Search The Purl Bee
Sign up for our newsletter!

Idea Center
Follow The Purl Bee
« Molly's Sketchbook: Felt Hot Pads | Main | The Purl Bee's Best of 2010! »

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)

HI Liz,

More specifically, you should work with the wrong side facing you, insert your right needle purlwise into the two stitches below the one you're taking out, and let that stitch fall off the left needle. Then push the right needle back to free it from the stitch that is remaining on it and insert it purlwise into the two stitches beneath the next stitch you're removing.

That last step of pushing your right needle back happens quite naturally, so that as you get into the rhythm, it does just seem like you're inserting your needle into the two stitches below the one you're unknitting.

I hope this helps clarify the process for you! Please let me know if you run into any trouble!

December 10, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi ,

this is extraordinarily elegant pattern! Bu I would like to know if it`s possible to knit it with non-circular needles. I`d like to knit flat things such as afgans and other. Is it possible?
December 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGintare
HI Hanniah,

Sounds beautiful! The herringbone stitch isn't stiff by nature, so it sounds like you should maybe use a bigger needle next time to get a looser the tension. For this time, you should definitely try blocking your cowl. Just soak it in warm water, squeeze out the excess water and let it dry flat on a towel. If you kind of give it some tugs before you lay it out, it might loosen the stitches up a bit.

Thanks for asking and for making the cowl!
December 13, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
HI Gintare,

Our readers have had great success knitting the herringbone pattern flat by working the K2tog round as a P2tog row (wrong side) and the K2tog tbl round the same as in the pattern (right side).

I hope this helps! Please let us know if you have any more questions and thanks for this one!

December 14, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Is it okay to end on the K2TOG row? If so, how do I bind off?
December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
Hi Liz,

No problem! You should just follow the same bind off instructions, but every time they say "k2tog", you'll k2tog through the back loop.

I hope it works out! Congratulations on being so close to the end!

December 28, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hello,the scraf is beautiful. But I can not make the point.
Is it possible to have a video?
I'm French.
thank you : )

January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMurielle
When I started to knit in the round I just couldn't get the hang of starting off so I cast on and knit the first row on ordinary needles then transferred to circular needles. This gave me a little join to make when the garment was finished. It might be unorthodox but it works for me. I can't wait to try this cowl. Snowing here in UK!
January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlison
Can anyone tell me, is the seam in the back avoidable? Is my beginning of each new row visible because I am doing something incorrect, or is this just part of the pattern?

I feel that I understand the "Remove that stitch from the needle and twist it so it looks like this..." instruction, so I am not sure if the noticeable new row is an error or not.

Thanks for your help!
March 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth

I love this pattern!! I am almost half way through knitting this and I love the stitch... I am knitting it for my mother and I used Cascade Eco Duo alpaca/Marino blend. The yarn feels awesome but I am having trouble with shedding!!! It is supposed to be a gift for my mother but I feel like the constant shedding will ruin it!! Is there anything I can do to stop the shedding or at least lessen it after I have finished the cowl? Could i block it or put it in the dryer on a fluff no heat cycle?? i dont want to ruin it after i put so much time and effort into it. Please help
March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh
Purl bee,

I absolutely LOVE your site!! Thank you for all of the free patterns. I am hoping to make this herringbone cowl using the suggested Blue Sky's Suri Merino from a previous comment. (It never really gets cold in the south, so I like the idea of using a lighter weight yarn). What needle size would you recommend?

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSara
Hi Elizabeth,

Like most knitting in the round that involves a stitch pattern or stripes, you will see a bit of a "seam" at the transition (this one slants to the left). However, I found that giving an extra tug to the first stitch of every round really helped clean up the "jog".

Please let us know if you have any more questions and good luck!

March 18, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I started this awesome project 2 weeks ago and I am almost done! my only questions is, it is only measuring 49 inches around instead of 58 inches as indicated. I am using US17 circular needle with a worsted weight yarn and did cast on 220 stitches. I am too far ahead to start over. It is so beautiful and i am so proud of myself! i just wish it was a bit longer.
March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCee Cee
Hi Leigh,

Yes, you should block your cowl, although I wouldn't put it in the dryer. Just soak it in some warm water with a very gentle detergent, then rinse and squeeze out the excess water (do not twist or wring), and lay your cowl flat to dry.

Because of alpaca's long fibers, it does have a tendency to shed, but blocking should help a bit!

Thanks for your question!
March 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi Sara,

So much depends on the tension of your knitting. I would recommend trying out a few needle sizes until you like the look and feeling of your swatch.

