Cable Cowl Knitting pattern: Into the Desert

A couple of days ago I saw this gorgeous camel hair yarn from Pascuali (called “Cairo”) and I just couldn’t resist buying a couple of skeins. Mind you, it’s not exactly the cheapest yarn, but it’s just so soft and so rewarding to knit with. It comes in many different colors but I ordered the natural color (01) for a beautiful cowl knitting pattern that instantly came to my mind.

Camels live in the desert so for some reason, I had to think of a gorgeous old cable cardigan I once saw on a trip through Uzbekistan. I adapted the pattern for knitting in the round. It sort of reminds me of a Celtic knot cable (so, don’t ask me how it found it’s way to Inner Asia). Either way, I’m quite in love with it!

the into the desert cable cowl on a wooden tray with two camel hair yarn skeins and golden scissors.

It really adds a fantastic luxurious feel to this luxury yarn. I took 120 grams or 260 yards to finish this cowl. I ordered 4 skeins (50 grams each), so I can easily knit a matching hat as well. You’ll find the matching pattern for my “Into the Wild” hat here.

The into the desert cable cowl - a free knitting pattern

If you love knitting cables, then this will be a fun pattern for you. I actually felt it was pretty easy to knit as there are really no complicated stitches and only 2×2 cables, so you don’t even need a cable needle (here’s a tutorial on how to knit the cable stitch without a cable needle)

You can also bookmark this pattern on Ravelry.

The knitting pattern for this cable cowl

CO 144 stitches with needles size 6 in the round (either on double-pointed needles or magic loop, whatever you prefer). I used a longtail cast on. If you want, you can alternate 2 knit and 2 purl cast on stitches for an extra neat edge for the ribbing (like I did, see picture above). Here’s how to cast on purlwise.

The repeat is 16 stitches, so if you like a wider cowl (cuz I prefer it quite fitted!), then you can easily cast on 160 or 176 stitches, etc. (the chart below mirrors the repeat once so you can see the transition).

Row 1-5: 2×2 rib stitch

Row 6: Start with the chart and repeat until the end of the row.

End the cowl with another 6 rows of 2×2 rib and then bind off with the bind-off-technique of your choice. I used a loose standard bind off alternating purl and knit stitches the way they appeared in the ribbing.

Important notes:

  • The chart does NOT display the wrong side (WS) rows. So, knit between the rows the way the stitches appear until the end.
    For example round 2 starts: Slip 2 stitches to the cable needle hold in front, p2, k2, k2,…
    Round 2* then is: P2, k4,…
  • After row 15, you have to move the start of your round forward by 6 stitches (otherwise you’ll have cables between two needles). So, just knit across the first 6 stitches (k4, p2) and slip them back on the previous needle. Then start with the pattern in the white area and repeat over and over again until the end of the row. After row 22, you have to move the start of your row another 8 stitches forward.
    That’s the reason why I marked the area in red.
chart for the cable cowl knitting pattern "into the desert" by Norman Schwarze

Note: Here’s how to read a knitting chart in case you need to catch up.


The repeat of 16 stitches with the Pascuali Cairo yarn and needles size 6 is 2.2 inches wide. The final cowl is around 10×10 inches when you lay it flat before blocking. But remember, there is a lot of ribbing in between, so it actually gives in a lot. It feels more like 14 inches wide or around 28 inches circumference.

I personally like my cowls very tight, cuddly, and also quite high so I can pull it up above my mouth like a balaclava (almost like a turtle neck). If you like it wider, simply add one or two repeats. In case you don’t like it as high, then you could end the pattern after round 26 and then cable out into 2×2 ribbings.

Definitely do a little swatch with the repeat (stitch 1-16 and up until row 12) to check the gauge. I repeated it 9 times – but depending on your needles, yarn, and personal preferences, you might want to change that.

If you need help finishing up, then you might find this tutorial on how to weave in ends helpful, and maybe check out this experiment comparing different ways to hide the tails.


Last, but certainly not least, check out my other patterns.

If this cowl still looks a bit too difficult for you, you might want to work through my free knitting school. Here’s a detailed tutorial on how to knit the cable stitch to get started.

Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.

So, that’s it. That’s my little Into the desert cable cowl pattern that will hopefully keep you very warm on a cold (desert) night.

Cable cowl knitting pattern free

26 thoughts on “Cable Cowl Knitting pattern: Into the Desert”

    • Hey Diane,
      I am not a big fan of charts either, but for such complex cables, a written pattern would be actually even more complicated. But, if you don’t like charts, simply looking at the picture of the cowl should probably tell you in which direction to twist the cables. That’s how I knit it as well – had one of my old photos as a reference.

  1. Hi Norman,

    This is a gorgeous pattern! I look forward to making it, some day.
    Thank you for making it available!

    Morag Brown

  2. Beautiful pattern. I’m confused by your comment in the important notes. Aren’t the wrong rows represented on the LEFT side of the chart (i.e., row 2, 4, etc.)? Thank you for this gorgeous pattern.

