28 Nov 2019

How much yarn do I need for a scarf?

We have reached the start of winter, with heavy snows falling in the Boston area. Even further south, the cold weather is sure to have everyone looking for a scarf or hat to keep warm. If you have been following my blogpost accessories series so far, you will know that I have been looking at cowls, neckwarmers and other small accessories to knit now ready for the winter ahead.

However, we can’t leave the topic of neckwear without mentioning scarves – that absolute necessity for any wintry clime. So if you fancy knitting a new scarf either for yourself or a loved one as a gift, then how much yarn will you need?

Well, this will depend on a number of factors but the main variables are: 
. how wide the scarf is
. how long it is
. the depth of texture
. and the yarn density

So, let’s look at a few examples starting with one of my favourite men’s scarves, the Lamberhurst Scarf. This has been worked in a soft merino DK yarn and has what I would term a medium texture. There are two lengths of scarf included in the pattern and the shorter version measures 23cm/ 9 ins wide x 130cm/ 51 ins long. This gives a neat, draping style. The sample I worked used 198gm/ 7oz of yarn which is 474m/ 518 yds of wool.

That left almost nothing from 4 balls of yarn so I would suggest that you would be wise to have a 5th ball of yarn on hand, especially if you might want to add a little bit more to the length of the scarf.

The longer version of the scarf is 173cm/ 68 ins long, which is great for wrapping around the neck to ward off those pesky winter winds. However, it is also a little slimmer with a width of just 19cm/ 7.5 ins. The combination of a slighter slimmer width but longer length means that it only uses a bit more yarn, 210gm/7.4oz which is 499m/ 546 yds. 

This is, of course, all to do with the total area of knitting. I was mentioning Maths a couple of blogposts ago, and it’s back again! The small Lamberhurst is 23x130 cm = 2,990 cm2, but the larger one is 19x173 cm = 3,287 cm2, ie the area of knitting is not much more even though is over 40cm/ 16 ins longer. So this is a good way to make your yarn go further. If you know you would like a lovely long scarf, then you might want to plan for a slimmer width.

Let’s look at another scarf in DK, this time for the ladies, the Elizabeth Scarf. This is a slim scarf but worked with a good length so you can wrap it around your neck several times or work an elaborate fold for a fashion look. The scarf shown in the photo is worked in a DK weight and measures just 16.5cm/ 6.5 ins wide but has a lovely length of 185cm/ 72 ins. It used 205gm/ 7.3oz of yarn which is 468m/ 505 yds, so very similar to the above examples even though it is much longer.

So, you can probably see that if you have perhaps 5 balls (250gm/9oz) of a DK yarn, you will get a good-sized scarf. Even 4 skeins (200gm/ 7oz) might be enough for a skinny scarf or a shorter one, but 250gm/ 9oz should give you a nice length or a bit of a thicker texture.

So let’s have a look at thicker yarns. Another man’s scarf that I like to work because it has such a dynamic pattern is the Beckenham Scarf. I have made a number of these and although it is nominally a man’s scarf, I have actually worked this one for ladies too with good results. Again there are two versions, a worsted weight and a chunky and each of those can be worked in 3 widths.

The widest scarf measures 21.5cm/ 8.5 ins wide and is 185cm/ 72 ins long. This used 237gm/ 8.4oz of Worsted Weight yarn, which is 475m/ 520 yds. This is 5 balls of yarn, but in the pattern I have suggested purchasing 6 balls just to sure you have enough to complete the design. The pattern has quite a long repeat, so it would be very annoying to run out of yarn at the end. 

The chunky Beckenham has the same dimensions but here the large size used 385gm/ 13.6oz. However, here’s a surprising thing: when I checked the yardage I found this was exactly the same as for the Worsted Weight size, 475m/ 520 yds! Now, although at first that surprised me that the number should come out to be identical with the Worsted Weight scarf, somehow once I thought about it then it wasn’t so surprising after all. 

