Knitting help: A handy little tutorial showing you how much yarn you’ll need to make a scarf and how to calculate how many yards you need to buy.
So, you started knitting, maybe you even participate in my free knitting school for beginners. You learned the rib stitch or the brioche stitch, and now you want to knit a scarf. Excellent! But how much yarn is needed for a scarf?
In this little guide, I’m going to show you how to find your answer, so you’ll know exactly how much yarn you need to buy for a scarf – no matter if it is knitted with bulky yarn, you are knitting a loop, something extra-large, or a baby scarf.
Now, I’m pretty sure you are looking for an easy answer. Like, buy 3 skeins. Or you need 500 yards. Sadly, I have to disappoint you! There are no easy answers. Anyone who will tell you exactly how many yards of yarn for a scarf you’ll need probably doesn’t know what they are talking about. Because it totally depends on the scarf you want to knit. Some are longer, some shorter, some knitted with heavier yarn and others feature intricate yarn eating patterns.
My super chunky scarf pattern for beginners users 160 yards, for example. But some knitters feel the perfect scarf is closer to a blanket, while other people might think of a lacey summer scarf. The first may need 1000 yards, the other probably just 300 yards. Also, a project in brioche stitches may need twice as much yarn as one in garter stitch. BUT that doesn’t mean you should despair. Here are five easy methods to find out how much yarn you need for a scarf:
Hint: And make sure to check out my guide on the 20 most important things every knitter needs and my very handy guide with 7 tips to stop your scarf from curling at the edges.
#1 Weigh an existing scarf you like
The easiest method to find out how much yarn you’ll need to make a scarf is by weighing an existing scarf. We all got a couple of those in our closets and a kitchen scale, eh? So, here’s what you need to do.
Pick a scarf that is similar in size, yarn weight, and material to the one you want to knit. Your scale will easily tell you the weight of your existing scarf. Now, you probably don’t want to re-knit an existing scarf. So, from here, you need to apply simple math. If your scarf should be two times longer, well then duplicate the weight. If it should be 50% wider, then multiply it by 1.5, etc.
A word of caution with this method: As soon as you are knitting a different material, yarn size (check out my guide on the best knitting yarn for beginners), or a fundamentally different pattern, weighing will only give you very inaccurate results.
That being said, err on the upper side and talk with the shop owner if you can return unused extra skeins (or knit matching mittens with it). Plus, yarn is sold in skeins of 50 or 100 grams and you will probably have to overbuy anyway.
#2 Knit a swatch and calculate it yourself
Experienced knitters will knit a little swatch in the pattern of the scarf (4×4 inches) and calculate the yarn requirements the professional way. After that, math will tell you the rest. If you needed 10 yards to knit the sample and you want to knit a scarf that is 8 inches wide and 60 long, then you’ll need 300 yards of yarn to make a scarf.
Here’s the formula: (width of the scarf x length of the scarf/width of the swatch x length of the swatch) * yarn in yards of the swatch) = yards you need to buy
There is just one problem with this method as well: You actually need a yarn that is pretty similar to the one you want to buy. Most long-time knitters will have huge stashes of yarn and that is fairly easy to do.
You could only buy one skein, then knit your swatch and buy the rest. But I do not recommend it, because the other skeins will most probably be from a different dye lot, so visibly different. Again, it’s better to talk with the shop owner and buy a little more, knit your swatch and give back the rest you won’t need.
Note: Here’s a guide to showing you how to calculate yarn requirements for a blanket with the swatching method in greater detail.
#3 Look at the Label of the yarn
A lot of yarn you will buy will have a label with quite a lot of information on it. And there, among other information, you will find the gauge of the yarn and the yarn requirements. The tricky part: Usually it only tells you how much yarn you will need for a size 40 pullover (or short-sleeved top). You can totally ignore that number because the information is close to useless (as no pullovers are the same, etc).
Note: Check out my guide on the best Indie yarn dyers if you need some inspiration
However, there is a way to solve the riddle: It also will tell you the gauge. So, typically it says if you knit with needles size X you will need that many stitches and rows to complete a swatch of 10 x 10 centimeters.
This information in itself is useless to calculate the yarn requirements for a scarf because it lacks the information on how much yarn was used knitting typically stockinette stitch. But, if you have another wool for the same needle size at home, you can knit a swatch in the pattern with this wool. Then, you can simply divide the total number of stitches on the label of your wool at home by the number of stitches the wool you want to buy needs to knit the sample swatch. This will give you a factor, like 1.2.
Now, you have to get back to your swatch, look how much yarn you used to knit it, then calculate how much yarn you would need to knit the whole scarf and then multiply it by the factor from above. And then you will know how many yards you will approximately need. Again, this method is far from perfect, but a very viable crutch – especially when you need to order your yarn online.
#4 yarn requirement tables
If you look around the internet, you will find quite a lot of tables full of information. A lot of them will look like this one:
That’s nice, you may think. There is your answer. But what these tables almost never tell you is how these numbers change if you change the length of your scarf (some people are taller than others after all) or the pattern. They usually don’t even give you a sample like (scarf knitted in stockinette stitch 10 inches wide and 50 long). So, essentially I am saying that these tables are worthless. Trust them at your own risk.
#5 read your pattern
This “method” is perhaps the easiest way to succeed. Most professional patterns will tell provide you with yarn recommendations and how much yarn you need to knit the scarf. So, if you are a knitting beginner and you understood only half of what I described above, do yourself a favor, buy a professional scarf pattern and follow the instructions.
I’ve seen a lot of people asking “How many balls of wool do you need for a scarf?”. And they expect answers like, buy 3 balls? But all yarn is different. Some skeins are bigger and some smaller, and some yarn is thicker, etc. A pattern, however, will usually tell you exactly how much you need to buy!
Summary: How much yarn do you need for a scarf
The best and most reliable way to find out how much yarn you need to knit a scarf is by knitting a swatch. Knitting calculators and tables will only be able to give you a rough guestimation at best. I know, it sounds tempting, to simply insert a couple of numbers into a form and it spits out just how many skeins you need to buy. But these tables and calculators won’t be able to adjust for the fact that you will need 50% more yarn for a brioche stitch or a complicated cable pattern.
I know, a lot of knitting beginners shy away from knitting a swatch. After all, you are essentially devoting 15-20 minutes of your time to something you need to unravel 5 minutes later. It does sound so professional and you are just trying to get started? You just want a fast and easy answer to how much bulky yarn for a scarf you’ll need, eh?
BUT it’s really worth knitting that swatch. It will save you time and money. At the same time, building a trusted relationship with your local yarn/crafts store will also help you a lot. Not only do they know the yarns pretty well, but they will also be able to help you with returning excess yarn you won’t need. Trust me, you are not the first, and certainly not the last knitter facing the very same problem.
At the end of the day, I do recommend you always buy a bit more yarn. First of all, you can’t fix a too short scarf. Secondly, you can always use scraps for smaller projects – like some wrist warmers. If there is a lot, matching mittens or a little hat could be your next project. Also, you may have to fix your project at a later point. Maybe there is a cigarette burn hole or the dog chewed on it. If you have a little extra yarn in the same color, you can always use it to repair your work.
Last, but certainly not least, remember to not stress too much about this question. You really should be aware that you cannot buy half a skein anyways. So, if your estimate says you need 500 yards of yarn for your scarf, but the wool only comes in 220-yard skeins, then you will end up overbuying anyway.
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