Friday, February 1, 2013

The Magical Cowl - a tutorial

I don't have a pattern as such to offer for my handspun Magical Cowl, because there is so very little correlation between anything I spin and any commercial yarn weight.  However, since Jezz asked for instructions, I thought I would put together a tutorial on how to make something like this for yourself.

That's the cowl up there, and I think you can see that it's basically a dickey, or alternatively a fake turtleneck.  It's solid on top with ribbing, but divided at the bottom and, in that area, knit with a boxy stitch to lie flat.  Let's start with why that is.

Setting the Goal

My objective was a cowl that would not flop over, but rather keep my neck all the way up to my chin snug and warm on cold and windy winter days.  I wanted to be sure it lay flat along my collar bone to insulate where my coat zipper stops, and even extend down a bit in front (in back, I just wanted it long enough to keep drafts from getting inside my collar.)

To meet these needs, I was clearly looking at ribbing for the top, a non-curling stitch for the bottom, and gaps to keep the front and back pieces from riding up onto my shoulders.  (the gap section shown on top? that's the back - it's narrower and shorter, because it has less work to do.)

Determining Gauge

I really need to do a whole post on gauge, because it is so important to getting the size you want when your project is done.  In this case, you can't even cast on without knowing what your gauge is, so we'll look at how to figure it out.

1. Find some yarn you want to use.  I used handspun as I mentioned and really, the Polwarth fiber I made it with is fantastic for holding in heat without being even remotely itchy.  The stuff is like a cloud, if clouds were warm instead of cold and soggy.  I know it fell into either the 'bulky' or 'superbulky' bucket, but you can make a cowl with anything you are pretty sure you have enough of - 'enough' being, in my case, about 100g worth.

2. Find some 16" circulars or a set of double pointed needles in a size you think is too small for your yarn, though not too too small.  Your goal is a dense knit but you don't want to be working your needles into quicksand. 

3. Knit up a stockinette swatch of perhaps 30 sts by 30 rounds (or whatever is going to give you at least a little more than a 4-inch square).  If you think the yarn you're using might stretch or sag, as for example with a prominently silk or bamboo or cotton yarn, wet block it before you measure.  For my 100% non-superwash wool, I did not bother; that stuff has elasticity to spare.

4. Count how many stitches it takes to hit 4 inches, then break it down to stitches per inch.  Do the same for the number of rows.  The row gauge will be the same when you're done, but the stitch gauge will change when you make the cowl because of the ribbing stitch.  That's how you get the cowl to stay snug up around your chin instead of flopping over; the stockinette swatch is really just telling you how far your finished cowl will stretch.

Applying the Math

1. Measure the circumference from the back of your head to the widest part of your chin and back again.  Multiply that number by the number of stitches that go into an inch of your swatch.  (for example, if you are getting 5 stitches to an inch, and you got a 20-inch measurement, you would have this:  5 x 20 = 100 stitches.

Now take your stitch count and increase it by perhaps a quarter - this number is going to become very elastic ribbing, so you do want a little room to spare.  Following our example that might give you another 25 stitches for a grand total of 125.  Round that number up so it's divisible by 3: 126 stitches.

2. Measure the distance from just below your lower lip to your collarbone.  This is a tricky angle but if you prop the end of a 12" ruler on your collarbone just to the right of your chin, and bring the ruler up to touch your face, you'll get a pretty good idea. Multiply that number by the number of rows that go into an inch of your swatch.  (for example, if you were getting 5 rows to an inch, and you got an 8-inch measurement, you would have this: 5 x 8 = 40 rows.

3. Calculate the number of rows required to produce 1.25 and 1.5 inches, for the back and front flaps respectively.  You may want those sections to be longer, in which case calculate accordingly.

Drafting the Pattern

1. Your target stitch count was established in the second part of step 1 of the previous section.  But you don't want to just divide that number in two and make the front and back the same - even at the shoulders, your front has a little more territory than your back.  Look at perhaps a 60-40 split instead of 50-50, and then ensure both the 60 and the 40 are still multiples of 3.  If you need to do any rearranging, put the extra stitches into the front piece.

2. Note the number of stitches for the front and the back flaps, and the number of rows required for each. Plug in the following stitch, and prepare to cast on and knit each piece separately, as flat pieces (which is to say, not in the round - you can use straight needles, or a circular that you pretend is a straight needle):

Rows 1, 3 (wrong side): *K1, P2; repeat from * to end
Row 2: *K2, P1; repeat from * to end
Rows 4, 6 (right side): *P2, K1; repeat from * to end
Row 5: *K2, P1; repeat from * to end

NOTE: There is a bit of finessing involved in making the front and back sets work when you join them up for the tube part of the cowl, to ensure you have both right sides out and set up nicely for an uninterrupted ribbing stitch.  I've worked out what I did for mine, and I'll note that below, but if my version isn't going to work for your row gauge just be forewarned that you will need to rig this up somehow.

Casting On

Go ahead and knit the front and back pieces, separately.  Cut an 8-inch tail when you're finished the first, then when you finish the second, knit through the first round of K2, P1 ribbing, knit the other piece onto your needle in the same ribbing, place your marker for the start of the round, and carry on until you've reached your goal length.

Now let's take a look at my actual cowl.

Mary's Magical Cowl

A little less than 100 grams of handspun, bulkyish weight
4.5mm, 16" circular needle
Stitch marker

Size notes:
17" circumference for top opening
5.5" target length for ribbing
18" finished circumference, laid flat with ribbing relaxed
7" finished height, from top edge to bottom front flap
gauge: approximately 3.3 stitches, 5.75 rows per inch

Back Flap (8.5" wide when complete)
Using straight needles, cast on 30 sts to work flat
Rows 1, 3 (wrong side): *K1, P2; repeat from * to end
Row 2: *K2, P1; repeat from * to end
Rows 4, 6 (right side): *P2, K1; repeat from * to end
Row 5: *P1, K2; repeat from * to end
Cut 8" tail and set aside.

Front Flap (11.5" wide when complete)
Using straight needles, cast on 42 sts to work flat
Rows 1, 3, 7 (wrong side): *P1, K2; repeat from * to end
Rows 2: *P2, K1; repeat from * to end
Rows 4, 6 (right side): *K2, P1; repeat from * to end
Row 8, worked onto circular needle: [K2, P1] 14 times, then, working Back Flap sts onto needle with right side facing out, [K2, P1] 10 times. Place marker, and join to work in the round - 72 sts.

Round 1: *K2, P1; repeat from * to end
Repeat Round 1 until piece measures 5.5" from beginning of Body. Cast off in ribbing pattern as set.

Cut 8" tail, run in ends, and block.

If you've read all the way down this far, you may be wondering: Is it worth all this work?

Well, it sure was for me.  I loooove my Magical Cowl.  I hope if you make one for yourself, you love yours too!

No comments: