Already mastered knitting a scarf, and want to try something a bit different (but still simple)? How about knitting a cowl? Cowls keep your neck warm like scarves, but they’re circular and close at the ends, so the overall look is different. Whether you’re more interested in fashion or function, knitting a cowl is a fun project that will produce something you can wear again and again. Read on to learn more about how to knit a cowl. 

Knitting Supplies

If you’ve completed some knitting projects previously, you’ll likely have everything you need to knit a cowl. Just choose a pattern and pick out some new yarn.

Cowl Knitting Pattern

knitting patterns
A sample knitting pattern for a cowl.

It’s a good idea to follow a knitting pattern for any project that’s more complex than a simple garter or stockinette stitch scarf in a single color. A knitting pattern for a cowl might be quite simple, or it could be more difficult (like the one above), so choose one that fits your skill level. 

Either way, a knitting pattern will always provide you with the materials you need, the necessary gauge if relevant, and step-by-step stitch instructions for the project. Whether you find an online knitting tutorial or a printed cowl knitting project from a craft store, a pattern of some form will be included.

Knitting Needles

knitting on circular needles
To knit a cowl, you’ll need to use circular needles. Student work by Jackie Salvador for Next-Level Knitting: Cables.

While it’s possible to knit a basic cowl on straight knitting needles, it’s typically better to work with circular needles. Instead of two separate needles with a point at one end and a knob at the other, circular needles are two pointed ends joined by a wire or plastic cable. They’re no more difficult to use than straight needles, but they do take a bit of getting used to as they feel different.

Circular needles come in many different sizes, so consult your cowl knitting pattern to know which size to use for your specific project.


One of the best things about knitting is getting to choose from a wide variety of colorful, textured yarn. To knit a cowl, pick something that will feel comfortable sitting close to your skin, avoiding anything tickly or rough.

Yarn comes in several different weights, from lace weight (very fine) to jumbo (very thick). You could knit a cowl in yarn of any weight, but the finer the yarn, the longer the project will take you. As with knitting needles, check your cowl knitting pattern for the type of yarn recommended for the specific project. 

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What Stitches to Use

cowl scarf
This cowl uses a decorative branching leaves pattern with the brioche stitch.

When it comes to stitches, the knitting world is your oyster. If you’re ready to try advanced stitches like cables, then knitting a cowl is a good place to begin because it takes less commitment than a sweater knitting project. On the other hand, if you’re more on the beginner-to-intermediate end of the knitting scale, you can knit a beautiful cowl with much simpler stitches.

Garter or Stockinette Stitch

Stockinette stitch. Student work by WiseRoots Medicinals for Knitting 101: Everything You Need to Knit With Confidence.

Garter stitch and stockinette stitch are two fundamental knitting stitches. Garter stitch is simply row upon row of straightforward knit stitches. Stockinette stitch is when you alternate between one row of knit stitch and one row of purl stitch. If you’ve completed any knitting class for beginners, you’ll know all about these common stitches.

Rib Stitch

teal knitting
Source: instagram
Rib stitch is good for areas of clothing that need to be stretchy, like cuffs.

Many items of clothing that need to be stretchy in certain places require rows of rib stitches. These are just combinations of knit and purl rows that allow for more stretch than regular garter or stockinette stitch. Not all cowl patterns require rib stitch, but many do.

Brioche Stitch

Brioche stitch.

Although it looks a bit like rib stitch, brioche stitch is different. It creates a stretchy, voluminous texture, so it’s an ideal stitch to use when knitting a cozy, chunky cowl. You can knit brioche in one color, or two for added interest.

How to Knit a Cowl

green cowl scarf
Learn to knit a cowl just like this.

The following instructions for making a simple cowl are suitable for advanced beginner knitters. It’s based upon Skillshare instructor and knitwear designer Vincent Williams’ tutorial, Knitting 101: Everything You Need to Knit With Confidence.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

For this cowl knitting pattern, you’ll need:

  • 1 skein of worsted weight yarn
  • 1 pair of 5 mm circular needles
  • Locking stitch marker
  • Tapestry needle
  • Scissors
  • A pattern (optional if you’re following alternative instructions, such as a video tutorial, but still recommended)

Step 2: Cast On

Cast on to begin the cowl.

Casting on in knitting simply means starting your project with the first row of stitches. If you’re unsure how to cast on, familiarize yourself with the various methods in this tutorial.

To start knitting this cowl, cast on 108 stitches.

Step 3: Close the Circle and Knit in the Round

Knitting in the round with circular needles means you don’t pass the stitches from one needle to the other, but rather close the loop after the cast-on row and continue knitting a circle. It’s essential to make sure your cast-on stitches are all oriented in the same direction, not twisting around the needle, before connecting in the round. Pop a stitch marker onto the needle when you begin knitting in the round so you can keep track of where a row starts and ends.

Step 4: Knit the Ribbing

This cowl knitting pattern includes a stretchy ribbing at the edges, so your stitch sequence when you begin knitting in the round should be knit 2, purl 2. Complete this sequence until you knit back around to your stitch marker.

After you get there, keep going until you have about 1.5 inches of ribbing. This will be approximately nine rounds on the circular needles, depending on your knitting tension.

Step 5: Knit the Main Section

green knit
Measuring the knitted cowl.

It’s time to switch to the stockinette section of the cowl, which is when knit and purl stitches are alternated. Knit as many rounds as you need until you’ve knitted around 8 inches of fabric.

Step 6: Repeat the Ribbing

Following the same 2×2 ribbing as above, finish off the last section of the cowl. Again, aim for about 1.5 inches of ribbing.

Step 7: Cast Off

What casts on must cast off. Finish off the cowl by removing the stitch marker and casting off. Secure the end of the yarn with a tight knot and snip it off. Leave a tail of a couple of inches that you can weave into the fabric with a tapestry needle.

Get Knitting!

knit headband
What’s next? Try knitting a headband.

Now that you have a beautiful cowl, you can progress to more advanced knitting projects: sweaters, socks, hats, and headbands. Match these other accessories to your cowl so you have fun sets to wear, or experiment with interesting color combinations and patterns (called stranded knitting). Working your way up from beginner to intermediate to advanced knitting projects means the learning curve won’t be too steep. Have fun!

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Written by:

Elen Turner