First, choose a yarn. Something soft and sumptuous, or something warm and wooly. Pick a fiber and a color that suits the recipient.
Second, choose a stitch pattern. Borrow a stitch design from a favorite sweater pattern, or browse through knitting books for ideas. The 365 Knitting Stitches a Year Perpetual Calendar is perfect for this. It’s full of possibilities!
Next, knit a swatch using your chosen yarn and stitch pattern. Cast on about 4 inches worth of stitches using the needle size recommended on your yarn’s ball band. Work the stitch pattern for about 4 inches. Evaluate your swatch. Do you like the way the pattern works up in the yarn you’ve chosen? Do you like the drape of the fabric? Adjust your needles at this point to create a looser, or firmer, fabric.
Next, check your gauge. Determine how many stitches to the inch you are getting. Decide how wide you want the scarf, and multiply your desired width by your stitch gauge. This will give you the number of stitches to cast on. For example, you would like a scarf that is 6 inches wide, and you are getting 5 stitches to the inch. You will cast on about 30 stitches. This number may have to change a little depending on the stitch pattern you’ve chosen. If you are working a pattern that is an 8 stitch repeat, you will need to bump up the number to 32 stitches. If you want to add a selvedge edge, you’ll have to add that to the mix.
Next, how do you know how much yarn to purchase? Here’s a rough guide for stockinette stitch. Multiply the desired length and width of your scarf. Multiply this number by your stitch gauge. Then divide that number by 6. This is the estimated yardage you will need to complete your scarf. Depending on the stitch pattern you choose, you might need a bit more. Better to error on the side of having too much, than to run out and not be able to get more.
Try this out; and as always, we are here to help! Please feel free to stop by The Naked Sheep for help choosing your yarns, finding a stitch pattern, and checking your gauge swatch. We're here for you!