Indeed, it is often said that it is better to think about how many metres/yards of yarn you need for a project rather than the weight or number of skeins. 

This is especially true with heavier-than-usual yarns. Yarns can vary enormously in their density, as I found when I used to do more hand-spinning. The yarn was lovely, but garments I made from hand-spun tended to be much heavier because the yarn was denser. To be honest, that was probably my inept spinning and you might get lighter yarns than I did! However, you still need a certain yardage to make a scarf or sweater, even if the yarn weighs more. 

So looking at the metreage/yardage for the above scarf examples, you could say that about 500-550m/ 550-600 yds of wool will make a fairly slim, medium-long scarf with a medium texture.

Another thing that affects the amount of yarn used will be the depth of the texture. So to illustrate that, here is the Grantchester Scarf. This is a deeply-textured scarf also worked in a worsted weight yarn. Because of the deep squishy texture, you don’t actually need to work such a long scarf for the same amount of cushy warmth.

The scarf pictured here is a neat style suitable for cycling, so is just 20cm/ 8 ins wide and only 120cm/ 48 ins long, so is quite short when compared to the previous examples. However, it is super cozy as there is 166gm/ 6oz of wool packed in there. This is 340m/ 365 yds of yarn.

Let's translate that into a direct comparison with the Beckenham Scarf. That measured 21.5x185cm/ 8.5x72 ins and needed 237gm/ 8.4oz of yarn (475m/ 520 yds).

If we worked a Grantchester Scarf with the same dimensions, then we would need 275gm/ 9.7oz of yarn, or 561m/ 605 yds, so the rich texture has used yarn up at a much faster rate. 

Again from the Mathematical point of view, that is logical - we are, after all, knitting a 3D object! So although we have spoken about the area of knitting above, it would probably be more accurate to say that we should think about the volume (width x length x depth). So a richer, deeper texture will need more yarn.

These are then, the main factors that will determine how much yarn you need to have on hand to work a scarf: 
. A skinny scarf will use less yarn than a wider one. 
. A longer scarf will need more yarn than a shorter version. 
. And a deep, well-textured scarf will use yarn up faster than one with a medium or fine texture.

 So it follows that you will need to use more yarn if you wish to create a big-volume scarf which is wider, longer, and/or has more texture.These are all factors that will increase the amount of yarn needed. If we look at the Cambourne Scarf, then you will see that this ticks all three of those boxes! It has a deeper texture and the largest scarf is a generous 26cm/ 10.25 ins wide. It is also 190cm/ 75 ins long so will need extra yarn. 

The Cambourne Scarf is worked in one of my favourite yarns, Lang Merino+, which is a super soft Worsted Weight yarn. The scarf is worked lengthwise and has a contrast coloured stripe at one side. For the largest size, I used 322gm/ 11.4oz of the Main Colour and 60gm/ 2.1oz of the Contrast Colour, so a total of 382gm/ 13.5oz of yarn, 688m/ 752 yds.

So if you would like to make a larger and/or wider scarf for that multi-wrap fashion look, then I would allow about 650-750m, say 700-800 yds of yarn. 

Of course these are just guidelines and the actual amount you need will depend on the particular yarn, the fibre content and so on. The above examples are all in wool or wool mixes, and you may well find that cotton or other fibres may not work quite the same. In any case, it’s always a good idea to have extra yarn on hand just in case you find your knitting uses yarn up at a faster rate that in the pattern – everyone’s knitting is unique, and what works for one person may not work for you. You can always make a hat with the leftovers!

If you would like some more suggestions for scarf lengths and widths then please see my earlier blogpost, "How long shall I make this scarf?". I hope that has given you some good ideas for using your stash or recent sale yarn purchases for some fabulous new scarves. Then you can go and play in the snow!

If you'd like more information about any of these scarves, then please have a look at my websiteNext time I’ll be back with a look at some hats to brighten up the dull winter days. 

Until then - Happy Knitting!


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