I've been knitting a long time, and I've made a lot of neck accessories. Cowls, however much I love them when I see them anywhere, are something that has always been a bit sticky for me. There are just so many that look so lush and good in the pattern photo, but so lifeless on me or in the project photos, that I'm pretty sure they're stuffing them with tissue paper for a good picture (I mean, no judgement or anything). Also, for cowls that fall into more of the infinity scarf spectrum, I really struggle with non-reversibility. If I'm meant to double it up, I really think it ought to look pretty on both sides. Right?
So, I fretted for many an hour before picking the cowl design for my now-beloved pumpkin spice yarn from a few posts back. I looked through a million bulky cowl and scarf patterns, compared countless project pictures for every aspect of slouchiness, stitch pattern, chest coverage, reversibility, anything you can think of. And, since I did all the work, I figured I would share my top pattern picks here (click titles for rav links)!
This Vogue cowl can be knit big enough to be a capelet, or small enough to be a nice, slouchy cowl. But, versatility aside, the big downside for this cowl is that it isn't reversible (it's the rare cabled pattern that is), so you've got to be careful how you wear it. That being said, I've made the pattern (though I've since frogged it)- it knits up great and feels like a nice hug around the shoulders. I recommend a sturdy wool, since anything with alpaca or plant fibers will sag.
Classic. And free! This pattern has been made over 6,000 times, which is a pretty good indication that it's fast, cute, and perfect for beginners. I would actually recommend this pattern to brand new knitters over a scarf (which EVERYone starts with and EVERYone promptly hates) because it's fast, interesting, and doesn't require any shaping stitches. Most people use Lion Brand Thick n Quick, which I've used and love, but Malabrigo Rasta is a great hand-dyed bulky yarn that it 100% wool and 100% beautiful, if you're looking to treat yo'self.
3. Zig-Zag Cowl
This guy is more of an infinity scarf profile than classic cowl, and is on my short list. It uses a simple reversible knit/purl stitch pattern, is free, and the combination of bulky yarn and doubling up the scarf means it will definitely keep you warm. For max textural effect, I'd suggest a thick-and-thin yarn, potentially homespun if you are so inclined, or a rustic roving yarn if you aren't into spinning.
This pattern almost won this round. I love this one. I love garter stitch, and this uses garter stitch in such an interesting, and most importantly, REVERSIBLE, way. I haven't knit this one, but it looks like it has some shaping (if you have knit this, correct me if I'm wrong!) which is so important getting it to lay naturally across your collarbones. Knit this one in anything you want- too much alpaca will make it sag a bit, but would make it oh-so-soft. There's enough cowl here to hold its own!
And finally... 1. Shimmer in Blue
Or pumpkin spice... By the incomparable Veera Valimaki. Like State Street (I think), this one has some subtle shaping so it gets bigger from top to bottom. This allows the bottom to drape nicely while keeping the top tight enough to actually keep you warm while showing off the beautiful (AND REVERSIBLE) swirling cable patterns. She's a genius and this pattern is a dream. Everybody's projects look beautiful, and that's what finally swayed me. I think this one would do well with a sturdier yarn so the fabric doesn't fold all over, and I definitely recommend using tubular cast on/bind-off (on this and really anything that starts/ends with ribbing) to give a really professional finish. Purl Soho has a great tutorial for tubular cast-on and bind-off if that's new for you. They are fiddly, but not difficult and once you've mastered them, they'll be a staple in your knitting.
A couple patterns were close, but didn't quite make the cut. One is Suloinen by Ysolda Teague, which has a super interesting stitch pattern but looked like it might benefit from a bulkier yarn than what I used to help it stand a little straighter. The other, Viking Eternity Cowl, is actually a crochet pattern, if there are any of you out there, which I've been mentally crocheting for YEARS now. There are some projects that aren't my favorite, but the stitch pattern is wonderful and with the right width, it would look super great (and is also reversible). I'm still planning on making this one with a really beautiful thick and thin (maybe my own handspun..?) some day!