My current work in progress:

Seaforth designed by Alice Starmore, knit in British Breeds 5-ply Guernsey Wool on US 3 needles.


Insane Cowl Posse

The other day, Monica posted this blog comment:

Would love to read an article or blog about how you knit the complex patterns you design, like the Stained Glass Cowl.  Do you design the printed pattern and then follow-it?  Or, do you decide row by row or groups of rows by groups of rows as you go?  Are you able to knit do your colorwork knitting and watch TV, listen to an audiobook, or carry on a conversation at the same time?

Good questions!

You may have noticed that lately I’ve been keeping myself entertained with Insane Cowl Patterns. It all started a couple of years ago with my Leftovers Cowl. Shortly after that I designed a smaller cowl, the Nordic Cowl. The next one I designed was the Sanquhar Cowl. Then came the Maple Leaves Gradient Cowl (designed for KnitCircus), and after that, my Crazed Scandinavian Cowl. This was followed by my Nordic Border Cowl, and then my latest published cowl pattern, the Bogus Bohus Cowl. And now I’m working on the Stained Glass Cowl, to be published upon completion/testing/editing. So clearly, I am a fan of the cowl.

So what’s my process? It usually starts with an idea in my head about some theme, motif, or style of knitting I want to showcase.  After thinking about it for a while, I start charting. My favorite pattern charting tool? Microsoft Excel.


I set the columns and rows in Excel to make graph paper, and I start doodling. When I am doing a colorwork cowl, I use a dingbat font. The “Wingdings” font works nicely — the letter “n” in wingdings makes a solid block, perfect for use in colorwork charts.


So I doodle along happily in Excel. I like being able to cut and paste so I can see how multiple pattern repeats will look side by side.


Once I have my pattern set pretty much the way I want it, I either knit a swatch, or start knitting the pattern. For the Stained Glass Cowl I started with a swatch, because I wanted to make sure there was enough contrast between the foreground and background colors. It turns out there wasn’t, so I selected a different colorway for the foreground color.

As I knit, I can make adjustments to my chart on the fly.

I am almost never just knitting. I usually watch tv or read an eBook while knitting. I find I can do this even with pretty complex colorwork. It helps that I mark pattern repeats with stitch markers. Say my pattern repeat is 24 stitches. As I come to a stitch marker in my work, I can glance back over the 24 stitches just worked and confirm that I worked them correctly. If I get to stitch 24 and I’m at the wrong place in the repeat, I know I made an error somewhere  in the repeat, so I can tink back and fix it right then.

Aside: Another useful way to fix small errors is via duplicate stitch. A few days ago I was knitting on this project in a low-light setting, so I had difficulty telling the two colors apart. In the cold light of day I found a spot where I had reversed colors on three stitches and it was about ten rounds down in the pattern. I simply duplicate stitched over these three stitches to correct them and went on my merry way with no one the wiser. Except you all now know.


Also useful for colorwork as part of multi-tasking is that I have a great memory. I can glance at a chart once and remember the pattern for the entire round without having to check back. If a chart is made up of geometric motifs I can memorize multiple rows. For cable knitting I almost always memorize an entire pattern repeat before I’ve finished knitting the first repeat. This is extraordinarily useful when I want to knit and watch a movie at the same time. Or if I am in a speed-knitting contest with a friend (cough::L-B and the Inishmore Challenge::cough).


The only thing I find hard to do is to watch a movie in a language I do not know and have to rely on subtitles. Because I do need to look down at my knitting from time to time, I can miss some of the dialog on screen. I recall getting thoroughly confused while watching Abre los Ojos in Spanish with English subtitles while knitting a Dale of Norway Olympic design. I was very confused by the end of the movie . . . but then I probably would have been anyway.


My current WIP is not terribly conducive to reading subtitles.


I have a couple of book giveaways that ended today!

The winner of my review copy of Creature Feetures: 30 Crochet Patterns for Baby Booties, is Karen.

The winner of my review copy of 60 Quick Cowls: Luxurious Projects to Knit in Cloud™ and Duo™ Yarns from Cascade Yarns® is Frankie.

