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Whit's Knits: Big Herringbone Cowl

This winter New York City streets are filled with people who have learned the secret of keeping warm. They are all wrapped up in the big soft folds of the oversized cowl. A long loop that you twist and double around your neck, it's definitely a glamorous touch in a what can otherwise be pretty frumpy season. Don't you love when fashion and function meet in such happy harmony?

This cowl was inspired by Joelle's classic Herringbone Poncho from her very first book, Last Minute Knitted Gifts. I have always been so taken with the drape and texture of Joelle's poncho that I was really excited to borrow her idea for this project!

I stuck with Joelle's choice of yarn, Blue Sky's Worsted, because it is by far one of Purl Soho's softest, most cuddly yarns, perfect for wearing around sensitive skin areas like your neck. A blend of fine merino wool and royal alpaca, it has a beautiful weight that creates cascading, dramatic fabrics. Just what I was looking for!

The cowl's final look keeps one foot in the past with a traditional herringbone stitch. It's such a distinctive stitch on such a powerful garment, you're going to feel about one foot taller when you wear yours!

The Materials

The Pattern


15 stitches = 4 inches in herringbone stitch

Finished Size

14 inches wide and 58 inches around


Cast on 220 stitches. To ensure that your first round isn't too difficult, cast on fairly loosely; your stitches should easily slide up and down the needle.

Join into the Round

Make sure the stitches aren't twisted around the needle, and slip the last stitch you cast on from the right needle to the left needle (so that it is next to the first stitch cast on).

Place a replaceable jumbo stitch marker on the right needle.

K2tog and slip only the first stitch off the left needle (leaving the second stitch on the needle)... it looks like this.


Round 1: *K2tog and slip only the first stitch off the left needle, repeat from * until 1 stitch remains.

Remove the stitch marker and k2tog, slipping the first stitch off the left needle. Place the stitch marker to the right of the first stitch on the right needle.

The next stitch looks like this...

Remove that stitch from the needle and twist it so it looks like this...

Round 2: *K2tog through the back loop (K2tog tbl), slipping the first stitch off the left needle, repeat from * to last stitch. Remove the stitch marker and k2tog tbl, slipping the first stitch off the left needle. Place the stitch marker to the right of the first stitch on the right needle.

The next stitch looks like this...

Remove that stitch from the needle and twist it so it looks like this...

Repeat Rounds 1 and 2 until piece measures 14 inches from the cast on edge, ending with all the steps of Round 2.

Here's what the right side of Herringbone Stitch looks like:

And here's what the wrong side looks like:

Bind Off

NOTE: You will continue to work the Herringbone Stitch for the bind off.

Bind Off Round: [K2tog and slip only the first stitch off the left needle] 2 times, pass the first stitch over (just like a normal bind off), *k2tog and slip the first stitch off the left needle, pass the first stitch over, repeat from * until 2 stitches remain (1 stitch on the left needle and 1 stitch on the right needle), knit the last stitch tbl and pass the first stitch over. Cut the yarn and pull it through the remaining stitch. 

Weave in the ends, gently block and then bundle up!

Reader Comments (276)

I LOVE how this stitch looks, and I am currently knitting this cowl. BUT, the stitch is awful to knit. I am not having fun at all, it is very stressful and knitting should be a calming activity! However, I will persevere, I am only on the second row, but really, this stitch is not fun for me to knit...but this cowl is too beautiful!
October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZoe
This is so beautiful!

I purchased the Blue Sky Alpacas hand-dyed worsted for a cardigan last summer at Purl Soho and the yarn is exquisite! It is so soft and wonderful to work with. The cardigan is nearly finished and I will have a few skeins leftover. Definitely going to try this.

The photos are very clear and make it look easy to follow. I can't wait to get started!
October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice
Hi Zoe,

I'm sorry to hear that you're having a hard time! It's true that the Herringbone Stitch can be a formidable stitch for some people; but I do think that, while knitting can be a very calming activity, it also has the potential to be wonderfully challenging - demanding our attention, fortitude and, as you say, perseverance! I always keep one of each kind of project going, a TV-night project and an all-my-focus project, because there's a time and a place for both!

Thank you for sticking with it and good luck!