Since the Herringbone stitch is worked on needles that are bigger than is usually recommended for the yarn, you might want to start your experimentation with a US #10 or so.

Thanks for your question and good luck!

March 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I just came by your store the other day and picked up all the supplies to start making this, i'm very excited! Im still a beginner knitter, and I have two questions. I saw on your tutorial for long tail cast on to use 3x the cast on edge in length of the tail. So for this scarf, do I need 174 inches? Just want to make sure im using the right dimensions to calculate that. Also, when I run out of yarn on one skein and need to go to the next, do I leave a tail on each and weave in the ends, like I would if I am changing colors, in order to change skeins?
Thanks for the info!!
March 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna
Hi Joanna,

Great questions! Yes, 174 inches is the correct calculation, although I always throw in an extra couple of yards because, of course, no one likes to cast on twice!

And, yes, that is exactly how you change balls...

Thanks for asking (and for visiting!) and good luck!

April 1, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I absolutely love your site!!! I am making a multicolored cowl, and it looks spectacular in this stitch. your directions are really clear, and i enjoy your writing style and enthusiasm, i have one question. when Knitting and purling, its easy to backtrack and fix a mistake. but i have no idea how to with this stitch. can you possibly post a video clip to demonstrate? I see that i am years away from the original posts, so i hope you see this comment. thanks again :)
April 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercathryn
HI Cathryn,

Thanks for your kind words! We unfortunately don't have a video showing how to unknit the Herringbone Stitch, but I did offer some advice to a reader a few comments ago. Here's what I said:

Working with the wrong side facing you, insert the right needle purlwise into the two stitches below the one you're taking out, and let that stitch fall off the left needle. Then push the right needle back to free it from the stitch that is remaining on it and insert it purlwise into the two stitches beneath the next stitch you're removing.

That last step of pushing your right needle back happens quite naturally, so that as you get into the rhythm, it just seems like you're inserting your needle into the two stitches below the one you're unknitting.

I hope this gets you on the right path! Thanks for asking and good luck!

May 6, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I tried this cowl several times with a variety of yarns and even though I am a seasoned beginner, I couldn't get any space between my rows so my needles were on top of each other constantly. I tried different needle sizes and no luck. I can;t figure out what I am doing wrong. THe cowl is beautiful and shouldn't be that difficult to knit Any ideas?
June 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdaphne jackson
Hi daphne,

Do you mean that the knitting feels tight and that it's difficult getting the tip of your right needle into the stitches? If that's the case, then you probably need to try even bigger needles. For this stitch I used needles that are five sizes bigger than I would normally use with this yarn!

I hope this helps. If not, please let us know and we'll try to get you on the right path! Thanks for your question!

June 22, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I would like to make this into a scarf and keep the herringbone oriented in the long axis as pictured. Do you think that would be too big? Also, I knit very loosely, so do you think it would take the same number of skeins?
July 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Hi Alice,

If yours ends up being 58 inches like this one, then no, that's not too long at all! And yes, you'll probably need the same number of skeins, although you could leave one unwound and exchange it if you don't end up using it.

Thanks for your questions and please let us know if you have more!

July 31, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Lovely pattern that has proven a nice challenge for a beginner.

I have a question about round 2 (K2tog through the back loop): Your instructions say to knit "to last stitch." Does that mean to knit until 1 stitch remains before the marker (as with the previous round) or to knit the last stitch prior to the marker AND the stitch after the marker?

Perhaps it doesn't matter, but I'm relatively new to knitting and trying to avoid more mistakes. Thanks.
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Hi Erin,

Work "to last stitch" means to work until one stitch remains before the marker (as for the first round). When you remove the marker, you will be knitting together through the back loop the last stitch of Round 2 and the first stitch of the next round.

I hope this helps. Please let us know if you have anymore questions and good luck!

August 23, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Gorgeous, unbeleavable !
October 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterararat23
You gotta be kidding about a 32 inch circular. I cannot even cast on 220 stitches with less than a 40 inch. I went out and bought a 47 inch just to be sure. But this is the most fun knit I have done since my last Steven West pattern and the yarn is a freaking dream!!!!
October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCoffeeiv
Hi Purl Bee!

This is a beautiful pattern and I can't wait to try it. Some questions though, I would like to do this project as a short cow. Is it possible to do this, and if so, what multiple of CO stitches would this pattern need?

