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What's with the name?

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How To Make Your Own Doctor Who Scarf


One of the most recognizable symbols of the British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who is the scarf worn by actor Tom Baker from 1974-81. Baker played a time traveler known as The Doctor and the origin of his most famous accessory proved to be as eccentric as his character.

When knitter Begonia Pope was asked by costume designer James Acheson to knit Baker’s scarf she used up all the wool Acheson gave her, resulting in a twenty-foot scarf. After being shortened slightly, it became a permanent fixture of The Doctor’s costume and since has been copied by fans.  In fact, I own a 7-foot version of the season 18 scarf.  This guide, written using some of the advice of the friend who knitted it for me, will speed up the process and a beginning knitter can be well on the way to making his or her own.

1. Needles: Bamboo is the most expensive and is prone to breaking. Plastic is cheaper but can also break and the yarn doesn’t move as easily while knitting. Metal, however, is both durable and its smooth surface ensures stitches slide off as they should. These are wide scarves and needles must be at least 8-10 inches long.

2. Yarn: Wool is warm and durable (and accurate) but costs can add up. Instead, choose a lower-priced but soft acrylic not prone to unraveling. Worsted weight yarns like Vanna’s Choice by Lion Brand or I Love This Yarn! by Hobby Lobby provide warmth without bulk.

3. Patterns: The Doctor Who Scarf has patterns, yarn recommendations, and full-color instructions for all the show’s scarves. Choose a scarf, print the color chart, and take it to a craft store or yarn shop to match it to yarn.

4. Knitting: Finding knitting tutorials can be overwhelming too, but the best options are signing up for free at a help forum like Ravelry or finding a YouTube video if you learn better by seeing a knitter in action. Fortunately, only the knit stitch is needed for a Doctor Who scarf.

The Doctor would wish you good luck in your knitting adventure…but there are Daleks behind him that need defeating.  He’s a busy man, you know.

This post originally appeared on Heather Gleiser’s blog Cultured. Pic is from pu-sama’s Deviant art gallery which you should definitely check out.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dawn-Hunt/1576251186 Dawn Hunt

    For those of us who are fabric arts geeks……

  • Monkey

    zomg bad advice bad advice bad advice!

    Bamboo is far from being the most expensive needle type, and in 10 years of knitting i’ve never had bamboo break on me. Personally I prefer more expensive metal needles for speed, but bamboo can be a good choice especially for beginner knitters, as it’s “grabby,” so stitches are less-inclined to slide off.

    As for wool vs acrylic, the debate rages on, but if I were investing time & resources into a 7-foot (or longer!) scarf I would only want wool. High-quality inexpensive wools in a wide variety of colors can be found in your local yarn shop (Cascade 220 or Ella Rae classics have better yardage and cost not much more than Vanna’s Choice, and provide a far more pleasurable knitting experience [imo], or even more cheaply via internet sources like knitpicks.com or elann.com. I have no idea where the author’s assertion that wool is more likely to “unravel” comes from (wha? seriously, what does that even mean?) but having knit with both wool and acrylic I find acrylic to be far more splitty. Wool is also far more breathable and better at temperature regulation than acrylic. And finally, none of these are my primary reason for preferring wool, but they may be important to note: acrylic is a petroleum product, it’s not biodegradable, and it’s highly flammable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wesley-Smith/725105211 Wesley Smith

    It took me a second to get the point of the picture up top, but that is AWESOME!

  • http://profiles.google.com/ashleysue Ashley Sue

    If this is only for a costume, acrylic is fine. Especially if, out of the kindness of your heart, you’re knitting this for a non-knitting cosplayer. Acrylic gets a bad wrap, but for vegans or people with allergies, it is a good option for them.
    That being said, if it’s for yoursef, then wool is the way to go, as it gives a better look and feel to the item.
    Also, when you’re not into Dr. Who anymore, you can unravel it and make 25 pair of mittens and a few dozen hats!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mr.Parker.Gabriel Parker Gabriel

    The BBC licences all Doctor Who merchandise, and it warns that the finished scarf is to be worn, not sold.

  • TARDIStara

    I think you’d be a lot happier with wittylittleknitter.com

    Current yarn choices, easy to print out patterns, and tons of research by someone who’s knitted close to a hundred of them.

    Her scarves have been seen on Craig Ferguson and Nerdist, as well as the recent Doctor Who premier in New York.

