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 its 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). Still, I would say you should at least be an advanced knitter to tackle this.

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, magic loop, or small diameter circulars – 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 (as I did, see picture above). Here’s how to cast on purlwise. Then join in the round.

The repeat is 16 stitches. So if you like a wider cowl (because 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).

Round 1-5: 2×2 rib stitch

Round 6: Start knitting according to the chart.

Round 72: End the cowl with another 6 rows of 2×2 ribbing 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. You could also do this super stretchy bind-off for the 2×2 rib stitch.

knitting chart

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 3 starts: Slip 2 stitches to the cable needle hold in front, p2, k2, k2,…
    This means round 4 is: P2, k4,…
    etc. Check out this post in case you need help with reading your knitting.
  • After round 29, you should 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 as they appear (so, k4, p2). And then start with the pattern. Think of the green area as brackets to frame the repeat.
    So, start with p2 and the right-crossing cable, knit all those 16 stitches as indicated by the chart, and then start all over with p2, cable, etc at the beginning of that row until the end of the row. So, you just knit what’s in the white area. Only the first 6 stitches of row 31 are transition stitches.
    (Note: the technical reason why the area is marked in green is that otherwise one would have cables stitch symbols extending beyond the borders of the chart and that would be even more confusing).
  • After round 43, you should move the start of your round another 10 stitches forward to avoid cabling between the needles (or back to the old position).

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 in circumference (just in case: here’s how to knit a gauge swatch).

I personally like my cowls very tight, cuddly, and also quite high so I can pull them up above my mouth like a balaclava (almost like a turtleneck). 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 46 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

62 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.

      • Hi Norman!
        You’re my guru of knitting, you’re patience and clarity of both your written patterns and videos is what drew me in.

        I picked up knitting over the pandemic, and I have to speak up with regards to charts. First, I understand why, in this pattern’s case, written directions would be sketchy. My problem is I have dyslexia, so charts don’t work for me. It would be frustrating. So regretfully, I will pass on this gorgeous pattern, but not without a certain degree of sadness- it’s art. I’ve spent hours trying to master charts, but when your letters are swimming and flipped, symbols are impossible due to having to first translate them, then to sort it out- it won’t happen for me.
        I thought I might try to explain why some have difficulty with charts.

        Thank You for your hard work teaching us, and bless you for your patience. I appreciate your time.

        • Hey Susan,
          but here’s the whole point charts ARE written instructions. so, whether you abbreviate knit 2 together with “k2tog” or “/” or a purl stitch with “p” or a “~”, it really boils down to learning that abbreviation. And you can separate those abbrevations with a comma or a | – the latter would be a chart.
          Now, I can understand while people will find reading any kind of written instructions in any form difficult. But in this case, cables are quite unique as you could draw that into a picture. Just use a textmarker and reinforce the cables lines. Then you can work with a picture and typically dyslexia shouldn’t be a problem.

        • Try using different color highlighters for the different stitches on the chart. Then you know yellow means knit, purple means purl and so on. You are reading a color instead of letters.
          Another method is using a picture of the cowl to work from—reading the knitting via the photo.

  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.

      • Sorry, I’m still not following either.
        1. why are the only two options, magic loop or double pointed needles. I was planning on using circular needles in the appropriate size for 144 stitches. Therefore no gap.
        2. The pattern says, “So, just knit across the first 6 stitches (k4, p2) and slip them back on the previous needle.” I read this as knit 4 stitches then purl 2 stitches from the left needle onto the right needle. Then slip slip them back onto the left needle (the previous needle they were on) and start the cable on the just worked stitches.
        But that doesn’t seem correct.
        3. If I use circular needles, no magic loop, do I need to move the starting stitch on row 15?
        The cowl is beautiful and I look forward to making it. Thank you for providing it here and I appreciate your time on this.

        • Hey Jean,
          of course you can also use small diameter circulars if that’s what you prefer. Naturally, you don’t have to physically move the start of your round. But of course, you have to bridge these 6 stitches (and maybe place a stitch marker). So just k4,p2 and then start with the repeat from there.

  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

  9. Hi Norman,
    I still don’t understand the red blocked area. I’m knitting in the round. Round sixteen, I knit 4 and Pearl 2 and then move the marker there. What do I repeat over and over again. Just the white part of the row until I get to the end and then the p4k4p2 or the white and red parts? Thank you so much.

    • Hey Alison,
      It’s actually super simple.
      At the beginning of round 16, u just knit up to the position where the chart starts (so after the red), and from then on, you just repeat what’s in between the red “brackets” over and over again until the end of the round.
      the way to think of it is not that the repeat changes, it’s just offset by those 6 stitches.
      Hope this makes sense.

      • Hi Norman,
        So the end of the round includes the red bracket? Row 16 – You start at the beginning of the red bracket knit 4 pearl 2 and then repeat the white area until the last bracket stitches at the end of row and knit those. Correct? Sorry to sound so dense but it’s just not working thus far.

        • No alison,
          you just knit across row 16 as all stitches appear until you reach the point where the two purl stitch are. And then you start repeating what’s in between the brackets over and over again.

  10. row 16: So you ignore the last 10 stitches in red and just do the first knit 4 pearl 2 and the white middle part that you repeat over and over? What’s the purpose of the last 10 stitches in red? I thought you would repeat the white middle part UNTIL you came to the last 10 stitches (red area) at the END of the entire round and knit those before proceding to row 17.
    I know…but your explanation is confusing. Sorry.

    • The purpose of the last stitches in red is that those are no-stitches. No other purpose really. the red area is not to be knit. u just knit the repeat.

  11. And you end with what is between the brackets before going to row 17. So in essence, you knit the 32 stitches the first time going through row 16 and then just repeat the area in “white” until the end of the white area before going to row 17. You basically have the white area repeated 7 times. This works out mathematically.
    Thank you, Norman!

