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Dear Ann:

Let’s get this out of the way:  when I say “cowls in the round,” I mean only one cowl, my beloved Honey Cowl. I have lost count of how many Honey Cowls I have knit. There is always someone who wants one, or wants another one. They are the perfect combination of style and practicality in the handknit accessory category.


There is nothing very challenging about knitting a Honey Cowl–it’s a 2-row pattern and one of those two rows is plain knitting. There are a few tricks, however, and these tricks are common to any large piece knit in the round. In my 2 dozen (conservative estimate, not kidding) Honey Cowls, I have learned ways of handling these tricky bits, and I’m sharing them here.

Tricky Bit Number One: Casting on Hundreds of Stitches

When using a DK weight yarn for a Honey Cowl (typically MadelineTosh DK), I cast on 260 stitches (instead of the 220 prescribed by the pattern). I like a long Honey Cowl,  for ease of wrapping (never too snug around the neck), and when unwrapped, to hang low enough not to be in my way.  The Honey Cowl pictured here, in a lovely sportweight Camellia Fiber Company Merino Sport  (made in your own Davidson County, Tennessee), is 300 stitches to compensate for the smaller gauge.

I cast on using the long tail cast-on but here’s the rub:  how long should the tail be?  No matter how much yarn I reel off for the tail, there is the chance that I’ll get 250 of those 260 stitches cast on, and run out of yarn. That is very annoying.

One way of dealing with this is to cast on 20 stitches, and measure how much tail yarn that took, and multiply it by 13 and then measure out that much yarn. I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for all that measuring.

Another way is to estimate: a foot of yarn for 20 stitches in worsted weight (as advised on this video for the long tail cast-on). That one also requires a fair amount of measuring (“you really want to round up”), and it’s too guessy for my liking.

A few years ago, Annie Modesitt taught me the answer. The answer is:  TWO TAILS. Take two ends of the yarn you’re using, either from 2 balls of yarn, or from both the beginning and end of a center-pull ball. Using both strands held together, make a slip knot and place it on your needle. Then do the long tail cast-on exactly as normal, using the two strands. Do not count the slip knot as a stitch. When you’re done casting on, undo the slip knot and cut one of the strands of yarn. Now start knitting with the remaining strand of yarn. (Yes, this gives you 2 more ends to weave in. Stop whining. You’ve just been spared the agony of running out of yarn.)

For visuals on this method, check out out this handy tutorial by Julie Weisenberger of cocoknits.

It’s so easy, and so obvious once you know it. Thank you, Annie! Thank you, Julie!


Tricky Bit Number Two: Being Careful Not To Twist

Once you’ve cast on, you’re ready to cruise right into your Honey Cowl (or circular knit of choice). But there’s another obstacle to the blissed-out mindless knitting you crave: you must join all those stitches into a round without twisting them. Woe betide the knitter who is an inch (or more!) into Honey Cowl territory before realizing there is a twist in the stitches! It would be better never to have been born! (Not really. But it’s annoying.) I used to do it a lot, perhaps every third Honey Cowl. But over time, I learned to get it right. Here are some strategies:

  1. Avoid the whole problem.  Instead of joining the stitches on the first round, just knit back and forth for a few rows. The honey cowl starts with a rolled edge of stockinette. Knit that, then lay your needles on a flat surface, go all the way around checking to see that the stitches (now forming a visible rolled edge) are not twisted at any point on the round, and join them together. At the end, you can invisibly close the gap in that rolled edge with a few mattress stitches, using one of the tails that you have to weave in anyway.
  2. Be vewwy, vewwy careful. This is the baller approach. Lay your stitches on a flat surface, as shown in the picture. Try to be in a calm and patient mood, and not on an airplane if possible. Start at one end of the cast-on and follow the stitches all the way around, nudging them into line and ensuring that they have not twisted.  I do this by placing the cast-on edge on the top of the cable all the way around. When you get to the end, join the stitches, lift the needles careful off the table (so as not to jostle the stitches), and start knitting. I know, “be careful” is not a very helpful technique. But this is the way I do it. And it’s mostly successful. When it’s not successful? Then I use strategy 3.
  3. Fix it after the first round. After the first round, lay your needles once more on a flat surface, and summon back that calm and patient mood. Repeat the procedure of going all the way around, stitch by stitch, and making sure that the stitches are not twisted.   If there IS a twist, keep straightening the stitches until you’ve isolated the twist at the place where the stitches are joined, and untwist it before starting the second round. This is your last chance to fix it. But you can fix it perfectly.



Tricky Bit Number 3: Knowing When To Quit

The long version of the Honey Cowl requires two skeins of yarn. You make the cowl as wide as you like, and I like to make them as wide as my yarn will permit. As that second ball dwindles, how do you know when it’s time to stop the main pattern, and start that roll of stockinette edging?  It wouldn’t be the end of the world to run out of yarn before the edging was done–you’d just have to rip the last repeat or two of the pattern and re-knit the edging, but who needs that aggravation?

