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


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 So, get knitting, Who-vians!

via Laughing Squid

Related Content:

Meet Delia Derbyshire, the Dr. Who Composer Who Almost Turned The Beatles’ “Yesterday” Into Early Electronica

See Penguins Wearing Tiny “Penguin Books” Sweaters, Knitted by the Oldest Man in Australia

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Douglas Adams in 1984

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 and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (34) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (34)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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 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!

  • Faith B. says:

    Hey Roberta,
    I found the pattern for mine at

  • cheesy says:

    This says “plain knitting.” Do they mean stockinette stitch, or knit every row (garter stitch)? My eyes aren’t so good and I can’t tell what it is.

  • Janine says:

    I crocheted a scarf for my husband using the pattern on I swapped a couple of suggested colours for my own choices and was happy with all except the rust/red colour. I’ve since made 2 more through commissions. I loved making the scarf and for me the best part was following the ‘official’ pattern, which while not 100% accurate, is as close as you can get. I suspect I would not have the patience to knit one though, having read horror stories of ‘endless garter stitch’!

  • Mark Farrell says:

    One has to wonder if the number of rows of each color are not the master control code for the TARDIS or his old school locker padlock. :p

    46 digits
    Our current UUID numbers are 32 HEX digits (base 16 – 4 bits each)
    Gives you 0 ~ 15 with a single digit.
    E = 14
    Gives you 0 ~ 255 with two digits.
    10 = 16
    20 = 32
    FF = 255
    Gives you 0 ~ 65535 with 4 digits.
    1234 = 4,660
    F000 = 61,440
    FFFF = 65,535

    Given Time Lord intellect, what if they used base 60 like they did in Babylon and much of the ancient world.
    (Except Babylonians didn’t have a “0”)

    Gives you 0 ~ 59 with a single digit.
    W = 58
    Gives you 0 ~ 3,599 with two digits.
    z4 = 2104
    XW = 3598
    Gives you 0 ~ 212,338 with three digits
    Gives you 0 ~ 12,740,338 with four digits
    and so on…

    Just for fun, I will suppose that the number of rows is the “significand” and the color coded base 60 number is the “manissa”.

    The first number:
    8 Purple would be:

    52 Camel would be:

    16 Bronze

    10 Mustard

    and so on.

    These could be encoded coordinates to where the 9 copies of Gallifrey are hidden.

    45 numbers in 9 sets of 5
    Spacial X,Y,Z
    and two for time index
    the last is a confirmation code to enter into the TARDIS console, like the 3 digit code on the back of your credit card.


  • Mark Farrell says:

    “SPATIAL” (sighs – grrrr)

  • Mark Farrell says:

    60 stitches * 822 rows = 49,320 repititions.

  • Kelly L says:

    How much did you charge for the commissioned scarves please. I cannot decide what I should charge the people who want me to do them … They do take a good bit of time. Thank you in advance

  • Sallie G says:

    My son begged for a scarf for several years (I had never heard of Dr. Who) but I refused the project due to cost. A friend asked me to teach her to knit just to make a Dr. Who scarf for her muchly loved husband. With that as inspiration, I broke down (having finally obtained assess to Dr. Who broadcasting & falling in love with the show) and managed to knit one for my son’s 40th birthday. NOW, I’m about to knit another – L O N G E R – version as my son is 6’5″. (He’ll have to surrender the shorter one for me to wear, though) I can’t wait!

  • Teresa Jobes says:

    I’m in the process of knitting my own Dr. Who scarf. I’ve gotten 3 feet (1 yard) done. I used Hobby Lobby “I love this yarn” as recommended by one website. I changed a couple of different shades that I liked better and off I went. If I finish this, I’m hoping for 10-14 feet as I am only 5’4″ tall, it will be my crowning craft achievement! I usually quit a project after I learn how to do it. It’s happened with latch hook, crochet, knitting, macrame, plastic canvas, cross stitch and embroidery, never very good at that last one.Wish me luck and patience. I usually finish sewing projects. Fingers crossed.

  • Lisa says:

    I recently made a shawl based on it. At 5’3, I can actually wear it.


    The time travelers shawl by Elizabeth Abate

  • Kriss says:

    I’m about to start a Doctor Who scarf for a co-worker. I’m new to knitting and thought this would be simple enough. Keeping my fingers crossed!

  • Nancy says:

    I think The Doctor said that in The Ark in Space? The OMPSS machine zapped it when The Doctor and Harry were under the table?

  • pablo Fumero says:

    I did my Tom Baker Scarf about 18 years ago. I learned only one stitch and it took me 4-5 m0nth to complete. I still have it.

  • Stacey Glynn says:

    Absolutely 100% agree and thank you! I read that first comment and couldn’t believe the ignorant response! To each their own but making this scarf (exactly the way it was intended) has brought back a flood of memories for my family. Cheers!

  • Nytowl223 says:

    I made one, with a pattern grid that I could check off when I got done with that stripe, and then promptly lost the pattern grid I had made. I even had the names of colors of the newer yarn varieties listed on it. Ugh…

    Well, now I’m learning Tunisian crochet, and discovered the Knit Stitch (TNS, it’s usually labeled – though there are at least a dozen other names it goes by, too), so now I’m trying to work up the same kind of thing I had then, to keep track of all the widths and change. I’m excited to try my hand at another Who scarf with this new (to me) crochet stitch, mainly because it looks so much like knitting, you would have to look very closely at it to tell the difference!

    So, here I go… as soon as I find more Mustard/Goldenrod yarn, that is. 😄

  • Christine A Guinn says:

    One thing I can tell you is that the handwritten notes on the sheet saying to use American size #9 needles is COMPLETELY WRONG! Use a US size #9 needle with DK weight yarn, and you will end up with something more resembling lace than a proper scarf. They’re just too large. I suspect that the when the original plans say “Size 4 knitting needles”, they actually mean 4mm, which would be a US #6.

  • m. jean says:

    Immitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
    Tom baker loved being recognised and celebrated as the doctor. More than likely, he’s probably thrilled to see fans loving his character so much, he’s above such petty things such as “not wanting to share “his scarf” with anybody else”.

  • Jane says:

    I know it’s years on. Started my Dr Who scarf for a friend. I have enjoyed researching the scarf, the colours, the history. I would call my scarf Dr Who ‘inspired’. If someone want to be true to the original frankly it’s ok in my books. If someone does not for want ever reason that’s ok. It’s all part of the fun and keeping the icon alive.
    The Creative process is an individual thing. Sometimes I follow a pattern and sometimes I don’t. It depends on my resources at the time…JOSIE you comments are unnecessarily rude and judgmental. Judgement on my part is I hope you have learn’t to be more open mined about others processes.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.