Riff #1: Salt Spray Cowl

photo 2
snuggling up to the new cowl

I promised more free, easy patterns, and February seems like the perfect month to make good on that. There’s really not much going on, and despite this brief warm spell, real spring is probably still a ways away. Our cold snap ended awhile ago, but outside is muddy and covered in dog poop (seriously, Sofiantsi, clean up after your dogs). Since I work from home, the incentive to go out is at an all-time low.

Which makes this the perfect time for what I like to call “riffing.” Riffing, to me, means creating with an emphasis on quantity over ambition. Instead of devising elaborate, complicated designs, riffing might mean just fixating on one detail, maybe a really fun stitch pattern or a lovely yarn, and not really adding much else. The key to proper riffing is momentum. Bind off one project, and cast on your next project before the needles are cold. I usually find my riffs are enhanced by keeping really odd hours, watching the same movie over and over again, and probably wine.

Riffing is vital to my creative process, because I’m someone who succumbs to creative blocks very easily. Like many people, I’m irrationally afraid of failure. Sometimes I go months without making something original, because I’m afraid I’ll “waste” yarn on something that doesn’t turn out right. So this month has been Fearless February, with my only goal being to keep the momentum. I’m cranking it out, just for fun, without much of a plan.

Riffing, by the way, doesn’t have to mean knitting. You can go on your own riff, by writing, drawing, embroidering, scrapbooking, cleaning behind your appliances, really whatever the wine or coffee or tea or old movies tell you to do. Really, the only rule is to keep it up and have fun.

photo 1
Salt Spray Cowl

Since Christmas, gansey motifs have been my main riff fuel. They are trendy right now, maybe because they go so nicely with all the farm yarns that are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I adapted the stitch motif in my new Salt Spray Cowl from one of the many lovely charts in Dutch Traditional Ganseys.

The ripples in the gritty off-white reminded me of the bleakest winter of my existence, in northeastern Bulgaria in 2012. My Peace Corps apartment was on the first floor of a small concrete block, with enormous old windows that whistled at night. Any condensation that gathered inside the apartment froze solid to the inside of the windows. I used to have dreams that snow was falling on me in bed.

photo by Stefan Vasilev Vasilev

link to photo

That year, a brutal ice storm hit the Black Sea coast, pushing the waves all the way up the beach to the shuttered bars and seafood grills, and freezing them in place. A friend and I took a walk on the Varna beach, admiring trash cans that had morphed into lumpy white stones, and lampposts heavy with salty stalactites.

The only break in the empty, frozen coastline was the Varna mineral springs, a teeming sulfurous haunt of barrel-chested old men. The regular bathers had decided that this, the coldest weekend of the year, was the perfect time for cleaning out the baths. Steam rose out of a break in the frozen seawater and icy rocks. About fifteen grandpas in speedos, wool beanies, and plastic sandals, were scrubbing the concrete pool, which had been drained down to about a foot of hot, slimy water. They were rosy and cheerful, shouting and working briskly, as if the ambient heat from the springs kept them warm but not that warm. I was awestruck by this show of industry, a group riff in its own way, putting those dark times to good use.

photo 5
like the hat? it’ll be in a future post!

Salt Spray Cowl

350-400 yds worsted weight yarn. (I used one skein of Green Mountain Green wool/mohair, and about ½ a skein of Abundant Earth Fiber Aviary).

24” circular needles in US #8

stitch marker

tapestry needle for bind off and weaving in ends.

Cowl measures 32″ around and 9 3/4″ deep from cast-on to bind-off.

Gauge: 13 1/2 stitches x 27 1/2 rows= 4″ in gansey stitch pattern


CO 105 stitches using long-tail method. PM and join in the round. Begin gansey stitch pattern at Round 1. Gansey stitch pattern can be worked on any multiple of 7 stitches:

Round 1: [p4, k3], repeat to end of round.

R2: [k4, p1, k1, p1], repeat to end of round.

R3: [k5, p1, k1], repeat to end of round.

Repeat Rounds 1-3 21 more times, or until desired length. Repeat R1 once more. Bind off with EZ’s cast-on-cast-off. Weave in ends and wet block (if you used a fluffy, halo-y yarn like I did, this step is not to be skipped!).


3 thoughts on “Riff #1: Salt Spray Cowl

  1. Jennifer February 25, 2016 / 1:09 am

    What a wonderful post! It really resonated with me. Thank you! And for the lovely pattern!

    • Huelo February 25, 2016 / 12:36 pm

      Thank you so much, and thanks for reading!

  2. Monica March 15, 2016 / 3:07 am

    Lovely pattern. Very classy. Thanks for sharing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s