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Knitting For Family: The Red Scarf Project

Sep 12, 2007

Connections: A Red Scarf

The Red Scarf Project, endorsed by Interweave, Lily Chin, and The National NeedleArts Association, was started in 2005 by the Orphan Foundation of America as a way of showing community support and encouragement to college-bound teens in foster care. This year, I was asked if I would design a Red Scarf pattern for Interweave to sponsor during the 2007 campaign, and of course, I said yes.

Designing a scarf, a scarf that hasn't been Done Before, especially a scarf for the Red Scarf Project, wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. It had to be narrow, long, look good on both sides, be wearable by both men and women, not too complicated to knit, and, oh yes: be red.

So, how does one go about designing something with such strict parameters?

As I always do when I am designing things, I started with a story idea. I know that sounds a bit odd, but I am a storyteller, and I tell stories with stitches as well as with words. Knitters have a rich tradition of telling stories through stitches--look at the wonderfully evocative names we give to cable and lace patterns: Hollow Oak, Wings of the Swan, Homes of Donegal, Dragon Skin. The language of textiles has become a metaphor for storytelling: a well-told tale is even called "a yarn."

I thought of those foster teens who will be wearing all the scarves we knit for them. I thought of how, someday, one of those teens might be my kids' teacher, or perhaps even marry into my family. Those teens are not really orphans: in a very real way, they are my future family.

Cabled version

Easier Twisted Rib version

Hence my cabled scarf, called Connections, where the stitches and patterns weave in and out, at times touching, and at times moving apart. Families are like that: we move in and out of each other's lives, but we stay connected, and our shared connections form a larger, stronger, whole.

Note that if you don't want to do cables, there's also a version that is cable-free--simply work the columns of twisted ribs the entire length of the scarf. However: The cables here are not hard, and if you have never tried cables, or think they are too difficult, then this scarf is a good place to start. How do I know that these cables aren't too hard? Because this is my first cable-knitting project. Ever. (Really.)

I figured that anything worth doing, is worth doing for family.

For more information about how to donate your scarf, and the foster kids who will receive the scarves, visit

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I am working out customizations for the Husband Sweater so I will be ready to cast on when the yarn arrives. What is the Husband Sweater? It's my nickname for the pullover my husband requested I make him for Christmas.

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EllenD wrote
on Sep 27, 2007 4:50 PM
In case no-one has ever tried them - I use the FibreTECH cable needles. Your stitches won't accidentally slip off, but they'll come off when you give them a tug! They're faster than U cable needles, less slippery than other cable needles, and less awkward than a double-point needle. Several online stores carry them - a set of 3 is about US$10.
filambulle wrote
on Sep 21, 2007 1:47 PM
In honor of this red scarf project, I have shared my own "red scarf pattern" on my blog. Here is the adress if you wish to have a (forbearing) look at it.

I like yours very much!
And I love your knitting daily posts. You are wonderful.
xo from Switzerland
NinaB wrote
on Sep 17, 2007 11:21 PM
Maureen: I was at the Stitch & Pitch on Sunday in Oakland as well. Too bad I didn't hear you asking about the pfb. I could have helped you out. I'm glad the A's have come on board for the event though. It was really fun!
Angstridden1 wrote
on Sep 17, 2007 6:25 PM
Check 'Palindrome Scarf' (google it). The pattern is for a reversible cable scarf (and hat).
Ellie S
mostitch1968 wrote
on Sep 17, 2007 12:36 PM
I started the scarf on the way to "Stitch N Pitch" Sunday - A's vs. Rangers. It was an exciting game. Unfortunately, I forgot a cable needle - did you know a cocktail straw works pretty well. I was really stumped at the direction to "pfb". None of the women I was with knew either. At home I looked it up on the internet and finally found a video showing a Purl back loop in struction and think I have figured it out. Am I the only one stumped by this direction? I also think there is a mistake in the beginning where it says the stich count will increase by 1 per pfb per section. After counting and comparing, I found it increases by six per row. I seem to be on the right track, for now.
AlisonM@2 wrote
on Sep 16, 2007 3:13 PM
I knitted a colleague a red scarf and hat for Christmas last year as his favourite football team's colour is red. The only problem was that they made him look like one of Santa's elves! Maybe I should have left the pom-pom off.
JamieL wrote
on Sep 15, 2007 9:42 PM
Help! I must make the beautiful red scarf, but I'm having trouble getting started. How many sts do you cast on? I seem to have to add 2 or 3 sts at the end of each row, and then take thm off again. What am I doing wrong? Thank you -
babybat wrote
on Sep 15, 2007 8:55 PM
Hi Sandi, several in my knitting group want to make the scarf, but we live in an area without a yarn store. Any suggestions on yarn types, or substitutes would really be helpful when we order. Thanks, Linda
MaryT@2 wrote
on Sep 15, 2007 4:56 AM
I just wanted to say...great job on the scarf Sandi!
Marie@2 wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 10:05 PM
My (then) eight-year-old son did a scarf drive for the Red Scarf Project as his homeschool charity project. The local newspaper featured him on the cover of a piece about charity knitting.
Though he asked all of his knitting/crocheting friends *before* OFA changed their guidelines to limit each person to five, he's pretty proud of the fact that he's collected over 60 scarves and they are continuing to come in!
knittingbox wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 10:04 PM
I'm very happy about this post, I think I'd vaguely heard of the Red Scarf Project, but didn't really know what it was. I will definitely knit a scarf for them.