To know when it’s quitting time, place a locking marker on the last round completed with the first skein. Then, count how many repeats of the pattern you’ve completed. That is how many repeats of the pattern you need to knit before starting the roll edge. (Needless to say, this logic applies to other situations where you are trying to get the most out of the yarn available.)


When you’re done, you have another Honey Cowl (or circular cowl of your choice). This is my latest, for niece Maggie (currently residing in Davidson County, Tennessee), modeled by my in-house knitwear model, who has returned in-house for a week of Fall Interruption (she calls it Fall Break). Maggie picked out the yarn herself at your own local, Craft South.




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  • You can cast on with two ends and not have two extra ends to weave in if your yarn is a non-superwash animal fiber. Spit splice those two ends together before you start.

    • That’s brilliant. See? Always one more thing to learn from knitters.

  • I’m knitting a Honey cowl as I was reading this out of a skein of Briar Rose Fourth if July which now seems like a poor choice seeing the pics of yours. Sigh.

    • I cannot believe that!

  • Beautiful as always, but when I read “niece” my thought was , “Wow, she sure looks like her daughter!” which of course, she was.

    Saw you at Rhinebeck but couldn’t catch your attention and didn’t want to yell and interrupt, especially as you had written that you only had the one day there. Still, sorry I wasn’t able to say hello. Next year, maybe.

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  • Love the two tails idea! I will have to try it the next cowl I cast-on.

  • The cast on tip is sort of obvious but yet so not….never thought of that approach….thank you thank you from sparing society from my long rantings of under or often more tragic over estimation of yarn for a long tail. Applauds all around………… so thrilled that M&D is have been missed………Instagram and Twitter are ok but the “old” school blog is still the best……….

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  • Once upon a time, I think when Ravelry reached 4 million members, there was a list of most-this and most-that, and there was a most-faved forum post which gave a great tip about not twisting. Of course, I did not fave that most faved post and so will try to recreate it from memory… Make a long string with some loops, with beads in between. Every 10 or 20 stitches of your gigantic cast-on, slip one of the loops on your needle, with a bead or two in between. When you hold up your needle with the zillion stitches, the beaded string will hang down from its loops, and your stitches will all line up. Mirabile dictu. I think.

    • snap!

      • Ah, going off to bookmark that right now! Thanks!

  • There’s another way and it requires a tool, and who doesn’t like a new knitting tool?!

    Dee’s No-Twist CircularKnitting Cast On

    In a nutshell, you make a long, thin, flat (basically a button band) strip and either leave loop on the edge, or make it pretty with some jump rings you stitch on at evenly spaced intervals. You hang a ring in between every 10th cast on stitch, or so, and these markers help you count but the width of the strip also keeps your stitches from twisting. As you knit the first row, you can slip the markers so the strip stays in place for awhile, giving you something to hang onto, or you can just drop them off as you come to them. So, it’s reusable.

    • I’m going to have to try this contraption–I can’t quite see how it works in my mind. Thanks!

  • I’m actually headed to CraftSouth today! Need a starter kit of some kind for a 9 yr old creative type. Somebody tell me what to buy!

    • Get some short wooden needles in a size 8 or so, and ask the staff to help you find a ball of yarn that is appropriate for those needles. If it’s not wound into a ball, ask them to do that for you. Lucky 9 year old creative type!

  • I learned the “two balls of yarn” method for longtail cast-on from June Hemmons Hiatt’s Principles of Knitting, original edition. Yes, it was one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments. At least I figured out the “knit a few rows flat, then join for a circle” approach to circular knitting for myself.

    • June HH knows everything!

      • Indeed she does. With the original edition of Principles on my bookshelf, I thought I wouldn’t need to buy the new edition, but it turns out to include even more material and new developments. I may have to cave.

  • I’m a fan of the “knit a few rows flat” method. Always works well for me.

    • I even do this for sock tops. Just knit a row, in size #1, you’ll never know. Almost guaranteed not to twist 😉

      • Agree!

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  • My no twist method: after cast on, lay needle flat. Using scotch tape, loop a piece of tape over the cast on stitches in intervals of about 3-4 inches (depending on length of cast on edge), joining tape edges at the bottom to keep stitches from twisting. Join. Remove tape. Works like a charm.

    • This is clever! Bonus points for use of office supplies! I am going to try it next time.

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  • I am loving all the Macgyver hacks on this topic. So great. And I swear, the fabric made by the Honey Cowl pattern has to be the most satisfyingly lush and dense insulator. Just the best.

  • Ar always tips from Kay make even knitting a honey cowl easier.

