Knitting and Grafting Small Circumference Tube Cowls
Tube cowls seem to be everywhere these days—the kind of tube cowl for which you cast on provisionally just enough stitches to fit comfortably around a 16″ circular needle and then knit circularly for 30″ or more before grafting the two open ends of the long tube together. The resulting shape usually resembles something akin to the inner tube of a bicycle tire.
I like tube cowls for a number of reasons. For one thing, air gets trapped inside the tube, providing extra “cushiness” and warmth, especially when I wrap the cowl around my neck two or three times. I also like that I don’t have to worry about the wrong side of the work showing because it’s permanently hidden inside the tube. Finally, tube cowls let me avoid edges that want to curl (as some do, no matter how aggressively they are blocked—grr!).
There are days, though, when I don’t want the extra bulk that results when a tube cowl is wrapped multiple times, but I still want the extra warmth that the double layer of a tube cowl provides. That’s when I opt for a tube cowl with a smaller circumference. Smaller tube cowls have all of the advantages of the longer ones (extra warmth, no wrong side, and no curling edges), but without all the extra wrapping: you just pull them over your head and you’re ready to go.
There are a couple of different ways to construct a tube cowl with a small circumference. One way is to cast on circularly (with half the number of cast-on stitches forming the cowl’s circumference) and use a double-knitting technique to knit to the desired height before binding the stitches off. Another way is to simply work a shorter version of the long tube cowl described at the beginning of this article, by casting on provisionally and working in the round until the cowl is just long enough to fit once around your neck before grafting the two open ends of the tube together. The three cowls in this article were all constructed in this way. However, the way that Versions 2 and 3 were folded before grafting the two groups of live stitches together is somewhat unconventional (and a lot of fun!).
You will find complete instructions for knitting and grafting all three versions at the end of this post.
For Version 1, the Garter Basketweave Tube Cowl, half the cast-on stitches form the cowl’s height, and the cowl is worked in the round until it’s long enough to fit comfortably around the neck (with no wrapping), then the two open ends are grafted together in pattern. The grafted round (the darker round marked by arrows in the illustration) uses the yarn from the last round worked and joins the live stitches from the last round worked to the stitches from the provisional cast-on round. Because circular knitting involves working in a series of spirals, the grafted round ends at the first stitch of the provisional cast-on round, one round above the starting point.
For Version 2, the Reverse Stockinette-Stitch Tube Cowl, all the cast-on stitches form the cowl’s circumference and the cowl is worked circularly in stockinette stitch to twice the desired finished cowl height. The top and bottom edges are then folded to the outside to reveal the purl side of the fabric. Where the two ends meet in the middle of the cowl, the live stitches are grafted together using a reverse-stockinette graft. In this case, the grafted round ends one round below the starting point. Having the purl side on the outside of the tube is particularly effective when you use yarns such as Knit Picks’s Chroma Worsted because the purl stitches blur and further soften the yarn’s color transitions.
The construction of Version 3, the Basketweave Tube Cowl, is similar to that of Version 2, except for the way the tube is folded before grafting: when the tube is twice the desired height, the top edge is folded to the inside of the tube until it meets the cast-on round, and then the two ends are grafted together in pattern (the grafted round can be shifted to the middle of the outside of the cowl). As for Version 1, the grafted round ends in the round above where it starts.
For Versions 2 and 3, the completed grafted round can be flipped to the inside of the cowl in order to hide any grafting imperfections or any lines that may be visible if the colors at the two ends of the cowl don’t match perfectly.
Another really great aspect of tube cowls with smaller circumferences is that you can knit them in just a few hours, especially if you’re using big needles and chunky yarn. And that makes them perfect for those last-minute gifts! Once you have finished a few of them, you most likely won’t need to reference a pattern and will be able to create them by heart. They’re a great project to keep in your toolbox!