Both winners have been emailed.

I’ll be drawing the winner for 60 Quick Cotton Knits: The Ultimate Cotton Collection in Ultra Pima™ from Cascade Yarns® on Sunday.

Since I’m not reviewing a book and doing a giveaway today, let’s do something else. In the comments, tell me which of the following of my cowl patterns you would like to own:

Include your Ravelry name in your comment and I’ll arbitrarily send some free copies of those patterns to some of you, picked at random. Post your comment by noon on Sunday (April 10) to be eligible to win a pattern.

Loki can’t come to the blog today. He’s busy.



  1. Leslie Fischgrund says:

    Not in the running for a colorwork pattern (not that I don’t like what you do), but I did just want to say “Thank you” for sharing your thought process on designing and knitting. Learning other knitter’s approach to projects helps us refine our own work.

  2. Seamyst says:

    Thanks for sharing your design/knitting process! I love learning how other knitters work.

    Please enter me for the Nordic Border Cowl II; my Rav name is seamyst.

  3. I noticed that you use a lot of fingering weight yarn. Can these be done in sport weight, dk or even worsted weight?

    I so love Sanquhar Cowl


  4. All beautiful cowls, but my favourite is the Leftovers Cowl. Thanks for talking about how you design them.

  5. Monica C. says:

    Thanks for sharing your design tips – very helpful! I may be crazy, but I’d love to make them all. However, my favorite is the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl. My Ravelry name is monibknits.

  6. I’d love to win a copy of your Leftovers Cowl pattern & my Ravelry name is lisao. I am currently plugging along on the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl and am on Chart C. Still have a long way to go – but it is beautiful! Thanks!

  7. I have several of your cowl patterns already, but one that i don’t have & haven’t purchased yet is the Nordic Border II. I’m Samina on Ravelry too.

  8. Wow, your patterns are just gorgeous. The Crazed Scandinavian Cowl is what I would love to win. I am knitandfiber on Ravelry.

  9. Suzanne says:

    I love the Sanquhar Cowl. Ravelry name is Suziknits. Excel is great for designing, I’ve used it for motifs in the past.

  10. Fortunately, I already have some of your cowl patterns, so I can narrow it down a bit. Since Stained Glass isn’t on the list, I think I would have to choose Bogus Bohus.
    conradk on Ravelry

  11. Thank you so much for sharing how you use excel for designing patterns. Plus the tip about using duplicate stitch. I’m currently catless (two dogs, two corn snakes and a chameleon are enough for now lol), so I always look forward to seeing the pics of the extremely handsome Loki. All of your patterns are beautiful, but the one that has caught my eye and heart is Bogus Bohus.
    Sue J´s last blog post ..UFOs on Sunday and a New Crush

  12. Cowls are an excellent thing to be obsessed with, in my opinion. Lots of scope for variation and the delicious warmth of a snuggly cowl around the neck cannot be bettered.
    I own several of your patterns, but would very much like to throw my name in the drawing for that lovely Nordic Cowl.
    k1teach2 on Ravelry

  13. sanquhar cowl is my favorite. I never thought about using dingbat font and Excel – thanks. My name on Ravelry is ZombMom ( I work nights and may or may not get a little crabby after a shift).

  14. Abby Call says:

    Thanks for the information today on charting ideas. The only one of these I have not purchased is Bogus Bohus, how did I miss it. Ravid is NaomiKnitster

  15. I’m new here and to your patterns. Needless to say, I subscribed quickly. I love all the patterns on the list, but I would want to start with the Sanquhar Cowl. Not sure if I would want to embroider it first or knit it! I’m juliejc! on Ravelry, another place I’m still figuring out.
    JulieJC´s last blog post ..Just Saying

  16. Wendy P says:

    I’ve had the Leftovers Cowl in my queue since I first saw it. Not sure why I haven’t started it yet. Maybe because I don’t have quite the right leftovers and will end up buying more yarn…
    Knitwin on Ravelry

  17. Heading into gloomy winter, cowls are top of the “to knit” wish list. The leftover cowl looks pretty magnificent, and who has not got leftovers?