One question: The red scarf info page says they had to scale back the project this year because of the overwhelming response they got last year thanks to blogger Now Norma Knits. What does that mean? Should we not send them a scarf? I find this sentence on their guideline page to be very confusing.
NinaT wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 9:15 PM
I've already got my yarn, and I'm contemplating a purple one for me, even though I haven't even started the red one. Thanks for the story and the pattern, I feel inspired to knit a red scarf.
AlisonW wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 8:49 PM
I love the magical way cables appear under the needles - I have to try this beautiful pattern, Sandi!
Knittinmama wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 7:36 PM
Sandi I love the scarf!!!! How do you knit so fast???
KateS wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 7:32 PM
Do any of you folks know if there is a Canadian version of the red scarf project?

Kate Sanderson
AmyJ wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 6:29 PM
Lovely pattern... I'm sure the orphan project will receive many of these! Thanks for sharing the pattern.
DigitalDurga wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 5:51 PM

An excellent pattern Sandi.

I get the feeling you like that twisted rib stitch, but that's likely just because I'm currently knitting your Nicholas' fingerless glove pattern for my husband. :)
ChristineB wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 5:47 PM
The scarf pattern is just beautiful and the story behind it gives it even more meaning. After the red one, I can't wait to make a blue one, and a green one and a........
ChristineB wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 5:47 PM
The scarf pattern is just beautiful and the story behind it gives it even more meaning. After the red one, I can't wait to make a blue one, and a green one and a........
TracyF wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 5:44 PM
Thanks for making the Red Scarf pattern for the correct length and including the additional inches/ball information!
Lynn G. wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 5:29 PM
Sandi, wonderful design. Would you be willing to post a photo of what the reverse side looks like? Thanks.
EllenL wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 5:06 PM
The Red Scarf is lovely! I love to add cables to knitting patterns, so this one really appeals to me. The pattern could be expanded horizontally to design a baby blanket for one's favorite baby or for Project Linus.
AnitaM wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 4:43 PM
What a great scarf! I love, love, love it! I'll definitely be making it and looking for a worthy charity here in Australia.
I'm in the middle of my first cable project at the moment (very simple cable!) - the Looking Glass Top from IK Summer 2006. It's my first adult sized garment too (other than shawls and scarves) and I'm really enjoying it. Knitting Daily really inspires me to give everything a go! Thanks Sandi :)
T.B wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 4:36 PM
I tried knitting cable once. Is there suppose to be a whole between the cable and the background, or is my tension way off?
Vis Major wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 4:08 PM
"I thought of those foster teens who will be wearing all the scarves we knit for them. I thought of how, someday, one of those teens might be my kids' teacher, or perhaps even marry into my family. Those teens are not really orphans: in a very real way, they are my future family.

Hence my cabled scarf, called Connections, where the stitches and patterns weave in and out, at times touching, and at times moving apart. Families are like that: we move in and out of each other's lives, but we stay connected, and our shared connections form a larger, stronger, whole."

Sandi, this was a beautiful and moving sentiment. I'm inspired!
LisaM@2 wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 4:07 PM
I have the book scarf style and it is just the greatest! it has something for everyone and generates awesome ideas too!
CarolineP wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 3:39 PM
Sandi, your words are truly touching and have inspired me to also attempt cables for the first time...wish me luck!
otterwise wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 3:20 PM
Wonderful connections, wonderful story, wonderful scarf, wonderful organization.
I have no birth sisters, but my women friends are all the closer to me for that. I have lost three dear to me in the past few years, two more have life threatening illnesses now. I find myself turning to yarn and needles to express my love in a tangible way to them, to make something that can hug them when I can't be there. This design expresses my feeling of connection to them so beautifully.
Thank you Sandi
BarbieM wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 2:36 PM
The Connections scarf is beautiful as is the story. If more people were conscious of the interconnectedness of all human beings, our world would be a much better place. We do need to renovate the foster care system and provide for these kids beyond age 18.
LauraW@2 wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 2:30 PM
Great looking scarf. It makes me want to make it and gives me ideas for other scarves.

But it's scary on the bronze statues. I'm sure that seemed like a good idea at the time, but the metal is so dead and scary against the red yarn.
AmberD wrote
on Sep 14, 2007 2:22 PM
Sandi, that scarf is LOVELY! I made 6 scarves or so a year in the past 2 years for the red scarf project, you just provided me for the pattern for at least one of my many this year! =)
LoriM wrote
on Sep 13, 2007 9:49 PM
Sandi, I live in Loveland so I really appreciated your creative effort to show the scarf you designed on a piece of bronze sculpture in our fair city! Thank you so much. The scarf is lovely and although I am an experienced cable knitter, I love the simplicity and the way the design shows off my favorite color! Thanks again,
KristinM wrote
on Sep 13, 2007 8:29 PM
This is a really cool scarf. My mom is interested in something to learn knitting cables, so I'm going to forward this article to her. I also like the story you tell with your knitting. It's a good reminder to all of us that our lives are inter-connected in some way.

