My current work in progress:

Stornoway, designed by Alice Starmore from her book Fishermen’s Sweaters, knit in Frangipani 5-ply guernsey wool in the Aran colorway, on a 3.0mm needle.

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. Elizabeth H. says:

    Every one of them is gorgeous, but the Sandquar Cowl just speaks to me.
    lizardknits on Ravelry

  2. Love the Bogus Bohus cowl and fascinated by the Bohus movement. Also thumbs up for excel – have used it for many frustrating financial worksheets so Excel and I enjoy some recreational time!! My Ravelry nom de tricoteuse is Uny.

  3. You once again impress me with your beautiful knitting and incredible techniques. Thanks for sharing how you do this. Maybe someday I’ll “borrow” your excel idea. I am quite partial to the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl. Kappy on ravelry.

  4. I have both your Crazed Scandinavian cowl and your Sanquhar cowl on my ‘must knit’ list. I would love to win a pattern! I also plan to knit your Maple Leaves Gradient one of these days. Thanks for sharing your process. It was interesting to get a glimpse of your approach to design. I love the color scheme you chose for your newest cowl!

  5. I love all your cowls. If I had to choose one to knit, I think it would be the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl.
    Ravelry name: Ismenecat

  6. I have used Excel to replicate patterns that had symbols that were confusing to me, replacing them with what I consider standard symbols and sometimes going as far as coloring the squares also.
    Do you concern yourself with the width and height of the Excel cell? I know that a stitch is not square and that something created on standard graph paper can look different once knit if the detail is important to your project.

    I would love to receive the Nordic Cowl. My Ravelry name is CityKnitty.
    Charlene´s last blog post ..Happy Birthday to Ewe

  7. Jeanette Belle says:

    I like all the cowl patterns, but especially Favorite Things.
    Thanks for sharing your designs with us.

  8. I love your blog. I love that they are concise, but very informative. Okay – so this blog is longer but it’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing ho your creative process works for these very detailed cowls. I love them all, but would say that the Crazed Norwegian Cowl stands out to me. Raverly name is frogsalot – and that name is entirely true!!! Thanks for writing a wonderful blog.

  9. Joan Robertson says:

    I would love to have the Leftovers Cowl….love all the pretty colors. Thank you so much for doing these drawings for us….fun !!!!

    jdnrob ravelry name

  10. I have the crazed scandinavian cowl so my second choice would be the Nordic Border Cowl. Love your work. I have been following you since you were doing socks. So glad you introduced me to ML toe up socks. It is simply the berries.
    Judy´s last blog post ..My Grandson is Home!!

  11. Dorothy in Kentucky says:

    I love all your cowls but find the bogus bohus very intersting. Love Lokiso much! Precious boy
    Ravelry name : barncat97
    Thank you for all you valuable lessons

  12. Those patterns all are pretty epic. But this Scandinavian prefers the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl.

  13. Knitsiam says:

    Long time fan; thanks for the tips on charting. I’ve used Excel as graph paper, but always printed out with colored pencils; never thought of trying the non-standard fonts.

    Love all the patterns, but my Scottish blood is in love with Sanquhar. Ravelry name is Knitsiam; thanks for considering me for your contest.

    Kind regards, Bonnie aka Knitsiam

  14. yarnmule says:

    Great tip about the dingbat font in Excel. I chart in Excel but had no idea I could get a block that way! I love the Crazed Scandinavian cowl. I’m also yarnmule on Ravelry.

  15. Cindy Fuchs says:

    I just love all of your designs Wendy. My Ravalry name is niblet007.

  16. I read this post with great interest and had looked at all the links again. I queued the Nordic Cowl, because I absolutely love it and then saw the end of your post. That meant that I knew exactly which one called to me! I am knittingkidd on Ravelry.

  17. Barb Scott says:

    You are very talented. I love all your work but my favorite is the Leftovers Cowl. I always have spare yarn leftover from other projects and this is a great way to use it all up. Thank you for the inspiration.

  18. Wow, thank you for this great cowl giveaway! I would choose the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl. Ravelry name is tntc.

