will care for it. If they are a toss it in the washer and dryer kind of person, I make sure that they get a scarf made from yarn that will survive that treatment. Other people are more careful about how they treat a knitted garment and take appropriate care of your gift to them. Those people are a joy to knit for. The first type of person limits your choice of yarns, but that still leaves plenty of lovely options at the yarn store.
The next thing I consider about that specific person is their taste. If they follow a specific sports team or school, I might look for yarns in those colors. For example look at the various colored scarfs of the different houses in the Harry Potter books. It also isn’t appropriate to make a scarf in a hated rival teams colors in case someone would take exception. Their taste in color is important too. If they never wear yellows or oranges, it is probable that they don’t want a scarf made in those colors. If they have a bright colored garment that they wear all the time, I try to choose a yarn that will look nice with it. If they are not a shiny, glittery, flashy type of person, I don’t want to change their style too much.
What yarn is available and how much time do I have is the final factor in making a yarn decision. Thicker yarns knit faster than thin yarns. Plain yarns knit faster than fancier yarns like boucles, but the fancy covers a multitude of errors. Hairy yarn like fun fur, takes more care in counting and keeping the right number of stitches for the pattern. Embellishments like beads can be added as you knit and look amazing, but add to the time to make as well as to the care after completion concerns.
Elaborate patterns are a challenge and lots of fun. They are the thing that makes the knitting interesting for me. You can knit almost anything you can find a design for into a scarf. Remember to consider the orientation of the design to the person who looks at it. A cat is cute, but not if it is upside down. The figure can be shown either in changing the stitch to ribbing or by working yarn overs paired with Knit 2 togethers. It is pointless to work an elaborate pattern in a fancy yarn that will not show it off, so think plain yarn for that kind of pattern. The other kind of pattern that can add style to a scarf is a repetitive lace pattern. They involves yarn overs and Knit 2 togethers to provide beautiful openwork. These can be found in dozens of books. They involve a variation on basic techniques.
The larger the needle, you use, the lacier the scarf will appear and the quicker the scarf will be completed. Generally look at the range of needle sizes suggested on the yarn’s label. If it is a small needle, the scarf will take longer to complete, than if it is a large needle. You can of course go a size or two larger than the one suggested and try it out. A smaller needle size will give you a denser scarf, but that does not necessarily mean that it will be a warmer scarf. You would be surprised at how much warmth a lacy scarf can provide. By changing the needle size and the number of stitches you control the width of the scarf.
I hope this helps you sort out your scarf basics. I have included some pictures of knitted scarfs which I have made: The first is not only made on big needles, it is made large enough to serve as a wrap on a fall evening; The second has gathers at the back of the neck which keeps your neck warm, but has lace down both front panels (that were indeed worked in the same direction); The third shows what you can do if you want to join your scarf end to end and put a twist in it (although this was knit that way on purpose and has no seam); The final scarf takes a basic short row technique and turns it into a spiral. You can find basic patterns for scarves at Handmade Especially For You. This is an organization that donates scarfs to people in crisis shelters. If you have no one that you want to make a scarf for, but you want to make a scarf, there are chapters all over the country. Lion Brand Yarn and Knit Picks also have free patterns available.