    The site also has how to videos on casting on and changing colors.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Doctor Hoo is quite a common phenomenon on DevArt. Something about The Doctor and owls just seems to… fit. The wide eyes, perhaps?

    Anyway, check out pu-sama’s other work. She’s awesome XD

  • http://profiles.google.com/ruffledmind Carlie Myke

    Agree: I used bamboo for my Who scarf, and I found not only were they durable (and didn’t break), but that they allowed for smooth stitching which made for a faster knit. Faster being a relative term: it took me 3 months. There have been a couple splits since I made it: both on acrylic and on wool portions (used both for colour availability and cheapness), so it’s personal preference more than usability in that respect.

    For fellow ravellers, my own Who Scarf project page: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/singularpronoun/doctor-who-scarf—season-12
    And the Who Scarf Support Group:
    http://www.ravelry.com/groups/dr-who-scarf-support-group

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000979535106 Heather Gleiser

    Hi everyone! As the author I’d like to clarify a few points about the article.

    1. Wittylittleknitter.com is not a site I would recommend because its instructions are not as complete and accurate. On several scarves the color chart is inaccurate based on screencaps taken from Fourth Doctor episodes(I checked). It also doesn’t offer instructions on how to do the short color bands on the season 18 scarf.

    2. I know there are more expensive needle types out there, but I don’t know of any beginner who’s going to order a set of rosewood needles for a first project. And yes, my knitting friends have had bamboo break on them. Furthermore, beginners I’ve spoken to tend to knit with somewhat tighter tension and bamboo’s ability to prevent stitches from sliding off as easily would be a further hindrance.

    3. Again, I wrote this with a beginner in mind on yarn choice as well. Color matches are more accurate in a store than on a screen so I chose to not include online yarn sources. Also, not everyone has access to a local yarn shop that isn’t a craft store. In my previous experiences, they lean more toward expensive specialty yarn anyway that isn’t relevant to this unless you want to go all out. When the idea for this article was pitched, it was suggested I write it for people who have never knitted before. I wanted to simplify the process as much as possible. If you want to use wool, go for it…I only felt that for someone just starting out, who might or might not end up enjoying knitting, would want a minimum investment “just in case”.

    4. Nowhere in my article did I state that wool was more likely to unravel. The low-quality acrylics, however, like Red Heart Super Saver tend to fall apart more easily than something like Vanna’s Choice. Several projects and several months later VC hasn’t caused any problems. My next two scarves, due to lack of accurate color availability for a particular season, will be knitted in Wool-Ease. It’s an 80/20 acrylic/wool blend with the same ease of use but a slightly different texture.

    5. Nowhere in my article did I mention selling the scarves. I wear mine to events and just about everywhere in cold weather and that’s it.

    6. In the end it’s down to personal preferences, Monkey, but to call my methods “bad advice” because they are different from your own was rude.

  • Lil Mousey

    i dont know if i would ever not being into dr. who. i think once your in you’re stuck. its like a trap :P but a good one

  • Sangelia

    I would pick acrylic for me in my case. since I have a allergy to wool.
    one has to take that into account as well. if the one who is to wear it. if they have a allergy to what is used to make a garment.

  • http://www.cuteorkill.com cuteorkill

    You will find some additional wool yarn recommendations (e.g., lower cost Knit Picks), PDF format patterns, color guides and some ephemera here: http://www.scarffactory.info

    Consider this site a layer of icing on the cake that is doctorwhoscarf.com.

  • Tara Wheeler

    Excuse me, but as the owner of wittylittleknitter.com I would very much like clarification of this statement.

    Which patterns are inaccurate and on what do you base your information?

    I personally examined two actual Doctor Who scarves with an OTT Light and Pantone color cards.

    I have an art minor, have studied color theory in Taos, New Mexico under Ray Vinella.

    I have studied textiles under Norman Kennedy.

    If you refer to the Season Fifteen scarf, no-one has seen that scarf in twenty years and we’re all stumbling in the dark regarding it.

    I would dearly love access to the BBC records, but have been repeatedly been rebuffed in regards to any scholarly work regarding ‘the scarf’.

    And you have seen and knitted how many Doctor Who scarves?

  • Deenie

    In my experience, Wool-Ease pills like nobody’s business. Try the aforementioned Cascade 220 or, for a similar fiber blend, go with Plymouth Encore.