    Vegemite is the Rav moniker.

  18. Anita Edmonds says:

    I have several of your cowl patterns (as yet unstarted, since gardening is coming up soon and I want to knit obsessively in peace), but I’d love to have Bogus Bohus. I’m kirbanita on Ravelry. Thank you!

  19. All if your cowl patterns are beautiful, but if I have to pick one, I pick the Nordic cowl. My Ravelry ID is Geegaw. Thanks for the chance to win one of your beautiful patterns!

  20. I love the Crazed Scandinavian cowl design! Maybe because I’m half Swedish? I would love to win that design. Thanks so much for your give-aways! They are wonderful.

  21. I love the Bogus Bohus, like the idea of casting on the circumference, also like that business on the outside, Party on the inside look.

  22. I love them all, but my favorites are, in this order: Stained Glass Cowl, Leftovers Cowl, and Sanquhar Cowl. I really do love them all.

  23. Opps, just posted how I love the Bogus Bohus because I like the business on the outside looke with the party on the inside. Rav ID Swakins

  24. Really enjoyed reading about your design process. I’ve often wondered how you went about tackling something so complex. Thank you!

    My rav name is MrsGreenjeans and if I had to pick just one, it would be the Nordic Borderso Cowl.

  25. patricia says:

    Of the patterns I don’t have, the crazed scandi cowl is my favorite. Stained glass is lovely too!

  26. Me again. Forgot the Ravelry name. – LeeLong. Sorry.

  27. Love your cowl patterns, am currently knitting the Nordic Cowl – your took several weeks, mine will take several months. 🙂
    I love the stained glass cowl and would love to win the pattern


  28. Monica Cortada says:

    I have the Crazed Scandinavian pattern. I like all of them, although the Sanquhar Cowl is interesting because of the history associated with it. Thanks for the tip about using duplicate stitch to fix errors. I was going to treat the errors in my current project as a Where’s Waldo kind of puzzle, but now I’ll duplicate stitch them. Thanks for the blog post on how you work. It was very interesting. My Ravelry handle is MCortada.

  29. Nikki Bufkin says:

    I love the stained glass pattern you’re working on now! Thanks for sharing your process.

    For your giveaway the Sanquhar Cowl

    Ravelry: bufknitter

  30. Venice Smith says:

    I like all of the cowls you have designed and would be very proud to knit any of those fabulous designs. If I had to choose just one, however, I think it would be the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl. Thank you for your generosity!

  31. The crazed Scandinavian and the Nordic border cowl are my favorites at present with the Nordic border cowl winning because the pattern are smaller and I seem to have a limited attention span. On ravelry you can find me as steelwool.
    Thanks for the design information. I am pretty much a pencil and graph paper type but your idea will be helpful for redoing graphs from some of my books. I always like to have a portable pattern to stick in my project bag instead of a book.

  32. Venice Smith says:

    My Ravelry name is Venice1093. Sorry, forgot that in my previous comment. It’s a tough choice, but I think I’d go with the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl. Thanks, Wendy!

  33. I like them all, but probably my favorite (at least at this minute) is the Leftovers Cowl.
    Ravelry handle: kmorandi

  34. Thak you for sharing your process. As a dabbler in design, it’s good to know how the pro’s do it!

    Glad to see Loki is keeping busy.

  35. I like the Bogus Bohus cowl pattern. My Ravelry name is Annalilly. I love all the cowls, though, especially the Leftovers cowl.

  36. I like your process. Useful insight… Thank you.

    I narrowed it down to Nordic Cowl.


  37. Hi, I’m MonstaOriginals, and Crazed Scandinavian is the one I’d love to have.

    Thank you so much for the notes about your process. Wow, excel. I’m going to try that. And the fonts. I’m impressed with your memory too. And, thank you for the chance to win a pattern!!

  38. Denyalle says:

    All of your cowls are gorgeous, and I would love any one of the three Nordic themed designs.

