Not everything I do is a doily or even lace.
The photo on the left is my current traveling project. It's a scarf. It's perfect for boring meetings and waiting in traffic and long phone calls and so on.
I'm using some yarn from the stash. As you may be able to tell from the photo, it's a variegated yarn with short color repeats. I've tried using it in several other projects, but was never quite satisfied with how it was turning out. I think I like the way this looks so far.
The scarf is about two feet long now. After I use one skein of the yarn, I'll have a better idea about the final length. If I think it's going to be too long or too short, I'll unravel and start over, making it wider or narrower as needed. Hey, it's travel knitting -- so what if I get to knit part of it twice? It will be even better the next time.
After almost all the yarn is used up, the scarf will be done.
The pattern? It's a plain old diagonal garter stitch.
Diagonal Garter Stitch Scarf
Pick some suitable yarn. You'll want a few hundred yards, depending on your preferred scarf size (length and width) and on the yarn you're using. This particular scarf is going to be close to 400 yards long and made from a DK to worsted weight yarn, because that's what I've got. There's no need to use variegated yarn, of course.
Pick a needle size to match the yarn. It's a scarf; who cares about the gauge? You will want a suitable fabric, though, not too stiff and not too sleazy. (Sounds like what you'd look for in a date, right?)
Cast on 3 stitches.
First row: Increase at the beginning and end of the row, knitting all the stitches between.
Second row: Knit.
The increase can be any type, as long as you are consistent. I'm using a "make 1" increase done by the backwards loop method, one stitch in from the edge.
So, my pattern row goes something like: knit 1, make 1, knit to last stitch, make 1, knit 1.
In retrospect, I probably should have increased in the very first and very last stitches, by doing a (knit in front and back of stitch). My way looks nice, but requires a smidgen of thinking, not good if you're looking for pure mindless travel knitting. On the other hand, it's much easier to correct occasional stitch count problems when you're not working with the edge stitches.
Increase at the beginning and end of the pattern row until you think the scarf is wide enough. The width is the edge measurement of your knitting. End with a plain row. You may end up with 27 stitches; you may have 47. It doesn't matter as long as you like it.
Now, you're going to increase at the beginning of the pattern row and decrease at the end of it. The plain rows will remain the same: knit. In my scarf, I am doing a k2tog one stitch before the end.
First row: increase at beginning of row, knit across, decrease at end of row.
Second row: knit
You will soon notice that a long rectangle is starting to form, with the garter stitch forming diagonal ridges when compared to the rectangle. The corner of the rectangle formed where you changed from increasing to decreasing.
Every now and then, do a stitch count to make sure you're not losing or adding the occasional stitch. It's easy enough to do, alas. If you do have a problem, take care of it discreetly. No one will notice if your scarf has a slight problem with stitch counts every now and then.
When the scarf is long enough, or you're almost out of yarn or patience, it's time to finish off.
First row: decrease at beginning of row, knit across, decrease at end of row.
Second row: knit across.
When you're down to 3 stitches, cast off.
If you want to change the dimensions of the scarf a bit, block it. Get it wet and lay it out on a towel. You can pull it a bit longer and narrower, or shorter and wider. Not much, but a bit. Let the scarf dry in its new dimensions.
Variations and comments
There are similar patterns all over the net and in books.
Increase and decrease variations
One variation is the simple one I mentioned earlier: use a different increase or decrease than the one I chose.
You can use yarnovers for a lacy look. If you do that, you'll need to decrease two stitches at the decrease side of the scarf. k2tog, yo, k2tog is traditional, but you can choose something like yo, k3tog instead (or k3tog, yo).
Another easy variation: Put the increases and decreases in a different spot in your scarf, at the edges or two stitches in from the end or whatever makes you happy.
This leads to a third idea: have a border of one stitch, and use something else in the middle.
In other words, have a 3 to 5 stitch border all around, done in garter stitch or seed stitch or something like that. After you do the border, do the increase, then switch to something totally different such as stockinette. Then do the other border with its decrease.
I didn't discuss what to do with your edge stitch at all. Do whatever you want, as long as you're consistent. It's another area where playing around can have interesting effects. I knitted all of my edge stitches.
Maybe you want to change the width every now and then. If so, it can be done by changing increases to decreases (or vice versa), or omitting the increase or decrease you'd normally do. I have no idea what this might look like, but it could be interesting. Stair-step scarf, anyone?
Stitch patterns and stripes
Of course one can do this scarf in some totally different stitch pattern such as seed stitch or ribbing or moss or a lace stitch or cables. Or different colored stripes. Or both.
For some of the stitch patterns, it looks good to have a rectangle. It makes the scarf seem more inscrutable. For other patterns, I personally think it looks better to have the scarf be a parallelogram.
The parallelogram variation is dead simple. You skip the portions of the pattern where you increase and decrease at both ends. Instead, you cast on enough stitches for the whole width of the scarf. Increase at one end while decreasing at the other. Cast off when finished.
Really mindless diagonal scarf
Another variation, which might lend itself better to pure mindless knitting, is to do something at the beginning of every single row. For this variation, you either increase or decrease at the beginning of the row (depending which side of the scarf you're on), and then knit all the way to the end.
There are times when no-brainer knitting is what I need. I like good travel knitting projects that fulfill this requirement. A perfect no-brainer project is something that needs about 2 seconds of attention every now and then, with little or no counting or attention needed at any other time. I'll no doubt introduce a few more of my stress-relief, stash-busting, no-brainer projects and patterns in the future.
The hat variation
I've seen versions of this used to make hats. You can use the rectangular method or the parallelogram variation. You can use any pattern stitch you'd like, though I've mostly seen garter, seed stitch, and a k2p2 rib used for it.
Cast on the stitches, wide enough to form the hat plus its brim. Knit a length until it's long enough to go around your head. Cast off. Sew the cast-on to the cast-off edge. You can, of course, use a provisional cast-on and graft the beginning to the end. If you do that, use the parallelogram variation. You can also use a three-needle bind-off if it's compatible with your stitch pattern.
After the beginning is sewn to the end, gather one of the edges to form the top of the hat. You can add a pompom or tassel if you think that sort of thing looks good. Then fold up the other edge as a brim. Hat is completed.
The other relatives
Many of you will have recognized the scarf's close relatives: the diagonal dishcloth pattern and the simple triangle scarf/shawl. The classic diagonal dishcloth is so well known that I'll probably never discuss it. Someday I will go into the simple triangle shawl, another of my no-brainer staples. There are patterns for both all over the net and in plenty of books and magazines in case you want a plain pattern with no digressions and/or you don't want to wait for my long, digression-filled version.