Scarves: Like Origami, Only Better

What can be worn on your head, around your neck, or over your torso? Sounds like something complicated, with darts and tucks and hidden fasteners. But no, it's a simple rectangle of fabric—a scarf—which can be folded, twisted and knotted to form a multitude of garments and accessories.

Like the scarves she designs, Elizabeth Gillett (left) has the gift of adaptability—an uncanny knack for turning bad luck into good luck, lost into found, challenge into opportunity. She also has a generous streak. And on June 16, she held a workshop at SHARE to pass along what she's learned. While Elizabeth and her colleague Cheruby gave a lesson in scarf-tying, her 10-year-old daughter Gemma handed out gift-wrapped samples to the 18 participants to experiment with and take home.

Elizabeth's career as a scarf designer started in 1989 when she lost an iridescent velvet scarf that was a gift from a boyfriend. She scoured stores for a replacement but couldn't find anything as nice. So she bought fabric from a jobber and overdyed it in her bathtub. The first time she wore it, she was stopped by strangers asking where they could find one like it. She took their names and numbers and made them scarves, then dropped off samples at places like Barneys and the Whitney Museum Store. Barneys ordered three dozen and asked to see more. And so her business was born.

Then, two years ago, Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a bilateral mastectomy—and she discovered anew the versatility of the scarves she had been making for over two decades.

Elizabeth likens a scarf to lipstick—it brightens your face, and that can be uplifting at a time when stress and the side effects of treatment make you feel wan. It can be wrapped around your head to cover your chemo-bald scalp, draped over your neck and shoulders to provide warmth in frigid waiting rooms, or, with a little ingenuity, fashioned into a shrug or vest to camouflage a chest reconfigured by surgery.

In selecting a scarf, look for a nice drape by holding it up by a corner to see how it hangs. Any size can work as long as its shortest dimension is at least 24 inches. "Don't use your husband's handkerchief," she jokes. Each fiber has its own character. Cotton is natural and breathes more than silk, but silk is softer. Polyester tends to give off heat. Elizabeth looks for comfort above all. Her favorite scarf right now is a nearly sheer oblong of soft cashmere with a pink-and-green floral pattern and a delicate fringe along the edge.

Though Elizabeth and Cheruby provided detailed demonstrations, Elizabeth recommends playing with scarves in front of a mirror in much the same way you might experiment with new hairstyles—folding, pulling, twisting, tying, tucking.

For those who missed the workshop and wish they hadn't, Elizabeth recommends Nordstrom's online tutorial.

Or ChicTweak's guide.

She's posted a couple of videos on turning a scarf into a vest or into a kimono on her Facebook page:

And I've found a few more sites that are helpful—and entertaining:

25 Ways to Wear a Scarf in 4.5 Minutes! (

20 Ways How to Wear a Scarf

How To: 15 Ways To Wear a Headscarf

12 Head Wrap Scarf Tutorials In Under 7 Minutes