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  • I have yet to knit a Honey Cowl. I know, but large numbers of cast on stitches make me even crazier than usual. Even for small circular projects like mitts I almost always knit back and forth for several rounds, (see Tricky Bit 2.1) because I also dislike that fussing and tugging of the first few rounds, though I’ve tried the tricks of casting on an extra stitch and knitting it together with the first stitch of the round, and crossing the first 2 stitches, etc. And, forgive my ignorance, but would a knitted cast-on work for the Honey Cowl, and eliminate that pesky not-enough-yarn problem? Love the woven look of it, and recently did a Half-Linen hat. It’s no cowl…but it is only 90 stitches, which all fit on a 16 inch needle!

    • Knitted cast on = cool idea, considering that the edge rolls under and isn’t all that visible.

    • I think a knitted cast-on could work, but I like the appearance of the long tail cast-on — the way it melds into the stockinette, no holes and same tightness of the knitted stitches.

  • One of the awesome benefits of being a neighbor of KG and sometime babysitter of Miss Olive is receiving a gorgeous Honey Cowl especially to match my winter coat.

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  • I’ve never knit a Honey Cowl. Sad but true and weird since I’m a lover of all cowls. Thanks for the tips on how to avoid a few pitfalls.
    Also, want to say welcome back. Always enjoy your posts and looking forward to more.

  • i use a knitted cast on…for almost everything. it works great for this project, as Ann points out, the top and bottom get rolled up into the fray. viola!
    also, could you continue to use the term “baller”, in any description, of anything, ever? made my day!

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  • I just made 10 diff cowls for Christmas but not one honey cowl.. I’ll have to fix that!

  • “This is the baller approach.” I going to cast on for a Honey Cowl and use this as my mantra.

  • I learned a trick on some You Tube video for estimating yarn for the longtail cast on (although it could be tedious for 200+ stitches). I started by leaving a “normal” tail (at least 4″). Then, at that point, I begin to wrap the yarn around the needle. It is one wrap per desired stitch (if I have to cast on 30 stitches, it would be 30 wraps), giving me the generally desired length that I need to complete my cast on of, in this case, 30 stitches.

  • I am finding this VERY helpful. I haven’t tried one yet, I’m more partial to scarves than cowls personally, but I just want to be working on something, something that requires about 30% brain.

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  • Thank you, thank you for the tips! I am starting a sock head hat and will try both the long tail cast on and the knit flat for a few rows idea.

  • Two-tail cast-on? Brilliant!

  • If anybody’s a honey cowl expert, it’s gotta be you, Kay. I like to imagine all those cowls having a reunion and herding together in one great pile of tastefully rainbow-colored cushy cowlness. What a photo that would make!

    Speaking of photos, I hate to be a critic but some of your recent photos are coming out with a very strong blue cast from my end of the internet. I see it on all the photos in the giveaway post, but only the first and third photo in this post (the one with the ring of stitches and the two outdoor modeled cowl shots look normal). Assuming smurf is not the aesthetic you’re going for (unless it is! no judging! okay, a teensy bit of judging), thought you might like to know.

  • Thanks for the tips! And welcome back to blogging!!!

  • I have another method for figuring out the amount of yarn you need, but it’s almost as annoying/laborious as doing the math you describe: just wrap your yarn around the needle the same number of times as the number of stitches you need. Add an inch or two, then place your slip knot at that point. It rarely fails to be accurate.

  • If there is a twist, would that result in a moebius scarf, and not screw up the stitch pattern?

  • One suggestion for the two tail problem – you don’t HAVE to commit to those 2 extra ends up front. You can blithely cast off with the usual single-strand longtail method, confident in the knowledge that you’re ready to join in another strand if you run out. How’s that? Only give yourself extra ends to weave in IF you run out of yarn. It does mean those extra ends would be in the middle of the cast on instead of at the 2 ends, though I can’t think of why that might be a problem.

    I’ve also seen the suggestion to estimate the needed tail length by multiplying 3 by the width of the thing you’re casting off for. It’s a simple enough calculation, and it shouldn’t be affected by the gauge of the yarn. Presumably it probably works best for stockinette-ish things. I’d think it would underestimate the needed tail length in the case of something that pulls in sideways (like cables) and overestimate for something that expands sideways (like lace).

    Can’t say I’ve actually tried it myself, I’m definitely an eye-baller.

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  • Casting on for a Honey Cowl yet again!

  • Love the Honey Cowl!

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  • Two tails for the long tail cast-on does keep you from going crazy when you have a lot of stitches.

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  • glad to know I’m not the only one still making Honey Cowls!

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  • So glad you two are back! Signing up now.

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  • Glad you are back! Looking forward to catching up on all the new posts.

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  • Signing up for newsletter!

  • Love your wit and knowledge so willingly shared. Please continue!

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