Knitting Scarves from Around the World

Every knitter appreciates our craft’s heritage but exploring all of those traditions is certainly daunting. On the other hand, just reading the history of sweaters like ganseys, Fair Isle, Norwegian, Cowichan and other fiber reflections of culture somehow doesn’t seem like quite enough. Thanks to Kari Cornell, you can use what I think is a brilliant way to blend samplers, utilitarians items and heritage into completely approachable projects – scarves!

Sometimes I am blown away by the way such a simple concept can be so brilliant! Think about it, scarves have been providing warmth, comfort, or decoration to both men and women almost as long as human civilization has existed. So says Donna Druchunas at the very beginning of her introduction to Knitting Scarves from Around the World. Then she goes on to appeal to my love of knitting history focusing on head and neck coverings. All the way back to 2900 B.C. and all around the world including Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Rome on up through seventeenth century Croatian soldiers, King Charles II of England and the aeronautical scarves of Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes and WWI’s “Red Baron”.

(Min Ulla Norwegian Scarf)

Your knit scarf exploration begins in Scandinavia. The style of the classic black and white two-color sweaters is sampled in a scarf knit in a tube with very simple band repeats interspersed with a few more complicated snowflake and larger XOXO patterns.

The Swedish scarf is inspired by Lovikka Mittens. It is quite simple and then embellished with embroidery in three different colored yarns. Beaded wrist warmers are part of Greenland’s knitting heritage. The beaded leaf scarf has a lacy center with garter stitch ends decorated with beaded leaf designs. Icelandic yoke sweaters are easily recognizable. The large, geometric shapes decorate each end of the Icelandic Yoke Scarf. On the other end of the Icelandic spectrum, so to speak, is the lace scarf. Sometimes it feels good to have something warm around your neck even indoors. A small lace scarf is perfect.

The background for the Paivatar Double-Knit Finnish Scarf is absolutely dripping with the history/folklore I absolutely love. Just listen – “Paivatar is the name of the Sun goddess in the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala. Not only was Paivatar a goddess, she was a goddess of spinning, and her sister, goddess of the moon, was in charge of weaving.”

(Estonian Triangular Lace Shawl)

From Scandinavia, we move farther south into Europe. Bavarian Twisted Stitches decorate a long, narrow scarf. Scarves can have a rather broad definition which can easily include the Estonian Triangular Lace Shawl, complete with the traditional nupps. I am intrigued by the European Cowl with its simple, candle flame repeat pattern.. It is rather deep at 24” with a circumference of 50”. Sort of a shawl that stays up on your shoulders when gathered with a pin. Or, a very thick and comforting scarf folded up on your neck. I have to say it may be an ideal travel item.

A much more modern influence comes from the woven look of the “Coco” scarf based on the look of Coco Chanel’s suits. Even the short rows that round the neck in a U shape, give it a very “Coco” tailored look. The Belgian Ridged Lace Cowl is ideal for using just a bit of luxury yarn.

(Celtic Felted-Flower Scarf)

You could easily spend your entire knitting life exploring the traditions of the British Isles and Ireland. The Shetland lace scarf is knit in the traditional cockleshell pattern. Cream yarn with three accent colors. An aran design scarf is updated with felted-flower accents. An interesting feminine touch. Another Aran scarf is lightweight and narrow at only 6 ½”. A masculine, aran sweater has a thick cable down the center that branches out at each end. The Fair Isle Scarf is knit in the round with a simple, checkerboard pattern of two colors.

(Chinese Good Fortune Scarf)

While knitting is not historically an Asian tradition, the craft itself is widespread and popular throughout China and Japan. Even though it has no indigenous traditions of its own, the region’s culture provides inspiration for beautiful Asian-themed scarves. Like the Chinese Good Fortune Scarf with the double happiness symbol. The blossoms of the cherry tree inspired the Flower Collar that can frame your face and also be worn as a headband. China and Japan have a long history with Russia which leads the imagination to wonder about the possibility of an Asian knitter enjoying the beautiful Orenburg Lace Scarf.

(Northern Handspun Cowl)

Speaking of knitting traditions traveling across the world, what about scarves of the west. The Pendleton Woolen Mills in Oregon are known for their gorgeous bold designs. Using double knitting allows for the large color sections without having to worry about long floats. The pioneer spirit is celebrated with the Northern Handspun Cowl designed to be versitally worn scrunched casually around your neck or pulled down dramatically over your shoulders or hooded like a cozy capelet. The Central Park Mobius Scarf is knit with a luxury yarn for an autumn walk through Central Park. The last scarf is the perfect example of the old world influencing the new world. the American Crazy Quilt Scarf is a stash busting project. You can use as many yarns and colors as you want and work the patterns for as many repeats as you wish and in whatever order pleases you. So much colorful fun!!  

If this all sounds intriguing to you as well, check out the entire book here:

Knitting Scarves From Around The World