I started a tutorial a couple of weeks ago but due to some technical difficulties with my blog host and elapsed time, I've put it all together in one post for you.
Using a stitch dictionary and especially one that gives you converted stitch patterns for in the round knitting such as Up, Down, All-Around Stitch Dictionary (just came out), you can make a simple cowl on the fly without a written pattern. These make great gifts because you don't really need to know a person's measurements for it to fit.
Most cowls measure about the same as a cap--about 22 - 23 inches. But if you want a bigger one that someone could loop around their neck a couple of times, just take a length of yarn or even a tape measure and try it on, make note of your desired measurement and then go shopping through your stitch dictionary for some stitch patterns!
Once you've done some shopping, it's time to get some great yarn that you'd like to use and do some swatching. I had a braid of Blue Sky Alpacas Metalico in the Silver colorway. I had just one skein, so I decided that I'd do some swatching and shoot for a small-ish cowl, one that measures maybe only 22 inches around.
I made two swatches, but this is the one that won. It's the Checks pattern that appears on page 206 in the Lace chapter of Up, Down, All-Around Stitch Dictionary.
After washing and blocking the swatch, it was time to measure.
Not including the two-stitch garter stitch edging on each side of the swatch, I got 18 stitches to four inches' worth of knitting, which is four and a half stitches per inch. The Checks stitch pattern is a six-stitch repeat and I wanted to make a cowl that measures about 22 inches around.
Therefore, what I did is multiply 22 inches by four and a half stitches: 22 x 4.5 = 99 stitches.
The thing is, 99 stitches is not divisible by six (the stitch multiple required). I then fiddled around to find a number close enough to 99 that has a matching multiple. The closest number I could find was 102, because I'd rather round up than down with this cowl.
Here is my resulting cowl pattern: Cast on 102 stitches and join in the round (using the same size needle as I used on my gauge swatch); place a marker and work 3 x 3 rib for a few rounds.
Why did I choose 3 x 3 rib? Well, the Checks pattern, if you look at it, has three knit stitches and three purl stitches that are grouped together. To me, it makes total sense to pair that rib with the stitch pattern.
Then, I worked as many pattern repeats as I wanted to--or until it seemed long enough, which turned out to be three and a half--and then finshed up with a few more rounds of 3 x 3 ribbing. I cast off in pattern and, voila!
I hope you make lots of cowls using this simple recipe! Happy Knitting!