October 10, 2011 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Absolutely stunning, I'm going to use this technique to make the hubster a scarf, I think. He really likes it, and he *hates* knitwear, so it must be something really special for him to like it!
November 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaisy
Oh I love the look of this cowl. Can almost feel the softness of the yarn thru the photo. I am a crocheter and just taught myself the knitting basics but really want to try this with your yarn, especially since I am not a lover of winter weather.
November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl
Such a beautiful scarf! Thanks for sharing. If I could only find the time to knit one for myself. :-)
November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYknitsncrochet2
Strong, Quality look. I can not wait to give it a try. Beautiful. I really like this one.!
November 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia
This is so beautiful. I cast on last week and linked back in a blogpost about my favorite diy's here:

xo Jeau
November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeau
BEAUTIFUL cowl, but I am having trouble figuring out how to bind off. I just can't get it to work the way it looks in the photos. Could you explain a little differently what 'passing the first stitch over' means? Thank you!
November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCallie
Hi Callie,

Passing the first stitch over means to slip the second stitch on your right needle off the needle, passing it over the first stitch still on the needle. This is exactly how you would do a normal bind off. If you're still confused, try a little practice exercise where you do a normal knit bind off, taking note of how you "pass the first stitch over".

I hope this clarifies things for you. You're almost there - congratulations!

November 10, 2011 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Lovely cowl...I was given some yarn as a gift and would love to use it for this project. I have 330 yards of baby alpaca. Using size 10 needles - 15sts & 20 rows per 4". Can this pattern be adapted for my yarn?

Thank you in advance!
November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeb
This is very pretty. Looks like I'm going to have to put in on my queue. and maybe bump it up to my top 3.
November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEnid
Hi Deb,

Yes, it sounds like you have great yarn for this project! It sounds like a very similar weight (Blue Sky Worsted would also be about 15 stitches over 4 inches with a #10 needle). So, I don't think you need to change the needle size, but you may run into a yardage problem.

With the amount of yarn you have your cowl will probably end up 9 or 10 inches wide instead of 14. If you'd like to add a little width, try casting on fewer stitches. The pattern works with any number of cast on stitches!

Thanks for asking and good luck!
November 21, 2011 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I just finished this cowl and it is everything that I dreamed it would be! Cozy? check. Sophisticated? check. Turns heads? check. Easy to wear? check. I love it, and most likely will only take it off when eating pizza, squash and other brightly colored foods. Thanks for the pattern!
November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
So, just to confirm i understand the answer to River's earlier comment correctly -- on the finished cowl, the seam does not lie in a straight vertical line, but rather has a bit of a diagonal? Is that right?
November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEss
Hi Ess-

You are correct the seam has a diagonal slant.

Thanks for your question!

November 29, 2011 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I finished this cowl and much to my chagrin, it was twisted, not once but twice (like a mobius but twice!) I have a feeling that I did not twist the first stitch of round #2 a couple of times-- would that cause the twisting or was it in the cast on? Any ideas?
Otherwise, it is beautiful and had gotten many comments at our Thursday Knit Night.
December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGay
@Gay -- I sympathize. Just discovered a double twist on my end, too. Would love to find out what might have caused it. Overall, though, terrific cowl.
December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate
HI Gay and Kate,

I'm so sorry you both had a twisting problem! The mistake occurs right as you join the work into the round. When the pattern says, "make sure the stitches aren't twisted around the needle", it means that you want to be very careful that your cast on stitches never spiral around the needles.

In this case, where there are so many cast on stitches, that can be a little difficult! One trick is to knit one row before you join into the round. One row of knitting makes any twisting easier to see and to avoid. (You'll have to use the cast on tail to sew up the tiny gap caused by one unjoined round.)

Anyway, that's all advice for your next in-the-round project! As far as this one goes, I hope your cowls are still lovely and wearable and that they keep you cozy this winter!

December 12, 2011 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I've just purchased three skeins of Elsebeth Lavold Silky Flamme (50% Peruvian wool/30% FS alpaca/20% silk), a total of 246 yards. Do I have enough? This is SO gorgeous!
January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
Hi Brooke-

This pattern calls for 500 yards total so unfortunately you don't have enough at this point.

Thanks for your question!

January 6, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Yet another question (bear in mind I'm a new knitter): I've got to order #17 needles, but have a 47" cable as well as one that measures, from screw-in tip to screw-in tip, about 30". Can I sub/use the 47" cable or use the 30"?
January 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
Hi Brooke,

I think you'll be fine with the 30 inch needle since it's only 2 inches shorter than the one recommended (which is also measured from tip to tip).

Thanks for asking!
January 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpurlbee
I am excited to try this stich and pattern. I have one question about the weight of the yarn and needle size. The yarn you recommend is a worsted weight, which calls for a US #9 needle, but you used a US #17. Will that make for a loose stitch? Should I use a bulkiier yarn? I like the look of the stiches photographed.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful pattern.
January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYas
I'm also struggling with this! Was so excited to start, then I found the first r2 incredibly difficult, very tight and hard to knit. I was just into R3 when I spotted I had the mobius strip problem, so pulled it out and cast on again. Now I am about 6 or so rows in, I'm finding the backward loop rows still very difficult and now I've spotted a weird section of about 6" where it looks like I'm a whole row missing, I don't understand as I'm working in the round so how could I have missed a row for a 6" section? But then it looks so clearly like there are fewer rows for that part.... So guess I'm going to pull it out again.