  39. Denyalle says:

    I forgot my revelry Id, it’s Denyalle

  40. Bertha Mallard says:

    All of the patterns are great. I would like to try Bogus Bohus. I am Bauble on Ravelry.
    Thanks for you blog.

  41. Tiffany says:

    I love hearing your process! Thanks for posting that!

    My Ravelry is Celesalk if you’d like to send a Nordic Border Cowl II pattern my way!

  42. I love cowls and I love intricate patterns. My Ravelry name is cindylynnf. I’m working on your Shetland Pi Shawl right now in unspun Icelandic red, red and red.

  43. Wendy
    Love your blog! Thanks for sharing how you plan your patterns Wendy. I have seen a number of apps where you can do this but love that you do it on excel.

    Please enter me for the bogus bogus cowl. My Ravelry name is: leftyknitter!

  44. Mary Beth says:

    Though I haven’t done a ton of colorwork, I love it and I really enjoyed seeing your process.

    It’s so hard to pick just one pattern! But I think I like the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl best. I’m CommaSplice on Ravelry.

  45. You are amazing, I am in awe of your talent! All the cowls are beautiful, but I think I could realistically attempt the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl.
    Rav Id is BCGramma

    Thank you

  46. Kathleen says:

    kknewf is my ravelry name.
    Would love the leftovers cowl. Bought 3 of the other cowl patterns already. What an interesting blog post today. Love learning your process!
    Thank you! Hugs to Loki!

  47. Sue Horlander says:

    My ravelry name is suehorlander. I have bought several of your cowl pattern. But I would like the Nordic Cowl. Thanks for all your inspiration.
    Thanks, Sue

  48. I love all of the patterns but the Nordic Border Cowl is really calling to me. Than you so much for the opportunity to win one of your beautiful designs ! Lynne., aka redbird1 on ravelry.

  49. I would love to try the Nordic Border cowl, thank you.
    rhporter on Ravelry

  50. Jennifer says:

    I think all your stranded cowls are amazing. Not to mention the speed with which you bang them out. I think just one of them would be a lifetime project for me! The one I’m drawn to is the Crazed Scandanavian Cowl. I like how the scale of the elements change. I also enjoy how colorful the Leftovers Cowl is. It’s patchwork-esque approach to using up leftover yarn appeals to the former quilter in me.

    Rav ID: jentm

  51. Hi, Wendy:
    Thanks so much for the informative post re your designing process! I’m just a humble knitter, but it gave me some insights into how one designer works. 🙂 Out of the cowls that you mentioned above, my favorite is the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl.
    Happy knitting,
    Cindy C. aka meezerneedlearts on Ravelry >^..^<
    P.S. Nuzzles to Loki!

  52. Wish I had your great memory–a truly valuable skill when it comes to knitting charts, cables, etc. Love all your patterns–but would especially enjoy knitting the motifs of the Crazed Scandinavian Cow. Thank you! (dena)

  53. loretta says:

    Excel, Excel! What a great tip. Could you explain duplicate switch? I love the sanquher cowl! I like to challenge my brain with colorwork pieces. You need to do a cowl book! I am zaraspook on Ravelry.

  54. Sandra Kerr says:

    I really like all the cowls, so I will randomly choose the bogus bohus cowl. My ravelry name is SassyFrass.
    And I love the tip of designing in excel! Thanks for that.

  55. Christel says:

    Love your work! I’m getting ready to start the Celtic Princess Poncho! I would like to give the Nordic Cowl a try! My Rav name is knittingrd.

  56. I have most of your scarf patterns but would love to have the Nordic Cowl pattern, too. Thanks for the opportunity.

  57. Oh, leftover cowl all the way!!! ;-D Love the blog!!!

  58. I would love to make the Bogus Bohus Cowl. Thanks
    gussek on Ravelry

  59. Carol77584 says:

    I like all of your cowls. I would like to try the Nordic Cowl as I like the size of it and of course the pattern. My Ravelry name is Carol77584. Thank you for always being eager to share.