  19. Marseille says:

    I already have the Leftovers and Nordic II pattern, but I’d LOVE the Sanquar. Actually, it’s really hard to make a decision. I also really love Crazed Scandinavian…… 🙂

  20. Hi Wendy,

    I can’t think of why using excel didn’t occur to me! I have always used graph paper to chart designs for kids jumpers. I love all your cowls and would be happy for any one of them. I am ozice on Ravelry.

  21. Lynette says:

    It’s so difficult to choose! I do love the riotous colors of the Leftovers Cowl, so that is my pick. .

  22. Heather Koncz says:

    Wendy, all of your cowls are gorgeous and would be a fun knit. Being Canadian, I was sorry the Maple Leaf Gradient was not on the list but the Crazed Scandinavian and the Sanquhar are both outstanding. If I am fortunate enough to be picked, either would be a joy.
    Thanks, Heather

    Rav name: KnitKnana

  23. I’m continually in awe of your gorgeous cowls! Your peek into the design process is fascinating. Thanks for the giveaway. My favorite is the leftovers cowl. And your model for all the cowls is a very good sport 🙂
    Rav: pennyjeffrey

  24. Monica C. says:

    Thanks so much for the pattern, Wendy! I can’t wait to start it.

  25. I like the Leftovers cowl the best. (I think. They’re all stunning!)

    gracie41999 on Ravelry

  26. Elisabeth says:

    i love your blog, and would enjoy trying something new – have never done something as complex and beautiful as these cowls. i love the crazed scandinavian one – ravelry name delphin09

  27. Kristin/HLMauera says:

    I like all of them but I think I like the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl and Nordic Border Cowl best, in that order. I also am interested in the book. I’m HLMauera on Ravelry.

  28. I’m Gigi on Ravelry and after hemming and hawing I’d say the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl is my favorite. Thanks for your generosity. Hi Loki!

  29. Bogus bohus is the only one not in my library….can’t imagine why……ginaf on ravelry

  30. My favorite of these cowl (all of which are quite lovely) is the Nordic Border Cowl. And Sunday is my birthday (hint, hint). Ravelry name: IrishKnitCat

  31. All of your cowls are Beautiful! One of my favorites is your Leftover Cowl ~ all the colors, it’s just HaPpY 🙂 Great article, I appreciate all the info – very interesting. And thanks for the chance to win! Rav ID: LannieK

  32. Gretchen Berry says:

    I love the Nordic cowl best!

    Ravelry name: gretchberry

  33. Your Crazed Scandinavian is my favorite, although I also love the Leftovers! I think that you’ve posted about your use of dingbats before, since I started doing that for a hat I’ve been working on. Anyway, thanks for the cowl offer!
    — twotorties on Rav

  34. Erin M. says:

    I love the long, graphic runs on the Bogus Bohus Cowl. You can send one to CelticKnot on Ravelry!

  35. Nordic Border Cowl -spinphd

    I love them all and have all the patterns already except for this one!

  36. Nordic Cowl, oplease, should I be so fortunate as to win. I’m jagl on Ravelry.


  37. catspaw says:

    So many choices! I guess I’d vote for Crazed Scandinavian but what a tough call.
    You need to quit working Loki so hard. He’s plumb wore out!

  38. They’re all lovely, but I love the Leftovers Cowl the best! I’m AnneBeanVA on Ravelry.

  39. I am amazed that you can memorize those patterns! Watching all your cowls come together on instagram and the blog has been incredibly inspiring!

    I’d love the Leftovers Cowl (I have a thing for sock yarn)
    Rav id KaisaWM

  40. I enjoy watching your progress on your colorwork knitting – the designs always intrigue and impress me. Of those you listed, I particularly like the Nordic cowl.

    RobinV on Ravelry

  41. They all look fun to knit. I’d like to knit the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl.

  42. Loved your design process. My favorite pattern is the Leftovers Cowl. Ravelry name is ivyrose.

  43. Philhellene on Rav says:

    I love the “Nordic Border Cowl II”. I purchased the Shanquhar and the Leftovers, love them and admire all of them. They are all spectacular, and I can’t decide which yarns in my stash would be best suited to knit them. Also, happy belated anniversary for “Wendy Knits”!