I'm also surprised that this is your first cable project. I may have been crazy or too new not to know better, but my first knitting project ever was a pair of the Medallion Mitts from the book "Knitting With Balls". It includes both knitting in the round and cabling. They turned out pretty well, too, if I may say so.
Janet wrote
on Sep 13, 2007 8:28 PM
You keep outdoing yourselves and I just love it. This cable pattern will really be fun. Thanks for this website.
Clmd wrote
on Sep 13, 2007 4:28 PM
Love the scarf. If you're new to cables, making a scarf is a great way to make a first project. Just need to make sure the cable you choose is reversible. Does anyone know of a good source to find reversible cable stitch patterns?
slgjeg4 wrote
on Sep 13, 2007 2:32 PM
I love the neatness of the cable and stitch design. I agree with you--I too like to tell a story when I am using pattern stitches. Presently I am trying to decide what pattern to use in creating a shawl for a friend going through breast cancer treatment. I am going to work from my stash and my pattern book to create something from me to her.
GJabouri wrote
on Sep 13, 2007 11:25 AM
Hi all - since we're on the topic of charities ... another great one is Project Linus ( - they collect blankets. And thanks for clarifying that skill levels actually refer to the techniques themselves, not the overall complexity.
NinaB wrote
on Sep 13, 2007 11:06 AM
I just finished the cable afghan from the cover of Cables Untangled so I'm a bit cabled out just now (even though it was in yummy Blue Sky organic cotton so it was like knitting a giant huggy cloud). I'm so happy that the Red Scarf project is getting some attention though. This is the first charity I ever knitted for and I think it is a great cause. Thanks so much for sharing and your cables look great!
Esh wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 10:39 PM
Beautiful photos and well told story! Thanks for sharing how your knitting is like storytelling, I think those connections (between knitting and storytelling) are fascinating and I find myself telling stories in my knitting too :)

I need to get brave and do cables, especially since I've got blanket squares for the ever-ongoing blanket project that involve cables. It's encouraging (and inspiring!) that this is your first cables project. WOW! Great work!
SaraJ wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 8:39 PM
Oh, and my first cable attempt was a couple months ago, on a headband, with a possibly dislocated knee propped atop a waterjug, in the back of a minivan (leg sticking straight forward where a seat had been taken out to accommodate me), bouncing and jouncing along at 35mph (WAY too fast for the conditions, my dad is MAD!) on the washboard and lumpy backroads in the backcountry of Utah's Capitol Reef National Park (GORGEOUS, tho, w/a rug loom set up in an old homestead there!).

Oh, and I was learning to cable w/out a cable needle at the same time.

In hindsight, I refer to this experience as the "Survivor(tm)" of learning to cable. 8^D Pics in Ravelry and HERE, on my blog. Even if it's potentially embarrassing.
DeniseW wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 8:26 PM
The scarf is really lovely and tells its story well. I do like having both chart and written directions when available.

Don't anyone be put off by skill ratings. They are a guide to what kind of techniques a pattern includes, not to what you need to have mastered before you begin. If you are learning something new, it may just take more time and attention.
SaraJ wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 8:23 PM
This looks SWEET. What a great organization, too, because the foster system just dumps these kids at 18, and though there are many serious problems because of that, and this program doesn't address that (we need to, as a country, bring this issue to the fore like other issues such as healthcare, and brainstorm solutions and things), it's a positive thing, and measure of comfort and warmth. (I have a grandpa and his wife who have fostered kids for over 45 years.)
KD Sandi wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 6:07 PM
****Sandi here...You only work one color at a time in the Modern Quilt Wrap, and it's all garter stitch and simple it's not colorwork in the sense of Fair Isle or intarsia, where you might be manipulating two or more strands in the same row. So it's really easy! If you can do garter stitch and decrease, you can work that wrap. Cables, even though they are a solid color, involve stitch manipulation and chart reading (or careful text-instruction reading--yes, there are BOTH charted and written instructions in the Connections pattern!), so cabled patterns would have an intermediate or higher skill rating.

The skill levels are based on the CYCA standards at
GJabouri wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 5:44 PM
Hi all - I noticed that the Red Scarf has a skill level of 3, and the Modern Quilt Wrap a 2. I would have thought the reverse was true, because I consider color work more difficult than one-color pattern stitches. What are the skill levels based on?
LisaL wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 5:33 PM
I JUST BROKE my no scarves rule with the last post!! Now I'm going to have to either break it again, or just pretend it never existed. I am on block three of the Modern Quilt Wrap, and I've made some new rules to accomodate it: No laundry, no dishes and no grocery shopping.
SharonC wrote
on Sep 12, 2007 4:25 PM
Who would have believed you'd never done cables? You seem so fearless! But it is a lovely scarf, and I believe I'll have to break my no scarves rule to make it. My first cable project was my third project ever. A huge cardigan with lots, and lots of cables. I don't think I've been afraid of doing something new since then!