  60. Ellie Wilson says:

    Nordic cowl for me, Indianayarn on ravelry.
    I love your cowl patterns, and the next item in my queue is one of yours. I love how only two colors can make such a statement

  61. Your Leftovers cowl is so pretty! I’m cinderellen on Ravelry.

  62. Jennifer T says:

    I loved the Leftovers Cowl so much that I already purchased the pattern. They are all great, but my next favorite is the Crazed Scandinavian.
    fibermeld on ravelry

  63. Hi Wendy,
    I love all your cowls and it’s really really hard to decide which is my favourite. I’ve already bought one( Crazed Scandinavian) but I’m torn between the Leftovers cowl and Nordic Borders II cowl. My plan it to eventually knit the three plus the Stained glass cowl. I can already tell that I’m going to love it when you finish it! If I win, send me the Nordic Borders II cowl please!

    Alicia (alikat2004 on

  64. All of your patterns are wonderful! I especially like the Bogus Bohus. Ravelry name is cllcraft. Thanks!

  65. I’m a big fan of your patterns and would love a copy of one or more!

  66. Sanquhar Cowl

  67. Mimiknitstoo123, bravery name …… I especially love sanquhar, maybe the Scottish in me bones.

  68. I would love to try the Nordic Border Cowl. I love your patterns for the crazy cowls, but I would not have knit socks without your template for the toe up slipped stitch heel socks. You’ve made my sock drawer happy.
    Rav name is : DrMarta

  69. Amy Schulze says:

    Your process is fascinating! I have thought about using excel as graph paper, but the font idea is really cool. I love the Sanquhar cowl best, but that was a really tough choice! I’m amyschulze on Rav.

  70. Jackie Bartlett says:

    Love them all but the leftovers cowl is beautiful! Pairjam is my ravelry name. Fingers crossed.

  71. LaVelle Nott says:

    I love cowls and your Nordic Borders cowl looks like something I could do.

  72. MaryAnn ivie says:

    Thank you for the excel explanation! Do you change the grid size to match your actual gauge? I adore the designs and am torn between Crazed scandanavian and Sanquar as my favorites! Maivie on ravelry (not much creativity there!)

  73. You are on a Cowl Roll! I purchased your (let’s see if I can spell this right) Sanquhar Cowl,but if you sent me the Bogus Bohus or Crazed Scandinavian Cowl, that would be great. I love the combination of Complex design and simple colorway- and the cool names. My Ravname is Sophy0075.

    My cats admre Loki’s ability to sleep through photography. The say the flash wakes them up.

  74. Hi Wendy, thanks for your excel example! I love your Leftovers Cowl, so I would be very happy if I am one of the lucky recipients this week. My Ravelry name is Joroliest.

  75. Karamel says:

    I would love the leftover cowl as I’m enjoying collecting minis right now.

  76. Ashley W says:

    Of all the cowls, I’m most feeling the Sanquhar Cowl right now. I think my life is so crazy that the structured black/white motifs are rather soothing. Purltwo on the Ravs!

  77. Robin D says:

    I love all your patterns. I would love to have the leftover cowl. I have lots of leftovers to make it.
    Thanks for the chance to win.

  78. Please include me in the drawing for the Nordic Cowl. My ravelry name is :brendamay. I don’t post often but I read constantly. Thanks.

  79. Annette Dufek says:

    I love a few of them but my favorite is the leftover yarn pattern.

    my Rav name is adufek

  80. Celeste says:

    I struggle to watch something new while working chartered patterns. I usually end up watching an old TV show on DVD over again as I can focus solely on the knitting when necessary and not feel like I’ve missed anything in the show. My friends are very hesitant to play trivia games based on these shoes because of this. Same is true for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    Still loving your Sanquhar Cowl. All the patterns are lovely. It’s difficult to pick just one favorite.

  81. Laritza says:

    It turns out that the only pattern I do not own is :Bogus Bohus Cowl
    I am slowly working on Sanquhar and knit the left overs cowl already. Would love to have Bogus Bohus Cowl to complete my collection. Love them all.

