The BBC Creates Step-by-Step Instructions for Knitting the Iconic Dr. Who Scarf: A Document from the Early 1980s

Knitting-Pattern-4th-Doctor

When Jon Pertwee reincarnated into Tom Baker in 1974, the Fourth Doctor of popular sci-fi show Doctor Who ditched the foppish look of velvet jackets and frilly shirts, and went for the “Romantic adventurer” style, with floppy felt hat, long overcoats and, most iconically, his multicolored scarf.

Fan legend has it that costume designer James Acheson picked up a load of multi-color wool and asked knitter Begonia Pope to create a scarf, and Pope, perhaps mishearing, used *all* the wool, resulting in a scarf that ran 12 feet long. The mistake was perfect, and suddenly many UK grandmothers were being asked by their grandchildren to recreate their hero’s look.




The above memo isn’t dated, but comes from sometime in the early ‘80s when the BBC sent detailed instructions to a fan’s mother on making the scarf. (Click here, then click again, to view the document in a larger format.) The colors include camel, rust, bronze, mustard, grey, green and purple and should be knitted with size four needles (that’s #9 US size). The requests must have come regularly, because a similar memo is reprinted from many years later to another fan’s family.

The original scarf only lasted a few episodes, then was altered, replaced, and subtly changed as the show went on. There were stunt scarves for stand-ins.

Come Season 18, costume designer June Hudson rethought the entire costume and streamlined the colors to three: rust, wine, and purple, to match the Doctor’s more swashbuckling look. It also became the longest scarf of the series, some 20 feet.

The following year, the Doctor reincarnated again into a cricket-jumper and striped trouser-wearing young blonde man. The Scarf Years were over.

For a very in-depth look at the scarves, including Pantone color references and wool brands, there is nothing better than DoctorWhoScarf.com. So, get knitting, Who-vians!

via Laughing Squid

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.


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  • Josie Beaudoin says:

    It would never occur to me that the Doctor’s scarf would need to be in ANY way specific. You take a bunch of earth-tone yarn of different colors, and knit or crochet (whichever is your forte, you get roughly the same result) a scarf, alternating the colors at random times until it’s uber-long. Add fringe. I think any exact replica of the one the Doctor had would be… kind of an abomination. And I betcha the Doctor would agree. An exact replica is gross. Unimaginative. Base. Crass. Dull, even. And the 4th Doctor would never approve. Make your own, roughly like it, sure, but an exact replica? Why on Gallifrey would anyone ever want such a superciliously silly thing? Honestly. No, I’m really serious. Why would you even? That’s dumb. Don’t be the dumb fan. You’re cooler than that.

  • Regenerated, not reincarnated!

  • Bill Rudloff says:

    Contrary to your view, Joise, a great many fans strive for accuracy. Those BBC plans and its variants over the years are plagued with inaccuracies to the scarves used on the show. The place with the most accurate information compared to the original is http://www.doctorwhoscarf.com along with the Facebook group Stitches in Time.

  • Iris JaKay says:

    What, you mean that people don’t watch the same episode on VHS tape, pausing it and then doing an approximate count?

    Says the person who did JUST THAT in 1983.

  • Sandi C says:

    “Mrs. Nostradamus…a witty little knitter.” – Tom Baker, Androids of Tara

  • Emma says:

    You’ve got a lot of brass to make those kinds of assumptions about people you don’t even know.

    So what if it never ‘occurred’ to YOU? That doesn’t make it ‘dumb’ ‘Crass’ or ‘gross.’However I do find your choice of words to describe your thoughts to be quite…oh what are the words I’m looking for?? Oh I know! Elementary and juvenile.
    And quite inaccurate, to say the least.
    Did you really bean “base” or did you intend to use the word “Blase?” Either way, still inaccurate.

    Now, to me it doesn’t sound like the ones who accomplish such the amazing feat of getting a screen accurate 4th Doctor scarf off the needles are the ‘dumb’ ones.

    Words I would chose to use to describe Who fans who finish knitting or crocheting (‘…roughly the same result?’ Do you even knit or crochet?) a Who scarf are:
    Talented, determined, tenacious, accomplished as well as IMAGINATIVE!

    Do you know how hard it is to find the correct colors for the screen accurate scarf? We have to be very imaginative in where we look, which can be anywhere from garage sales to Amazon to discount warehouse wholesale websites. And if we can’t find yarn all by the same manufacturer, we have to research (a lot of times by trial and error) which brands work with each other.

    Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but to a true #4 fan, it’s worth it. Something you obviously don’t understand.

