Lara Scarf: A Shawl-Collared Scarf in Cushy Brioche Stitch

Today my newest pattern, the Lara Scarf, is live on Ravelry! This is one of my favorite patterns to date, for many reasons: the thick and cozy brioche fabric, the interesting shape and construction, the tidy selvedges. Most of all, I love how it adds effortless chic to layered outfits.

The idea for Lara (pronounced "Lahhhruh," in case it matters to you) came when my husband was watching TV. One of the main characters in a show called "Billions" (Lara, obviously) came onto the screen wearing this amazing leather jacket with an attached knit collar, and I sort of freaked out for a moment. The show was paused, photos were taken on my phone, and an idea was born. What would happen if that shawl collar could be recreated as a separate layering piece? How would it be shaped? What would its construction entail?

This past April I attended the wonderful Make.Wear.Love retreat in Monterey, CA. This retreat is full of all kinds of knitterly activities, but the classes offered this year were led by some of the most amazing and knowledgeable teachers the knitting world has to offer: Amy Herzog of CustomFit (and the retreat's creator), designer Julie Weisenberger of Cocoknits, Clara Parkes of Knitlandia and other wonderful books (and we all know her highly-coveted and delicious Clara Yarn), and Norah Gaughan of just about everything (though her latest home is Brooklyn Tweed, and you should familiarize yourself with her excellent Knitted Cable Sourcebook, among other publications). One of the classes taught by Norah had to do with unique construction in knitting designs. I didn't attend that class, but the class' description mentioned that Norah likes to use thick polar fleece to drape over a dress form as a stand-in for knitted fabric. This idea intrigued me, so I went to a craft shop to buy some polar fleece. After sketching and measuring (and some swearing, I'll confess), I came up with a rough fleece "sketch" for Lara's construction. Using the fleece, I discovered that an arch shape was what I was after.

Shaped like the Arc de Triomphe, Lara is cast on at the top edge using the long tail cast on. Brioche is worked to create the collar, with a tidy and sturdy I-cord selvedge variation at each edge. Once the collar portion is complete, one half is placed on waste yarn while the first side is worked. Beginning with the inner neck, stitches are bound off to carve the neckline. A sloped bind-off technique is used to create a lovely continuous bound off edge; this line is then continued along the inner scarf flap by using a simple slipped stitch selvedge (the I-cord selvedge is continued down the outer edge of each side to the very end of the flaps). Once the first scarf flap is finished to the bound off edge, the second size is placed back on the needles, and the second side of the inner neck bind off begins. All of the techniques used are described in the pattern, both in the "Techniques" section and throughout the pattern's written instructions.

Part of what makes this pattern so fun are the surprises involved. It's the kind of pattern you just have to trust, and the scarf's details will emerge as you work. It's unlike any pattern I've seen yet, and it's a fun ride!

As always, gauge is key. Brioche is such a yarn-hungry stitch pattern, and it would be a shame to put in all of the effort to make a lovely scarf just to have it be too large, too small, too firm, too drapey. The gauge I chose the Lara straddles the line between drape and sturdiness; it's important to knit a decently large gauge swatch for an accurate measurement (I think mine was about 7" wide and just as long after blocking). Also, wet blocking the gauge swatch is imperative. Brioche grows horizontally quite a bit after washing; if your scarf turns out too wide, the collar's lapels will hang down by your belly button! Taking the time to knit and properly block a gauge swatch will help you achieve the look you want.

If you'd like to make modifications to Lara's size, here's some helpful information. To edit the placement of the collar's lapels, you can add or subtract stitches to the cast on number. Take care here, because a few stitches will have a large impact here. Brioche expands horizontally much more than it does vertically, and this translates into a dramatic difference in the collar's width. Once the collar is draped around the neck, that width becomes the collar's downward reach. At four stitches per inch (after blocking), you won't need to make any huge adjustments here. I've found it's best for the front edges of Lara's collar to reach just above the breasts for the most flattering look.

To control the dramatic impact of the shawl collar, you can add rows to the brioche rectangle that forms the collar before any neck shaping begins. Subtracting a few rows will make the collar narrower once folded; adding rows will create thicker lapels with more drama. Take care here, though; even just two rows in either direction will have a noticeable impact in the finished piece. I recommend sticking to the pattern, but I know there's always a handful of knitters who can't help themselves from making mods (I may/may not be one of them. I make no claims). Just use a light hand here if you must modify the instructions to satisfy your authority issues.

To make changes to the length of the collar's flaps, it's a fairly straightforward section to make mods to. Since the vertical gauge won't change very much after blocking (from 7 sts to 7.25 sts per inch), you will have a better sense of the final length of this portion of the piece. Keep in mind that the width of the collar will change quite a bit, though (from 5 sts to 4 sts per inch horizontally); you'll have to stretch the unblocked work at the collar to make sure you have an accurate sense of the finished drape. It's a tricky thing.

That said, I've refined the instructions to fit most women. I'm a 5'10" Amazon type, and you may notice that I added a bit of extra length to both the collar's width and the scarf flaps' length in the sample knit in Andouin. It wasn't a huge mod, and I'd say that it's still slightly too large for me. The sample knit in Kittywake is accurate to the pattern's directions, and it fits me well. It also fits my 5'3" narrow-shouldered friend beautifully; for this reason, I'd say the pattern is a one-size-fits-all size. If you (or the scarf's intended recipient) are on the extreme end of the height scale, you can refer to the above paragraphs to see how to make mods that will be proportional to your body's height. Weight makes no difference with this piece; it's all about where the parts fall on your body, which is mainly all about torso length and body height.

I hope you enjoy knitting and wearing Lara as much as I enjoyed designing it. It's a design that I'm exceptionally proud of, and so it's a success already. I design for the love of it, and Lara has brought me a lot of joy. My hope is that it might bring joy to other knitters in turn. The knitting world is full of some of the loveliest people I've met, I love contributing to this exciting and supportive community. Lara is my love note to the knitters of the world; and here's to the joy of the season as well!