Any tips for the backward loop rows?

One issue is that I'm knitting on 24" needles because a friend lent them to me and I thought it would work. I'm wondering if that is causing a problem beyond just the bunching and overcrowding which I feel I can work with.
January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHelen
Has anyone tried making a narrower version of this? I'm fairly petite and I'm afraid that wrapping something 14" wide around my small shoulders is going feel/look smothering. I'm considering binding it off around 10" in width and wondering if anyone has done the same. Thanks!
January 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
HI Helen,

Even if you're not normally a tight knitter, people sometimes have tension problems with big needles because they make their stitches on the tip instead of down the shaft where the actual full diameter of the needle is. So, make sure to put your right needle through the stitches on the left needle all the way so that you're wrapping the yarn around the thick part of the needle, not just the tip!

I would say that, while the 24 inch needle isn't making your job any easier, it probably isn't responsible for the tightness of your stitches.

And, the weird 6 inch section may have been happened when you put your knitting down and then, when you picked it up again, you started knitting in the wrong direction. This may sound totally impossible, but I still do it more often than I'd like to admit!

I'm so sorry for the difficulty you've been having! I hope you conquer all these challenges and end up with a Herringbone Cowl you love!

January 30, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
HI Andrea,

I have a friend who did just what you're suggesting (because she ran out of yarn!), and her cowl turned out great! You may also consider casting on fewer stitches (any number works with the pattern) since a narrower cowl will double wrap around your neck a little bit looser.

Thanks for your question!
January 30, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Thank you so mutch for charing this pattern! I think I'm going to make this one from the new whool I bought today!

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFlo
Thanks Whitney! I have just invested in a large bamboo needle, I don't think metal was helping my cause either. I'm ready to start again.... though doesn't look like I'll be needing it too much this winter so plenty of time to sort it! Thanks for the help though, I think you're right about me knitting too much on the tips - and I'm a tight knitter anyway...
February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHelenC
Any advice on how to keep the stitches consistent? I just started, so I expect things to be a little awkward as I learn the stitch, but I sure would like the stitch to even out soon.
February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
I have been collecting random skeins of Koigu Kersti for quite a few years . Just bought a skein now and then when I could afford to ... But could never find the right project for them .... NOT another shawl, please. They just make an older woman look, well, older. When I saw this cowl I knew I had finally found the project for my Kersti. It is turning out gorgeous! Each skein of Kersti is a different combination of jewel tones. The herringbone perfect for accentuating the color changes. Used a size 15 needle. Fabric is probably a little less dense than the original but I like the weight. Thank you Whitney for writing the perfect pattern for my stash of Kersti! It is turning out to be one of the loveliest things I have knitted.
February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCici
Hi Amy,

One thing to keep in mind is that you should be making the stitches on the fattest part of the needle, not on the tips. This is true of all needles, but is especially important with big needles like these.

Also, after you wrap the yarn around the needle to make a stitch, try to resist giving it any kind of extra tug. Just wrap the yarn naturally around the needle, trying to keep an even tension throughout the whole stitch.

I hope these tips help and good luck!
February 26, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Thanks Whitney! My stitches definitely improved after a bunch of rounds. But it is certainly hard to resist that extra tug! Another question: any blocking advice? I am using the Blue Sky worsted hand dyed yarn, as you used for the pattern, and the end curls more than I'd like. I am still a pretty new knitter and haven't done a lot of blocking. So any advice would be appreciated. Is the one in the pics on the website blocked? thanks again so much! Amy
February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
Hi again Amy!

I honestly can't remember if I blocked my cowl, but if I did here's how I would have done it:

Soak the cowl in a sink of warm water with a mild detergent. Rinse out the soap and squeeze out as much water as you can (without wringing or twisting). Then roll the cowl up in a dry towel and squeeze the towel (I literally walk on it!). Then lay the cowl out on another dry towel, being careful to not stretch it too much and to keep all the edges flat and straight. Then wait for it to dry. That's it!

I hope this helps with the curling - I think it will!