    Some of those Who fans learn to knit just so they can knit a who scarf. I admire people who do that, as a matter of fact.

    And what’s with that “You’re cooler than that” statement? Is that supposed to be a backhanded complement?

    To me, the ‘dumb’ ones would be the people (especially other Who fans)that criticize WHO fans for ANY reason at all.

    And there are ALL KINDS of variants, color combinations, and textures that have been used.
    There are even Harry Potter house color variants!
    Still think we’re UN-imaginative?

    Like I said, You’ve got a lot of brass to make those assumptions about people you don’t even know, and about something you’ve never accomplished nor probably will ever accomplish in your lifetime.

    How about this? ‘Take a bunch of earth-tone yarn of different colors’ and stick it in your ‘forte’ ‘alternating the colors at random times’ until it’s ‘uber’ clear to you that you don’t know what the Hell you’re talking about.

  • Cherryl Walker says:

    In 1982, a New Orleans public TV station began showing Tom Baker’s “Doctor Who”. As New Orleans is a city noted for its Mardi Gras and people costuming “with wild abandon”, fans of the show immediately began to seek to replicate its most prominent costuming feature: THE Scarf.

    A local fan club provided copies of the BBC pattern. Numerous fans learned to knit in earnest, in order to have scarves ready for conventions that were only weeks away. It did not matter if the pattern was screen accurate or not. The fans had their scarves, and wore their handiwork proudly.

  • Vampak says:

    I had the same scarf pattern, back in 1981. Copied it on a piece of paper. I started my scarf in 1981, did 3 feet, gave it to my sister-in-law, she did 4 feet, gave it back to me, and it sat in a bag for 32 years. That was 3 years ago, 2012, that I found my scarf and decided to finish it. Most of the yarn was bought at the time at stores that no longer exist. But I did find yarn, very close to the original. I started on Thanksgiving and finished just before Xmas 2012. The scarf measures: 22 feet, 3 inches long, this does not include 10 inch fringe on both ends. would I make another: NO!

  • Gillis says:

    Hey, guess what? I started a scarf “in the style of” Dr Who and as I don’t knit I am using a loom to make it…
    I now have 6-7 feet done and will finish it when I decide I like it enough to stop.
    BUT… I could start a new one using the colors of the Who scarf later, just for fun. Nobody cares about the colors where I live (Canada), but I do.
    The first one will be my pattern, and while I wear it I will have plenty of time to make one closer to the original.
    Why? For the same reason people collect things of buy replica guitars of their favorite guitarist…
    Just have fun…

  • Jill Krahling says:

    Cool wow , awesome!

  • Mrs. Z says:

    Josie, you’re a bitch.

  • David G says:

    My wife got the pattern a couple of years ago & made it for my Christmas present…said some yarns were harder to find…also said she wouldn’t do it again for less than $300!

  • Betty says:

    I was asked a few years ago to knit a Doctor Who scarf for my daughter’s friend. (She thought I could probably do one cheaper than buying it online.) I Google searched until I came across the BBC pattern from a PBS station. Not taking the time to really think about what I was doing, I went out and bought ALL the yarn the pattern called for. Fortunately all but one ball was bought at a sale price. I have since knit two scarves with the yarn the pattern calls for and still have enough left over for at least two more. it works up so easy except for the numerous color changes and all the ends that have to be woven in. They are 12 feet long including fringe and really do look cool. I have two different patterns using the same colors of yarn. I can understand avid Doctor Who fans wanting a replica scarf (just as I’m sure Harry Potter fans have replica scarves, too) and the added benefit of the long scarf is warmth for people who have harsh, cold winters. An interesting tidbit I found in my searching was one person who went to a paint store with the Who colors, found matching paint chips, went to a craft store and matched the chips to Lion Brand Wool-Ease and made her scarf with that yarn. However, through the years yarns have changed so that you could probably use Red Heart or Vanna’s Choice (which will be considerably cheaper) to make the scarf.

  • Roberta says:

    My son in Law would like me to knit him a Dr who scarf, are you able to tell me where I can get the pattern and the colours that I need?
    Regards Roberta

  • J Houston says:

    I got the instructions from Louisiana public broadcasting 34 years ago. That was the first time I quit smoking. Scarf is still in perfect condition!

  • Daniel says:

    Hey Roberta!
    Look up witty little knitter on google, or tara wheeler. She used to have a site up that is now archived, where she had very well detailed, very faithful and easy to read patterns for all versions of the scarf, with a simple color guide and sources for her yarns. To add authenticity to it all, she included her encounters with each scarf and how she got permission to study them! Hope it helps!

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