  82. I had never considered duplicate stitch before to correct an error. That is brilliant.
    My Ravelry name is LaRuse.

  83. What an informative post! Thanks for taking the time to write it. I’ve never done a project like this but it may be a good time to tackle something along these lines. I like the Nordic Cowl. I’m yarnyeti on rav.

  84. emcknits says:

    The Crazed Scandinavian Cowl is the one I would like to win. I am emcknits on ravelry. Thanks for the chance to win.

  85. Pamela Quigley says:

    I have two of your cowl patterns as I could not resist the Crazed Scandinavian & Sanquhar. I am not yet good at colorwork, so these patterns are definitely an aspiration. I don’t know anything about Bohus knitting, but do need to read up. This cowl is lovely, but the knitting is intimidating – well, the casing on is intimidating! Another challenge to tackle.

    I would love the Bogus Bohus pattern to go in my Wendy Cowl library. Thank you. My ravelry name is ‘vintagevivvy’.

    Love reading your blog. You are an extremely impressive productive knitter.


  86. Charlotte says:

    Thank you.
    I can read or watch tv when doing mostly knits & purls, even a few yarn overs, but if increases or decreases or cables, I have to look.
    Color work I can’t even do without a tv or book except the very basic.
    P.S. You can forgot to mention how fast & how beautiful you can do it all!

  87. knittingdancer on Raverly says:

    Wendy,, I love all of your beautiful colorwork cowls. I also enjoyed doing your lace summer shawls MKALs.

  88. Gina Zahra says:

    I would love the Crazed Scandinavian cowl pattern (or any pattern, really) they are all so lovely. I am beanna1 on Ravelry. Thank you so much

  89. Thank you for the peek into your process, I’ve been interested in designing some colourwork patterns myself but I wasn’t sure where to start!

    I love the leftovers cowl, I have so many little bits and pieces of yarn for it! My ravelry name is archergirl2000
    Jenny´s last blog post ..Knitting Pattern: The Hateful Weight! Daisy’s Scarf.

  90. I love seeing all your design ideas translated into finished projects – so interesting and varied!

    The Crazed Scandinavian Cowl is my favorite.

    Rav ID: introvert
    Faith´s last blog post ..Book Log: March 2016

  91. elizabeth streeter says:

    Would love to do the maples leaf cowl all ours are starting to change color at the moment and I love them have 10 big ones in pots and about 20 seedling maples from our trees waiting to go in the ground they are also starting to color up and should look stunning I’m afew weeks so really need to knit that cowl

  92. I do love your cowls and have a few of your patterns and am working on one right now. I love the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl

  93. Mary Tole says:

    I loved them all and have purchased several, I do not have Bogus Bohus and of course the stained glass cowl you are working on now. What a gift you have to be able to memorize large portions of patterns it must make life a lot easier. Thanks for the give away.

  94. Love the insight into your process. Confirms that I don’t have the designer genes.
    Love the Sanquhar and Crazed Scandinavian cowls.
    Thanks for the opportunity.
    Rav: jio

  95. Wow what a great offer! I adore your Sanquhar Cowl! The amount of geometry in it makes my heart pitter-pat :D! I’m PickleSoup on Rav!!

  96. Thank you for explaining you designing process. Very informative. Love the Nordic Border II pattern and the one currently on your needles. Thank you for the giveaway.

    deblyn153 on RAV

  97. Hard choice! I think ill wind up liking the one you’re designing now the best. But it’s definitely the crazed Scandinavian cowl for now! Mags9k on Ravelry.

  98. Mary Jarvis says:

    Thank you for the post on charting, very interesting. My favourite cowl pattern would be the Sanquhar cowl as I knitted a pair of Sanquhar gloves for this last winter. Mj on rav.

  99. Great blog on your design process!! I am absolutely in LOVE with you Sanquhar Cowl. 🙂

    Ravelry Name: Kimba2000

  100. Betti Felton says:

    Of course I would love to have all of your patterns but if I had to choose only one it would be either the leftover cowl or the Nordic cowl. I bought the pattern for the Nordic border cowl and the bogus bogus cowl.