    • Hey Angela,

      no, they are not. Since this is knit in the round, there are no true “wrong rows”. YOu are knitting everything from the right side.
      I decided against plotting out the “WS” as it would just blow up the chart for little to no info. Most advanced knitting books I own do it as well. I mean, u r just knitting and purling after all 😉

      I edited the chart so ppl don’t get confused, tho!

  3. I struggle with charts. Is that here an easy way to convert to written. In all honesty I don’t understand them at all even though I can usually work out from seeing the pattern.
    Is it possible to have both sets of instructions.
    Thank you.

    • Hey Susan,

      maybe I will write it up someday if more ppl are interested. For now, it’s a bit too much typing. But you can easily transform any chart into written instructions yourself.
      Just go through every little square and use the legend to write it down.
      So row 2 is: SL2 to CN hold in front, p2, k2, k2, p2, k2, sl2 to CN hold in back, k2,p2, p2, SL2 to CN hold in front, p2, k2, k2, p2, k2, sl2 to CN hold in back, k2,p2, p2

      I would have to do the exact same thing and I want to be honest with you: I love knitting and not typing essays full of k2,p2 letters 😉 This blog is just a hobby and it’s not like I am getting paid to write up pattern 🙂

    • Hey Donna,

      good eyes. Fixed it. Originally there was no rib row in the chart, but I felt it was easier to understand with it.

  4. Hi Norman,
    Thank you for sharing your talent and this beautiful pattern. I love cables. As I don’t live near the Desert, I live by the Ocean. I keep a basket by the door full of hats and cowls to wear in all types of weather.
    I actual prefer charts. But I must admit when I was a beginning knitter the directions of knit or purl what you see, befuddled me until I became more experienced in reading my actual work.

    • Hey Lori,

      thank you for your kind message!
      I would love to live by the ocean…my dream would be Faroe Islands or Outer Hebrides.

      As for the charts – yes when I started out I still remember that charts seemed daunting. A bit like looking at an equation in math at school. lol.
      But personally speaking, I do feel that they are better and used for a reason. So, the earlier you start trying to read them, the better – even though it might seem impossible.

    • Hey Karen,

      sorry, this is not available as a written pattern. And neither do I think it’s a good idea.

      I’ll write something about reading charts soon, but just imagine every symbol is a written instruction and proceed from one symbol to the next.

  5. Beautiful pattern! Going to give it a go with a Coboo yarn (cotton/bamboo). It will probably knit up with less stretch than animal fibers. First time doing a cable. Discovered knitting charts this year and they may be confusing in the beginning, they are so much easier. Easy to keep track of where you are when you are constantly interrupted by kids!

    • Hey Mary,

      glad you liked it! Watch the cable tutorials I linked in this post and feel free to shoot me a message if you need help.
      And I agree, charts are awesome. I mean they take a while to get used to, but once you did… magic!

  6. Hi! I’m about to start row 15 but your explanation about moving the start of the row goes over my head. Could you rephrase it for me, please?

    I’m loving the pattern so far!
    Thank you!

    • Hey Sofia,

      glad to hear from you. Well…let’s try to rephrase it then. Two things you need to understand
      – No matter if you are doing magic loop or knitting on a set of double-pointed needles, there will be multiple gaps in your project where the needles meet.
      – if you take a closer look at the pattern, then you will notice, that the cables sort of spin around and cover the whole cowl.

      And if you put these two facts together, you will realize that at one point you would have to do a cable bridging the gap between two needles. And because that is both extremely awkward and will lead to inferior results, I take a break in round 15, and slip the stitches around. So you simply slip a couple of stitches to the other needle, so the there will be no cable crossings between two needles anymore. Basically that is slipping 6 stitches from the left needle to the right needle so your round starts with a purl stitch. Adjust the other needles accordingly.

  7. Hello Norman,

    Thanks for the pattern. I must say that I find it to be quite a challenge. Even though I don’t have much knitting experience yet, I’m currently working on it with circular needles and I have a question on how to continue after row 15. What do I do with the thread I use to knit after slipping the stitches? Do I just take it across the slipped stitches? This means this will be seen on the inside of the work. Is it correct? I’m itching to continue!

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Hey lily,

      sorry for not replying earlier. I was on vacations. You do not slip the stitches so there is no thread. it just means you have to move your stitch marker where you start your round. And possible move stitches around.
      The reason for doing so is that you do not end up with cable crosses between two needldes.

  8. Hi Norman,

    Thanks for offering this lovely cowl. I’m busy with it now, hoping to finnish for Christmas!

    There’s just one point that I can’t make work. In the key you have a symbol with the instructions SL2 to CN hold in back, k2, p1. I’ve found it does work if you slip 1 onto the CN then k2, p1. (At least that’s been working so far).

    Also many thanks for your tutorial on reading patterns. I’d been looking for something like that for ages, then just happen upon it here!

    Cheers Sarah


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