    I’d be very surprised if Red Heart Super-Saver fell apart – it’s tough! Too tough, as my fingers got rubbed near-raw when I knit a Doctor Who scarf with the stuff over 20 years ago.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7OPUPJLULBY67NQ77BZWA3TZVM Andre T

    I am curious as to how you “checked” did you go and compare yarn to actual scarves? Perhaps the colour is off on your television set. Seriously I have taken a look at the instructions on Wittylittleknitter.com and seen some of the scarves that have been made using her instructions and quite frankly they are dead spot on.

  • http://twitter.com/FreckledCrafts Michelle

    So you’re going to claim a website has bad color matching and then suggest Hobby Lobby acrylic?! Their colors are atrocious and I highly doubt they’d have very accurate colors.

  • David Wheeler

    Hello Heather,

    One of the reason that my wife’s research is important is the steps that she took to ensure the accuracy of color matching. Besides going to the trouble of taking an OTT light both to New York and to England she also insisted that we buy a new panatone color set so as to ensure that her older one hadn’t faded.

    You must be aware that your use of screen caps to compare colors introduces a host of inaccuracies. First in that your own screen settings may not be well calibrated. Secondly in that the lighting on the set or in editing can create affect the perceived coloration. Direct observation is a far superior method.

    Sincerely,

    David Wheeler

  • Purplechipmunk

    Apropos your needle advice: You haven’t knitted much, have you?

    1. If you’re breaking US size 7 or larger bamboo knitting needles, you’re doing something wrong. It might be worth learning how to knit more loosely rather than trying to find different needles.

    2. If you look within-brands at needle costs, the metal versions are almost always more expensive than the bamboo equivalents…

    3. …except when the metal is aluminum, which is often stickier than bamboo rather than smoother due to coatings on the metal that are prone to chipping off, ruining your needles. Also, some metal bends, and frequently needing to straighten them out is irritating and can ruin the structural integrity of the project.

    Apropos your yarn advice:

    1. If you are going to spend hours and hours and hours of your life knitting a scarf, it’s better to use something that you’ll actually want to have against your skin. I’ll take lovely merino wool over even the softest acrylic any day, as it will actually keep me warm and won’t feel like shopping bags.

    2. Wool is also nice for those who want to be accurate as you can buy plain white yarn and dye it to your own satisfaction. Just because you aren’t an ambitious enough knitter to try doesn’t mean nobody else will.

    3. There are plenty of places out there where one can get wool at the same cost or cheaper than acrylic. And since it’s a large project, you can get bulk discounted yarn at places like WEBS.

  • Mindyourown

    Yeah, uh… Heather… I’ve had Doctor Who fans, and even those at the BBC who are paid to know their stuff – and who really know every iota of the show in miniscule detail – ask me if the Tara Wheeler scarf I’m wearing is actually one of the originals because it’s stitch accurate. I do know Tara was given behind the scenes access to several scarves, including into prop cases at exhibitions to examine originals and replicas in detail.

    There’s only one mistake in research around here m’dear, and that’s your inaccurate assumptions in the article. Time to withdraw that comment and apologise I think!

    As for the icing on the cake site by cuteorkill, he wouldn’t know a proper Doctor Who scarf if it wrapped around his throat and pulled tight. He’s just got a grudge.

  • Moonpieone1

    For my two cents, I’d trust WittyLittleKnitter any day over any other site. I know what a stickler to details the owner is and how dedicated the site is to detail.
    I mean come on, who else has COLOR MATCHED to actual SCREEN USED SCARVES???
    No I know other than Tara Wheeler.

  • http://twitter.com/manisanisland edson portacio

    hi heather,

    you many not know this but tara know more about doctor who scarves than you and i will ever know. she has travelled from arizona to england just to get the colors right. she has seen the actual scarves worn by tom baker. she is the authority when it’s comes to doctor who scarves. to question the authenticity of her begs me to ask ‘did you follow the instructions?’

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=602969259 Martha Jones

    “This guide, written using some of the advice of the friend who knitted it for me”. You didn’t knit it, but you’re willing to crap on the work of a woman who did tons of research on her own time, at her own expense, then made that information available to you for free? Classy.

  • Kathleen Walton

    Please sell kits for Dr Who Scarves! You could make a fortune and earn money for the BBC!

  • Anonymous

    I crochet….I can not knit to save my live…my brother asked me to make this scarf is there any patterns for people that crochet instead…I know the stiches wont be as tight but is there anything close?