March 5, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I don't know if it's because I live in New Zealand, but I have only just discovered this gorgeous pattern! I am half way through knitting it as I write, and wanted to say: THANK YOU! You have made the herringbone stitch so simple to do, the effect is gorgeous, and now as we face the start of our own fall and winter seasons , I have a stunning new project to keep me occupied on my winter evenings.
March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
is the stich marker supposed to travel? I am slightly confused about where I am supposed to place the marker at the end of the round because the picture and the directions suggest that it moves one stich to the right after every round and this is creating a strange seam. what am i doing wrong?
March 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersheridan
Hi Sheridan,

Yes, the stitch does travel and yes, there is a bit of a diagonal "seam". I found that giving a little extra tug to the first stitch of each round made the transition a bit neater.

I hope this clarifies and helps! Thanks for asking!

March 15, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
My sister found this pattern last year and asked me if I would make one for her (she doesn't knit). I did, and it turned out beautifully!! She loved it so much, I made her a matching hat.
March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennie
Hi. Quick question for you on this cowl (which is gorgeous!). Any suggestions/tips for undoing five rows? looks like i switched from k2tog to k2 tbl in the middle of a row. don't really want to go stitch by stitch, but am concerned about being able to accurately pick up the stitches if i just pull out the stitches.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradriana
Hi Adriana,

Instead of trying to pick up live stitches you may want to try slipping your needle through the entire round below your mistake, making sure you don't skip any. Then rip out all the stitches until you get to the round that is resting on the needle. You might find this much easier, but if you're still concerned it may be worth just going back stitch by stitch!

Good luck!
April 3, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
When knitting fabric with this stitch, do the edges roll up like stockinette stitch?
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMadeline
Hi Madeline,

The edges of the cowl did curl a little bit (especially the bind off edge), but with blocking, plus the weight and size of the fabric it does end up nice and flat. But I don't think you would have this kind of result with a traditional scarf shape. Because the Herringbone Stitch is essentially all knitting on one side and all purling on the other, it will have the tendency to roll.

Thanks for asking!
May 10, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I love the look of this stitch! I've got to try this cowl. Thanks!
June 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercindy
Hello All...I ADORE your site. I have been knitting for just over a year,5 days into learning I came across this site and the herringbone cowl. I have yearned for this pattern and the skill to execute it. I'm attempting it now,but find that when I drop stitches I have no idea how to pick up ,I found a tutorial on youtube but that was for working straight.Any help for working in the round, how to pick up and make it error free? I looked on Ravelry and this seems to be a common problem.I wonder if you can help.Is there a tutorial for herringbone in the round that you could link me to? and other than writing down,a tip for working out which is row 1 and which is row 2? -I forget which row I'm on after coming back to the work, get stuck and can't even work out how to take back the stitches.Any help would thrill me and be greatly appreciated! Is it going to change the garment if I knit straight then do a three needle bind off? Sorry for all the questions but I just love this and want to knit it like mad!!
Thankyou in advance
July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBallu
Hi Bailu,

I don't know of any video tutorial like the one you describe, but my advice would be the same I gave to Adriana, a few questions before yours: Instead of trying to pick up live stitches you should slip your needle through the entire round below your mistake, making sure you don't skip any stitches. Then rip out all the stitches until you get to the round that is resting on the needle. I would add that you can also go back stitch by stitch, inserting your left needle into the two stitches below the stitch on your right needle, and then pulling the stitch off the right needle.

To tell the difference between rounds, the k2tog round leans to the right and the k2tog through the back loop round leans to the left. Easy!

And, sure, you can knit your cowl flat, although you may want to sew the ends together rather than use a three needle bind off since the bind off is a little tricky!

Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and perseverance! Good luck!
July 16, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I have to start right now cuz i feel like it s gonna take me 3 years to make it well ;p
July 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjordi
Hello Whitney...and THANKYOU!!
I bit the bullet, and in a moment of stress/ retail therapy , bought madeline tosh vintage and the worsted hand dyed in ecru oh that worsted yarn my gosh!! I just saw the how to- undo stitch by stitch- superb THANKYOU
I really Love this garment and just cannot wait til it's finished and all your tips are very useful especially how to undo stitch by stitch, sometimes that IS necessary isn't it?!
The lifeline technique is literally that a lifeline, I didn't know it could be so addictive this knitting..
More herringbone... LOVE IT !!
July 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBallu

I made a mistake somewhere along the way and I want to rip out the yarns to where the mistake is.
If I were to slip my needles through the slanted loops in the row below the mistake then rip out all the rest, would that work? I am confused!!

July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCelia
Hi Celia,

That's almost right, you just have to make sure that you slip your needle through TWO stitches for every "slanted loop". It may help to remember that each slanted loop is made by knitting two together, so you'll need to pick up both of those stitches.

I hope this helps! Thanks for asking!
August 2, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee

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