Thank you so much for your patterns and ideas!
October 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChar
I have made one of these cowls, using the Blue Sky and I love, love, love it. However, to more experienced knitters, it might be like the old saying "a face that only a mother could love"..... as it's full of mistakes... some identifiable (picked up my knitting and started off with the wrong row- more than once!) and some not so identifiable to me- (a fairly novice knitter) leaving holes and gaps and gnarly spots. It is still lovely though, and when it's on.... no one would notice the fair amount of imperfections!
I'm just starting my second, again with the Blue Sky, to give as a gift- and this time I'm determined to minimize the mistakes- so it looks as nice off as it does on! I just want to say that I've read through all of these comments- and Whitney- you are the best. I'm so impressed with your patience, not to mention the real help your answers are to me : ) Just a thanks- love the pattern, love the yarn, so appreciative of your input here!
October 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjudy
Hi Char,

This stitch pattern can be worked on any number of stitches (it's not reliant on a certain multiple). To figure out how many you want you should multiply the gauge (3 3/4 stitches to the inch or whatever gauge you're working at) times the length the want and cast on that number.

Thanks so much for asking and please let us know if you have any more questions!

November 1, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I read comments here about the shedding tendency of certain yarn choices for this amazing cowl - specifically I have read here that Cascade Eco Wool had a high shed factor. Is this true of all alpaca blends? Is it true of Blue Sky? Can you also recommend alternatives in animal fibers that would give this cowl the loft and luxury it deserves that have a low to no shed factor? (If the alternatives could be price-ranked for the necessary 500 yd quantity, whether high to low, or low to high, that would be a bonus). Thanks!
November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
Hi- LOVE this and can't wait to start...just curious, isn't US 17 a bit large for Aran weight? Thanks!
November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaclyn
Hi Jaclyn-

Normally you are right, a size 17 would be very large for this yarn in stockinette or garter stitch. But because of the density of the herringbone stitch a larger needle is needed.

Thanks for your question and please let us know if you need any more help.


November 6, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
hello.i started knitting this cowl, but when knitting k2tog the stitches don't have the same leaning as when knitting the k2tog tbl.the stitches k2tog tbl are inclined to a bigger it supposed to look like this?thank you.i love your site :)
November 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commentervaleria
Hi Andrea,

It is true that because alpaca fibers are long, alpaca yarns do tend to shed. However, because Blue Sky's Worsted is a merino blend and also because of the way it is spun, it doesn't shed as much as most alpacas.

Some other options would be:

Cascade Eco Cloud (a bit of alpaca, but a woven spin)-


Swan's Island Bulky- AND

Please let us know if you have any other questions and thanks for these!

November 6, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi Valeria,

While the k2tog's should lean right and the k2tog tbl's should lean left, they should both have the same tension, and as you can see from the pictures, the overall effect should be fairly even.

If this isn't the case for you, perhaps you're not making the k2tog tbl's correctly. The Purl Bee doesn't have a tutorial or video for that particular technique quite yet, but Knitting Help does:

I hope this helps. If not, please let us know and we'll try to work it out! Thanks for your question!

November 6, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I absolutely love the look of this cowl, so luxurious. Just a quick question for you, though I do love the color and texture of Blue Sky's Worsted Hand Dyes, it is on the pricier side. Could Blue Sky's Worstes Cotton be used as an alternative? Would the cotton provide a similar weight and drape the same way the wool blend would? Thanks so much!

November 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAli
This is such a beautiful scarf. Can I make it shorter by casting on less stitches? Does the amount of stitches matter (short of being an even number)?

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori
Hi Lori,

You sure can! And no, the number of stitches doesn't matter, so just go for it!

Thanks for asking and good luck!

November 26, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hoping for help and advice - I am planning to make this cowl with Cascade Eco Wool. I love this yarn already but have not yet begun to knit with it because I am new to alpaca-containing yarn and first want to ask: do you recommend knitting the garment and then washing and blocking, or do you recommend washing the yarn first before beginning the project, in case it would control any shedding or stretching? Does this yarn tend to stretch? (the cowl unblocked is pretty long as it is) - just wondering what the best way is to work with it. Thanks!
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
Hi Andrea-

We always recommend knitting and then washing/ blocking. It's almost never a good idea to wash the yarn before you work with it. Also please keep in mind that this yarn is handwash only so make sure to wash it by hand!

Thanks for your question!

November 29, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Thank you for all of the help so far! I have two more questions today:

1) What is the most invisible join you have found when it comes to joining in the next ball of yarn?

