Your Ultimate Guide to Cowls: 15 Fabulous Free Patterns
An excellent alternative to scarves, cowls come in many shapes and sizes. Find free patterns for infinity scarves, chunky neckwarmers, and skinny neckwarmers
Once upon a time, I didn’t think much of cowls. (See this post for proof.) But over the past few years, I’ve actually come to see cowls as preferable to scarves, which I never thought would happen back in the days when I thought cowls were kind of silly!
Why do I now prefer cowls to scarves?
- Scarves are likely to fall off without some sort of securing mechanism. Not so for cowls.
- Scarves can get snagged on protruding objects, like tree branches or door handles; they can also get caught in car doors. Not a problem with cowls.
- Scarves can feel annoyingly bulky around the neck if you want to actually keep it in place. Cowls, unless you’ve knit crazy-bulky ones, don’t have this issue.
- An overly-long scarf could, conceivably, strangle you like Isadora Duncan’s floaty silk Super Scarf did back in 1927. (Yikes!) This is highly unlikely with cowls, well, unless they’re really long.
All of this is to say that I am now quite firmly on the cowl bus, and I don’t think I’ll be deboarding anytime soon!
Now, you may have noticed that there are three types of cowls.
The first type is the long cowl, often referred to as an “infinity scarf.” Essentially these are endless scarves; they are constructed to be one large loop. These are nice for folks who like the looks of scarves but would rather not have to tie it or tuck the ends in.
The other two types are considerably smaller, in that you probably can’t wear it double-looped the way you can with infinity scarves. I’ve never seen actual names for the other two types of cowls; I’ve just observed their differences. For want of better titles, I’ll call these “chunky neckwarmers” and “skinny neckwarmers.”
Chunky neckwarmers are fashion statements. They’re bulky and often worn over coats (or over shirts or pullover sweaters, if the wearer leaves the cowl on during the day). They often hang somewhat loosely around the neck, and they often cover the shoulders and at least the top of the chest and back.
Skinny neckwarmers, on the other hand, tend to be more like turtleneck sweaters without the sweaters! You’ll wear these under coats and sometimes even under pullover sweaters. They’re fairly form fitting, snuggling close to the neck. Skinny cowls usually end right at the bottom of the neck, though they might extend a bit down the shoulders, chest, and back.
Below you’ll find 3 different collections: infinity scarf, chunky neckwarmer, and skinny neckwarmer. Enjoy!
Free Infinity Scarf Patterns
The Honey Cowl: We’ll start with the single most popular cowl pattern available online. It’s not hard to see why; this lovely slip-stitch pattern gives visual interest without being overly difficult. As an added bonus, it’s available in both long and short versions.
That Nice Stitch: You’ll knit this cowl on the bias, which automatically creates visual interest. In addition, its alternating purl and knit stitches mean that both sides are the “right” side. As a final bonus, variegated yarn looks great in this pattern.
Scoreboard: You’ve seen the idea behind this particular cowl before, in Crackerjack (featured in the Knitting Patterns for Sports Fans collection). This pattern, on the other hand, features American football. This is a fun way to commemorate someone’s favorite team and/or a great season.
Duotone: I love the simple idea behind this cowl. Half the cowl comprises a two-color stripe pattern with different-width stripes; in the other half, the color widths switch. Simple, but packs a big visual punch!
Gina’s Brioche Hat and Cowl: The beautiful brioche stitch really makes this cowl sing in two colors. As a bonus, it comes with a matching hat pattern!
Free Chunky Neckwarmers
Bernat Shimmer Cowl: Here’s another very easy knit. Should you prefer a non-sparkly cowl, you could use a different yarn, but personally I love the idea of a special-occasion, glam-up cowl!
I’ll Pack a Cowl for Rhinebeck: Now we’re diving into the deep end! This cowl features some challenging colorwork that definitely prevents it from being a mindless knit. But look at those sheep. I mean, really. This cowl is too adorable to put one off just because of a little colorwork! (That might be just me, of course…)
Simple Brioche & Garter Cowl: Thanks to the introduction of brioche, this cowl is also a bit more on the challenging side. But the beautiful, sumptuous result definitely make this lovely cowl worth the effort.
Ocean Star Infinity Scarf: Yes, this cowl is called an “infinity scarf,” but it’s really not long enough to be classified as such according to my definitions. So we’ll stick with the “chunky neckwarmer” category. This beautiful cowl is perfect for both intermediate and adventurous beginning knitters. The star stitch pattern takes a little effort, but the bulky yarn makes it a quick knit.
Movement Cowl: This cowl could almost become a “skinny neckwarmer” by folding it in half. It uses a strategic stitch pattern to give it a little added texture, and it is far simpler than it looks.
Free Skinny Neckwarmer Patterns
Blue Streak: This cowl uses slipped stitches in a bulky weight yarn to create a squishy, luxurious feel.
Manly Sporty Cowl: This pattern is very customizable to suit the wants and/or needs of the man you’re knitting for. You can knit it with stripes, cables, and so on.
Herringbone Neckwarmer: I believe this cowl uses the least yardage of any of the patterns in this collection! Part of it is the super-bulky weight yarn, but a bigger part is the design. You’ll knit in a fun herringbone stitch and then add buttons. Depending on how you wear the cowl, it can be worn for a tighter fit or a looser fit.
Ziyal: This pattern can actually be knitted in two different lengths; one can be a skinny cowl, the other a long infinity scarf. It uses a fun smocking stitch that looks almost like cables knotted in the center.
Waverly Weekend Cowl: Unlike many lacy cowls, you’ll use worsted weight yarn, rather than lace or fingering weight, to knit this cowl. So if you’ve never tried knitting lace before, this could be a nice intro-to-lace pattern.
I hope you find these lovely patterns as exciting as I do. Why not pick a cowl and knit one (or several) this weekend?
This is one of my favorite cowl patterns:
It’s beautiful, thanks for sharing, Wendy!
Hi, Nicole…..These Cowl scarves look awesome!! This year, for Senior Olympics, I entered a 4-piece baby gift: yellow–sweater, blanket, booties & beanie–and placed 2nd!! (of course, due to the Pandemic–not many seniors entered, but, still…….
I have been giving much thought as to something different for 2022–and I’m seriously considering knitting this type of scarf–your patterns and suggestion has given me the “push” I need!! thanks so much!! As always, enjoy your newsletters!! Terrific!! Take care. Sandra
P.S. I have a stash of lovely colors, too!
Hello Sandra, I’m so glad I was able to give you the motivation you needed! Since I’ve started knitting cowls, I’ve become quite hooked on them. They’re so much fun. How wonderful that your knitting won 2nd place–that’s so exciting!
I’ve been uninspired to start another project, however this post has spurred me on! Something quick, easy and warm for the coming fall and winter. (and yes it’s been way too hot here which may have added to my reluctance to start another project … no AC >grin<) But short and sweet I think I can do! Thanks again for the inspiration. Made my day .
I’m so happy you enjoyed this post, Georgia! I do understand your reluctance to work on anything heavy–it’s quite hot where I am as well, though we do have AC at least. Take care & happy knitting!