Barber Pole Cowl Tutorial

cowl for vp

No matter how you twist this cowl around your head and neck, you always look perfectly dressed. With no wrong sides, luxurious cashmere blend yarn, and a fair isle stripe pattern to keep the knitting interesting. Free pattern + three-part video tutorial.

Finished Size: (after blocking) 26” long when seamed
Needles: Size US 6 (4mm) 16” circular needles, longer circulars if you’re using the magic loop method, or a set of 4 double-pointed needles
Yarn: The YarnSisters Willow, 70% merino, 30% cashmere, DK/light worsted weight; one hank each of Natural (Color A) and Pinot Noir (Color B)
Additional Materials: one stitch marker, tapestry needle for seaming and weaving in ends
Gauge: 7 stitches to the inch, after blocking


me for VP

Munky for VP

Information on things you’ll see in the video:

The yarn I used in the cowl is YarnSisters Willow.

The poncho on the mannequin behind me is my Rodeo Drive Poncho, pattern + video tutorial.

The purple scarf I’m wearing is this pattern.

The yarn I used in the bulky samples is Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Bulky, in colors Yonder, Jam, and Silver.

The circular needles I used are Addi Turbos.

The nail color I’m wearing is by OPI, “Berries in the Canaries”.

42 comments on “Barber Pole Cowl Tutorial

  1. Can’t wait to try this. Thanks for the free pattern and tutorial. It will be my first fair isle project.

  2. This is gorgeous! This is why I love Wednesdays! One question… could one make a textured stitch with one of the colors, like maybe purling all the white and knitting all the red…I’m a texture kinda girl. But anyway I slice this it is gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous! Staci, you rock!

  3. Hi Jessica – if you’re a confident and experienced knitter you can try adding texture to this pattern, but I really don’t recommend trying to add a purl stitch as the first stitch in a fair isle color change. I think you’ll run into tension issues! But you can always try it for a few rows and see how it goes.

    S t a c i

  4. Thanks Staci! I’ve cast on already and going to get going on your pattern, not changing a thing… wine and chocolate in hand as well… nothing better on a day off than to knit one of your fantastic patterns!

  5. Thanks for another great tutorial! I’m looking forward to making this and the rodeo poncho πŸ™‚

  6. This may be my next project. It’s perfect timing as I’ve been wanting to try my hand at fair isle. Thanks for this awesome pattern (and offering it for free) and another great tutorial!

  7. Cowl looks great on you, but looks fabulous on the dog. Who could resist that sweet Basenji face…

  8. Holy smokes, that’s the thing right there! So cute! I can’t wait to start this one. Thanks for gifting it to us!

  9. Staci
    Thanks again for a wonderful free pattern. I’ve just ordered a Merino/cashmere 70/30 yarn to use. One question, I’m petite and often need to modify cowls I make to be a little less wide. If I want to make the Barber Pole cowl slightly narrower would I simply do one less repeat of the chart. I.e., complete the chart 10 times + the first 5 stitches once more instead of 11 times? Thanks!

  10. Frida – if you use three colors for this, I recommend only using two colors per round. If you try to use three colors in a single round, your floats will end up being six stitches long (or longer), and you’ll probably run into tension issues because of that.

    S t a c i

  11. I was so excited to try this pattern, I bought the materials and started on it the next day. (Even though I promised myself not to start anything new till i finished a few i already have going.) As I’m working on it, I notice that it really is just a three stitch repeat, one after the other. Do I really need follow the pattern chart? When I get to the end of the round can I just slip the stitch marker over and keep knitting? Just trying to find a way to make it easier for myself. Lol

  12. You’ve got it! It is TOTALLY a three stitch repeat, but the chart was necessary for getting that pattern established. No need to use the chart after the first couple of rows.
    S t a c i

  13. Hi, I have tried fair isle before and have always had a problem with it. Thank you so much for this pattern and tutorial because now it is a piece of cake. No more problems, I cannot thank you enough for all your help, because I love fair isle. Let’s see if we can do more Fair Isle, maybe a hat or fingerless mitts. Thanks again
    Joanne C.

  14. Hi, I have started this cowl and I love it. My question is how many inches does it grow to in length? (approximately)

  15. Joanne – it really depends on the yarn you use. You can see in the pattern that blocking made my cowl 4″ longer (finished cowl 26″ after folding and seaming, but I knit to 48″).

    S t a c i

  16. Staci
    My cowl is turning out great. I am so happy that I am knitting this and that your tutorial video made it easy to understand how to do Fair Isle. it has always scared me a little. Now it will be time to try something else for winter, like mittens.
    I have a quick question: how do I weave in my ends in the middle of my cowl where I had to attach my next ball of yarn?? (i have 2 balls of each colour I am using)
    thanks so much! πŸ™‚

  17. Hi Stacy, just started making and I’m about 4 inches a long..just realized i got the colors wrong at the beginning for just about an inch wide. I really don’t want to rip it all out to correct..could i use the fixing a drop stitch method to go back and change colors..or does that not work with fair aisle?

  18. Kim – if you just have a few stitches to fix, you can drop the stitch down the column to correct it. However, it will be tricky with the color changes, and the stitches you correct will probably be tighter than the other stitches (because they were a “float” before, and not as much yarn is there to create a new stitch). Probably worth a try if you’re not going to rip back.

    Good luck!
    S t a c i

  19. Staci, if the cowl is knitted widthwise (which would prevent the need to seam) how do the stitches play out? I am talking about the explanation you gave concerning the one less red stitch which appears in the next row.