2) My stitches on cast-on do not go all the way around the 32" cable. So to join in the round (being scrupulously careful not to twist my stitches), do I divide my cast on stitches in half and pull out a "mini-loop" of cable between the two halves to make it possible for the stitches on the needles right and left meet up for the join?

Since I am waiting to hear the answer before I start the join, I am not sure how the cable being longer than the stitch circumference works out as the knitting commences. Can you say a word about how it will work?
November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
Hi Andrea,

I always join a new ball the same way, which is to just start knitting with the new yarn (leaving a generous tail). This leaves a hole in the work which is later remedied when you weave in the ends.

If you're having trouble with your stitches reaching around the circumference of your needle, then yes, you can pull out some cord in a "loop" and join that way. But having said that and reading on to your final question, I'm a little confused. You should actually have no trouble reaching 220 stitches around a 32-inch needle. Also, the final circumference of the cowl is 58 inches, much longer than the cord. Did you cast on fewer stitches? If so, maybe you do, in fact, need a 24-inch circular needle.

Thanks for all your questions. Please let us know if you need any more help!

December 2, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Greetings, Whitney, and thanks for answering. I feel more confident now about what to do when it comes time to join; I was not sure how to keep "weaving in" invisible in this amazing stitch, it sort of leaves no place to hide and I did not know if spit splicing or doing any other kind of yarn join was preferred to leaving a long tail and just starting to knit with the new ball.

And regarding my question about cable circumference vs cast-on circumference, I did not mean to confuse the issue - but what I was doing was testing out the herringbone stitch with lighter weight yarn on smaller needles that happened to be joined by a cable that was longer than the swatch. So it may indeed not apply at all to the actual cowl, though I have seen posts where other knitters have said they needed to go up to a 40" cable and some went down in cable length, too. I am pretty new to knitting in the round on circular needles (mainly I have used DPNs to knit socks) and was trying to go through the mental exercise of picturing how it would work before I went through the physical attempt itself.

In the meantime, I did go through the physical attempt (yowza, what a cool stitch!) and found some videos on YouTube regarding "traveling loop" that were able to answer my question. I am good with my fingering weight trial on US 10.5 28" cable and am so excited now to get started on my Eco Cloud on US 17 32" cable since my fingers are smarter now.

I also must credit the YouTube video on knitting this magnificent cowl that was made by iKNITS for showing in action how to form this stitch. That, plus your clear photos, are really launching this wonderful piece and I can't wait to present it as a gift!
December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
Thanks Whitney for answering my post. I have started it as a cowl. It is a beautiful design.
Is there a video or directions on correcting errors either on the row you're working
or errors a row or more away?? :0
December 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori
@Andrea - I've also knit this with Eco Cloud and it is THE MOST comfy, cozy thing to keep you warm! I'm in love with it.

@purl bee - I have blocked it but the rolled edges keep coming back. Have you found if tension or binding perhaps, has an effect on the edge?

An absolutely beautiful stitch/pattern. Thank you!
December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLianne
Hi Lori,

We don't have a video or tutorial for fixing mistakes in this stitch, but here's what I can suggest...

It's most likely that you'll have to unkit your work back to the place where you made the mistake. I've given some advice to other readers on what to keep in mind when you're doing this. Here's what I've said...

Make sure that you slip your needle through the TWO stitches below each stitch that is on the needle. It may help to remember that each stitch is made by knitting two together, so you'll need to pick up both of those stitches.

I hope this helps! Thank you for your question and good luck!

December 11, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi Lianne,

There are a couple of additional things you could do to tame your edges. One is to add an Attached I-Cord. We have a tutorial on the subject here:

Or you could add a round of single crochet to each edge.

Neither solution will work a miracle, but both will help with the problem you're having!

Please let us know if you have any other questions and thanks for this one!

December 13, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi Whitney
Thanks for getting back to me. I was in the store the other day and was relieved to hear the seasoned knitters working that this pattern can bring one to their knees! All three said "make a mistake just forget it and keep going....don't look back"!!!
I am just about done with a herringbone cowl and I will absolutely knit more. It's sooo pretty. I just made myself check every row that it looks ok on front and back so I don't have to "undo" or worse rip out!!!!
December 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori

I am a huge fan of your projects (I've made quite a few! ) and love your store!

I would love to turn this into a baby blanket. After reading through some of the comments, I just want to make sure I'm getting this right. If I want a 36" blanket, would I cast on 135 stitches, not join in the round, and knit until I'm at the desired length? Is there anything else I would need to do for edges or would a border be necessary?

Thanks for the help!
December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterValerie

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.