  44. Savannagal says:

    I love the crazed Scandinavian Cowl. I made your Leftovers Cowl. I used up all my leftovers and then spent over $100 buying more yarn to finish it. It weighs about 10 pounds. I think if I made the Scandinavian Cowl I’d definitely use only 2 colors.

    I do have a question though. Is there a setting for graph paper in Excel? I’ve never seen it. I’m guessing you just set your row height and column width to a certain size to recreate graph paper. If so, may I ask your settings? I know knit (and purl) stitches are not exactly square, so the design would be distorted if the spaces didn’t accurately project a knit stitch. I tried designing squirrels to use on my Sipsey’s Folly sweater because the smallest sweater was still too large for me and I had to adjust the size, which totally messed up yoke patterns. The squirrels looked great on paper, but looked anorexic when I knit them. I ripped it all out and haven’t quite figured out what to do yet. Anyway, sorry for going on and on. Just wondering what your Excel settings are for row height and column width. Thanks. Savannagal on Rav.

  45. Your cowls amaze me! Hard to choose one, but I would go with Leftovers Cowl. Thanks for the opportunity!
    Ravelry Name: ThreadedLane

  46. Zizophora says:

    I love that you use Excel — the wingdings “n” tip is awesome! I adore the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl (and it’s sister Nordic Scarf).

  47. Laraine York says:

    Al the cowl patterns are great. but I find myself drawn to the Crazed Scandinavian Cowl and the Nordic Border Cowl. Either one would be great. My Ravelry name is larryanne. Thanks for the offer!

  48. What a generous offer! The Leftovers Cowll is the one that appeals to me most, because the colours are so stunning. I’m brendac on Ravelry. 🙂

  49. Lynne S. says:

    How useful it would be to have a memory like yours! I think I’d choose the Bogus Bohus, though it was a tough call. Rav name lynnesmith55 (though I rarely use it).

  50. I have a coupke of your patterns but would love the leftover cowl pattern. Thanks for explaining how you design these.

  51. I love the Nordic Cowl. It has been in my favorites forever.


  52. Mary Wills says:

    I’ve been following you since I learned to do toe up socks at the turn of the century. Your patterns are spectacular but I think I like the Bogus Bohus the best.

  53. This was very interesting and inspiring, plus some nifty tricks with the font and such. I want to try it myself!
    I hope you will be able to review Johanna Wallin’s Traditional Nordic Knits soon. She’s a friend of mine and she’s just coming out with this book, her first in English. From the looks of it, it will be right up your alley.
    I would like to enter my name for the Sanquhar cowl, it looks amazing.

  54. Jean Palionis says:

    I really think the “Crazed Scandinavian Cowel” is my favorite. I have to give it to your male co-worker for being your model…love him for it!

  55. I want them all, but I can’t decide, truly between Crazed Scandinavian and Bogus Bohus. So if I win, surprise me! Rav: LauraTesh. (Can I enter to win Loki?)

  56. What ratio do you use on your excel squares? Thanks.

  57. cynthia Stubbs says:

    The crazed scandinavian cowl. No doubt. I am ccfan. ( fan of Counting Crows)

  58. always fascinated about process, whether creative arts or something utterly utilitarian. must day that while “Bogus Bohus” is my favorite name of a cowl, I am daunted by colorwork, so I’d prefer the Nordic Border — maybe a teensy bit less intimidating & I’d actually attempt it. (and fewer ends to weave in).

  59. yikes! forgot to add my Ravelry name: Jenna ps Nordic Border

  60. Julie G says:

    40% finished the Sanguar cowl! There should be another name to describe these large cowls other than cowl! Blanket/shawl/Knitting in the round creates a soft squishy fabric that is quite warm and will definitely be welcomed next winter. It is so much fun to knit, totally agree about using markers for each repeat to keep track!
    Only an IT person would think of using cut and paste in an excel program…brilliant!
    Just wanted to say hello, I think of you and your blog as one of the pioneers pre Ravelry in this fun yarn hobby some of us have!
    Best wishes and Happy Knitting!

  61. Thanks for the charting tips!

    Tough choice, but I’d love Crazed Scandinavian. It’s appropriate as I am both. : )