    • yes, that’s what a repeat is. The only difference between what you did before is that you start the repeat 6 stitches in.

    • Knitting on circular needles: just to make it painfully clear (sorry Norman) the first time you knit row 16 you DO knit those 10 stitches at the end to make it 32 stitches and then ignore the red areas (beginning and end) as you just repeat the middle “white part” . So row 16 would be k x4, p x 2 (white area) px4, kx4,px2 (white area repeated x 7). Then the same thing for row 17 but the white area changes.
      Using circular needles you just knit as is on the chart starting at row 23. I guess I just don’t understand what you mean by “after row 22, you have to move the start of your row another 8 stitches forward “. Maybe I am not getting the concept of where to put the stitch marker at the beginning of row 16 when knitting in the round. Or do I end row 15 (i get to my stitch marker), remove the stitch marker and then slip 6 stitches from the left needle to the right needle and place the stitch marker again before starting row 16.

      I know at this point, you’re thinking ‘oh my god’ but the pattern I have taken out several rows – just doesn’t look correct. Thanks again Norman.

      • Alison, please don’t take offense but it seems this pattern is maybe a bit too advanced for you.
        Round 16 is: k4, p2 [p2, Cr2Rp2,Cr2lp1,cr2rp1,Cr2Lp2]

        so you knit 6 with your old needle and then start with the repeat on the new needle. no stitch markers, you move the repeat so you don’t have to cable in between needles (which doesn’t work).
        And in round 17, you start the repeat right at the (new) beginning of your needle. The red area is not to be knit and you have to treat it like it didn’t exist. So [p2,k2,p3,c4r,p3,p2]

        the chart depicts repeats, not actual line-by-line instructions.

        And please understand that I cannot supply further assistance beyond this point. I simply do not have the time. This is a free pattern. If you need a knit-a-long, please join a knitting group that offers assistance.

  12. Hi Normen,
    I love all your videos and tutorials, you are really great teacher and presenter.
    Regarding the pattern chart. I thing the rows numbers are not correct. It should be 1,3,5… (so row 2 should be row 3) as all even rows should be knitted as appearing I have compared it with your cable hat pattern chart. Thank you. Richie.

    • Well, you are right there. The chart does not continue the written instructions – at least not numerical. There’s a very simple reason for that. A) people might knit more or less ribbing before they start with the cable. B) quite some people have used this cable motif for different projects. That’s why the numbers start fresh.

  13. Pretty finished item; too bad there is no written pattern.
    I knit to relieve stress but trying to figure out charts is too traumatic to me, and defeats the purpose of my knitting.

    There are a few charts I have tried to put into written form but it was not worth the struggles. I no longer bother.

    It’s quite disappointing; many people offer patterns in both forms and I will look for some other cowls.
    Maybe you can start offering your patterns in both forms?

    • I am sorry to hear that you feel that way. There’s a post here on my blog that teaches how to read charts. It’s very important to understand that knitting charts, are in fact, not charts at all but just a very condensed form of writing with different abbreviations.

  14. In the beginning, this was a bit of a challenge, to be honest…
    Although I learned to knit a long time ago, I never knitted a single cable in my life. So I decided to search for an easy pattern of a cabled cowl…
    But once I saw this one, I was sold, although I knew it probably wouldn’t be easy.
    But from about row 15, I tried to figure out the pattern by looking at the photograph before looking at the chart, and indeed, I could predict what to do!
    Thanks for the beautiful pattern, and for the confidence it gave me!

  15. Hi Norman,
    I’ve been knitting this beautiful cowl and having great fun challenging myself, as I’ve only knitted one pair of socks before this (also your pattern actually).
    I noticed that in row 61, stiches 1 and 2 plus stiches 13 and 14 are knit stitches, but aren’t they supposed to be purl stiches? They seem to be purl stiches in the photograph of the cowl on the blog.

    Maybe I’m mistaken, but just wanted to point it out. Thanks for all your great patterns and tutorial videos.


  16. Heyya, Norman!

    Some questions have nagged me since you released this pattern and its hat sibling. They are as follows:

    1. Why did you opt for the twisted rib stitch (ktbl2/ptbl2) at the base of Into the Wild but not for Into the Desert?
    2. How would using a German twisted cast on knitwise-x2/purlwise-x2 instead of a longtail cast on knitwise-x2/purlwise-x2 affect the finished product?

    Thank you in advance for your time and for your insight.


    • Well, a hat needs a different kind of hem/brim than a cowl, wouldn’t you say? I picked the twisted rib for the hat because I didn’t want it to wear out as fast.
      As for german twisted and lontail…they are very similar in stretchiness…often, I just like the look of a certain cast-on better for a certain’s main preferences and whim.

  17. Hi, Norman. I love this pattern. I’m knitting a blanket for my granddaughter with it. Work is flowing smoothly, but could you say what the blocks of green are rows 31-43, sts 1-6 and 23-32, please?
    Thank you.

  18. Hi, Norman.
    I put this project aside for a while. I am having issues working out rows 33 and 41.Both rows seem to require an extra stitch. I’m working flat, rather than in the round. I’m not sure that would make a difference. I tried to work it out by plotting a chart. That helped to identify where the issues were, but no solution.
    Might you be willing to fill in the green area on your chart with the appropriate symbols? I’d love to finish this blanket, but I’m stuck. Any tips?

    • Well, you have to cable across the beginning of your round. This means m, you cannot simply adapt it to flat knitting without a sizeable margin or skipping cables.

  19. Beautiful cowl!
    Can I ask why the chart stops at row 63 but in the pictures it looks like the bottom and top of the cowl perfectly match?


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