    Sonya Federman

  20. Sonya – that alteration would make it an entirely different pattern, and the whole length of the cowl would need to be seamed to give it the “no wrong sides” effect.

    S t a c i

  21. Hi Stacy–

    I love this pattern–thanks for offering it for free. =) I had a quick question for you…Can I use 4 balls of KnitPicks Gloss DK yarn, 2 of each color? The yardage is different than the Yarn Sisters yarn as it would only be 246 yards per color rather than 280 yards. It seemed close enough that I thought I would ask! Perhaps it would work and the cowl would be just a bit shorter? Thanks so much for your time!

  22. Rachel – the yarn amounts are exactly what I used to get the length I have, which is just long enough to fit comfortably while wrapped around the neck twice. Less yarn will make a shorter cowl, that may not wrap around your neck twice!

    S t a c i

  23. Hi Staci
    I apologise for asking a stupid question, but is Fair Isle knitting in the round knitted “inside out” as the floats seem to be on the outside? How does the knitting “know” to have the smooth side inside? (I have just used your helpful video on inside out knitting to correct some gloves I had accidentally started inside out on dpns.)

    I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my yarn, so that I can start this cowl. Your tutorials and tips are so very helpful. After more than 30 years of bumbling along as an “advanced beginner” on 2 needles, it is exciting to learn how to do knitting that I hadn’t understood before. THANK YOU for your time and patience!

  24. Hi Staci,

    I was doing so well (14 inches). I was moving my stitch marker over and all was well until I got distracted.

    I forgot the stitch marker and now the stripes are wonky, just a few rows. Is there any way to get back on track. Should I start with the chart again. Please help…


  25. Georgia – the only way to truly fix it is to rip back to where you got off track, and get back on track. You are familiar enough with the pattern by now to know that the 3 red/3 white stitches shift one stitch to the left with each round. If you can live with the mistake, you can knit on without fixing it – sorry, there is no quick fix for this.

    S t a c i

  26. I was hoping you could recommend other yarns for this barber pole cowl and the tarn sisters willow is no longer available. Thanks for the suggestions. I love watching your videos and have learned a great deal from them.

    Thanks, Carla

  27. Hi Stacy–Firstly, I want to say that I love your videos. They make me look forward to hump-day! I can’t wait to try this pattern and see if I can get through Fair Isle. Because the Yarnsisters Willow is no longer available, I’m going to take your advice and use either the DK Knit Picks Capra or Gloss to knit this pattern. But, I’m not sure how much yarn is required to complete the project. Can you tell me how much DK weight yarn is required to knit up this project. Thank you for your response. Keep up the great work.

  28. I made a purple and blue version of this. I ended up having to make mine a lot longer than you suggest so it would double over. Only thing is, I was too casual to begin with on this one. Normally, I use a spreadsheet and work out how long I’ve got to make it exactly, how many stitches, total remaining stitch time (approx). However, the pattern was so easy with this one so after learning the repeat after a few rows, I discarded the card and just carried on.

    Only thing is now that it’s about 2ms long and I don’t know where I am when trying to bind off. I’ve tried counting up from the tail at the beginning, using stitch markers and working out where the equivalent stitch is at the other end. I then bound it off and went to join the ends, but it doesn’t look quite right, as if I’ve maybe not bound off at the right point. Dammit.

    It gets really confusing working out where the last stitch in a round comes. Any tips? Should I find another pair of needles and begin the pattern again, do a few rows and then try to work it out by comparing that to what I’ve already got?

    I hope all that makes sense.

    p.s. yes, I’m a fella. Love the vids, btw. Have learned a lot so far.

  29. Matt – you should be able to follow the column of the first stitch all the way up to the bind-off row so you can line it up to make a cowl. Regardless, even if you’re a little bit off, just make sure the spirals are lining up so that the pattern isn’t broken at the seam.

    S t a c i

  30. Thanks, Stace. You’re such a good egg.

    I did manage to follow it all the way up, using lots of stitch markers. I think my yarn was actually thinner than the pattern you showed, so the stitches were obviously smaller and it took quite a while to get it right. I took a pic as it looked ridiculous with all those bits of plastic running up it, like the Gruffalo’s spine. I also then ran out the pattern exactly row for row on my spreadsheet, using coloured cells and it worked out perfectly. Good experience in how to read where you are in a pattern like that, if nothing else.

    Just need to seam it together. Sods law, though, I’ve run out of the purple yarn I cast on and bound off with, so I’m seaming in the other colour. Fingers crossed.

  31. Is the gauge on this really supposed to be 7 stitches per inch after blocking? I’m having a hard time getting down to 7 stitches. It seems a bit small considering the gauge on the yarn is 5.25-6 sts per inch on US 5-7s. I started on US 5s and was getting 5 sts after blocking so I went down to US 3s and am getting a little over 6 before and it’ll only get bigger after blocking. I would probably have to go all the way down to US 1s which seems a bit excessive since my gauge is usually pretty close to yours in the other 3 patterns I’ve used; I’ve only had to go down a needle size once. I feel like there’s something I’m missing.

  32. Hi Staci,
    I’m loving working this cowl for the holidays!
    Your opinion, please…..I finished your Sixes and Threes Cowl using the kitchener stitch.
    Can I use this technique for this project as well, starting with a crochet provisional cast on? [or will the stripes not match up?]
    Thanks and Happy Holidays!

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